Sunday, April 16, 2023

On the Way to Liberty on Mars? The First Test Flight of SpaceX's "Starship"


                                                  Animation of a SpaceX Starship Mission to Mars

A few months ago, in my post on "The Astrobiology of Lockean Liberty on Mars," I wrote about Elon Mush's plan for flying human beings to Mars on SpaceX's "Starship."  Starship could lift as much as 250 tons and accommodate 100 people on a trip to Mars.

Before the first trip to Mars, Starship will take NASA astronauts to land on the Moon, which has not been done in over 50 years.  In a few years, Starship could be used to take passengers on flights around the Earth, traveling from any place on Earth to any destination (such as London to Sydney) in less than an hour.

Many tests of the Starship spacecraft have failed, as indicated by the dramatic videos of the explosions.  But about two years ago, Starship successfully launched and then returned for a soft landing.  That's the critical point because it's the reusability of this spacecraft that is crucial for making space travel affordable.  Imagine how expensive commercial air travel would be if every passenger jet could be used for only one flight.

Tomorrow (April 17, beginning at 7:15 am Central Time), SpaceX plans to launch the Starship spacecraft on top of its Super Heavy rocket booster.  At the SpaceX website and at YouTube, you can watch this live.

The launch pad is at SpaceX's Starbase complex in South Texas, 20 miles north of Brownsville.  The test flight will last about 1 1/2 hours.  The hope is that it will reach orbit but without a full orbit of the Earth.  About three minutes after launch, the booster will separate and fall into the Gulf of Mexico.  The spacecraft will continue eastward, passing over the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans before falling into the sea near Hawaii.  Although nothing will be saved from this test flight, eventually both the spacecraft and the booster will be reusable.

Musk has said that there is only a 50% chance that the Starship will reach orbit.  But he has a whole fleet of Starships under construction, and he predicts that there is an 80% chance that one of these will attain orbit by the end of this year.

Musk's SpaceX is one example (along with Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and others) of the stunning success of spacefaring entrepreneurs doing what NASA and other governmental space programs have failed to achieve. In 2022, SpaceX had 61 successful launches of its Falcon rockets with commercial payloads.  As of today, SpaceX has more than 3,300 of its Starlink communications satellites in operation.  SpaceX also has contracts with NASA for transporting astronauts and material to the International Space Station.

Musk has also participated in the discussions over how the human settlements on Mars could be designed to promote liberty and avoid tyranny.  That's the question that I want to think about.

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