How to Fly Anywhere on Earth in Less Than an Hour

Jun 6, 2024
How to Fly Anywhere on Earth in Less Than an Hour

What an unbelievable morning!

At 8:51 Eastern Time this morning, SpaceX launched its fourth Starship test flight, sending the massive spacecraft into Earth’s orbit.

Starship Takeoff
Starship Test Flight Liftoff | Source: SpaceX on X

The flight test was so successful, it was hard for the media to spin it any other way.

An Extraordinary Accomplishment

A few minutes after liftoff, the separation of the Super Heavy booster and the hot stage jettison from the Starship was flawless.

Separation | Source: SpaceX on X
Separation | Source: SpaceX on X

And while the Starship was climbing higher, entering into Earth’s orbit, the Super Heavy booster re-entered the atmosphere and completed a vertical soft landing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Vertical Soft Landing | Source: SpaceX on X
Vertical Soft Landing | Source: SpaceX on X

About a half hour into the flight, Starship was peacefully cruising in orbit in preparation for its re-entry.

Cruising in Orbit | Source: SpaceX on X
Cruising in Orbit | Source: SpaceX on X

And about an hour after the liftoff, Starship was already making its way back through the Earth’s atmosphere.

The short clip below is a video that is basically looking through the plasma caused by the intense heat of the re-entry. The object jutting out is one of the Starship flaps.

Plasma on Re-Entry | Source: SpaceX on X
Plasma on Re-Entry | Source: SpaceX on X

And just before 10 AM, the Starship itself achieved a soft landing, splashing down into the Indian Ocean. This is the first time for a Starship to successfully return to Earth from orbit under a controlled re-entry.

@elonmusk SpaceX Congrats
Source: @elonmusk on X

It’s difficult to express what an extraordinary accomplishment this is for the team at SpaceX. 

The first test flight of the Starship was April 2023. The second was last November. The third was this March.

And now, on the fourth test flight in just 15 months, SpaceX has achieved something extraordinary.

A Class of Its Own

The Starship and its Super Heavy booster stand 397 feet tall. 

And its 33 Raptor engines generate about 16.7 million pounds of thrust. For comparison, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which costs billions per launch, comes in at 321 feet and only produces 8.8 million pounds of thrust.

Starship Overview
Source: SpaceX

The Starship is in a class of its own. It’s the largest and most powerful launch vehicle in history. And it’s the most critical piece of the puzzle to support NASA’s ambitions to return to the moon, and eventually manned Mars missions.

It’s ironic, that in light of Starship’s rapid pace of improvement and success today, that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announced that he was cancelling his commissioned ride on a Starship around the moon.

In 2018, the billionaire announced his dearMoon project. Maezawa intended to fund a trip on a SpaceX Starship, along with eight chosen artists to record the first civilian trip around the moon.

The original target was to make the voyage by the end of 2023. The excuse that Maezawa gave was that without “clear schedule certainty in the near-term,” he is cancelling the project.

Cold feet? Got low on cash? Just a publicity stunt all along? 

Who knows, but what a missed opportunity.

What SpaceX has done is incredibly hard engineering. Something that no other company or government has ever accomplished before. Does it really matter if the trip gets pushed out to 2025? Of course not.

We’re witnessing history in the making.

And this isn’t just about SpaceX.

SpaceX is democratizing access to space with the Starship. Launch costs per kilogram will drop below $100. This single factor will enable a vibrant space economy, allowing even small companies to access space and provide related products and services.

What’s next?

Anyone, Anywhere… in Less Than an Hour

Starship flight test number five is already in the works, and the upper stage has already conducted static firing of its engines.

And Elon Musk has already stated that if flight four goes well (which it did), a Mechazilla tower catch will be possible for test flight five.

Below is an animation of what that will look like:

Mechazilla Tower SpaceX
Mechazilla Tower | Source: SpaceX

This might look like a novelty, but it’s not. Reusability and efficiency have been the key to SpaceX’s strategy, which has resulted in decreasing launch costs per kilogram by more than 90%. And with Starship, that will happen again.

The vision is for the booster to be caught and restacked on the launch pad in preparation for testing and relaunch.

The Starship will also land vertically on the launch pad and be lifted by the Mechazilla to be restacked on top of the Super Heavy booster.

Imagine, just imagine, being able to turn around boosters and Starships within a matter of hours to prepare for the next flight.

Six years ago, SpaceX shared a vision of the future of transportation whereby anyone could fly to any place on Earth in less than one hour.

Fly Anywhere In an Hour SpaceX
Source: SpaceX

Musk’s pronouncements of the future were considered at that time to be nothing but hype, no substance. Most thought it was a joke.

How about now?

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