SpaceX Aims for Groundbreaking Efficiency and Cost Reductions with Upcoming Starship Updates, Says Elon Musk

SpaceX recently held a presentation where Elon Musk gave several updates on Starship. The development will make the huge rocket more efficient than the current one and it will be cheaper to launch than Falcon 1.

The SpaceX founder and CEO held the presentation at the Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Musk said Starship’s fourth launch is scheduled in about a month. That is consistent with earlier comments from company president Gwynne Shotwell at the Satellite 2024 conference. She said the flight is scheduled for early May, pending an updated launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Musk said the goal of the fourth flight is for Starship’s upper stage to go through a “high heating regime” upon reentry and make a controlled impact into the ocean. SpaceX wants to bring the Super Heavy booster back by landing “on essentially a virtual tower” in the Gulf of Mexico. If successful, this would allow the company to try to return the booster to Starbase for landing next time.

“If the landing on the virtual tower works, then we will actually try on Flight 5 to come back and land on the tower,” he said. “That is very much a success-oriented schedule, but it is in the realm of possibility.”

Musk is optimistic that SpaceX will be able to land the booster back on the tower this year. The tower, which has two “arms,” is called “Mechazilla.”

“The odds of us actually being able to catch the booster with the Mechazilla arms this year is probably 80 to 90%.”

At the same time, the controlled return of Starship to base is a more difficult task. Musk said that the company first wants to conduct at least two consecutive successful controlled splashdowns of Starship in the ocean before attempting to land on Starbase.

“We don’t want to rain debris over Mexico or the U.S. My guess is probably next year when we will be able to reuse Starship.”

SpaceX also plans to increase production speed. Before the March launch, the company had four pairs of ships and boosters at Starbase. During the current presentation, Musk said the company would build about six more this year.

“That production rate will increase a lot next year. That’s why we’re building the giant factory” planned for Starbase, he said.

Along with increasing vehicle production, SpaceX is building a second launch tower at Starbase. The company also expects its first launch tower in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to be operational by the middle of next year.

“What we should probably expect is that we do the development launches here, test anything new here, build the rockets, at Starbase[…], and then probably most of the operational launches would be from the Cape.”

In addition, Starship will be updated with improved Raptor engines. They will increase its thrust from 230 to 280 metric tons-force, and “ultimately” to more than 330 metric tons-force of thrust. Starship 2 will also have a slightly longer booster and ship. This should allow more than 100 tons of cargo to be launched into orbit in a fully reusable configuration. The future Starship 3 will be approximately 25 meters taller than Starship 2. It will be able to carry more than 200 metric tons into orbit when fully reusable.

Furthermore, Musk said that the launch of the future Starship 3 would cost less than that of Falcon 1. Its price was about $10 million. He estimates that the cost of launching Starship could drop to $2-3 million.

“These are sort of unthinkable numbers,” he said. “Nobody ever thought this was possible. But we’re not breaking any physics to achieve this.”

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