Elon Musk Believes SpaceX Super Heavy Starship Could Have Manned Flight Next Year

Elon Musk told CNN that he believes SpaceX Super Heavy Starship could have manned flights in 12-15 months. Elon said he was quite confident about manned Starship flights by the end of 2020 and possibly even 12 months.

The SpaceX Dragon 2 system should have hardware for the crew abort test ready by October and the first manned crew hardware by November. The manned crew would fly after a successful crew abort test and after the safety checks for the Dragon 2 crew mission. Elon thinks the manned crew flight (SPX-DM2) could fly in 3-4 months.

This would mean the manned SpaceX Super Heavy Starship could be 8-12 months after the crew dragon mission.

The manned SpaceX Super Heavy Starship would beat the Space Launch System to orbit and to a manned mission.

Space Launch System is scheduled for a Green run in about mid-2020.

Green Run SLS Test – Mid-2020 If There are no Delays

The test program for the core stage at Stennis will begin with installing the stage into the test stand. Then, engineers will turn the components on one by one through a series of initial tests and functional checks designed to identify any issues. Those tests and checks will culminate in an eight-minute-long test fire, mimicking the full duration of the stage’s first flight with ignition, ascent and engine shutdown. The results of this test also will provide important data that will confirm how the system reacts as the fuel is depleted from the propellant tanks.

SLS will be fully assembled. SLS will be shipped by barge to the Green Run test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center where it will take another few months to set up the test. “We’ll probably fire it off in the second or third quarter of (2020),” Boeing SLS team lead Robert Broeren told the same conference.

It will take still more time to assess the test and get the SLS core to the launch site at Kennedy Space Center. “From (arrival at Kennedy), with the integration of Orion, wet dress rehearsal and that sort of thing, there’s probably two quarters, maybe two and a half quarters, of work to get to a launch date,” he estimated. “So, most likely early in 2021. It could happen earlier, it could happen later.”

Based upon the history of the SLS, Nextbigfuture would make bets on later than early 2021.

The “Green Run” test of the core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) will be conducted at the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Flight Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The historic test stand has been used to test stages for multiple programs, including the Saturn V and the space shuttle. The test stand was renovated to accommodate the SLS rocket’s core stage, which is the largest stage NASA has ever built.
Credits: NASA

SOURCES- NASA, CNN, SpaceX, Elon Musk
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

42 thoughts on “Elon Musk Believes SpaceX Super Heavy Starship Could Have Manned Flight Next Year”

  1. Great point. If your qual test objective is 10 successful unmanned flights, they need to be performed using a type conforming test article. As noted, the qual test is used to validate many things, including the vehicle’s design, analysis, performance, safety/reliability, manufacturing process, operation, etc.

  2. Starship? That is the fantasy being sold. The reality is low Earth orbit. There is nothing special about that, had been done hundreds of times before.

  3. Blue Origin’s got a LONG way to go to catch up to NG or ULA, much less SpaceX. I’m honestly wondering if Bezos looks at BO as a mildly diverting hobby, while Musk is pretty much obsessed with SpaceX…

  4. I am thinking more a stripped down version of the Dragon that is essentially a life support pod that is mounted inside accessible thorough a dorsal hatch in the SS skin. All it would take is a few supports to hold it in place and add a door. That could allow for a quick moon orbit mission since it would be light and all the necessary life support systems are ready to go.

    It would make it a cheap way to pull off the lunar orbit mission quickly. Once they are successful in launching and landing a Starship Heavy prototype, they can put in an already human rated pod that is super light and stashed suspended a little below the top of the nose cone, just add matching port windows on the dorsal side dual hatch for a view.

    Literally some supports and a dorsal hatch could allow him to adapt a Dragon stripped of its heat shield and emergency system.

    The whole thing might weigh 10-15 tons with the modifications. It would make an awesome proof of concept on the cheap.

  5. If it were thought necessary you could mount one in the nose of the Starship, under a cover that could be jettisoned. One of the nice things about building in stainless steel instead of composite is that design changes and one offs are quite easy.

    But I agree that it’s hard to see what the purpose would be.

  6. I doubt Skylon or anything close to it will fly. I like the SABRE engine, and there are lots of potential applications for it, both military and civilian. REL are primarily a developer of engines and their components. It will take aerospace companies to design and build vehicles to use it, and they will be more interested in hypersonic applications. Since they brought in new experienced managers, their focused switched away from SSTO spaceplanes to engines for others to use, and through this, they have gained much more funding.

    Shame. I liked Skylon and HOTOL before it.

  7. The U.S. Air Force is selecting two providers out of the field of 4 (SpaceX, ULA, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin) for the Launch Service Procurement Phase 2 competition.

    The Air Force wanted two providers for “assured access to space,” in case one provider’s rocket is grounded by a problem, the other provider is still available to fly the Air Force payload.

    Before SpaceX came onto the scene, “assured access” meant a monopoly provider with two different rocket families (Delta IV and Atlas V) charging as much as $300 million for a single launch (for a Delta IV Heavy). Competition from SpaceX has forced ULA to reduce their prices, and that’s a good thing.

  8. Retropropulsive landings through atmosphere are indeed a very different animal from a safety perspective than Lunar. Aerodynamic loading, thermal and pressure, are huge sources of risk and component failure.

  9. There is an ongoing award process currently for EELV from the USAF of which Space-X has submitted Falcon 9 as a part, however, there will be multiple launchers awarded full contracts. For better or worse this guarantees that Space X won’t be knocking the “old guard” totally out of the government launch business any time soon.

  10. I’m not sure that’s a compatible concept – Crew Dragon is undoubtedly way, way smaller in diameter than the payload fairing on the Starship booster. It could probably be done but it would be a lot of engineering for a confusing purpose, when Starship itself is intended to be an inhabitable capsule.

  11. Yes, but I believe that the risks for the astronauts were incredible,
    more risky than fighting a year in Vietnam.

  12. It’s a given that there will be setbacks. One only has to look at the hilarious “How Not To Land An Orbital Rocket Booster” blooper reel to see the hard work SpaceX had to do to get to where they are today.

    I’m sure Starship will experience setbacks and it will take longer (possibly a lot longer) than Elon’s aspirational targets. But odds are good they will get there eventually, late yes, but likely to succeed.

    Looking forward to seeing Elon’s future Starship blooper reel. 🙂


  13. I hope it won’t. The “gods of progress” requires sacrifices. You can’t ascend to the heavens without a few people dying.

  14. Before the shuttle, there were a lot of lifting body test flights. I remember the opening for the “Six Million Dollar Man” was the accident that occurred at the landing of a “lifting body”.

  15. SABRE will happen, its taken a while, but development is finally starting to speed up. In reality its not likely to beat the Starship for obrital launch, its best use is for transportation and military aviation mostly in atmosphere. Its greatest potential is to replace turbine jets. The Starship is unrealistic for point to point travel on Earth. Not everyone is gonna be happy losing their lunch on a high G rocket ride. Most of the SABRE design is pretty straightforward, its the precooler thats tricky, making it durable to withstand reuse it the main hurdle.

  16. Don’t let the initial success fool you, Space-X still has a long way to go before manned Starship flights. I would say more like about two years from now. Elon tends to be very optimistic.

  17. That’s what SpaceX did with the Falcon 9. They iterated through 7 different versions to get to the stable design that can be human-rated by NASA to fly Commercial Crew (Falcon 9 Block 5), where each booster in that production block is pretty much built the same way so the process can be audited and tracked to NASA’s satisfaction.

    Likely the same will be done for Starship. Even though SpaceX isn’t looking to have NASA human-rate Starship, to demonstrate to the public it’s reasonably safe for human flight they will need to extensively test-fly the final-mass version (120 tons dry mass) and establish a standardized manufacturing process before flying crew commercially. Certifying something like this for regular revenue service (if Musk intends to use Starship for point-to-point suborbital intercity passenger service) will definitely be breaking new ground for the FAA and that might take quite a while to work out for sure.

  18. There is, of course, at least one downside to the “launch the same craft multiple times” to establish a safety record: It establishes a safety record for that particular craft. It doesn’t really establish that you can reliably build that sort of craft to be safe, you may have just lucked out in getting a good set of parts.

    This is an argument for not launching people on any given Starship until it has flown multiple unmanned cargo missions, at least until they’ve got multiple flights on a fair sample of production starships.

  19. Exactly. During the unmanned testing phase, it’s “move fast and break things.” That’s how SpaceX learn, improve, and refine their product. They learn from their failures quickly, implement a solution, and keep on.

    CRS-1 they learned from the Merlin 1C engine failure to improve and further refine it into the Merlin 1D, which has never had a single failure to date.

    CRS-7 they learned to verify the integrity of external supplier-sourced critical structural parts, such as the strut that failed.

    AMOS-6 they worked with NASA to isolate the COPV problem and develop a much safer COPV 2.0, which is going to be used on the first man-rated Falcon 9 to fly the crewed DM-2 mission in a few months.

    Crew Dragon ground test failure they worked with NASA to discover the check valves is a problem area and they replaced it with burst disk depressurization system.

    I expect problems to develop with the Starship test flights. And expect to see them quickly characterize the problem and implement solutions quickly and keep on. It will be all but certain to take longer than Musk’s aspirational schedules but I wouldn’t bet against them succeeding.

  20. To keep the agreement, AND enabled by; He gave them a pretty good chunk of change to accelerate the development schedule.

  21. “And SpaceX isn’t going to fly crew aboard Starship until it has many unmanned launches under its belt to prove out the concept. ”

    This is a key point Musk made during the presentation: With single use hardware, to build a safety record of 10 successful flights, you have to build 10 rockets. To built the same record with a reuseable craft, you just launch it 10 times. If your reuseable craft was built for quick turn-around, you can pile up those flights in a matter of weeks.

    This was, of course, expressly an “If everything goes right” schedule. If on the first reentry they lose the Starship, it’s back to the design process.

  22. Yes, I’m aware of them. Our atmosphere and gravity well however make it a little more challenging…lets wait and see. It’s certain to be spectacular in any case.

  23. If his satellite internet works there should be some shorting opportunities in existing internet providers, especially those currently offering high prices for poor service to customers with no choice.

  24. Keep in mind also that NASA had indeed done retropropulsive landings with astronauts before– 6 times in fact. Without a single unmanned test flight in its intended environment to prove the retropropulsive landing process.

    Apollo 11-17.

  25. lol, I love how awesome Elon’s plans/ambitions are. I know it’s an old cliché to call him Tony Stark, it’s been done to death. But it is so true. He envisions something amazing, then through loads of money & engineering, he brings it into reality.

  26. That is why SpaceX’s experience with retropropulsively landing the Falcon 9 is so invaluable. It’s informing them of the dynamics involved and where the potential problem spots are so they can be addressed. Every landing experience allows them to refine the process a bit more. They have successfully landed the Falcon 9 safely 43 times so far.

    I would bet SpaceX won’t fly a crew aboard Starship until they have at least done that many successful landings via test flights or unmanned missions to ensure the concept works reliably.

  27. I already addressed the shuttle heat tile issue and fact that SABRE is hypothetical in my comments.

    Yes, belly flop re-entries are new, but they are deployed with a parachute over the ocean – big difference.

    I’m also not saying this approach is doomed to failure, just that it’s chances of failure seem higher than traditional methods. Whether the success rate is good enough for humans, only time will tell. I hope it succeeds.

  28. The Shuttle was a death trap which killed 14 astronauts. Not sure where you are getting the idea that it’s “a lot safer.”

    Propulsive landing for Crew Dragon was nixed by NASA– It was not a SpaceX decision. NASA did not want to have seams in the Crew Dragon heatshield (where the landing legs would deploy), nevermind that the Shuttle had landing gear door seams in the heatshield.

    “Bellyflop” re-entries are not new. How do you think capsules like Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Soyuz work? They re-enter with a heatshield-covered blunt face forward. Starship will do the same with its heatshield-covered bottom, and will have four fly-by-wire flapbrakes providing flight-computer-controlled artificial stability.

    And SpaceX isn’t going to fly crew aboard Starship until it has many unmanned launches under its belt to prove out the concept. Unlike NASA which is going to launch live astronauts on SLS/Orion’s second flight.

    SABRE at this point is still vaporware. Until REL rolls out a prototype like how Elon just showed off his last night, I remain unconvinced Skylon is anywhere near reality.

  29. SpaceX’s rockets have already disrupted the launch industry. The Falcon 9 practically destroyed the commercial viability of Russia’s Proton rocket, which went from 8-10 commercial satellite launches at its peak years from the 1980s to the mid 2010s, down to just 1 commercial payload in all of 2018, so badly in fact that Khrunichev is going to retire the Proton.

    Similarly the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy have ended ULA’s monopoly on U.S. Government launches.

    If it lives up to expectations, Starship will intensify the disruption. Corporations and governments looking to put things in space will find novel uses for Starship and it will be interesting to see what develops with this enabling technology. Heck, Starship already enabled a private individual to book a trip to go around the Moon. Nobody except government astronauts was ever able to do that before.

  30. nasa is crazy… they show video of sls being assembled… it actually looks simple as hell… two big ass tanks… and some rocket motors… what’s the big deal??? It took them 30 years to put that thing together? Who are they kidding… all the complexity is in flight computers and rocket motors… everything else looks more like a big dumb rocket…

  31. i give SLS an F minus for needing 18 miles of cabling… that sounds more like a dinosaur Rocket From the 1960s… then something based on modern tech…

  32. If his rockets will truly become a disruption (on which I reserve the right to remain skeptical) then there is surely a way to exploit it to make some cash. But how?

  33. Unfortunately I’m not convinced. It all comes down to safety margin. If you compare to a capsule landing in the ocean, or even the space shuttle, these systems seem a lot safer. Whether its number of moving parts, likelihood of toppling over, limited flexibility for changing trajectory or landing site, it seems an inherently risky way to land. Also compare for example a SABRE-driven Spaceplane that can fly as a jet (at least hypothetically), I would say this free-fall approach has serious inherent safety issues. Is this also why a powered landing was abandoned for sea landing for Crew Dragon? I suspect so.

  34. His blind fans keep counting and cutting the schedule to his targets by his word and aimlessly counting payload that he can bring to space per day. Hopefully the first manned flight disaster caused by rush will not ruin him.

  35. I presume this is partly to keep his agreement with Yusaku Maesawa?

    The guy paid them a hefty check and probably wants to see the manned trips starting ASAP.

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