SpaceX founder Elon Musk first mentioned plans for a fully reusable rocket, initially known as the “Mars Colonial Transporter,” to enable human colonization of Mars. The project was in early conceptual stages and went through several iterations over the years.
Elon Musk unveiled the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) at the International Astronautical Congress. The ITS, a precursor to Starship, was a two-stage rocket with a spaceship and a booster. The concept aimed to transport humans to Mars using a reusable spacecraft and booster.
SpaceX updated the design of the ITS, renaming it the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR). The new concept featured a smaller spacecraft called BFS (Big Falcon Spaceship). Both vehicles are designed for full reusability, and the ability to transport cargo and passengers to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
BFR Facility Announcement
SpaceX announced their intentions to build a facility at the Port of Los Angeles to manufacture the BFR (later renamed Starship).
Starship and Super Heavy Reveal
Elon Musk revealed the latest design of the spacecraft, now named Starship, and its booster, called Super Heavy, at a press event in Hawthorne, California. He also announced that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa would be the first private passenger on a lunar mission aboard Starship.
First Test Vehicle
SpaceX completed the assembly of the Starship Hopper, a suborbital test vehicle used for initial tests of the Raptor engines and vertical takeoff and landing systems.
Raptor Engine Test
SpaceX successfully conducted the first static fire test of the Raptor engine, a critical milestone in the development of Starship and Super Heavy.
Starship Hopper Test Flights
The Starship Hopper conducted a tethered test fire, followed by a tethered test flight which reached a height of approximately 1 m. The purpose of the testing was to evaluate the performance of the Raptor engine and the vehicle’s vertical takeoff and landing capabilities.
Starship Hopper Free Flights
The Starship Hopper completed two successful untethered test flights, reaching altitudes of 20 meters and 150 meters, respectively.
Starship Mk1 Reveal
Elon Musk presented an update on Starship’s development and revealed the full-scale Starship Mk1 prototype at the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
Prototype Testing and Development
SpaceX conducted a series of tests on various Starship prototypes, including pressure tests, static fires, and short test flights, which contributed to the iterative development of the spacecraft.
BFR Facility Cancellation
SpaceX canceled their lease with the Port of Los Angeles. Initial Starship production would be done in south Texas.
SN5 and SN6 Test Flights
The Starship SN5 and SN6 prototypes successfully completed 150-meter test flights, demonstrating the spacecraft’s vertical takeoff and landing capabilities.
SN8 High-Altitude Test Flight
The Starship SN8 prototype completed a high-altitude test flight, reaching an altitude of 12.5 km. While the vehicle exploded during the landing attempt, the test provided valuable data for the development of subsequent prototypes.
Continued Testing and Development
SpaceX continued to develop and test Starship prototypes, with several high-altitude test flights, including SN9, SN10, SN11, and SN15. Each test provided essential data and insights, allowing SpaceX to refine the design, systems, and performance of the spacecraft.
SN15 Successful High-Altitude Test Flight
The Starship SN15 prototype completed a successful high-altitude test flight, reaching an altitude of 10 km and landing safely. This marked a significant milestone in Starship’s development, showcasing the progress made in refining the spacecraft’s design and systems.
Super Heavy Booster Test
SpaceX performed the first static fire test of the Super Heavy booster (Booster 3) at the Boca Chica facility, paving the way for future integrated Starship and Super Heavy tests.
Super Heavy Booster 4 Orbital Test Stand
SpaceX rolled out the Super Heavy Booster 4 and placed it on the orbital launch mount at the Boca Chica facility, preparing for future integrated tests with the Starship spacecraft.
This iconic photo is reminiscent of the famous NYC steel workers photograph.
Ongoing Development and Testing
SpaceX continued to develop and test the Starship and Super Heavy systems.
First Orbital Test Flight Attempt
The Starship spacecraft was to fly nearly one orbit around the Earth before reentering the atmosphere and performing a targeted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. The Super Heavy booster was to have performed a controlled landing in the Gulf of Mexico’s about 20 mi (30 km) off the Texas coast about 8 minutes after liftoff. The rocket lifted off at at 08:33 CDT (13:33 UTC) from SpaceX’s private launch site, Boca Chica, south Texas, causing unexpected damage to its launch pad and surrounding infrastructure. Multiple engines failed during and after takeoff. The vehicle passed max q and entered supersonic flight, but the spacecraft failed to separate from the booster. Starship tumbled and the autonomous flight termination system was activated but did not immediately destroy the vehicle. Starship exploded 40 seconds later, nearly 4 minutes into the flight.
The launch mishap resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the FAA by environmental groups, and FAA launching a mishap investigation.
Second Orbital Test Flight
Timing is dependent upon SpaceX completing their analysis of the flight and addressing issues relating to Starship, Super Heavy Booster and Raptor engines. SpaceX will also need to repair and upgrade the launch pad and associated facilities.
Timing will also be dependent upon the FAA completion of mishap investigation and SpaceX resolving any issues resulting from that investigation.
It is uncertain how, or if, the lawsuit against FAA will affect the timing of Starship second orbital test flight.
Superbird-9 is a SKY Perfect JSAT’s HTS (High Throughput Satellites)
Space Tourism Flight
Last flight of planned Polaris Program and first crewed mission of Starship.
Space Tourism Flight
Dennis and Akiko Tito are the first two crewmembers announced on Starship’s second commercial spaceflight around the Moon. Over the course of a week, Starship and the crew will travel to the Moon, fly within 200 km of the Moon’s surface, and complete a full journey around the Moon before safely returning to Earth. Ten other seats on Starship remain unsold and are available.
NASA demonstration mission for the Human Landing System prior to Artemis 3, was announced in April 2021. Includes refueling and landing vehicles.
Human Landing System vehicle for Artemis program. Includes refueling and landing vehicles.
Astrolab FLEX rover mission
The Flexible Logistics and Exploration (FLEX) rover is flying as part of a SpaceX rideshare mission to the south pole of the moon.
On November 15, 2022, NASA announced it had awarded a contract to SpaceX for a second crewed lunar landing demonstration mission.