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Date: 15 May 2023
SpaceX’s Failure Of an Orbital Launch Puts the Lunar Crew Landing Mission’s 2025 Deadline in Jeopardy
On April 20, Starship and the Super Heavy booster merged for the first time, aiming for an orbital test of the Starship system. Although its initial success, Starship failed to separate from the booster, thus disintegrating in a fireball not seen on the Texas sky before.
The orbital test flight surpassed many expectations. The vehicle flew nearly three minutes despite eight of its 33 rocket engines failing, reaching an altitude of almost 40 kilometres. At this point, Starship failed to separate from the booster, leading to a spectacular explosion. Despite the unsuccessful orbital launch, Space X hailed the success, which will allow future improvements to the Starship system.
SpaceX describes Starship as a “launch system able to carry up to 100 people on a long duration, interplanetary flights”. Together with Starship tanker vehicles, which enable to refill the Starship spacecraft in low-Earth orbit prior to departing for the moon or Mars, SpaceX developed an infrastructure for future space exploration. SpaceX infrastructure is a part of Artemis’s mission, aiming to return man (American) to the Moon.
The cooperation of SpaceX with NASA is a part of the new national space strategy, which gathered a pace during the Trumps administration which relies on the collaboration of the private sector with NASA. In 2019 SpaceX has won NASA’s $2.9 Billion Contract to deliver American astronauts to the lunar surface. The Artemis mission responds to the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP), also known as the Chang’e Project, which plans to take two astronauts to the lunar surface by around 2030. The latest SpaceX Starship explosion raises questions about the current assumptions of a US human-crewed mission reaching the moon by 2025.
The reason for the 2025 year was more political rather than technical. The aggressive Goal was set during the Trump administration and was intended to be the culmination point of the second term of Trump. Moreover, the new approach represented by SpaceX has the potential to revolutionise the way we approach space discovery, being the biggest milestone since Apollo, even when the ambitious deadlines are not met.
Szymon Polewka is a student of international relations at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, specializing in the history of international relations, the Eurasian region, DACHL countries, intercultural relations, and the energy sector. He is currently on a scholarship at the University of Bremen. He has gained experience organizing the 2020 Economic Forum in Karpacz and numerous youth and student associations, such as AIESEC or Koło Naukowe Wyzwań Zielonego Ładu.
1. As Artemis Moves Forward, NASA Picks SpaceX to Land Next Americans on Moon, NASA.gov, April 16:
2. Bartels M., SpaceX’s Starship Fails Upward in Milestone Test, Scientific American, April 20, 2023:
3. Kluger J., The Next Challenge for Musk’s SpaceX? Explaining What Happened to Starship, April 24, 2023:
4. Alamalhodaei A., SpaceX’s successful failure is a wake-up call for Starship’s timeline, TechCrunch, April 21, 2023:
5. Palmer C., Starship Fails to Separate; Mission Hailed as a Success, April 20, 2023: https://dsm.forecastinternational.com/wordpress/2023/04/20/starship-fails-to-separate-mission-hailed-as-a-success/
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