Starship conducted a successful test on Saturday and the rocket lived longer than its previous flight on April 20, but time is running out for SpaceX and there are many issues to be resolved before the Artemis-3 mission is scheduled to land. (2025). Because the Starship test is no longer just about SpaceX or Elon Musk’s ego, but about maintaining the United States’ preeminence in space exploration.

StarshipPhoto: Eric Gay/AP/Profimedia

After Saturday’s launch, the launch pad at Boca Chica, Texas appears to be less damaged than the previous launch, the Starship has reached 140 km altitude (meaning it’s in space), all Raptor engines on both stages are working perfectly since then, the dynamic pressure zone is critical the rocket design was overcome and the separation went well, although the mechanism was new: a hot compartment in which the second stage engines were activated before the physical separation between the two stages, probably the biggest difference from the first Starship flight.

But there were also problems: the primary stage exploded shortly after separation, and it is still unclear why the secondary stage was also lost. Even if it had continued to fly, given the speed and time it would take for the engines to run out of fuel, the Starship would not have had enough speed to circle the Earth and would have crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, not the other side. planet, over the Hawaiian Islands, as originally planned.

It is currently unknown when the next test will take place, but SpaceX should hurry, as the Artemis-3 moon landing requires about 10-20 (the exact number is currently unknown) consecutive Starship launches, flawlessly, to successfully transfer fuel from one ship to orbit to another In addition, successive launches of Starships must occur within a short period of time, otherwise the fuel carried into orbit evaporates.

Before starting the Artemis-3 mission, SpaceX must also conduct a test flight without a crew on board, which is a perfectly reasonable requirement of NASA. Also, the Starship variant used for selenization is slightly different from the one tested today at Boca Chica. And the transportation of fuel in orbit is still a big unknown, and SpaceX will have to check it in the near future.

To get a high number of Starship launches, SpaceX will use the Boca Chica ramp in Texas and the Kennedy Space Center ramp in Florida.

NASA is also considering rescheduling the Artemis mission if SpaceX’s Starship lunar rover is not ready in time. For this reason, he recently approved the development of an alternative lunar lander designed and built by a consortium of several companies coordinated by Blue Origin. It will be used in the Artemis-5 mission, currently scheduled for 2029. Or by 2030, if there are further delays in the project, which is not excluded given the complexity of such a project.

But if SpaceX doesn’t have a lunar lander ready for the Artemis-3 mission in 2025, and if NASA uses Blue Origin’s Blue Moon backup I mentioned earlier, we’ll be talking about a crewed return to the moon around 2030. We still have to consider other elements that have yet to be implemented, such as the astronaut suits required for extrasolar lunar activities. But that could pose a problem for the United States, as China also aims to send a crew to the lunar surface by 2030.

The Changzheng-9 super-heavy launcher (the Chinese equivalent of the US SLS rocket) will not be ready in time, so work is currently underway on the Changzheng-5G, a new rocket that is a derivative of the Changzheng-5, China’s most powerful rocket. an orbital launcher that has already been successfully used several times. Changzheng-5G is likely to be tested in Earth orbit in 2027, leaving plenty of time for a lunar mission in 2030-2031. We don’t know what progress China has made with the selenary lander or extravehicular suits, but selenization of taikonauts early in the next decade is no longer as impossible as it seemed a few years ago.

And here we, the audience, get into a new space race to the moon.

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