SpaceX has exceeded its launch goals for 2023, delivering 80% of all Earth payload mass to orbit so far this year, CEO Elon Musk said. China has delivered 10%, and the rest of the world combined has delivered the remaining 10%.
Following the company’s record-breaking 62nd successful flight of the year on Sunday, Musk revealed a few details about SpaceX’s plans for next year. The space exploration company, he said, will be responsible for delivering 90% of all payload to orbit mass for 2024. And once SpaceX’s bold Starship program gets up and running, that number will exceed 99%, Musk said.
“These magnitudes are madness to consider, but necessary to make consciousness multiplanetary,” Musk said in a post on his social media platform, X.
Musk’s latest Starship predictions come a little more than a week after the rocket’s booster performed a “static fire” test, igniting its engines for six seconds. The booster fired 29 of its 33 engines during its first static fire on August 6; all 33 engines fired up during this second test on August 25.
After the successful static fire, Musk teased the highly anticipated second launch of Starship, saying: “Getting ready for the next Starship flight.”
It’s still unclear exactly when SpaceX plans to try to fly Starship again. The rocket’s first flight occurred on April 20 of this year and ended in a fiery explosion above the Gulf of Mexico. Musk said in June that SpaceX has made more than 1,000 design changes to Starship following the destruction of the first rocket. He said at the time that both the pad and rocket should be ready for a secondary launch in about six weeks.
These optimistic plans come in the wake of a lawsuit a coalition of environmental groups brought against the Federal Aviation Administration for allowing SpaceX to launch Starship without properly addressing the impact on the surrounding area. It remains unclear whether this suit will impact Starship’s timeline.
“The FAA’s failure to fully consider the impacts of the Starship Launch Program,” the suit reads, “was arbitrary and capricious, in violation of NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act.”
This increase in rocket flights spearheaded by Musk and SpaceX represents an additional environmental threat in the form of the injection of soot into the upper layers of the atmosphere, something that could warm those layers and weaken the protection of the ozone layer, contributing to climate change.
At around the same time that SpaceX was launching its 62nd rocket of the year, delivering an additional 21 Starlink satellites into orbit, the company’s Dragon capsule safely delivered four astronauts back to Earth.
The astronauts, making up NASA and SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission, were returning after a six-month stay aboard the international space station. The Dragon capsule — whose exterior heated up to around 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit — was flying at more than 17,000 miles per hour before deploying a series of parachutes and landing in the ocean off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.
In addition to the environmental concerns, there are also safety concerns associated with SpaceX’s ambitious launch plans. The company has had a number of high-profile rocket failures in recent years, including the explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket in 2016 that killed a SpaceX employee.
Despite the risks, Musk has said that he is committed to making SpaceX the leading provider of launch services in the world. He has also said that he believes that Starship will eventually be used to transport humans to Mars.
Only time will tell whether Musk’s ambitious plans will be realized. But one thing is for sure: SpaceX is playing a major role in the future of space exploration.