Elon Musk is preparing for a test flight of the most powerful rocket ever built, designed to send astronauts to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
The billionaire’s company SpaceX is counting down to the first test flight Monday of Starship, a 50-foot-tall spacecraft designed to carry crew and cargo that sits atop a 230-foot-tall Super Heavy first stage rocket.
The giant rocket is expected to lift off from Starbase, SpaceX’s spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas, at 1pm UK time.
Musk has tried to manage launch expectations, warning that the test could fail.
He said at a live event on Twitter Spaces on Sunday, “It’s a very risky flight. It’s the first launch of a very complicated and gigantic rocket.
“There are a million ways this rocket could fail. We will be very careful and if we see anything that worries us, we will postpone it.”
Musk said he wants to “lower expectations” because “he will probably not be successful tomorrow, if success means reaching orbit.”
Fallback times are scheduled for later in the week if Monday’s launch attempt is delayed.
NASA has chosen the Starship spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the Moon in late 2025 – a mission known as Artemis III – for the first time since the Apollo program ended in 1972.
Collectively referred to as Starship, the spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket have never flown together, although there have been several suborbital test flights of the spacecraft alone.
If all goes to plan, the superheavy booster will separate from the spacecraft about three minutes after launch and sink in the Gulf of Mexico.
The spacecraft, which has six engines of its own, will continue at an altitude of nearly 150 miles, completing a near-circle of the Earth before crashing into the Pacific Ocean about 90 minutes after launch.
Musk said: “If it gets to orbit, that’s a huge success. If we get far enough away from the launch pad before something goes wrong, I think I’d consider that a success.
“Just don’t blow up the stepping stone.”
The spacecraft generates 17 million pounds of thrust, more than double that of the Saturn V rockets used to send Apollo astronauts to the Moon.
SpaceX plans to eventually put a spacecraft into orbit and then refuel it with another spacecraft so it can continue its journey to Mars or beyond.
Musk said the goal is to make Starship reusable and reduce the price to a few million dollars per flight.
He said, “In the long run — long term means, I don’t know, two or three years — we should achieve full and rapid reusability.”
The ultimate goal is to establish bases on the Moon and Mars and put humans on “the path to becoming a multi-planet civilization,” Musk said.
“We are in this brief moment of civilization where it is possible to become a multi-planet species,” he said. “That’s our goal. I think we have a chance.”