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Watch live: SpaceX to launch Starship, the world's largest rocket

SpaceX postponed plans to test the world's largest rocket on Monday after noting a frozen pressure valve.
SpaceX
SpaceX postponed plans to test the world's largest rocket on Monday after noting a frozen pressure valve.

The 400-foot-tall, stainless steel Starship could one day shuttle humans to the moon. But getting the rocket to fly is no easy feat, and it'll be 48 hours until the team can try again, SpaceX said.

The commercial spaceflight company SpaceX is preparing to test a huge, stainless-steel rocket. The machine could one day carry humans to the moon, Mars and beyond.

But first, it has to fly. The first launch attempt is set to take place in South Texas during a 150-minute window that opens at 8 a.m. Eastern on Monday. In a tweet, SpaceX said it was targeting around 9:20 a.m. Eastern for liftoff.

Starship is unlike any other rocket, and SpaceX acknowledges that the first test flight will be extremely risky.

"It's a very complex machine; it has so many different components," says Paulo Lozano, director of MIT's space propulsion laboratory. The rocket is larger than any ever built. Success will depend upon dozens of engines, firing in perfect synchrony.

The stakes could not be higher, at least to hear SpaceX CEO Elon Musk speak about the mission.

"Eventually the Sun will expand and destroy all life," Musk said, standing before the giant rocket about a year ago. "It is very important — essential in the long-term — that we become a multi-planet species."

Musk hopes Starship will provide a critical step to becoming multiplanetary, by allowing large payloads to be carried into orbit for cheap. His goal is for Starship to someday transport the first people to Mars.

SpaceX also has a business interest in seeing its mammoth rocket fly. Starship could be used to launch large numbers of the company's internet-providing "Starlink" satellites. Starlink is seen as a key part of SpaceX's future, and Starship would allow the network to rapidly grow, says Tim Farrar, the president of TMF associates, a telecom consulting firm.

NASA hopes Starship can be used to land astronauts on the moon for the first time in over 50 years.
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SpaceX
NASA hopes Starship can be used to land astronauts on the moon for the first time in over 50 years.

NASA is also paying SpaceX to develop a version of Starship to visit the moon, though that mission is likely still several years away.

The launch of Starship comes at a difficult time for the tech industry, Farrar notes. SpaceX is currently trying to raise additional capital to keep the development of Starship and Starlink going.

For now, investors seem happy to let SpaceX try out its massive, potentially interplanetary rocket. But he says that if the launch fails and Starship falls further behind schedule, it could affect all of SpaceX's business, especially in the current financial climate.

SpaceX seems to understand the risks. When the company recently posted its timeline for Monday's test flight, it replaced "liftoff" in its mission timeline with two words: "excitement guaranteed."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.
Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.