SpaceX has slated 2021 for the first commercial mission of its Starship and Super Heavy launch system. The construction of Super Heavy booster and the Starship upper stage is underway, the designing is being done in such a way that it can launch up to to 20 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit, or more than 100 metric tons to low Earth orbit, as was stated by Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s vice president of commercial sales.
The launch system includes a nine-meter payload fairing that would not only carry crew and resources to the moon and Mars but also send satellites into orbit around the Earth.
At the APSAT conference in Jakarta, Hofeller mentioned that SpaceX is in talks with potential customers for the first commercial launch:
We are in discussions with three different customers as we speak right now to be that first mission…Those are all telecom companies. – Hofeller
He also talked about the company’s plans of conducting several test flights demonstrating the launch for customers before using the next-generation satellite launch system. By and by, these test flights would help quell concerns regarding the reliability of a new vehicle.
SpaceX had tested a prototype of Starship back in April, in which the vehicle had performed a ‘hop’ by lifting just centimeters off the ground. Hofeller stated that in the future, test flights would reach higher altitudes.
“We have future hops coming up later this year…The goal is to get orbital as quickly as possible, potentially even this year, with the full stack operational by the end of next year and then customers in early 2021.”
Moreover, the plan is to supplant SpaceX’s partly reusable Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launchers that are currently in use with the fully reusable Super Heavy booster and Starship upper stage.
Fully reusable launch systems could generate new mission possibilities. According to Hofeller, “You could potentially recapture a satellite and bring it down if you wanted to. It’s very similar to the [space] shuttle bay in that regard. So we have this tool, and we are challenging the industry: what would you do with it?”
Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are going to be around as long as our customers want them. If we make them obsolete by having a better product and a lower price, great. – Hofeller
Regarding the pricing, Hofeller said that at present SpaceX’s standard pricing is the discounted pricing the company gave to early customers of Falcon 9 missions with pre-flown first-stage boosters, that is, around $50 million, down from $62 million.
With the introduction of Super Heavy and Starship, the prices are expected to reduce even further, thanks to the fully reusable nature of the launch system.