JAKARTA, Indonesia – The first commercial mission of SpaceX & # 39; s Starship and Super Heavy launch system is likely to take place in 2021, a company manager said on June 26.
Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX's Vice President of Commercial Sales, said the company is in talks with potential customers for the first commercial launch of the system about two years from now.
"We are in discussions with three different customers that we are talking right now to be the first mission," Hofeller said at the APSAT conference here. "It's all telecommunications companies."
SpaceX & # 39; s Super Heavy Booster and the Starship upper are designed to start up to 20 tons for the geostationary transfer path, Hofeller says or more than 1
Hofeller said SpaceX plans to make several test flights before using the next-generation satellite launch system. These test flights – a number he did not quantify – are to demonstrate the launch system to customers and to mitigate any concerns of the insurers about the reliability of a new vehicle.
SpaceX performed a " hop " with a prototype of the Starship in April, driving the vehicle just inches away from the ground, Hofeller said. Future tests will reach higher altitudes, he said.
"We have upcoming hops coming later this year," he said. "The goal is to get orbital as soon as possible, possibly even this year, with the full stack in operation by the end of next year and then customers in early 2021."
SpaceX intends to replace its current partially recyclable Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launchers with the fully recyclable Super Heavy Booster and Starship top stage. However, the company will not rush customers from one generation of vehicles to another.
"Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy must be as long as our customers want them," Hofeller said. "If we make them obsolete by having a better product and a lower price, great."
Hofeller said the reduced pricing spaceX gave to early customers of Falcon 9 missions with pre-flown first-stage boosters are now the company's normal pricing. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said last year that formerly flute booster missions were priced " about $ 50 million ," down from $ 62 million. Musk said SpaceX's prices would continue to fall.
Hofeller reiterated that prices would continue to fall through the introduction of Super Heavy and Starship. The completely reusable nature of the launch system enables the lower prices, he said.
Being fully reusable also opens up new mission opportunities, he said.
"You could possibly recreate a satellite and bring it down if you wanted to," Hofeller said. "It looks very much like [space] shuttle bay in that respect. So we have this tool and we challenge the industry: What would you do with it?"
SpaceX explored making Falcon 9 fully reusable but struggled to decelerate the upper step, Hofeller said. Efforts to slow down the upper phase would have drained energy otherwise being used to carry a payload, he said.
SpaceX has reused a single Falcon 9 first-stage booster up to three times to date. The block 5 version of the rocket, which debuted last year, is designed for up to 10 launches without major renovation.
Hofeller said SpaceX is planning to reuse a single Falcon 9 booster five times before the end of this year.