Today, SpaceX's Starship development program made history by successfully launching its SN8 prototype to a height of 12.5 km. Despite its apparent destruction upon relanding, this marks an important milestone in SpaceX's rapid development of what could become the world's most important (and affordable) spacecraft. Designed to be completely reusable and capable of flying hundreds of times, Starship also has a payload mass of more than 100 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO)—larger than any operational rocket and even in excess NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) Block 1 version; only the Block 2 configuration would beat it.
SpaceX plans for Starship to replace its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket to deliver payloads to LEO and beyond, at a fraction of today's cost. Elon Musk has previously said that the operational cost of a Starship could be as low as $2M per launch, or less than $20 per kg to LEO (earlier this year he even tweeted it could reach $10/kg). These figures are about a factor of 100 lower than its own Falcon Heavy cost ($1,700/kg) which is already the lowest in the industry. Starship will also be used to launch future Starlink satellites as well as take people and equipment to the Moon, but the main reason it's being developed is to build a permanent human settlement on Mars.
When fully operational, it is not an exaggeration to say that Starship will revolutionize the space transportation industry, allowing much larger payloads to be launched, assembled in space, and sent to distant solar system destinations, including human habitats, space solar power arrays, propellant depots, mining equipment, manufacturing facilities, and more. This infrastructure will form the basis of a robust space industry, allowing thousands—and eventually millions—of people to live, work, and play in space, whether on orbit or rocky surfaces.
At Emerging Futures, we see these developments as necessary both to grow our economy and increase sustainability here on Earth. We send hearty congratulations to Elon Musk, Gwynne Shotwell, and the rest of the hard-working SpaceX team. May you soon achieve all of your amazing space ambitions and help make humanity multiplanetary!