SpaceX’s goal has long been to achieve truly reusable rocket launch capabilities, and for good reason: The company anticipates huge cost savings through re-usable rocketry versus expendable launch vehicles, which SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has described as a process akin to an airline throwing away their passenger aircraft every time they complete a flight. They’ve made lots of progress toward that goal, and now frequently re-fly parts of their Falcon 9 rockets and their Dragon cargo capsules — but the Starship spaceship they’re building now should be even more re-usable.
Musk provided an idea of just how much that could save SpaceX — and by extension, its customers — at a surprise guest appearance at the U.S. Air Force’s annual pitch day in LA this week. Speaking with USAF Lieutenant General John Thompson at the event (via Space.com), Musk said that fuel costs for the Starship should be around $900,000 per launch, and that once you factor in operational costs, it’ll probably add up to around $2 million per use. That’s “much less than even a tiny rocket,” Musk added, explaining why he views it as “imperative” that this launch system needs to be made.
Starship is designed from the ground up to provide high payload cargo capacity, and, when paired with SpaceX’s Super Heavy booster (also in development), as well as in-orbit refueling, it’ll also offer the ability to transport large quantities of goods and satellites to lunar orbit — and eventually beyond, to Mars, too. Starship will eventually replace all of SpaceX’s launch vehicles, the company hopes, a goal that it hopes to achieve because its operation should eventually be much more cost-effective than either Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy once it’s fully complete and flying.
For now, SpaceX is readying the Starship Mk1 and Mk2 prototypes for their first test flights, which will aim to achieve high-altitude controlled flight and landing, but still remain within Earth’s atmosphere. The company is also optimistically hoping for an orbital test in as little as six months’ time.