Today's Starship hop in Boca Chica, TX demonstrates the rapid progress that SpaceX is making towards a super heavy lift vehicle (SHLV).
At what Tipping Point will it become unavoidable to recognize that Starship is going to meet and exceed the capabilities of the SLS and at far, far lower cost? That point would be when Starship first achieves orbit. When that happens, it would be plainly irresponsible for the decision makers in Washington DC to not let NASA take advantage of this opportunity and establish a public-private partnership with SpaceX.
This Tipping Point may be achieved very soon. The Raptor engine is developed, the construction processes are being mastered, and the high bay to assemble the Super Heavy booster is being completed. Successful hops of the Starship will greatly reduce the odds of Super Heavy booster launch and recovery failure. It is reasonable to expect that the Super Heavy will boost the Starship and be recovered while the Starship proceeds to orbit. At that point, reasonable people (including journalists) will wonder why NASA focuses on SLS while SpaceX is demonstrating a far more cost-effective and likely superior performing SHLV.
It seems probable that Starship achieving orbit could happen within a year. With each step of progress, the decision-makers need to be making plans for a public-private partnership between NASA and SpaceX that goes well beyond the current lander contract and recognizes that Starship will be superior to SLS and hence will become the SHLV that our nation will be using.
As space advocates, let's urge the decision-makers in Washington DC to start planning for a public-private partnership with SpaceX one Starship achieves orbit.
Doug Plata, MD, MPH
President & Founder
The Space Development Network