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King of rockets, NASA's SLS could soon be usurped by SpaceX's Starship

Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

NASA officials have a vested interest in Starship achieving operational status quickly as a version of it will be used for Artemis III. On that flight, astronauts will transfer from Orion into a Starship while orbiting the moon, and it’s Starship that will bring them down to and back up from the lunar surface.

Last week NASA awarded SpaceX with the planned landing for Artemis IV as well, although future landers from other companies can continue to compete for Artemis contracts. With one test flight to the moon ahead of Artemis III required, SpaceX now has three lunar missions for NASA on the books.

“Much appreciated, SpaceX will not let NASA down!” wrote Musk on Twitter after the award announcement.

Musk was also congratulatory to NASA after Artemis I made its successful launch.

That launch actually knocked SpaceX’s other big rocket — Falcon Heavy — from atop the list of most powerful active rockets. To date, SpaceX has only launched Falcon Heavy four times. The most recent occurred Nov. 1 from KSC, and that was the first in more than three years.

The first Falcon Heavy flight in 2018 was spectacle drawing hundreds of thousands to the Space Coast for a test flight that sent Musk’s Tesla roadster into a deep-space orbit.

 

A Falcon 9 rocket produces 1.7 million pounds of thrust, and a Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9s strapped together to produce more than 5 million pounds of power.

From KSC’s press site, the rumble of the Falcon Heavy makes car alarms go off just like when NASA launched the shuttles more than a decade ago. Falcon Heavy launches have the added treat of double sonic booms produced when SpaceX lands the two side booster stages at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The most recent launch and landing, which took place while KSC was blanketed in a fog, actually produced a shockwave that made clothing flutter while also bouncing an echo off the massive Vehicle Assembly Building that sounded like someone was lighting off bottle rockets.

While there was no sonic boom for the Artemis I launch, it provided amped-up sensations that dwarfed the power of Falcon Heavy.

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