The Starship, SpaceX's giant rocket under development in Texas, has not yet settled on a maiden launch site.
On Sunday, CEO Elon Musk revealed on Twitter that the firm was "pursuing" three different options for the rocket's first series of flights, adding that it's "hard to say right now." Musk was speaking in particular about flights with the Super Heavy booster, which paired with the Starship will enable the construction to lift off out of the Earth's atmosphere. The options SpaceX is pursuing are a launch site at its development facility in Texas, a launch at its current Florida base of operations, and a launch from the ocean.
The ship is perhaps the company's most ambitious project. First announced in September 2017 under the name "BFR," the Starship is a fully-reusable ship designed to send up to 150 tons or 100 people into space at a time. It's fully-reusable, building on the success of the Falcon 9, and Musk has talked before about his ambition to launch the same Starship three times per day.
The Starship is designed with a slew of missions in mind. Its reusable nature enables it to replace Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, sending up satellites for clients. A SpaceX executive suggested in July 2019 that the first mission could, in fact, be for a telecommunications firm sometime in 2021. The firm was speaking to three different potential bidders. The comments suggested the first mission could be some sort of satellite, similar to the ones Falcon 9 is famed for.
But the ship is also designed for more ambitious missions, like a base on the moon, a crewed trip to Mars, and even a permanent settlement on the red planet by 2050.
An internal email shared with CNBC Sunday described the Starship as the company's top priority. With that in mind, SpaceX could make a decision about its first launch location relatively soon.
Starship launch locations: Texas – The company's planned spaceport at the Boca Chica facility in Texas was originally designed to support Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy missions as well. But during a May 2018 conference call, Musk explained the launch site would be dedicated to Starship because it already has enough capacity at its Florida and California facilities.
Starship's first mission could be the grand debut for a new Texas spaceport. However, plans for a spaceport have met opposition from homeowners in the nearby area.
Starship launch locations: Florida – Launch Complex 39A, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is the company's second most-used launchpad. With a total of 22 launches, it's beaten only by the nearby Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral.
The launchpad is famed as the location where Apollo 11 took off from, sending the first humans on a crewed mission to the moon. The launchpad also made history recently for hosting the Crew Dragon's first crewed flight, sending NASA astronauts into space from the United States for the first time in nine years. Could it make history again with the Starship?
Starship launch locations: the ocean – In November 2019, Musk suggested that a series of spaceports could be built in the ocean to support missions, around 20 miles away from the shore to reduce noise complaints. These would be dotted around the world to enable inter-Earth flights, sending people between major cities in less than an hour with 1,000 people per flight.
That sounds like it could be quite far out, but in May 2018 Musk suggested these spaceports could connect to the city center using a hyperloop. This hypothetical vacuum-sealed tube system would enable pods to move at speeds of up to 700 mph. Another impressive way of debuting Starship, perhaps?