SpaceX’s giant Starship rocket to launch communications satellite in 2024

By Mike Wall

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Starship will loft the Superbird-9 spacecraft for Japanese company Sky Perfect JSat.

SpaceX’s Starship SN24 prototype test-fires two Raptor engines at sunset in Boca Chica, Texas on Aug. 9, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX via Elon Musk/Twitter)

Another customer has signed up to use SpaceX’s giant Starship rocket.

Sky Perfect JSat has chosen Starship to launch its Superbird-9 communications satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit in 2024, the Japanese company announced Thursday (Aug. 18). Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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Starship is SpaceX’s next-generation transportation system, which the company believes will make Mars colonization and other ambitious exploration feats economically feasible. The vehicle consists of a huge first-stage booster called Super Heavy and a 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper-stage spacecraft known as Starship.

Both of these elements are designed to be fully and rapidly reusable — hence the envisioned affordability — and both will be powered by SpaceX’s Raptor engine. Starship will sport six Raptors and Super Heavy will have a whopping 33 of them. (For perspective: SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket features 10 of the company’s Merlin engines, nine in the first stage and one in the second.)

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Starship doesn’t have any spaceflights under its belt yet, but SpaceX is working to change that. The company is gearing up for the first orbital test mission of a Starship vehicle, which could lift off from SpaceX’s South Texas facility in the next few months.

Sky Perfect JSat joins a handful of other customers who aren’t scared off by Starship’s novelty. For example, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has booked a Starship ride around the moon for himself and a handful of other passengers, and NASA picked Starship to be the first crewed lunar lander for its Artemis program of moon exploration.

Maezawa’s moon trip is tentatively targeted for 2023. NASA’s first use of Starship to put astronauts on the moon will come with the Artemis 3 mission, which the agency aims to launch in 2025 or 2026.

Superbird-9, meanwhile, is a flexible high-throughput satellite that “will deliver broadcast and broadband missions in Ku band primarily over Japan and Eastern Asia, in response to mobility and broadband demands,” Sky Perfect JSat representatives said in a statement Thursday(opens in new tab).

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