US Space Force launch operations chief ‘watching Starship closely’

Brig. General Stephen Purdy: Seeing Starbase ‘gives you a lot of ideas of what the future might be like’

COLORADO SPRINGS — Brig. Gen. Gen. Stephen Purdy was in Boca Chica, Texas last month to visit Starbase. This is SpaceX’s launch and rocket manufacturing and testing facility where the company hopes to operate Starship, the largest rocket ever built.

Purdy is the commander of the Eastern Range in Florida and also serves as executive officer of the Space Force’s Safe Access to Space program, a new post within Space Systems Command that oversees procurement of launch services for the US military and intelligence community.

“I had the opportunity to go to Boca Chica and see it in person. It’s an amazing facility that gives you a lot of ideas about what the future could be like,” Purdy said SpaceNews in an interview at the Space Symposium.

There is still a lot of uncertainty Spaceship, Purdy noted. It hasn’t flown into orbit yet and SpaceX is awaiting a license from the Federal Aviation Administration to launch from Boca Chica, but the Space Force is keeping an eye on it.

“The question is, how does it work?” Purdy said. “Since they haven’t done it yet, there’s not much to do, but we’re watching it closely.”

Starship is a huge structure with a First tier super heavy boosters below and the second tier starship above. SpaceX said it will be able to carry more than 100 tons of cargo and crew per launch. The details of its operational concept are still unclear, but could include delivering supplies and fuel to low Earth orbit or the Moon, and from there to Mars.

“I’m excited to see how that will pan out,” Purdy said. He pointed out that both the Space Force and NASA support the construction of Starship test and launch facilities in Florida.

Purdy said it’s too early to predict how Space Force might deploy Starship. The Air Force Research Laboratory awarded SpaceX a $102 million contract to study how the military could use the company’s launch vehicles to transport cargo and crews from point to point on Earth.

It’s conceivable that the Space Force could use Starship to launch satellites, depending on what capabilities the vehicle can offer, Purdy said. One scenario would be to use Starship as a mass transport vehicle to fly satellites into low Earth orbit and then rely on orbital transfer vehicles to take the satellites to their final destination. “Traditionally, the launch has always been a direct into-orbit injection, because there wasn’t really any other way,” he said.

“We’re looking at this closely to see what comes out of this and how we might use it,” Purdy added. There are still too many unknowns, “but the generic concept of launching a satellite into low Earth orbit and then somehow launching it into high Earth orbit is attractive and interesting. We are definitely excited to see where the commercial market is headed so we can capitalize on it.”

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