SpaceX’s massive new Starship vehicle could launch its first orbital test flight in just over a month if all goes according to plan.
SpaceX is now eyeing mid-to-late April for this epic mission, which will take off from the company’s Starbase facility in South Texas.
“SpaceX will be ready to launch Starship in a few weeks, after which time the launch is subject to FAA license approval. Assuming it takes a few weeks, the first launch attempt will be near the end of the third week of April, aka …” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter in Thursday (opens in new tab) (March 16), citing the US Federal Aviation Administration.
The “aka…” part, by the way, is probably a nod to the possibility that Starship will launch on April 20th, which is something of a celebration for cannabis culture. Musk likes to make 4/20 references and jokes (opens in new tab).
Connected: SpaceX’s first Starship orbiter looks super cool in these refueling test photos
SpaceX will be ready to launch Starship in a few weeks, after which the timing of the launch depends on FAA license approval. Assuming this will take a few weeks, the first launch attempt will be near the end of the third week of April ie.March 16, 2023
The Starship consists of a giant first-stage booster called the Super Heavy and a 165-foot (50-meter) tall upper-stage spacecraft known as the Starship. Both stainless steel vehicles are designed to be fully and rapidly reusable, and both are powered by SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor — 33 for the Super Heavy and 6 for the Starship.
Starship has flown before, but only in short hops, reaching a maximum of 6 miles (10 kilometers) above Earth. And these vehicles were upper-stage prototypes carrying three or fewer Raptors; no Super Heavy variant ever left the ground.
That will change with the upcoming orbital test, which SpaceX has been working toward for a long time. (Starship’s last test flight took place almost two years ago, in May 2021.)
The tentative target date shifts to the right repeatedly during this stretch, which isn’t surprising given that Starship is an entirely new vehicle — and one that’s very different from SpaceX’s currently operational Falcon 9 and Falcon rockets Heavy. Both Falcons, for example, use Merlin engines, not Raptors.
Musk said recently that Starship has about a 50 percent chance of success on its debut orbital flight, whenever that liftoff happens. But he also emphasized that SpaceX is assembling multiple Starship vehicles at Starbase right now, and one of them should succeed.
“So I think we have, hopefully, about an 80% chance of reaching orbit this year,” Musk said March 7 during an interview at the Morgan Stanley conference (opens in new tab). “It will probably take us a few more years to achieve full and rapid reuse.”
Mike Wall is the author of “There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).