SpaceX’s huge new spacecraft could set off on its first-ever orbital test flight in just over a month, if all goes according to plan.
SpaceX is now tentatively eyeing mid-to-late April for this epic mission, which will launch from a Starbase facility in South Texas.
“SpaceX will be ready to launch Starship in a few weeks, then the launch time will depend on FAA license approval. Assuming it takes a few weeks, the first launch attempt will be towards the end of the third week of April, which is…” — SpaceX Founder and CEO Elon Musk announced this on Twitter on Thursday. (will open in a new tab) (March 16) with reference to the US Federal Aviation Administration.
Incidentally, the phrase “aka…” seems to be a nod to the possibility that Starship could launch on April 20, which is a sort of celebration for cannabis culture. Musk loves to make references and 4/20 jokes. (will open in a new tab).
Related: SpaceX’s 1st Orbital Starship Looks Super Cool in These Refueling Test Photos
SpaceX will be ready to launch Starship in a few weeks, after which the launch timeline will depend on FAA license approval. Assuming it takes a few weeks, the first launch attempt will be towards the end of the third week of April, i.e. March 16, 2023.
The Starship consists of a giant first stage launch vehicle called the Super Heavy and a 165-foot (50-meter) upper stage spacecraft known as the Starship. Both stainless steel ships are designed to be fully and quickly reusable, and both are powered by SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engine – 33 for the Super Heavy and six for the Starship.
Starship has flown before, but only on short hops that reach a maximum of 6 miles (10 kilometers) or so above Earth. And these machines were upper stage prototypes with three or fewer Raptors; no superheavy variant has ever left the ground.
This will change during the upcoming orbital attempt, which SpaceX has been working on for a long time. (Starship’s last test flight took place almost two years ago, in May 2021.)
The tentative target date has shifted to the right multiple times during this period, which is not surprising given that Starship is a brand new ship that is very different from SpaceX, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets currently in operation. Both Falcons, for example, use Merlin engines rather than Raptors.
Musk recently said that Starship has about a 50% chance of success on its debut orbital flight whenever that launch occurs. But he also stressed that SpaceX is currently assembling several Starships at Starbase, and one of them is sure to succeed.
“So I think we have, hopefully, about an 80% chance of going into orbit this year,” Musk said March 7 during an interview at the Morgan Stanley conference. (will open in a new tab). “It will likely take us another couple of years to achieve full and rapid reuse.”
Mike Wall is the author of Out There (will open in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrations by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or facebook (will open in a new tab).