The first orbital test flight of SpaceX’s Starship Mars rocket was carried out to March at the earliest

We’ll have to wait a bit longer for the orbital debut of SpaceX’s Starship Mars rocket.

SpaceX was aiming to launch Starship on its first orbital test flight in January or February, provided the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) completed a programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) of the company’s launch site in South Texas for December 31 as planned. .

But that timeline no longer applies. The FAA announced on Tuesday (December 28) that it delayed publication of the final PEA until February 28, citing “the high volume of comments submitted on the draft PEA” and “discussions and consultation efforts with consulting parties. “.

Photos: SpaceX lifts huge super-heavy rocket onto launch pad

Members of the public sent more than 18,000 comments on the draft PEA, which was released on September 17, FAA officials wrote in an update Tuesday.

SpaceX is developing Starship to get people and cargo to the Moon, Mars, and other deep space destinations. NASA has already signed up for a trip, choosing Starship as the first manned lander for the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration program.

The massive vehicle consists of two fully reusable elements: a first-stage thruster called the Super Heavy and a 165-foot-tall (50-meter) spacecraft known as the Starship. Both will be powered by SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engine – six for Starship and about 30 for Super Heavy.

Starship prototypes have flown before, in leaps about 6.2 miles high (10 kilometers) into the skies over Starbase, the SpaceX facility near the southern Texas village of Boca Chica. But the next orbital test flight will be a much more ambitious endeavor, launching a spacecraft onto a Super Heavy for the first time.

If all goes according to plan, the Super Heavy will land in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after takeoff, while the Starship vehicle will complete a loop around Earth and land in the Pacific Ocean, off the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

We could see that launch in early March, because SpaceX plans to be ready when it gets the green light. “FAA approval is what drives the schedule,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter on Wednesday (December 29) in response to a question about the target date of the test flight. .

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.

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