SpaceX’s massive Starship vehicle could go into orbit for the first time next month, if all goes according to plan.
For months, SpaceX has been gearing up for the first orbital test flight of Starship, its next-generation deep-space transportation system. The company may now be in the home stretch of such preparatory work, potentially allowing Starship to get off the ground in just six weeks or more.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter, “We have a real shot at the end of February. A March launch attempt is highly likely.” on Saturday (opens in new tab) (7 January), in response to speculation that the flight could arrive as early as 31 January.
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We have the real shot at the end of February. A March launch attempt appears highly likely.January 8, 2023
SpaceX is developing Starship to carry people and cargo to the Moon and Mars, among other jobs. The massive vehicle consists of two elements, both of which are designed to be fully reusable: a massive first-stage booster called the Super Heavy and a 165-foot-tall (50 m) upper-stage spacecraft called the Starship. goes.
The upcoming orbital test flight will apparently involve the Super Heavy prototype known as Booster 7 and the Ship 24 Starship variant. SpaceX is subjecting both prototypes to various tests at its Starbase facility in South Texas.
For example, Booster 7 and Ship 24 have both performed “static fire” tests, igniting their Raptor engines while stationary on the ground. Ship 24 ignited all six of its Raptors simultaneously, while Booster 7 ignited 14 of its 33 engines at once.
As the latter tally shows, SpaceX still has some work to do in the lead-up to the orbital launch. Musk has said the company will do a 33-engine static fire before sending Booster 7 up.
The upcoming test flight will start from Starbase. Ship 24 will orbit the Earth once and then land in the Pacific Ocean off the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Booster 7 will apparently do its own splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the Texas coast.
The orbital test will be the first Starship test flight after May 5, 2021. That day, a three-engined Starship prototype called SN15 flew about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) in the skies over Texas, then descended for a safe landing. Starbase.
SN15 flew alone, as had all previous Starship prototypes launched on test flights. The flight of Booster 7 and Ship 24 will take a super heavy vehicle into the skies for the first time.
Mike Wall is the author of “out there (opens in new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaelwall (opens in new tab), Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab),