On March 16, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared that the aerospace company could perform Starship’s debut orbital flight test next month. “SpaceX will be ready to launch Starship in a few weeks, then [sic] launch timing depends on FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] license approval. Assuming that takes a few weeks, first launch attempt will be near end of third week of April, aka [also known as] …” he wrote via Twitter, suggesting that SpaceX could potentially launch Starship to orbit on 4/20 (April 20). The number is a joke about cannabis culture slang. Musk has often shared memes and made jokes on Twitter about those numbers, so space enthusiasts immediately assumed he meant '4/20' which is a date in the third week of April.
SpaceX will be ready to launch Starship in a few weeks, then launch timing depends on FAA license approval.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 16, 2023
Assuming that takes a few weeks, first launch attempt will be near end of third week of April, aka …
SpaceX has not yet shared an updated flight plan of Starship’s trajectory during the first orbital flight. The first flight plan was released in a U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) document over a year ago. It stated that the Super Heavy rocket would propel Starship to orbit from Starbase at Boca Chica Beach, Texas, and while the rocket would return to land in the Gulf of Mexico around 30 kilometers from the shore, the Starship would fly around the globe and make a soft landing in the ocean off the northwest coast of Kauai, Hawaii. The edge of outer space begins at around an altitude of 100 kilometers which is often referred to in spaceflight as the ‘Kármán Line,’ to describe the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. The max altitude a Starship has ever flown is under 20 kilometers, Super Heavy is needed to propel it to orbit. The company has never flown a fully-stacked Starship.
Engineers are working on preparing prototypes - Starship SN24 and Super Heavy Booster 7 - for the orbital flight attempt. They already performed proof tests to ensure structural integrity, as well as Raptor V2 engine static-fire tests to assess performance. “We are getting close to our first orbital launch attempt of Starship, hopefully in the next month or so we will have our first attempt,” Musk recently shared. “I am not saying it will get to orbit but I am guaranteeing excitement. [...] So, it won’t be boring,” he jokingly added. “I think, I don't know, hopefully above a 50 percent chance of reaching orbit,” he said at the Morgan Stanley 2023 Technology, Media, and Telecommunications (TMT) conference on March 7th.
It is unclear whether SpaceX will perform more pre-flight tests ahead of liftoff or if it will just stack the vehicle and proceed to perform the flight. Engineers already performed a static-fire test of the 31 out of 33 Raptor V2 engines that were ignited simultaneously for the first time on February 9, which Musk said it was "enough engines to reach orbit". The company also performed a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) on January 23rd, during which it fully-fueled a stacked vehicle. “Starship completed its first full flight-like wet dress rehearsal at Starbase [...] This was the first time an integrated Ship and Booster were fully loaded with more than 10 million pounds of propellant. Today’s test will help verify a full launch countdown sequence, as well as the performance of Starship and the orbital pad for flight-like operations,” shared SpaceX at that time. Photographer LabPadre has a 24/7 Livestream of the SpaceX Starbase launch site on YouTube, you can watch the company’s progress in the video linked below.
VIDEO: LabPadre 24/7 SpaceX Starbase Livestream
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Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.