Featured Image Source: Tesmanian.com / photographer: Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
SpaceX’s Starship is destined to become the world’s most powerful rocket once it becomes operational. It is designed to return astronauts to the Moon and enable humanity to build a colony on Mars. The rocket-ship has been under development at the Starbase facility in South Texas since 2019. The company has flown nine Starship prototypes on flights under 20-kilometers (km) in altitude. Engineers have been preparing to finally launch an uncrewed Starship to space. It has been over a year-and-a-half since SpaceX last test launched a Starship vehicle and it has never flown a fully-stacked rocket-ship duo powered by 33 methane-fueled Raptor V2 engines, the maximum number of engines that have propelled a flight are three. And engineers have performed static-fire tests with six engines on a Starship vehicle, and are preparing to test-ignite over a dozen on the Super Heavy booster.
Over the weekend, SpaceX Founder & Chief Engineer Elon Musk set a potential timeline for a debut orbital Starship flight test. –“We have a real shot at late February. March launch attempt appears highly likely,” said Musk via Twitter on January 7. A launch happening during the new target timeline is also highly dependent on whether the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides a spaceflight license within the timeframe. The company has been performing pre-flight tests of shiny stainless-steel Starship and Super Heavy rocket prototypes for the past year. The FAA took an entire year to complete an Environmental Assessment of the Starbase launch site which neighbors the public Boca Chica beach access, a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge, and multiple historic landmarks. The assessment was conducted to ensure safe spaceflight operations in the sandy region.
We have a real shot at late February. March launch attempt appears highly likely.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 8, 2023
For the upcoming orbital flight test, SpaceX aims to launch prototypes Starship SN24 and Super Heavy Booster 7 which have undergone extensive testing, including cryogenic proof tests and brief static-fire tests of methane-fueled Raptor V2 engines. If anything were to malfunction with these vehicles, engineers already manufactured another set of prototypes that would take their place to fly to orbit. The new vehicles have already initiated a test campaign to take flight.
SpaceX plans to launch Starship from South Texas to orbit and land it off the coast of Hawaii during the first orbital flight test. “The Starship Orbital test flight will originate from Starbase, TX. The booster stage will separate approximately 170 seconds into flight. The Booster will then perform a partial return and land in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 20 miles from the shore,” SpaceX wrote to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a 2021 filing, “The Orbital Starship will continue on flying between the Florida Straits. It will achieve orbit until performing a powered, targeted landing approximately 100km (~62 miles) off the northwest coast of Kauai [Hawaii] in a soft ocean landing.” The FCC filing states the Starship will be equipped with Starlink antennas that will relay data to SpaceX’s Mission Control during the orbital flight.
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*01/09/2022 EDIT -- The first paragraph incorrectly said SpaceX has flown a Starship with 'six' engines, meant to type 'three'. The maximum number of engines that have propelled a flight are three because the other three are designed for the vacuum of space. And engineers have only performed static-fire tests with six engines on a Starship vehicle and are preparing to perform static-fire of over a dozen on the Super Heavy rocket booster. Featured Image Source: Tesmanian.com / photographer: Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
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.