SpaceX has been building and testing its Starship, a giant rocket that would be the largest in history, for months. With the promise of being reusable, it could significantly cut costs for sending payloads into orbit.
After a long road, the Starship might finally be ready for an April launch. On March 16th, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that he expected the SN24 and BN7 prototypes to be ready for test flights in, a few weeks, pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The two prototypes are stacked at SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas, Starbase and are now ready to fire their Raptor engines. The SN24 and BN7 have 33 Raptor engines on each side, while the Starship prototype is outfitted with six.
Static Fire of Booster 7
Earlier this week, Booster 7, or Ship 24, completed a static fire test that marked the first time all 33 Raptor 2s fired at 90 percent of their rated thrust. The test lasted seven seconds and was a significant milestone for the upcoming test flight, putting Starship one step closer to orbital launch.
It’s now time for the next significant milestone!
Assuming the FAA doesn’t file a legal suit against the company for environmental reasons, the Starship’s first orbital test flight is slated to happen this month. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of SpaceX’s first successful orbital launches!
On Sunday, Musk tweeted that he believed a late February or early March test flight was highly likely. This comes after a series of recent tests with the SN24 and BN7 prototypes at Boca Chica, including high-altitude flights that demonstrated Starship’s launch and re-entry capabilities and lower, shorter non-orbital test flights.
More importantly, he said the test flight would be a big step forward for SpaceX’s business and space program. It will start a new era for the company and show that Starship and Super Heavy are ready to fly.
The first orbital test flight will be a challenging mission that requires the spacecraft to travel at high altitudes while performing a range of maneuvers, including a belly flop, flip, and landing. It will then re-enter the atmosphere and make a controlled landing on a floating platform off the coast of Hawaii.
It is also possible that the test flight will be scrubbed due to weather conditions at the SpaceX launch site. The launch is expected on Monday, but if local roads or beaches are closed, there’s a good chance the test flight will be postponed.
Starship Orbital Flight Plan Advisory and Backup Schedules
The Federal Aviation Administration has issued an Operations Plan Advisory that lists April 17 as the target date for the Starship test flight. The only downside is that any backup dates don’t accompany this date.
This indicates that the FAA is preparing to give SpaceX a launch license, which means it could be able to reserve a window. However, this is only a window for the next two weeks, which doesn’t mean a test flight will be held.