Elon Musk offers new date for first Starship orbital flight

While Elon Musk’s space mission target dates tend to slip more than a loose pair of pants, of course, he calls it right in the end.

Fans of absurdly powerful rocketry are currently eagerly awaiting the first orbital test flight of SpaceX’s Starship – the most powerful launch vehicle ever built – consisting of the Super Heavy first-stage booster and a rocket-propelled spacecraft called Starship.

SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft atop the Super Heavy booster at the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX

SpaceX’s next-generation Starship vehicle is destined for manned missions to the Moon and Mars, with a moon landing expected to take place in the coming years.

But first, the team behind it has to check if it works…

SpaceX chief Musk has dropped a number of predictions for Starship’s first orbital test flight, but each prediction has quickly sailed past like a plastic bag caught in the wind. Now that he’s going to miss the March date he once said, Musk said this week that he believes Starship will finally go up in May. This May, yes.

Tweeting about Starship’s readiness to fly, musk said: on Tuesday that SpaceX expects to have built the rocket’s 39 new Raptor 2 engines by next month — 33 for the Super Heavy booster and six for the Starship spacecraft. After work to integrate them into the launch vehicle, he believes the much-anticipated orbital flight could happen in just a few months.

However, there is another problem that is still in the works by a wrench. It concerns the Federal Aviation Administration, which is still conducting an environmental study to determine whether SpaceX’s Boca Chica site in Texas is suitable for rocket launches of this size. The results of the investigation are expected before the end of March. If it turns out in SpaceX’s favor, Musk’s prediction for May could hold. If not, the hardware will have to be transported to a launch site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, about 1,000 miles to the east, which would likely cause further delay in the procedure.

The first orbital test flight, when it finally takes place, will launch Super Heavy Power Starship into orbit. About three minutes after launch, Super Heavy will make a landing in the Gulf of Mexico, while Starship will enter orbit before crashing into the Pacific Ocean about 90 minutes after launch.

Future launches will see both Super Heavy and Starship return to Earth and perform upright landings — similar to how SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket operates — allowing the vehicle to be used for multiple missions.

But for now, fingers crossed for May.

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