Just days after SpaceX chief Elon Musk said he hoped the next-generation Starship rocket would make its first orbital flight in May, an issue has surfaced that could delay the plan.
SpaceX is waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to grant permission to launch the rocket from its location in Boca Chica, Texas.
A decision was due to be published at the end of 2021, but the agency said it would take longer than expected to complete the necessary work and eventually moved the date to February and then to the end of this month.
But now the FAA says it plans to announce its decision on April 29.
The FAA says it needs more time to conduct a review on several issues related to the launch. It includes the evaluation of “populated areas and cargo contents; national security or foreign policy concerns; insurance requirements for the launch operator; and potential environmental impact.”
In accordance with federal law, the review invites members of the public to express their views. The response appears to have been overwhelming as the FAA continues to say it needs more time to review the large number of comments. Various consultations and discussions also have to be concluded.
If the FAA offers SpaceX launch approval at the end of April, it’s possible the space company could stick to its latest projected launch date sometime in May.
But if the FAA doesn’t grant SpaceX the required permit, Musk said the spacecraft should be moved to a launch site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, about 1,000 miles to the east, action that could cause the launch date to shift past May.
Consisting of the Super Heavy booster on the first stage and the Starship spacecraft in the top stage, the Starship is capable of more thrust than any rocket built to date. NASA hopes to use the launch vehicle for manned missions to the Moon, Mars, and possibly beyond.
But first the Starship must be tested.
During its debut flight, the Super Heavy rocket will lift the Starship spacecraft into orbit. Both sections will descend into the ocean, with the spacecraft crashing into the Pacific about 90 minutes after takeoff.
Future launches will see Super Heavy and Starship return to Earth and perform upright landings — similar to how SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket functions for manned missions to the ISS and satellite launches — allowing the vehicle’s components to be deployed for multiple missions.
Now all eyes are on April 29, when the FAA is expected to finally reveal the long-awaited result of its lengthy review.