SpaceX's next-generation Starship rocket could soar to orbit as soon as next month
We might finally see SpaceX's Starship soar to orbit next month.
SpaceX's orbital launch of its fully reusable Starship rocket is arguably the most exciting upcoming space mission of the year. And we may not have to wait very long to see it take to the skies.
Starship could fly to orbit for the first time as soon as late February, though March is more likely, according to an update from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk via Twitter.
Elon Musk: "We have a real shot at late February"
If all goes to plan, Starship, SpaceX's next-generation rocket, will drastically reduce the cost of successive rocket launches due to the fact the company will reuse the entire spacecraft. Musk and SpaceX have long been working toward the launch of Starship, with the ultimate goal being human travel to Mars and beyond.
In November, Musk said Starship was about two static fire tests from launch. Since that time, SpaceX has performed two static fire engine tests, suggesting the orbital launch is just around the corner. Now, Musk has provided a new update via Twitter, in which he set a new rough launch date.
"We have a real shot at late February. March launch attempt appears highly likely," Musk wrote on Twitter on Saturday, January 7.
We have a real shot at late February. March launch attempt appears highly likely.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 8, 2023
SpaceX also recently shared footage of Ship 24 being stacked onto Booster 7. Ship 24 is the 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper stage, also known simply as Starship. Booster 7, meanwhile, is the massive first-stage booster called Super Heavy. The upcoming orbital test flight will use the two prototype elements, which have been the subject of numerous tests over the last few months at SpaceX's Starbase facility in South Texas.
Starship will be the world's most powerful rocket
Though it looks like SpaceX is currently performing final preparations ahead of the launch of Starship, the private space firm still has some work to do ahead of the momentous mission. Musk, for example, has said the company has yet to carry out a full 33-engine static fire test with Booster 7. Static fire tests see rockets fire up a set number of their engines while anchored to the ground.
Ship 24 stacked on Super Heavy Booster 7 at Starbase in Texas pic.twitter.com/hLcghfq349— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 10, 2023
For the orbital launch of Starship, Ship 24 will fly to orbit before traveling around Earth once. It will then splash down in the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Booster 7 will also splash down in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after launch from Starbase.
Though Starship prototypes have flown before — and have performed impressive belly-flop maneuvers and landings — this will be the first time a Starship prototype reaches orbit. It will also be the very first-time Starship flies atop a Super Heavy vehicle.
Once operational, that combination is expected to take the crown back from NASA for the organization with the world's most powerful rocket. SpaceX previously held the title with Falcon Heavy, though NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) for Artemis I now has the title of the world's most powerful operational rocket.
Propulsion technology has matured considerably, culminating in the New Space Age today.