Elon Musk’s Starship might finally launch to orbit in May

Starship's Raptor 2 engines will be up to 25 percent more powerful than the previous models.
Chris Young
A render of Starship launching into orbit.SpaceX

Elon Musk provided an update on his favorite social media platform, suggesting the orbital maiden flight of Starship might be just around the corner.

"First Starship orbital flight will be with Raptor 2 engines, as they are much more capable and reliable," Musk tweeted on Monday, March 21.

"We'll have 39 flightworthy engines built by next month, then another month to integrate, so hopefully May for orbital flight test," he added.

NASA's Starship will massively boost SpaceX's already-impressive capability for reusable spaceflight. In fact, the launch vehicle is so advanced that NASA officials are said to be "shitting the bed" over the fact that it might obsolesce its own rocket programs.

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It's worth pointing out that though NASA aims to carry out its first two Artemis missions using its own SLS launch vehicle, the company has contracted Starship to send the first astronauts to the Moon since 1972. SpaceX also eventually plans to send humans to Mars with Starship.

Starship will be much more powerful than Falcon 9

Starship will be up to 25 percent more powerful than SpaceX's reusable Falcon 9 rocket thanks to its new Raptor 2 engines. In a series of tweets in December, Musk wrote that "each Raptor 1 engine above produces 185 metric tons of force. Raptor 2 just started production & will do 230+ tons or over half a million pounds of force."

Musk has recently expressed concern that SpaceX could go bankrupt due to the severe global recession if production of its Raptor engines isn't increased. The company, however, has also launched more than 2,000 satellites for its Starlink internet constellation and plans to launch approximately 30,000 more. Musk has said that revenue from this internet service — which has recently helped people on the ground in Ukraine — will help fulfill his ambitions to take humans to Mars.

For Starship's upcoming maiden flight, which was previously estimated to take place in 2021, the launch vehicle will liftoff from Starbase. The second stage will reach orbit and then perform a soft water landing off the coast of Hawaii. The first stage will return for a landing on one of SpaceX's offshore drone ships in the Gulf of Mexico.

Before all of that can happen, SpaceX must also await clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration, which has said it will publish its final environmental assessment for Starlink on March 28. That assessment will either give SpaceX the green light for its Starship launch or bring plans to a grinding halt. So no pressure, especially given Musk's recent bankruptcy claims, which may or may not have been carefully timed to coincide with the assessment date.

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