Following months—if not years—of anticipation, Starship’s inaugural orbital test flight could soon be more than just a distant mirage for Elon Musk’s private space venture.
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According to Ars Technica, SpaceX has transferred Starship’s Super Heavy booster onto a launch mount at the company’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, while engineers added shielding to the mount and tower to protect them against the heat produced by the upcoming liftoff of the rocket. What’s more, and as Ars also points out, NASA appears to have tentatively booked the use of its WB-57 aircraft for April 10 and 11; the space agency would use the high-altitude vehicle to track the megarocket during launch.
Additionally, live LabPadre video coverage from earlier today shows SpaceX’s “chopsticks”—giant mechanical arms attached to the launch tower—in position to lift Starship’s upper stage and stack it on top of the first stage to fully assembly the jumbo rocket.
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Anonymous sources told Ars Technica that Starship could launch as early as Monday, April 10, adding that SpaceX may be getting its coveted launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) within the first two weeks of April. Until that coveted license is issued, however, this rocket ain’t going anywhere.
That caveat aside, it could finally be coming together for SpaceX and its fully reusable, super heavy-lift launch vehicle, one that the company has been eager to see fly for quite some time now. SpaceX has been striving to perform an orbital launch test of its megarocket since summer 2021, conducting a series of limited static fire tests of the booster’s engines.
Related article: The Definitive Guide to SpaceX’s Starship Megarocket
In February, the company performed the first full-scale static fire test of the Starship system, which SpaceX officials said was the “last box to check” before the rocket’s first orbital launch attempt. The static fire test saw Starship’s Super Heavy Booster rev up 31 of its 33 Raptor 2 engines, which Musk had deemed as “still enough engines to reach orbit.”
Starship’s orbital test flight will see the fully integrated 394-foot-tall (120-meter) rocket take off, while the upper stage will perform less than a full orbit around Earth before reentering Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX is betting on its Starship rocket to be the rocket of the future, delivering government and commercial payloads to Earth orbit and beyond, with plans to reach the Moon and perhaps even Mars one day.
Pending the success of the rocket’s test flight, SpaceX plans to move ahead with Starship’s operational launches, starting with launching its next generation Starlink satellites to orbit. SpaceX also has a $2.89 billion contract with NASA, using Starship to land humans on the Moon by late 2025 as part of the space agency’s Artemis 3 mission.
We may have learned not to hold our breaths when it comes to the promise of a Starship launch, but it could actually be coming together this time around. I mean, things get pretty serious once the giant chopstick arms come out.
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