SpaceX could conduct Starship’s first orbital flight test as early as the week after next. On Thursday, the private space firm tweeted new photos of the super heavy-lift rocket at its Boca Chica facility in Texas. “Starship fully stacked at Starbase,” SpaceX said of the images. “Team is working towards a launch rehearsal next week followed by Starship’s first integrated flight test ~week later pending regulatory approval.” That same day, SpaceX owner Elon Musk offered an even more aggressive timeline. “Starship is stacked & ready to launch next week, pending regulatory approval,” he said on Twitter.
Starship fully stacked at Starbase. Team is working towards a launch rehearsal next week followed by Starship’s first integrated flight test ~week later pending regulatory approval pic.twitter.com/9VbJLppswp— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 6, 2023
The date of Starship’s first orbital flight has been a moving target for nearly two years. At the start of February, a week after SpaceX successfully carried out the rocket’s first-ever stacked fueling test, Musk said the company would attempt to launch Starship in March if its remaining tests went well. Days later, SpaceX attempted to static fire all of the vehicle’s 33 first-stage Raptor engines, something it had not tried to do before. The trial was a critical step toward Starship’s first orbital flight, though the rocket didn’t exactly ace the test, with two engines failing before the end of the firing.
Starship is ready for launch 🚀— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 9, 2023
Awaiting regulatory approval
Still, the timeline Musk shared this week may be overly optimistic. According to Space.com, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) set a provisional April 17th launch window for Starship. However, the outlet reports the FAA has yet to grant SpaceX a launch license for the rocket, something it will need to do before Starship can legally fly.