SpaceX’s giant Starship Mars rocket may attempt to orbit for the first time next week.
SpaceX is building starships to carry people and cargo to the Moon, Mars and beyond. The deep-space transportation system consists of a massive first-stage booster called the Super Heavy and an upper-stage spacecraft called the Starship, both of which are designed to be fully reusable.
For months now, SpaceX has been preparing for the first Starship orbital test flight, which will be carried out by the Super Heavy prototype Booster 7 and a Starship vehicle called Ship 24.
In mid-March, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said the landmark flight from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in South Texas could begin as soon as the third week of April. But recent developments indicate that the effort may come sooner than that.
Related: SpaceX’s 1st orbital starship looks super cool in these fuel test photos
Don’t be fooled by the date… Ship 24 is indeed on the launch pad!-@NASASpaceflight pic.twitter.com/bvPo23ZMGwApril 1, 2023
For example, SpaceX rolled Ship 24 to the orbital launch pad of the starbase (opens in new tab) Over the weekend, multiple starship observers observed. And on Monday (April 3) the company operated Fueling Test with Booster 7 (opens in new tab) On the orbital launch mount, Ship 24 is on the ground nearby.
Also, a navigational alert has been issued for Starship Orbital Attempts as a Netherlands-based satellite tracker. As Marco Langbroek points out (opens in new tab). These alerts cover a window from April 6 to April 12
It doesn’t look like SpaceX will try to hit the first part of that proposed window. For starters, the company is still awaiting a launch license from the US Federal Aviation Administration, as Musk said last month.
But April 10 or April 11 looks like a real possibility, according to Ars Technica’s Eric Berger.
NASA is apparently reserving “the use of its high-altitude WB-57 aircraft for observations of the April 10 and 11 Starship test flights.” Berger wrote over the weekend (opens in new tab). “The agency is closely monitoring SpaceX’s progress with the giant rocket, as it plans to use the Starship vehicle as a lunar lander for its astronauts as part of the Artemis moon mission.”
The orbital test flight will attempt to send Ship 24 on a lap around Earth, ending with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
Musk recently said that Starship has about a 50% chance of success on that first attempt. But SpaceX is building multiple starship prototypes at Starbase and plans to launch a relatively rapid succession of them when they’re ready.
“So I think we’ve got, hopefully, about an 80% chance of getting to orbit this year,” Musk said on March 7. Interview at Morgan Stanley conference (opens in new tab).
Mike Wall is the author of “there (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @space.com (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).