SpaceX is looking to build on what was an incredibly successful year in 2021 with an even more stellar 2022. Central to the company’s plans would be its Starship - the fully reusable, massive vehicle that is expected to handle most of the company’s missions to Mars and perhaps beyond.
SpaceX has been putting the finishing touches on the Starship vehicle for a few months now. The company aims for flight soon, but it appears that a few nuts and bolts still need to be tightened for the mission to proceed.
Hopefully, By May
A few weeks ago, SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter that the company is looking to secure a date in May for the first orbital flight launch of its Starship vehicle.
In a Twitter thread, the billionaire confirmed that the Starship vehicle will launch with SpaceX’s Raptor engine. The private aerospace company hopes to build all of the critical components for the launch in-house.
“First Starship orbital flight will be with Raptor 2 engines, as they are much more capable & reliable. 230 ton or ~500k lb thrust at sea level. We’ll have 39 flightworthy engines built by next month, then another month to integrate, so hopefully May for orbital flight test,” Musk said in his tweet, much to the relief of SpaceX fans.
The Planned Test Model
It is worth noting that SpaceX has already handled several Starship test launches. However, all of those have been with prototype upper-stage vehicles with a maximum of three Raptor engines. They all flew a maximum of 10 kilometers into the air, so the company hasn’t quite been able to get the full assembly and test the Starship as they would like.
The first orbital test is expected to happen with a fully loaded Starship, equipped with as many as six Raptor engines. It will mark the first launch of a Super Heavy rocket as well. The rocket - which, as its name suggests, will carry most of the heavy equipment for SpaceX’s missions in space - is another cornerstone of the company’s plans going forward.
For now, the Super Heavy is expected to lift off and splashdown shortly in the Gulf of Mexico. On the other side, the Starship’s upper stage will continue into orbit, where it will revolve around the Earth once. After that, the Starship will also come back to the planet and touch down in the Pacific.
Issues Linger With The Launch
SpaceX has had the timeline for the Starship’s debut shifted on multiple occasions in the past. Some of those shifts have come due to production issues, while others have primarily been because of regulatory hurdles.
In November, Musk appeared at a panel organized by the National Academies’ Space Studies Board and the Board on Physics and Astronomy. There, the billionaire explained that work on the Starship had ramped up and that they were expecting to launch the rocket for its first orbital flight as soon as possible this year. While Musk had hinted at a launch in January, it soon became clear the date wouldn’t be possible. In an open letter shared in December, Musk expressed displeasure with the workflows for the Starship, especially when it came to rocket engine development. With the Raptor engine being especially critical, Musk explained that continued failures in development could be as bad as to bankrupt the company entirely.
Then, there is the issue with SpaceX’s permit for Starbase. Weeks ago, reports confirmed that the US Army Corps of Engineers withdrew SpaceX’s application to bolster its launch facilities in its headquarters of Boca Chica, Texas. The company - which has been looking to get the place renamed “Starbase” and really make it feel like home - reportedly failed to provide sufficient information to the Army Corps.
SpaceX was looking to get approval to build a new launchpad and landing pads, and other launch-related equipment. Sadly, the approval is now closed, and SpaceX will need to find some innovative way to work around that.
It is rather obvious that SpaceX is making progress with the Starship’s launch. However, the company still needs a little time to put the finishing touches on the vehicle’s launch.