Will SpaceX's Starship go orbital for the 1st time on April 17?

A rainbow arcs behind SpaceX's stacked Starship vehicle at the company's Starbase facility in South Texas. SpaceX posted this photo on Twitter on April 11, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

The first-ever orbital flight of SpaceX's giant Starship vehicle may be less than a week away.

SpaceX's website identifies April 17 as the target date for Starship's debut orbital attempt, which will lift off from the company's Starbase site in South Texas. 

The timing is far from set in stone, however, for SpaceX still must secure a launch license from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Indeed, SpaceX's mission description notes that the flight date "is trending towards the third week of April, pending regulatory approval."

Related: SpaceX's Starship looks amazing stacked for launch in these photos

Regulatory hurdles seem to be the only ones standing in the way of the highly anticipated launch; SpaceX appears to regard the technical side as squared away, or nearly so.

The company stacked Starship for flight last week, placing the Ship 24 prototype atop its Booster 7 first stage on Starbase's orbital launch mount. And no more major work is apparently required before liftoff.

"Starship is ready for launch. Awaiting regulatory approval," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter on Saturday (April 8).

"Teams are focused on launch readiness ahead of Starship's first integrated flight test as soon as next week, pending regulatory approval — no launch rehearsal this week," SpaceX echoed on Tuesday (April 11), in a Twitter post that also featured a gorgeous photo of a rainbow arcing behind the stacked Starship.

Starship consists of a huge first-stage booster called Super Heavy and a 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper-stage spacecraft known, somewhat confusingly, as Starship. Both vehicles are made of stainless steel, powered by the company's new Raptor engine and designed to be fully and rapidly reusable.

Starship will be the most powerful rocket ever to fly, and its reusability will allow SpaceX to launch huge payloads to Earth orbit and beyond for very low prices, the company has said. Musk thinks the vehicle will revolutionize spaceflight, helping make ambitious feats such as Mars colonization economically feasible.

Indeed, on Monday (April 10), SpaceX posted a 5-minute animation to YouTube showing a Starship flight to Mars, which ends with passengers looking out on a landscape settled and sculpted by humanity.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

  • Mergatroid
    Even if they get approval, there are lots of environmental groups lined up with court cases to prevent the launch. Those cases will fly before Starship does.
  • ballistic_trep
    Mergatroid said:
    Even if they get approval, there are lots of environmental groups lined up with court cases to prevent the launch. Those cases will fly before Starship does.
    Not likely. Those cases will be in the courts for years.
  • Mergatroid
    ballistic_trep said:
    Not likely. Those cases will be in the courts for years.

    I am actually quite surprised. I thought for sure they would get an injunction stopping the launch over environmental concerns. However, I have seen no mention of it.