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.
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 https://t.co/SpsRVRsvz1 pic.twitter.com/ovYUQgAjAcApril 11, 2023
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.
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.