SpaceX will attempt 1st Starship orbital flight in March: report

SpaceX's Starship covered in frost during a landmark fueling test on Jan. 23, 2023.
SpaceX's Starship covered in frost during a landmark fueling test on Jan. 23, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX says it's ready for its first-ever Starship orbital launch attempt in March.

SpaceX's Gary Henry, senior advisor for national security space solutions, said at a panel Feb. 21 that Starship is in "good shape" following a static fire of 31 of its 33 engines on Feb. 9, according to a SpaceNews report.

"We had a successful hot fire, and that was really the last box to check," Henry said at the Space Mobility conference in Orlando held in coordination with the U.S. Space Force. "The vehicle is in good shape. The pad is in good shape."

While Henry's prediction confirms the March timeline SpaceX CEO Elon Musk previously set via Twitter on Feb. 4, one large obstacle stands in the way: Licensing from the Federal Aviation Administration, which governs spaceflights.

Related: SpaceX's 1st orbital Starship looks supercool in these fueling test photos

SpaceX has announced several Starship launch dates in the past two years that have been delayed due to licensing requirements from the FAA, so a March flight is far from certain. The FAA considers factors such as environmental concerns and impacts on the local community near Starship's launch site in Boca Chica, Texas.

Starship is SpaceX's new spacecraft that is planned to eventually take people and cargo to the moon and Mars, as well as to serve other missions such as lofting most of the company's newer and larger Starlink 2.0 internet satellites to orbit. 

Moreover, Musk has said Starship makes Mars settlement economically feasible as the spaceship will be fully reusable. The massive spacecraft consists of a first stage called Super Heavy along with the 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper-stage spacecraft known as Starship.

The orbital test flight calls for Booster 7, the Super Heavy prototype, to send an upper-stage Ship 24 variant from SpaceX's Starbase in south Texas. Booster 7 will fall into the Gulf of Mexico while Ship 24 will circle Earth once before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, near the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

SpaceX's Ship 24 Starship prototype lights one its six Raptor engines during a brief static fire test on Dec. 15, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Starship has done several high-altitude flights and other tests, but it hasn't flown for nearly two years. Its most recent excursion was with a three-engine upper-stage called SN15, which flew 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) high in May 2021 before landing vertically.

The FAA conducted a programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) that was delayed several times by regulatory complications and public interests before being completed in June 2022. But at that time, the agency told SpaceX it must take more than 75 actions before launches can be approved. SpaceX has not released its action plan for addressing those actions. Moreover, FAA assessments do take time and this makes it uncertain how close SpaceX would be in reaching a March launch date.

Days ago, the FAA proposed fining SpaceX $175,000 for failing to submit required positional information about satellites ahead of a Starlink launch in August 2022, according to the Washington Post. The FAA and SpaceX have not made clear in media reports whether this problem has occurred on any other of the dozens of Starlink launches SpaceX has conducted.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon:

  • Mergatroid
    SpaceX should get the Texas government on the FAA's case. If the FAA won't allow them to launch, SpaceX should just completely abandon Texas and move their facilities elsewhere. They still have new facilities going up in Florida.

    I am giddy with excitement to see this machine launch. Although I now mostly view Musk as a twit after purchasing Twitter, I can still respect what he has done with SpaceX.