SpaceX's huge Starship rocket could fly again before the summer is out.
The test flight, from SpaceX's Starbase site in South Texas, aimed to send Starship's upper-stage spacecraft most of the way around Earth. But that didn't happen; while the vehicle notched some significant milestones, it also experienced several serious problems, and SpaceX sent a self-destruct command a few minutes after liftoff.
Ever since, SpaceX fans have been wondering when Starship will launch again. And company founder and CEO Elon Musk just gave them something to look forward to, saying via Twitter yesterday (June 13) that the company is shooting for another liftoff six to eight weeks from now.
6 to 8 weeksJune 13, 2023
That timeline may be ambitious, however, given the amount of prep work required ahead of the second flight.
For example, the liftoff damaged Starbase's orbital launch mount, blasting out a big crater beneath it and sending chunks of concrete flying, along with a huge cloud of dust and other debris. SpaceX has been developing and testing a water-cooled steel plate that will sit beneath the mount and prevent a recurrence of this problem, Musk said recently.
The company could also face some regulatory hurdles. A coalition of environmental groups is currently suing the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the body that issued Starship's launch license, saying the agency didn't properly assess the potential damage that the giant vehicle could inflict on the South Texas ecosystem and the human communities around Starbase.
It's also worth noting that "six to eight weeks" is not a new Starship prediction for Musk. He laid out a similar timeline for the next test flight during an April 29 discussion of the debut launch on Twitter Spaces (though in that case he was referring to the projected readiness of Starbase and Starship, not predicting when the flight would occur).
The 394-foot-tall (120 meters) Starship consists of a first-stage booster called Super Heavy and a 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper-stage spacecraft called Starship. Both of these elements are designed to be fully and rapidly reusable, the key breakthrough that Musk thinks will revolutionize spaceflight.
NASA is a believer in the new space transportation system; the agency selected Starship as the first crewed lander for its Artemis moon program. Starship is slated to deliver NASA astronauts to the lunar surface as soon as 2025, if current schedules hold (though there's certainly a chance they will not).