SpaceX's giant Starship Mars rocket could attempt to go orbital for the first time as soon as next week.
SpaceX is developing Starship to carry people and cargo to the moon, Mars and beyond. The deep-space transportation system consists of a huge first-stage booster called Super Heavy and an upper-stage spacecraft known as Starship, both of which are designed to be fully reusable.
For months now, SpaceX has been gearing up for the first-ever Starship orbital test flight, which will be carried out by the Super Heavy prototype Booster 7 and a Starship vehicle called Ship 24.
In mid-March, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said that the landmark flight, from SpaceX's Starbase facility in South Texas, might launch as soon as the third week of April. But recent developments suggest that the attempt could come even sooner than that.
Don’t be fooled by the date… Ship 24 is indeed at the Launch Pad!-@NASASpaceflight pic.twitter.com/bvPo23ZMGwApril 1, 2023
For example, SpaceX rolled Ship 24 out to Starbase's orbital launch pad over the weekend, multiple Starship watchers have observed. And on Monday (April 3), the company conducted fueling tests with Booster 7 on the orbital launch mount, with Ship 24 on the ground nearby.
In addition, navigational warnings have been issued for the Starship orbital attempt, as Netherlands-based satellite tracker Marco Langbroek noted. Those warnings cover a window of April 6 to April 12.
It doesn't appear that SpaceX will try to hit the first part of that proposed window. For starters, the company is still waiting for a launch license from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, as Musk said last month.
But April 10 or April 11 look like real possibilities, according to Ars Technica's Eric Berger.
NASA is apparently tentatively reserving "the use of its high-altitude WB-57 aircraft for observations of the Starship test flight on April 10 and 11," Berger wrote over the weekend. "The agency is closely tracking SpaceX's progress with the massive rocket, as it intends to use the Starship vehicle as a lunar lander for its astronauts as part of the Artemis moon missions."
The orbital test flight will attempt to send Ship 24 on one lap around Earth, culminating with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
Musk said recently that Starship has about a 50% chance of success on that debut try. But SpaceX is building multiple Starship prototypes at Starbase and plans to launch them in relatively quick succession when they're ready.
"So I think we've got, hopefully, about an 80% chance of reaching orbit this year," Musk said on March 7 during an interview at the Morgan Stanley Conference.
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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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.