SpaceX boss Elon Musk eyes new date for Starship’s first orbital flight

SpaceX boss Elon Musk has said he expects the first orbital flight of the company’s next-generation Starship rocket will take place in January 2022 or a short while later.

Musk revealed the targeted launch date at a joint meeting of the National Academies of Science Space Studies Board and the Board on Physics and Astronomy on Wednesday, November 17.

“We’re close to our initial orbital launch,” Musk said in comments reported by Space News.

The SpaceX chief said the company is hoping to conduct the maiden launch “in January,” though later said it would take place “in January or perhaps February.”

The launch from SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, also requires regulatory approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Starship comprises the second-stage Starship spacecraft and the first-stage Super Heavy booster.

The spacecraft is powered by six Raptor engines and has already been tested in a series of short high-altitude flights. The vehicle performed well in the air during its test flights but often crashed at the end of the mission when trying to land upright. However, on its most recent flight in May it finally nailed the landing.

The Super Heavy — together with the Starship spacecraft — will perform its initial launch with 29 Raptor engines, with several more added for later test flights.

The Super Heavy rocket and Starship have a combined height of 120 meters, making it about nine meters taller than NASA’s new SLS rocket and the tallest launch vehicle ever built. It also features the greatest thrust capability even seen in a rocket, which at 72 meganewtons will be just over twice that of the Saturn V vehicle that powered astronauts toward the moon around 50 years ago.

Musk has previously said that Starship’s awesome power will allow it to carry much heavier payloads than current rockets, an advantage that the billionaire entrepreneur says will enable a new class of science missions. Flights using SpaceX’s next-generation rocket system are expected to take the Starship spacecraft to the moon, Mars, and possibly other places within our solar system.

The highly anticipated uncrewed orbital flight will see Starship detach from the Super Heavy booster about three minutes after launch, with the spacecraft flying into orbit for the first time. A short while later, Starship will land in waters near Hawaii, though future flights will aim to land the spacecraft upright on land so that it can be refurbished for another flight.

The rocket is already stacked and ready to go — hopefully in January.

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