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SpaceX eyes new launch date for first orbital Starship flight

There’s a lot resting on Starship, SpaceX’s next-generation rocket, which when it finally gets off the ground will become the most powerful space vehicle ever to fly.

And should it successfully complete its testing program, it has the potential to herald a new era of space travel, becoming the first reusable rocket to transport astronauts to the moon, or even Mars.

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But precisely when its first orbital launch will take place is still unclear after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Wednesday that it’s unable to meet the December 31 deadline for the completion of an environmental review that would clear the way for launches at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had been hoping for a decision by Friday, enabling a possible January flight test flight of Starship, a mighty vehicle that comprises the Super Heavy first stage and the Starship second stage. But the next possible date now looks like March.

As part of its review, the FAA is evaluating various public safety issues that include “overflight of populated areas and payload contents; national security or foreign policy concerns; insurance requirements for the launch operator; and potential environmental impact,” according to its website.

In accordance with federal law, the review earlier this year invited members of the public to have their say, a call that resulted in the submission of 18,000 comments. The FAA said that due to the time needed to assess the large number of comments, as well as to complete various discussions and consultations, it’s had to set a new deadline — February 28, 2022 — for the review’s completion. Should it get the green light from the FAA, SpaceX could launch Starship a few weeks later in March.

The delay will come as a blow to SpaceX, which is keen to move forward with the development of Starship following a number of high-altitude test flights of varying success in 2021.

The Super Heavy on which the Starship spacecraft will fly is yet to get off the ground, so there is much excitement about the prospect of seeing the entire 394-feet-tall (120 meters) vehicle take to the skies for its very first orbital flight.

California-based SpaceX will now be hoping the FAA can meet its new February deadline, or else a launch will be unlikely to take place until the middle of 2022 at the earliest.

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