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SpaceX targets this summer for first Starship orbital flight

SpaceX reportedly has a plan to send its Starship and Super Heavy rocket system on its first orbital flight by July 1, 2021.

The incredibly ambitious date appeared in a report by NASASpaceFlight that was later retweeted by Starship’s official Twitter account.

But given the amount of preparation work and testing that needs to take place between now and then, it seems somewhat unlikely that SpaceX will be able to achieve its goal of sending its next-generation rocket system on its first orbital flight by that date.

In advance of any launch, the SpaceX team still needs to perfect the landing procedure for the second-stage Starship rocket, which will also eventually function as a spaceship for carrying cargo and a crew of up to 100 people. On its first two high-altitude test flights, the Starship prototypes crashed and burned after heavy landings, while the most recent test flight earlier this month saw the rocket nail its first landing before exploding in a fireball several minutes later.

And then there’s the first-stage Super Heavy rocket that still has to be built, flown, and landed.

SpaceX’s next Starship prototype, SN11, is expected to head skyward this week from its test site in Boca Chica, Texas. According to NASASpaceFlight, the team will then move straight to SN15, which will include a number of new design features.

The first Super Heavy prototype, BN1, is expected to undertake ground testing only. BN2, on the other hand, should be the first Super Heavy to take flight. SpaceX has yet to offer any specific dates for the initial Super Heavy tests.

If all of the testing goes to plan — and as we have already seen, that’s a lot to expect — then SpaceX is likely to skip SN18 and SN19 production and instead prepare a first-stage BN3 Super Heavy prototype and second-stage SN20 Starship prototype “with a goal to get to orbit by July 1.”

Failing that, SpaceX is keen to achieve the same flight by the end of 2021 at the latest.

Starship will launch atop the powerful Super Heavy rocket, which will be powered by 31 Raptor engines. Once in space, Starship will use six Raptor engines for independent travel before returning to Earth. In the future, the spacecraft should have the potential to land on other planets, enabling SpaceX to deploy its reusable rocket system in deep space.

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