SpaceX’s super-heavy lift rocket could finally be ready to embark on its first orbital test flight in December, according to a NASA official.
During a NASA Advisory Council meeting on Monday, Mark Kirasich, a senior NASA official overseeing the development of the Artemis program, said that Starship’s test flight may take place early next month, Reuters reported. “We track four major Starship flights. The first one here is coming up in December, part of early December,” Kirasich is quoted as saying.
Starship is a fully reusable, super heavy-lift launch vehicle designed to go to Earth orbit, the Moon, and possibly even further destinations like Mars. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has been eager to see Starship fly, earlier suggesting that the rocket may take off in November.
Of course, we’ve learned not to take Musk’s promises to heart. In June, Musk declared that Starship would be ready for its first orbital flight in July, a claim he made shortly after getting the go-ahead from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a controversial site expansion at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
The upper stage Starship 24 prototype is currently undergoing tests at the Starbase facility where it stands fully stacked on the pad. The SpaceX system consists of the Starship spacecraft and the Super Heavy booster, both of which are designed to be fully reusable and powered by SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engines (33 for the booster and six for the spacecraft).
The company completed a seven-engine static fire test at Starbase in September. Afterwards, the prototype was rolled back to the Starship factory for “robustness upgrades ahead of flight,” SpaceX wrote on Twitter at the time. Starship was rolled back onto the pad in early October.
The orbital test flight involves the liftoff of the Starship rocket to space, where it will perform less than a full orbit around Earth and reenter Earth’s atmosphere. The upper stage will splash down some 62 miles (100 km) off the northwest coast of Kauai, Hawaii, while the Super Heavy booster will come down in the Gulf of Mexico. The booster could fly back and attempt an assisted vertical landing at the launch pad, but that hasn’t been confirmed.
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Starship needs to fly soon. As per a $2.89 billion contract with NASA, the company needs to demonstrate that Starship can land humans on the Moon by late 2025 as part of the space agency’s Artemis 3 mission. But SpaceX still has an outstanding list of regulatory requirements that it needs to fulfill in order to get its license from the FAA, and it’s not yet clear whether the company has completed them.
This latest prediction has us excited for a December launch, as NASA is making this claim and not Musk for once. Still, we’ll believe it when we see the rocket finally take flight.