SpaceX Is Nearer Than Ever to Starship’s First Orbital Flight

After completing a static fire test of Starship earlier this month, SpaceX has nowhere else to go but up. A company official says it’s now in a position to perform the first orbital flight test of its much-anticipated megarocket, pending a launch license.

On Tuesday, a SpaceX official stated that Starship’s first orbital flight could take place in March. Speaking at the Space Mobility Conference in Orlando, Florida, SpaceX Senior Director of National Security Space Solutions Gary Henry said that Starship’s static fire test, which took place on February 9, was the “last box to check,” before the rocket’s first orbital launch attempt, SpaceNews reported. “The vehicle is in good shape. The pad is in good shape,” Henry is quoted as saying.

The static fire test saw Starship’s Super Heavy Booster rev up 31 of its 33 Raptor 2 engines, which CEO Elon Musk deemed as “still enough engines to reach orbit.” During the conference, Henry also suggested that SpaceX would not conduct another test before an orbital launch attempt.

The company still needs to procure a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration before it can see Starship fly, which SpaceX expects to happen in the “very near future,” according to Henry.

SpaceX is eager to launch Starship, a fully reusable, super heavy-lift launch vehicle designed to go to Earth orbit, the Moon, and possibly even further destinations like Mars. The company has been striving to perform an orbital launch test of its megarocket since summer 2021, conducting a series of limited static fire tests of the booster’s engines. In November, SpaceX ignited 14 Raptors simultaneously for 10 seconds followed by a wet dress rehearsal of the fully integrated 394-foot-tall (120-meter) rocket on January 23. The most recent demonstration was the company’s first full-scale static fire test of the system, even with two of the Raptor engines not joining in.

The pending orbital test flight involves Starship’s liftoff to space, in which the upper stage will perform less than a full orbit around Earth before reentering Earth’s atmosphere. Following its orbital test, SpaceX will move ahead with operational launches of Starship that will serve as a test program, according to Henry. “We very, very quickly converge on a system that we can operationalize,” he said. The company will begin by launching its next generation Starlink satellites to orbit, which Henry said are “waiting very patiently to be launched on Starship.” The company’s medium-lift Falcon 9 rocket is not able to deliver the oversized Gen2 Starlinks to orbit, hence the company’s urgency to get the Starship program off the ground.

SpaceX also has a $2.89 billion contract with NASA, using Starship to land humans on the Moon by late 2025 as part of the space agency’s Artemis 3 mission.

There is a lot riding on this highly anticipated orbital test run of Starship, although the test flight is not expected to be perfect, just good enough for SpaceX to plan upcoming launches of its megarocket.

More: Elon Musk Reveals Details of Next-Generation Starlink Satellites

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