SpaceX Preps for Orbital Test of Starship/Super Heavy Vehicle

SpaceX is set to launch its Starship/Super Heavy vehicle on a planned orbital test on April 17. A launch window will open at 8 am on April 17 and last 150 minutes. This test version of Starship will launch from its test facility in Boca Chica, Texas, and splash down just off the Hawaiian coast.

The full stack is 395 feet (120 meters) tall. Like most of SpaceX’s rockets and spacecraft, the operational version of Starship and Super Heavy will be reusable. Whether it actually launches on April 17 depends on weather conditions. SpaceX seemed confident about the weather report even though it was keeping an eye on wind.

Launch of the orbital test will also depend on keeping boats out of a “keep-out” zone. Privately owned boats straying into the exclusion zone previously became a problem for the splashdown of Demo-2. Demo-2 was the final test mission of the Crew Dragon before it became fully operational.

The orbital test will provide important data that brings Starship closer to being operational. Proposed uses for Starship include rapid delivery of cargo to support humanitarian and disaster-relief efforts anywhere in the world.

Naturally, Starship could also send people to other worlds like Mars, something that Elon Musk still aims to do by the end of the decade. Elon Musk had previously stated that he would like to establish a one-million-person settlement on Mars using a fleet of Starship spacecraft. In the below SpaceX video, he acknowledged the technical challenges that still need to be solved before that happens. (However, “technical challenges” does not mean “impossible.”)

NASA awarded SpaceX a contract to develop a Starship-derived lunar lander that will fly for the first time on Artemis III. Blue Origin had disputed the award with the Government Accountability Office and in court, though both the GAO and the court dismissed the dispute. Since then, Blue Origin’s former team leader for its lunar leader has moved over to a position at SpaceX. Now that SpaceX can move forward with the lunar lander, the orbital test will also provide valuable data for development.

The orbital launch had faced significant delays due to regulatory red tape at the FAA. It received more than 19,000 comments regarding a required environmental review for the test launch. Environmental activists in the Boca Chica area say activity at the test facility does harm to local wildlife. The supportive comments argue that SpaceX takes precautions to protect people from injury or death — even if it might occasionally seem overzealous about closing local roads and beaches for safety reasons.

SpaceX will provide a live feed of the launch attempt for the Starship/Super Heavy stack. It will make updates on its official Twitter account, including an update of a changed launch time if necessary. However the test turns out, Elon Musk promises that at least it won’t be boring.