SpaceX’s Orbital Test of Starship Pushed Back to 2022

Elon Musk announced that SpaceX’s planned first orbital test of a Starship prototype will be pushed back to January 2022 at the earliest.

SpaceX had hoped to get the first orbital test in as early as summer 2021. However, it suffered repeated delays that were primarily due to regulatory bureaucracy – something that Elon Musk has frequently complained about.

The FAA has especially dragged out its required environmental review amid concerns about the ecological impact in the Boca Chica, Texas, area. Opponents especially expressed concern about the impact on local wildlife.

The FAA especially gave a generous amount of time to get comments in. It stopped accepting comments on November 1.

Alleged excessive beach and road closures were also a concern. SpaceX spent some time fending off complaints that alleged that it exceeded the approved amount of time that roads and beaches could be closed. The complaints attracted the attention of the Cameron County District Attorney’s office.

Supporters of SpaceX say that they understand the concerns but believe that SpaceX represents an effort to keep the big picture in mind. They say that SpaceX’s efforts to make humanity a multiplanetary species are critical for survival as a species.

Comments also cited the skilled jobs that SpaceX brings to the Boca Chica area, which includes a mixologist for an on-site bar. (There’s no word on whether the Boca Chica facility has a frozen yogurt stand, though.)

Recent activity surrounding Starship includes a recent engine firing test on SN20. SpaceX plans to use the SN20 prototype for the orbital test. In May 2021, the SN15 prototype successfully went through a high-altitude test flight and landed without blowing up, a problem that had plagued the previous four prototypes that went through similar tests.

Elon Musk has indicated that making the human species interplanetary could involve as many as 1,000 Starships carrying people and supplies. The first few flights dedicated to interplanetary settlements could involve sending hardware to Mars before settlers actually go.

Elon Musk’s initial plans for Mars seems to take a page from Mars Society president Robert Zubrin’s Mars Direct program, which proposes a low-cost plan to send humans to Mars for exploration missions.

One thing that Zubrin and Musk seem to have in common is bringing the cost of spaceflight down, which could make it palatable for ordinary taxpayers. Robert Zubrin has often criticized the excessively high-priced bids frequently placed by “traditional” contractors like the ULA whenever NASA has a new contract to award.

Musk is handling the job by developing reusable rockets and spacecraft, which makes it possible for SpaceX to become one of the most “affordable” aerospace companies – and currently, one of the most effective. It just recently launched its fourth crewed mission for NASA and fifth overall, Crew-3, which is now docked to the International Space Station.

It also came out victorious in its bid for development of the Artemis lunar lander and subsequent legal wrangling between Blue Origin and SpaceX. SpaceX’s bid incidentally came in at half the cost of Blue Origin’s bid.