Starship 24 shows off what just one of its engines can do.
Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET
It’s been over a year-and-a-half since we’ve seen a SpaceX Starship prototype fly and the first flight of the full stack of the vehicle paired with a Super Heavy first stage booster has been perpetually pushed back during that time. Now company founder Elon Musk has another update on when we might see Starship make its first flight to space.
Musk, who also currently helms Tesla and Twitter, said via the social media platform on Saturday that he’s hopeful the first orbital flight of Starship could happen as soon as next month.
“We have a real shot at late February. March launch attempt appears highly likely,” he wrote.
SpaceX launched a series of Starship high-altitude flights in 2020 and 2021 that saw a three-engine version of the spacecraft fly to the stratosphere and come back for a series of landing attempts that all ended in explosions except for the final, successful attempt on May 5, 2021.
We have a real shot at late February. March launch attempt appears highly likely.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 8, 2023
Shortly afterward, SpaceX announced that it would switch gears to begin producing more Raptor engines, testing Super Heavy booster prototypes and preparing for the first orbital launch of Starship. The plan is for Starship to blast off from the company’s Starbase facility in Texas atop Super Heavy, which will return for a landing on a platform in the Gulf of Mexico after separation while the Starship vehicle continues on for a quick trip to orbit followed by a splashdown landing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii.
The flight plan has been stymied by a number of delays, largely tied to the process of getting a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration. The company’s application first had to go through an environmental review process that lasted several months, concluding with the agency allowing the mission to go forward but requiring SpaceX to make dozens of modifications to its launch plan.
SpaceX Starship is preparing for its first orbital flight
The company still hasn’t secured its permit to launch from the FAA as it works through the required changes while simultaneously continuing to manufacture and test Raptor engines and get Super Heavy ready for its first launch.
The next Starship flight has been just a month or two away going back to June 2022, when the FAA announced its decision, and this latest update continues that pattern.
SpaceX isn’t the only party with an interest in seeing Starship fly again. NASA has selected it to be one of the vehicles it flies to the moon as part of the Artemis program aiming at returning astronauts to the lunar surface this decade.