Things are heating up again at the SpaceX Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas! With so many static fire and flight tests now behind them and the FAA environmental assessment complete, space exploration enthusiasts have wondered when Elon Musk would attempt to conduct an orbital flight with the Starship prototype. As of Tuesday, October 11th, the Starship 24 (SN24) and Booster 7 (BN7) prototypes were once again seen fully stacked on the orbital launch pad, leading many to wonder if the long-awaited orbital flight is imminent!
Pictures of the fully-stacked Starship were posted on SpaceX’s Twitter account (shown above). The four images show the SN24 being lifted by “Mechazilla’s” mechanical arms and hoisted on top of the BN7 as the Sun went down. Things began late in the day and continued into the evening, with the SN24 being mounted amid a beautiful sunset. The two were fully integrated by nightfall, and the launch pad’s floodlights were activated to illuminate the fully-stacked vehicle. Many observers who were on-site to witness the stacking also took candid photos that they uploaded to SpaceX’s Twitter feed.
Granted, this is not the first time Elon has been optimistic with his timelines or even the first time he said an orbital flight would happen soon. In November 2021, during an online meeting of the National Academies Space Studies Board and Board on Physics and Astronomy. he suggested that the inaugural launch could take place as soon as January 2022. Then in March of 2022, he predicted an orbital flight could happen by May. In both cases, he was forced to push the date back due to an environmental assessment by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
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On June 13th, the FAA announced that it had finished its Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) and found no serious environmental concerns. With this important milestone complete, it seemed like a matter of time before the flight took place. However, the public has been forced to wait a few months as the engineering teams at the SpaceX Starbase conducted static fire tests with the Starship and Superheavy. For some, the return of the Starship and Super Heavy to the launch pad for the first time in six months suggests that SpaceX will be conducting the orbital flight this Fall.
This would be in keeping with a statement made by Musk back in September, shortly after the SN24 performed a static engine fire test with seven Raptor engines. At the time, he took to Twitter to talk about the fire test and some upgrades Starship was receiving in preparation for the maiden launch. When asked when the launch would happen, Musk said:
“Late next month maybe, but November seems highly likely. We will have two boosters & ships ready for orbital flight by then, with full stack production at roughly one every two months.”
It is also likely that the engineering teams plan to conduct more static fire tests to be certain they’ve got all the bugs worked out in advance. Much like the Space Launch System (SLS), the Starship and Super Heavy have been the subject of many delays due to anomalies and outside factors – most of which are beyond our control. But at this point, SpaceX is undeniably close to making its historic launch. And it’s getting closer with every passing day!