SpaceX could be targeting April 10 or April 11 to launch the maiden orbital flight of Starship, according to new clues from a NASA calendar, activities at SpaceX’s test site in Boca Chica, Texas, and a tweet by Elon Musk.
Starship’s orbital flight is a hotly anticipated event for space enthusiasts and Musk fans in recent months. The two-stage rocket, standing at nearly 400 feet tall and designed to fly humans to Mars someday, will be the tallest spacecraft ever flown to Earth’s orbit if the launch is successful.
SpaceX previously aimed at launching Starship in March and seemed to have coordinated a date with NASA, which deploys an aircraft called WB-57 to monitor spacecraft activities during missions like this. A placeholder for “SpaceX Starship launch” was seen on NASA’s Airborne Science Program calendar in February but was later removed.
Over the weekend, NASA put two placeholders for WB-57 on April 10 and April 11 for imaging missions. WB-57 was the observing aircraft used in past Starship test flights to suborbital space, so the placeholders could be reserved for Starship’s orbital launch.
Also over the weekend, SpaceX rolled out the latest Starship prototype, called Ship 24, on to its launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas, according to photos tweeted by residents nearby. Yesterday (April 3), SpaceX conducted fueling tests with Ship 24’s booster at the Boca Chica facility.
In addition, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency under the Department of Defense on April 1 issued navigational warnings from April 6 to April 12 for a space mission departing from Boca Chica, further suggesting Starship’s launch date within that time window.
Two weeks ago, Musk hinted that Starship may launch in the third week of April. But in a tweet on April 1, the SpaceX CEO said the actual launch is “more than days away, but hopefully not many weeks away.”
For SpaceX, the most important thing still missing is a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The agency recently completed an environmental review of the Starship mission and could issue a launch license at any time.
SpaceX has been test-flying the upper stage of Starship since 2019 but only to as high as 10 kilometers (6 miles) in the sky. An orbital flight is a key step before the rocket can go to outer space.