Starship's first orbital test flight could finally take place next month. Mark Kirasich, a senior NASA official overseeing the development of the Artemis moon program, has revealed the information during a livestreamed NASA Advisory Council meeting. According to Reuters, Kirasich said that NASA tracks four major Starship flights and that the first one is coming up in early December.
Based on the plans SpaceX previously released, the Starship spacecraft with its Super Heavy booster will launch from the company's Boca Chica facility in Texas. The booster will break off three minutes into the flight and splash down in the Gulf of Mexico, while the Starship vehicle itself will go into orbit before reentering and making an ocean landing near Hawaii. The company expects the entire test flight to last for 90 minutes.
SpaceX has been planning Starship's first orbital flight since mid-2021, but it kept getting pushed back due to various technical and regulatory reasons. The space corporation's launch facility in Boca Chica, for instance, only recently cleared the FAA's environmental assessment. And even then, the FAA required the company to make more than 75 changes to mitigate the environmental impact of its flights before it grants the company a launch license for the site.
An FAA spokesperson told Reuters that the agency will grant the company a launch license "only after SpaceX provides all outstanding information and the agency can fully analyze it." As SpaceNews notes, SpaceX must also conduct and clear more tests before the flight, including a static fire test of all 33 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy booster.
A static fire test of the Starship in July ended up in flames when propellants ignited under the booster. SpaceX's next attempt in August went smoothly, but the company only fired a single Raptor engine on the Super Heavy that time. In addition, Starship must go through a full wet dress rehearsal, wherein a rocket that's loaded with propellants go through the launch countdown without actually taking off.
SpaceX will do a lot of test flights of Starship, including an uncrewed landing on the moon, before landing astronauts there, Kirasich says. But the first time it will dock with Orion will be on the Artemis III mission in lunar orbit.
— Christian Davenport (@wapodavenport) October 31, 2022