SpaceX aiming for first orbital test launch of Starship in July

SpaceX is hoping to attempt to fly its in-development spacecraft Starship to orbit for the first time in July, according to company president Gwynne Shotwell. Shotwell shared the timeline at the International Space Development conference during a virtual speaking engagement.

Starship has been in development for the past several years, and it has been making shorter test flights, but remaining within Earth’s atmosphere, since last year. Its most recent flight also included its first fully successful landing, which is a key ingredient in the development of the Starship launch system, which is designed to be SpaceX’s first that is fully reusable.

July (aka next month) is an ambitious timeline for making the first orbital flight attempt of Starship, but in May SpaceX filed its planned course for the flight, which would lift off from the company’s Starship development site in south Texas near Brownsville (known as ‘Starbase’) and then eventually return to Earth with a splash down in the Pacific Ocean somewhere off the cost of Hawaii.

This first flight won’t end with a controlled landing, and the focus will be on reaching orbit and testing the spacecraft component through that part of the flight. Later tests will include a controlled landing of the Starship spacecraft, with the goal of eventually making the entire system, including the Super Heavy booster that will help propel it to orbit, fully reusable.

While Shotwell seemed to indicate high confidence that SpaceX is pretty much technically ready to begin orbital test flights of Starship, the company still needs to secure a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order to perform orbital launches, since its existing license only covers suborbital flights. The FAA is currently in process on reviewing the requirements for that license, including an environmental impact review of what it would mean for the surrounding area.

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