SpaceX already has a date in mind for next Starship launch

SpaceX's Starship spacecraft on the launchpad.
SpaceX

SpaceX launched the mighty Starship for the first time in April last year, but it took a full seven months before it became airborne again.

Following the second test flight in November, SpaceX managed to get the Starship off the launchpad again just four months later in a spectacular flight that took place last week.

Now, the Elon Musk-led team is aiming to blast the world’s most powerful rocket to space for a fourth time as early as May.

While SpaceX engineers need time between launches to examine data from the previous test mission, the time between flights has also been impacted by investigations into each mission, overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

SpaceX can’t send the Starship skyward until it receives a launch permit from the FAA, so it will be hoping for the nod sooner rather than later so that it can hit its May target date.

Speaking at the Satellite 2024 conference in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said engineers were still reviewing data from the most recent flight and hoped to fly again “in about six weeks.”

In comments reported by Space.com, Shotwell said the third test flight had been “incredibly successful … We hit exactly where we wanted to go.”

While the first two test flights ended abruptly when the vehicle exploded minutes after liftoff, the third test saw the Starship — comprising the first-stage Super Heavy booster and the upper-stage Starship spacecraft — achieve stage separation for the second time and complete the main part of the planned mission, including reaching orbit for the first time. Things went awry in the latter stages, however, when the Super Heavy exploded as it descended toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Starship disintegrated while falling at high speed over the Indian Ocean. It’s this part of the mission that engineers will be keen to get right for the fourth test flight.

Once fully tested and certified, SpaceX and NASA will use the powerful space vehicle to transport cargo and crew to the moon, and it could even carry the first astronauts to Mars.

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