For almost two decades now, Elon Musk's vision for SpaceX has been to. For a few years, the planned vehicle that would make the trip was simply referred to as "BFR." Today it's been rechristened Starship, and after its first successful suborbital test flight and landing, Musk says it could now be on the verge of going to actual space for the first time.
"We're hoping to do our first orbital launch attempt in the next few months. We certainly will have a booster and a ship, an orbital capable booster and orbital capable ship and the orbital launch site will be ready within the next month or so," Musk said Tuesday during a virtual keynote to Mobile World Congress 2021.
That booster, ship and launch site are all currently under construction at the SpaceX development site in Boca Chica, Texas, which Musk has been.
This is the same facility that has seen a series of increasingly dramatic Starship prototype test flights over the past few years. On May 5, after previous attempts to fly Starship to about 6.2 miles (10 km) altitude all ended in explosions on the ground, prototype SN15 finally stuck the landing and remained in one piece.
Initially, following the successful flight and landing of SN15, there was talk that the. But this encore has yet to materialize while the focus has been on prepping a new Starship and getting Super Heavy boosters ready to test.
Until recently, both Musk and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell have been talking up a debut flight for Super Heavy and first trip to space for Starship, coming as soon as this July.
But with the month now here, it's clear that we won't see Starship fly its long-awaited maiden orbital mission quite that soon. A recent Federal Communications Commission application from SpaceX requests permission to add Starlink terminals to Starship during its first orbital flight. Notably, the period requested in the permit application runs from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1.
An earlier FCC filing revealed some of the details ofto space. After launching from Boca Chica, Texas, a new prototype (most likley SN20) will leave the atmosphere and then re-enter on its first orbit and attempt a soft splashdown off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai in the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, the Super Heavy booster will try to land back at Starbase in Texas.
There is still a possibility that we get to see some Starship action sooner than August, however. While SN20 is being readied for its trip to the Aloha state, or at least the waters nearby, older version SN16 is still coming together at Boca Chica. Earlier this month, Musk said SpaceX "might use SN16 on a hypersonic flight test."
That's something I'll happily watch if it happens. Stay tuned here and on Twitter @EricCMack for more incremental updates.
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