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Elon Musk aiming for a dozen Starship launches next year

The SpaceX founder hopes to start sending "real payloads" to space in 2023.

A rendering of Starship heading for orbit.

Elon Musk says SpaceX is now aiming to send its next-generation Starship rocket on its first orbital flight as early as January or February of next year.

Musk updated the timeframe for the next launch of the latest prototype of the spacecraft during a virtual meeting of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on Wednesday. 

"We'll do a bunch of tests in December and hopefully launch in January," Musk said. "There's a lot of risk associated with this first launch, so I would not say that it is likely to be a success, but I think we will make a lot of progress."

Musk also said there could be up to a dozen test flights conducted in 2022 with hopes that Starship can go into commercial service in 2023 and start launching "real payloads."

SpaceX has spent the past two years ramping up its test program for Starship. The Federal Aviation Administration has been conducting an environmental review for the orbital launch program before issuing a launch license, and recently the agency said it aims to complete the review process by the end of the year. 

The first orbital launch will see Starship blast off from the company's Starbase development facility in Texas and head to space before coming back for a splash-down landing near Hawaii. 

Starship's future real payloads also include humans. NASA has selected the vehicle as its human landing system for Artemis astronauts to return to the moon, and Musk's grand ambition of building a city on Mars centers around numerous Starship flights. 

Now playing: Watch this: SpaceX Starship is preparing for its first orbital flight