SpaceX is preparing to launch the most powerful rocket ever built on Monday, April 17th, following clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The agency released a statement on Friday stating that SpaceX had met all safety, environmental, policy, payload, airspace integration, and financial responsibility requirements. The Starship is made up of an upper-stage spacecraft and first-stage Super Heavy booster and is expected to make its inaugural orbital flight from the company’s Starbase facility located in Boca Chica, Texas. The launch is scheduled to take place at 7 am local time (5 am PT), with a live stream accessible on SpaceX’s YouTube channel.
The Starship and the Super Heavy booster will separate moments after launch, with the booster returning to Earth and crashing into the Gulf of Mexico. The Starship will continue to orbit at an altitude of around 146 miles (235 kilometres) before descending and landing in the Pacific Ocean close to Hawaii, 90 minutes later. Although neither the Super Heavy booster nor the Starship will be retrieved during this mission, SpaceX intends to recover and reuse the booster and the spacecraft in subsequent missions.
The launch is expected to be a spectacular event, with the Starship generating an astounding 17 million pounds of thrust during liftoff, powered by 33 Raptor engines. This far surpasses the current record of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which created 8.8 million pounds of thrust during its first launch in November 2020 for the Artemis I mission. Even the historic Saturn V rocket, which propelled Apollo astronauts to the moon, produced only around 7.6 million pounds of thrust.
Despite the incredible power of the Starship, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has acknowledged that there is a chance the Starship’s maiden flight may not go as planned. He stated, “I’m not saying it will get to orbit, but I am guaranteeing excitement — [it] won’t be boring. I think it’s got, I don’t know, hopefully about a 50% chance of reaching orbit.”
SpaceX plans to carry out a launch rehearsal of the Starship next week, followed by its first integrated flight test, pending regulatory approval. The company published photos of the massive Starship on its launchpad at the company’s base in Texas. Starship is designed to eventually send astronauts to the Moon and beyond, and NASA has picked the Starship capsule to ferry its astronauts to the Moon as part of the Artemis III mission, set for 2025 at the earliest.
The US space agency will take astronauts up to lunar orbit itself in November 2024 using its own heavy rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), which has been in development for more than a decade. However, Starship is both bigger and more powerful than SLS, generating more than double the thrust of the Saturn V rockets used to send Apollo astronauts to the Moon. SpaceX foresees eventually putting a Starship into orbit, and then refueling it with another Starship so it can continue a journey to Mars or beyond.
Other super heavy rockets under development include Blue Origin’s New Glenn, China’s Long March 9, and Russia’s Yenizei. SpaceX will need a green light from the FAA before being allowed to carry out the orbital test launch. However, the agency has already given clearance for the launch of the most powerful rocket ever built. The success of the Starship launch would represent a significant milestone for SpaceX and the aerospace industry as a whole.