Update: SpaceX is now targeting 0820 CT (1320 UTC) on Monday 17 April for launch.
SpaceX is about to attempt the first test flight of a mega rocket that could one day take us to Mars.
If successful, Starship will be the tallest and most powerful fully reusable rocket ever flown.
That is a rather sizeable ‘if’. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has given the test launch only a 50 percent chance of success, hinting that it may explode like many of its predecessors.
The rocket will launch from SpaceX headquarters in Texas and the launch target time is 0820 local time (1320 UTC) on Monday 17 April. You can watch the whole thing live below from around 0715 Texas time.
“I’m not saying it will get to orbit,” Musk said at the Morgan Stanley Conference on March 7, “but I am guaranteeing excitement!”
“I think it’s got hopefully about a 50 percent chance of reaching orbit,” he added, in reference to the first test launch.
But he did give the rocket an 80 percent chance of successfully reaching orbit by the end of the year.
Starship is an incredible 40 stories tall. It consists of the spacecraft – a 50-meter (164-foot) reusable crew and cargo capsule – stacked on top of a 70-meter (230-foot) tall Super Heavy rocket booster.
A successful test firing of the 33 Raptor engines on the booster was carried out in February, but the Super Heavy booster was anchored down the whole time.
SpaceX only got permission last Friday from the Federal Aviation Administration to actually launch Starship in its full configuration.
Starship fully stacked at Starbase pic.twitter.com/UW4V3ZRcLR
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 15, 2023
For this first launch, the aim is simply to get into Earth’s orbit. SpaceX won’t attempt to land or reuse Starship or the Super Heavy Booster.
But the ultimate goal is for Starship to become a reusable rocket just like Falcon 9, one that can take humans to other planets and back again.
Now the rocket is used to regularly transport people and objects to and from the International Space Station.
NASA is also working on its own Mars heavy rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) which was successfully launched for the first time in November.
The space agency’s goal is to take astronauts to lunar orbit by November 2024.
Starship will be more powerful than SLS, and also reusable. SpaceX’s goal is to put a Starship into orbit and then refuel it with another Starship, so it can continue onto other planets.
“Full rapid reusability … is the profound breakthrough that is needed to extend life beyond Earth,” Musk said in the Morgan Stanley Conference interview. “It lowers the cost of access to space by orders of magnitude.”
“This vehicle could make life multiplanetary. That’s a really big deal.”
Monday’s weather is looking good for the 150-minute launch window, and Starship is already locked onto the specially constructed launch tower.
We’ll be watching with fingers crossed. Good luck, Starship!