SpaceX may finally be given permission on Monday to conduct the first orbital launch of its next-generation Starship rocket that could one day launch astronauts to Mars.
The private space company led by Elon Musk is waiting on a decision from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has spent months assessing the suitability of SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas as a site for orbital launches involving what will be the most powerful rocket ever to fly.
Following several earlier delays of the publication of its verdict, the FAA said at the end of May that it would need another couple of weeks to complete its so-called Programmatic Environmental Assessment, the results of which will determine if SpaceX can launch the Starship from Boca Chica.
The delay is partly down to the FAA needing more time to complete consultations with a range of government departments, and also to finish reviewing all of the 17,000-plus public comments that were submitted during the assessment process.
If Monday’s decision goes against SpaceX, engineers will have to transport the flight system — comprising the Super Heavy first stage and the Starship upper stage — from Boca Chica to a launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida around 1,000 miles to the east.
While SpaceX has already tested the Starship upper stage in several high-altitude test flights, the powerful Super Heavy booster is yet to fly.
The first orbital test flight of the entire vehicle could, if the FAA’s decision goes in SpaceX’s favor, take place in the next couple of months. The entire mission is expected to take around 90 minutes, with the Super Heavy powering the Starship into orbit in a 170-second flight before the two components separate.
Eager to get the rocket off the ground and into space, Musk recently tweeted a photo of the Super Heavy’s 33 Raptor engines.
33 Raptor rocket engines, each producing 230 metric tons of force pic.twitter.com/flQLb62MgZ
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 11, 2022
NASA is following events closely as it hopes to use the reusable spaceflight system for crewed missions to the moon by the end of this decade, as well as eventual missions to Mars.