SpaceX targeting May for Starship orbital flight, Booster 4 and Ship 20 won’t see space

Fully stacked starship

After months and months of delays, and numerous rumors regarding the fate of SpaceX’s first Starship/Booster pair to be fully stacked, Elon Musk tweeted a wealth of new information about the company’s first orbital Starship flight.

First Starship orbital flight

To start with the big news, SpaceX will be using Raptor 2 engines for the first orbital flight of Starship. These engines are more reliable and more powerful than the more visually complex original raptor engines. Noteable, Booster 4 and Ship 20 are equipped with earlier Raptor engines, not the Raptor 2 that SpaceX was struggling with into late last year. This means to iconicly numbered pair won’t be the first to make to go orbital, as has seemed likely for the past several months.

Raptor 1 and Raptor 2 side by side. Image by Seth Kurkowski

Additionally, the tweets made it clear that the FAA is not to blame for this delay, as Elon said in the tweet, “We’ll have 39 flightworthy engines built by next month, then another month to integrate, so hopefully May for orbital flight test.” This makes it clear that, however frustrating the delays in the FAA environmental assessment may be, they are not what is holding back SpaceX from an orbital launch attempt.

This May launch date is also likely optimistic. Even Musk only said “hopefully” May, so this could easily push much later into summer (and that is assuming everything with the FAA’s environmental assessment does go through as planned, which may have been delayed yet again).

While Musk (in a roundabout way) confirmed that Booster 4 and Ship 20 will not be the ones making the orbital launch, he did not reveal which Booster/Ship combination would take that historic flight. It seems plausible the flight could take place on Booster 7 and Ship 24, which are currently in production at the Starbase build site, but this is only speculation.

SpaceX launches as a whole this year

While sharing this update on Starship, Musk also provided some information on SpaceX launches as a whole. The company is expected to launch 800 tons into orbit this year, not including Starship launches (which could launch Starlink V2 later this year if all goes well). This makes up about 70% of the estimated mass to orbit worldwide this year. Some of this mass comes from the newly added OneWeb satellites, which SpaceX recently signed a deal to launch, taking over from Russia’s Soyuz rocket.

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