As activity chugs along at the SpaceX facility in South Texas, its billionaire owner Elon Musk believes the company will be able to launch its Starship Mk 1 into orbit in the coming months.
He promises a major update on the project on Sept. 28, an important anniversary in SpaceX history. It launched the first privately funded rocket to reach orbit on that date in 2008.
Musk told Twitter users the company is aiming for a roughly 12.5 mile flight in October and an “attempt” at reaching orbit “shortly thereafter.”
SpaceX has been testing the Starship at its Boca Chica Beach facility in South Texas for several months. The current Starhopper is a prototype of the future model of the Starship Musk hopes will eventually take SpaceX to Mars.
Orbital testing will require completion of the giant rocket booster that will propel the ship that SpaceX has dubbed Super Heavy.
Testing has evolved from static engine testing to short tethered “hops” and, more recently, it was able to successfully hover 500 feet over its launch site before landing last week. The final test “hop” last week allowed the company to assess the hardware and design of the ship before future iterations _ which Musk has predicted could be twice the size of the current model.
Reaching orbit would be a milestone Musk has been trying to reach for some time as progress has hit various roadblocks since testing was moved out of California. Texas winds knocked the Starship over in January, setting the company back several weeks. Even last week’s test was postponed briefly when Musk tweeted: “Igniters need to be inspected. We will try again tomorrow same time.”
As assembly of the MK1 and MK2 continues in Texas and Florida, some have been skeptical of the deadlines Musk has set for testing the Starship. Industry blog Teslerati called it “unbelievably ambitious” while admitting that the current pace of development at SpaceX makes an orbital launch by the end of the year “entirely plausible.”
The company has said previously it intends to begin commercial space missions in 2021.