After a last-minute scrub on April 17, Starship is finally ready to take the sky. The launch window opens at 9.28 am EDT (1:28 pm UTC) on Thursday, April 20 and Elon Musk promises that while it might not be successful, it will be anything but boring. Starship is a huge project for SpaceX, quite literally. It is going to be the biggest rocket ever built and sent to space.
In an interview with Morgan Stanley, Musk said that SpaceX had built multiple Starship rockets and that overall there’s an 80 percent chance that one of them will reach orbit this year. Previous suborbital flights of Starship had an explosive finale, as the craft went kaboom on landing.
Despite the hopefully flippant comments from Musk, there is a lot riding on Starship, more than SpaceX's plans to eventually take people to Mars on it. As it stands, Starship will be the rocket that will take astronauts in the Artemis program from lunar orbit down to the surface of the Moon and back. The next moon landing mission, Artemis III, is scheduled for late 2025, so Starship needs to demonstrate its capabilities well before then.
One of the advantages of Starship is that it can be fueled in orbit. This will allow it to get refueled in low-Earth orbit before getting to the Moon. There, it will rendezvous with the Orion spacecraft, which will take the astronauts into lunar orbit, and the astronauts will board Starship to get down to the Moon.
Starship is 50 meters (164 feet) tall but when on its superheavy booster, it reaches 119 meters (390 feet). Artemis I, the current record holder for most powerful launch, was 98 meters (322 feet) tall with the crew compartment. Starship is designed to move both crew and cargo into orbit. And every part of it is reusable.
When it comes to cargo, SpaceX would like to employ Starship to bring more Starlink satellites to orbit than have already been sent up on Falcon 9 rockets. Starlink is at the center of several controversies as the number of satellites is affecting professional astronomy and they contribute to the pollution of the natural night sky. Musk plans to have at least 12,000 Starlink satellites in orbit, likely outnumbering non-Starlink satellites five to one.
Another exciting potential use for Starship is point-to-point suborbital Earth transportation. Those are flights from two different places on the planet, which require going up tens of kilometers and at high-speed, to reach somewhere else very quickly. For example, the longest continuous flight, from Singapore to New York, takes almost 19 hours. Starship might be able to do it in about one hour.
The launch will be streamed live by SpaceX on YouTube and social media.
This article has been updated to include the new launch date.