SpaceX moved the most flight-ready of its Starship rockets, Ship 24, to a launch site in South Texas on Saturday. While a launch is not imminent this week, it could take place as early as April 10, sources said.
Earlier this week, the company lifted the massive “Super Heavy” first stage of its launch system onto a launch mount at the pad. The next step will involve lifting the Starship upper stage into place, atop the first stage. While these vehicles have been previously stacked for testing, this should be the final time they are positioned on the launch pad before lifting off.
In recent weeks technicians have added shielding to protect the launch mount and tower from the extreme heating from the launch of Super Heavy, which is powered by 33 Raptor engines. The launch vehicle will have about double the thrust of the two most powerful rockets ever to reach orbit, NASA’s Saturn V and Space Launch System rockets.
With this work largely completed, the focus now turns toward the final significant hurdle standing between SpaceX’s massive rocket and a launch attempt—a license from the Federal Aviation Administration. While such regulatory matters are uncertain, a source said good progress is being made toward the issuance of such a license during the first two weeks of April.
It also appears that, tentatively, NASA is reserving the use of its high-altitude WB-57 aircraft for observations of the Starship test flight on April 10 and 11. The agency is closely tracking SpaceX’s progress with the massive rocket, as it intends to use the Starship vehicle as a lunar lander for its astronauts as part of the Artemis Moon missions.