Hype is building for the first orbital flight test of Starship, SpaceX’s ultra-heavy launch system. That hype began to reach a crescendo this week when the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released it air traffic advice identifying April 10 as a primary launch date. Throwing gasoline on the fire, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk liked earlier today a tweet that just reads “April 10” with a GIF of a rocket launch.
While April 10 is the closest thing to an even semi-firm launch date, the FAA has yet to issue the all-important launch license for SpaceX. This final regulatory green light is a non-negotiable step before the company can conduct the test. So far, there’s no indication that that license is imminent.
Further, as Ars Technica science editor Eric Berger pointed out on Twitter, there is also a very real possibility that a civil suit will be filed over environmental issues immediately after the launch license is issued. In this case, a judge would have the power to issue a temporary injunction blocking the flight test until that civil suit is resolved.
It wouldn’t be the first time SpaceX and environmentalists have clashed over the company’s operations at Starbase, the Starship development facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Immediately surrounding Starbase are wildlife refuges and a state park, both home to what environmentalists say are fragile ecosystems that could be existentially threatened by continued orbital operations. The FAA released its final environmental assessment of Starbase and the Starship flight program last summer, which determined that SpaceX’s plans would not lead to significant environmental impacts and required the company to take a number of mitigation measures before test flights begin.
The Starship launch system consists of a Super Heavy booster and an upper stage also known as the Starship. The rocket has become critical to the future of the space economy, with multiple startups counting on it getting online for their business plans, for NASA making it a centerpiece of its Artemis program to return humans to the moon – to not to mention its central role in Musk’s own vision of expanding humanity to Mars.