In a brief tweet, SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk predicts that the company’s first successful orbital flight of Starship launch would take place “probably [between] 1 and 12 months from now,”.
The infamously (over) optimistic CEO’s most recent estimate of the Starship timetable is unusually moderate, ambiguous, and wide while also outlining some realistic assumptions for the success rate.
The totally reusable, next-generation rocket that was ultimately transformed into today’s stainless steel Starship was shown to the public for the first time in September of 2016, and the testing of its orbital flight capabilities was provisionally expected to commence in the year 2020.
Elon Musk, the CEO, made the surprising decision to switch the Starship rocket’s carbon fiber composite airframe for stainless steel around two years after the first announcement, sacrificing years of development work on the Starship structures. It’s still unclear how wise that choice was years later, but Starship’s progress has been remarkably unaffected by such a significant last-minute design modification.
The company’s chief executive officer (CEO) now believes that Starship’s first attempt at an orbital launch might take place as soon as next month, in September 2022, although Elon Musk was basically asserting the same thing a year ago.
At the same time, Musk believes that the first attempt at an orbital flight may be “successful,” despite the fact that it is unclear precisely what he means by that term. In a more pessimistic tone, he hinted in a tweet that he sent on August 2 that he wouldn’t be surprised if it took SpaceX a whole year and several attempts before the Starship was successfully launched into orbit.
It’s even conceivable to see his post as a warning that, although having a higher chance of success, Starship’s debut orbital launch may still take up to a year.
For Starship’s first successful orbital flight, some time in the middle of this year is a more reasonable projection (4–8 months from now). For a possible launch in September, there have been no new Starship or Super Heavy booster testing data as of early August: Starship 24’s most recent round of testing was sluggish, but it hasn’t yet proven destructive, and Super Heavy Booster 7 is now undergoing repairs following a mishap.
The Starship may be approved for the first orbital test launch by the end of August if SpaceX (starting on August 3rd) suddenly flicks a switch and begins to test Ship 24 with some haste. Super Heavy is a considerably bigger obstacle.
However, it is unclear whether or not all 33 of Booster 7’s Raptor engines have been removed, since this would take weeks to re-install and over again. The Super Heavy side of Starship’s orbital launch debut is most likely at least a couple of months away from flight readiness, even if SpaceX chooses to expedite Booster 8, which is almost ready for engine-less proof testing.
Realistically, the first orbital launch attempt of Starship is unlikely to happen until October or November, provided SpaceX doesn’t decide to take a huge risk and try to launch an untrained or marginally competent rocket. Even more difficult to predict is the outcome of Starship’s first complete launch.
According to this definition, SpaceX has an excellent chance of succeeding in its mission to put several new Starlink satellites in orbit.
If catching a Super Heavy rocket and making it through the first orbital reentry are required for success, the chances are minimal to none. Maybe SpaceX will overcome the odds. On or around August 3rd or 4th, Starship S24 will commence static firing testing.