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Musk says Starship will be ready for first orbital launch in May

Capitalism in space: In a tweet yesterday Elon Musk said that Starship will be ready for first orbital launch in May, a delay of two months from his previous announcements.

“We’ll have 39 flightworthy engines built by next month, then another month to integrate, so hopefully May for orbital flight test,” Musk tweeted in response to CNBC.

While the delay could certainly be because the company needed to prepare enough Superheavy engines, I also suspect it is also because Musk now expects the FAA to not approve the environmental reassessment of Starship’s Boca Chica launch site by the end of March, as has been promised. I predict that sometime in the next few days the FAA will announce another one-month delay in that process, the fourth such delay by that federal agency.

In late-December, when the FAA announced the first delay, I predicted that the first orbital launch of Starship would not happen until the latter half of ’22. I now think that prediction was optimistic. I firmly believe the federal government, controlled by Democrats, will delay that launch until after the mid-term elections in November. It appears to me that the Biden administration wants to reject the environmental reassessment, which would block Starship flights from Boca Chica for years. It just doesn’t want to do it before November, because of the negative election consequences.

I truly hope my cynical and pessimistic analysis is utterly wrong. So far, however, my prediction has proven to be more right than wrong.

Conscious Choice cover

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9 comments

  • Skunk Bucket

    I’m hardly an expert, but I can’t help but think that part of the reason for the FAA’s repeated delays is that the Feds don’t want Starship to fly to orbit (or close to) before the SLS maiden flight. It reminds me a lot of how NASA kept finding ways to delay the first test launch of the manned Dragon so that their darlings at Boeing with the Starliner wouldn’t be upstaged.

  • David Eastman

    I think there probably isn’t any kind of conscious intent to manipulate the timing. It’s just each department following their own agenda, no active political direction, and decision makers deferring to implied but not stated political winds. So the FAA has presumably looked at the documentation and said something to the effect of “we have no grounds to call for more here, this is acceptable” but Fish and Wildlife and NOAA are natural NIMBY or even BANANA, and so they are dragging their feet and refusing to sign off, even though they probably have no concrete basis on which to refuse. And the people that could step in and demand that a decision be made look at the political winds and don’t, and so there is just delay, without anyone specifically organizing it or thinking of timing.

    You would expect the Senators and Representatives affected to kick up a fuss and get things moving on behalf of their constituents, but they’re either uninterested or the wrong party, or both, so that’s not going to solve it either. I honestly don’t expect launches from Boca Chica at this point.

  • Jeff Wright

    Secret Projects Forum has it that B7/SS22 will be all Raptor 2s. Just give the current one to Ukraine as the worlds largest IRBM! :-P

  • Edward

    The delay has been so long that SpaceX now expects to fly with Raptor 2 engines retrofit onto the booster and orbiter. They had built plenty of the original Raptors, but now they won’t fly. What a waste of a few million dollars.

  • Steve Richter

    If the concern of the FAA was the negative impact of launches on local wildlife wouldn’t there be public discussion of ways that SpaceX could mitigate that impact? Sound and blast barriers around the launch site, perhaps?

    Am I missing something or has there been no news or public announcements from the FAA these last few months? What are they doing while the country awaits their decision? An explanation for the silence is that the FAA is actually doing no work on this matter. Instead they are waiting for the Biden admin to tell them what they are to do.

  • Ian C.

    Musk’s Ukraine engagement hopefully buys some goodwill.

  • Questioner

    Musk’s statement means that Booster 4 will not be used for orbital flight and will only be used for further ground testing. Will Ship 20 meet the same fate?

  • Questioner

    GREAT PIECE!

    AwakenWithJP: “Virtue Signaling About Ukraine!”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toGMjVVhkiM

  • Milt

    Meanwhile, work on the SpaceX East Coast launch facility continues apace in the Free State of Florida.

    https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2022/02/focus-florida-east-coast-starship/

    It is too bad that Governor Abbott doesn’t seem to believe (at least in public) that SpaceX and Boca Chica are all that important to the future of Texas, but he has an election to win against Beto O’Rourke so he can’t say or do anything that might upset anyone. God, no.
    (I suppose that keeping Mr. O’Rourke out of elective office trumps almost everything else in terms of the welfare of Texas and the rest of the country, but still…)

    https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/2022_Report_to_the_People_of_Texas.pdf

    As Robert suggests, we probably won’t see much action until after the elections in November.

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