- SpaceX will not make their internal July 1st deadline
- Starship SN16 may fly a high altitude test
- Numerous engines need to be delivered
- Thorough testing of Starship before the flight
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX COO appeared to walk beside a Starship Engine countdown when she was presenting during the Northwestern Commencement during the University’s June 14 virtual ceremony.
The Starship system is a fully reusable, two‑stage‑to‑orbit super heavy‑lift launch vehicle under development by SpaceX. The system is composed of a booster stage named Super Heavy and a second stage, also called “Starship”.
As president and COO of SpaceX, Shotwell is responsible for day-to-day operations and managing all customer and strategic relations to support company growth. She joined SpaceX in 2002 as vice president of business development and built the Falcon vehicle family manifest to more than 100 launches, representing more than $15 billion in business. She also is a member of the SpaceX board of directors.
If you look closely to the left of Gwynne while she’s walking through the SpaceX facility, you will see a ring of circles. Those circles represent Raptor Engines on SpaceX Starship and Booster. There are 12 green Raptor engines which would signify that those engines have been delivered and the white circles show the ones that have not made their way to Starbase in Texas.
While the delivery of the Raptor engines doesn’t signify a solid release date, we can put together an estimation using past SpaceX Starship testing schedules.
Orbital Starship in July
“I’m hoping we make it, but we all know that this is difficult”Shotwell said, at the National Space Society’s virtual International Space Development Conference.
“We are really on the cusp of flying that system, or at least attempting the first orbital flight of that system, really in the very near term”.Shotwell added
Orbital Starship Flight Timeline
Prior to conducting a suborbital launch of a Super Heavy or Starship prototype, SpaceX must conduct tank tests to ensure the tank’s reliability. This involves performing pressure tests prior to performing a static fire engine test to confirm the structural integrity of the launch vehicle. During tank tests, SpaceX pressurizes the tank with gaseous media or liquid propellants.
Pre-flight operations include mission rehearsals and static fire engine tests. The goal of mission rehearsals is to verify that all vehicle and ground systems are functioning properly, as well as to verify that all procedures are properly written. After final systems checkout, SpaceX would conduct a mission rehearsal without propellants on the launch vehicle (referred to as a dry dress rehearsal), followed by a mission rehearsal with propellants on the launch vehicle (referred to as a wet dress rehearsal) to verify full launch readiness. In addition to conducting dress rehearsals, SpaceX would conduct static fire engine tests. The goal of a static fire engine test is to verify engine control and performance. A static fire engine test is identical to a wet dress rehearsal, except engine ignition occurs. During a static fire engine test, the launch vehicle engines are ignited for approximately 15–30 seconds and then shut down. – Federal Aviation Administration
Most of the Starship prototypes have taken on average three to four weeks to complete testing from rollout to completed launch/landing.
The information on the Raptor delivery cards shows that the delivery could take place anywhere between late July and Mid August 2021. This will give SpaceX a launch window at the earliest September of 2021.
SpaceX needs to test the booster and the starship separately and also as a single rocket which could take over a month. A starship test launch without the booster takes around 2 weeks for cryogenic and pressure testing. After that is complete, a static fire of the engines usually takes about 2 weeks. So just for Starship, testing could take one month. This would set SpaceX at October 2021.
October 2021 we could see SpaceX do similar tests to Booster which has not been fully completed at the time of this writing. We have never seen a Starship First Stage Booster static fired. That may take between 2 and 4 weeks if they keep in cadence with Starship static fire tests.
With all the information available and the history of Starship testing, I believe Starship will launch in November of 2021.