Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship rocket to launch this month

The 120-metre SpaceX Starship is made up of a huge rocket base and a 50m craft that will carry on into orbit (SpaceX)
The 120-metre SpaceX Starship is made up of a huge rocket base and a 50m craft that will carry on into orbit (SpaceX)

The most significant SpaceX launch of the year to date is planned for the end of this month, CEO Elon Musk says.

“Starship launch trending towards near the end of third week of April,” Musk wrote on Twitter on Monday. He had confirmed earlier in the day that the craft was ready to launch and awaiting “regulatory approval”.

SpaceX has previously announced plans to run a rehearsal of the Starship launch this week, where the rockets will be fuelled, but not ignited.

SpaceX’s upcoming mission

This will be the first orbital launch of the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket, which make up the craft now commonly called the SpaceX Starship. It is the “most powerful launch vehicle ever developed” according to SpaceX, and stands 120 metres tall. After its lower rocket section disconnects, the Starship alone is 50m tall, and has a payload capacity of up to 150 tonnes.

While this initial flight of Starship will be unmanned and carry no cargo, the plan is for it to eventually carry up to 100 people into space for long interplanetary flights, to the moon and Mars.

The first major flight of the SpaceX Starship will involve it making an orbital trip across the Earth. It will land 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Hawaii, around 90 to 100 minutes after its initial lift-off.

In previous tests, SpaceX launched earlier versions of its Starship design. However, these missions used much smaller rocket engines, lasted only a few minutes, and were designed to test the craft’s ability to launch and land safely, for reuse.

The SpaceX mission to Mars

In April’s launch, the Super Heavy rocket will fire for the first stage of the test. It will then disconnect from Starship and, with any luck, land softly in the Gulf of Mexico, an estimated 30km (18.6 miles) off the coast of Texas.

SpaceX tested the Super Heavy rocket in February 2023, firing 31 of its 33 rockets for approximately six seconds. One of the engines was stopped by SpaceX engineers just before launch, another did so of its own accord.

“Team turned off 1 engine just before start & 1 stopped itself, so 31 engines fired overall. But still enough engines to reach orbit!” Musk tweeted following the test back in February.

One of the more striking SpaceX moments of recent years was in March 2021. A much earlier Starship prototype appeared to land safely after a high-altitude flight test, but exploded a few minutes after landing.

Only a few days ago on April 7, SpaceX launched a satellite into geostationary orbit using a 70m-long Falcon 9 rocket. It included a UV-visible spectrometer that will measure air pollution across North America. This was the company’s 23rd mission of the year.