The biggest question: Are these vehicles really ready to fly?
SpaceX founder Elon Musk will hold a "spacecraft presentation" Thursday night in south Texas at the company's launch and manufacturing site.
The event will provide Musk's first comprehensive update on the vehicle's progress to launch and plans for going into service since September 2019. SpaceX has made tremendous progress on the super-heavy rocket and spacecraft upper stage since that moment, but some critical questions remain. . Of course, the presentation will be broadcast live by the company and Ars will be available for the event.
These are some of the main things we look for.
Is Starship ready to fly?
This week, engineers and technicians at the South Texas facility SpaceX calls Starbase will stack a starship on top of a Super Heavy Booster. The spaceship will be "Ship 20". There weren't 19 previous Starship prototypes, but there were many. And this ship is stacked in "Booster 4". It'll make for an impressive backdrop, but will any of these vehicles take off?
The answer: probably not. While the Booster 4 will have 29 Raptor engines, it looks like they were painted for the reveal, which doesn't look like doing anything to a vehicle before a flight.
At the same time, work is progressing on ships 21, 22, etc. and at least boosters 7 and 8 at the nearby manufacturing site in South Texas. Try?
In all honesty, there have been rumors that SpaceX won't even attempt an orbital launch this year due to technical issues with the Raptor engine. All of this information was vague and unconfirmed. It is true, however, that SpaceX tested the "Raptor 2" engine at its facility in McGregor, Texas with some urgency. Let's hope Musk clears it all up.
Will Starship Fly From Texas?
Aside from missile readiness, there are also questions about the Federal Aviation Administration's review of the South Texas location for Starship's orbital launches.
Last September, the FAA released its first environmental report on South Texas, beginning a public comment period. At the time, the FAA said it planned to release a final assessment in late 2021. You then postponed this publication to the end of February. Now there is talk that the FAA could delay the process beyond the end of February.
Each time the process comes to a conclusion, the FAA is expected to issue one of three determinations: a determination of no significant impact (FONSI), a mitigated FONSI, or a Letter of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. A “FONSI” would allow the formal launch licensing process to continue. If a full Environmental Impact Statement is required, launches from South Texas would likely be delayed by months, if not years, as more paperwork is completed.
In recent months, SpaceX has begun resuming operations at a Starship worksite near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Will you do that if the company has to move its Starship program from South Texas to Florida? Again, we're hoping Musk shares SpaceX's sentiment on launch space availability.