This summer, SpaceX's mammoth Starship spacecraft could begin taking to the skies in earnest.
Starbase, the company's South Texas facility near Boca Chica, has undertaken a number of high-altitude test flights using Starship upper-stage prototypes. It's also getting ready for the transportation system's maiden orbital test flight, which Elon Musk, SpaceX's creator and CEO, says might happen shortly.
Super Heavy, a massive first-stage booster, and Starship, a 165-foot-tall (50-meter) upper-stage spacecraft, make up Starship. The vehicle is being developed by SpaceX to transport people and goods to the moon, Mars, and other locations throughout the solar system.
"Starship will be ready to fly next month. I was in the high bay & mega bay late last night reviewing progress," the billionaire entrepreneur said on Twitter.
Much of this preparation involves the construction and testing of Raptors, the next-generation engine that will propel Starship. According to Musk, each Super Heavy launcher would have 33 Raptors, and each Starship spacecraft will have six.
To put things in context, SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket is powered by nine less powerful Merlin engines in its first stage and one in its upper stage.
However, hardware readiness does not guarantee a July Starship flight; SpaceX must still obtain a launch license from the United States. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Obtaining one will not be easy; the FAA recently issued an environmental evaluation of Starship activities at Starbase, outlining more than 75 steps SpaceX must do to reduce its impact on the surrounding area, a biodiversity hotspot.
If Starship's test campaign goes well, the vehicle might travel a great distance in the next years. For NASA's Artemis mission, which seeks to place astronauts on the moon in 2025 or 2026, Starship was chosen as the first crewed lunar lander.
Musk has expressed optimism that Starship might begin launching humans to Mars in the same broad time frame, despite his proclivity for setting extremely aggressive goals for his businesses.
Musk's ambitious plan for SpaceX includes two major components: the Starship and the Super Heavy. He has stated numerous times that he created SpaceX in 2002 specifically to assist humanity in colonizing Mars.
The wealthy entrepreneur believes that becoming a multiplanet species is critical, noting both a lower risk of extinction and the excitement that serious space travel will provide to billions of people throughout the world.
SpaceX is now aggressively attempting to make this sci-fi fantasy a reality.