Starship: World's most powerful rocket ready for lift-off on Texan launch pad

Orbital flight is likely to take place in February or March, says Elon Musk

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A fully assembled Starship rocket is standing on a launch pad in Texas ready for its highly anticipated orbital test flight.

The world’s most powerful rocket, designed to take humans to the Moon and Mars, has been in development for many years.

But the 120-metre rocket must first complete its orbital flight, which is necessary to help prove it is ready to take cargo and humans to space.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the launch was likely to take place in the next two months.

“We have a real shot at late February. March launch attempt appears highly likely,” he tweeted on Sunday.

Starship is in development at SpaceX’s Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, with a launch pad also under construction in Florida.

The Starship project involves a heavy-lift launch vehicle, called a booster, with the Starship spacecraft placed on top.

It is the most powerful launch vehicle developed, producing 3,991 tonnes of thrust, 15 per cent more than Nasa’s Apollo Moon rocket Saturn V.

In May, 2021, a Starship prototype completed a high-altitude test, including a successful take-off and touchdown for the first time.

And, on Tuesday, the rocket was assembled on the launch pad again for the test flight attempt.

It was also assembled last summer, but the booster went up in flames after an explosion during a ground test, further delaying the test flight.

Mr Musk aims to send a million people to Mars by 2050 using his Starship fleets.

The craft would enter Mars’s atmosphere at 7.5 kilometres per second and would be equipped with a heat shield to withstand repeated entries.

Mr Musk has already sold seats on the Starship, including to American billionaire Jared Isaacman, who bought a place on the first crewed orbital flight.

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will fly on a crewed flight to the Moon, taking eight artists with him as part of his dearMoon programme.

SpaceX is also contracted by Nasa to develop the Starship Human Landing System, which would help astronauts land on the Moon under the space agency’s Artemis programme.

Updated: January 10, 2023, 11:09 AM