Could Elon Musk’s Mars rocket Starship finally perform first orbital flight this year?

The billionaire said the super-heavy launch vehicle could fly in July, but he has yet to receive a launch licence

Elon Musk’s Mars rocket Starship may perform its first orbital flight this year after passing a key environmental review from a US regulator.

The Federal Aviation Authority will allow SpaceX to carry out orbital flights from a Texas launch site, but only after the company meets more than 75 requirements related to too many road closures and effects on wildlife and plants.

Mr Musk said a launch could take place as soon as July from the Boca Chica launch site, called Starbase.

However, the company will first have to meet the requirements to obtain a launch licence from the authority.

Prepared for lift-off

“Starship will be ready to fly next month. I was in the high bay and mega bay late last night reviewing progress,” Mr Musk wrote on Twitter.

“We will have a second Starship stack ready to fly in August and then monthly thereafter.”

The 120-metre-tall Starship is a fully reusable, super heavy-lift launch vehicle that is being built to carry crew and cargo to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

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

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

The Tesla chief executive is working towards sending a million people to Mars by 2050 using his Starship fleets. He hopes to send the first uncrewed cargo flight to the planet within this decade.

The Starship would enter Mars’s atmosphere at 7.5 kilometres per second. The vehicle’s heat shield would be designed to withstand multiple entries.

Doubts over Mars ambitions

Many scientists, however, have criticised the billionaire’s plans, saying that the planet is totally inhospitable.

“Mars is a very hostile environment,” British astrophysicist Martin Rees said last year, at the virtual World Government Summit hosted by Dubai.

Mr Musk has already sold tickets on the Starship to two billionaires.

American Jared Isaacman has purchased a seat on the first crewed flight.

And Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa has bought tickets for the first crewed flight to the Moon.

The fly-by flight is planned to be a week long and to include eight other passengers, whose tickets will be sponsored by Mr Maezawa.