April 25, 2024

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SpaceX’s Starship Is Ready To Fly, Just Waiting For Launch License – Ars Technica

SpaceX’s Starship Is Ready To Fly, Just Waiting For Launch License – Ars Technica
Zoom in / The spacecraft is seen stacked on top of a Super Heavy rocket on April 5, 2023.


This weekend, SpaceX engineers completed a “flight readiness review” of the massive Super Heavy and Starship launch system, announcing that the vehicle is ready for its first test flight. SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced the decision early Sunday morning on Twittersaying the car was only “pending regulatory approval” before it was released.

Right now, the company is targeting April 17, 7 a.m. local time in South Texas (12:00 UTC) for the launch system’s integrated flight test. It should be an amazing show – the combination of the Super Heavy first stage and the Starship is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built.

The sources said SpaceX is working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to provide the necessary data about the Starship’s performance and its effects on the area around the launch site. There is an expectation that the launch license will be released this week, but there is no guarantee that that will happen.

SpaceX also plans one final test, “launch rehearsal,” on Tuesday. During this test, the rocket’s first and second stages would be refueled as if they were about to launch, but the rocket’s engines would not ignite. This test will increase the company’s confidence in its ability to feed the Starship’s launch system and prepare it for liftoff on actual launch day.

If SpaceX is targeting Monday, April 17th, for liftoff from its Starbase facility in South Texas, initial indications are that the weather at the launch site will be fair. At the moment, chances of precipitation appear to be very low and moderate surface winds.

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During this flight test, if it lasted nominally, the Super Heavy would fire for two minutes before separating from the upper stage and descending by control in the Gulf of Mexico. As SpaceX has done with some of the first stages of its Falcon 9 rocket, the company will monitor the vehicle’s performance to see if it’s ready to attempt to land on Earth on future missions.

After separating from the Super Heavy rocket, the Starship upper stage will seek orbital velocity before re-entering the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. SpaceX plans to land the Starship vertically, in the ocean, north of the Hawaiian Islands.

This test flight will carry no payloads – in fact the sole purpose is to test the rockets, their engines, and the vehicles’ ability to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and make a controlled landing. SpaceX engineers have a million questions to scramble for data. Can a long missile take down a launch tower? Will enough of the craft’s 33 main engines fire long enough to put the Starship on its planned course? Do Starship engines catch fire? Can the vehicle withstand harsh re-entry conditions? How safe is everything once it reaches the ocean?

Soon, and maybe very soon, we may have some answers.