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SpaceX cleared the final regulatory hurdle that stood ahead of the inaugural launch of the Starship — the most powerful rocket ever built.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which authorizes commercial rocket launches, announced Friday that it had approved the company’s request to conduct an uncrewed flight test of the rocket from SpaceX’s facilities in South Texas. The vehicle that has already undergone preflight testing Ground test, about to take off as soon as Monday.
“After a comprehensive licensing evaluation process, the FAA determined that SpaceX met all safety, environmental, policy, payload, airspace integrity, and financial liability requirements,” the agency said in a statement.
Earlier on Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued air traffic restrictions for the area around the launch. The Notice of Air Tasks, or NOTAM, orders aircraft and other air traffic to move away from the launch area — which is located just east of Brownsville, Texas — on Mondays between 7 a.m. and 10:05 a.m. Central Time (8 a.m. and 11:05 a.m.). am ET).
This will be SpaceX’s first attempt to put the Starship into orbit, building on a year-long test campaign of the rocket design.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk talked about the Starship about a decade ago, giving detailed presentations about its design and calling it the vehicle that supports SpaceX’s founding purpose: sending humans to Mars for the first time.
In addition, NASA has already awarded SpaceX contracts and options – worth more than $3 billion – to use the Starship to carry government astronauts to the surface of the moon as part of the space agency’s Artemis program.
The inaugural flight test will not complete a full orbit around the Earth. However, if successful, it would reach orbital speeds and travel about 150 miles above the Earth’s surface, to heights considered to be in outer space.
The spacecraft consists of two parts: The Super Heavy booster, a giant rocket with 33 engines, and the Starship spacecraft, which sit atop the booster during launch, are designed to separate after the booster expends its fuel to finish the job.
On this flight, the booster will be dumped into the ocean shortly after liftoff. On future trips, however, SpaceX plans to recover the vehicle by guiding it into an upright landing at the launch site. The Starship will complete nearly one full lap of the planet, ending its journey with a crash off Hawaii.
The Starship was developed at SpaceX’s spaceport about 40 minutes outside of Brownsville, Texas, on the US-Mexico border. Testing began years ago with brief “jump tests” of spacecraft prototypes. The company began with short flights that lifted a few dozen feet off the ground before evolving into high-altitude flights, most of which resulted in dramatic explosions as the company attempted to land them upright.
However, a suborbital flight test in May 2021 ended in success.
Since then, SpaceX has also been preparing the Super Heavy booster for flight. The massive 230-foot (69 m) cylinder is packed with 33 of the company’s Raptor engines.
Fully stacked, the Starship and Super Heavy stand about 400 feet (120 meters) high.
SpaceX has been waiting over a year to get approval from the FAA for an orbital launch attempt.
The company and federal regulators charged with certifying SpaceX launches have faced risks to people or property in the area surrounding the launch site, and have faced significant pushback from the local community, including environmental groups.
In June, the FAA gave SpaceX one major approval for a Starship launch, though it did put out a list of “mitigating actions” the company would have to take before the first launch.
During a call with reporters this week, an FAA official, who declined to be named for the publication, said the agency is overseeing SpaceX’s compliance with easing procedures, some of which are still in the works, even as a launch permit is issued. .
The FAA official said government employees will be on the ground to ensure SpaceX complies with its license during the test launch.