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Friday, July 19, 2024

FAA gives SpaceX go-ahead for second Starship test flight

The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday granted SpaceX a license to attempt a second launch of its Starship rocket and spacecraft from its site in South Texas.

In an email after the FAA announcement, SpaceX said the test is tentatively scheduled for a two-hour window that opens at 8 a.m. Eastern time Friday.

Starship has been grounded since its first flight attempt in April ended in a fireball when the rocket started tumbling and was destroyed about 24 miles up. The shock of the rocket’s liftoff damaged the launchpad, scattering large chunks of debris across the area and into the shoreline. Since then, SpaceX has added a water suppression system to its launchpad that is designed to ease the vibrations caused by the rocket’s 33 first-stage engines.

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NASA is investing $4 billion in the rocket, which has twice the thrust of the Saturn V rocket that propelled NASA’s astronauts toward the moon during the Apollo era. The space agency intends to use Starship for the first two human landings on the lunar surface as part of its Artemis program, the campaign to return humans to the moon and create a sustainable presence on and around it.

In a recent interview, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said he was eager for SpaceX to resume flight testing. Before NASA allows its astronauts on board, SpaceX must demonstrate that Starship can fly safely. The company also will need many flight tests to master how to refuel the rocket in Earth orbit before going to the moon — a very difficult challenge that’s never been done before.

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“It is essential to us that SpaceX be able to test their rocket,” Nelson said, adding that “a major delay would be of very considerable concern to NASA.” Part of that concern is driven by what he said was “the space race of getting to the moon before China. And so, of course, we’re counting on SpaceX.”

Starship is a 400-foot tall monster with a first stage known as the Super Heavy booster and the second-stage Starship spacecraft. The system is designed to be fully reusable, flying back to its launch site so that it could be refueled and fly again.

SpaceX to the FAA: The industry needs you to move faster

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