SpaceX’s massive Starship could launch on its first-ever orbital test flight next month, but that timeline is far from certain.
A senior Nasa official suggested that SpaceX wants to fly one of its Starship prototypes into space for the first time in December, according to Reuters (opens in a new tab).
The agency has a stake in Starship’s progress; NASA has chosen the giant rocket as the first manned lunar lander for its Artemis program of lunar exploration. If all goes according to current plan, a ship will land boots near the moon’s south pole in 2025 or 2026, during the Artemis 3 mission.
“We’re tracking four major Starship flights. The first here will be in December, some in early December,” Mark Kirasich, deputy associate administrator for Artemis campaign development, said during a live meeting of the advisory board of NASA on Monday, October 31. .
Related: This black-and-white photo of SpaceX’s spacecraft looks like a famous vintage NYC construction plan
No prototype spacecraft has taken off since May 2021, and all of its jaunts so far have reached a maximum altitude of only about 6 miles (10 kilometers). SpaceX’s desire to fly an orbital mission with Starship prompted a lengthy environmental review by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and there are still several things to complete, Reuters reported.
This FAA review, called a programmatic environmental assessment, examined Starship’s activities at Starbase, the SpaceX facility near the town of Brownsville in southern Texas. The FAA concluded the assessment in June, after numerous delays since late 2021 due to the need to consult with other agencies and process public comments. The FAA said this summer that SpaceX must take 75 steps to reduce its environmental impact on the region.
Although SpaceX founder Elon Musk has repeatedly stated that Starship will be ready for orbit soon — Musk recently said the goal is November — it appears SpaceX isn’t quite done with it. these FAA action items.
An FAA spokesperson told Reuters on Monday that the agency would only grant an orbital launch license “after SpaceX has provided all outstanding information and the agency can fully analyze it.” The FAA did not provide more information in the report on the outstanding items, and SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
In picture : SpaceX stacks Starship and Super Heavy on launch pad ahead of orbital test flight
The upcoming mission aims to orbit a 165-foot-tall (50-meter) prototype Starship vehicle atop a 230-foot (70-meter) tall Super Heavy booster. The stacked material is the tallest rocket system ever designed. (Starship consists of Super Heavy and the upper-stage Starship spaceship, both of which are designed to be reusable.)
SpaceX has already conducted a number of static fire tests in 2022 to prepare Starship for the approximately 90-minute mission which, if successful, would see the spacecraft crash land off the coast of Hawaii. However, it’s unclear how much prep work remains before SpaceX is ready to launch the mission.
SpaceX’s Human Landing System contract with NASA requires several successful spaceflight tests before Starship is allowed to send astronauts to the moon. NASA is also looking for a second supplier for crewed Artemis landing missions, but more options will not be ready until Artemis 5 at the earliest, bringing SpaceX online for landings on Artemis 3 and Artemis 4 around 2025 and 2027, depending on the progress of previous missions. The program’s first mission, the uncrewed Artemis 1, is scheduled to take off on November 14.
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller (opens in a new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Where Facebook (opens in a new tab).
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