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Elon Musk says Starship is ready to fly, but one thing stands in the way

SpaceX's Starship rocket on the launchpad at Boca Chica, Texas, in June 2024.
SpaceX’s Starship rocket on the launchpad at Boca Chica, Texas, in June 2024. SpaceX

SpaceX chief Elon Musk said on Monday that the mighty Starship rocket “is ready to fly.”

The spaceflight company is keen to send the 120-meter-tall megarocket on its fourth test flight as early as Thursday, June 6. But to meet that increasingly tight deadline, it needs a flight permit from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Once received, SpaceX engineers can make final preparations to launch the Starship — comprising the first-stage Super Heavy booster and upper stage Starship spacecraft — from the company’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

It’s from here that the Starship launched on its first three test flights — two of them last year and the most recent one in March 2024.

The first two flights ended in huge explosions just minutes after liftoff, while the third lasted around 45 minutes and achieved many of the mission goals set by SpaceX, including reaching orbit.

SpaceX said that the fourth test flight will focus on demonstrating the ability to return and reuse the Super Heavy and the Starship vehicles by executing a landing burn and soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico with the Super Heavy booster, and achieving a controlled entry of Starship over the Indian Ocean. Eventually, both parts of the rocket will return to base after liftoff, similar to how the first stage of the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket lands upright back on land or on a barge in the ocean about eight minutes after launch, paving the way for reuse.

“To accomplish this, several software and hardware upgrades have been made to increase overall reliability and address lessons learned from Flight 3,” the company said in a post on its website. “The SpaceX team will also implement operational changes, including the jettison of the Super Heavy’s hot-stage following boostback to reduce booster mass for the final phase of flight.”

SpaceX is targeting 8 a.m. ET on Thursday, June 6, for the next Starship launch. A live stream of the event will begin about 30 minutes before liftoff. Find out more about how to watch the live stream and what you can expect to see.

Once fully tested and licensed, the Starship is expected to transport crew and cargo to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program. It could also fly the first humans to Mars, though such a bold mission seems unlikely to happen until the 2030s at the earliest.

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