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SpaceX gets big hint from FAA on next Starship launch opportunity

SpaceX chief Elon Musk is keen to send its next-generation Starship rocket on what will be its second crewless test mission after the first one ended spectacularly minutes after launch in April.

But first SpaceX has to receive a launch permit from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The latest news, which dropped via Reuters on Thursday, is that that permit could arrive as early as next month, clearing the way for a launch soon after.

The acting head of the FAA, Polly Trottenberg, told reporters on the sidelines of a conference: “We’re working well with [SpaceX] and have been in good discussions. Teams are working together and I think we’re optimistic sometime next month.”

An October launch would be a boost not only for SpaceX but also for NASA, which is planning to use a modified version of the Starship spacecraft — the upper part of the Starship vehicle that also includes the first-stage Super Heavy rocket — to make the first crewed lunar landing in five decades in an Artemis mission currently scheduled for 2025. But there’s still much testing to be done before then, so that date could slip.

Before the FAA awards its license, it needs to be satisfied that SpaceX has completed 63 corrective actions drawn up by the FAA in response to April’s failed orbital test flight. Last weekend Musk claimed that SpaceX has completed 57 of the corrective actions, with the CEO claiming that the other six refer to missions beyond the second Starship flight.

One of the FAA’s demands included building a stronger launchpad. The record-breaking force of the Super Heavy’s 33 Raptor engines caused the launchpad to disintegrate when it lifted off in April, sending concrete and other debris over a wide area. Minutes later, the Super Heavy suffered an anomaly in flight, prompting mission engineers to self-destruct the rocket. Ensuring that the launchpad stays intact during future Starship launches, SpaceX has designed a far more robust platform made of steel.

At the start of this month, following tests of the platform and also on the engines of the Starship, as well as work on the vehicle’s flight systems, Musk declared the Starship ready for its second test flight.

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Trevor Mogg
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