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SpaceX reveals plan for Starship’s first orbital test flight

A week after SpaceX nailed the first safe landing of its next-generation Starship rocket and spacecraft, the company has revealed plans for the booster’s first orbital test flight.

The mission, details of which were revealed this week in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, would see Starship’s first flight atop SpaceX’s first-stage Super Heavy rocket.

The launch will take place at SpaceX’s site in Boca Chica, Texas. About 170 seconds after lifting off, Starship will detach from the main Super Heavy booster, which will then come down in the Gulf of Mexico, about 20 miles from the shore.

Starship will continue on a flight path that takes it into orbit for the very first time. A short while later, it’ll perform a powered, targeted splashdown about 62 miles (100 km) off the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The mission, from launch to Starship’s splashdown, is expected to take around 90 minutes.

In the filing, SpaceX said the aim of the flight is to “collect as much data as possible” to learn more about Starship’s entry dynamics and to better understand what the vehicle experiences during a flight, with any lessons learned to be applied to the next iteration of the machine.

SpaceX is yet to reveal a target date for Starship’s first orbital flight. The California-based company has said previously that it was hoping to conduct the mission as early as July, though with Super Heavy itself yet to undergo any significant testing, that date looks set to slip.

SpaceX is planning to work with NASA to use Starship and Super Heavy to transport crews to the moon and beyond. As part of testing, the company attempted its first high-altitude flight of Starship at the end of last year, but the rocket, which is supposed to land upright, came down too heavily and exploded. Subsequent test flights also ended in fireballs, but earlier this month Starship finally made a safe landing, taking it a big step toward its first orbital flight.

The company, led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, currently enjoys success with its reusable Falcon 9 rocket, deploying satellites into orbit and, more recently, ferrying crews to and from the International Space Station.

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Trevor Mogg
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