SpaceX is hugeA second test flight is slated for Friday, when the company will first attempt to put the unmanned Starship upper stage into space, the company said Wednesday.
The Federal Aviation Administration granted SpaceX the necessary launch license on Wednesday, clearing the way for liftoff seven months after the rocket suffered multiple failures andDuring the first flight in April.
Since then, SpaceX has made more than 1,000 upgrades and improvements and made 63 FAA-mandated “fixes” designed to improve flight safety and performance, according to company founder Elon Musk.
“The (launch) license applies to all phases of the proposed operation,” the FAA said in a statement. “After consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and a written assessment of the 2022 Programmatic Environmental Assessment, the FAA has concluded that there are no significant ecological changes.”
The Super Heavy liftoff from SpaceX's Boca Chica flight test facility on the Texas Gulf Coast is scheduled for Friday at 8 a.m. EST, opening a two-hour window.
The goal of the flight is to send the starship on a looping trajectory around the planet before re-entering and crashing into the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii.
The 30-foot-wide Super Heavy-Starship is the largest, most powerful rocket ever built, standing 397 feet tall and tipping the scales at more than 11 million pounds when fully fueled.
33 Raptor engines in the Super Heavy's first stage can generate 16 million pounds of thrust at full throttle—about twice the power.Currently the most powerful in the world.
A successful flight test would be a major milestone for both SpaceX and NASA, which is spending billions on the Starship upper stage variant.From lunar orbit to the lunar surface.
SpaceX is counting on the rocket to greatly expand its Starlink constellation of Internet satellites and enable the eventual low-cost government and commercial flights to the moon, Mars and beyond.
Many test flights will be needed to demonstrate the reliability needed for astronauts to fly, and it is not yet known how long that might take.
During the first flight, the launch pad of the Super Heavy-Starship was badly damaged. Since then, it has been strengthened and equipped with a powerful water injection system, which helps to eliminate the acoustic shock of the engine ignition.
A new “hot-staging” technique was implemented to start firing the six Raptor engines on the Starship's upper stage while still attached to the super-heavy first stage. The traditional technique – ignition of the engine after separation – did not work correctly during the first flight.
The Super Heavy was also equipped with a more powerful electronic steering system to move the engine nozzles as needed to maintain the proper trajectory. And the missile's self-destruct system has been upgraded to ensure it can act immediately if needed.
The new staging system will be tested about two minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff, when the first stage's engines begin to shut down after the rocket is ejected from the dense lower atmosphere.
The Starship's six Raptors fire while the upper stage is still attached to the booster, using a new ventilation system to divert exhaust from the first stage. The starship should separate from the superheavy within minutes and continue its ascent into space.
Although designed to be fully reusable, the super-heavy first stage is non-renewable. Instead, it will launch a rocket fire to slow it down as if it is heading for the landing site, but will fall tail first into the Gulf of Mexico.
Meanwhile, the Starship's engines continue firing for another five minutes. It is then expected to orbit the planet and re-enter the observable atmosphere about an hour and 20 minutes after launch.
Like the first stage, the starship is intended to be reusable, but no recovery is planned for this initial test flight. The trajectory would take the starship north of Hawaii to crash into the Pacific Ocean.
As SpaceX sums up the countdown on the company's website: “Excitement is guaranteed.”