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Musk says Starship may be ready for orbital launch next month, but FAA review continues

Musk says Starship may be ready for orbital launch next month, but FAA review continues

Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX, said Friday that the company’s massive new Starship rocket may be ready to launch its first orbital test from southern Texas as early as November, but the schedule comes with two big shapes that could push the launch into next year. .

“If all goes well, the spacecraft will be ready for its first orbital launch attempt next month, pending regulatory approval,” Musk wrote in a tweet.

Musk’s new schedule update came a day after SpaceX tested the launch of its latest spacecraft, known as Ship 20, or SN20, at the company’s development facility near Boca Chica Beach east of Brownsville, Texas. The vacuum-rated Raptor engine, similar to the one the Starship will use in space, ignited for several seconds Thursday night on a launch pad at SpaceX’s Starbase complex.

SpaceX launched the specially developed rocket later that night.

This was the first test launch of a Raptor vacuum engine installed on a Starship rocket. The Raptor’s methane-based vacuum motor has a larger nozzle for better performance in the airless environment.

Three vacuum-rated Raptor engines will fly on orbital-class spacecraft missions. Three different types of sea-level raptors, with smaller pits, will be used for the spacecraft’s vertical landing after re-entry.

Unlike Starship prototypes that have flown on modern airlifts, Ship 20 is covered in thousands of heat-resistant tiles to protect the craft’s stainless-steel hull from the scorching heat it will face when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.

The Starship was launched on top of a massive, reusable first stage called the Super Heavy. The entire stack is made of stainless steel and is 120 meters high, the highest of any rocket ever built.

Equipped with up to 33 Raptor engines, the Super Heavy will propel the spacecraft into space with twice the thrust of NASA’s Apollo-era Saturn 5 moon rocket, and nearly twice the power of NASA’s Space Launch System heavy lift rocket.

In August, South Texas SpaceX teams briefly stacked the entire Starship rocket on the launch pad for easy inspection and photo taking. At the time, SpaceX supplied 29 Raptor engines — four fewer than the booster in operational flight — to Super Heavy and rolled the booster to the expanded launch complex, east of the company’s construction site.

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After checking the fit, SpaceX removed the Raptor engines from the Super Heavy, designated Booster 4, as attention focused on preparing the 20th ship for a cooling test in September.

Then SpaceX prepared the spacecraft for its first fixed-fire tests this week. There may be more test launches before the 20 ship is anchored again atop the Super Heavy booster.

Meanwhile, SpaceX plans to conduct anti-freeze testing of the Booster 4 sometime in the coming weeks, likely to be followed by a series of test firings, culminating in a static fire with a full set of Raptor engines.

The Boca Chica launch tower has continued since its initial construction during the summer. Earlier this week, crews hoisted huge booms called ” chopsticks” on the launch tower that SpaceX plans to use to catch falling Super Heavy boosters.

While SpaceX has made very rapid progress at Boca Chica, the chances of the Super Heavy and Starship vehicles ready to fly next month are uncertain. Musk often sets ambitious timeline targets, and in September 2019, he said he wanted to attempt the first orbital launch attempt with the Starship within six months.

Another hurdle in the schedule could be the Federal Aviation Administration, which is assessing the environmental impact of SpaceX’s operations in southern Texas. The FAA released a draft environmental report last month after consulting several state and federal agencies.

The draft report is a reassessment of the FAA’s original environmental impact statement before SpaceX began construction at the Boca Chica site in 2014. At the time, SpaceX planned to launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets from southern Texas, but the scope of the project is already focused on On developing Starship and Super Heavy.

The FAA held public hearings on Monday and Wednesday, and about 120 people expressed their views on the project’s environmental impact. Public comment was more than two people in favor of the FAA’s termination of the PEA project, and SpaceX issued a launch license for the Starship orbital test flight.

Many of the comments in favor of SpaceX have come from members of the public outside of Texas. The percentage of people who self-identified as local and expressed their opposition was higher.

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Joyce Hamilton, who said she was a member of the local community, feared that SpaceX would destroy the “unique and fragile shoreline” of Boca Chica Beach.

“We’ve already seen the negative impact of the launch failure recently with a massive and devastating field of debris along the beach and surrounding wetlands,” Hamilton said. “I would like to conclude with the FAA’s investigation into a serious and comprehensive environmental impact study.”

Brownsville resident Rebecca Hinojosa said SpaceX has had a devastating impact on the community through gentrification and on displaced residents who used to live near the Boca Chica site. SpaceX purchased homes in the area while the facility was being built.

Others supported the FAA to allow SpaceX to move forward without delay, citing the positive economic effects of SpaceX’s presence in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Elon Musk chose our community as the next home for Operation SpaceX, and very soon after its inception, this region went from one of the poorest to one of the most humble in the entire nation…” regarding He is no longer in this position. “We are now one of the most desirable zip codes for your children’s living and education,” said Brownsville Commissioner Jessica Tetro.

“I’m not just asking you,” she concluded. “Please give them this pass.”

said Michael Oloran, who did not identify as a local. “Starship and Super Heavy are clearly worth the adventure.”

Crews at SpaceX’s Starbase test site in South Texas stacked the company’s first full-size launch vehicle in August for a closer inspection. Credit: SpaceX

The FAA will accept written comments through November 1, after which it will determine whether to complete a draft environmental assessment or initiate a new environmental assessment if the environmental impacts will be significant and cannot be properly mitigated.

It can take months or even years for a new EIA to be issued.

No decision is immediately expected from the FAA on which course to take. The Federal Aviation Administration said it is assessing the environmental impacts of SpaceX spacecraft launches and return operations, debris recovery, launch pad integration tower and other launch-related structures, and local road closures in Boca Chica.

SpaceX won’t be able to launch the spacecraft and superheavy vehicles until the Federal Aviation Administration issues a license, which will come after the environmental process is complete.

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NASA has awarded SpaceX a contract to develop a version of the Starship rocket as a human-classified lander for the agency’s Artemis lunar missions.

That contract award is currently on hold after Blue Origin, the space company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, filed a lawsuit in US Federal Claims Court. A verdict in the case is likely to be issued next month.

SpaceX is developing the privately owned Starship as a fully reusable space launch and transportation system capable of carrying more than 100 tons of cargo into low Earth orbit, more than any other rocket in the world. SpaceX eventually wants to develop tank capacity in space to expand the transportation of heavy cargo from the Starship to the solar system.

During the orbital launch attempt, the reusable Super Heavy first stage booster will detach from the spacecraft and return to Earth for a vertical landing. For the first orbital mission, SpaceX plans to direct the booster to a water landing in the Gulf of Mexico.

SpaceX is also modifying offshore oil drilling platforms to serve as floating launch and landing platforms for spacecraft.

The spacecraft will remain in orbit and deploy its payload or travel to its destination in deep space and eventually return to Earth to fly again. The Starship also serves as an upper stage and rechargeable carrier to move people and cargo through space to destinations in Earth’s orbit, the Moon, Mars, and other distant locations.

The reusable fuselage, which is based on a partially reusable Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, is designed to reduce costs per flight.

The Starship’s first orbital test flight, while daring in scale, will aim to demonstrate and return the rocket’s basic launch capabilities without fully testing its complex landing and recovery systems, according to SpaceX’s filing with the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year. .

On its first orbital mission, SpaceX plans to re-enter the atmosphere after one circumnavigation of Earth, en route to a sea-tight landing in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii.

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