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With attention having shifted back to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 program in 2024, it appears that the third test flight of the Strship system might take place in Texas as soon as next month. SpaceX conducted the Starship IFT-2 test in November 2023, and since the test did not damage Starship Stage 0 (i.e., the launch pad), chances were high that IFT-3 would see an expedited timeline compared to its predecessor.
Now, a report from the Washington Post’s Christian Davenport shares that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) might provide a Starship launch license as soon as in mid February – a busy month for crewed and uncrewed orbital and deep space spaceflight missions in the United States.
SpaceX Might Receive FAA Approval For Starship IFT-3 Launch License In Mid February
SpaceX’s Starship rocket is shaping up to be a one of a kind product in the history of astronautics. The entire vehicle stack, which stands just a few feet shy of four hundred, is made of two rockets that are capable of taking off on their own. While recent Starship test flights in Texas have focused on the full stack, relying on the power of the 232 foot tall Starship Super Heavy booster, SpaceX’s first flight tests of the rocket saw the smaller second stage also lift off and land vertically.
Today has been a busy day for Starship in the news cycle as well, with reports suggesting that the Pentagon has continued to sustain interest in using Starship for its missions. SpaceX has designed Starship to be able to perform like a commercial airliner as well by using the second stage Starship to ferry passengers on Earth at some point in the future.
Starship’s scale, unmatched by any operational or development rocket, also saw it win a contract to launch European aerospace giant Airbus’s space station to space in a single launch in the morning today.
Frequent Starship tests are essential for the program to meet its multi billion dollar commitments to NASA, and SpaceX’s 2024 Starship test campaign will see the firm focus on handling cryogenic fuel while in space.
According to an X post from Davenport, the FAA might “issue a Starship launch license mid to late February.” This is a timeline that SpaceX officials have also mentioned multiple times, and it comes as the firm is making several changes to the launch pad and site in Texas.
The first Starship test attempt occurred nearly a year back, in April 2023. It saw the rocket successfully clear the launch pad and climb to the point of stage separation despite losing several of its engines along the way. However, as Starship attempted to separate the first and second stages, it lost orientation and was destroyed while doing cartwheels in the air.
Damage to the pad due to a lack of a water deluge system forced SpaceX to upgrade the pad and update its clearance from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Starship IFT-2 made significant progress in November; not only did the second stage successfully start its engines, but the first stage also did not malfunction as it separated from the ship.
However, the second stage has to make it to orbit for SpaceX to progress with its test campaign. The first stage booster’s successful tower capture and multiple test flights will clear the way for operational flights that have Starlink and NASA depending on them.
It is fun to think what IFT-1would’ve looked like if it made it to staging https://t.co/Ki4Qp1fKO1
— Delta9250 (@deltaIV9250) February 1, 2024