Elon Musk’s SpaceX is making significant progress towards the highly anticipated second test flight of its colossal Starship launch vehicle. The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has completed its safety review of the Starship, following its dramatic explosion during its maiden launch in April.
In response to the explosion during the April launch, the FAA had issued an order grounding the Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built. SpaceX was instructed to undertake numerous corrective actions to prevent future explosions.
The FAA’s initial investigation into the incident identified several potential causes for the mishap. SpaceX was required to address more than 63 specific corrections to ensure the rocket’s safety. The recent safety review conducted by the FAA focused on assessing the potential risks a second launch might pose to public health and property.
However, SpaceX still faces another hurdle before it can proceed with the Starship launch: an environmental review, partly conducted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
The FAA submitted its final biological assessment to FWS on October 5. FWS reported that it had completed its review by October 19, initiating a formal Endangered Species Act consultation with the FAA. While this process can take up to 135 days according to statutes, FWS expects it to be completed more expeditiously.
Notably, SpaceX recently assembled the full Starship launch vehicle at its Starbase launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The company also conducted a wet dress rehearsal, loading over four million kilograms of propellant into the spacecraft. Subsequently, the rocket was disassembled.
Starship refers to both the Starship spacecraft and the Super Heavy rocket. Once testing is finalized and it becomes flight-ready, Starship could become the most powerful launch system ever developed. It has the potential to carry up to 150 metric tonnes in a fully reusable mode and 250 metric tonnes in an expendable mode, as per SpaceX.
The Super Heavy booster will feature 33 Raptor engines, providing a combined thrust of nearly 7,600 tons. The Starship spacecraft will be powered by one standard Raptor engine and three specially modified R-Vac Raptor engines designed for optimal performance in space.
Meanwhile, NASA has seemingly acknowledged the unaffordability of its Space Launch System (SLS) program. SpaceX’s Starship is expected to play a pivotal role as NASA aims to land humans near the South Pole of the Moon for the first time during the Artemis 3 mission. However, the timeline for this mission remains uncertain, and potential delays in Starship development could impact NASA’s Artemis plans.