SpaceX Starship Is Now Just One Test Away From Orbital Launch

SpaceX is looking to test launch a fully assembled Starship, a nearly 30-story-tall rocket, to Earth’s orbit as soon as this month. The launch site will either be the company’s development site in Boca Chica, Texas, or NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will be the largest spacecraft ever launched, and authorities at both locations are worried about the possibility of a test failure—something not unfamiliar to SpaceX—that could cause catastrophic damage to surrounding facilities and natural habitats.

No Starship prototype has taken flight since May 2021, and all of its jaunts so far have reached a maximum altitude of just 6 miles (10 kilometers) or so. SpaceX’s desire to fly an orbital mission with Starship prompted a lengthy environmental review by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and there are still several things to finish up, Reuters reported.

That FAA review, called a programmatic environmental assessment, examined Starship activities at Starbase, SpaceX’s facility near the city of Brownsville in south Texas. The FAA concluded the assessment in June, following numerous delays since late 2021 due to the need to consult with other agencies and deal with public comments. The FAA said this summer that SpaceX needs to take 75 actions to reduce its environmental impact on the area. SpaceX has yet to obtain a launch license from the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) to fly from either site. It will also need a permit from NASA if it wants to launch from Florida.

SpaceX has tested 12 prototypes of Starship’s upper stage in Boca Chica since late 2019. Eight of them ended up in explosions, either on the launch pad or in the sky. The most serious incident, which happened in March 2021 during the descent of the 12th Starship prototype test, spewed debris as far as five miles from the launch site. It took SpaceX three months to clean up. There were no reports of injuries or property damage.

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