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'Starship ready to fly,' as SpaceX prepares for fourth test launch in Texas

Release: 2024/06/06 10:06 Reading: 407

Original author: Sheri Walsh

Original source:https://www.upi.com/Science_News/2024/06/05/4501717622918/

1 of 2 | SpaceX is targeting an early morning Thursday launch for Starship's fourth test flight, after the FAA "approved license authorization" Tuesday. Starship's three previous test flights ended in failure with the FAA investigating and offering corrective actions. Photo courtesy of SpaceX

June 5 (UPI) -- SpaceX is gearing up to launch Starship's fourth test flight just after sunrise Thursday from Texas, two days after the Federal Aviation Administration gave the mega rocket a license to fly.

"The FAA has approved a license authorization for SpaceX Starship Flight 4," the agency said in a statement Tuesday. "SpaceX met all safety and other licensing requirements for this test flight."

"Targeting Thursday, June 6 for Starship's fourth flight test," SpaceX wrote in a post. "A 120-minute launch window opens at 7:00 a.m. CT."

The Starship Flight 4 test mission is scheduled to lift off from the SpaceX Starbase facility near Boca Chica Beach in South Texas. It can be viewed, starting at 7:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday, on a free live webcast offered by SpaceX, which is targeting a launch time of 8 a.m. EDT.

To date, SpaceX has flown three test flights, with its most recent launch on March 14. While the Starship rocket flew farther and faster than the previous two tests, the company confirmed it had "lost" the ship as it was re-entering the Earth's atmosphere despite reaching orbital velocity. The rocket failed to complete splashdown in the Indian Ocean.

Last year, SpaceX conducted two Starship rocket test flights, with each test ending in failure and the destruction of the rocket.

The first test of 2023 launched April 20, and ended with the rocket's two stages failing to separate. SpaceX blamed leaking fuel and other malfunctions as the 33 Raptor engines powering the Super Heavy booster failed to ignite. The rocket system was intentionally destroyed as the launch also caused significant damage to the Texas launch pad and nearby Boca Chica State Park.

The FAA grounded the Starship and ordered SpaceX to conduct 63 corrective actions that included redesigning hardware to prevent leaks and fires, fortifying the launch pad, testing safety systems and applying other charge-control practices.

Last year's second test flight launched Nov. 18 from Texas. While the 33 Raptor rocket engines on the Super Heavy booster ignited and completed a full-duration burn with a successful hot-stage separation, the Super Heavy booster experienced a "rapid unscheduled disassembly" following a flip maneuver about 3.5 minutes into the flight. Once SpaceX lost communications with the rocket, it automatically destructed.

Thursday's fourth Starship test flight comes after the FAA conducted exhaustive failure investigations of the three previous launches and made recommendations to fix the problems.

"As part of its request for license modification, SpaceX proposed three scenarios involving Starship entry that would not require an investigation in the event of the loss of the vehicle. The FAA approved the scenarios as test-induced damage exceptions after evaluating them as part of the flight safety and flight hazard analyses and confirming they met public safety requirements," the FAA said in a statement.

"If a different anomaly occurs with the Starship vehicle, an investigation may be warranted as well as if an anomaly occurs with the Super Heavy booster rocket," the FAA added.

For Thursday's fourth test flight, SpaceX plans to send Starship and the Super Heavy booster on a similar path as its Flight 3 test, with Starship reaching orbital velocity and re-entering over the Indian Ocean as the Super Heavy booster makes a controlled landing in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The fourth flight test turns our focus to achieving orbit and to demonstrating the ability to return and reuse Starship and Super Heavy," according to SpaceX. "The primary objectives will be executing a landing burn and soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico with the Super Heavy booster, and achieving a controlled entry of Starship."

The company said it hopes Flight 4 will build on the progress and lessons learned from the previous three test flights.

"We're continuing to rapidly develop Starship, putting flight hardware in a flight environment to learn as quickly as possible as we build a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the moon, Mars and beyond," SpaceX said.

Earlier this week, SpaceX founder Elon Musk declared in a post on X, "Starship is ready to fly."

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