FAA grants launch license to SpaceX, clearing space for Starship orbital flight test

by Ana Lopez

The US Federal Aviation Administration has issued a launch permit to SpaceX for the Starship orbital flight test, which could now take place as early as Monday. A 150-minute test window will open at 7 a.m. local time (CST), SpaceX said on its website.

The long-awaited launch license arrived at the very end of trading on Friday.

“After an extensive licensing review process, the FAA determined that SpaceX met all safety, environmental, policy, payload, airspace integration and financial responsibility requirements,” the administration said in a statement.

This was the last regulatory hurdle SpaceX faced. Now the company is authorized to conduct the orbital flight test once it is ready. This is the first time that the Super Heavy booster and the second stage (aka Starship) have flown together. Assuming the launch is nominal, phase separation is planned to occur about three minutes into the mission, with the booster and second stage crashing into the Gulf and Pacific Oceans, respectively. SpaceX will not attempt to recover these components.

On its website, SpaceX makes no promises about how the test will go, or even if it will reach milestones such as Max Q (the point of maximum pressure on the vehicle) or Starship ignition. Instead, it’s likely the company just wants to collect as much flight data as possible as it continues to iterate on the 394-foot Starship system.

“With a test like this, success is measured by how much we can learn, which will inform and increase the likelihood of success in the future as SpaceX continues development of Starship rapidly,” the company says on its website.

Starship is the most powerful rocket ever built. Once operational, it will be capable of launching 100-150 tons (100,000-150,000 kg) into orbit. For reference, Falcon 9, SpaceX’s workhorse rocket, has a payload capacity of 22,800 kg. To get that much mass into orbit, Starship’s 33 Raptor engines will generate more than 16.5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

As with other launches, the company plans to stream the launch live on its website.

The exact date of the launch depends on the technical readiness of the rocket and the weather. So far, things are looking good for a Monday launch: Weather reports for Brownsville, Texas, the small town adjacent to SpaceX’s Starbase launch and test facility, show a high chance of a sunny and clear day. Perfect for rocket flying.

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