SpaceX’s Starship rocket is still in development in southeast Texas, with major progress being made on key elements like the launch tower construction, and installation of the vacuum-rated Raptor engines that will power the vehicle once it reaches space. Elon Musk says that it could be ready to make its first orbital flight attempt next month — provided it gets the regulatory sign-offs it needs.
SpaceX will require approvals from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to make the attempt, as it has for all of its prior test flights of Starship from its development location outside of Brownsville, Texas. The FAA basically requires that SpaceX demonstrate it has taken all necessary safety precautions to ensure that there’s minimal risk in case of anything going wrong during the launch attempts.
At this stage of development, that’s not even a highly unlikely outcome: SpaceX has already seen a number of its Starship prototypes explode (or experience ‘rapid, unscheduled disassembly,’ as it’s often known in the industry) during the development program. Starship testing has also had its successes, however, including completing high-altitude flight tests that are still within Earth’s atmosphere, and bringing the spacecraft back down for a controlled landing.
The next major milestone for SpaceX is flying a fully stacked version of its Starship and Super Heavy booster combo beyond Earth’s atmosphere and to outer space. As told by Musk, the company is technically ready for that step, but that regulatory approval could take a lot longer than a month to materialize, if the FAA’s recent call for public comments on granting a launch license are any indication.
During town hall meetings this past week, supporters and detractors both got very vocal and raised a number of issues that the FAA will have to review and address along with SpaceX before proceeding to the next step. The FAA could forestall resolving some of these by issuing a temporary license for the purpose of a test and revisiting ongoing launch permissions, however.