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FAA says it may grant a launch license for SpaceX’s Starship by the end of October

FAA says it may grant a launch license for SpaceX’s Starship by the end of October
10 months 5 days 10 hours ago Friday, September 15 2023 Sep 15, 2023 September 15, 2023 11:15 PM September 15, 2023 in News - SpaceX
Source: CNN
Photo credit: MGN Online/SpaceX
Originally Published: 14 SEP 23 18:30 ET

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(CNN) — The Federal Aviation Administration says it is “optimistic” that it could allow SpaceX to launch its mega rocket, Starship, by the end of October.

Starship has been grounded since its inaugural test flight in April ended when the rocket — the most powerful launch vehicle ever built — exploded over the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, the FAA said it had completed its safety investigation into the explosion and laid out 63 corrective actions SpaceX must take to obtain a launch license from the agency.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted on social media on Sunday that the company had completed and documented 57 “required” actions out of a list of 63. (“Worth noting that 6 of the 63 items refer to later flights,” Musk said.)

He also has posted pictures of the rocket fully stacked and ready on the launchpad, which lies due east of Brownsville, Texas, on the state’s southernmost tip.

The FAA said the corrective actions also must pass an environmental review.

Starship’s spring test launch damaged the launchpad and started a 3.5-acre fire on Boca Chica State Park land, renewing environmental concerns about SpaceX’s presence in the area.

“The modifications SpaceX is making to (the) Starship program are also subject to an additional environmental review process. In August, as part of the environmental process, the FAA submitted a draft update of the Biological Assessment to U.S. Fish and Wildlife for review and requested consultation under the Endangered Species Act,” the agency said in a statement to CNN.

The statement indicated that the FAA’s review could be done by next month.

“The FAA is optimistic it may complete the safety review of the license application by the end of October,” the agency said.

What’s riding on Starship’s success

The FAA’s statement comes nearly five months after the Starship exploded in the rocket’s first test flight. The vehicle lifted off from SpaceX’s sprawling Starbase facilities in Texas but erupted into flames about four minutes later. The company blamed the outcome, which it called a “rapid unscheduled disassembly,” on multiple engine failures.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service assessed the fallout from the launch and said it included “large concrete chunks, stainless steel sheets, metal and other objects hurled thousands of feet away, along with a plume cloud of pulverized concrete that deposited material up to 6.5 miles northwest of the pad site,” according to a statement from the agency.

Starship, which packs more power than even the Saturn V rockets NASA used for the Apollo moon landings, is essential to future deep-space exploration projects at the heart of goals that both NASA and SpaceX have set.

The space agency plans to use Starship to land its astronauts on the surface of the moon for the first time in half a century. That mission, called Artemis III, is scheduled to lift off as soon as December 2025. But officials are already questioning whether Starship will be ready in time.

“With the difficulties that SpaceX has had, I think that’s really concerning,” said Jim Free, associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, in June. “You can think about that launch date slipping probably into ’26.”

Separately, SpaceX has pinned its founding mission — to send humans to Mars for the first time — on Starship’s success. Musk has talked about plans for the vehicle in presentations for nearly a decade.

SpaceX completed several suborbital test flights of the upper portion of Starship before making its first attempt to get the spacecraft off the ground riding atop its rocket booster, dubbed Super Heavy.

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