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Starship could launch again as early as May

SpaceX could conduct the next test launch of Starship as early as May after the FAA indicated it could issue clearance within weeks.

FAA associate administrator Kelvin Coleman said the regulator deemed the last blast-off successful and didn’t anticipate its planned investigation would turn up any major issues.

It follows last week’s third flight of Starship, which reached orbit for the first time before cruising partway around Earth. It eventually broke up during its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

“We’re still going through the data,” said SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell on Tuesday. “It was an incredibly successful flight. We hit exactly where we wanted to go.”


Shortly after launch, the Super Heavy rocket was due to have made a controlled landing in the Gulf of Mexico but eventually malfunctioned after separation, hitting the sea.

However, it was still able to send Starship on its mission. The upper stage continued east, with Starlink satellites relaying incredible footage of it flying against the backdrop of Earth for around 45 minutes.

During that time, it checked off a to-do list of objectives, including opening and closing its payload doors.

As it was dragged back through the atmosphere, tiles were shown to be shredded from its heat shield. It was travelling at 16,000mph before communications terminated.


“We’ll figure out what happened on both stages,” said Shotwell, who added Starship would hopefully fly again in “about six weeks”.

SpaceX is set to massively increase the frequency of test flights in 2024, with six to nine currently planned. Each blast-off, though, requires a fresh launch licence from the FAA, which is only issued after SpaceX itself conducts a mishap investigation.

Starship is the collective name for the SpaceX Super Heavy booster rocket and Starship spacecraft destined to fly humans to Mars one day.

Its first launch in April last year failed to reach orbit but surpassed expectations by crucially passing through Max Q, the period in which the spacecraft endures maximum dynamic pressure.

A second launch in November went one better with a successful first-stage separation and all of its Raptor engines firing as planned.

“Each of these flight tests continues to be just that: a test,” said SpaceX. “They aren’t occurring in a lab or on a test stand but are putting flight hardware in a flight environment to maximise learning.”

The success will be a huge boost to NASA’s Artemis program, which plans to return humans to the lunar surface using a version of Starship.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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