FAA grants SpaceX approval for second test flight of Super Heavy Starship – Spaceflight Now – Spaceflight Now

FAA grants SpaceX approval for second test flight of SuperStarship and Super Heavy are ready for a second test flight on November 15, 2023. Image: Will Robinson-Smith/Spaceflight Now.

SpaceX’s massive Super Heavy Starship rocket was cleared for a second test flight on Friday, carrying the unmanned Starship upper stage into space for the first time, the company announced Wednesday.

The Federal Aviation Administration granted SpaceX the required launch license on Wednesday, clearing the way for launch, nearly seven months after the rocket suffered multiple failures and blew itself up on its maiden flight in April.

Since then, SpaceX has made “well over” 1,000 upgrades and improvements and made 63 FAA-mandated “fixes” to improve flight safety and performance, according to company founder Elon Musk.

“The (launch) license applies to all phases of planned operations,” the FAA said in a statement. “After consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a written assessment of the 2022 Programmatic Environmental Assessment, the FAA concluded that there are no significant environmental changes.”

The Super Heavy’s launch from SpaceX’s Boca Chica flight test facility on the Texas Gulf Coast is scheduled for Friday at 8 a.m. EST, opening a two-hour window.

The goal of the flight is to send the spacecraft on a circular trajectory around the planet before reentering and landing in the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii.

The 30-foot-wide Super Heavy Starship is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. It stands 397 feet tall and weighs more than 11 million pounds when fully fueled.

The Super Heavy first stage’s 33 Raptor engines are capable of producing 16 million pounds of thrust at full throttle – about twice as much as NASA’s Space Launch System lunar rocket, currently the world’s most powerful.

A successful flight test would be a major milestone for both SpaceX and NASA, which is spending billions on a variant of the Starship upper stage to carry Artemis astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface.

SpaceX is betting that the rocket will significantly expand its constellation of Starlink internet satellites and eventually enable low-cost government and commercial flights to the moon, Mars and beyond.

1700107833 813 FAA grants SpaceX approval for second test flight of SuperThe launch tower’s “rods” lift the spacecraft into position during the stacking process. Image: Will Robinson-Smith/Spaceflight Now.

Demonstrating the reliability required for astronaut flights will require multiple test flights, and it is not yet clear how long that will take.

During its maiden flight, the launch pad of the Super Heavy Starship was severely damaged. It has since been reinforced and equipped with a powerful water flooding system to dampen the acoustic shock of the engine ignition.

A new “hot staging” technique was implemented to begin firing the Starship upper stage’s six Raptor engines while it was still attached to the Super Heavy first stage. The traditional technique – engine ignition after separation – did not work properly on the first flight.

The Super Heavy also featured a more robust electronic steering system to move or card the engine nozzles as necessary to maintain proper flight path. And the missile’s self-destruct system has been improved to ensure it responds immediately when needed.

The new staging system will be put to the test about two minutes and 40 seconds after launch, when the first stage engines begin to shut down after the rocket is lifted out of the dense lower atmosphere.

The spacecraft’s six raptors will be ignited while the upper stage is still attached to the booster, using a new vent system to direct exhaust gases away from the first stage. The spacecraft should separate from the Super Heavy a few moments later and continue its ascent into space.

Although fully reusable, the Super Heavy first stage cannot be recovered. Instead, it will fire missiles to slow down as if it were heading for a landing site, but will instead plunge tail-first into the Gulf of Mexico.

Meanwhile, the spacecraft’s engines will continue firing for another five minutes. It will then fly around the planet and fall back into the visible atmosphere about an hour and 20 minutes after launch.

Like the first stage, Starship is designed to be reusable, but no recovery is planned for this first test flight. The trajectory will take the spacecraft to an impact in the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii.

As SpaceX summarizes the countdown on the company’s website: “Excitement guaranteed.”