Starship passes FAA safety review for historic launch attempt

SpaceX says world’s biggest rocket is ready to launch

Anthony Cuthbertson
Thursday 02 November 2023 14:34 GMT

Related video: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Starlink satellites launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida

Regulators have concluded a safety review of SpaceX’s Mars-bound Starship craft ahead of a historic launch attempt of the world’s biggest rocket.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will issue a launch licence for Starship, which SpaceX said is ready to launch.

The private space company must await the outcome of an environmental review by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) before any launch is attempted.

It will be the second attempt at an orbital launch, after the first one ended in a fiery explosion a few minutes after liftoff in April this year.

Debris from the flight came down in the Gulf of Mexico, while the thrust produced by the launch destroyed the launchpad at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas. The blast led to environmental concerns, as chunks of concrete were discovered across a large radius.

An FWS spokesperson said in October that it had reinitiated a consultation with the FAA regarding the Endangered Species Act.

“We have up to 135 days to issue an amended biological opinion, but do not expect to take the full amount of time,” the spokesperson said.

SpaceX boss Elon Musk has criticised the amount of time reviews are taking, with any delays potentially impacting his timeline for returning humans to the Moon and taking them to Mars.

The tech billionaire has previously said he hopes to use hundreds of Starship rockets to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2050. In the shorter term, SpaceX has secured a multi-billion dollar contract with Nasa to develop Starship for its crewed Artemis missions to the Moon.

Bill Gerstenmaier, SpaceX’s vice president for build and flight reliability, said last month that the contracts with the government-funded space agency should mean that regulatory reviews should be fast tracked.

“When it comes to projects of national interest, such as the Artemis program, Congress should establish a regulatory regime consistent with the national program’s objectives and schedules,” he said.

“Those with environmental responsibilities should also be required to complete their work consistent with the national program schedules.”

Once launch approvals have been granted, SpaceX will seek road closure permits for the area around Boca Chica, Texas, before attempting the uncrewed mission.

If successful, Starship will lift off atop its booster, before separating and completing a 90-minute orbital flight to Hawaii, where it will splash down just off the coast of the US state.

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