SpaceX is aiming to get the mighty Starship rocket aloft again in February.
Speaking during a media teleconference earlier this week that was mainly for NASA to share updates to its Artemis program, Jessica Jensen, vice president of customer operations and integration at SpaceX, revealed that the Elon Musk-led company is aiming to have the Starship ready for flight this month and hoping to receive a flight permit from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the coming weeks.
“We are working toward Starship flight test three right now,” Jensen said, adding that the SpaceX team at the launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, has already static fired the first-stage Super Heavy booster as part of pre-flight testing.
Commenting on the FAA’s work to grant flight permission, Jensen said: “We’re expecting that license to come in February, so it’s looking like flight three will occur in February of this year.”
The Starship, which comprises the Super Heavy booster and the Starship spacecraft, packs a colossal 17 million pounds of thrust at launch, making it the most powerful rocket ever to have flown.
An uncrewed Starship launched for the first time in April last year but an anomaly a few minutes after liftoff forced mission controllers to blow it up. A second test flight in November saw the vehicle achieve stage separation for the first time, but again the Starship failed to reach orbit.
Jensen said that the main aim of the next test mission is to increase the rocket’s performance and get the spacecraft to orbit.
The long-term goal is to use the Starship flight system for transporting cargo and crew to the lunar surface, and possibly for the first human flights to Mars, too.
But plenty of testing is still required, including of the propellant transfer system that will enable the Starship spacecraft to complete its journeys.
Jensen touched on this during the teleconference when she said that although the propellant transfer system “sounds complex and scary,” SpaceX has “actually achieved almost all of the complex parts already on our operational programs, and it’s just going to be piecing them together for Starship.”
But first things first — SpaceX needs to prove that the Super Heavy rocket can lift the Starship spacecraft to orbit. It will hopefully get a third chance to achieve the feat as early as next month.