A Starship prototype is seen atop a Super Heavy Booster at the company’s launch facility near Brownsville, Texas.
The Federal Aviation Administration granted Elon Musk’s SpaceX a Starship launch license, a crucial final regulatory step that authorizes the company to attempt an orbital launch of its towering rocket for the first time.
“Following a comprehensive license evaluation process, the FAA has determined that SpaceX meets all safety, environmental, regulatory, payload, airspace integration and financial accountability requirements. The license is valid for five years,” the FAA said in a statement.
SpaceX, now licensed by the FAA, intends to launch Starship as early as Monday from its private facility in Texas on the Gulf Coast.
“SpaceX is targeting the first flight test of a fully integrated spacecraft and superheavy rocket from Starbase in Texas as early as Monday, April 17th. The 150-minute test window will open at 7:00 a.m. CT,” SpaceX said in a statement.
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The company recently stacked the Starship Prototype 24 on top of the Super Heavy Booster Prototype 7 in preparation for launch. Together they stand nearly 400 feet tall. SpaceX completed a test firing of the Super Heavy Booster with 33 Raptor engines at its base in February, in one of the final engineering steps toward launch.
SpaceX has been working on the first orbital flight test of its Starship rocket for several years, with company leadership emphasizing the experimental nature of the launch. While SpaceX had hoped to make the first Orbital Starship launch as early as summer 2021, delays in progress and regulatory approval have pushed back that timeline.
The rocket is scheduled to lift off from SpaceX’s development facility near Brownsville, Texas, before flying east over the Gulf of Mexico, according to 2021 documents that revealed the flight plan. The mission’s ultimate goal is to reach orbit, with the rocket designed to circle most of the earth and land in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii.
Designed to carry cargo and people beyond Earth, Starship is critical to NASA’s plan to return astronauts to the moon. SpaceX was awarded a nearly $3 billion contract by the space agency in 2021 to use Starship as a manned lunar lander.