SpaceX Starship Effectively Grounded by FAA After in-Flight Explosion

Starship and Super Heavy
SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy booster stand tall on the Starbase launch pad in Texas. Source: SpaceX via YouTube

It was an exciting time when, two weeks ago, SpaceX got the clearance it needed to conduct its first orbital flight test with the Starship and Super Heavy launch system. After years of waiting, SN flight tests, static fire tests, and stacking and unstacking, the long-awaited test of the SN24 Starship and BN7 Booster prototype was on! For this flight, SpaceX hoped to achieve an altitude of at least 150 km (90 mi) above sea level, crossing the 100 km (62 mi) threshold that officially marks the boundary of “space” (aka. the Karman Line) and making a partial transit around the world before splashing down off the coast of Hawaii.

Unfortunately, things began to go awry a few minutes into the flight as the Starship prototype failed to separate from the booster, sending the rocket into a spin that ended in an explosion. While Musk and SpaceX issued statements that the test was largely successful and lots of valuable data was obtained, residents and environmental researchers claim the explosion caused damage to houses in the area and the local environment. In response, the FAA has launched a “mishap investigation,” temporarily grounding the Starship until the explosion’s impact can be assessed.

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Will the Starship be Ready for an April Launch?

The SN24 and BN7 fully stacked on the launch test pad at SpaceX's Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas. Credit: NASA

It’s been a long road, but it looks as though SpaceX may finally be ready for an orbital flight test with the Starship and Super Heavy. After months of waiting, static fire tests, stacking, and restacking, Elon Musk announced on March 16th that SpaceX could be ready to go with the SN24 and BN7 prototypes in “a few weeks,” pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Musk announced via Twitter, saying, “launch timing depends on FAA license approval. Assuming that takes a few weeks, first launch attempt will be near end of third week of April, aka‚Ķ”

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Starship and Super Heavy are Stacked up Again. How Long Until They fly?

The SN24 and BN7 prototypes fully stacked at the SpaceX Starbase. Credit: SpaceX

Things are heating up again at the SpaceX Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas! With so many static fire and flight tests now behind them and the FAA environmental assessment complete, space exploration enthusiasts have wondered when Elon Musk would attempt to conduct an orbital flight with the Starship prototype. As of Tuesday, October 11th, the Starship 24 (SN24) and Booster 7 (BN7) prototypes were once again seen fully stacked on the orbital launch pad, leading many to wonder if the long-awaited orbital flight is imminent!

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SpaceX Shares an Image of the Super Heavy Booster Bristling With 33 Newly Installed Raptor Engines

Not long ago, SpaceX passed their Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) with the FAA, though many corrective actions were recommended. With this hurdle in its rearview mirror, SpaceX is busy preparing the Starship and Super Heavy prototypes for their orbital test flight. On Saturday (July 2nd), the company posted pictures on its Twitter feed that showed the Starship (SN24) and Super Heavy booster (BN7) outfitted with all the Raptor engines – 33 Raptors for the BN7, 6 for SN24 – that will take them to space.

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