Featured Image Source: u/TomHockenberry via Reddit.
SpaceX is developing its next-generation launch vehicle - Starship - at the company’s South Texas facility located in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville, TX. Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, runs 24/7 operations to develop the stainless-steel spacecraft before the year 2022. SpaceX’s first private customer, Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, booked a journey around the moon aboard Starship scheduled for 2023. NASA also selected SpaceX to develop a Starship Lunar Lander as part of the agency’s Artemis program which aims to take the first woman and the next mand to the moon’s surface by 2024. Musk recently shared he still hopes to launch a cargo mission to Mars in 2022 and deploy the first humans to the Red Planet aboard Starship in mid-2024. The company is certainly working on a tight schedule to meet these ambitious timelines.
In June, Musk reportedly told SpaceX’s 7,000 employees that the company’s top priority is Starship development. According to CNBC news, in an email Musk sent to employees he wrote – “Please consider the top SpaceX priority (apart from anything that could reduce Dragon return risk) to be Starship.” He told his teams – “We need to accelerate Starship progress,” and asked them to “consider spending significant time” in Boca Chica to help the company accelerate Starship development, “For those considering moving, we will always offer a dedicated SpaceX aircraft to shuttle people,” he wrote.
This week, on July 16, SpaceX submitted a request with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to track and transmit communication during a Starship test flight of 20-kilometers above Boca Chica, within the next 7 months, between August and February. SpaceX already obtained approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on May 28, to conduct test flights with test vehicles in South Texas, but FCC approval is needed to transmit signals during flights. According to the FCC filing, SpaceX states it will conduct – “Experimental med altitude hop, landing, and recovery tests of the Starship Prototype suborbital test vehicle from Boca Chica TX,” and that it – “is necessary to authorize Starship Prototype suborbital test vehicle communications for medium-altitude hop tests (max altitude 20km) from the Boca Chica launch pad, and the experimental recovery following the suborbital hops. Trajectory data will be provided directly to NTIA, USAF, and NASA. Launch licensing authority is FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation,” the filing reads.
Before conducting a 20-kilometer test flight, SpaceX is expected to conduct a low-altitude debut flight which would take a Starship prototype to fly at around 150-meters above the launch pad. The launch could take place in the coming weeks if pre-flight preparations go smoothly. Right now, the company is actively working on preparing Starship SN5 to conduct a static-fire test. During this test, engineers will ignite the craft’s Raptor engine for a few seconds to assess if it is working optimally.
SpaceX teams have been working day and night building multiple Starship prototypes at the Boca Chica facility, which is rapidly expanding to transform into a spaceport. Local Boca Chica residents have been documenting the launch sites progress. In the video below, we can see the Starship factory and launch site expanding as new structures emerge. Musk calls Boca Chica the “Gateway to Mars.”