July 19, 2024

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SpaceX is moving closer to its next Starship test flight as Starbase continues to expand

SpaceX is moving closer to its next Starship test flight as Starbase continues to expand

WASHINGTON — As SpaceX prepares for its next Starship test flight, the company is also expanding facilities in Texas to build and launch those vehicles.

SpaceX completed a test exercise on May 20 for the vehicle, which will conduct its fourth integrated test flight, filling the vehicle with propellant and undergoing a training countdown. That rehearsal was one of the final milestones before SpaceX attempted a launch.

“Starship 4 flight in about two weeks,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said. It came out on social media After the test. “The primary goal is to get maximum heat return.” The spacecraft’s upper stage, or ship, broke apart upon reentry on the previous test flight on March 14.

SpaceX will also need an updated launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration. At 39y At the April Space Symposium, Kelvin Coleman, the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said completing the license modification in May was possible, but he stopped short of confirming it would be ready by the end of the month.

Another SpaceX official recently said she expects Starship to be ready for launch once the FAA issues the updated license. “We are still working on licensing with the FAA,” said Cathy Lueders, Starbase’s general manager and former NASA associate administrator in charge of human spaceflight programs. At the May 14 event in Harlingen, TexasSaying that they were “going through some last-minute crossing of T’s and dotting of i’s.”

“We hope to get the license by the end of May, early June,” she said. “The first day we get this license, we will be flying.”

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Much of the presentation to a local economic group focused on the company’s development of Starbase itself, where SpaceX produces Starships and Super Heavy boosters. More than 3,000 people, including SpaceX employees and contractors, work daily at the site, which is located at the end of a two-lane highway near where the Rio Grande River meets the Gulf of Mexico, Lueders said.

“We have invested billions in this area to equip the facilities,” she said. “It’s not easy to build at the end of Highway 4.” A slide from her presentation stated that SpaceX has invested more than $3 billion in Starbase infrastructure since the facility’s symbolic construction in 2014 and currently spends $1.1 billion annually at Starbase and other facilities located in Texas. She said an update to the 2021 Economic Impact Report on the company’s activities should be ready in the next few weeks.

The priority is to build a large production facility, dubbed the Starfactory, that will cover 1 million square feet and replace the tents that were used to build spacecraft components. “A year ago, Elon said, ‘You know, we need to get rid of these tents and now this will be a permanent site,’” she recalled. “So, we’re going to build a GigaStarship factory.” She later said the company plans to complete that factory by the end of the year.

SpaceX is building an office building to consolidate Starbase’s engineering workforce, as well as a second high-rise, she said. The company is also building a second orbital launch pad for Starship near the current one.

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Besides the infrastructure in Texas, SpaceX is working on a Starship launch complex at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida. The Federal Aviation Administration announced May 10 that it had begun work on an environmental impact statement to address upgraded Starship infrastructure there, while a parallel effort by the Department of the Air Force is examining potential spacecraft launch facilities at two sites at the nearby Cape Canaveral Space Station.

Musk suggested at a 2022 event that Starbase would become an “advance R&D site” for Starship work with Florida hosting operational launches, but Lueders said there would be opportunities for both Texas and Florida to support Starship missions.

“We need two launch areas to be able to meet our manifesto,” she said, particularly launching spacecraft for NASA’s Human Landing System program. “One landing will require the launch of 15 carriers, and this must be done within a certain period of time.” This estimate of 15 carrier launches is larger than what other company officials have previously stated, including an estimate of “10” launches provided in January.

“This will be our backbone area, but we will also need the Florida base as well, so we can do the number and sequence of tasks,” she concluded.

She said she was also working on other aspects of Starbase and its impact on the community, from quality of life for employees to improving traffic on the only road leading to the site. “It’s now a critical phase for us,” she said, with discussions underway with local and state officials on topics such as the timing of traffic lights on the road to Starbase and encouraging hotel and restaurant development on Brownsville’s east side. The part closest to Starbase.

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These were also discussions about subsequent infrastructure improvements for Starbase, she said, “to provide a place for us to be able to do business long-term at the end of Interstate 4.”