MAY 29 (UPI) — U.S. space exploration technology company SpaceX received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Thursday to use its Starship prototype to carry out suborbital missions in preparation for a test flight at its Boca Chica, Texas base,media reported.
For years, SpaceX has struggled to prepare for low-altitude, short-lived, controlled flight tests of its latest Starship prototype, and conducted another static engine ignition test of the fourth-generation spacecraft prototype, the SN4, early Thursday local time.
The FAA has officially approved SpaceX for what it calls a “reusable spacecraft launch” mission, which essentially means that the prototype can now take off and land at SpaceX’s launch site in Boca Chica.
SpaceX has already conducted similar tests, but previously used the early prototype Starhopper, which is smaller and simpler in design than the planned starship. Starhopper is essentially used to prove the performance of the Raptor engine, which SpaceX will use to propel the starship and test the hoverboard with only one engine.
SpaceX has developed multiple versions of full-size Starship prototypes since the 2019 flight, but so far they have not returned to the active test flight phase. In fact, in the stress test, many iterations of the Starship prototype failed, and only the SN4, which is currently ready for test flight, passed not only the stress test, but also the only Raptor engine static ignition test.
The plan now is for the prototype to conduct a short hover test flight similar to Starhopper’s, with a maximum altitude of about 150 meters. If the test is successful, the next version of the prototype will carry more Raptor engines and attempt higher altitude tests.
While SpaceX continues to test the finished prototype, it is rapidly building a newer version of the Starship prototype in an effort to shorten the overall time span of development.
SpaceX is in a race against time, and the company is one of three companies that have won nasa’s contract to develop and build a manned lander for NASA’s Artemis’ plan to return to the moon. NASA’s goal is to achieve this by 2024, and while the contract does not necessarily require each vendor to have a lander ready within this time frame, it is an absolutely important goal to gain a lead among the three contract winners. (Small)