SpaceX Starship Next Test Flight Could Take Place in February

SpaceX Starship’s third test flight could take place in the first quarter of the year. According to the company’s executive, the rocket is ready for launch, and a license could be obtained as early as February.

During a January 9 media briefing on NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration efforts, Jessica Jensen, vice president of customer experience and integration at SpaceX, gave an informational update. She said obtaining an updated Federal Aviation Administration launch license is a key factor in determining the schedule for the third test flight.

“From a hardware readiness perspective, we are targeting to be ready in January,” she said, according to Spacenews. SpaceX conducted static fire tests of the Super Heavy launch vehicle and Starship upper stage in late December.

Before this, the company conducted a second test flight in mid-November. The rocket, about 120 meters high, took off confidently. Super Heavy, with its 33 Raptor engines, lifted Starship to a predetermined altitude and separated. It completed its main task, although a few seconds later it exploded. The upper stage, Starship, continued its flight, reached an altitude of about 140 kilometers, and entered space before contact with it was lost. SpaceX is still working on corrective actions identified during Starship’s second test flight on November 18.

During the briefing, Jensen did not name the corrective actions SpaceX was taking on the rocket after the second test flight. However, she said that closing out on those actions was a condition for receiving an updated license.

“We’re on track for that,” said Jensen. “We’re expecting that license to come in February. So, it’s looking like Flight 3 will occur in February.”

The executive added that SpaceX is working to demonstrate fuel transport capabilities on this flight through NASA’s Tipping Point technology program. In this test, SpaceX will transfer cryogenic fuel from the “header” tank inside Starship to its main tank. This will be a precursor to subsequent tests to transfer fuel from one Starship to another in orbit.

Propellant transfer is a critical technology that will be used in NASA’s Human Landing System program starting with the Artemis 3 mission, scheduled for no earlier than September 2026. SpaceX plans to create a fuel depot in low Earth orbit filled with Starship “tankers” that will then be used to fuel the Starship lunar lander for its trip to the Moon.

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