SpaceX obtains long-awaited FAA launch license for first Starship orbital test flight

SpaceX has been granted a launch license for its Starship rocket, a critical final regulatory hurdle to attempt its first-ever orbital launch. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that SpaceX met all the necessary requirements for safety, environment, policy, payload, airspace integration, and financial responsibility.

The license will be valid for five years, giving SpaceX enough time to conduct potentially hundreds of launches within that timeframe.

The all important first launch will happen as early as Monday, April 17 from the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, situated along the Gulf Coast, according to an update from the company on Twitter.

SpaceX completed a test firing of the Super Heavy booster in February, which had 33 Raptor engines at its base, in one of the final technical steps toward the launch.

SpaceX has been building up to the first orbital flight test of its Starship rocket for several years now. Company leadership has always been emphasizing the experimental nature of the launch. While SpaceX was hoping to conduct the first orbital Starship launch in the summer of 2021, delays in progress and regulatory approval pushed back the timeline.

The rocket will take off from Texas and head east across the Gulf of Mexico, according to the 2021 filings that revealed the flight plan. The ultimate goal of the mission is to reach orbit, with the rocket aiming to travel most of the way around the Earth and then splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii.

Starship is designed to carry cargo and people beyond Earth and is essential to NASA’s plan to return astronauts to the moon. In 2021, SpaceX won a nearly $3 billion contract from the space agency to use Starship as a crewed lunar lander. The success of the orbital launch would signify a major milestone in the company’s ambitious space exploration projects.

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