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Launching From Texas and Returning Near Hawaii, SpaceX Announces Starship’s First Orbital Flight Plan

SpaceX Announces Starships First Orbital Flight Plan
SpaceX Announces Starships First Orbital Flight Plan
  • Elon Musk’s SpaceX announces plans for its first orbital flight test for its next-generation Starship rocket, with plans to launch from Texas and return off the coast of Hawaii.
  • Standing tall at around 160 feet, Starship prototypes are about the size of a 16-story building and built of stainless steel.
  • Last week, Starship SN15 recorded a successful landing and recovery, and the Starship program continues to make waves at a rapid pace.

On Thursday, Elon Musk’s SpaceX revealed in filings to the Federal Communications Commission new plans for the next steps in testing its massive Starship rocket in a launch that would see its return just off the coast of Hawaii.

Over the last year SpaceX has conducted numerous test flights for the prototype Starship rocket, but this plan is different in that it will be the company’s first attempt to reach orbit with Starship.

In 2019, Musk unveiled a version of the rocket that Starship prototypes continue to resemble. Standing at 160 feet tall or about the size of a 16-story building, and built of stainless steel. The initial launch of the rocket takes place on a “Super Heavy” – which makes up the bottom half of the rocket and stands at about 230 feet. Together totaling nearly 400 feet tall when stacked for launch mode.

starship super heavy illustration

According to the FCC filings, the Starship rocket will stack a Super Heavy booster at SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas development facility. The booster will separate and partially return “and land in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 20 miles from the shore.”

booster stage launch landing

“The Orbital Starship will continue flying between the Florida Straits. It will achieve orbit until performing a powered, targeted landing approximately 100km (~62 miles) off the northwest coast of Kauai in a soft ocean landing,” SpaceX wrote in the filing.

starship orbital 1

starship orbital 2

The FCC, U.S. Air Force, NASA, and the FAA are all working in coordination with SpaceX for the launch, and the flight is scheduled to last just over 90 minutes in total. The timing for the flight is yet to be announced, but Musk said a few months ago that SpaceX’s ultimate goal is to launch the rocket into orbit by July.

Almost a year ago Musk told the SpaceX team that the progress on Starship needed to improve, “dramatically and immediately,” saying it was at the top of the company’s priority list. The program has moved at rapid speeds since then, with production, testing, and flights all steady in progress. SpaceX had its first successful landing and recovery of Starship prototype SN15 just last week, reaching the fifth highest altitude test flight, and the first prototype to finish a test without exploding.

The goal for the company’s Starship is to launch cargo, and even people, on missions to Mars and the moon.

Last month, NASA awarded SpaceX a roughly $3 billion contract to build a lunar variant of the Starship with plans to carry astronauts to the moon for the tentative Artemis missions. And as Musk’s team moves steadfast on the development of Starship, NASA ultimately suspended the work on the HLS program after Leidos’ Dynetics and Bezos’ Blue Origin each protested the contract award from NASA.

Written By

Kc Cartwright is a freelance writer and avid outdoorsman. She is a space enthusiast with a passion for exploring life on other planets, as well as space travel.