For each launch, SpaceX must obtain permission from the FCC to use certain radio frequencies. In those filings, we can find details about the launch. Then tend to be the same for each Falcon 9 launch, but for Starship, we get to have a peek into the plans for the orbital launch attempt.
Now that SpaceX has successfully launched and recovered their first Starship vehicle, the focus seems to geared towards the orbital launch attempt. All flights of Starship test vehicles so far have been either low altitude hops or higher altitude flights to test the belly flop landing. An orbital flight is just the next logical step.
While we are bound to see more activity from SN15, which is currently being lifted up onto Pad B down in Texas, Elon Musk has stated in the past that they wish to do an orbital flight attempt in the next few months. The steps to get them ready for the flight include building the orbital launch pad, finishing pre-flight development of the Superheavy booster, and getting all the proper licenses from the government.
Starship’s orbital flight profile
We have received more details into SpaceX’s plan to launch the first Starship to orbit and it’s probably not what a lot of SpaceX fans had in mind. Here is the flight profile as stated in the FCC filing.
“The Starship Orbital test flight will originate from Starbase, TX. The Booster stage will separate approximately 170 seconds into flight. The Booster will then perform a partial return and land in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 20 miles from the shore. The Orbital Starship will continue on 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.”
As you can see, it doesn’t look like we’ll see any of this hardware recovered. Unless one of SpaceX’s oil rig landing pads are finished with renovations by then, which seems unlikely. Both the booster and the Starship will attempt to make soft touchdowns in the water. The bigger goal of this flight is to get a chance to fly Superheavy and learn about its flight characteristics, as well as testing Starship’s reentry dynamics, which was stated in the filing as “difficult to accurately predict or replicate”.
Currently, it is unknown when this will happen, the filing lists the start of the window as June 20th and ends a few days before Christmas of this year. For all it’s worth, SpaceX has pushed itself extremely hard to get where it is today and I’d expect they can definitely meet that goal of flying by the end of the year.
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