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SpaceX Could Orbit Its Starship Later This Year

By Rich Smith - Updated May 14, 2021 at 6:39PM

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Starship Orbital will try to make history with a 90-minute flight.

Barely a week has passed since SpaceX successfully launched, and landed, its prototype Starship rocket SN15 in far Southwest Texas, its first unqualified success with the launch vehicle. But already, Elon Musk and crew are planning for their next big adventure: an orbital launch of Starship and its Super Heavy booster. And that could happen before the year is out.

SpaceX Starship MK1 at night.

SpaceX Starship MK1: the Starship that started it all. Image source: SpaceX.

In a Thursday filing with the Federal Communications Commission, which has jurisdiction over rocket launches, SpaceX outlined its plans for a first launch of its Starship Orbital rocket variant. Launching out of Starbase, Texas (as SpaceX refers to its launchpad in Boca Chica), a stacked combination of one Starship spaceship atop one Super Heavy booster rocket will fly 170 seconds before the Starship detaches from the Super Heavy.

Super Heavy will then fly back toward Texas before attempting to land in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 20 miles from the shore. SpaceX did not specify whether it will try to land Super Heavy on one of its floating landing ships, or merely simulate such a landing onto the sea surface itself before sinking.

The Starship will continue on its flight path, achieve orbit, and then conduct a powered, targeted landing about 62 miles off the northwest coast of Kauai "in a soft ocean landing" before sinking beneath the waves. SpaceX wasn't specific about whether the spaceship will actually circle Earth entirely before landing. The entire exercise is expected to take a little over 90 minutes start to finish.

TheVerge.com reports that in an email accompanying the FCC filing, SpaceX stated it will attempt this flight sometime between now and next March 1. 

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