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After a brief lull, SpaceX has picked up the pace with its rocket testing in Boca Chica, Texas, amidst a flurry of developments that indicate that the ball has started to roll again for the second Starship test flight. SpaceX’s first test flight forced the firm to redesign its launch pad with a new fire suppression system, and this system is the primary cause of delay for the second test as it and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wait for the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to finish its evaluation of the redesigned launch pad.
However, as SpaceX waits, it seems to have penciled in a date for the second Starship test flight, as FWS officials visit the Boca Chica test site and it tests a Starship upper stage, all the while stacking, de-stacking and then restacking the massive rockets on top of each other.
Coast Guard Warns Mariners Of Rocket Launch Activities Near Boca Chica Beach In November
The first bit of information that might hint at SpaceX’s plans for the second Starship test flight comes from the Coast Guard’s notice to mariners. While the notice does not directly mention SpaceX, it covers rocket launch activities in the Gulf of Mexico. While this in itself is not a guaranteed indicator of the next Starship test flight, the notice goes on to specifically mention Boca Chica beach, as it warns mariners that “scheduled rocket launching activities and associated hazardous areas” can create navigational problems which may include, “free falling debris and/or descending vehicles or vehicle components, under various means of control.”
Consequently, the Coast Guard advises mariners to avoid traveling during these areas on November 1st, which might be the day that SpaceX tests the Starship rocket should it secure approval from the FWS for its water deluge system.
Fish & Wildlife is here to inspect pic.twitter.com/jRQsTSya0N
— 🌻 Jessica Kirsh (@jessica_kirsh) October 19, 2023
After a rather thorny Senate hearing that saw SpaceX and other space companies complain to senators that the FAA is unequipped to handle licensing operations due to a lack of manpower, with SpaceX in particular outlining how its Falcon and Starship program often end up being opportunity costs for each other when it comes to approvals, officials from the FWS also visited the Boca Chica site yesterday as part of what we can only assume can be their approval process for SpaceX’s launch site.
While the FWS has not shared updates regarding its timeline, SpaceX, it seems, is eager to move forward. The firm has been busy testing a second-stage Starship in Texas, and after what appeared to be a burner test yesterday, SpaceX tested the same rocket again today. This test was a single-engine static fire, and SpaceX shared on its X (formerly Twitter) page that the test aimed to test a flight like startup sequence for the second stage of Starship’s de orbit burn.
Single engine static fire demonstrating flight-like startup for a Starship deorbit burn pic.twitter.com/gX4GPRcN7n
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 20, 2023
The Starship’s second stage proved to be the point of failure for the Starship test flight in April, though through no fault of its own. This was because the second engine did not get to fire its engines at all since it failed to separate from the first stage. Additionally, the second stage is quite important to the viability of the Starship program due to its crucial role in NASA’s Artemis program.
The space agency has designated SpaceX to build the lunar lander for its Moon landings, and Starship’s second stage is the largest lunar lander proposal that was submitted to NASA and the largest of its kind ever to attempt a lunar landing. As part of its landing, the rocket has to fire its engines to cut down its velocity, so it appears that today’s static fire test aims to demonstrate startup capabilities to NASA as well. Additionally, unlike the Falcon 9’s second stage, the Starship’s second stage is fully reusable, so SpaceX will have to land it on Earth as well.