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After a rather surprising rehearsal yesterday that saw SpaceX test nearly all of its pre flight systems for the Starship rocket, it seems that the ball might finally be rolling for the highly anticipated Starship flight. The pace surrounding the Starship flight has picked up recently, after a notice by the Coast Guard warned mariners of a potential rocket launch in Boca Chica, Texas during the first week of November. While this notice on its own is not a guaranteed indicator of a test timeline, SpaceX followed up with its test yesterday. Now, a placeholder by NASA and an updated Coast Guard notice indicate that SpaceX plans to conduct the test soon, as they join a visit by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) made to the Starship launch pad earlier today.
NASA Books Eight Day Placeholder For The WB-57 Imaging Aircraft
Before the first Starship test flight in April, a couple of key indicators hinted that perhaps a launch was on the horizon. One of these was a NASA placeholder for its WB-57 airplane, which is a special NASA aircraft that allows it to conduct high altitude reconnaissance flights with several features such as infrared imaging. NASA uses the plane regularly to monitor crew returns on the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, and it also released high definition footage of the Starship April test flight earlier this year after a FOIA request.
Now, the space agency has reserved a WB-57 for eight days that start from the 3rd of November to the 10th. This timeframe rules out a test flight on the November 1st if we’re only considering NASA placeholders. NASA has a big stake in observing Starship due to its choice of the upper stage spacecraft as the human landing system for the Artemis program.
Building on this, the Coast Guard’s latest notice to mariners features an updated time frame for launch activities from Boca Chica, Texas. Like the NASA placeholder, this notice also does not explicitly mention a SpaceX rocket launch, but the fact that SpaceX is the only company that launches rockets from the site, there is little doubt about tentative timelines being set for the second Starship test flight behind the scenes.
Like the previous notice, the latest update from the Coast Guard is clear to warn mariners about “hazards from rocket launching activity,” that can include “free falling debris and/or descending vehicles or vehicle components, under various means of control.” It also adds that placeholders will remain in place for every day starting from November 1st until “conditions” permit for a launch. These hazards should be in play starting from November 6th according to the Coast Guard.
Adding to this, after SpaceX concluded yesterday’s tanking and testing of Starship on the launch pad with an anticipated test of the water deluge system, officials of the FWS also visited the launch pad early morning local time. Yesterday’s water deluge test appeared to be pre planned as some of the tanks for the system were filled earlier, and it is possible that SpaceX and the FWS are working together to evaluate the impact to the surrounding area after multiple water deluge tests.
Based on publicly available information, it appears that the water deluge system has proven to be the biggest hurdle for the second Starship orbital test flight. SpaceX has moved quite quickly in rebuilding the launch pad and installing the water system within months of the April attempt. As the firm waits for the FAA’s clearance, it is already testing another Starship second stage prototype on the ground as part of its work with NASA to develop the lunar landing system.