SpaceX Extends Starship Orbital Flight Ground Testing Timeline In Fresh FCC Fling

SpaceX workers join the Starship spacecraft to the Super Heavy booster in Boca Chica, Texas in August last year. A variant of the upper stage rocket will land NASA astronauts on the lunar surface. Image: Elon Musk/Twitter

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Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) has extended the ground testing timeline for its Starship next generation rocket. SpaceX is currently testing Starship in its facilities in Boca Chica, and as part of these tests, the firm has rolled out the rocket's Booster 7 prototype to the orbital launch pad. This is the latest prototype from SpaceX and it is one of the first that has seen its engines being tested on the launch pad as well. While SpaceX has fired up one of the rocket's 33 engines, it is yet to light up the remaining, after it decided to slow down testing in the wake of a massive fireball that erupted at the base of the rocket earlier this year.

SpaceX Extends Ground Testing Timeframe For Starship Orbital Test Flight

The timeline was laid down in a fresh SpaceX filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that was made earlier this month. In it, SpaceX briefly requests the Commission to extend its permission to conduct ground testing for the orbital flight test and then proceeds to list out the frequencies that it will use.

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SpaceX's ground segment administrator in Boca Chica Kristi Key states to the FCC in the new filing that:

This STA extends previous grant 0267-EX-ST-2022 and is necessary to authorize on-ground testing of Starship Prototype orbital test vehicle communications at the Boca Chica TX site.

This wording is similar to the previous FCC filings for this purpose, which SpaceX has regularly filed with the regulatory body since September last year. These filings have built upon the company's initial requests to the Commission that sought permission to communicate with the Starship upper stage spacecraft during the hop tests that dominated the news lines for most of last year.

SpaceX Starship SN15 prototype for the Starship launch vehicle platform which is at the center of the company's goal of making humanity an interplanetary species by conducting Martian missions. Image: SpaceX/YouTube

These FCC requests are necessary for the agency to coordinate with other Federal users such as NASA and the Pentagon to ensure that SpaceX, or any other company making the request, does not cause interference or any other unplanned or untoward event.

The previous application was set to expire on the 16th of next month, and the latest filing asks the FCC to extend it to the 16th of March 2023. SpaceX's first stage Starship Super Heavy Booster 7 that is currently on the launch pad has seen its fair share of problems this year, involving its fuel pipe and then its engines.

Both these times SpaceX has been quick to transport the rocket back to its disassembly facilities to test and repair the rocket before shipping it out to the pad. Right now, Booster 7 is on the orbital pad, but it is unclear when SpaceX will move towards a highly anticipated static fire test for the rocket. This test might involve SpaceX testing all of the rocket's engines at the same time (for some breathtaking visuals) but judging by recent statements made by the company's chief Mr. Elon Musk, a static fire might not be on our near horizon.

Recent tweets by Mr. Musk have suggested that SpaceX is working to ensure that a single engine failure or rapid unscheduled disassembly (RUD) will not damage the nearby engines. Whether these changes will also be made on Booster 7 is uncertain, but images of the rocket courtesy of dedicated observers have suggested that the 33 Raptor 2 engines on Booster 7 have been left uncovered - suggesting that either SpaceX will carry out more work on them or it has got something else planned.

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