Federal regulators have cleared the way for SpaceX to try again to launch its massive Starship Super Heavy rocket. The FAA issued the company a launch license on Wednesday, setting the stage for a second test flight of the massive vehicle that nearly blew up during its first try in April.
A successful flight would be a significant milestone for SpaceX, which has long dreamed of sending humans to the Moon and beyond using its Starship system. And while the first test did not reach orbit, it provided a wealth of lessons that SpaceX is now using to make the rocket more reliable.
The company said the test flight will take place Friday from a site in Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville, Texas. A two-hour window opens at 7 a.m. CT (8 a.m. ET), with backup opportunities scheduled for November 18 and 19 mornings.
SpaceX will be looking to prove that Starship can safely lift off the ground, fly into orbit, and then enter the Earth’s atmosphere, where it will re-enter and descend in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. It will also test the booster’s ability to separate from the rest of the vehicle and return to Earth for a controlled landing. This is similar to how SpaceX recovers the Falcon 9 first stages after launches.
Those plans are based on the vehicle’s powerful Raptor engines, which burn liquid methane and oxygen to get off the pad, then fire again as it descends for a graceful landing at sea. The company hopes to use the same system for refueling Starships in orbit and, eventually, ferrying government astronauts to the Moon as part of NASA’s 2025 Artemis mission.
The Starship program is vital to Musk and his investors. The company could lose billions of dollars in potential future revenue if it fails. “SpaceX’s leadership believes that the risk of failure is unacceptable,” the company says in its announcement about the test flight. “That’s why we are proceeding with a series of test flights to demonstrate the system’s capability.”
In preparation for the planned launch, SpaceX conducted a dress rehearsal in January, fueling the Super Heavy just like it would on a typical launch day and then test-firing 31 of its 33 Raptors — the most Raptors ever fired simultaneously. Engineers also recently completed a thorough review of the Starship system, including its Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS), which was responsible for deactivating the rocket’s engines during the failed first attempt.
The upcoming test will mark the first time the Super Heavy booster and Starship upper stage will be launched together, which is how they will operate on a future launch. If the mission goes well, the booster will separate moments later and perform the same flip as a Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage before deploying thrust to land in the Gulf of Mexico. But unlike those reusable boosters, the Super Heavy’s booster will not be recovered for future uses.