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SpaceX in FCC filing outlines first orbital flight plan for Starship

The flight plan for Starship's first orbital flight
Click for full images.

Capitalism in space: This week SpaceX filed the flight plan for the first orbital flight of its Starship/Superheavy rocket, taking off from Boca Chica and landing in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

The images to the right are from the filing, which also states:

The Starship Orbital test flight will originate from Starbase, TX. The Booster stage will separate
approximately 170 seconds into flight. The Booster will then perform a partial return and land in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 20 miles from the shore. The Orbital Starship will continue on flying between the Florida Straits. It will achieve orbit until performing a powered, targeted landing approximately 100km (~62 miles) off the northwest coast of Kauai in a soft ocean landing.

No date is listed as yet, though the filing suggests they are aiming for a launch before the end of the year. It also appears that though both Starship and Superheavy will make controlled vertical landings, both will target locations in the ocean. It could be that SpaceX plans to place its two refurbished oil rigs at both of those locations, but this is not stated in the filing.

Achieving this flight before the end of the year remains a serious hill to climb, though if any company could do it, SpaceX is the most likely.

For example, though the company has done a number of short flight tests of prototypes of the Starship upper stage, none of those flights have used the full complement of six Raptor engines. Nor has any had its full sheath of thermal tiles, just sections covered with test tiles. To do this orbital flight it would seem reasonable to expect them to do at least one test flight using a prototype with all six engines and a full complement of tiles.

Furthermore, no such tests at all have yet been done with Superheavy. At this moment the first prototypes of this rocket are only being assembled. We should expect at least a few short hops of this booster prior to the full orbital test.

Finally, SpaceX needs to test out the stacking of the full rocket. None of this has been done as yet.

All of these tasks, plus many others required to make an orbital flight possible, need to be practiced. As I say, it will be a steep hill. But it will be incredibly fun to watch SpaceX’s engineers climbing it.


Conscious Choice cover

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  • Doubting Thomas

    This is great news. Robert is exactly right, SpaceX has a list of tasks to complete that are as long as ten people’s arms, but SpaceX seems to be the organization needed to do it.

    I think when people say that it seemed impossible to meet a summer goal to fly, they were not thinking of this approach. Musk seems perfectly willing to throw away a few systems to gather information. The objective is clearly stated:

    “SpaceX intends to collect as much data as possible during flight to quantify entry dynamics
    and better understand what the vehicle experiences in a flight regime that is extremely difficult
    to accurately predict or replicate computationally. This data will anchor any changes in vehicle
    design or CONOPs after the first flight and build better models for us to use in our internal

    He will need this data to build the confidence of the FAA (and other organizations) in the ability to land these systems in Boca Chica or Cape Canaveral or even on ocean platforms that are reasonably close to land for ease of logistics. The needed confidence will be built via detailed 6 degree of freedom flight models.

    I agree – Exciting times!!!

  • Jeff Wright

    All the best…

  • Ray Van Dune

    I think sacrificing some vehicles in early expansion of the flight envelope is indeed smart. Look at SN15’s present indeterminate status. Talk about the proverbial “dog catching the car it was chasing”. Now whaddaya gonna do with it, Rover?

  • William Frumkin

    SN15 needs to be preserved for eventual display in the Smithsonian

  • Matt in AZ

    SN15 is nice and all, but whichever ship successfully lands from orbit first would be a better exhibit for the Smithsonian. Might as well use the real deal, since there will be so many built.

  • Skunk Bucket

    Is it official that SpaceX will do hop tests of Superheavy before an orbital flight? If the goal is to orbit this summer, they might just fuel up the full version and let it rip, just like they did with the Falcon rockets. Working up to landing them was only done later. That said, it would be awesome to watch that massive thing doing hops.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “To do this orbital flight it would seem reasonable to expect them to do at least one test flight using a prototype with all six engines and a full complement of tiles.

    Reasonable, yes, but I would not be surprised if SpaceX chose to test both of these on the first orbital flight. SpaceX has shown that sometimes it is willing to push its tests, and I find the company’s test engineers difficult to predict. It is why we think that an orbital launch is possible by the end of the year. It is possible that they are not as concerned about landing the first orbital Starship as they are interested in getting it to space to test out its performance and capabilities there. The Spaceflight Now article says they will splash the Starship in the Pacific “in a soft ocean landing.”

  • humphreyrobot

    We already have a museum partially stocked on the Moon.

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