Elon Musk's SpaceX is preparing for test-flying the "orbit-class" Starship from the company's Boca Chica test facility in Texas. The move comes just weeks after the company's single-engine Starship prototype dubbed Starhopper successfully made its second test flight in late August. The one-minute flight, referred to as a "hop" test, proved the vehicle's ability to take off and land in a controlled manner.
The hardware tested by SpaceX on Starhopper is intended to be used for the fully reusable two-stage vehicle featuring a powerful first stage rocket booster called the Super Heavy Rocket and the second stage Starship. SpaceX founder Elon Musk confirmed the plan on Twitter, saying, "Getting ready for flight of orbit-class Starship design." The company has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, requesting permission to communicate with the rocket prototype during its test flight. SpaceX explained in the application that the special temporary authority from the FCC is necessary to authorize Starship suborbital test vehicle communications for the SpaceX Mission from the Boca Chica launch pad, and the experimental recovery following the suborbital launch.
The vehicle is expected to fly to an altitude of 12.5 miles, or 20 kilometers, before it comes back to the same landing pad used during earlier tests. The altitude is much higher than the Starhopper's 149-meter hop last month, but is still well short of the edge of space. The application lists October 13 as an operation start date.
The FCC filing comes days after the Federal Aviation Authority, or FAA, effectively granted SpaceX permission to expand its Boca Chica launch facility for the Starship launches. The Starship is a fully reusable spacecraft design that will be powered by six Raptor engines and will be used to send crew and cargo to deep space destinations like the Moon and Mars. SpaceX plans to launch commercial payloads using Starship in 2021.