A filing made with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been made public: the paperwork shows that SpaceX’s large spacecraft, Starship, is due to make its first orbital flight lifting off from Texas and landing near Hawaii.
According to the document available on the FCC website, the orbital test flight will lift off from Starbase, Texas. The “starbase” is located at SpaceX’s Boca Chica complex just north of the Rio Grande River on the Gulf Coast, just above the U.S. / Mexico border. The facility is just below the popular tourist destination, South Padre Island.
At approximately 170 seconds after lift-off in Texas, the Booster Stage of the Starship rocket will separate and perform a partial return. It is due to land in the Gulf of Mexico roughly 20 miles from the shore.
While the booster returns to water, the Orbital Starship will continue to fly up and out away from Texas, flying over the Gulf of Mexico and eventually through the Florida Straits. From there, it will achieve orbit.
When the orbiting test flight is complete, SpaceX plans to perform a powered, targeted landing roughly 62 miles off the northwest coast of Kauai and conduct a soft ocean landing there.
In the paperwork filed with the FCC, SpaceX said they intend 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.” To do this, SpaceX filed with the FCC to gain their blessing to use on-board telemetry systems to radio data to ground stations from both the Orbital and Booster stages of the rocket. “This data will anchor any changes in vehicle design…and build better models for us to use in our internal simulations.”
SpaceX’s fifth high-altitude flight test of Starship from Starbase in Texas pic.twitter.com/FnrXuHpsVj
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 13, 2021
Hawaii isn’t a stranger to being home to space travel innovations. Located on the summit of Mauna Kea, 13 independent multi-national astronomical research facilities peer into the sky to study different aspects of space. Nearby volcano Mauna Loa is also home to the HI-SEAS lab. Short for Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, HI-SEAS is a habitat on an isolated Mars-like site on the Mauna Loa side of the saddle area on the Big Island of Hawaii at approximately 8,200 feet above sea level. Through last year, studies were done with people who would live there for months at a time in a Mars-like environment. The site is being transformed now to simulate moon-based missions planned by the U.S. in the years ahead. NASA has been working on a variety of initiatives in Hawaii due to its unique location, terrain, and volcanic geology for projects ranging from robotics to space materials sciences. Hawaii was also home for famed astronaut Ellison Onizuka; born in Kealakekua, Hawaii, Onizuka became the first Asian American in space and the first person of Japanese ancestry to reach Space. He flew on Space Shuttle Discovery on mission STS-51-C and served as a Mission Specialist for STS-51-L, the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger mission that exploded shortly after take-off. Many places are named in honor of Onizuka in Hawaii, including the Big Island’s Kona International Airport which is officially known as the “Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport.” In 2019, building a mini spaceport was considered outside of Hilo; project stakeholders ultimately decided not to move forward with that project.
We reached out to Rodrigo Romo at PISCES for comment. Romo serves as Program Director for the Hilo, Hawaii-based Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES), a state-funded aerospace agency operating under the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DBEDT). PISCES’ core mission is to develop and grow the aerospace industry in Hawaii through “Applied Research, Workforce Development and Economic Development initiatives” according to their mission statement.
When asked about SpaceX’s plans to land near Hawaii, Romo said, “I think it’s outstanding. It gives Hawaii another opportunity to participate in the aerospace realm.”
The FCC filing doesn’t elaborate on what happens with the Orbital Starship after it makes a “targeted, soft ocean landing.” SpaceX didn’t return a request for comment as of press time. But should they attempt a barge landing like they do with their Falcon 9 rockets, Romo is very excited. “If SpaceX can land their spacecraft on a barge around Hawaii, Hawaii ports could be used to service it.” If waters around Hawaii are used for future SpaceX missions, Romo said this could “open possibilities for job creation in the space industry” in Hawaii.