SpaceX is preparing to launch their new giant Starship rocket on an orbital test from its south Texas “Starbase”; after completing its orbital test, the giant rocket is due to splash down in the ocean just north of the State of Hawaii, prompting a series of marine warnings to be issued today.
According to the document available on the FCC website when SpaceX initially filed flight plans for this historic rocket launch, 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.
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.”
After nearly circling the globe, the Starship will splash down just north of Hawaii, roughly 90 minutes after lift-off.
SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket – collectively referred to as Starship – represent a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond. Starship will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, capable of carrying up to 150 metric tonnes fully reusable and 250 metric tonnes expendable. Starship is roughly 394 feet tall and 29.5 feet wide, making it many times larger than the U.S. Space Shuttle and even larger than the Saturn V, the largest rocket launched from U.S. soil which used for NASA’s lunar exploration program.
Before the launch happens, the FAA must license it. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licenses all U.S. based launches and must sign-off on SpaceX’s attempts to lift-off this giant rocket before it does. A source with SpaceX said the license is expected in within the next 14 days.
The Marine Warnings in place are effective from April 6 to April 14 but can be extended to April 23 or beyond.
Earlier, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said his team was targeting April 20 (4/20) as the historic launch day. In a Tweet reply today, Elon Musk said the launch is “more than days away, but hopefully not weeks away.”
In 2018, Musk unveiled his plans for this rocket, which he originally called “BFR” or “Big Falcon Rocket.” At that time, he planned to fly this new spacecraft around the Moon by 2023 and eventually use it to shuttle passengers to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Unlike the U.S. Space Shuttle or the existing SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, SpaceX’s latest rocket is designed to carry 100 passengers at a time, much like a small commercial jet does today between two Earth cities. Based on their current timeline, if this orbital test is good, SpaceX would bring astronauts to the Moon as soon as 2025.
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. In earlier years, studies were done with people who would live there for months at a time in a Mars-like environment. The research facility has been cut off from access due to the 2022 Mauna Loa volcanic eruption.
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.