SpaceX nears next Starship test flight as Starbase expansion continues

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun16,2024

WASHINGTON — As SpaceX prepares for its next Starship test flight, the company is also working to scale up facilities in Texas to build and launch those vehicles.

SpaceX completed a wet dress rehearsal May 20 of the vehicle that will conduct its fourth integrated test flight, filling the vehicle with propellants and going through a practice countdown. That rehearsal was one of the final milestones before SpaceX attempts a launch.

“Starship Flight 4 in about 2 weeks,” Elon Musk, chief executive of SpaceX, stated on social media after the test. “Primary goal is getting through max reentry heating.” The Starship upper stage, or ship, broke apart on reentry on the previous test flight March 14.

SpaceX will also need an updated Federal Aviation Administration launch license. At the 39th Space Symposium in April, Kelvin Coleman, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said getting a license modification complete in May was possible, but stopped short of confirming that would be ready by the end of the month.

Another SpaceX official said recently that she expected Starship to be ready for launch as soon as the FAA issued the updated license. “We’re still working on licensing with the FAA,” said Kathy Lueders, general manager of Starbase and a former NASA associate administrator responsible for human spaceflight programs, at a May 14 event in Harlingen, Texas, saying they were “going through a few last-minute crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s.”

“We’re hoping to have the license by the end of May, early June timeframe,” she said. “The first day we get that license we’re going to fly.”

Much of her presentation to a local economic group focused on the company’s development of Starbase itself, where SpaceX produces Starship ships and Super Heavy boosters. Lueders said more than 3,000 people, including both SpaceX employees and contractors, work daily at the site, located at the end of a two-lane highway near where the Rio Grande meets the Gulf of Mexico.

“We’ve been putting in billions into this area to get the facilities ready,” she said. “It’s not easy building at the end of Highway 4.” A slide from her presentation stated that SpaceX has invested more than $3 billion in Starbase infrastructure since a symbolic groundbreaking of the facility in 2014 and currently spends $1.1 billion annually at Starbase and other facilities it has in Texas. She said an update of a 2021 economic impact report on the company’s activities should be ready in the next few weeks.

A priority is to build a large production facility, dubbed the “Starfactory”, covering a million square feet and replacing tents that had been used for building Starship components. “Elon, a year ago, said, ‘You know what, we need to get rid of these tents and this is now going to be a permanent location,’” she recalled. “So, we’re going to build a giga Starship factory.” She said later that the company plans to have that factory completed by the end of the year.

SpaceX is constructing an office building to consolidate the engineering workforce at Starbase, she said, along with a second high bay. The company is also building a second orbital launch pad for Starship near the existing pad.

Besides the Texas infrastructure, SpaceX has been working on a Starship launch complex at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida. The FAA announced May 10 it was starting work on an environmental impact statement to address updated Starship infrastructure there, while a parallel effort by the Department of the Air Force examines potential Starship launch facilities at two locations at neighboring Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Musk suggested at a 2022 event that Starbase would become the “advanced R&D location” for Starship work with Florida hosting operational launches, but Lueders said there will be opportunities for both Texas and Florida to support Starship missions.

“We need two launch areas to be able to meet our manifest,” she said, in particular Starship launches for the NASA Human Landing System program. “A single landing will require 15 tanker launches, and they need to be done within a certain period of time.” That estimate of 15 tanker launches is larger than what other company officials have previously stated, including an estimate of “ten-ish” launches provided in January.

“This is going to be our workhorse area,” she concluded, “but we will also need the Florida base, too, to be able to do the number and the sequencing of missions.”

She said she was also working on other aspects of Starbase and its effect on the community, from quality of life for employees to improving traffic on the single road that leads to the site. “Right now it’s a critical phase for us,” she said, with discussions underway with local and state officials on topics such as the timing of traffic lights on the road to Starbase and encouraging development of hotels and restaurants on the east side of Brownsville, the part closest to Starbase.

These have also been discussions on later infrastructure improvements for Starbase, she said, “to have a place for us to be able to conduct business long-term at the end of Highway 4.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “SpaceX nears next Starship test flight as Starbase expansion continues”
  1. SpaceX is making great strides with the Starship project. It’s exciting to see the progress and looking forward to the upcoming test flight. Let’s hope all goes well with the reentry heating this time!

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