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FCC Issues Permit for SpaceX Starship Flight Communications

SpaceX's test launch of a Starship prototype took another step this month with the FCC granting a temporary permit for communications between Starship SN20 and the ground station during the flight.

SpaceX Rocket Launch
(TNS) — SpaceX's first orbital test launch of a Starship prototype took another step toward reality this month with the Federal Communications Commission granting a temporary permit for communications between Starship SN20 and the ground station during the flight.

SpaceX employees continue work on the Super Heavy Bosster 4 (B4) at the Starbase facility Monday afternoon at Boca Chica, Texas as the FCC gives the green light for orbital launch of Starship early next year. ( Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

The link is necessary for SpaceX to receive telemetry data from SN20 during the orbital and booster stages of the flight. Telemetry is data transmitted by a spacecraft to Earth during flight, including information such as position and heading, systems operation and so forth. In its application to the FCC for the permit, the company said the goal is to "collect as much data as possible during the 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."

SpaceX said the data would be the basis for any changes in Starship design or "concept of operations" and allow the company to improve its computer simulation models.

The six-engine SN20 unmanned spacecraft and 29-engine Super Heavy BN4 booster stage have been undergoing extensive preparations at SpaceX's Boca Chica production/launch complex, dubbed Starbase. When stackedthey stand 390 feet tall.

SpaceX does not yet have approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for the launch. The agency is wrapping up an environmental assessment of the company's proposed operations at Boca Chica, with a deadline of Dec. 31. If the FAA gives the green light, SpaceX will be able to apply for an experimental launch license after that date.

According to official documents, the plan for the first orbital test flight is for the Super Heavy booster to separate from Starship about 170 seconds after launch from Boca Chica and land in the Gulf around 20 miles offshore. Starship would continue through the Straits of Florida and achieve orbit before landing in the ocean about 60 miles off the northwestern coast of Kauai, Hawaii.

Orbital testing is the next big step in the company's Starship development program after the successful non-orbital launch and landing of Starship SN15 at Boca Chica on May 5 following multiple unsuccessful attempts. NASA has awarded SpaceX the sole contract to develop a lunar lander to return U.S. astronauts to the surface of the moon for the first time since 1972, and is betting on Starship to get them there. NASA's current deadline for that to happen is 2025.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk's goal is for Starship to eventually carry people to Mars to establish permanent settlements, making humans an interplanetary species.

"Ultimately, Starship is designed to be a generalized transport mechanism for the greater solar system," he said last month.

Speaking at a Nov. 18 meeting of the Space Studies Board and Board on Physics and Astronomy (both part of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine),Musk said he hopes to launch SN20/BN4 this January or February if everything goes according to plan and follow it up with at least a dozen orbital flights in 2022.

He held out little hope that the initial orbital flight would go right from start to finish.

"There's a lot of risk associated with this first launch, so I would not say that it is likely to be successful, but I think we will make a lot of progress," Musk said.

© 2021 The Brownsville Herald (Brownsville, Texas). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.