FAA greenlights fourth orbital flight for SpaceX from Boca Chica

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The Federal Aviation Administration announced Tuesday that it has approved a license authorization for SpaceX’s fourth Starship orbital flight test from Boca Chica/Starbase.

The agency said SpaceX had “met all safety and other licensing requirements for this test flight.”

The company is planning for a Thursday launch, a day later than the Wednesday launch date SpaceX had announced earlier. The company will attempt a controlled landing of the Super Heavy booster in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after launch, and of the Starship spacecraft in the Indian Ocean after it has achieved orbit, both of which the third orbital test flight — on March 14 — failed to achieve.

The FAA said that even if Starship is lost during Flight 4, it won’t necessarily trigger a mishap investigation as long it’s due to one of three things: failure of the thermal shield during high heating; inability of the flap system to provide sufficient control under high dynamic pressure; and failure of the engine system during the landing burn.

“If one of these scenarios occurs, an investigation will not be required provided there was no serious injury or fatality, no damage to unrelated property and no debris outside designated hazard areas,” the agency said.

The FAA is also allowing an “uncontrolled entry” in addition to a controlled entry, without triggering and investigation, though SpaceX must inform the agency prior to launch of its decision to go that route.

“As such, the loss of the Starship vehicle would be considered a planned event and an investigation will not be required,” The FAA said.

An investigation may be warranted if any anomaly other than those stipulated in occurs with either Starship or the Super Heavy booster, the agency said.