Roughly two weeks after damaging a first stage booster prototype of its Starship next generation launch vehicle platform, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) has repaired the rocket and returned it to its orbital launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX is currently developing Starship, which will be its largest rocket to date in Texas, even as it is waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) completion of an environmental assessment of its facilities. The company is rapidly manufacturing both engines and rockets, to prepare in advance for an orbital test launch campaign crucial to its future plans.

SpaceX Lifts Booster 7 On Starship Orbital Launch Pad As FCC Paves The Way For Test Flight Campaign

As part of its rapid test and manufacturing campaign, SpaceX is building both the lower and upper stages of Starship. The former is dubbed the Super Heavy booster and is 230 feet tall, while the latter is simply dubbed Starship. Right now, inventory scouting of the company’s rocket prototypes by watchful photojournalists covering the Texas operations has revealed that the company has fully assembled booster number seven, and it was this rocket that headed for the first time to the orbital pad in April.

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After it returned, an image showing the inside of booster 7’s liquid oxygen tank started to make rounds on several social media platforms. In order to generate thrust through tens of second-generation Raptor full-flow staged combustion methane fuelled rocket engines, the Starship will use Methane as its fuel and liquid Oxygen as an oxidizer to react with the fuel.

For ignition and liftoff, both of these have to make their way to the engines’ combustion chambers. However, since the tanks are stacked on top of each other, the methane has to flow through a pipe located inside the Oxygen tank, and it was this pipe that was reportedly damaged as SpaceX pressure tested the booster in April.

A SpaceX crane lifted Booster 7 on the orbital launch stand again earlier this week. Image: NASASpaceflight.com

The image revealed that the pipe formally referred to as a ‘downcomer’, which is responsible for transferring the Methane to the engines, was flattened while it was inside the Oxygen tank, with the reasons behind the occurrence remaining unclear. Given the time that it takes for SpaceX to assemble these prototypes, and the proximity of a potential FAA environmental approval, this led to worries that an orbital launch might be delayed.

However, staying true to its culture of moving fast, SpaceX seems to have successfully replaced the broken component and transported the rocket back to its launch site once again. Booster seven was tracked throughout its journey by the vigilant photojournalists of NASASpaceflight, and right now, the booster is waiting for what naturally should be another testing run.

These runs require SpaceX to notify the local authorities for road closures, and the next closure is set for 10 am local time, which is when we might get to learn more about booster 7’s fate. Crucially, the rocket’s return to the pad comes as SpaceX moves forward with another regulatory application for a test flight.

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The FCC’s grant for SpaceX’s orbital test flight communications operations. Image: FCC Application 0715-EX-ST-2022

This application sees SpaceX request the FCC’s permission to add another frequency to transfer data to the Starship vehicle for an orbital flight test. It will be valid for six months starting on the 21st of this month and is required so that the Commission can coordinate with Federal radiofrequency users such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the United States Department of Defense. Starship’s launch frequencies were detailed in a SpaceX filing to the FCC made in 2020.

The FCC granted approval to SpaceX for adding another frequency band yesterday, with the approval coming at a time when the company’s pending environmental review at the FAA also moved forward.

As part of its review, the FAA has to consult with several government agencies for their opinion on a launch site harming the environment. Out of the five separate sub-reviews for Boca Chica, Texas, four have been completed, with the latest being a consultation mandated under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA). This only leaves the Environmental Assessment (EA) that comes solely under the purview of the FAA, and the agency currently expects this to be finished on the 31st of this month. Following this, SpaceX will be able to apply for launch and test licenses from the agency, both of which require separate processes.

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