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SpaceX's Mars Starship moving quickly toward next test launch

Elon Musk's company is working its way through red tape on its long journey toward the Red Planet.


The business end of the SpaceX Starship hopper prototype.

Elon Musk/SpaceX

It's a very long way to Mars, but Elon Musk and his SpaceX Starship are moving quick to get there. Or at least to get a little closer to the Red Planet.

In August, a single-engine Starship prototype dubbed Starhopper made an impressive but short flight, or "hop," from the company's test facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Now preparations are in process to take a bigger, orbital prototype much closer to space in coming weeks. 

A new application from SpaceX turned up in a Federal Communications Commission database Monday for the transmitter that will be mounted on the Starship predecessor currently known as "Mk1."

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SpaceX is building two of these more advanced prototypes, which Musk has said will have at least three Raptor engines each and be capable of making it to orbit. But the next test flight, according to both SpaceX and the latest FCC filing, will target an altitude of 12.5 miles (20 kilometers). That's much higher than the 490-foot (149-meter) hop we saw last month, but still well short of the edge of space.

The filing comes on the heels of a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration made public last week that effectively gives SpaceX the green light to expand and continue to ramp up Starship testing at Boca Chica. 

The FCC papers also list Oct. 13 as an operation start date, so it would seem we're unlikely to see the next Starship test flight before then. 

This is in line with Musk's stated plans to give some sort of a public update on the design of Starship a few weeks before the next test. That presentation is currently scheduled for Sept. 28.