SpaceX's latest Starship prototype just passed another big preflight test.
The company conducted a "wet dress rehearsal" at its Starbase site in South Texas on Tuesday (Oct. 24), filling the Starship vehicle with cryogenic fuel to check for leaks and other potential issues.
"Starship and Super Heavy were loaded with more than 10 million pounds of propellant today in a flight-like rehearsal ahead of launch," SpaceX said Tuesday night in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that featured video of the test. (Super Heavy is the vehicle's first-stage booster, whereas Starship is its upper-stage spacecraft. Both elements are powered by SpaceX's new Raptor engines, which burn liquid methane and liquid oxygen.)
"Vehicle is ready for the second test flight of a fully integrated Starship, pending regulatory approval," SpaceX wrote in another Tuesday night X post.
That pending approval is a launch license, which the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not yet granted for the upcoming flight.
Six weeks ago, the agency closed its investigation into Starship's first-ever fully stacked flight, which lifted off from Starbase on April 20. That test mission aimed to send the upper stage partway around Earth, ending with a Pacific Ocean splashdown near Hawaii. That didn't happen, however; Starship suffered several problems shortly after launch, and the flight ended with a controlled detonation high above the Gulf of Mexico.
"The closure of the mishap investigation does not signal an immediate resumption of Starship launches at Boca Chica," FAA officials said in an emailed statement on Sept. 8, referring to the Starbase site. "SpaceX must implement all corrective actions that impact public safety and apply for and receive a license modification from the FAA that addresses all safety, environmental and other applicable regulatory requirements prior to the next Starship launch."
"It's a shame when our hardware is ready to fly and we're not able to go fly because of regulations or re-review," Bill Gerstenmaier, the vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, said last week during a hearing of the U.S. Senate's Subcommittee on Space and Science called "Promoting Safety, Innovation and Competitiveness in U.S. Commercial Human Space Activities."
"We need to be safe, we need to protect the environment; we don't dismiss those. But we need to fly at the fastest pace that we can do hardware development to do this active development process and this test flight experience that we've described," Gerstenmaier added, referring to SpaceX's development strategy of flying prototypes frequently, and iterating frequently based on the results.
Starship is the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built, and both of its stages are designed to be fully and rapidly reusable.
SpaceX believes that the vehicle will revolutionize spaceflight, making a variety of bold exploration feats — including the human settlement of Mars, a long-held dream of Musk's — economically feasible.