SpaceX filed for a permit to launch prototypes of its Starship rocket to altitudes exceeding a dozen miles within the next seven months.
CEO Elon Musk seems to be racing to develop Starship, a fully reusable rocket system designed to one day land on the moon for NASA and take up to 100 people at a time to Mars.
In early June, shortly after SpaceX successfully launched two astronauts to the International Space Station using a different rocket, Musk reportedly urged employees to shift their focus to Starship. Aerial photos have revealed a frenzied increase in construction activity at the company’s rocket development site in Boca Chica, Texas.
Now the company has filed a request to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a license to launch its Starship prototype 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) into the air. The filing, submitted Thursday, says the operation would occur between August 18, 2020 and February 18, 2021.
A full-scale Starship has yet to fly, though a previous and shorter version of the rocket known as Starhopper successfully launched 500 feet and landed.
Several early iterations of Starship prototypes failed and were obliterated during testing while the rockets were filled with inert liquid nitrogen. The most recent Starship prototype exploded the day before astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley rode the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship to the ISS — with the help of a different SpaceX rocket, Falcon 9. (The system successfully flew 85 missions before sending Behnken and Hurley into space.)
Musk has said the company may need to build about 20 large prototypes before SpaceX can attempt to launch one into orbit.