SpaceX Plans to ‘Catch’ Starship’s Booster on First Orbital Flight

SpaceX has filed updated flight path and additional specifications with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the planned first orbital test flight of its Starship spacecraft (via @Erdayastronaut).

Starship finally received FAA approval for its first test flight last month. Shortly after, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said Starship would be ready to launch atop the company’s Super Heavy booster in July, with a second Starship flight slated for August.

Earlier this week, SpaceX transported the assembled launch vehicle to the launch pad at Starbase, its test facility in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX’s recent FCC filings reveal a crazy detail — the company will try to catch the Super Heavy booster after it separates from Starship, using the launch tower at Starbase.

“The Starship-Super Heavy test flight will originate from Starbase, TX. The booster stage will separate and will then perform a partial return and land in the Gulf of Mexico or return to Starbase and be caught by the launch tower,” SpaceX said in the filings.

“The orbital Starship spacecraft will continue on its path to an altitude of approximately 250 km before performing a powered, targeted landing in the Pacific Ocean.”

The FCC regulates communications, not spaceflights. However, SpaceX had to submit details of its planned Starship test flight to the FCC because of the onboard communications, which include Starlink.

Starship is designed to usher in a new era of affordable, reusable space transport. SpaceX hopes it will one day haul humans and cargo to Mars and enable interplanetary travel. Before it takes anyone to Mars, though, Starship is slated to carry astronauts back to the moon as part of at least two different missions for NASA.

NASA will be working with SpaceX to ensure the launch doesn’t harm nearby infrastructure. SpaceX’s orbital test flight of Starship is shaping up to be one of the most significant rocket launches in history.