Space fans could be in for a treat this holiday season.
SpaceX’s third Starship vehicle “should be ready to fly in 3 to 4 weeks,” company founder and CEO Elon Musk said. via (formerly known as Twitter) Sunday, November 19.
This would put technical preparation before Christmas – but there is no guarantee that Starship will be allowed to take off by then. SpaceX must still obtain a launch license from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is overseeing an investigation into what happened on Saturday (Nov. 18) during Starship’s second test flight.
Related: Test launch of SpaceX’s second spacecraft looks stunning in these stunning photos and videos
Saturday’s mission, which took off from SpaceX’s Starbase site in south Texas, aimed to send the Starship’s upper stage mostly around Earth, ending with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii 90 minutes after launch.
But the flight ended after about eight minutes, with a “rapid and unplanned disassembly” of the machine. It wasn’t the only explosion of the day; Starship’s massive Super Heavy first stage was supposed to return to Earth for a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico about seven minutes after liftoff, but it broke up high in the sky just after separating from the stage superior.
Starship did, however, hit a few important milestones during flight number two, and chief among them was successful stage separation, which did not occur during the vehicle’s first test flight last April. This first flight ended just four minutes after launch, with a controlled detonation of the free-falling Starship vehicle.
Additionally, a handful of the Super Heavy’s 33 Raptor engines failed early in the April flight, when they all appeared to burn for the appropriate duration on Saturday. Starbase’s orbital launch mount also appeared to emerge unscathed this weekend, as the April launch blasted a large crater underneath.
Shortly after the April 20 flight, Musk said SpaceX would be ready to relaunch Starship in just six to eight weeks.
Of course, it took much longer to get the vehicle off the ground. The FAA did not grant a launch license until November 15, after completing an investigation into the explosion and conducting a safety review and environmental assessment.
It’s unclear when the agency’s investigation into Saturday’s theft will end; it’s only just begun, after all. But, given the progress SpaceX made with flight two compared to flight one, it would be surprising if there was another seven-month gap between Starship liftoffs.
SpaceX certainly appears to be preparing for an increased cadence of test flights. “There are three ships in final production in (Starbase) Upper Bay (as seen from the highway),” Musk said in the Sunday X post.