SpaceX is planning for its first Starship rocket orbital test flight to launch from Texas and splash down off the coast of Hawaii, according to the company’s filing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday.
Over the past year, SpaceX has launched five prototypes of its Starship rocket into the skies. The first fourburst into flames on landing, but the fifth test flight, with Starship serial No. 15, or SN15, proved successful. This allowed SpaceX to move to the next step of Elon Musk’s goal to reach Mars.
The company’s FCC filings said the test flight, comprised of the Starship rocket and a Super Heavy booster, would blast off from SpaceX’s launch facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. It did not give a projected launch date. The plan is for the booster to separate from the rocket nearly three minutes into the flight, and return to land roughly 20 miles from shore of the Gulf of Mexico.
Meanwhile, the Starship rocket is set to continue into orbit, the filing said. SpaceX plans for it to travel almost all the way around the Earth before plummeting back into the atmosphere, and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean around 62 miles off the northwest coast of Kauai, one of the Hawaiian Islands.
The orbital test flight should last around 90 minutes, the filing said.
The five prototypes the aerospace company has already launched were the upper stage of a two-part rocket system for Starship. Now that the 16-story upper stage is able to reach high altitude smoothly, SpaceX will add on a 23-story booster called Super Heavy.
The Super Heavy booster will try to heave the nearly 400 feet tall spaceship towards orbit.
SpaceX’s ultimate goal is for the Starship to carry humans into low-Earth orbit, to the moon, and to Mars, then return to Earth to repeat the journey again. In April, NASA awarded SpaceX an exclusive contract to land the first humans on the moon since 1972.
Around 4,300 employees signed up to give monthly blood samples so they could be tested for antibodies from April 2020 onwards. The study sample was 84.3% male with a median age of 32 – although the age range spanned from 18 to 71.
SpaceX appears to be a popular place to work overall. Part of the reason is due to the perks employees are entitled to, from in-house massage therapists to private talks by celebrities.
“On [SpaceX] launch days, you have everyone at Tesla tuned in to see if the launch is successful, not because we are vested in the rockets, but because it directly impacts Elon’s mood for the next few days,” a Tesla executive told Vanity Fair. “If there was a failure on a launch, there’d be hell to pay; you didn’t want to have a phone call set up with Elon afterward.”
It was recently reported that in SpaceX’s earliest days, rocket engineers were occasionally left to starve due to food shipment failures, back when they were living on a Pacific Island to prepare for a launch, leading them to mutiny.
“We were just wild animals on the island, waiting for food,” Ed Thomas, a SpaceX technician at the time, told the senior space editor at Ars Technica, Eric Berger.
In February, SpaceX vice president Hans Koenigsmann, who was Musk’s seventh hire at the company, announced plans to retire. He told staff he’d be replaced by William Gerstenmaier, a former NASA official who joined the space company a year ago.
The company has grown massively over the past 19 years. “In 2002, SpaceX basically consisted of carpet and a mariachi band. That was it,” Musk said.
The company had 160 employees in November 2005. Prior to February, the last time the company publicly commented on the size of its workforce was in May 2020, when Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s chief operating officer, said it had around 8,000 staff.
And as the company grew, employees also grew as professionals, within it. “I worked with Elon in 2002 when no one knew his name and SpaceX was just founded,” said former employee, Teresa Tranakas. “Even though I stayed on for a short period (almost two years), working alongside Elon during those startup moments taught me valuable business lessons that I apply even to this day.
Examples of wisdom she learned from Musk include doing whatever it takes to build a sustainable business and never accepting that something can’t be done.
More than 10 years later, SpaceX continues to find success after success, especially with the company’s recent valuation shooting to about $74 billion, CNBC reported.
Its exponential growth has also meant that the company is looking to hire. With hundreds of vacancies advertised on its site, it looks like Musk is looking to expand his workforce by huge amounts.
Starlink is SpaceX’s broadband service that beams down internet from satellites launched into orbit. Since its launch in October last year, it has accumulated more than 10,000 users worldwide.
The aerospace company is currently at the center of a heated US Department of Justice (DoJ) investigation into alleged hiring discrimination. In May 2020, a job applicant filed a complaint alleging SpaceX chose not to hire him because of his citizenship status. Officials have since expanded the case to look at SpaceX’s wider hiring practices.
But the company has refused to comply with a subpoena asking for documentation related to its hiring procedures, saying authorities have given only “the flimsiest of justifications.”