WASHINGTON — SpaceX hopes to conduct the next launch of its Starship vehicle as soon as early May, a schedule that will depend on how quickly it can get an amended launch license.

Speaking at the Satellite 2024 conference March 19, Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said the company was still reviewing the data from the vehicle’s third integrated launch March 14 but expected to be ready to fly again soon.

“We’re still going through the data” from the flight, she said when asked about the analysis of data from the mission. “It was an incredibly successful flight. We hit exactly where we wanted to go.”

On that launch both the Super Heavy booster and Starship upper stage performed as expected on its ascent, placing the vehicle on its planned suborbital trajectory. Starship’s payload door was opened while in space and a propellent transfer demonstration, moving liquid oxygen between two tanks in the vehicle, was initiated.

However, a planned relight of Starship’s Raptor engines while in space did not take place, which the company blamed on a roll induced in the vehicle. During reentry, the vehicle broke apart at about 65 kilometers altitude. The Super Heavy booster also exploded during the final stages of its descent to the Gulf of Mexico during a planned landing burn.

“We’ll figure out what happened on both stages,” she said, not discussing what may have gone wrong with either, “and get back to flight hopefully in about six weeks,” or early May.

She added that the company doesn’t expect to deploy Starlink satellites on the next Starship launch, as some had speculated. “Things are still in trade, but I think we’re really going to focus on getting reentry right and making sure we can land these things where we want to land them.”

That schedule will depend on completing a mishap investigation that must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, which would then have to modify the existing launch license for Starship before the next launch.

Speaking at the Space Capitol III event by Payload March 18, Kelvin Coleman, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said he did not anticipate that investigation to turn up any major issues that could significantly delay the next launch.

“It ended in what we call a mishap, but at the end of the day we deem it a successful launch attempt,” he said, because it resulted in no injuries or property damage. “SpaceX was able to collect a great deal of data from that launch.”

He said he expected SpaceX to quickly provide a mishap investigation report, noting that after the second Starship flight the company completed that report in several weeks. “We expect the same to be the case here. We didn’t see anything major. We don’t think there’s any critical systems for safety that were implicated.”

The FAA has updated SpaceX’s Starship launch license after every flight to date to reflect changes in the mission, such as the different suborbital trajectory used on the most recent flight. However, Coleman said the agency wants to move to a process where the license is valid for “portfolio of launches” rather than individual ones. That is particularly important, he added, because SpaceX is planning six to nine more Starship launches this year.

That is part of a broader effort to streamline the launch licensing process to address criticism from industry and Congress that the FAA is moving too slowly on approving launch licenses under a new set of regulations known as Part 450. Coleman announced at the FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference Feb. 21 that the agency would establish an aerospace rulemaking committee, or SpARC, to formally collect industry input on ways to improve Part 450.

Shotwell, on the Satellite 2024 conference panel, did not mention how many Starship launches the company projects making this year but said the focus is on getting the vehicle operational.

“I’d love to get Starship into orbit, deploying satellites, and recover both stages,” she said, “with rapid turnaround on those stages as well.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...