SpaceX is Gearing Up for the Starship’s Third Orbital Test Flight

The fully-stacked Starship and Super Heavy liftoff from the Starbase Launch Facility. Credit: SpaceX

The Starship/Super Heavy is the world’s first fully reusable launch system and the most powerful rocket in history. It is also the key to fulfilling SpaceX’s long-term vision of broadband satellite internet, delivering crews and cargo to the lunar surface, and creating the first self-sustaining city on Mars. After years of development, design changes, and “hop tests” at the company’s launch facility near Boca Chica, Texas, orbital test flights finally began in April last year. The first two flights ended in the loss of both vehicles, though the second flight saw the Starship prototype reach orbit.

According to a recent statement from the company, Flight Test-3 (FT-3) could be happening as soon as Thursday, March 14th, pending approval of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The event will be covered in a live webcast streaming on the company website and SpaceX’s official X (Twitter) account.

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SpaceX Starship Effectively Grounded by FAA After in-Flight Explosion

Starship and Super Heavy
SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy booster stand tall on the Starbase launch pad in Texas. Source: SpaceX via YouTube

It was an exciting time when, two weeks ago, SpaceX got the clearance it needed to conduct its first orbital flight test with the Starship and Super Heavy launch system. After years of waiting, SN flight tests, static fire tests, and stacking and unstacking, the long-awaited test of the SN24 Starship and BN7 Booster prototype was on! For this flight, SpaceX hoped to achieve an altitude of at least 150 km (90 mi) above sea level, crossing the 100 km (62 mi) threshold that officially marks the boundary of “space” (aka. the Karman Line) and making a partial transit around the world before splashing down off the coast of Hawaii.

Unfortunately, things began to go awry a few minutes into the flight as the Starship prototype failed to separate from the booster, sending the rocket into a spin that ended in an explosion. While Musk and SpaceX issued statements that the test was largely successful and lots of valuable data was obtained, residents and environmental researchers claim the explosion caused damage to houses in the area and the local environment. In response, the FAA has launched a “mishap investigation,” temporarily grounding the Starship until the explosion’s impact can be assessed.

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SpaceX’s Starship Has a Glorious Liftoff — but Then Spins and Explodes

Starship launch
SpaceX's Starship super-rocket rises from its Texas launch pad. Credit: SpaceX via YouTube

SpaceX’s Starship launch system lifted off on its first full-scale test flight today, rising majestically from its Texas launch pad but falling short of stage separation.

The uncrewed mission represented the most ambitious test yet for the world’s most powerful rocket — which eventually could send people to the moon and Mars, and even between spaceports on our own planet. 

Liftoff from SpaceX’s Starbase complex at Boca Chica on the South Texas coast came at 8:33 a.m. CDT (9:33 a.m. EDT). The Starship system’s Super Heavy booster, powered by 33 methane-fueled Raptor rocket engines, rose into clear skies with a deafening roar and a blazing pillar of flame.

Hundreds of SpaceX employees cheered at the company’s California headquarters, but the crowd turned quiet three minutes into the flight when the Starship upper stage failed to separate from the booster as planned. The entire rocket spun in the air as a ground-based camera watched.

A minute later, SpaceX’s flight termination system destroyed both stages of the rocket as a safety measure. “Obviously, we wanted to make it all the way through, but to get this far, honestly, is amazing,” launch commentator Kate Tice said.

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Will the Starship be Ready for an April Launch?

The SN24 and BN7 fully stacked on the launch test pad at SpaceX's Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas. Credit: NASA

It’s been a long road, but it looks as though SpaceX may finally be ready for an orbital flight test with the Starship and Super Heavy. After months of waiting, static fire tests, stacking, and restacking, Elon Musk announced on March 16th that SpaceX could be ready to go with the SN24 and BN7 prototypes in “a few weeks,” pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Musk announced via Twitter, saying, “launch timing depends on FAA license approval. Assuming that takes a few weeks, first launch attempt will be near end of third week of April, aka…”

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SpaceX Sets New Record with Successful Test-Firing of 31 Raptor Engines!

The B7 firing 31 of its Raptor engines on Feb. 8th, 2023. Credit: SpaceX

Another day, another static fire test, another milestone on the road to space! For months, crews at the SpaceX Starbase near Boca Chica, Texas, have been conducting static fire tests of the B7 Super Heavy booster prototype. In previous tests, the ground crews test-fired 7 to 14 of the B7s Raptor 2 engines for periods lasting 7 to 13 seconds. Today, the crews prepped the BN7 Booster for the first static fire test, where all thirty-three engines would fire simultaneously. While two of its Raptors did not fire, the test was a success and set a new record for the amount of thrust produced in a single booster fire.

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SpaceX’s Super Heavy Fires 11 of its Engines in a Long-Duration Test

Static engine fire of the BN7 on Nov. 29th, 2022. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX is at it again! Yesterday (November 29th), the company conducted another static fire test with the Booster 7 (BN7) prototype at its Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas. The test began at 02:42 p.m. EST (11:42 a.m. PST) and saw eleven of the BN7’s thirty-three Raptor 2 engines fire for 13 seconds. While static fire tests have been the norm these past few months, this latest might be the prelude to the orbital test flight Musk has been hinting at for close to a year. News of the successful test was shared via Twitter, while NASA Spaceflight (NSF) shared footage of the test via Youtube.

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Starship and Super Heavy are Stacked up Again. How Long Until They fly?

The SN24 and BN7 prototypes fully stacked at the SpaceX Starbase. Credit: SpaceX

Things are heating up again at the SpaceX Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas! With so many static fire and flight tests now behind them and the FAA environmental assessment complete, space exploration enthusiasts have wondered when Elon Musk would attempt to conduct an orbital flight with the Starship prototype. As of Tuesday, October 11th, the Starship 24 (SN24) and Booster 7 (BN7) prototypes were once again seen fully stacked on the orbital launch pad, leading many to wonder if the long-awaited orbital flight is imminent!

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SpaceX is now Constructing the Starship Launch Tower at Cape Canaveral

The Starship and Superheavy fully stacked, standing behind the "Mechazilla" tower at Boca Chica, Texas. Credit: SpaceX

Remember Mechazilla, that tall launch tower at the SpaceX Starbase in Texas that will stack Starships and “catch” spent Super Heavy boosters? SpaceX began constructing an identical launch tower at Cape Canaveral in Florida, where Starships will also be launching from soon. This tower is taking shape alongside SpaceX’s Launch Complex-39A (LC-39A) facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Once complete, the launch tower will stand about 146 meters (~480 ft) in height, making it the second-tallest space-related structure on the East Coast, second to NASA’s massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

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