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    Starship third test flight launched, achieves several “firsts” before losing spacecraft on re-entry

    Space Exploration Technologies Corporation or SpaceX launched Starship’s third orbital test flight, achieving several critical milestones before its loss upon re-entry. The massive Starship, a collective vehicle comprising a Super Heavy booster and a spacecraft on the top, successfully lifted off at 8:25 a.m. CT from the Starbase campus near Boca Chica, Texas on Thursday, March 14.

    Talking about its the major milestones, for the second time, Starship showcased the prowess of its 33 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy Booster that started up successfully and completed a full-duration burn during ascent. In addition to this, the flight executed the second successful hot-stage separation, a critical maneuver where Starship powered down all but three of Super Heavy’s Raptor engines before igniting the six second-stage Raptor engines and separating the vehicles.

    Post-separation, the Super Heavy booster executed a precise flip maneuver and embarked on a boostback burn towards its planned splashdown point in the Gulf of Mexico. Super Heavy successfully lit several engines for its first ever landing burn, although it experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly at approximately 462 meters in altitude.

    The third attempt also accomplished a series of “firsts” compared to previous tests. Both the Super Heavy booster and Starship upper stage performed a successful separation maneuver. Starship then completed its full ascent burn, reaching a higher altitude than ever before. The spacecraft also successfully opened and closed its payload bay door – a vital step for future satellite deployment – and initiated a propellant transfer between tanks, a crucial capability for extended missions. Despite not attempting its planned on-orbit relight due to vehicle roll rates, these demonstrations offered a wealth of information for further development.

    The spacecraft’s first-ever entry from space further offered live insights into the heating and vehicle control during hypersonic re-entry. Unfortunately, the mission concluded with the loss of the spacecraft during re-entry, with the last telemetry signals received approximately 49 minutes into the flight.

    Despite the loss of the vehicle, SpaceX remains optimistic. The company plans more test flights this year, subject to regulatory approval. These flights will aim to refine Starship’s capabilities and address any issues identified from the recent test, including the re-entry challenges. The Federal Aviation Administration will be closely involved in the investigation before Starship can fly again. With continued development and successful test flights, Starship remains on track to play a central role in NASA’s Artemis program, aiming to return astronauts to the Moon by 2026.

    Author

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    Monika Asthana

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