SpaceX Starship Achieves Orbit During Impressive Third Test Launch

2024-03-17 13:00:42

The third test launch of the SpaceX Starship appears to have been an impressive run, as the craft achieved orbit and hit a number of important development milestones.

The launch is the rocket’s third test flight, and its first one to reach orbit; the previous two ended in dramatic explosions of the craft’s 33-engine Super Heavy booster rocket that culminated in an environmental lawsuit. After conducting a number of maneuvers during the spacecraft’s hour-long flight in orbit, mission control reportedly lost contact with Starship as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere somewhere over the Indian Ocean.

Starship likely broke up or exploded over the ocean, SpaceX confirmed.

“The team has made the call that the ship has been lost, so no splashdown today,” Dan Huot, SpaceX’s communications manager, said during the company’s livestream of the launch. “But again, just it’s incredible to see how much further we got this time around.”

..Once the rocket was in flight, mission engineers completed a number of tests, including re-lighting its engines in space and opening its payload door, before steering the craft back to splash down in the Indian Ocean. However, during reentry, the team lost contact with Starlink — SpaceX’s satellite internet service — and the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System that it uses to keep an eye on its rockets.

There was also a propellant transfer protocol that was successfully completed, which will be required for the completion of future missions. But there is more work that needs to be done.

A preliminary report from SpaceX also indicated Starship transferred super-cold liquid oxygen propellant between two tanks inside the rocket, a precursor test ahead of more ambitious in-orbit refueling tests planned in the coming years.

Future Starship flights into deep space, such as missions to land astronauts on the Moon for NASA, will require SpaceX to transfer hundreds of tons of cryogenic propellant between ships in orbit.

Starship left a few other boxes unchecked Thursday. While it made it closer to splashdown than before, the Super Heavy booster plummeted into the Gulf of Mexico in an uncontrolled manner. Some of its engines appeared to fire just before impact into the Gulf, but the booster started corkscrewing seconds before reaching the sea. If everything went perfectly, the booster would have softly settled into the ocean after reigniting 13 of its engines for a final braking burn.

Many comments focused on the astonishing imagery captured by Starsip’s Starlink system, as it transmitted images of the super-heated plasma field it was generating upon reentry.

It’s tough to send data home through such plasma fields. But Starship managed to do so, using SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites to communicate with its handlers here on Earth, company representatives said.

“Reliable high-speed, low-latency internet around the world — even while traveling at 27,000 km/h through a plasma field,” Starlink’s official X account wrote shortly after today’s flight, in a post that featured a video of Starship’s reentry.

Starship kept sending imagery until about 48.5 minutes after launch, when it had descended to an altitude of 48 miles (77 km). All telemetry ceased shortly thereafter, likely indicating when Starship gave up the ghost, breaking apart under extreme frictional forces.

SpaceX officials indicated that there will be at least six more test flights of Starship this year, subject to regulatory approval.

I am hoping for ever more good news to report after the Fourth Starship launch!


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SpaceX Starship Achieves Orbit During Impressive Third Test Launch


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