Elon Musk’s SpaceX Sets Date to Launch 3rd Starship Orbital Test

SpaceX Starship
A Starship prototype being unstacked from its booster at SpaceX’s Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on November 16, 2023. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

SpaceX has set a target date for its third orbital test flight with Starship, the company’s massive Mars-colonizing rocket. The Elon Musk-led rocket company said yesterday (March 6) it’s aiming March 14 for the test, pending regulatory approvals.

SpaceX last launched a Starship test on Nov. 18, 2023, during which a prototype soared into space for a little more than three minutes before exploding in the sky. The test failed to reach orbit but successfully completed a  hot-stage separation for the first time, where a Starship upper stage separated from its booster and ignited its own Raptor engines.

The third orbital test will follow a new flight path and incorporate a few new elements. The goal is test the spacecraft’s readiness for launching SpaceX’s Starlink satellites and going to the Moon in the near future.

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SpaceX plans to first reach Earth orbit, and then complete nearly one orbit before reentering the atmosphere and splashing down near in the Indian Ocean near the company’s Starbase site in Boca Chica, Texas. The entire test is expected to last about 80 minutes. (The November test flight lasted only eight minutes.)

There will be three new elements added to the third flight, including a firing of a Raptor engine while in space, the opening and closing of a payload bay door (that would be used in future Starlink missions) and, most notably, a propellant transfer test on the flight, moving propellant from one tank to another within Starship. The propellant transfer test is a key component in Starship’s future use as a moon lander for NASA’s Artemis program.

On Feb. 26, the Federal Aviation Administration closed the mishap investigation into Starship’s November test flight, concluding that SpaceX needs to perform seven corrective actions the Super Heavy booster and ten for the Starship upper stage. The agency said it expected to have a launch license ready in time to support a mid-March flight.


SpaceX Sets Target Date For Starship’s 3rd Orbital Test—With a New Flight Path

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