TechSpaceX set for historic in-space engine ignition with third Starship launch

SpaceX set for historic in‑space engine ignition with third Starship launch

Starship in flight
Starship in flight
Images source: © SpaceX
5:11 AM EDT, March 14, 2024

This upcoming launch, slated for 7:00 AM Eastern Time on March 14, 2024, offers a two-hour window that closes at 9:00 AM Eastern Time. It represents another significant step for Elon Musk's SpaceX in its ongoing Starship project.

Starship, a colossal rocket designed for carrying massive payloads into orbit at reduced costs, is pivotal for the future colonization of the Moon and Mars, and for longer missions into deep space. Its development could establish a regular transport link between Earth and the Moon.

The third Starship launch

SpaceX's ambitious goals for this flight include successfully launching both stages of the rocket – the booster (first stage) and the Starship vehicle (second stage). This attempt follows a previous one that resulted in an explosion.

The booster will separate from the Starship vehicle two minutes and 44 seconds into the flight, already in space. It will then decelerate and return to Earth, aiming to land on water with engines briefly reignited for this purpose. Upon separation, Starship will engage its engines for a critical phase of space flight before re-entering the Earth's atmosphere and aiming for a landing in the Indian Ocean. This marks the first attempt at igniting the rocket's engines in space.

Where to watch the Starship flight?

The test flight will be broadcast live, available on platforms such as X (formerly Twitter) and YouTube.

Starship system - economical moon travel

Standing at 394 feet tall, the Starship system dwarfs preceding rockets. Its first stage, powered by 33 Raptor engines fueled by liquid methane and oxygen, reaches 230 feet in height, boasting double the power of NASA's Saturn V rocket. The Starship vehicle itself, at 164 feet, includes six Raptor engines, half of which are designed for space use.

This assembly surpasses the iconic Saturn V and is over twice the height of the Space Shuttle launch setup. Starship's payload capacity for low Earth orbit exceeds 330,693 pounds, overshadowing the capabilities of the upcoming European Ariane 6 rocket and the non-reusable NASA-built SLS rocket, both of which entail high construction costs.

Regular operations of Starship could revolutionize space travel, offering versatile landing options at SpaceX's Boca Chica spaceport, the Kennedy Space Center, or on specialized floating platforms at sea.

Explosions are not failures

The inaugural Starship launch in December 2020 saw the second stage reach over 39,370 feet, hitting the intended altitude. However, a high descent speed caused by insufficient fuel tank pressure led to an explosion upon landing. Despite this, SpaceX learned valuable lessons for future adjustments.

A subsequent attempt in November 2023 aimed for orbit. Although both stages exploded – the first, shortly after separation, and the second, just shy of achieving orbit – these incidents were viewed as informative, not setbacks. Each failure has been a step forward, allowing SpaceX engineers to refine and enhance their designs.

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