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Starship’s third flight ends in a blaze of glory

Published Mar 14th, 2024 2:16PM EDT
starship launch test
Image: SpaceX

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Starship’s third launch test took place this morning as SpaceX’s mega-rocket lifted off and made its way into space. There’s no arguing that the rocket broke new ground during its third test flight, but it ended in a blaze of glory when the upper stage burned up during re-entry.

This is the first time that the massive rocket Elon Musk hopes to send to Mars with humans aboard has made it this far. During its third test flight, Starship was able to complete an extended flight into outer space, showcasing just how powerful the mega-rocket truly is.

One important milestone that Starship was able to reach during its third flight was clearing MaxQ, which is when the aerodynamic stresses on a spacecraft reach their peak. The rocket survived this milestone, though, and even survived stage separation, letting its Super Heavy booster fall back to Earth. Unfortunately, that’s also the trouble began.

For starters, the 13 central Raptor engines aboard the Super Heavy booster didn’t completely fire, leaving the booster to tumble down into the ocean. SpaceX has no plans to recover it, as it was likely destroyed when it smashed into the ground.

The upper stage of the Starship rocket continued on its journey from there, though, even managing to open and close the payload doors it is equipped with. The team was also able to send a series of commands to initiate a propellant transfer demo, which is yet another important milestone in the rocket’s ongoing tests.

Unfortunately, SpaceX lost contact with the upper stage of Starship’s third flight after the rocket began its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Video of the re-entry showcases an intense amount of build-up around the rocket, and an onboard camera showed a large amount of debris in the vicinity of the vehicle prior to its reentry, which some say is likely an area of concern.

It is unclear exactly what caused SpaceX to lose contact with the upper stage during its re-entry, but this test does at least give the company a lot of information to pore over, as well as next steps to focus on for future tests. Starship is a key part of NASA’s plans for the Artemis missions, which will see humanity return to the lunar surface for the first time since Apollo, so the Musk-led space company has some big goals to hit going forward.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.