SpaceX Starship 3rd test flight successfully reached space

SpaceX Starship test flight: Rocket on left. Orange glow below it. Ocean and clouds in background.
The upper stage of the SpaceX Starship glows as the craft reenters Earth’s atmosphere during the 3rd test flight on Thursday, March 14, 2024. Starship lifted off at 8:25 a.m. CDT (13:25 UTC) and performed a series of demonstration maneuvers. Image via SpaceX.

The third SpaceX Starship test vehicle rocketed successfully into space at 8:25 a.m. CDT (13:25 UTC) yesterday (March 14, 2024).

After liftoff, Starship separated from the rocket booster as planned. The booster then used its guidance fins and three of its 33 engines to return for a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico. Starship continued into space, where it successfully opened its payload doors in the vacuum before beginning a controlled reentry. Unfortunately, SpaceX announced at the end of its live launch coverage the upper stage did not survive. You can rewatch the test flight coverage in the SpaceX post below.

While there was a minor delay for safety, the rocket lifted off exactly as designed once the waters of the Gulf of Mexico were clear of traffic. There were hitches during the mission, as the flight controllers intended to attempt a soft splashdown of the booster. That did not happen. SpaceX also intended the upper stage to make a hard splashdown in the Indian Ocean. Instead, it experienced a RUD (Rapid Unplanned Disassembly) in flight.

At the end of the launch coverage, commentators announced the company has four more Starship prototype vehicles ready for testing.

Join us in our mission to educate and inspire people about the universe. Your donation can make a difference in astronomy and contribute to our growth and sustainability.

Video from the test flight

SpaceX Starship fans watched launch prep eagerly

SpaceX had said on March 5, 2024, that it would launch the third test flight of its mighty Starship, pending regulatory approval. The company posted a message on X/Twitter with the new launch date of March 14. Starship launches from SpaceX’s Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas.

In addition, SpaceX said that they’ve made improvements after the first two launches, including flying a new trajectory:

… with Starship targeted to splashdown in the Indian Ocean. This new flight path enables us to attempt new techniques like in-space engine burns while maximizing public safety.

Starship’s 2nd test flight

On November 18, 2023, Starship made its second test launch a bit after 7 a.m. CT. After a brief delay, the powerful rocketship lifted off slowly and majestically from SpaceX’s Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas.

Unfortunately, neither stage of the test vehicle survived the flight. Following a successful stage separation about 165 seconds into the mission, the main stage flipped itself around for its planned touchdown in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, it exploded. The RUD – rapid unscheduled disassembly – came about 30 seconds after stage separation.

Starship’s 2nd stage continued its journey despite the booster’s explosion. Mission control, however, lost contact with the vehicle soon after. Go here to see Starship’s fiery reentry near Puerto Rico.

A replay of the launch is available on the SpaceX official Twitter account.

The greatest rocket ever flown

In case you haven’t heard, Starship is the world’s tallest and most powerful rocket. The initial launch came in April 2023 and ended in a dramatic mid-air explosion. Among other problems, the launch also obliterated the concrete launch pad beneath the mighty rocket and blew out some windows.

Afterwards, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had questions. And SpaceX could not launch Starship without further FAA approval. The nod from the FAA – which was much awaited by both space fans and SpaceX – arrived just three days before the hoped-for launch.

SpaceX Starship: Blue sea and blue sky in the background, with silver bullet-shaped rocket in girders in the foreground.
The SpaceX Starship 25 (S25) was hoisted aloft in the chopsticks lifting mechanism at Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on September 5, 2023. In October, SpaceX performed tests and rehearsals on the launchpad as they awaited final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to try launching again. Image from SpaceX, via X. Used with permission.

What went wrong with SpaceX Starship the 1st time?

SpaceX gave a rundown of how its first attempt to get Starship to orbit went wrong. Indeed, from the moment the engines ignited, there were problems that continued until the vehicle finally exploded about 39 km (24 miles) over the Gulf of Mexico.

The company provided a brief timeline of the flight and how they’re going to prevent a repeat of its mishaps:

During ascent, the vehicle sustained fires from leaking propellant in the aft end of the Super Heavy booster, which eventually severed connection with the vehicle’s primary flight computer. This led to a loss of communications to the majority of booster engines and, ultimately, control of the vehicle. SpaceX has since implemented leak mitigations and improved testing on both engine and booster hardware. As an additional corrective action, SpaceX has significantly expanded Super Heavy’s preexisting fire suppression system in order to mitigate against future engine bay fires.

Additionally, it also addressed the disintegration of a massive reinforced concrete slab under the launchpad during liftoff.

SpaceX also made significant upgrades to the orbital launch mount and pad system in order to prevent a recurrence of the pad foundation failure observed during the first flight test. These upgrades include significant reinforcements to the pad foundation and the addition of a flame deflector, which SpaceX has successfully tested multiple times.

Bottom line: The SpaceX Starship – the world’s most powerful rocket – made its 3rd test flight on Thursday morning (March 14, 2024).

March 15, 2024

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Dave Adalian

View All