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February 24, 2024

SpaceX Starship Gears Up for Highly-Anticipated Third Test Flight

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Jan 11, 2024

SpaceX is preparing for the third test flight of its next-generation Starship spacecraft, targeting liftoff in February 2024. This flight will build on the successes and lessons learned from the first two Starship test flights in July 2022 and October 2023.

Lead-Up to Third Starship Test Flight

Over the past several months, SpaceX engineers have been conducting extensive testing and checkouts on the Starship rocket booster designated Booster 10 (B10) and Starship upper stage designated Ship 28 (S28) at the company’s development facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

These two vehicles are destined to fly on Starship’s upcoming third test flight to space, a key milestone as SpaceX works to prove out the Starship system for future operational use. B10 and S28 separately completed important testing campaigns in recent weeks, putting SpaceX on track for the integrated flight test next month.

Some of the major pre-flight testing activities included:

  • 33 Raptor engine test firings on B10 and S28 to validate performance
  • Wet dress rehearsals fueling the vehicles and performing launch countdowns
  • Static fire tests igniting engines while holding the rocket down

On January 8, Elon Musk tweeted that B10 and S28 are ready for the upcoming flight test following the completion of their individual test campaigns.

What to Expect on the Third Starship Test Flight

If the pending Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) license is approved in time, SpaceX hopes to launch the third Starship flight test in mid-February 2024.

Key parameters expected for the next flight include:

  • B10 booster with 9 Raptor engines
  • S28 Starship with 6 Raptor engines
  • 120,000 feet maximum altitude target (~23 miles, 36 km)

The goal is for the combined Starship rocket to launch vertically from the Boca Chica pad, fly to apogee, and perform a controlled belly flop re-entry before making a powered vertical landing back at the pad, demonstrations key technologies.

While higher and further than prior fights, the mission profile will still be suborbital. But it will provide crucial test data on long-range flight control authority, aerodynamics, thermal protection, and landing techniques involving the massive Starship vehicle.

Looking Ahead After the Third Flight

Looking ahead, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the company ultimately needs to get to a production and launch cadence for Starship comparable to commercial airliners. He wants the company building new Starships at roughly one per week – or over 50 per year – to meet the launch demands across SpaceX programs like Starlink internet satellites, private astronaut flights, and NASA Moon lander development.

Projected Starship Production Rate
1 per week (~52 per year)

Compared to the just two test vehicles flying so far, getting to this rate would signal Main Topic a major ramp up in operations at Boca Chica or other future Starship production facilities.

If the upcoming third test flight meets its goals, the next Falcon may maintain 120 km altitude but target a full orbital launch. This would require the first use of Starship’s Super Heavy booster along with some upgrades to Ship 28.

While the FAA environmental review process introduced delays in 2022/2023, SpaceX continues working to be ready for that milestone orbital launch attempt potentially later this year.

Implications for NASA’s Artemis Moon Program

There are also major implications across NASA’s Artemis program targeting a return of astronauts to the lunar surface. SpaceX’s Starship was contracted in 2021 to serve as the initial Human Landing System for the program.

So its ongoing testing and maturation is critical to enable the first Artemis crewed flight (Artemis III) to attempt the next Moon landing as early as 2025 or 2026.

Top NASA and SpaceX officials continue emphasizing the importance of regular Starship test flights for gaining operational experience and meeting reliability metrics for human certification. These steps are vital before trusting Starship to safely carry astronauts between lunar orbit and the surface.

The data from continued incremental test flights like the upcoming third hop will directly feed into the analysis and readiness assessments for this Moon transportation system.

As of late 2022 though, lingering risks around further delays and the need for backup options should Starship timelines slip too far have led NASA to invest in at least two other industry teams to work on alternative crewed lunar landers. But SpaceX remains the sole provider under contract for Artemis’s initial Moon landing mission.

So all sides are heavily invested in the success of rapid Starship testing and operations advancement in 2023 and 2024.

Conclusion

SpaceX’s hotly-anticipated third orbital test flight of Starship is poised to mark a major leap forward for the program in early 2024 based on recent rocket, engine, and ground system testing results.

The data and operational experience from flights like these are critical steps along the path to certifying Starship for regular support of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration visions as well as SpaceX’s own Mars settlement ambitions.

Many challenges still remain to achieve the rapid rocket production and launch rates targeted by leadership. But steady visible progress from repeated test flight achievements will help maintain momentum and confidence from customers and stakeholders that Starship may indeed revolutionize space access.

All eyes will be on Boca Chica once more next month as SpaceX attempts to fly Starship higher and farther than ever before on its journey to eventually leave Earth altogether for destinations like the Moon and Mars.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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