Third Starship Launch: Starship Is Preparing For a Next Launch Rehearsal Ahead of Flight 3

10th Jan 2024
Third Starship Launch: Starship Is Preparing For a Next Launch Rehearsal Ahead of Flight 3

SpaceX’s Starship, which is the largest and most powerful rocket ever flown, failed at some point in its first and second test flights. After a series of investigations, rumours, and setbacks, we are ready to report on all of the updates and progress around the third Starship launch, which is allegedly scheduled for this February.

Starship team is preparing for a full launch rehearsal

[Updated on 14th February]

SpaceX’s third Starship megarocket stands in preparation for its imminent test flight. Recently, the rocket was assembled on the orbital launch mount at the Starbase facility in South Texas, with the Ship 28 upper-stage prototype placed atop its Booster 10 first-stage counterpart.

“Starship team is gearing up for a comprehensive launch rehearsal prior to Flight 3,” SpaceX announced in a post on X on Tuesday (Feb. 13), accompanied by photos showcasing this significant progress. Additionally, the company shared a brief video of the stacking process, executed by the “chopstick” arms of Starbase’s launch tower.

Third Starship launch: date and time

[Updated on 12th February]

Elon Musk said that the next Starship launch attempt will happen ‘in about three weeks’. SpaceX founder shared this insight on X (Twitter) on 12 February, as a reply to Kanye West’s post. However, Musk admits, that it requires a few more test flights before it will be safe for people and distant trips like to the Moon and Mars.

Back in November 2023, Elon Musk announced on X (formerly known as Twitter) that the third Starship vehicle was expected to be prepared for flight in the next 3 to 4 weeks. That meant that the next launch attempt should have occurred somewhere around Christmas. However, reality had different plans and so, it looks like SpaceX is now targeting February for its next Starship launch. Still, the exact date wasn’t confirmed as SpaceX is still waiting for regulatory approval.

Are there any investigations after Starship’s second flight?

The licensing process is always complicated. Despite the absence of reported injuries or damage to public property, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) labelled the second launch attempt in November as a “mishap.”

Following the incident, the agency declared that “the FAA will oversee the @SpaceX-led mishap investigation to ensure SpaceX complies with its FAA-approved mishap investigation plan and other regulatory requirements.” As of 10th January, there has been no further information provided by the FAA in the month since the announcement.

When is the next Starship launch?

At a media briefing on 9th January regarding NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program, Jessica Jensen, SpaceX’s Vice President of Customer Operations and Integration, emphasized that obtaining an updated Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch license stands as the pivotal element dictating the schedule for the impending test flight.

Jensen remarked, “In terms of hardware readiness, our aim is to achieve readiness by January.” The company successfully conducted static-fire tests for both the Super Heavy booster and the Starship upper stage designated for this specific launch in the latter part of December.

Jensen expressed confidence in meeting this requirement, stating, “We’re on track for that. We’re expecting that license to come in February. So, it’s looking like Flight 3 will occur in February.”

Earlier, Kathy Lueders, the general manager overseeing SpaceX’s operations at the Starbase launch site near Brownsville, indicated that the company aims to conduct the third test flight in the first quarter of the upcoming year. “It would be great if we were in the first quarter, definitely,” she said. “Elon [Musk] obviously would probably say the end of December, but I don’t think we’ll get there.” And she was right.

The static fire test is done

On 20th December, SpaceX executed a “static fire” test with Ship 28, the prototype for the Starship upper stage. This involved a brief ignition of the vehicle’s Raptor engines while it was securely tethered to the pad at the company’s Starbase site in South Texas.

The purpose of this test is to prepare Ship 28 for Starship’s third test flight, an event eagerly anticipated by SpaceX, and slated for launch in the coming weeks. Encouragingly, the test conducted on 20th December proceeded smoothly, keeping the timeline on track. SpaceX confirmed the positive outcome, stating, “Flight 3 Starship completed a full-duration static fire with all six of its Raptor engines,” in a post on X (formerly known as Twitter). The post also included a video capturing the test, providing enthusiasts with a visual glimpse of the successful trial.

We must say, the video is indeed thrilling. SpaceX has always known how to impress!

Surpise-surprise! Third Starship flight could test refueling tech

If the third Starship launch is finally a success that would be a wonderful milestone, but rumours have it, NASA and SpaceX are considering a propellant transfer test.

Recent revelations from Lakiesha Hawkins, the deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Moon to Mars program office, suggest that this mission could include a groundbreaking refuelling test, adding a layer of sophistication to SpaceX’s ambitious endeavours.

During a meeting with a committee of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on 4th December, a slide in her presentation mentioned SpaceX’s recent launch of the second-ever Starship mission. It indicated the company is “moving quickly” toward the third, “which will include a propellant transfer demonstration.”

However, Hawkins ignored this part during the meeting. Subsequently, NASA tempered the statement, with an agency spokesperson informing CNBC that “no final decisions on timing have been made.”

During a recent teleconference, SpaceX’s Jessica Jensen mentioned that they’re looking to test propellant transfer this year and expand those tests next year. In addition, SpaceX aims to land Starship on the Moon and test ascent capabilities in an uncrewed lunar mission before the Artemis 3 mission. This highlights SpaceX’s commitment to advancing space exploration.

Context

Starship rocket is an integral part of the timely completion of the Artemis program. As part of SpaceX’s 2020 $53 million Tipping Point contract with NASA, the upcoming test aims to showcase cryogenic tank-to-tank fuel transfer—an essential skill for larger vehicle-to-vehicle operations, crucial for the lunar lander transporting Artemis astronauts to the Moon.

In the envisioned journey to the Moon:

  • SpaceX is projected to launch between 8 and 16 propellant tanker Starships to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in rapid succession. Each tanker will carry 100 to 150 tons of fuel, encompassing liquid oxygen and liquid methane.
  • The tankers will rendezvous with a larger orbiting depot in space to facilitate the transfer of fuel.
  • Subsequently, the orbiting depot will connect with the Human Landing System (HLS) Starship, loading its 1,200-ton tanks with the acquired fuel.
  • The fully fueled Starship lander will then embark on its mission to land on the Moon.

To add to the complexity, NASA and SpaceX face the challenge of addressing the cryogenic boil-off problem, requiring innovative solutions to prevent the transformation of stored propellants into gas due to temperature changes.

How many times has Starship launched?

Both of the Starship’s two launches so far (in April and November this year) faced challenges.

The debut mission had issues with the stages separating, leading to intentional detonation. The second mission saw improvements like successful stage separation but ended with the upper stage exploding eight minutes after liftoff. Both flights fell short of their goal to circle the world from SpaceX’s Starbase in Texas to the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

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