Third Starship Launch Moves Forward with SpaceX’s Successful Static Fire Test

Ship 28 is seen after being moved to SpaceX's launch site in South Texas as SpaceX gears for
Third Starship Launch
Ship 28 is seen after being moved to SpaceX’s launch site in South Texas. (Image: SpaceX)

SpaceX Prepares for Third Starship Flight

One month following the successful second flight of its colossal Starship rocket, SpaceX is diligently advancing towards its third launch endeavor. On Wednesday, at 1:37 pm local time in South Texas, the aerospace company executed a static fire test for the upcoming Starship, designated as Ship 28. The test, involving the ignition of the rocket’s six engines, appeared to proceed nominally, with both the rocket and ground support equipment exhibiting no damage after the brief firing of the Raptors.

In parallel, SpaceX recently transported Booster 10, the designated booster for the upcoming launch, to its Starbase facility launch site in South Texas. The booster has been positioned onto the orbital launch mount, indicating preparations for an imminent static fire test in the days to come. Upon the completion of these tests, the Starship upper stage is expected to be assembled atop the booster, bringing the launch vehicle, potentially named “Integrated Flight Test 3,” to a substantial readiness level for liftoff.

This forthcoming third flight aims to extend the mission profile, with Starship intended to execute a controlled landing into the ocean north of Kauai, Hawaii. Although unconfirmed, there is speculation about the possibility of an in-space propellant transfer test during this mission.

The second launch attempt of Starship on November 18 marked a notable improvement over the initial attempt in April 2023. The test demonstrated significant enhancements in engine reliability and yielded valuable data regarding the challenging “hot staging” maneuver, separating the Super Heavy booster from the Starship upper stage.

Booster 10, with a few holiday decorations, is rolled to the launch site in South Texas. (Image: SpaceX)
Booster 10, with a few holiday decorations, is rolled to the launch site in South Texas. (Image: SpaceX)

SpaceX Remains Cautious About Launch Timeline

SpaceX’s general manager for the Starbase launch site, Kathy Lueders, indicated a target timeframe for the third test flight, aiming for the first quarter of the following year. Lueders acknowledged Elon Musk’s more optimistic projection for the end of December but expressed skepticism about meeting that timeline.

Post the second test flight, neither SpaceX nor Elon Musk has provided a technical update on the issues encountered with the Starship upper stage or the subsequent loss of the booster. Notably, fewer modifications have been made to the rocket hardware or the launch site ahead of this third attempt, hinting that some of the previous challenges might have been related to flight software.

Crucially, regulatory approval for the third Starship launch is still pending. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) labeled the second attempt in November as a “mishap” and asserted its oversight in the ensuing investigation led by SpaceX. Despite characterizing it as such, the FAA noted no injuries or damage to public property during the incident and has yet to provide additional information in the month since the mishap.

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