Starship launch: Third flight reaches space but is lost on re-entry

by ARKANSAS DIGITAL NEWS

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SpaceX's Starship taking off on 14 March

SpaceX’s Starship taking off on 14 March

SpaceX

SpaceX’s third and most ambitious Starship test flight appeared to be at least a partial success today as it reached space, carried out fuel transfer tests and travelled further and faster than ever before. But the craft failed to make its scheduled landing and appears to have either self-destructed or burned up in Earth’s atmosphere.

After lift-off from SpaceX’s site at Boca Chica, Texas, the first and second stages separated cleanly and the first stage – the booster that lifts it on the first part of its journey – began descending for a landing at sea. SpaceX ultimately intends to recover and re-use both stages, but in these early test flights they are both destined for a safer and easier ocean ditching.

While the first stage steered itself on the descent it seemingly struggled to slow its fall as intended and appeared to hit the sea at speed.


The second stage went on to reach an altitude of around 230 kilometres and successfully opened and closed its payload door as a test. It also shuffled fuel from one tank to another as an experimental first step towards the eventual refuelling of one Starship by another, which will be vital for long-range missions.

But during re-entry the craft reached extremely high temperatures, with live video showing glowing plasma around its surface, and both video and telemetry data was lost.

The craft had been due to attempt to relight its Raptor engines – which has never been done in space before – for a controlled re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere starting at almost 27,000 kilometres per hour. But this re-light part of the mission was skipped by the company, and the craft was subsequently lost.

A view of SpaceX's Starship 9 minutes into the mission

A view of SpaceX’s Starship 9 minutes into the mission

SpaceX

The US Federal Aviation Administration granted permission for the test flight on 13 March, the day before the planned launch, and tweeted that SpaceX had “met all safety, environmental, policy and financial responsibility requirements”.

Starship is the most powerful rocket ever built. Its 121-metre length is made up of two stages: a booster and a spacecraft, both of which are designed to be reusable to keep costs low and enable fast turnarounds between flights.

The Starship heating up as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere after about 47 minutes of flight

The Starship heating up as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere after about 47 minutes of flight, leading to the loss of the spacecraft

SpaceX

Today’s launch was the company’s third with Starship. It follows the first test in April last year, which exploded before the first and second stages could separate, and another in November that saw the second, upper stage reach space but self-destruct when it stopped transmitting data, with the first stage blowing up just after separation.

The ultimate aim of the project is to put humans on the moon and, later, Mars.

 

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