Starship launch 3: What time is the SpaceX flight and what to expect?

    SpaceX's Starship prepped for flight

    SpaceX’s Starship prepped for flight


    SpaceX is launching its massive Starship rocket for the third time on 14 March, following two failed missions. Here is everything you need to know about it.

    What is Starship?

    Starship is the most powerful rocket ever built. It is 121 metres long and its reusable booster can land safely after taking the second stage to an altitude of more than 70 kilometres. That second stage is also reusable, which is intended to make Starship an affordable, reliable vehicle capable of quickly turning around and relaunching. The ultimate aim of the project is to put humans on the moon and, later, Mars.

    What time is Starship launching?

    SpaceX has announced that livestream video of the launch will begin at 7.30am local time in Texas, which is 11.30am GMT. The actual launch is expected to happen about 30 minutes after the livestream begins.

    Where is Starship going?

    The third launch is, as you would expect, the most ambitious. SpaceX is aiming to carry out a successful first and second stage launch, taking Starship into space, where it will open and close its payload door as a test, shuffle fuel from one tank to another as a first step towards the eventual refuelling of one Starship with another – which will be vital for long-range missions – and re-light its engines for a controlled re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere.

    This launch will follow a new trajectory that will see Starship – the second stage – splashdown in the Indian Ocean. While it is designed to be a reusable craft, this mission aims to have it make a slow and controlled landing on the ocean rather than on land or a ship. This is easier and safer at this stage of development.

    What happened when Starship launched before?

    There have been two Starship launches, both ending in failures, although that is an expected part of SpaceX’s fail fast, learn fast strategy.

    The first Starship launch on 20 April last year saw three engines on the first stage – from a total of 33 – fail to ignite. Several more subsequently failed during the flight. The rocket then lost the ability to vector the engines and span out of control, causing the self-destruct safeguard to kick in; something that SpaceX sardonically calls a rapid unscheduled disassembly (RUD). The whole flight lasted around 3 minutes and reached a maximum altitude of 39 kilometres.

    Starship’s second launch happened on 18 November. This time, all 33 engines fired and the rocket flew long enough for the first and second stages to separate. But, as the first stage rotated to begin its slowdown and landing procedure, it exploded. The second stage successfully continued to an altitude of about 149 kilometres – passing the Kármán line that marks the beginning of space – but a safeguard feature destroyed it when telemetry was lost, before it had a chance to complete an orbit or make its way back to Earth.

    What happens if this launch goes wrong?

    The launch probably will go wrong, in some respect. It is highly unlikely that Starship will complete its mission flawlessly. But any failure will supply data and experience that can be used to improve the design and processes for the fourth launch. SpaceX has so far shown that it can iterate rapidly and make big progress with every launch.


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