SpaceX eyes March 14 for next Starship test flight


Although SpaceX is currently awaiting regulatory approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the upcoming launch, the company has shown signs of anticipating a positive response. Over the past weekend, the teams at the Starbase facility in southwest Texas successfully completed a crucial “wet dress” rehearsal, involving the loading of the nearly 400-foot-tall rocket with over 10 million pounds of propellant. This rehearsal also included a practice countdown sequence to T-minus 10 seconds.

While the FAA has not yet granted approval for the next mission, the agency confirmed the completion of its investigation into SpaceX’s second Starship launch late last month. At that time, regulators specified that the company needed to address 17 “corrective actions” before receiving a modified license for launch. Assuming these actions are approved within the next week, SpaceX aims to proceed with the March 14 launch.

The first Starship orbital flight test took place in April of the previous year, followed by a seven-month gap leading to the second test in November. Both tests ended with mid-air explosions of the Super Heavy booster and the upper stage, also known as Starship. Despite these setbacks, the second test showcased advancements over the first, demonstrating key technologies that were not successfully executed initially.

The upcoming launch, however, introduces several new and ambitious objectives, including a propellant transfer demonstration during the coasting phase of the Starship upper stage and the inaugural relight of a Raptor engine in space. Mastering propellant transfer is crucial for SpaceX to fulfill its multibillion-dollar missions to the moon for NASA.

The mission profile for the upcoming launch closely resembles the previous ones. If all goes according to plan, the Super Heavy booster will separate from the Starship shortly after launch, utilizing a unique “hot staging” separation technique. This involves the upper stage igniting its engines to propel away from the booster. The booster will then complete its “boost back burn,” similar to the return maneuver of Falcon 9 boosters, and splash down in the Gulf of Mexico.

Simultaneously, the Starship upper stage will continue its ascent to orbit. After reaching orbital velocity, it will shut off its engines and coast almost entirely around the world before splashing down in the ocean. In contrast to the first two missions, this time SpaceX will follow a new trajectory, aiming for Starship to splash down in the Indian Ocean to attempt the Raptor engine relight in space.