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Tuesday, April 23 2024

SpaceX’s Starship, Most Powerful Rocket, Launches Test Flight

Photo Credit : Google

On Thursday, the most potent rocket in the world, Starship, made a successful third test flight that was seen by two million people live on the internet.

At approximately 8:25 a.m. local time (1325 GMT), SpaceX’s Starbase in southeast Texas saw its first liftoff.

Elon Musk’s ambitions to eventually colonize Mars and NASA’s aspirations to put humans on the Moon later this decade depend heavily on the mega-rocket.

Though it’s not always a negative thing, the company has taken a rapid trial-and-error approach to expedite development, and the tactic has proven successful in the past. The corporation’s two prior attempts resulted in spectacular explosions.

When the two stages of Starship are combined, the rocket stands 397 feet (121 meters) tall — beating the Statue of Liberty by a comfortable 90 feet.

Its Super Heavy Booster produces 16.7 million pounds (74.3 Meganewtons) of thrust, almost double that of the world’s second most powerful rocket, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) — though the latter is now certified, while Starship is still a prototype.

Starship’s third launch test in its fully stacked configuration is set to be its most ambitious yet.

Objectives include opening and closing Starship’s payload door to test its ability to deliver satellites and other cargo into space.

SpaceX also aims to re-light the ship’s engines in space, and perform an onboard test that will help pave the way for future Starships to refuel one another in orbit.

Starship’s planned trajectory sees it fly halfway around the globe, brake in the atmosphere, then freefall to the Indian Ocean, just over an hour after launch, and probably break up and explode on impact. Soft splashdowns are planned for future tests.

SpaceX has been developing prototypes of Starship since 2018, and early tests involved short hops of just the upper stage, which is also referred to as Starship.

The first so-called “integrated” test came in April 2023. SpaceX was forced to blow up Starship within a few minutes of launch, because the two stages failed to separate.

The rocket disintegrated into a ball of fire and crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, sending a dust cloud over a town several miles (kilometers) away.

The second test in November 2023 fared slightly better: The booster separated from the spaceship, but both then exploded over the ocean, in what the company euphemistically called a “rapid unscheduled disassembly.”

The FAA closed a probe into the incident last month after identifying 17 corrective actions SpaceX needed to make.

SpaceX has seen success in the past with their “rapid iterative development” approach.

Its Dragon capsule transports people and goods to the International Space Station; its Falcon 9 rockets are now NASA’s workhorses; and its Starlink array of internet satellites now spans many nations.

However, SpaceX has a limited amount of time to prepare for NASA’s anticipated 2026 return of humans to the Moon, which will use a modified Starship as the lander vehicle.

Not only does SpaceX need to prove it can launch, fly and land Starship safely — it must eventually also show it can send multiple “Starship tankers” into orbit to refuel a main Starship for its onward journey to the Moon.

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