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Starship cuts through hot plasma while Booster loses it during a highly impressive flight [Update]

Fully integrated Starship space rocket standing on the launch pad in SpaceXs Boca Chica Starbase

The article was updated to include available post-flight information.

This morning, SpaceX has launched its Starship super-heavy rocket for a third time. The launch, which occurred in Boca Chica, Texas, looked successful through the initial ascent and the process of hot-stagging during which the Super Heavy booster separated from Starship upper-stage.

The Booster then reignited its 33 Raptor engines to steer the vehicle back to the Gulf of Mexico – one of the key milestones for this flight – where it was supposed to soft land on the water, then flip to its side. However, the onboard real-time footage showed Super Heavy starting to wobble. A few of the center engines reignited and shut down again before the communication link was lost and the loss of the booster was confirmed by SpaceX.

You can re-watch the official launch coverage here:

The Ship continued to fly flawlessly, successfully shutting down its six Raptor engines for the first time in space. SpaceX later confirmed other milestones – opening the payload bay door, reaching orbital velocity, and successfully testing propellant transfer between the main and header tank.

The engineers decided to skip the mid-flight reignition of Raptor engines and the Starship entered the atmosphere to send some highly impressive views thanks to the satellite communication link provided by Starlink terminals onboard the rocket. That allowed the viewers to see Starship cut through plasma before the communication blacked out, ultimately.

It is important to mention that Starlink was not onboard just as an entertainment machine. SpaceX tried to get as much data as possible from the high-energy phase during which the communication with vehicle is very difficult due to plasma.

SpaceX engineers were not able to pick up the communication again before the planned splashdown in the Indian Ocean, indicating possible disintegration of the Starship during the re-entry through the atmosphere. This was later confirmed in the official live stream.

The company will now start to analyze the precious data collected along the way, so the engineers can use it for improvements in the next iterations of Starship and Super Heavy.

Original article: A few days ago, SpaceX scheduled a Thursday livestream on X (formerly Twitter) for the third test flight of its Starship rocket. In late February, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officially closed the mishap investigation of a previous flight, however, it was yet to grant SpaceX a launch license for another test attempt.

Ultimately, with less than 24 hours to the scheduled launch, the FAA issued the license and greenlit Starship for its third roar, CNBC reports.

Currently, the third test flight of the world’s biggest space rocket is planned for Thursday morning. The 110-minute launch window opens at 8:00 a.m. ET. SpaceX’s official live stream will start 30 minutes before liftoff on X. If you prefer YouTube streams, third-party insights and some extra camera angles, you can watch livestream by Everyday Astronaut:

SpaceX emphasizes that this is still just a test, and things can go wrong during testing. Actually, they do go wrong at some point most of the time, as we could have seen during both the first and second flights. Unlike NASA, the company of Elon Musk prefers testing things in a flight environment to collect invaluable data that helps to accelerate development:

“The third flight test aims to build on what we’ve learned from previous flights while attempting a number of ambitious objectives, including the successful ascent burn of both stages, opening and closing Starship’s payload door, a propellant transfer demonstration during the upper stage’s coast phase, the first ever re-light of a Raptor engine while in space, and a controlled reentry of Starship.”

Starship will also fly an adjusted trajectory, splashing down in the Indian Ocean. SpaceX says the new flight path enables it to attempt new techniques like in-space engine burns while maximizing public safety.

Elon Musk hopes SpaceX can fly Starship more frequently in 2024 after being limited to just two flights in 2023. “Hopefully, at least 6 more flights this year,” he said.

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