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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

SpaceX's Starship Prototype Fails During Its Third Test Flight

SpaceX's Starship Prototype Fails During Its Third Test Flight

The third experimental flight of SpaceX's unmanned spacecraft, known as "Starship," ended in failure as it crashed during its return journey through Earth's atmosphere after launching into space.
The live feed of the flight, broadcast on Thursday from SpaceX's Texas port, depicted the unfortunate event.

SpaceX confirmed that its Starship rocket, designed to transport astronauts to the moon and beyond, nearly completed a full test flight in its third attempt, achieving a greater distance through a low-Earth orbit maneuver. However, the rocket was destroyed upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

The world's most powerful rocket, Starship, launched successfully on Thursday, in a mission critical to NASA's plans to send astronauts to the moon's surface later this decade, and to Elon Musk's ambitions of establishing human colonies on Mars.

The launch took place from a facility in southeastern Texas at approximately 8:25 a.m. local time (13:25 GMT). The event was streamed live over the Internet, attracting nearly two million viewers.

While previous attempts also ended in dramatic explosions, such outcomes are not necessarily negative for the company; SpaceX has adopted a strategy of learning from mistakes to speed up development, a tactic that has paid off in the past.

When fully assembled, the rocket stands at a towering height of 121 meters, towering over the Statue of Liberty in New York by more than 27 meters. It’s "Super Heavy Booster” produces a thrust of 74.3 meganewtons, nearly double the force of the world's second most powerful rocket, NASA's "Space Launch System" (SLS), even though the latter is currently operating at full capacity.

This third launch of the "Starship" was their most ambitious to date, targeting higher altitudes and further distances. The goals included the operation of the payload bay doors to simulate the delivery of satellites and other cargo into space.

SpaceX also aimed to reignite the craft's engines in space and conduct onboard testing that could facilitate future refueling of Starship variants in orbit.

The intended flight path was to achieve orbit and then execute a controlled descent into the Indian Ocean, slightly over an hour after liftoff.

SpaceX has been developing prototypes of the Starship since 2018, with early tests involving short hops using only the upper stage, also referred to as "Starship."

After the initial "integrated" test in April 2023, which resulted in SpaceX having to detonate the spacecraft mere minutes after launch due to a failure in the separation of stages, it was back to the drawing board.

A second test in November 2023 showed slight improvement with successful stage separation; however, both stages exploded thereafter above the ocean, with the company euphemistically calling it an "unplanned rapid disassembly."

The Federal Aviation Administration closed its investigation into the incident last month, after identifying 17 corrective actions SpaceX must implement.

SpaceX's strategy of rapid, iterative development has proved fruitful, especially with its Falcon 9 rockets now a staple in NASA operations and commercial ventures as well as the Dragon capsule sending astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, and the Starlink satellite constellation providing Internet to dozens of countries.

Time is of the essence, as SpaceX strives to align with NASA's 2026 timeline for returning astronauts to the moon using a modified version of Starship as a lunar lander.

Not only must SpaceX demonstrate the spacecraft's ability to launch, fly, and land safely, but it must ultimately also prove its capacity to send multiple Starship tankers to orbit to refuel the main Starship craft for its subsequent journey to the moon.

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