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Musk’s Starship #3 to launch on March 14

March 6, 2024

By Chris Forrester

SpaceX has announced that the third test flight of its Starship giant ‘Super Heavy’ rocket, subject to the usual weather considerations, will happen on March 14th.

Recent days have seen various final tests and rehearsals take place at the Boca Chica launch site and the FAA and other national agencies (for wildlife and environmental impact) have given their authorisations. The FAA required 17 modifications to take place following Starship #2’s explosive end on November 18th 2023.

SpaceX said that while the #2 rocket suffered a “rapid unscheduled disassembly”, in many respects the flight was a success. “All 33 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy Booster started up successfully and, for the first time, completed a full-duration burn during ascent. Starship then executed a successful hot-stage separation, the first time this technique has been done successfully with a vehicle of this size.”

“Following stage separation, Super Heavy initiated its boostback burn, which sends commands to 13 of the vehicle’s 33 Raptor engines to propel the rocket toward its intended landing location. During this burn, several engines began shutting down before one engine failed energetically, quickly cascading to a rapid unscheduled disassembly (RUD) of the booster. The vehicle breakup occurred more than three and a half minutes into the flight at an altitude of ~90 km over the Gulf of Mexico,” added SpaceX.

“The most likely root cause for the booster RUD was determined to be filter blockage where liquid oxygen is supplied to the engines, leading to a loss of inlet pressure in engine oxidizer turbopumps that eventually resulted in one engine failing in a way that resulted in loss of the vehicle. SpaceX has since implemented hardware changes inside future booster oxidiser tanks to improve propellant filtration capabilities and refined operations to increase reliability,” stated SpaceX.

SpaceX has also implemented hardware changes on upcoming Starship vehicles to improve leak reduction, fire protection, and refined operations associated with the propellant vent to increase reliability. The previously planned move from a hydraulic steering system for the vehicle’s Raptor engines to an entirely electric system also removes potential sources of flammability.

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