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Starship flight plan lodged

March 12, 2024

Provided the weather is acceptable, and the various government agencies give their final approvals, SpaceX will launch its massive Starship ‘super heavy’ rocket on March 14th from its Boca Chica site in south Texas.

The mission manifest – officially IFT3 – opens at launch minus 1 hour, 15 minutes when the launch director approved the filling of the rocket and its booster’s propellant comprising liquid oxygen and liquid methane and then the countdown increases in pace for the final three minutes until – as SpaceX states – at 00.00 when “excitement guaranteed” and the giant rocket lifts off for its third test flight.

At just 52 seconds into the flight Max Q is reached (the moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket). At 2 minutes 44 seconds the combined unit will divide into two with stage separation, with the booster then starting its return (landing at seven minutes and four seconds into the mission).

This third launch, following on from two failed attempts, is an important element in Elon Musk’s ambitions to reach the Moon (via NASA’s Artemis programme in 2026), colonise Mars and in between provide an efficient method for launching extra quantities of his Starlink broadband satellites.

The first Starship flight in April 2023 ended after just a few minutes when the stages failed to separate. The rocket began to tumble and was remotely destroyed. The second test went much better – the stages separated, and Starship flew for several more minutes before a fuel dump led to a fire and loss of the vehicle. Super Heavy also suffered an engine failure due to a clogged oxidizer filter that caused it to break up.

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