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Hot success for Musk’s Starship

March 15, 2024

There were 3.3 million people viewing SpaceX’s live web-feed of its March 14th Starship launch, plus many, many millions watching via the world’s news channels as the rocket blasted off on its record-breaking flight. However, the FAA almost immediately issued an investigation order into what it said was a “mishap”.

Elon Musk is perhaps not everyone’s favourite person, but he does have a knack of employing and inspiring the very best engineers and technicians to bring his projects to success. And this third test flight of Starship was a brilliant demonstration of what private enterprise can achieve.

The European Space Agencies chief executive Josef Aschbacher gave his congratulations to Musk’s team, saying: “Very impressed. SpaceX continues to push the boundaries and the US continues to set a model for how public and private can join forces to meet societal needs and boost commercialisation within the space industry.”

As for the Federal Aviation Administration’s investigation order, which said on March 14 it will oversee a SpaceX-led investigation into a mishap involving both the booster and the Starship vehicle. SpaceX’s Starship rocket, designed to eventually send astronauts to the moon and beyond, completed almost an entire test flight on its third try earlier on March 14th, making it much farther than before with a cruise through low orbit before being destroyed during a return to Earth.

The FAA focus, not yet disclosed, is likely to focus on damage to the launch pad itself and some surrounding infrastructure.

The eventual re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere was watched live by the millions of viewers and the TV signals themselves a testament to SpaceX’s Starlink global coverage. Eventually, the Earth’s atmosphere heated up the rocket to such an extent that signals were lost. The rocket safely crashed into the sea off the island of Madagascar in the south Indian Ocean according to astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell.

Eric Burger, author of Liftoff and Musk’s early days, and an acknowledged expert on SpaceX activity, summed up the day, saying: “Starship burnt up. Super Heavy crashed. It’s easy to see failure. If you want, go ahead. But this is failing forward at its finest. One of SpaceX’s secret sauces is an acceptance of failure as a means to an end. We are much nearer that end, rapid and fully reusable launch, today.”

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