FAA Approves Third Starship Test Flight for Thursday

FAA Approves Third Starship Test Flight for Thursday

The FAA issued a launch license today for SpaceX to conduct the third Orbital Flight Test (OFT-3) of their Starship rocket tomorrow, March 14. The date was announced last week pending regulatory approval and that is what came today. This is SpaceX’s third Starship test in less than a year and will take a different flight path than the first two — both of which failed — to allow additional in-flight tests.

SpaceX confirmed the date today and said the launch window will open at 7:00 am Central Time (8:00 am Eastern) at its Starbase launch site in Boca Chica, TX.  They will livestream the launch on their website and X, the social media platform owned by Elon Musk, the founder and chief engineer of SpaceX.

The first test flight on April 20, 2023 failed about 4 minutes into flight when the entire rocket exploded over the Gulf of Mexico — jokingly referred to as a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly or RUD. The second on November 18, 2023 got much further, but did not attain orbit.

These test flights, referred to as Orbital Test Flights (OFTs) by the FAA and Integrated Test Flights (IFTs) by SpaceX, actually are not intended to make an orbit of the Earth. Instead they are designed to fly about three-quarters of the way around eastward from Texas.

The first two were headed for an ocean splashdown near Hawaii, but this one is destined for the Indian Ocean. SpaceX said the new trajectory “enables us to attempt new techniques like in-space engine burns while maximizing public safety.”

Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell of Jonathan’s Space Report posted his calculation of the trajectory.

The FAA regulates the commercial space launch and reentry business and issued a statement about its approval of the test flight saying it had prepared a “Tiered Environmental Assessment for SpaceX Starship Indian Ocean Landings” and found no significant impact.

The 120-meter (394-foot) tall rocket has 33 Raptor engines on the first stage and six on the second. Raptor engines use liquid methane and liquid oxygen or methalox for propellant.

SpaceX is eager to get Starship operational not only to launch its own Starlink satellites, but is under contract to NASA to use Starship as the Human Landing System for the first crew to land on the Moon since the Apollo program. That flight, Artemis III, is scheduled for September 2026, just two-and-a-half years away. SpaceX must launch an uncrewed demonstration flight before that, which is also scheduled for 2026.

Musk’s ultimate goal is to use Starship to send millions of humans to Mars.

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