Starship lifting off on its third flight test. Credits: SpaceX

Starship Launches on its Third Flight Test

Starship third flight reached space and completed several milestones, ending in a second-stage breakup during re-entry, marking progress for SpaceX and NASA

Starship soared into space once more on its third orbital test flight today, March 14, achieving unprecedented milestones. While the booster showcased its capabilities of a successful boostback burn, it was lost after re-entry.

On the other side the Starship second stage completed all its ascent phase of the flight, entering the coast phase after shutting down all of its engines. It was then lost during its atmospheric re-entry.

As expected, the FAA released a statement shortly after the end of the mission, stating that no public injuries or public property damage have been reported” and that the agency is overseeing the SpaceX-led mishap investigation to ensure the company complies with its FAA-approved mishap investigation plan and other regulatory requirements.”

Starship lifting off on its third flight test. Credits: SpaceX
Starship lifting off on its third flight test. Credits: SpaceX

The event unfolded at SpaceX’s Starbase test site located in Boca Chica, Texas, with liftoff occurring at 8:25 a.m. CT (13:25 UTC), following some delays from the original schedule to allow the clearing of “a few boats from the keep out area in the Gulf of Mexico”.


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The flight

Witnessing a seemingly flawless ascent, the Super Heavy booster operated without any issues with its Raptor engines. At liftoff the whole set of 33 engines ignited and continued to operate nominally for the whole ascent phase of the flight.

Subsequently, Starship separated from the booster approximately 2 minutes and 44 seconds post-liftoff, employing the innovative “hot staging” technique demonstrated in its previous flight.

After the separation, the booster successfully performed for the first time an entry burn with the inner set of Raptor engines. Descending through the cloud, its grid fins tried to guide the vehicle towards the Gulf Of Mexico, nearly 32km offshore.

Yet, the landing burn seemed amiss, with telemetry indicating the booster’s descent into water at speeds surpassing 1,000 kilometers per hour.

During its burn, the Starship upper stage set the vehicle on its intended suborbital path, steering clear of the mishap of the prior November launch, where the vehicle disintegrated late in its burn due to propellant venting.

In space, as it followed its suborbital trajectory, SpaceX opened the payload bay door to be used for future Starship missions, primed for Starlink satellite deployment. Additionally, in accordance with a NASA contract, a demonstration of in-space propellant transfer was conducted successfully, showcasing the movement of cryogenic propellant between tanks within the vehicle.


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Not a perfect end, but it’s ok

SpaceX originally intended to conduct a brief Raptor engine relight on Starship approximately 40 minutes post-liftoff. However, during the webcast, the company revealed that this test was omitted for reasons undisclosed at the time.

Subsequently, a few minutes later, the vehicle commenced its reentry phase, capturing striking visuals through a camera mounted on the bottom side of a flap on Starship, with the data transmitted via Starlink satellites.

A live view from the launch webcast showing plasma forming on the side of the Starship upper stage during re-entry. Credits: SpaceX
A live view from the launch webcast showing plasma forming on the side of the Starship upper stage during re-entry. Credits: SpaceX

However, telemetry ceased around 49 and a half minutes post-liftoff while the vehicle descended at an altitude of 65 kilometers. SpaceX later disclosed on the webcast the simultaneous loss of contact via both its Starlink satellites and NASA TDRSS data relay satellites, confirming the potential breakup of the vehicle.

“Congrats to SpaceX on a successful test flight! Starship has soared into the heavens. Together, we are making great strides through Artemis to return humanity to the Moon—then look onward to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a social post.

Notably, the flight test happened on SpaceX’s 22nd anniversary, as the company was founded on March 14, 2002. Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of the company also praised the work of the Team.


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Edoardo Giammarino

Edoardo Giammarino

Co-Founder & Administrator. Drummer and Red Cross Volunteer, born in 1997. I like analog photography and videomaking. Firmly music-addicted.

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