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SpaceX’s Starship reaches orbit on third test flight

SpaceX’s mighty Starship rocket has made it into space on its third test flight. The rocket, launched at 9:25 a.m. ET today, March 14, took to the skies over the Starbase launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, and made it to orbit but was lost before the planned splashdown in the India Ocean.

SpaceX

The vehicle consists of the lower section, the Super Heavy booster, and the upper section, the Starship or ship. The two were stacked together ahead of today’s flight and achieved separation a few minutes after launch. This tricky maneuver involves cutting off most of the booster’s 33 Raptor engines and disengaging clamps connecting the booster to the ship. The ship then fires its own engines to head onward into orbit.

SpaceX

With the ship making it to orbit, this is the furthest a Starship has reached. In two previous test flights, the Starship made it off the pad but exploded in the air soon after launch in the first flight, then made it further to stage separation before exploding in the second flight.

SpaceX has shared footage from the live stream of the test, including the liftoff of the Starship:

Liftoff of Starship! pic.twitter.com/FaNcasuKaq

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 14, 2024

It also shared footage of the booster and Starship performing the separation maneuver. The hope was for the booster to return to Earth and be caught by the flight tower with its pair of arms, called chopsticks, but the booster was lost before it landed.

Starship’s Raptor engines have ignited during hot-staging separation. Super Heavy is executing the flip maneuver pic.twitter.com/T593ACilyD

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 14, 2024

Further footage showed the Starship coasting in space for the first time:

Starship is coasting in space pic.twitter.com/ZFUXMUkufW

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 14, 2024

And the Starship re-entering the atmosphere before it was lost:

Starship re-entering Earth's atmosphere. Views through the plasma pic.twitter.com/HEQX4eEHWH

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 14, 2024

Though both the Starship and the booster were lost, SpaceX commentators hailed the test flight as a success as the vehicle traveled much further than in previous tests, and achieved difficult objectives including stage separation and re-entry.

“We got to the actual entry portion of today, we started into peak heating which was a really big milestone,” said Dan Huot, SpaceX communications, describing how the Starship landing sequence works by the spacecraft coming straight down before using a flip maneuver. “You don’t need a runway. We’re doing that design because when we go to the moon, when we go to Mars, there’s not going to be a runway there for us. So that propulsive landing is going to be really important.”

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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