A month after its last liftoff, SpaceX’s giant Starship rocket is preparing to fly again.
The Starship spacecraft lifted off on November 18 for its second-ever test mission, which ended with two spectacular explosions. But the company, as ever, is preparing for the next attempt.
“Flight 3 vehicles are on Starbase for testing ahead of the next Starship launch,” SpaceX wrote today (December 18) in a message. Share on X (formerly known as Twitter) which shared three images of the spacecraft in question. (Starbase is SpaceX’s site in South Texas, which serves as a spacecraft manufacturing, testing, and launch center.)
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Starship, the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, consists of two reusable stages: a first-stage booster known as Super Heavy and a 165-foot (50 m) long spacecraft called Starship. SpaceX is developing the vehicle to help take humanity to the Moon and Mars, and to perform a variety of other spaceflight missions as well.
The spacecraft has flown twice so far, on April 20 and November 18 this year. Both test missions launched from Starbase, and each had the same ultimate goal: to send the spacecraft in the upper stage most of the way around Earth, to a landing zone in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.
The first flight ended after just four minutes. The spacecraft suffered a number of problems, including premature failure of some of its Raptor engines and failure of its two stages to separate, and SpaceX destroyed the vehicle with a controlled explosion in the Texas sky.
The November 18 mission was more successful. 33 Super Heavy Raptors passed their initial burn, and the booster was successfully separated from the Starship’s upper stage. However, the Super Heavy exploded while returning to Earth for a planned landing in the Gulf of Mexico, and the spacecraft boomed as well, about eight minutes after launch.
SpaceX likes to move fast, as current testing shows. In fact, company founder and CEO Elon Musk said after the launch on November 18 that Starship III should be ready to fly by the end of the year.
But technical readiness is not the only factor at play here. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently overseeing an investigation into what happened on the November 18 flight, which the agency has deemed an unfortunate accident.
The FAA grants launch licenses, and SpaceX will not obtain licenses for the upcoming third spacecraft flight until the investigation concludes and the company implements any corrective actions (if any) required by the FAA.
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