SpaceX will push the spacecraft to new limits during the third test flight

SpaceX operates on an iterative testing philosophy, using each mission to improve the next. Accordingly, the Elon Musk-led company aims to push its giant experimental rocket, Starship, even further during its third test flight, which could happen later this week.

We're likely hours away from the third integrated flight test of SpaceX's massive Starship rocket, with a launch from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on the morning of Thursday, March 14. Live broadcast will be available on Xwith the broadcast beginning at 7:30 AM ET and the launch occurring at or thereabouts at 8:00 AM ET.

At least that's the plan. SpaceX still needs to obtain a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration. However, the company is moving forward as if it were a done deal, installing the missile's flight termination system (FTS) and issuing media calls to install cameras.

For the third flight, SpaceX is set to tackle some difficult milestones. The spacecraft remains an experimental rocket, and as such, success is not guaranteed. The previous two test flights were carried out April 20 And November 18 Last year, this led to the premature destruction of the two-stage rocket, but each flight takes the company forward in the development process.

“This rapid, iterative development approach has been the foundation for all of SpaceX's major innovative developments, including Falcon, Dragon, and Starlink,” the company said. He explains On its launch page. “Iterative improvement is essential as we work to build a fully reusable transportation system capable of carrying both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, helping humanity return to the Moon, and ultimately traveling to Mars and beyond.”

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During the second test, for example, Starship flew for twice as long as the first test, and the 400-foot (122 m) rocket performed a hot launch maneuver to improve stage separation, allowing the upper stage to fly autonomously for about seven minutes and even reach space, which is The first of its kind for a launch vehicle. But both stages failed. A clogged filter was blamed for the destruction of the Super Heavy booster, while a liquid oxygen leak was considered the cause of the upper stage failure. Overall, the FAA investigation, led by SpaceX, 17 corrective actions were identified Required before the third flight test.

Key stages of Starship's third integrated flight test.
Graph: SpaceX

SpaceX has set several key goals for the third flight. In addition to the successful ascent and burn of both stages, the company plans to open and close the Starship's payload door, achieve the first Raptor engine relight in space, and perform a controlled re-entry of the Starship.

As part of $53.2 millionturning point“In a contract with NASA, SpaceX also plans to Fuel transportation demonstration While the upper stage is in the coastal stage. Eventually, SpaceX plans to use Starship “tankers” for orbital refueling, using a similar approach to aerial refueling. For the upcoming demonstration, about 10 metric tons of liquid oxygen will be transferred from one tank to another, a feat that has never before been achieved on this scale. This test will not see two Starship vehicles coming together in space, but SpaceX and NASA see the test as a critical step in developing the necessary technology.

This test flight will also see the spacecraft fly on a different path than the previous two. Instead of landing in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, the upper stage will aim to land in the Indian Ocean. “This new flight path enables us to experiment with new technologies like engine combustion in space while maximizing public safety,” SpaceX said.

The next flight will contain: Newly implemented flame reflector system, or water deluge system, which proved effective during the second flight test and was scheduled to activate about 10 seconds before takeoff. At the T-3 second mark, all 33 of the Raptor's engines will ignite, setting the stage for a critical sequence of events. The flight will reach its maximum aerodynamic pressure, known as MaxQ, 52 seconds after launch. Next, the booster will reach Most Engine Stop (MECO), with most engines shutting down in 2 minutes and 42 seconds (and yes, you read that correctly – it's “most” and not “major” off, as with many engines the birds will still The raptor is on fire during this stage.) This will be immediately followed by hot staging and phase separation after just two seconds.

The booster burn is scheduled to begin at 2 minutes and 55 seconds. If the booster is still working at this point, it will stop working after 3 minutes and 50 seconds. The booster descent burn will then begin at 6 minutes and 46 seconds, with the goal of landing in the smooth waters of the Gulf of Mexico seven minutes into the mission. Both the Super Heavy booster and the Starship's upper stage are supposed to be fully reusable, but while the upper stage has already demonstrated this ability, the Super Booster has yet to do the same.

Meanwhile, the spacecraft will be on a trajectory toward the Indian Ocean. The spacecraft's engine is scheduled to be cut off for 8 minutes and 35 seconds after launch, followed by atmospheric re-entry and a planned crash landing in the Indian Ocean. Burning the landing on the upper stage doesn't seem to be part of the plan.

These timelines assume a successful mission, of course. Failure can happen at any moment, but hopefully it won't. With two flights already under its belt, it will be interesting to see how far SpaceX can get with its revolutionary giant rocket.

Want to know more about Elon Musk's space project? Check out our full coverage of SpaceX's giant Starship rocket And the A huge constellation of Internet satellites from SpaceX Starlink. And for more space travel in your life, follow us X A custom bookmark for Gizmodo Spaceflight page.

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