On its third test flight, SpaceX sends the Super Heavy-Starship rocket into space.

On its third test flight, SpaceX sends the Super Heavy-Starship rocket into space.

SpaceX’s huge Super Heavy-Starship

The rocket launched on its third test flight on Thursday morning, making it the most powerful rocket ever built. The goal of the test was to propel the unmanned upper stage into space for a sub-orbital journey, followed by a controlled return and landing in the Indian Ocean.

At 9:25 a.m. EDT, the massive rocket’s 33 Raptor engines ignited with a powerful roar, consuming 40,000 pounds of liquid oxygen and methane propellants every second. It swiftly increased to its lift-off thrust.

Shortly after, the towering rocket, reaching a height of 394 feet, lifted off into the sky. It soared through the thick clouds of dust and steam, created by the booster’s intense propulsion causing water to spray upwards, helping to dampen the impact of the engine’s ignition.

SpaceX Super Heavy-Starship rocket launches on a test flight

On Thursday, March 14, 2024, the SpaceX Super Heavy-Starship rocket will embark on a test flight.


As it smoothly accelerated and burned fuel, the Super Heavy-Starship shed weight and curved towards the east above the Gulf of Mexico. This impressive display was witnessed by numerous local residents, tourists, and a large group of journalists who were gathered at the launch site and nearby South Padre Island a few miles north.

In April of last year, there were multiple incidents involving shutdowns of the Super Heavy engine and a malfunction during stage separation.the second

In November, right before the Starship was scheduled to make a loop around the planet in order to land in the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii.

SpaceX engineers implemented changes to several systems following the previous failures. These modifications involved strengthening the rocket’s self-destruct mechanism, enhancing engine performance, and incorporating a high-powered water deluge system to protect the launch pad and reduce the impact of engine ignition.

The business also utilized the “hot staging” method where the Starship’s six Raptor engines ignite while the stage is still attached to the Super Heavy booster. Russian Soyuz rockets have been using hot staging for many years, as it aids in achieving a more effective stage-separation process.

On its website, SpaceX stated that the second flight test of the Starship was able to reach several important goals and gather crucial information for the ongoing fast-paced development of the spacecraft. The company credits its iterative development strategy as the driving force behind their significant technological breakthroughs.

During its third test flight, the main objectives remained consistent: to propel the Starship into space for a sub-orbital test flight, execute a high-speed re-entry, and perform controlled landings of both the Super Heavy in the Gulf of Mexico and the Starship in the Indian Ocean.

SpaceX was the first to develop the technology that enables the retrieval and multiple use of smaller Falcon 9 boosters. However, a Starship has yet to make the daring descent through the atmosphere from outer space, exposing its insulating tiles on the underbelly to extreme temperatures of over 3,000 degrees.

Although the stages were intended to be reusable, there were no plans in place for the third test flight’s recovery. It was anticipated that both stages would simulate real landing procedures by utilizing rocket power during their descents, but it was also expected that both stages would ultimately break apart and submerge upon impact with the ocean.

While the Starship was approaching entry, the flight controllers had scheduled a test for a payload door that would eventually be utilized for launching Starlink satellites on upcoming missions.

The rocket’s main goal for NASA was to successfully transfer cryogenic propellants between tanks in the weightless conditions of space and perform the first ever restart of a Raptor engine in a non-atmospheric setting.

NASA has designated the propellant transfer trial and Raptor restart as crucial checkpoints. The agency is investing billions with SpaceX to construct a modified Starship that will function as the Human Landing System (HLS) for the Artemis moon initiative.

The HLS will need to refuel automatically while in Earth’s orbit using multiple Super Heavy-Starship tankers. After refueling, it will restart its engines and travel to the moon, where astronauts will use the spacecraft to travel to and from the surface.

Around 10 refueling flights will be required for a single HLS flight to the moon.

“The biggest rocket constructed to date”

While clearly a challenge, the fully reusable Super Heavy-Starship, known collectively simply as “Starship,” is a potential game changer, a potentially revolutionary step intended to increase payload weight to orbit while vastly reducing the cost.

This colossal rocket, created by SpaceX, is the biggest one ever constructed. It stands at a towering height of 39 stories and is 29.5 feet in width. Its Raptor engines, designed by SpaceX, produce over 16 million pounds of thrust, which is twice as powerful as NASA’s moon rocket, the Space Launch System, and the iconic Saturn 5.

The test launch of SpaceX’s Starship results in explosions at 01:48.

The Super Heavy first stage alone stands 23 stories tall while the Starship upper stage, designed to carry cargo, passengers or both, towers another 164 feet and is equipped with six Raptor engines of its own.

The Super Heavy is designed to return to its designated launch site, either at Boca Chica or the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, after launching the Starship upper stage out of the lower atmosphere. It will then descend to land on the launch gantry, which is equipped with two large robotic arms to capture it.

Starships are engineered to autonomously land on designated landing pads and potentially the moon and Mars.

On April 20, SpaceX completed the inaugural launch of the Super Heavy-Starship. However, the rocket experienced numerous instances of engine malfunction or shutdown. Despite the expected shutdown time, some engines kept firing and the first and second stages did not detach as intended. The self-destruct mechanism was utilized, but experienced a delay in activation.

The rocket visibly rotated as it exploded four minutes after takeoff. The highest point it reached was 24 miles.

During its second test flight on November 18th, the Super Heavy booster functioned correctly, the hot-staging process was successful, and the Starship upper stage separated as expected to continue its ascent to space with the help of its six Raptor engines.

The Super Heavy, as anticipated, performed a flip and headed towards the Texas coast for splashdown. However, shortly after its maneuver, the rocket disintegrated into pieces. The Starship section successfully ascended into space as intended, but experienced an explosion either before or during the engine shutdown process.

Getting the Super Heavy-Starship flying on a regular basis is critical to aims to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024.

The goal of NASA’s Artemis program is to successfully land a woman and a man on the moon by 2024.

In 2021, NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to create a modified version of the Starship upper stage that will transport astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface and back. The Artemis teams will utilize Orion capsules constructed by Lockheed Martin to journey to and from the moon.

The contract by NASA mandates a test flight for an unmanned lunar landing before astronauts can attempt an actual landing. Managers of the Artemis program aim to have astronauts on board for the first lunar landing by late 2026.

However, this outcome relies on SpaceX conducting an adequate number of Super Heavy-Starship flights to establish dependability. Although SpaceX follows a practice of frequent flights, learning from errors, and resuming flights, NASA will mandate a significant series of proven flights before it considers it secure enough to send astronauts.



Source: cbsnews.com