FAA Clears 3rd Starship Test

Launch could happen Thursday morning
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 14, 2024 5:53 AM CDT
SpaceX Cleared for 3rd Starship Test
The sun sets behind SpaceX's mega rocket Starship as it is prepared for its third test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Wednesday, March 13, 2024.   (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

SpaceX's third test flight of its Starship rocket could happen Thursday morning, weather allowing. The Federal Aviation Administration has cleared a launch from the Starbase test site in Texas in a 110-minute window starting at 8am Eastern, Ars Technica reports. The latest estimate is 9:02am Eastern. "The FAA determined SpaceX met all safety, environmental, policy and financial responsibility requirements," the agency said in a post on X. The FAA said the launch license covers "preflight preparations and liftoff from Texas, the water landing of the Super Heavy booster in the Gulf of Mexico, and the water landing of the Starship vehicle in the Indian Ocean."

Previous test flights in April and November last year ended in explosions, which SpaceX considers part of the testing process. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a recent talk on social media that he believes the chances of success are high, CNN reports. "I don't want to jinx it, but I think the probability of reaching orbit is good—80%," he said. "Certainly the third flight is a much better rocket than flights one or two." SpaceX says the launch will be livestreamed here, starting 30 minutes before liftoff. In the November test, the Super Heavy booster successfully broke away from the Starship spacecraft, but Starship was destroyed around 10 minutes into a mission that was supposed to last 90 minutes.

If all goes to plan this time, SpaceX will test in-space refueling, restarting an engine in space, and the performance of Starship's heat shield during re-entry, per Ars Technica. SpaceX doesn't plan to try to retrieve the spacecraft. "If Starship completes the descent phases as nominally planned, SpaceX expects Starship would explode and break up upon impact with the Indian Ocean's surface, where most debris would be expected to sink," FAA officials said in an environmental assessment. "Any vehicle breakups prior to Starship intact impact would be considered an anomaly." (More Starship stories.)

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