SpaceX Starship rocket flies milestone third test flight


SpaceX launches third test flight of massive Starship rocket

SpaceX launched the third test flight of its Starship rocket on Thursday and reached space, as the company pushed development of the mammoth vehicle past new milestones.

Elon Musk’s company launched Starship at about 9:25 a.m. ET from its Starbase facility near Boca Chica, Texas.

The rocket flew further than previous tests, with the flight lasting about an hour before Starship broke up above the Indian Ocean. The company noted that the vehicle did not splash down in the water, which was the intended ending of the flight.

“We have lost Ship 28,” Dan Huot, communications manager at SpaceX, said on the company’s webcast.

The flight represents a significant step toward SpaceX completing prototype testing and beginning operational Starship launches.

SpaceX’s next-generation Starship spacecraft, atop its powerful Super Heavy rocket, begins its lift off on its third launch from the company’s Boca Chica launchpad on an uncrewed test flight, near Brownsville, Texas, U.S. March 14, 2024. 

Joe Skipper | Reuters

Musk congratulated his company in a post shortly after the launch, announcing that “Starship reached orbital velocity!”

NASA chief Bill Nelson also congratulated SpaceX “on a successful test flight!”

“Starship has soared into the heavens. Together, we are making great strides through Artemis to return humanity to the Moon—then look onward to Mars,” Nelson, NASA’s administrator, wrote in a post on social media.

SpaceX has flown the full Starship rocket system on two tests in the past year, with launches in April and November. Both previous launches had progressive but explosive results: While each of the rockets flew for a few minutes, with the most recent reaching space, both vehicles were ultimately destroyed due to problems.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday cleared SpaceX for a third launch attempt.

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The Starship system is designed to be fully reusable and aims to become a new method of flying cargo and people beyond Earth. The rocket is also critical to NASA’s plan to return astronauts to the moon. SpaceX won a multibillion-dollar contract from the agency to use Starship as a crewed lunar lander as part of NASA’s Artemis moon program.

SpaceX heavily emphasizes an approach of building “on what we’ve learned from previous flights” in its approach to develop Starship. The company says its strategy focuses on “recursive improvement” to the rocket, where even test flights with fiery outcomes represent progress toward its goal of a fully reusable rocket that can deliver people to the moon and Mars.

Musk last year said he expected the company to spend about $2 billion on Starship development in 2023.

Starship’s staggering size

The SpaceX Starship spacecraft lifts off from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on March 14, 2024. 

Chandan Khanna | Afp | Getty Images

Why Starship is indispensable for the future of SpaceX

The rocket is powered by liquid oxygen and liquid methane. The full system requires more than 10 million pounds of propellant for launch.

Goals for third flight

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