SpaceX Starship rocket lost before splashdown on its third test flight

The SpaceX Starship was supposed to splashdown in the Indian Ocean after a controlled atmospheric reentry. However, it didn’t achieve a successful splashdown as the rocket lost at an altitude of 65 km during atmospheric reentry.

It’s most probably because the rocket could not bear the atmospheric heat due to its high velocity during reentry and burned to ashes. It was seen that the pieces of the starship were falling apart as it descended through 115 km with a velocity of 7.4 km/s.

However, except for this last stage, it was a huge success for SpaceX, as the Starship rocket of SpaceX reached orbit for the first time on its third test flight. 

Successful launch of Starship's third test flight on March 14, 2024
Successful launch of Starship’s third test flight on March 14, 2024. (Image credit: SpaceX via X)

The third test flight of Starship was launched on Thursday, March 14, 2024, at 9:25 a.m. EDT (13:25 UTC) from the Starbase facility of SpaceX near Boca Chica, Texas.

The Super Heavy booster rocket completed its job and separated from the Starship spacecraft successfully as it delivered the Starship spacecraft at an altitude of 72 km, about 2 minutes 50 seconds after liftoff.

Then the Super Heavy booster rocket started descending as planned. However, before the successful splashdown, communication with the mission control room was lost.

And the Starship spacecraft ignited its own engines, achieved a maximum altitude of 234 km about 25 minutes after liftoff as planned, did a number of ambitious activities, orbited more than half way around the Earth, and then successfully re-entered Earth’s atmosphere to splashdown in the southern Indian Ocean, west of Australia. However, during reentry, the mission control team lost contact with Starship spacecraft similar to the Super Heavy booster rocket. 

The starship spacecraft was in contact with the mission control team for about 50 minutes, and it was supposed to splashdown about 64 minutes after liftoff.

The Starship rocket will be fully reusable by correcting defects through repeated test flights. After that, it will be capable of carrying both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

NASA selected SpaceX’s Starship to carry astronauts on the lunar surface by 2026 through its ambitious Artemis 3 program.

Starlab Space, a joint venture between two aerospace companies, Voyager Space and Airbus, has selected SpaceX’s Starship to launch the Starlab commercial space station to low-Earth orbit (LEO) in 2028.

Related article: SpaceX’s Starship to launch Starlab commercial space station in late 2020s 

About Starship

The upper stage (Starship spacecraft) and lower stage (Super Heavy booster rocket) of Starship
The upper stage (Starship spacecraft) and lower stage (Super Heavy booster rocket) of Starship. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Starship is the world’s most powerful and tallest rocket ever built. It stands 121 meters (397 feet) tall with a diameter of 9 meters. It is a two-stage, fully reusable rocket that will be used to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

The lower stage (first stage) of Starship is referred as the Super Heavy booster rocket. It is 71 meters tall and powered by 33 Raptor engines.

The upper stage (second stage) of Starship is referred as Starship spacecraft or simply “the Ship”. It’s 50 meters tall and powered by 6 Raptor engines.

What happened on the first test flight of the Starship?

Starship’s first test flight was a total disaster which was launched on April 20, 2023. At an altitude of 39 kilometers, about 3 minutes and 20 seconds after the liftoff, it began tumbling and lost altitude due to multiple engine failures. That’s why it has been destroyed (both the booster rocket and the Starship spacecraft) by enabling self-destruction mode before the stage separation.

What happened on the second test flight of the Starship?

Starship’s second test flight was partially successful which was launched on November 18, 2023. Two stages of Starship was successfully separated at an altitude of 75 kilometers, about 2 minutes and 50 seconds after the liftoff.

However, after stage separation, the lower stage of the Starship (the Super Heavy booster rocket) exploded in space at an altitude of 90 kilometers, about 3 minutes 20 seconds after the liftoff, and the mission control room lost contact with the upper stage of the Starship (the Starship spacecraft) at an altitude of 148 kilometers, about 9 minutes 11 seconds after the liftoff. Later, the mission control room was successfully able to turn on the self-destruction mode of the Starship spacecraft.

Related article: SpaceX Starship rocket explodes in space during its second test flight 

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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