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This Week in Launch: SpaceX to attempt third Starship test flight

It really doesn’t matter what else is happening this week as SpaceX will be attempting its third Starship launch as soon as Thursday morning. This will feature a new trajectory and hopefully be the first successful flight of the world’s most powerful rocket.

This week’s launches:

  • March 12 (Tuesday)
    • Rocket Lab | Electron | Owl Night Long | 10:00 A.M. ET
      • LC-1B, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand
    • SpaceOne | KAIROS | Maiden Flight | 10:01 P.M. ET
      • Space One Launch Pad, Space Port Kii, Japan
  • March 13 (Wednesday)
    • CASC | Long March 2C | Unknown Payload | 8:49 A.M. ET
      • LC-3, Xichang Satellite Launch Center, China
    • SpaceX | Falcon 9 | Starlink Group 6-44 | 7:29 P.M. ET
      • LC-39, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
  • March 14 (Thursday)
    • SpaceX | Starship | IFT-3 | 7:00 A.M. CT
      • Launch Pad A, Starbase, Texas

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Starship is ready for launch

SpaceX announced last week that pending regulatory approval, SpaceX would be attempting to launch its third Starship rocket as soon as March 14. This comes only three months since the company’s last launch of the Starship rocket which featured an almost successful ascent into space.

This time SpaceX has some changes to it’s mission and trajectory for IFT-3. Instead of landing off the coast of Hawaii, the planned splashdown location will be in the Indian Ocean. SpaceX is also increasing its goals while in space with three major milestones it wants to hit.

Besides a successful ascent and reentry, SpaceX hopes to test out Starship’s payload door by opening and closing it. This will allow future missions to carry full size Starlink Gen 2 satellites for deployment to orbit. Access to Starship’s launch capability for Starlink will be huge as it would provide extra bandwidth to the internet service provider and its millions of customers.

Second will be a test of propellent transfer between two tanks while in space. Moving cryogenic fuel between tanks will be an essential skill needed for Starship’s place as Artemis’ lunar lander. This has never been done before in space so this is an important test to do as we near Artemis 3 development deadlines.

The final new test item will be the first relight of a Raptor engine in space. Most likely this will be to perform a deorbit burn before reentry. A first relight of any engine while in space is a big deal. While you can test and simulate everything on the ground, you won’t know for certain everything works until you do it in space.

This of course all still requires the FAA’s approval and granting of a launch license. While a fake FAA X account convinced a few that the agency approved of one, the administration has yet to actually do so through its official accounts. We will have to wait and see if any delays come from the FAA or other factors ahead of Thursday’s launch.

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Avatar for Seth Kurkowski Seth Kurkowski

Seth Kurkowski covers launches and general space news for Space Explored. He has been following launches from Florida since 2018.