Home Tech Get ready: SpaceX Starship will try to fly again soon

Get ready: SpaceX Starship will try to fly again soon

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Elon Musk lost his claim as having the most powerful space-worthy rocket when NASA blasted its mega rocket to the moon in 2022.

But the SpaceX founder could win back the title with his company’s next big project: Starship.

Though the company was unsuccessful during its first two tests in April and November of last year — the skyscraping rocket and spacecraft blasted off only to explode minutes later — SpaceX is confident Starship will complete an orbital flight soon, breaking records and making history.

UPDATE: Mar. 8, 2024, 12:04 p.m. EST SpaceX will target a launch for its third Starship test flight as early as March 14, according to the company.

During its next test flight, the colossal booster needs to separate about three minutes after liftoff and drop into the Gulf of Mexico. The rocket should then fly in space around Earth before splashing down in the Indian Ocean. The whole journey should last a little more than one hour.

This is a crucial demonstration of hardware that NASA is depending on to get humans back on the moon in the next few years. And, if successful, it’ll mean Musk is one small step closer to realizing his personal dream of building a city on Mars.

The billionaire business magnate has oversold timelines in the past. Here’s what we know so far about when SpaceX will try this daunting feat again.

What is the SpaceX Starship?

Starship is a super-heavy-lift rocket and spacecraft, built to carry immense cargo and numerous astronauts into deep space.

The 400-foot-tall stainless steel tower looms over NASA’s rocket, the Space Launch System. It would take about five billboards stacked on top of the latter to measure up to Musk’s space vehicle. SpaceX estimates its rocket also has about twice as much thrust.

The rocket is made of stainless steel, a material Musk is particularly fond of due to its relatively low price. Unlike NASA’s mega moon rocket, which flies on super-chilled liquid hydrogen and oxygen, this beast is fueled with 10 million pounds of liquid methane and oxygen. The new fuel can be stored at more manageable temperatures than liquid hydrogen, meaning it doesn’t need as much insulation and is less prone to leaks, a problem that often stymies NASA launches.

SpaceX stacking Starship at the launch pad

SpaceX’s Starship is made of stainless steel and runs on liquid methane.
Credit: SpaceX

Starship is intended to eventually evolve into a fully reusable launch and landing system, designed for trips to the moon, Mars, and perhaps other destinations. Its reusability is “the holy grail of space,” Musk said at a company event in South Texas in 2022, because it will make spaceflight more affordable to the average person.

“It’s a very hard thing to do,” he said. “It’s only barely possible with the physics of Earth.”


“It’s only barely possible with the physics of Earth.”

SpaceX Starship landing on the moon

NASA tapped SpaceX to develop a human landing system version of Starship.
Credit: SpaceX

How will NASA use Starship?

NASA plans to use Starship to land astronauts on the moon during Artemis III and IV, two upcoming missions which could come as early as 2026 and 2028, respectively.

The space agency has tapped SpaceX to develop a human landing system version of Starship with a $4 billion contract. As part of the deal, the company will need to demonstrate an uncrewed test flight to the moon beforehand.

During Artemis III, Starship is expected to transport astronauts from NASA’s Orion spacecraft to the lunar south pole and back. It would be the first human moon-landing since 1972. The U.S. space agency also has promised the mission will see a woman and person of color walk on the moon for the first time. In the fourth mission, Starship might dock at a moon-orbiting space station, the yet-to-be-built Gateway, and ferry astronauts back and forth to the moon from there.

NASA announced in January it was pushing back Artemis III at least a year to 2026, in large part because of Starship’s lag in progress. For the SpaceX spacecraft to reach the moon, it will need to refuel in low-Earth orbit from a space tanker, something never done before.

NASA’s confidence in Starship seems to have waned somewhat over the past year. During an Artemis news conference in August 2023, the space agency’s Jim Free, then associate administrator of exploration systems, told reporters NASA may end up changing the Artemis III mission objectives if slips in the schedule keep occurring.

When is Starship’s next launch?

SpaceX is targeting March 14 for its third orbital test flight. A specific time for liftoff has not been provided, though, as the launch is still pending license approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

This test will be different from the plans for the first two, which sought to reach orbit and splashdown off the Hawaiian coast. This time the company will send the spacecraft on a different trajectory for a controlled splashdown in the Indian Ocean. SpaceX selected this path to attempt new techniques, such as in-space engine burns “while maximizing public safety,” according to an update on its website.

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SpaceX also plans to conduct a preliminary test of a fuel transfer. The craft will attempt moving 11 tons, or 10 metric tons, of liquid oxygen between tanks contained within Starship. It’s a first step toward the eventual goal of transferring propellant between two separate ships in space.

“The third flight test aims to build on what we’ve learned from previous flights while attempting a number of ambitious objectives,” SpaceX said.

What happened to Starship during its previous test flights?

The company has already tried to fly Starship twice but hasn’t completed the space journey without exploding yet.

The rocket first launched on April 20, exploding 24 miles above the Gulf of Mexico about four minutes later. The rocket didn’t separate from its colossal booster and flipped as it fell in the air back toward Earth. The self-destruct system was commanded for both the booster and ship after several of the engines didn’t fire, though aerodynamic pressure ultimately caused the ship to break apart.

SpaceX later said the booster had caught fire from leaking fuel, which severed connection to the primary flight computer. Following those problems, the company made improvements to the fire suppression system, launchpad, and self-destruct system, as well as installed a flame deflector.

Starship exploding during first attempt at flight test

SpaceX’s Starship didn’t make it to orbit during its first attempt to fly in space on April 20, 2023. It appeared to explode on its descent about four minutes after liftoff.
Credit: SpaceX

During the second flight test on Nov. 18, Starship exploded about eight minutes into the flight, after successfully demonstrating a new method of separating the booster from the spacecraft in the air, known as “hot-staging.” The procedure should increase Starship’s lift capacity and help prevent gravity from slowing it down.

The booster, however, broke apart, likely due to a fuel blockage to the engines. And, as Starship’s upper stage separated, a leak in the craft sparked fires, causing a communication loss and triggering of the flight termination system. Since the flight, which successfully reached space but not orbit, the company has made hardware changes to reduce leaking and improve fire protection.

Where will Starship launch?

Perhaps surprisingly, Starship won’t lift off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where most space fans are accustomed to watching historically significant launches.

Instead, it will take off from Boca Chica, Texas, at SpaceX’s own spaceport, known as Starbase. Eventually, the company will launch the rocket from a site under construction in the outer perimeter of the famous Florida pad that shot Apollo 11 to the moon.

“Their plan is that they’re going to do a few test flights there” in South Texas, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said. “Once they have the confidence, they will bring the missions to the Cape.”

How can I watch the Starship launch?

If you’re not on the list to get onto SpaceX’s private Starbase but you’re in the South Texas area, you could try viewing future flight tests from a public beach on South Padre Island, such as Cameron County Amphitheater at Isla Blanca Park or Port Isabel. Locals are known to host watch parties.

For viewers at home, SpaceX will start a live broadcast of the launch countdown about a half-hour before liftoff. The livestream feed will be available on SpaceX’s website, and live updates will be posted on X, the social platform owned by Musk.

You can watch Starship’s second test flight below:

How likely is Starship to succeed?

Well, SpaceX already struck out on the first and second flight attempt, and that wasn’t entirely unexpected.

After the first flight test, Kate Tice, a quality systems engineering manager for the company, said Starship’s clearing of the launch tower was the team’s main hope. Prior to the second flight, Tice managed public expectations for the test, saying there was “a good chance” the booster would incur damage.

Even Musk, who doesn’t parse words when it comes to the realities of spaceflight, once said Starship’s test in space wasn’t likely to succeed on the first try.

“Each of these flight tests continue to be just that: a test,” SpaceX said on its website in March. “They aren’t occurring in a lab or on a test stand, but are putting flight hardware in a flight environment to maximize learning.”


“Each of these flight tests continue to be just that: a test.”

Administrator Nelson has congratulated SpaceX on the team’s bold efforts, stating that great achievements through history have demanded “some level of calculated risk.”

What is SpaceX’s plan for Mars?

The SpaceX founder’s ultimate vision is to use a fleet of Starships to send 1 million humans to Mars by 2050.

To be clear, Musk doesn’t just want to establish a place for people to visit but a self-sustaining city. He imagines that, with a bit of warming, humans could restore a thick atmosphere and oceans on Mars, making it a more hospitable environment, even able to grow crops.

“There’s a fundamental juncture in the history of really any civilization on a single planet, which is, do you get to the second planet, or do you not?” Musk told the National Academies in 2021. “I propose we do, and I think we should as soon as possible.”

SpaceX test firing Starship on the ground

SpaceX test fired a Starship prototype spacecraft on the ground in December.
Credit: SpaceX


“There’s a fundamental juncture in the history of really any civilization on a single planet, which is, do you get to the second planet, or do you not?”

The spacecraft would be spacious enough for 100 passengers, along with their luggage, plus the materials to build homes, businesses, rocket fuel stations, and iron foundries.

The journey getting there would be long, Musk said, but the Starship would have entertainment, such as zero-gravity games, movies, lectures, and a restaurant.

“It can’t feel cramped or boring,” he said at the International Astronautical Congress in 2016, in Guadalajara, Mexico. “It’ll be really fun to go. You’ll have a great time.”

Note: A version of this article was originally published on Feb. 4, 2023. It has been updated periodically over the past year to reflect progress in Starship’s launch campaign.



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