NASA Shares Key Starship Update Ahead Of Third Test Flight

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A busy press day for NASA saw the agency share new details of its work with SpaceX’s Starship program while executives from Intuitive Machines were sharing the latest updates about the first U.S. lunar landing since the end of the Apollo program. SpaceX is NASA’s choice contractor for its creed Moon missions for the Artemis program, which will see the second stage Starship dock with the Lockheed made Orion spacecraft for the astronauts to make their way inside SpaceX’s ship.

The docking mechanism will be an extension of SpaceX’s work with the ISS as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and in a press release issued moments back, the space agency shared that it had run hundreds of simulations of the docking equipment at the Johnson Space Center.

NASA, SpaceX Move Forward With Test Starship Lunar Operations With Latest Docking Test Run

The purpose of these tests was to demonstrate Starship’s ability to perform an active docking role during the Artemis 3 mission. This flight will be SpaceX’s first crewed lunar landing mission, and the architecture of the landing means that astronauts will make their way to the Moon first on the flight tested Orion.

Once they reach the Moon’s orbit, the crew will wait for Starship to approach Orion, similar to the SpaceX Crew Dragon approaching the ISS. The approaching spacecraft performs an ‘active’ role during the docking, explained NASA’s press release. This sees its soft capture system, which is made of a set of hooks and latches, extend the hooks, and connect with the hooks on the passive system, which is Orion in this case.

SpaceX is busy with its Starship test campaign in Texas to ensure that the Super Heavy booster and upper stage spacecraft can reach orbit. A recent update shared by the firm for last year’s second test fight revealed that a fire on the second stage and filter problems on the booster were among several reasons they could not land and complete their missions.

SpaceX
NASA astronauts test SpaceX

While the first Artemis crewed mission will see Starship and Orion dock for the astronaut transfer, NASA plans to use its Moon space station for future missions. Called the Gateway, the station will launch on the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, and the recent Starship docking tests also covered Gateway.

According to NASA, the tests covered more than two hundred docking scenarios and used full scale hardware. The different test runs measured performance at different speeds and angles, with NASA adding that to date, SpaceX has completed more than 30 milestones as part of its multi billion dollar lunar landing contract. These tests are among some of the most important for the Starship HLS program since, without docking, a crew might be unable to make it to the Moon.

Some of these milestones cover power generation, life support and the ship’s ability to withstand the harsh lunar environment. SpaceX’s Starship tests in Texas have proven to be quite controversial, with skeptics criticizing the firm for delays in 2023 after a long regulatory process effectively grounded the rocket for months. With the latest Starship booster lifted on the pad today, it appears that the firm is picking up the pace for its third test flight that is currently estimated to take place in March.

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