SpaceX’s Fourth Starship Test Date Revealed By President Gwynne Shotwell!

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Less than a week after its eye catching Starship IFT-3, SpaceX has shared details about when the next test might take place. SpaceX’s President and COO Gwynne Shotwell gave the opening keynote at the Satellite 2024’s opening session today, and in response to a question, she revealed that while SpaceX is still parsing through the data from last week’s flight attempt, the next test can take place as soon as in May. Shotwell added that the Starship test flight was not orbital by design, and SpaceX hopes to successfully manage reentry in its next flight attempt.

SpaceX Hopes To Get Starship Orbital, Deploy Stages & Recover Both Stages By End Of 2024 Says Shotwell

The SpaceX president’s talk and responses to questions at Satellite 2024 covered SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet constellation and its Starship rocket. Shotwell outlined that SpaceX plans to commercialize Starlink satellite lasers later this year, with the service first expected to be announced as part of the upcoming Polaris Dawn private crew mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Her comments for the Starship test flight saw Shotwell explain that her company is still “going through the data” after taking the weekend off. Starship IFT-3 was not orbital on purpose, according to the SpaceX COO, as SpaceX “wanted to make sure [Starship] could passively come back on a trajectory that we could count on if we didn’t relight the second stage engine a second time  . . to re-enter.”

For Starship IFT-4, Shotwell shared:

We’ll figure out what happened on both stages as well and get back to flight, hopefully in about six weeks, flight four hopefully, beginning part of May.

The second stage Starship’s heat shield as it battles through plasma to return to Earth. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX’s immediate objectives are”getting re-entry right” and ensuring that Starship is able to land at its designated sites. Unlike the Falcon 9, Starship is designed to be ‘caught’ by its launch tower by the massive chopsticks on the launch pad. These chopsticks also stack the second stage Starship spacecraft on the first stage Super Heavy booster, and their architecture is an indispensable component of SpaceX’s plan to make the world’s biggest rocket also rapidly reusable.

Later during the talk, the SpaceX executive shared that the firm plans to fly 148 Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy missions this year. According to her, she’d “love to get Starship into orbit, deploying satellites, and recovered, both stages fully recovered, with rapid turnaround on those stages as well.” SpaceX would also love to “double” the customer base for Starlink and launch as many as seven Dragon missions by the end of 2024.

The delay between Starship’s second and third tests lasted roughly four months, and if Shotwell’s timeline is met, then the fourth flight will mark the fastest turnaround for a Starship launch to date. Ahead of the third flight, SpaceX had already started to run tests on the second stage Starship, and it is also building a second pad at the facilities in Boca Chica to pick up Starship launch cadence.

SpaceX’s IFT-3 successfully saw the full Starship stack clear the launch pad and undergo stage separation. The Super Heavy’s initial engine re-ignition for an entry burn was successful, but the rocket’s engines failed to light up for the final stage of landing. SpaceX’s second stage Starship provided remarkable visuals with its hypersonic re-entry, which also proved to be the final stage of its flight.

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