SpaceX’s Stunning Starship Test Shows Ship Heat Shield Burning At Hypersonic Speeds!

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After just four months since the second Starship test flight in November, SpaceX’s third test successfully cleared the pad at Boca Chica, Texas, early morning local time today. Starship’s third test flight came within days of an FAA approval of the rocket that also cleared SpaceX to land the second stage Starship in the Indian Ocean close to Australia. The test was SpaceX’s most successful Starship run to date, as while the Super Heavy booster did not meet all of its test objectives, the second stage Starship stole the show after successful stage separation, orbit and engine cutoff.

SpaceX’s livestream provided the most spectacular visuals of Starship to date, with footage showing the second stage gently cruising at 211 kilometers above the Earth’s surface close to 17 minutes after liftoff.

Second Stage Starship Stuns With Flawless Execution Of First Phase Of IFT-3 But Raptor Reliability Appears To Remain Thorn In SpaceX’s Side

The first phase of today’s test flight resembled SpaceX’s earliest Starship tests that had attempted to land the second stage on land. These tests saw the Raptor engines struggle during reignition, with one test seeing the vehicle blow up after it attempted to guide itself back in position after a flip.

For IFT-3, the first half of the fight before stage separation went as well as anyone could expect. Not only did the world’s largest rocket successfully clear the pad for the third time, but SpaceX’s hot stage separation, which requires the second stage to fire its engines to jettison away from the Super Heavy, also worked as expected. The ascent portion also saw all 33 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy successfully remain operational until stage separation.

Following stage separation, the Super Heavy booster attempted to reorient itself to fire up its engine to simulate a landing burn. While SpaceX had not planned to land the booster today, IFT-3 nevertheless had aimed to fire up the engines and use the grid fins to mimic a landing environment. This appeared to be too much for Super Heavy to handle, with the rocket’s final moments showing its grid fins rapidly moving before what appeared to be an engine ignition took place and the vehicle was destroyed.

However, while the Super Heavy did not complete the latter half of its test objectives, the second stage Starship stole the show. Not only did its engines successfully ignite for stage separation, but the rocket also successfully made it to orbit for the second time. IFT-3 was also the first time SpaceX provided onboard views from the second stage, and these showed the rocket against the backdrop of the starry sky along with stunning and mind bending visuals of the rocket flying with the Earth in the background.

SpaceX’s test objectives for the second stage included an orbital propellant transfer demonstration, the testing of a payload bay door to launch Starlink satellites and engine reignition in space. Roughly 25 minutes after launch, teams prepared for the propellant transfer demonstration, and along with the payload door test, this test was successfully initiated according to a later SpaceX statement available on its website. NASA added after the test that it was evaluating the data received for the propellant transfer demonstration to determine its success.

While engine chill started close to the thirty minute mark, SpaceX’s present Dan Huot shared that the firm had decided to move past the engine reignition in space to focus on the second stage’s landing phase of the test.

This phase was perhaps the best portion of IFT-3 as it showed the second stage’s heat shield engulfed in deep red plasma as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. This was the first time that such views have been made publicly available, as SpaceX’s Dragon does not live stream views of the heat shield from the outside.

These views came after the second stage appeared to face some trouble during its reorientation, but once the ship was in the right position to use its flaps, its heat shield started glowing bright red, which is typical of plasma surrounding a spacecraft during reentry.

These views were provided courtesy of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet constellation, and they made a fiery end to the highly anticipated test flight as the second stage failed to attempt a landing burn.

For its reentry profile, Starship has to perform a flip maneuver to become horizontal and then vertical for a landing on Mars. Soon, the plasma blanket overcame the Starlink terminals on board, after which SpaceX’s presenters confirmed that after the multiple data streams from the ship had stopped transmitting, it was likely that the ship was lost.

Updated para 7 at 2:49:22 P.M. Eastern Time with SpaceX and NASA statements.

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