Wednesday 13 March 2024

Starship Flight Test 3 upcoming

click map to enlarge

Pending FAA approval (i.e., the launch date might well be postponed), SpaceX aims to launch Starship Flight Test 3 this week. Navigational Warnings issued indicate a window opening at 12:00 UTC on March 14, 2024.

The flight trajectory differs from the previous two ill-fated test flights (which both disintegrated early in flight, see an earlier post here concerning FT 2). 

FT 1 and FT 2 targetted a splashdown near Hawaii after slightly less than one full orbital revolution. FT 3 however has a much shorter flight path, aiming to splash down in the Indian Ocean west of Australia after half a (sub-) orbital revolution.

The map above shows the hazard zones for the launch, from Navigational Warnings NAVAREA IV 278/24 and HYDROPAC 833/24, and the flight trajectory these indicate. Numbers next to the trajectory represent the approximate flight time in minutes after launch.

The hazard zone in the Gulf of Mexico differs from that of FT 1 and FT2  by being much more extended (perhaps a lesson from the last in-flight disintegration with fragments splashing down far downrange, near the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic: see an earlier blogpost here). It also has a remarkable shape - my tendency for pareidolia kicks in and sees a Plesiosaur in it. I wonder what the protrusions mean, especially the one near Florida and Cuba that appears to suggest a backwards motion. 

The reentry and splash-down hazard zone at the end of the flight path spans almost the full width of the Indian Ocean, starting near Madagascar and ending near Australia.

I estimate the following (sub-) orbit for the flight test:


STARSHIP FT3                 for launch on 14 March 2024 13:25:00 UTC
1 70000U 24999A   24074.55902778  .00000000  00000-0  00000-0 0    03
2 70000 026.3000 177.8817 0153183 289.7760 142.6230 16.45958778    07

 SpaceX has some ambitious aims for this flight test, which according to their website (as retrieved 13-03-2024) include:


"the successful ascent burn of both stages, opening and closing Starship’s payload door, a propellant transfer demonstration during the upper stage’s coast phase, the first ever re-light of a Raptor engine while in space, and a controlled reentry of Starship"

Let's however await first whether it actually does not have a RUD ('Rapid Unscheduled Disintegration') again early in flight, as FT 2 did... 

Note added 14 March 2024 9:50 UTC:

Jonathan McDowell has suggested to me that the controlled reentry likely aims for the western part of the Indian Ocean hazard zone from HYDROPAC 833/24, with the eastern part being a safety overshoot in case the deorbit fails. That makes sense to me.

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