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Starship launch: Next SpaceX flight test is expected this month

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SpaceX's Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket

Starship first launched on 20 April 2023

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

SpaceX is getting ready to launch its huge Starship rocket for the third time. But the exact launch date won’t be announced until the US government’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finishes investigating why the last launch – in November 2023 – failed to reach orbit.

The Starship rocket’s first test launch in April 2023 saw it spin out of control because of problems with several of its engines. Those faults activated an automated flight termination system designed to safely blow up the rocket. It failed to do so, and the rocket continued to tumble before disintegrating. It did not make it to space.

The incident damaged the launchpad and blasted debris across huge swathes of the surrounding area. After repairs and updates were made to the launch facility and the FAA certified enough had been done to prevent similar damage from occurring again, SpaceX initiated its second Starship test launch in November 2023.

That one didn’t go well, either. For a few minutes everything seemed fine. The rocket made it to space – but then the engines started failing and it blew up. Now, SpaceX has to build a new rocket, and the FAA has to give it a licence to fly it.

“We’re expecting that licence to come in February. So it’s looking like [flight] three will occur in February of this year,” SpaceX official Jessica Jensen said in a press conference on 9 January.

Eventually, Starship is intended to ferry astronauts to and from the surface of the moon. NASA selected it as the vehicle for its Artemis III and IV missions, planned for 2026 and 2028. The enormous rocket could even carry astronauts to Mars as soon as 2029, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said. But before it can do any of that, Starship will have to make it to space without exploding or falling apart, making its third flight a crucial test.

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