SpaceX prepares third test of Starship rocket

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SpaceX is aiming to launch its Starship megarocket on a third test flight Thursday that, if successful, could bolster NASA’s ambitions to return astronauts to the moon and transform the commercial spaceflight industry.

The launch will take place from SpaceX’s Starbase test site in Boca Chica, Texas. Liftoff is expected around 8 a.m. ET, but timing is tentative and the company said on its website that “the schedule is dynamic and likely to change.”

The Federal Aviation Administration on March 8 granted a launch license for the test flight, saying that SpaceX “met all safety, environmental, policy and financial responsibility requirements.”

This will be the third launch of the almost 400-foot-tall rocket. The booster’s debut flight last April ended with the rocket exploding in a fiery display several minutes after liftoff. A second Starship launch in November achieved several key milestones, including separation of the first-stage booster known as Super Heavy and the upper-stage Starship spacecraft, but the company ultimately lost contact with the vehicle.

SpaceX said the third test flight will tackle “a number of ambitious objectives” that build on the lessons learned from the previous outings. For instance, the company is aiming to fire one of Starship’s Raptor engines while in space, open and close the vehicle’s payload door and transfer propellant between two of Starship’s tanks in orbit. Finally, SpaceX is also hoping to show that Starship can carry out a controlled re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere before splashing down in the Indian Ocean.

Each technology demonstration will be key for future missions to the moon and beyond.

Starship is expected to play an important part in NASA’s efforts to return to the moon. The spacecraft was selected by the agency to carry astronauts to the lunar surface during the upcoming Artemis III mission, which could launch in 2026.

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