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SpaceX says it’s ready for fourth Starship test flight from Texas

Elon Musk’s company, EspaceXannounced plans to launch another Starship rocket from Texas about two months after its third test flight of the new vehicle reached space.

The fourth test flight will be the fastest turnaround ever for SpaceX’s mega-rocket and Super Heavy booster from its Bocha Chica launch site along the Texas coast.

SpaceX has been trying to reach orbit since April 2023. On the third attempt in March, Starship reached space but was lost upon re-entry.

After each attempt, SpaceX is subject to an incident investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and makes any changes before another Starship launch.

SpaceX and the FAA have been investigating an accident since the March test flight. NASA and the National Transportation Safety Board also participated in the review.

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If the FAA grants SpaceX its modified launch license, the company said it could attempt the fourth test flight of the Starship and Super Heavy booster as early as June 5.

SpaceX modifies Starship before fourth flight

Last week, SpaceX released its findings after the third flight test and the changes made to Starship since then to correct what went wrong.

The latest test was the most successful yet, with Starship reaching space and the first-ever Super Heavy booster landing attempt, but both were destroyed before achieving a controlled landing.

SpaceX said that during the third flight, when the Super Heavy booster began its booster burn for landing, six Raptor engineers shut down prematurely and the booster was lost about 1,500 feet above sea level. over the Gulf of Mexico approximately 7 minutes after launch.

“The most likely cause of the early boostback combustion shutdown was determined to be continued blockage of the filter where liquid oxygen is supplied to the engines, resulting in a loss of inlet pressure to the oxygen turbopumps of the engine,” the company said.

Since the third flight, SpaceX engineers have added more material inside the oxygen tanks to improve filtration and prevent blockages.

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Also during the third flight, Starship reached the coastal phase in space and even performed a payload gate test, performing a demonstration of propellant transfer moving fuel from one tank to another. SpaceX said the fuel transfer is essential for future missions, including NASA astronaut missions to the Moon as part of the Artemis program.

However, after entering the coastal phase, Starship lost the ability to control its position, triggering reentry. SpaceX said the lack of attitude control caused more heat than expected on the vehicle and that Starship was lost about 40 miles above Earth after nearly 50 minutes of flight.

SpaceX said teams determined the problem with Starship was clogging of valves responsible for controlling the vehicle’s roll. The company added additional roll control thrusters for redundancy purposes.

SpaceX said the FAA review process was faster this time because neither the Starship nor the Super Booster Heavy were destroyed by the vehicles’ automated flight safety system.

“During Flight 3, none of the vehicles’ automated theft safety systems were triggered and no vehicle debris was impacted outside of predefined danger zones,” the company said. “Pending the FAA’s conclusion that no impact on public safety has been noted, a license modification for the next flight may be issued without formal closure of the accident investigation.”

With the changes implemented, SpaceX completed a launch dress rehearsal in May and plans to launch as early as June 5.

If the fourth flight test achieves its landing objectives, the Starship will take off from Texas and crash land in the Indian Ocean.