SpaceX’s Starship Has Successfully Flown Into Orbit, Burning Up Over The Indian Ocean

Estimated read time 3 min read

The third test flight of Starship was successful. The spacecraft and its booster went up to space and successfully performed the main goals for this test. Not everything went according to plan but neither component exploded, which is an improvement on the previous two flights.

Starship launched from SpaceX’s Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas at 8:26 am local time on March 14. This is the farthest and fastest that Starship has ever flown. The goal of this test was to demonstrate the successful ascent burn of both stages, Starship and Super Heavy. For Super Heavy, the team was planning a soft splashdown, but it appeared to have come back in a bit too fast, slamming faster than an F1 car into the Gulf of Mexico.

Starship entered into orbit where it performed several maneuvers, including the opening and closing of its payload door, a propellant transfer, and relighting a Raptor engine while in space for the first time. 

Starship also suffered failure towards the end, burning up during reentry instead of performing a controlled splashdown. While both Super Heavy and Starship are reusable space vehicles, SpaceX was not planning to recover them in this test.

Starship and Super Heavy are the biggest and most powerful rockets ever built. The current model has twice the thrust of the Saturn V, which took the astronauts of the Apollo missions to the Moon – and, they hope to up it to three times the thrust. The two units combined make up a rocket that is 122 meters (400 feet) tall when fully stacked. For comparison, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is used in the Artemis missions, reaches 98 meters (322 feet).

SLS and Starship are destined to work together to return astronauts to the Moon. The next moon landing is currently slated for September 2026. Four astronauts will be in the Orion capsule on top of SLS. SLS will take them to space and then Orion will take them all the way to a special lunar orbit: the Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO). There, the astronauts will meet a Starship, which will ferry two of them from NRHO to the surface of the Moon and back.

So Starship’s successful testing is crucial for NASA’s plans. More tests will be necessary to demonstrate that Starship can safely ferry astronauts. There are an expected three more Starship tests this year, but SpaceX has not yet shared any details about them.