SpaceX's third Starship test flight: Live video updates since launch

People in Matamoros, Mexico, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, watch as the SpaceX Starship Mega rocket lifts off in November.debt…Abraham Pineda-Jacome/EPA, via Shutterstock

Starship's second test flight in November was much higher and faster than the first attempt seven months earlier.

In April of last year, during the first launch outside Brownsville, Texas, things went wrong from the start – the exhaust from the superheavy booster's engines dug a hole under the launch pad, sending chunks of concrete up to three-quarters of the way. Miles away, a plume of dust reaching a distance of 6.5 miles covered the nearby town of Port Isabel. Several booster engines failed and the upper stage did not separate from the booster.

Instead, the rocket began making loop-de-loops before the flight-stop system destroyed it.

During the second test flight, all 33 booster engines worked during takeoff. A water deluge system protected the launch pad. The upper starship stage separated from the booster, then made it well into orbital velocity. However, both booster and upper starship stage missions still ended in explosions.

For the booster, as it dropped from the upper stage, 13 of the 33 engines fired back to guide it toward the landing site. Although this particular booster was not going to be recovered, SpaceX wanted to test re-entry techniques similar to those it currently uses for its smaller Falcon 9 rockets. However, something went wrong. Several engines shut down and then one exploded, causing the destruction of the booster.

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In an update posted on the company's website on February 26, SpaceX attributed the booster failure to a clogged filter through which liquid oxygen flowed to the engines. The company said it has made changes to the design to prevent it from happening again.

The upper stage continued upward for seven minutes after the stage split. This was a feat because the company completed a step called hot-staging, during which the upper-stage engines burn before the stage separates from the superheavy booster.

As the spacecraft was empty, additional liquid oxygen was loaded to simulate the weight of future payloads it might carry into orbit. But when the extra oxygen was dumped, a fire broke out, disrupting communications between the spacecraft's flight computers. The computers shut down the engines and then set the flight shutdown system, destroying the spacecraft.

The upper starship reached an altitude of about 90 miles and a speed of 15,000 miles per hour. For a spacecraft to reach orbit, it must travel at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour.

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