HomeTechnologyStarship IFT-3 to Launch on 3.14

Starship IFT-3 to Launch on 3.14

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Ignition of Starship IFT-2 on 11-18-23. Image Credit: Richard P. Gallagher

SpaceX’s Integrated Flight Test 3 (IFT-3), scheduled for March 14, 2024, at the Starbase in Texas, is an important next step in development of the Starship spacecraft. This test aims to further validate the design and functionality of the Starship and its Super Heavy booster, both crucial elements in SpaceX’s ambition for interplanetary travel. 

The IFT-3 will feature the Super Heavy Booster #10, and Starship #28. This mission follows the previous integrated flight tests, where SpaceX gathered valuable data despite not achieving full mission success. In the second flight test (IFT-2) on 11-18-23, the Starship and Super Heavy achieved hot-staging separation, a process where the second stage ignites its engines before separating from the first stage, demonstrating this critical maneuver for future operational flights. 

Credit: Everyday Astronaut.

The key objectives for IFT-3 include several new tests aimed at continuing to advance the capabilities of the Starship vehicle. New objectives include: 

  • Engine Firing and Relighting in Space: One of the primary objectives is to test the performance of the Starship’s engines in space, including their ability to be reignited multiple times. This is critical for maneuvers such as orbital insertion, trajectory adjustments, and landing burns. 
  • Testing Cargo Bay Door Functionality: IFT-3 will include testing the functionality of the Starship’s cargo bay door. This is necessary for deploying payloads into space and ensuring that the mechanism works as intended in the vacuum of space. 
  • Propellant Transfer Demonstration: Another critical aspect of the flight test is to demonstrate the ability to transfer propellant in space. This capability is essential for longer missions were refueling in orbit can extend the reach of space exploration, including potential missions to Mars and beyond. 

The Starship vehicle is designed for complete reusability, capable of carrying both crew and cargo on various missions. It consists of the spacecraft itself and the Super Heavy booster. The Starship has a total length of 394 feet and a diameter of 30 feet, with a reusable payload capacity of 100 to 150 tons. The Super Heavy booster, which forms the first stage, provides the necessary thrust to leave Earth’s atmosphere. It features 33 Raptor engines and can store up to 3,400 tons of propellant, contributing to a maximum thrust of about 17 million pounds of thrust.  

Flight of IFT-2 with all 33 Raptor engines firing. Image Credit: Richard P. Gallagher

For comparison, The Falcon 9 rocket uses 9 Merlin engines and generates about a million pounds of thrust. Each Merlin engine is a gas-generator cycle rocket engine that uses liquid oxygen (LOX) and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) as propellant. A single Merlin engine produces thrust of approximately 845 kN at sea level. The Raptor is a full-flow staged combustion rocket engine that uses liquid methane (CH4) and liquid oxygen (LOX) as propellants. Raptor engines are more powerful and complex than Merlin engines. They can produce around 2,000 kN of thrust at sea level, which increases to about 2,200 kN in vacuum conditions. The full-flow staged combustion cycle used in the Raptor engine allows for higher efficiency and performance, as both the fuel and oxidizer are completely gasified and burned in two pre-burners before being directed to the main combustion chamber. 

SpaceX’s Starship program is an investment in the future of space travel, with the company spending billions on its development and related infrastructure. The success of IFT-3 would be a significant step forward, paving the way for more advanced tests and missions, including crewed flights and interplanetary journeys. 

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Overall, the IFT-3 is not just a test of a rocket but a demonstration of the capabilities that could enable future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.  

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