SpaceX’s Starship Rocket Successfully Completes Fourth Test Flight, Splashes Down in Indian Ocean

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Insider Brief:

  • SpaceX’s fourth test flight of its Starship rocket was the first to be successfully completed.
  • Launched at 8:50 a.m. ET from the Starbase facility near Boca Chica, Texas, the rocket’s booster splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after launch.
  • An hour after launch, Starship survived reentry through Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Indian Ocean, confirming the mission’s completion.

 

SpaceX’s fourth test flight of its Starship rocket was the first to be successfully completed, a key step forward in the spacecraft’s ongoing development. Launched at 8:50 a.m. ET from the Starbase facility near Boca Chica, Texas, the rocket’s booster splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after launch, achieving a new milestone for its controlled return. This controlled return is vital for SpaceX’s goal of routine Starship launches and landings, similar to its Falcon 9 rockets.

“Our first ever ship landing burn after a launch into space … that was incredible,” SpaceX communications manager Dan Huot said on the company’s broadcast.

An hour after launch, Starship survived reentry through Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Indian Ocean, confirming the mission’s completion. Despite the intense heat of reentry, Starship withstood external damage, which was evident on the broadcast. SpaceX confirmed the splashdown on social media with the message, “Splashdown confirmed!”

The fourth Starship spaceflight had no crew onboard, as SpaceX plans to conduct hundreds of missions before adding crew members. The fully reusable Starship system aims to transport cargo and people beyond Earth, playing a crucial role in NASA’s Artemis moon program. NASA has contracted SpaceX to use Starship as a crewed lunar lander.

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NASA Administrator Bill Nelson congratulated SpaceX on the progress. Previous Starship tests in April 2023, November, and March had all ended with the rocket’s destruction before completing the flight. Each test has achieved more milestones, including opening and closing the payload door and transferring fuel during flight.

“We are another step closer to returning humanity to the Moon through Artemis — then looking onward to Mars,” Nelson wrote in a social media post.

SpaceX employs a strategy of “recursive improvement,” learning from each test flight to enhance Starship’s development. Elon Musk anticipated a $2 billion investment in Starship development in 2023. Starship, the tallest and most powerful rocket ever launched, stands 397 feet tall with the Super Heavy booster. The booster, 232 feet tall, is powered by 33 Raptor engines producing 16.7 million pounds of thrust, while Starship itself has six Raptor engines and requires over 10 million pounds of propellant for launch.

Featured image: The sun sets behind the SpaceX Starship ahead of its fourth flight test at Boca Chica beach on June 05, 2024 in Brownsville, Texas. Credit: Brandon Bell | Getty Images

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