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Friday, June 7, 2024

SpaceX Starship achieves major milestone with fourth test flight

The ultimate goal for SpaceX is to make Starship fully reusable, significantly reducing the cost of space travel.

SpaceX’s ambitious Starship rocket embarked on its fourth test flight on June 6, 2024, from the company’s Starbase launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. This monumental test aimed to improve upon the previous attempts, which ended in dramatic explosions. The successful completion of this test marks a significant achievement for SpaceX and its visionary founder, Elon Musk.

Liftoff to Splashdown

At 8:50 a.m. EDT, the towering 400-foot-tall Starship, the world’s largest and most powerful rocket, lifted off atop a roaring pillar of fire. The two-stage spacecraft, comprising the Starship cruise vessel mounted atop the Super Heavy rocket booster, soared into the sky. This test was crucial in SpaceX’s rapid trial-and-error development campaign, aiming to advance each time despite past failures.

Read More: SpaceX prepares for fourth starship test flight

Minutes after liftoff, the Super Heavy booster separated from the Starship second stage and executed a controlled descent, landing softly in the Gulf of Mexico. The Starship continued its journey, achieving a significant milestone by successfully entering space and completing a halfway orbit around the Earth. About an hour later, it began its critical re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Lessons from Previous Flights

The previous three test flights of Starship each ended in fiery destruction, albeit progressively achieving more significant milestones. In April 2023, the first launch exploded minutes after liftoff. The second test in November 2023 made it into space for the first time but also ended in an explosion. The third test in March 2024 saw Starship reach orbital velocity and fly for nearly 50 minutes before breaking apart during re-entry.

This fourth flight was designed to address and overcome these past challenges. SpaceX implemented software upgrades and other modifications to enhance the rocket’s performance. Despite the loss of many tiles and a damaged flap, the Starship successfully completed its mission by executing a soft landing in the Indian Ocean northwest of Australia. This success brought an eruption of cheers at SpaceX’s mission control, celebrating the significant progress.

Mars and Beyond

Elon Musk envisions Starship as the cornerstone of making humanity an interplanetary species. The successful test flight not only brings SpaceX closer to Mars but also plays a crucial role in NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to land astronauts on the Moon by the end of the decade. NASA has contracted SpaceX to build a lunar lander, with the current value of SpaceX’s Human Landing System contract estimated at $4.2 billion through 2027.

Read More: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launches another Starlink mission

The ultimate goal for SpaceX is to make Starship fully reusable, significantly reducing the cost of space travel. The successful soft landing of both the Super Heavy booster and the Starship second stage marks a pivotal step toward this goal. The reusability aspect is not only critical for future Mars missions but also for potential tourist trips around the Moon, which SpaceX is already marketing.