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SpaceX’s Starship’s Fourth Flight Test was a Smashing Success

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Is there anything that Elon Musk cannot do extremely well.

(Boca Chica, Texas) The fourth test flight of the world’s most powerful rocket, SpaceX’s Starship, launched this morning at 7.50 a.m. CT / 8.50 a.m. ET (1250 GMT) from SpaceX’s Starbase site near Boca Chica Beach in South Texas; the payload for today's test flight was its data.

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Photo of today's Starship test flight courtesy of SpaceX on X, @spacex.

Per SpaceX, Starship’s fourth test flight launched with and achieved ambitious goals, attempting to travel farther than it has in any previous test and demonstrate capabilities central to the return and reuse of Starship and Super Heavy (Starship’s first stage booster).

SpaceX touts the fully reusable Starship as a a revolutionary advance in spaceflight – one that could ultimately make human settlement of the moon and Mars economically feasible.

NASA has selected Starship as the first crewed lander for its Artemis moon exploration program, which aims to establish a research base in the ice-rich south polar region before 2030; the current program architecture calls for Starship to land NASA astronauts on the moon for the first time in September 2026, on the Artemis 3 mission, per Space.com.

Today, SpaceX successfully brought Super Heavy down for a soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico and achieved controlled reentry of the 165-foot-tall (50 meter) upper stage Starship, per Space.com.

"This whole building was going absolutely insane," SpaceX spokesperson Dan Huot said during live commentary from the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California, according to Space.com. "When we saw the booster hit the water, I mean, wow."

Post-landing, SpaceX Founder and CEO Elon Musk wrote on X, “Despite loss of many tiles and a damaged flap, Starship made it all the way to a soft landing in the ocean! Congratulations @spacex team on an epic achievement!!”

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Photo of Starship in flight today (June 6th) – during the rocket's fourth test flight – courtesy of SpaceX on X, @spacex.

Starship has previously launched three times, and will require many more successful test flights before the planned Artemis 3 mission. Its first test flight occurred in April 2023 (during which Starship’s two stages failed to separate and the vehicle detonated four minutes after liftoff), followed by a second in November 2023 (stage separation was achieved but the flight ended early) and a third on March 14th of this year. On Starship’s third test flight, stage separation occurred on time, and Super Heavy made it to within 1,650 feet (500 meters) of the Gulf of Mexico before breaking apart, per Space.com.

Musk has said that SpaceX aims to launch six Starship test flights in 2024, which indicates four more liftoffs int he next six months, according to Space.com.

As for specifics with respect to today’s launch, SpaceX outlined what it rightly describes as “maximum excitement” in today’s press release: “The fourth flight of Starship made major strides to bring us closer to a rapidly reusable future. Its accomplishments will provide data to drive improvements as we continue rapidly developing Starship into a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Today’s SpaceX release references the following specific accomplishments:

  • "The Super Heavy booster lifted off successfully and completed a full-duration ascent burn.

  • Starship executed another successful hot-stage separation, powering down all but three of Super Heavy’s Raptor engines and successfully igniting the six second stage Raptor engines before separating the vehicles.

  • Following separation, the Super Heavy booster successfully completed its flip maneuver, boostback burn to send it towards the splashdown zone, and jettison of the hot-stage adapter.

  • The booster’s flight ended with a landing burn and soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico seven minutes and 24 seconds into the flight.

  • Starship's six second stage Raptor engines successfully powered the vehicle to space and placed it on the planned trajectory for coast.

  • Starship made a controlled reentry, successfully making it through the phases of peak heating and max aerodynamic pressure and demonstrating the ability to control the vehicle using its flaps while descending through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds.

  • Starlink on Starship once again enabled real-time telemetry and live high-definition video throughout every phase of entry, with external cameras providing views all the way to the flight’s conclusion.

  • Flight 4 ended with Starship igniting its three center Raptor engines and executing the first flip maneuver and landing burn since our suborbital campaign, followed by a soft splashdown of the ship in the Indian Ocean one hour and six minutes after launch.”