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SpaceX’s Starship completes fourth test flight

SpaceX’s Starship completes fourth test flight

Starship Flight

SpaceX’s Starship, the most powerful launch vehicle ever built, lifted off for its fourth flight test on Thursday. The launch occurred from SpaceX’s private Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, at 7:50 a.m. CT (8:50 a.m. ET). Of the rocket’s 33 engines, 32 successfully ignited during the launch, according to the SpaceX broadcast.

A significant achievement of the flight test was the successful execution of a landing burn and soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico by the Super Heavy booster, approximately eight minutes after launch. Meanwhile, the Starship capsule achieved orbital insertion. Initially, the launch was expected to occur at 7:20 a.m. CT (8:20 a.m. ET), but a ground-side issue delayed the countdown.

The flight test comes two days after the Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses commercial rocket launches, gave SpaceX its approval. Each of Starship’s test flights builds on lessons learned and milestones achieved during previous flights. SpaceX aims to demonstrate the ability to return and reuse the Starship and Super Heavy booster.

The primary objectives included executing a landing burn and a controlled entry of Starship. The Starship team incorporated software and hardware upgrades into the launch system, learning from the third flight.

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Starship achieves successful test landing

SpaceX’s approach to rocket development is geared towards speed, using an engineering method called “rapid spiral development.” This involves building prototypes quickly and testing them rigorously, even if it means experiencing fiery mishaps early on. The first two attempts to get Starship to orbital speeds in 2023 ended in explosions, but these failures provided valuable insights. The nearly hour-long third test flight in March achieved several milestones before breaking apart after reentry.

The flight reached speeds close to orbital requirements but did not aim to enter orbit. For Thursday’s flight, SpaceX implemented upgrades and additional thrusters to prevent issues experienced during the third flight. SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly emphasized Starship’s central role in the company’s mission to put humans on Mars.

NASA has selected the Starship spacecraft for a key role in its Artemis program to return humans to the moon. Milestones such as the propellant transfer are critical for Starship’s future missions. High-profile missions will require the spacecraft to refuel in orbit before proceeding to destinations like the moon and Mars.

The first astronaut landing under the Artemis program is tentatively slated for September 2026. Much depends on the eventual success of Starship, with its developmental progress being closely watched by various space industry stakeholders and competitors alike.

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