SpaceX Starship rocket splashdown successfully on its 4th test flight

Successful launch of Starship’s fourth test flight on June 6, 2024
Successful launch of Starship’s fourth test flight on June 6, 2024. (Image credit: SpaceX)

The Starship mega rocket of SpaceX has made a soft splashdown at the end of its nail-biting fourth test flight.

It is a huge success for SpaceX, as the company is very close to making the mammoth rocket reusable.

However, before making it fully operational, a few more tests are required to make the rocket fully reliable and reusable.

Starship’s success is crucial for NASA, as the national space agency has already selected SpaceX’s Starship to carry astronauts on the lunar surface by 2026 through its ambitious Artemis 3 program.

Another private company, Starlab Space, a joint venture between two aerospace companies, Voyager Space and Airbus, has selected SpaceX’s Starship to launch the Starlab commercial space station to low-earth orbit (LEO) in 2028.

SpaceX launched the fourth test flight of Starship at 8:50 a.m. EDT (12:50 UTC) on June 6, 2024, from the Starbase facility of SpaceX near Boca Chica, south Texas.

The primary objective of the fourth test flight was to achieve controlled atmospheric reentry and then a successful splashdown.

Starship has achieved it on its fourth test flight, as planned. After a controlled atmospheric reentry, the lower part of Starship (called the Super Heavy booster rocket) has made a soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico, and the upper part of Starship (called the Starship spacecraft) has made a soft splashdown in the Indian Ocean. 

After the successful fourth test flight of Starship, Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, tweeted, “Despite loss of many tiles and a damaged flap, Starship made it all the way to a soft landing in the ocean!”

In the future, this mega rocket will be used to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

About Starship

The upper stage (Starship spacecraft) and lower stage (Super Heavy booster rocket) of Starship
The upper stage (Starship spacecraft) and lower stage (Super Heavy booster rocket) of Starship. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Starship is the world’s most powerful and tallest rocket ever built. It stands 121 meters (397 feet) tall with a diameter of 9 meters. It is a two-stage, fully reusable rocket that will be used to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

The lower stage (first stage) of Starship is called the Super Heavy booster rocket. It is 71 meters tall and powered by 33 Raptor engines.

The upper stage (second stage) of Starship is called the Starship spacecraft or simply “the Ship”. It’s 50 meters tall and powered by 6 Raptor engines.

What happened on the first test flight of the Starship?

Starship’s first test flight was a total disaster. It was launched on April 20, 2023. At an altitude of 39 kilometers, about 3 minutes and 20 seconds after the liftoff, it began tumbling and lost altitude due to multiple engine failures. That’s why it has been destroyed (both the booster rocket and the Starship spacecraft) by enabling self-destruction mode before the stage separation.

What happened on the second test flight of the Starship?

Starship’s second test flight was partially successful and was launched on November 18, 2023. Two stages of Starship were successfully separated at an altitude of 75 kilometers, about 2 minutes and 50 seconds after the liftoff.

However, after stage separation, the lower stage of the Starship (the Super Heavy booster rocket) exploded in space at an altitude of 90 kilometers, about 3 minutes and 20 seconds after the liftoff, and the mission control room lost contact with the upper stage of the Starship (the Starship spacecraft) at an altitude of 148 kilometers, about 9 minutes and 11 seconds after the liftoff. Later, the mission control room was successfully able to turn on the self-destruction mode of the Starship spacecraft.

Related article: SpaceX Starship rocket explodes in space during its second test flight 

What happened on the third test flight of the Starship?

Starship’s third test flight was a huge success for SpaceX, except for the final stage, and was launched on March 14, 2024. During the third test flight, the Starship rocket reached Earth’s orbit for the first time.

The lower part of the Starship (the Super Heavy booster rocket) successfully delivered the upper part of the Starship (the Starship spacecraft) at an altitude of 72 km, about 2 minutes and 50 seconds after liftoff. However, the mission control room had lost communication with the Super Heavy booster rocket during descent before splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.

The upper part of the Starship (the Starship spacecraft) ignited its own engines, achieved a maximum altitude of 234 km about 25 minutes after liftoff as planned, did a number of ambitious activities, orbited more than half way around the Earth, and then successfully re-entered Earth’s atmosphere to splashdown in the southern Indian Ocean, west of Australia. However, during reentry, the mission control team lost communication with the Starship spacecraft, similar to the Super Heavy booster rocket.

Related article: SpaceX Starship rocket lost before splashdown on its third test flight 

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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