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Starship’s Fourth Flight Test Reaches New Heights, Demonstrates Key Capabilities

SpaceX's Starship embarked on its fourth test flight, marking significant strides in the company's pursuit of a reusable space transportation system.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Thu Jun 06 2024Written by Zac Aubert

SpaceX's Starship embarked on its fourth test flight, marking significant strides in the company's pursuit of a reusable space transportation system.

The vehicle successfully lifted off at 7:50 a.m. CT from Starbase in Texas. This test aimed to demonstrate capabilities central to the return and reuse of both the Starship and the Super Heavy booster.

Launch and Ascent

The Super Heavy booster executed a full-duration ascent burn despite the failure of one of its 33 Raptor engines to ignite. This setback did not hinder the mission's overall progress, as the booster managed to lift Starship successfully.

Watch Launch:

Hot-Stage Separation and Booster Maneuvers

Starship successfully performed a hot-stage separation, a critical maneuver where its upper stage engines ignited before separating from the Super Heavy booster. This was followed by the booster completing its flip maneuver, a boostback burn, and the jettison of the hot-stage adapter, which is a temporary measure to reduce mass for landing.

Watch Hot Staging:

The booster then reignited three of its Raptor engines for a landing burn, culminating in a soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico seven minutes and 24 seconds into the flight. Achieving this controlled landing was a primary objective, enhancing SpaceX's efforts towards reusability.

Watch Booster Splashdown:

Starship's Journey to Space and Reentry

Starship's six second-stage Raptor engines powered the vehicle into space, placing it on its planned trajectory for coast. Unlike previous flights, Starship avoided the rolling motion seen in March's test, maintaining stability throughout its ascent.

During reentry, Starship demonstrated its capability to handle peak heating and aerodynamic pressure, successfully using its flaps to control the descent at hypersonic speeds. Real-time telemetry and live high-definition video were provided via Starlink, offering dramatic views of the reentry phases.

Watch Re-Entry:

Despite sustaining damage to one of its flaps and losing many thermal protection tiles, Starship executed a controlled descent, performing a landing burn before softly splashing down in the Indian Ocean one hour and six minutes after launch.

Watch Flap Break:

Significant Achievements and Praise

"Today was a great day for humanity’s future as a spacefaring civilization! Nothing unites us more than working together towards inspiring objectives...A fully and immediately reusable orbital heat shield, which...has never been made before, is the single toughest problem remaining. Being able to iterate with many ideas on many ships is key to solving this." - Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX

"Congratulations SpaceX on Starship’s successful test flight this morning! We are another step closer to returning humanity to the Moon through Artemis—then looking onward to Mars," - NASA Administrator Bill Nelson

Regulatory Updates and Environmental Concerns

The launch followed the issuance of an updated launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on June 4. The new license included no significant changes to the launch process but allowed for faster turnaround between flights by approving exceptions for certain test-induced damages, provided they did not affect public safety.

Simultaneously, SpaceX faced environmental challenges as SaveRGV, an environmental group, announced its intent to sue the company. They allege that the water deluge system at Starbase, designed to mitigate pad damage, discharges industrial wastewater without the necessary permits. The FAA's environmental review, however, concluded that the system did not significantly impact water quality.

Looking Ahead

The fourth flight of Starship marked substantial progress towards SpaceX's goal of developing a fully reusable transportation system capable of carrying crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

The data gathered from this flight will drive further improvements as SpaceX continues to refine and develop its pioneering spacecraft.

Up Next! Starship Flight 5, which maybe the most challenging mission yet; with the first Super Heavy Booster catch attempt per Elon comment.

"I think we should try to catch the booster with the mechazilla arms next flight!" - Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX

SpaceX's mission to create a spacefaring civilization is steadily advancing, with each test flight bringing humanity closer to realizing the dream of routine space travel and exploration.

Congratulations to the entire SpaceX team for their continued innovation and perseverance in pushing the boundaries of space technology, you are an inspiration to us all!