SpaceX's Starship survives return to Earth, achieves demo landing on 4th test

SpaceX's mega rocket Starship launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Thursday. The Starship rocket made it back to Earth Thursday, too.

SpaceX's mega rocket Starship launches for a test flight from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, Thursday. The Starship rocket made it back to Earth Thursday, too. (SpaceX via AP)


6 photos
Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

BOCA CHICA, Texas — SpaceX's giant Starship rocket survived reentry through Earth's atmosphere on Thursday and splashed down in the Indian Ocean as planned during its fourth test mission after launching from south Texas.

The two-stage spacecraft, consisting of the Starship cruise vessel mounted atop its towering Super Heavy rocket booster, broke apart during its last attempt in March to survive a blazingly hot reentry through Earth's atmosphere.

But the craft survived its reentry on Thursday, a SpaceX livestream showed.

"Despite loss of many tiles and a damaged flap, Starship made it all the way to a soft landing in the ocean!" SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted on social media after the splashdown.

Starship, stacked atop its Super Heavy booster, blasted off Thursday morning from the company's Starbase launch site near Boca Chica Village on the Gulf Coast of Texas. It is the latest trial mission in the test-to-failure rocket development campaign of Elon Musk's company.

The rocket system's first stage, called Super Heavy, detached from the Starship upper stage three minutes into flight dozens of miles above ground, sending the Starship on its way toward space.

Super Heavy headed back toward land and appeared to achieve a soft landing in the Gulf of Mexico. Starship, meanwhile, blasted its own engines to begin its trek around the globe toward the Indian Ocean, a roughly 70-minute trip.

There, it began its free-fall back to Earth where it endured the intense heat of atmospheric reentry — the crucial point at which it failed in March.

Designed to be cheaper and more powerful than SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, Starship — standing nearly 400 feet tall — represents the future of the company's dominant satellite launch and astronaut business. It is due to be used by NASA in the next few years to land the first astronauts on the moon since 1972.

Each Starship rocket has made it farther in its testing objectives than previous tests before failing, either by blowing up or disintegrating in the atmosphere.

The rocket's first launch in April 2023 exploded minutes after liftoff some 25 miles above ground. During the next attempt in November, Starship reached space for the first time but exploded soon after.

In its most recent flight in March, Starship made it much farther and broke apart in Earth's atmosphere as it attempted to return from space halfway around the globe.

The rocket's flight on Thursday was a repeat of its previous test but with the aim to get farther.

SpaceX's Starship rocket prototype is pictured in the rocket launch area in Brownsville, Texas, May 12. The rocket survived reentry through Earth's atmosphere on Thursday and splashed down in the Indian Ocean.
SpaceX's Starship rocket prototype is pictured in the rocket launch area in Brownsville, Texas, May 12. The rocket survived reentry through Earth's atmosphere on Thursday and splashed down in the Indian Ocean. (Photo: Veronica Gabriela Cardenas, Reuters)

The rocket is covered with hundreds of small black tiles designed to protect against the extreme heat encountered while diving through Earth's atmosphere at hypersonic speeds.

"The main goal of this mission is to get much deeper into the atmosphere during reentry, ideally through max heating," Musk, CEO of SpaceX, wrote on social media on Saturday.

Much is riding on SpaceX's development of Starship, relied upon by NASA as it aims to return astronauts to the moon in 2026 in a rivalry with China, which plans to send its astronauts there by 2030. China has made several recent advances in its lunar program, including a second landing on the moon's far side in a sample retrieval mission.

Despite Starship's development appearing quicker than other rocket programs, it has been slower than Musk originally envisioned. A Japanese billionaire who initially paid to fly Starship around the moon canceled his flight last week, citing schedule uncertainties.

And Musk's drive to rapidly build Starship has endangered SpaceX workers in Texas and California, a Reuters investigation found.

Photos

Related stories

Most recent Science stories

Related topics

Science
Joey Roulette

    STAY IN THE KNOW

    Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the KSL.com Trending 5.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast