SpaceX Achieves More Control With Latest Starship Launch

June 7, 2024
Starship's third flight test completed several exciting firsts including the Starship reentry from space, the first-ever opening and closing of Starship’s payload door in space, and a successful propellant transfer demonstration.
Courtesy SpaceX/TNS
A Starship and Super Heavy blasts off from SpaceX’s Starbase launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, on June 6, 2024.
A Starship and Super Heavy blasts off from SpaceX’s Starbase launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, on June 6, 2024.

The latest SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy rocket launched from Texas this morning (June 6) on an orbital flight that achieved more control in landing operations.

The rocket became the most powerful rocket ever to achieve orbit in a March launch generating more than 16 million pounds of thrust on liftoff, but the Super Heavy booster on that flight crashed into the Gulf of Mexico while the Starship upper stage burned up during reentry over the Indian Ocean.

On this fourth orbital launch, SpaceX was able to improve on both parts with more controlled descents mimicking landings as if they were touching down on drone ships at sea, but still just landing in the water, once again in the Gulf of Mexico and Indian Ocean.

The 396-foot-tall stacked rocket launched at 10:50 a.m. EDT from SpaceX’s test launch site Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas. Its first two tries in 2023 both ended explosively before the partial success in February.

“Starship’s third flight test made tremendous strides towards a future of rapidly reliable reusable rockets,” the company posted on its website. “The test completed several exciting firsts, including the first Starship reentry from space, the first-ever opening and closing of Starship’s payload door in space, and a successful propellant transfer demonstration.”

The propellant transfer is necessary for SpaceX’s planned use in NASA’s Artemis program so a version of Starship can act as the human landing system for the Artemis III mission as soon as 2026. After launch from Earth, the spacecraft will need to refuel in space to get to the moon. The same technology would enable deeper space travel as well, including SpaceX’s ultimate goal of getting Starship to Mars.

“The fourth flight test turns our focus from achieving orbit to demonstrating the ability to return and reuse Starship and Super Heavy,” the company posted. “The primary objectives will be executing a landing burn and soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico with the Super Heavy booster, and achieving a controlled entry of Starship.”

Building off of the third flight’s shortcomings, the company made upgrades to both software and hardware as well as changes to launch operations to up the ship’s reliability, the company stated.

The flight path will be similar to launch No. 3 aiming for the upper stage to splash down in the Indian Ocean, without the need for a deorbit burn, “maximizing public safety while still providing the opportunity to meet our primary objective of a controlled Starship reentry.”

“The fourth flight of Starship will aim to bring us closer to the rapidly reusable future on the horizon,” the company stated. “We’re continuing to rapidly develop Starship, putting flight hardware in a flight environment to learn as quickly as possible as we build a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the moon, Mars and beyond.”

While test flights continue in Texas, SpaceX plans to potentially build out Starship launch sites at both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of the Air Force are both heading up environmental impact studies to gauge the effect of launching what is the most powerful rocket to ever make it to orbit.

The powerful rocket nearly doubles the power of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket for its Artemis program.

____

©2024 Orlando Sentinel. Visit at orlandosentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images/TNS