SpaceX’s mega rocket launches on fourth test flight


Starship, SpaceX’s massive prototype rocket, launched on Thursday for its fourth test flight. Starship is unmanned and consists of a rocket and spacecraft.

The most powerful launch system ever built lifted off from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas at 07:50 (1250 GMT). More than 2 million people followed it on a live broadcast on X.

Starship is essential for Nasa’s plans to return astronauts to the moon later this decade and for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s plans to one day colonize Mars.

Three previous attempts were unsuccessful and resulted in the rockets exploding. This is all part of what the company describes as an “acceptable cost” in its learn-and-try approach to development.

“The payload for these flight tests is data,” SpaceX said on X. “We are building on what we achieved during Starship’s third test flight. Our primary goal today is to get through the extreme heat of return.”

The flight path is similar to the third test, which took place in March. Starship flew for 49 minutes before it was finally lost until it re-entered the atmosphere.

SpaceX has since said it has made several upgrades to its software and hardware and on Thursday successfully landed in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time ever. Engineers at the mission control room in Hawthorne, California, welcomed it with loud applause.

The company hopes to achieve its first “controlled reentry” next and the rocket will glow bright red as it re-enters the atmosphere at 27,000 km/h.

Twice as powerful as Saturn V

Designed to eventually be fully reusable, Starship stands 121 meters tall with both parts combined – that’s 27 meters taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York.

The booster generates about 7.5 tonnes of thrust – twice as powerful as the Saturn V rocket used during the Apollo missions, although later versions will be even more powerful.

SpaceX’s strategy of conducting tests in reality rather than in labs has paid off in the past. His Falcon 9 rockets were eventually used by Nasa and the commercial sector. Its Dragon capsule sends astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station and its Starlink Internet satellite constellation now covers dozens of countries.

However, the clock is ticking for SpaceX to be ready for Nasa’s planned return of astronauts to the moon in 2026. Nasa wants to use a modified Starship as the final vehicle to take astronauts from orbit to the surface.

To pull this off, SpaceX would have to put a primary Starship into orbit and then use several “Starship tankers” to refill it with supercooled fuel for the continued journey – a complex engineering feat never before accomplished.

However, at least one SpaceX fan is tired of waiting. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announced this week that he has canceled a planned trip around the moon on Starship, because he has no idea when it will ever happen.