Success for SpaceX and the fourth test flight of its Starship megarocket

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“What a day!”, exclaimed the SpaceX commentator. Indeed, what a day for Elon Musk's company. The fourth launch of its Starship megarocket seems to have fulfilled all its objectives, since the two stages have landed. A few breakages were still to be deplored, but the data collection must have been valuable for the future.

Landing in the Gulf of Mexico…

Takeoff at 2:50 p.m. (Paris time) took place nominally. One of the 33 Raptor engines did not ignite, but not enough to jeopardize the operation. As in the last test, the first stage, called Super Heavy Booster, and the second called Ship separated as agreed.

Then at 2:58 p.m., splashdown ! In other words, exactly as planned, the booster succeeded in simulating a vertical landing in the Gulf of Mexico, after 12 out of 13 engines had restarted. Meanwhile, the Ship in near-orbit continued its course around the Earth. The beginnings of atmospheric re-entry seemed to take place under the best auspices, unlike the previous testbut the fin on which the onboard camera was pointed began to disintegrate.

…and in the Indian Ocean

But if the steel melts and the fin threatens to give way, the Ship ultimately resists. He still managed to get horizontal, as expected according to his particular pattern of return to Earth. Finally, 10 km before reaching the Indian Ocean, the damaged fin was still responding and the vertical recovery maneuver took place. Reigniting the engines also worked for this stage. 1 h 5 min 38 s after takeoff, once again as planned by the schedule, the Ship landed “gently”.

What real consequences did the disintegration of the fin have? Were other parts affected? How can we make sure this doesn't happen again? It's still too early to tell. But one thing is certain, in addition to another brilliant success for SpaceX, this flight will allow Elon Musk's company to gather a lot of knowledge with a view to a perfect end-to-end test.

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