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Starship miraculously escaped death and landed in the ocean for the very first time

Today, SpaceX conducted the fourth integrated test flight of the world’s biggest space rocket Starship. The spacecraft successfully lifted off the Starbase launch pad at 7:50 AM Texas time.

During the initial ascend phase, one of the 33 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy booster stage cut off. However, the rocket has a margin in the case of such failure and the booster continued on the nominal trajectory.

Less than three minutes into the flight, Starship performed the hot staging during which the Super Heavy booster was disconnected from the upper stage. For the first time, the Super Heavy performed nominal boostback burn with all 13 inner engines necessary for the maneuver.

Shortly after the seven-minute mark, the Super Heavy booster performed a landing burn. The stage softly landed on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and seconds later fell on its side as planned. It was just the second attempt to vertically land the booster after it failed to do so during the third test flight in March.

The Super Heavy rocket stage successfully landing on water for the first time

Meanwhile, the Starship continued on a nominal trajectory, shut down all six vacuum-optimized Raptor engines, and over 40 minutes into the flight, it reentered the atmosphere. As was the case with the third flight, we were able to see the gloving plasma around the Starship’s surface. The imagery was live streamed thanks to the Starlink satellites (that should reach profitability in 2024) above the rocket transmitting the data and images in real-time.

Less than 60 kilometers above the surface, we could see that the hot plasma literally started to eat Starship’s forward flaps, as their heatshield tiles were quickly falling off. However, the spacecraft miraculously made it to the 40-kilometer mark to the point of maximum dynamic pressure – when the vehicle experiences the maximum physical load on its structure.

Starship disintegrating during the atmospheric reentry but surviving

Even though the camera looking at the front flap was obstructed by the debris, we could see the flap actuating during the last minutes of the flight, right before the landing maneuver.

Before the landing, a little over an hour into the flight, all we could see were sparks before the flap appeared again, illuminated by the Raptors' landing burn that – based on the reactions of the SpaceX team and a later official confirmation – was successful.

Today’s plan for Starship is to survive the atmospheric reentry intact and show that it can maintain full control during the process. Then, the ship will try to flip back into a vertical position and land in a similar manner as Super Heavy.

Even though the rocket took some serious beating, the plan has worked today…

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