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SpaceX has already fixed weak spot that almost killed Starship, but on a different rocket

SpaceXs Starship rocket stacked on a launch pad in Starbase before the fourth test flight

The world’s biggest space rocket, SpaceX’s Starship, performed a hell of a show on Thursday. It roared toward the sky for its fourth test flight, and both the Super Heavy booster and Starship upper stage successfully landed on the water.

It was the upper stage that achieved a remarkable feat. Thanks to the Starlink satellite network (which should reach profitability in 2024), we could have seen real-time imagery of the gloving plasma during atmospheric reentry. However, if it weren’t for one stubborn forward flap that refused to succumb to incredibly high temperatures of hot plasma, there would be no landing yesterday.

The plasma stream was flowing rapidly through the hinge gap of the flap, slowly eating the ceramic heat shield. However, the flap somehow survived, and Starship was able to perform a successful vertical landing.

Starship disintegrating during the atmospheric reentry but surviving

It turned out SpaceX engineers were fully aware of Starship’s Achilles heel. In fact, Elon Musk predicted the issue in a pre-flight interview with Tim Dodd, known as Everyday Astronaut: “If you get hot gas flowing through rapidly, that’ll cook anything.”

We could have observed that phenomenon in real time. However, it might be the last time because SpaceX has apparently fixed the issue already.

Musk said on X (formerly Twitter) that his engineers would have this “nailed” for the next flight: “Note, a newer version of Starship has the forward flaps shifted leeward. This will help improve reliability, ease of manufacturing and payload to orbit.”

That means we shouldn’t see similar images during the upcoming fifth flight. Of course, if the proposed technical solution works.

Speaking about the fifth flight, completing the full mission profile of yesterday’s flight was extremely important for obtaining a new launch license. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) watches the Starship carefully, and if anything goes wrong, it steps in and investigates. That means the next launch is being delayed.

This won’t be the case this time around, as the FAA has nothing to investigate. This opens a clearer path toward the fifth flight, which could happen in a matter of weeks, given the next Starship will be ready to move the goalposts even further.

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