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As it happenedended1717694968

Starship launch - live: SpaceX launches and lands world’s biggest rocket in crucial test of Mars ambitions

Anthony Cuthbertson
Thursday 06 June 2024 18:29
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The Starship rocket on the launchpad at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas on 5 June, 2024
The Starship rocket on the launchpad at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas on 5 June, 2024 (SpaceX)

SpaceX has successfully launched its massive Starship rocket, in what was a critical test of Elon Musk’s hopes of colonising Mars.

The 120-metre rocket is the biggest and most powerful spacecraft ever built, capable of producing 7.5 million kilograms of thrust – roughly double that of Nasa’s Space Launch System (SLS).

The fourth major flight test saw both parts of the rocket return to Earth for the first ime, with the Super Heavy booster splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico and the main Starship making it all the way to the Indian Ocean.

It came less than three months after SpaceX launched a Starship prototype into orbit but failed to return it to Earth.

SpaceX said that “data was the payload” for today’s mission, hailing it as a success despite not being able to recover the rocket. Elon Musk described it as an “epic achievement.

”You can watch a live stream of the Starship launch below.

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Hello and welcome...

to The Independent’s live coverage of today’s Starship launch attempt. The rocket is stacked, the roads are cleared, and approval has been granted by the necessary authorities for lift off to go ahead.

We’ll be bringing you all the latest updates, analysis and even a live stream of the launch itself as soon as it’s ready.

T-Minus 4 hours.

Anthony Cuthbertson6 June 2024 09:07
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Fourth major flight test will be critical

Today’s attempt comes just three months after SpaceX last sent a Starship rocket into space, and while it successfully reached orbit, not all went to plan.

Both the Super Heavy booster and the main Starship rocket were destroyed before they could make it back to Earth, making today’s attempt a critical test of SpaceX’s hopes of using the spacecraft for missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond in the coming years. Proving that both parts of its massive rocket are reusable is the main aim for SpaceX today, so we will hope to see them splash down in the Gulf of Mexico and Indian Ocean respectively. And no more explosions.

We’ve got a round-up of SpaceX’s explosive Starship history. You can watch it here:

SpaceX's explosive Starship history
Anthony Cuthbertson6 June 2024 09:21
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The world’s biggest rocket is about to get bigger

Measuring 120 metres tall, Starship is the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built – but SpaceX boss Elon Musk says it will soon be even bigger.

Responding to a post to X (formerly Twitter) last month, Mr Musk wrote that Starship “will probably approach ~140m (currently ~120m) over time”.

For comparison, the Great Pyramid of Giza – the largest Egyptian pyramid – stands at 137m. It is not clear whether this additional height will result in more power, with the current version capable of producing 7.5 million kilograms of thrust – roughly double that of the world’s second most powerful rocket, Nasa’s Space Launch System (SLS).

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Anthony Cuthbertson6 June 2024 10:29
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Starship stacked for flight 4

The two-hour launch window will open in just a couple of hours, with Starship fully stacked and waiting to be fuelled on the launchpad at SpaceX’s Starbase facility.

Here’s what the company has said it hopes to achieve with today’s launch:

The fourth flight test turns our focus from achieving orbit to demonstrating the ability to return and reuse Starship and Super Heavy. 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.

To accomplish this, several software and hardware upgrades have been made to increase overall reliability and address lessons learned from Flight 3. The SpaceX team will also implement operational changes, including the jettison of the Super Heavy’s hot-stage following boostback to reduce booster mass for the final phase of flight.

Flight 4 will fly a similar trajectory as the previous flight test, with Starship targeted to splashdown in the Indian Ocean. This flight path does not require a deorbit burn for reentry, 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. 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.

SpaceX
Anthony Cuthbertson6 June 2024 10:34
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What happened last time?

On 14 March, which coincidentally is SpaceX’s birthday, Starship lifted off from the Starbase facility and travelled for nearly an hour through space before eventually breaking up upon reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere above the Indian Ocean.

Today’s flight should take a similar trajectory, with the estimated time projected to be one hour and five minutes.

You can watch the launch, flight, and eventual demise of the last Starship spacecraft to attempt it here (skip to around 38 minutes for the lift off):

Anthony Cuthbertson6 June 2024 11:35
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What to expect today

SpaceX has helpfully given a full rundown of what to expect from today’s launch, revealing what each stage of the lift-off, flight and landing should look like - to the nearest second.

There’s also an illustration to give a vague idea of what it all should look like:

(SpaceX)

HR/MIN/SEC EVENT

00:00:02 Liftoff

00:01:02 Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)

00:02:41 Super Heavy MECO (most engines cut off)

00:02:45 Hot-staging (Starship Raptor ignition and stage separation)

00:02:49 Super Heavy boostback burn startup

00:03:52 Super Heavy boostback burn shutdown

00:03:54 Hot-stage jettison

00:06:39 Super Heavy is transonic

00:06:43 Super Heavy landing burn startup

00:07:04 Super Heavy landing burn shutdown

00:08:23 Starship engine cutoff

00:47:25 Starship entry

01:03:11 Starship is transonic

01:04:01 Starship is subsonic

01:05:38 Landing flip

01:05:43 Landing burn

01:05:48 An exciting landing!

Anthony Cuthbertson6 June 2024 11:49
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SpaceX hoping to build on ‘phenomenal’ Starship progress

SpaceX described the last Starship flight test in March as “phenomenal”, despite both parts of the rocket being ultimately lost. It is a view that appears to be shared by those financing the endeavour, acoording to those we spoke to following the launch.

Chad Anderson, a managing partner at SpaceX investor Space Capital, told The Independent that he believed it was a “hugely successful” mission and an “incredible breakthrough” for the company.

“The engineering challenges are immense for a vehicle of this size and complexity,” he said. “Starship is a revolutionary launch vehicle that promises to shake up all the givens of space: that it’s expensive, difficult, and dangerous to get there.”

You can read more about Starship Test Flight 3 here:

Elon Musk’s Starship rocket made it to space – is the mission to Mars really on?

After making it into orbit, Elon Musk is already planning on reaching the red planet, writes Anthony Cuthbertson. Could a future Starship allow us to explore other star systems?

Anthony Cuthbertson6 June 2024 12:13
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Starship launch time pushed back 50 minutes

SpaceX says the launch is now scheduled for 7.50am local time (1.50pm BST), which is 50 minutes into the two hour launch window. That still gives plenty of time for any minor delays that might arise during the countdown, as they have done in the past.

Weather conditions for the launch are reportedly 95 per cent favourable, which is about as high as it gets for a launch like this.

We’ll have a live stream in about 50 minutes.

(SpaceX)
Anthony Cuthbertson6 June 2024 12:28
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Starship backup launch windows in place

If today’s launch is scrubbed, SpaceX has backup launch windows for the Starship flight attempt in place.

Beach closure advisories to the public have been issued for 7 June and 8 June by officials at Cameron County where SpaceX’s Starbase facility is located. They list times of 12am local time to 2pm on both days.

SpaceX’s Starship rocket pictured at the Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on 3 June, 2024
SpaceX’s Starship rocket pictured at the Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on 3 June, 2024 (Elon Musk/ X)

Anthony Cuthbertson6 June 2024 12:39
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If successful, today will be the 60th orbital launch of 2024 for SpaceX - one short of the total number of orbital rocket launches the company achieved in 2022.

With more than half of 2024 still to go, SpaceX is well on track to hit three figures for the first time in its 22 year history.

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Anthony Cuthbertson6 June 2024 13:01

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