Updated Jun 6, 2024 - Science

SpaceX's Starship makes 1st successful water landing in 4th test flight

SpaceX Starship stacked for its fourth flight test at Boca Chica beach on June 5 in Brownsville, Texas.

SpaceX Starship stacked for its fourth flight test at Boca Chica beach on June 5 in Brownsville, Texas. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

SpaceX's Starship and its massive reusable booster both successfully made their first controlled water landing during a fourth flight test on Thursday.

Why it matters: It's a significant achievement for the vehicle, which is key to NASA's Artemis program.

  • In previous tests, the company's Starship and Super Heavy booster weren't able to pull off controlled landings, which are crucial for returning astronauts to the Moon.

Catch up quick: SpaceX's Starship launched atop the Super Heavy booster from Boca Chica beach in in Brownsville, Texas, around 8:50 am (ET) on Thursday.

  • After the spacecraft separated from the booster, the Super Heavy then performed a controlled descent back to Earth and made a soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.

Zoom in: Starship then coasted to an altitude around 132 miles (214 kilometers) before performing a flip maneuver and a nail-biting controlled landing into the Indian Ocean.

  • As Starship returned to Earth, a sheath of extremely hot plasma formed around the spacecraft, which burned through some heat shield tiles and other components of the craft.
  • Despite the plasma, which can disrupt communication with spacecraft, SpaceX maintained steady communication with Starship, giving impressive views of its fiery descent.

What they're saying: "Despite loss of many tiles and a damaged flap, Starship made it all the way to a soft landing in the ocean!" SpaceX owner Elon Musk said on social media.

Zoom out: In Starship's third test, the vehicle was supposed to attempt a controlled splashdown but it did not survive reentry.

  • The company took lessons from the third test and made software and hardware upgrades to the Starship and Super Heavy, while the SpaceX team also made operational changes.

Go deeper: Boeing's Starliner reaches orbit in first crewed mission to ISS

Editor's note: This story was updated with new developments.

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