A complete success! Starship’s fourth test flight, Musk really became a

After 3 months, the fourth flight of Starship is here!

On the morning of June 6, local time, the sky was clear and clear, and the Boca Chica launch site in Texas on the Gulf Coast was once again bustling with people.

Everything was normal before launch, and the countdown counted to zero without interruption. But then there was a small accident: one of the 33 Raptor engines in the booster failed to ignite properly.

▲ Pay attention to the indicator light in the lower left corner

However, the spacecraft still rumbled towards the sky in straight flames, like a giant cloud-piercing arrow between the fog and sunshine, leaving behind unforgettable and magnificent traces.

About 2 minutes and 50 seconds after liftoff, the first and second stages successfully achieved thermal separation.

I never tire of watching a starship take off, but this is already a routine operation. We have seen similar scenes in the third flight. The near miss has passed at the beginning, but the real show is yet to come.

This time, the starship test flight finally went through the complete flight process and achieved a complete success.

An epic achievement! Achieve 3 goals with no risk

The starship system is mainly divided into two stages: the first stage, the super heavy booster (Super Heavy) at the bottom; the second stage, the starship spacecraft (Starship) at the top.

The focus of the fourth flight is what the third flight failed to accomplish – testing the return and recovery capabilities of the spacecraft and booster.

Or it can be summarized as: don’t burn, don’t burn, don’t burn.

▲ Starship’s fourth flight schedule, based on official website information, GPT-4o translation

There are three critical moments in the fourth flight: around 7 minutes, the booster softly landed on the sea; around 47 minutes, the spacecraft overcame the high temperature and re-entered the atmosphere; around 1 hour and 5 minutes, the spacecraft finally adjusted its attitude and splashed down into the sea.

The soft landing of the booster can be witnessed not long after the starship takes off.

In about 3 minutes, the booster starts the return ignition. In order to increase the success rate, around 4 minutes in, the booster jettisoned the thermal separation ring when returning, reducing its mass in the final stage of flight.

In the previous three test flights, the boosters all ended in explosions and failed to end well, but this time was an exception. At about 7 minutes and 30 seconds, the booster finally landed on the sea for the first time, and the crowd at the live broadcast was excited.

The booster successfully landed on the sea surface, which means it is one step closer to recovery from the launch site. The sci-fi scenario of using a robotic arm nicknamed "Chopsticks" to capture a booster may actually become a reality.

▲ Simulated video, the launch pad uses a special robotic arm "Chopsticks" to capture the booster

The next thing to watch is the controlled re-entry of the spacecraft into the atmosphere, following the previous flight trajectory, and planning to splash down in the Indian Ocean.

The best-case scenario is that the spacecraft successfully withstands the extreme temperatures of thousands of degrees Celsius when it re-enters the atmosphere, and finally performs a controlled sea landing in a controlled position, but it may also lose contact and be damaged at this stage like the third flight.

The process we saw was a bit stumbling, as if a certain piece of code had a bug, but it finally ran.

The spacecraft went through a long slide, slowly decelerating, with "sparks and lightning" along the way. The insulation tiles looked shaky, making people worried that they were on the verge of disintegration.

However, such a rare "astronaut's perspective" picture is indeed rare to see.

The live broadcast was interrupted several times in the middle, and even when it resumed, it was all a blur, relying on Starlink to provide signals. But near misses are the main theme of this test flight.

Even the host was joking, let's see how much of the spacecraft is left in the end. But judging from the results, the attitude of the spacecraft was still changed to vertical, and it successfully splashed down into the sea.

There were cheers and a champagne-opening atmosphere. SpaceX also immediately issued a document confirming that the fourth test flight was successfully completed.

Musk also congratulated the SpaceX team: "Despite losing many tiles and damaging flaps, the Starship still successfully landed softly in the ocean! Congratulations to the @SpaceX team on this epic achievement!"

It can be said that Si Fei has passed through the gate of hell again.

Why are reentry and recovery so important to starships?

If the third flight completed the goal of entering orbit, the fourth flight is closer to the ultimate goal of the starship – making the rocket fully reusable, thereby reducing costs and realizing the commercialization of space flight.

Musk believes this is a key technological breakthrough needed to achieve Mars colonization and other space exploration. If a rocket were fully reusable, the cost of each launch would be primarily fuel.

Only when the goal of the fourth flight is achieved, re-entry into the atmosphere is achieved, and the controlled sea surface splashdown is stabilized, can we talk about soft landing and recovery, or even the complete recovery and reuse of the rocket.

The perfect fourth flight, standing on the shoulders of the first three flights

Let’s quickly review the first three test flights of the starship——

Exploded! Musk's Starship fails on first flight

Musk’s starship exploded again, but there are two good news

Musk’s Starship’s third test flight, the closest to success

When we look at several test flights together, we can understand that it is not easy to reach the fourth flight. Every time there is progress, and every time we fly higher and further.

During the first flight in April 2023, multiple engines were abnormal, the first and second stages failed to separate successfully, and it turned into a fireball 4 minutes after liftoff.

On the second flight in November 2023, all the engines were ignited normally. About 2 minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff, the first and second stages successfully attempted thermal separation, but then the first stage exploded and the second stage continued flying for a while before self-destructing.

▲ Comparison chart of three test flights

The first two live broadcasts ended hastily. The third live broadcast in March 2024 lasted for nearly an hour and achieved several firsts.

  • The starship successfully reaches orbital speed;
  • Returning a spacecraft to the Earth’s atmosphere from space for the first time;
  • Opening and closing a starship payload door in space for the first time;
  • The first demonstration of propellant transfer provided valuable data for one starship to refuel another in the future…

However, the recovery and reentry of the third flight was not successful.

The booster was supposed to splash down in the Gulf of Mexico, but it suffered a "rapid unplanned breakup" while attempting a return landing, ending its flight at an altitude of about 462 meters.

The spacecraft also loses its signal and loses its trace when returning to the Earth's atmosphere, and may burn up or disintegrate.

▲ The scene of the third spacecraft returning to the earth’s atmosphere

SpaceX later analyzed that the reasons for the failure included a clogged booster engine filter and a problem with the attitude control of the spacecraft during taxiing…

Despite this, the completion degree of the third flight is already very high, and it can be scored as 80 points overall.

▲ Detailed illustration of the booster and spacecraft of Starship’s fourth flight. Picture from: X@BingoBoca.

For its fourth flight, SpaceX learned from the lessons learned from its third flight and made multiple software and hardware upgrades and operational changes, including improving the spacecraft’s heat shield and roll control, as well as the ability to abandon the booster after boost return. Thermal separation ring.

But only if they actually work, as we saw in the live broadcast, can SpaceX be convinced that these improvements are useful. It is also because of this that every test flight of the starship has something to watch.

Quickly gain experience and lessons from practical operations, and then do better every time. This is how SpaceX develops starships. Technology will not progress in silence, every bit is a practice of fire and roar.

To allow life on earth to travel to multiple planets, the goal of starships is still very arduous

The fourth flight of Starship is a success, but for SpaceX, it is just a small goal that needs to be completed, a test launch that is closer to the blueprint.

Starship is the largest and most powerful launch vehicle in human history, and it is also the first rocket designed to be fully reusable.

Ultimately, starships should carry humans on long-term interstellar flights, realize the dream of Mars, planets, and stars, and fly into the future.

However, until now, SpaceX is still working hard to prove that the starship can achieve reliable flight and recovery between the earth's surface and low-Earth orbit without humans.

On June 1, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announced the cancellation of the "dearMoon Project" manned trip around the moon in cooperation with SpaceX, which also reflects the long, difficult and uncertain nature of starship development.

In the future, starship missions will also include satellite deployment, interstellar transportation, and on-orbit refueling beyond low Earth orbit, so that humans can be sent to the moon, Mars and beyond. NASA's Artemis moon landing program also includes in.

▲Multiple generations of starships

Moreover, those currently participating in test flights are Starship 1.0. Musk previously revealed in the live broadcast that Starship 2.0, which is higher in altitude and has stronger thrust, is coming, and even Starship 3.0 is also planned. Construction of the Starship's second launch pad has also begun.

▲ SpaceX’s goal is to develop the technology needed to allow life to survive on multiple planets

The earth's orbit is only a phased mission, and the end point of the starship should be the sea of ​​stars.

Musk once said that if civilizations are short and long in terms of writing, the original cuneiform script was born 5,500 years ago. Compared with the 4.5 billion years of the earth's existence and the 13.8 billion years of the universe, human civilization has only blinked in the blink of an eye, as faint in the dark. candles.

For this reason, when human civilization is still strong, we should protect the thin life consciousness on the earth, expand it to Mars, and then expand it to the solar system and other galaxies, and develop a multi-planetary civilization, or even a multi-star civilization, among the stars. Shuttle freely.

This reminds me of a famous saying by Russian rocket scientist Tsiolkovsky: "The earth is the cradle of mankind, but man cannot live in the cradle forever."

At the end of the live broadcast, the host was so excited that he had nothing to say and repeatedly exclaimed "What A Day", what a wonderful day.

Humans eagerly explore among the stars, mostly in vain, but occasionally with success. Although you are in danger, you will never get trapped or trapped. As long as you have patience, the future will be bright and prosperous.

Despite our constant worries, there are still some beautiful and cruel adventures in the starry sky above our heads that can inspire us that we have more than just the present and that we can be proud to be part of the human race.

It is as sharp as autumn frost and can ward off evil disasters. Work email: [email protected]

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