SpaceX Blazes Forward With Latest Starship Launch

The third try turned out to be closer to the charm for Elon Musk and SpaceX, as company’s mammoth Starship rocket launched on Thursday and traveled about halfway around the Earth before it was lost as it re-entered the atmosphere.

The test flight achieved several key milestones in the development of the vehicle, which could alter the future of space transportation and help NASA return astronauts to the moon.

This particular flight was not, by design, intended to make it all the way around the Earth. At 8:25 a.m. Central time, Starship — the biggest and most powerful rocket ever to fly — lifted off from the coast of South Texas. The ascent was smooth, with the upper Starship stage reaching orbital velocities. About 45 minutes after launch, it started re-entering the atmosphere, heading toward a belly-flop splashdown in the Indian Ocean.

Live video, conveyed in near real-time via SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, showed red-hot gases heating the underside of the vehicle. Then communications with Starship ended, and SpaceX later said the vehicle had not survived the re-entry.

Even so, Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA, congratulated SpaceX on what he called a “successful test flight” of the system his agency is counting on for some of its Artemis lunar missions.

A crowd gathered on South Padre Island to watch the Starship launch on Thursday.Credit…Cheney Orr/Reuters

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