In a monumental leap for space exploration, SpaceX’s Starship rocket soared through its first successful test flight on Thursday. This milestone is a giant leap forward in crafting the massive vehicle set to shake up space travel. The test flight, which wrapped up with a splash in the Indian Ocean, marks a crucial stride toward SpaceX’s sky-high ambitions.

Historic Flight Milestones

The test flight kicked off around 8:50 a.m. ET from SpaceX’s Starbase outpost near Boca Chica, Texas. Moments after takeoff, the rocket’s booster pulled off a smooth splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico—a key milestone in SpaceX’s drive for reusability. This is the first time SpaceX has successfully brought back the booster in one piece, echoing the regular recoveries of its Falcon 9 rockets.

Dan Huot, SpaceX’s communications maestro, shared the team’s excitement, saying, “Our first-ever ship landing burn after a space launch… that was phenomenal.” SpaceX’s big boss, Elon Musk, echoed the thrill, hailing the achievement as a major leap forward in the company’s mission.

Starship’s Journey and Splashdown

Approximately an hour post-launch, Starship reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and successfully splashed down in the Indian Ocean. The spacecraft appeared to withstand the extreme heat of reentry, with only minimal debris visible in the broadcast footage. SpaceX confirmed the success with a triumphant social media post: “Splashdown confirmed!”

AD 4nXe 2fpXdmUDEUbgTmUOiZQKihGEl0cxayBp5fWP764iDxt8OFrmD0WMBP39xwNKWXqMT Aq6Di EvRT3ySQDiUXZYTnVPqSwramZEUNzER2WWnVqYOjF2LC cPFJV goVwxY80QmcFlOQ6 DrPOgcDs0KqZ?key=8YsowlmIRjkiRtwrA P4mw

No Crew Aboard Yet

The test flight did not include a human crew. SpaceX has previously indicated that it intends to conduct hundreds of Starship missions before launching astronauts. The ultimate goal is for Starship to serve as a fully reusable vehicle for transporting cargo and people beyond Earth, a vision integral to NASA’s Artemis moon program. SpaceX has secured a multibillion-dollar contract with NASA to use Starship as a crewed lunar lander.

NASA’s Endorsement

Following the successful test, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson congratulated SpaceX, highlighting the significance of the achievement for future lunar missions. “We are another step closer to returning humanity to the Moon through Artemis — then looking onward to Mars,” Nelson wrote on social media.

Continual Progress

This test flight is the fourth for the full Starship system, following previous launches in April 2023, November 2023, and March 2024. Each successive flight has demonstrated new capabilities, although the earlier tests ended with the destruction of the rocket. During the third test flight, SpaceX successfully tested the opening and closing of the payload door in space and fuel transfer, critical for future satellite deployments and mission efficiency.

SpaceX’s iterative approach emphasizes learning and improvement from each test flight. The company focuses on “recursive improvement” to refine Starship’s design and performance. Even flights with explosive outcomes contribute valuable data, pushing the vehicle closer to its goal of being a fully reusable rocket.

Elon Musk has previously stated that SpaceX expected to invest approximately $2 billion in Starship development in 2023 alone, underscoring the company’s commitment to advancing this groundbreaking technology.

The Starship Rocket

Starship, towering at a whopping 397 feet when perched atop the Super Heavy booster, is the tallest and mightiest rocket ever to blast off. The Super Heavy booster itself stands a proud 232 feet tall, packed with 33 roaring Raptor engines that churn out a jaw-dropping 16.7 million pounds of thrust—nearly double the oomph of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket.

Starship, at 165 feet tall, is equipped with six Raptor engines designed for different phases of flight. The vehicle is powered by liquid oxygen and liquid methane, requiring over 10 million pounds of propellant for each launch.