Spaceflight Recap: Starship Makes Successful 4th Flight Test; Starliner’s Crewed Flight Test Docks to ISS

By Jose Resurreccion

Jun 06, 2024 10:27 PM EDT

Spaceflight Recap: Starship Makes Successful 4th Flight Test; Starliner’s Crewed Flight Test Docks to ISS
The SpaceX Starship launches on its fourth flight test from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on June 6, 2024.
(Photo : CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Thursday (June 6) marked the 80th anniversary of the Normandy Landings, referred to in pop culture as D-Day.

It was also a big day in space action as SpaceX and Boeing achieved major feats for their spacecraft.

Starship Survives Earth Reentry

Earlier that day, SpaceX successfully launched and landed its Starship rocket system after lifting off from the company's Starbase launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas, at 07:50 Central Time (12:50 UTC).

Space.com noted in its report that one of the 33 Raptor engines in its Super Heavy lower stage had not ignited, but the remainder brought the stack into the thinner parts of the atmosphere. Later, during its landing burn phase, another Raptor engine of the 13 required to land at the Gulf of Mexico safely malfunctioned, yet the other 12 compensated enough to make a soft landing.

This is the first time the Super Heavy splashed into the ocean, mostly intact after a Super Heavy booster disintegrated in its landing attempt during Starship's third flight test last March.

The Starship's upper stage reached suborbital speed, allowing it to re-enter and splash down in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia, the same target as the third launch earlier this year.

What was different about Thursday's launch was that the craft was able to maintain its stable orientation all the way through splashdown, something that was an issue during the previous flight. This was despite part of its flaps disintegrating in the process due to the heat of reentry.

The Starship in this flight also provided real-time telemetry and footage while re-entering Earth's atmosphere through Starlink terminals fitted into the test spacecraft. This capability was first-of-its-kind because most spacecraft undergo several minutes of communication blackout because compressed air in the upper atmosphere creates a radio wave-blocking plasma sheath.

It remains to be seen whether SpaceX will integrate Starlink terminals in its four Crew Dragon capsules for future missions or integrate the internet constellation into any human spaceflight program.

VCPost earlier reported that the company intended to use Starship for commercial purposes, given the success of the flight test. It is understood that the first operational missions would be used for cargo purposes, specifically for its Starlink internet constellation, before it could be rated for human use.

READ NEXT: SpaceX Starship Eyes Commercial Use After Successful Launch on Fourth Test Flight

Road to Artemis

After the successful flight, Elon Musk said Thursday's Starship flight was "a great day for humanity's future as a spacefaring civilization."

He also stressed that the spacecraft could function despite deliberately not installing at least three of its hexagon-shaped heat shield tiles in some of Starship's most vital areas and losing some during reentry.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson congratulated SpaceX, emphasizing that the flight test was "another step closer" to returning to the moon through the Artemis program.

Meanwhile, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics executive director Daniel L. Dumbacher told the New York Times that SpaceX's progress in the flight exceeded expectations, yet the company always worked on improving its hardware.

Boeing Starliner Reaches ISS

Meanwhile, Boeing's Starliner capsule reached the International Space Station hours after the Starship flight test.

separate Space.com report stated that the spacecraft, carrying Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams aboard, made it to the orbiting laboratory despite having multiple helium leak issues.

It could be recalled that the Starliner launch was almost a decade in the making after countless delays, scrubs, and malfunctions.

Wilmore and Williams are expected to stay in the orbital laboratory for a week to conduct tests and station maintenance, including repairing its urine processor after it malfunctioned. The two would then be expected to return to Earth on June 14.

READ MORE: Boeing's Manned Starliner Mission Finally Launches After Years of Delays

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