Street Shred

SpaceX’s fourth and latest Starship launch started like a dream.

The mammoth spacecraft took off from the company’s test facilities in Texas, putting on a spectacular show on the launch pad.

Even stage separation of the spacecraft’s Super Heavy booster went by without a hitch, with the largest rocket booster ever built softly splashing down in the ocean below, hinting at what a future landing at sea could look like.

The company’s Starship, however, had a far more arduous trip ahead of it, soaring to an altitude of well over 120 miles as it serenely circled the Earth.

But then, all hell started breaking loose as it careened through the Earth’s atmosphere during its hellish descent. High-definition Starlink footage from the ship’s exterior cameras showed the two spacecraft’s aerodynamic fins being shredded to pieces as the plasma started heating up, leading to a fervid reaction from the crowd at mission control.

“Safe to say the ship is getting a little beat up,” one of the commentators can be heard saying during the company’s livestream. “The question is, how much of the ship is left?”

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Through Hell

Another dramatic moment came when the camera became obscured, then cracked and went dark. Then, moments before touching down, the feeds sprang back to life, showing the shredded zombie flaps articulating as designed, starting to right the plummeting spacecraft.

Given the telemetry, however, the flaps couldn’t stop Starship from belly-flopping in the ocean, ending a highly dramatic launch and landing attempt.

“It was a little bit ‘use your imagination,’ but we did hear it do its landing burn,” ground control announced.

“Starship somehow completed a landing burn and splashed down into the Indian Ocean,” Ars Technica‘s Eric Berger tweeted. “Amazing.”

While it certainly didn’t stick the landing, SpaceX is likely walking away with some useful telemetry for its upcoming test launches.

“With both the Super Heavy booster and Starship both making it all the way back to Earth as planned, the fourth test flight appears to have achieved its major objectives in a major step forward for SpaceX,” CBS space reporter William Harwood wrote.

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