SpaceX’s Starship Lands Successfully for the First Time in a Test Flight

Three previous uncrewed test flights ended with Starship being destroyed, but both the booster and the spacecraft splashed down on the fourth try

A rocket launches into a dark sky
SpaceX's Starship launches on its fourth test flight on Thursday morning. Brandon Bell / Getty Images

SpaceX’s massive Starship rocket completed an uncrewed test flight this morning, culminating in the spacecraft’s soft landing in the Indian Ocean. The feat marks the first successful splashdown out of four total launches to date.

During the previous three flight tests, the rocket exploded before landing. Today, Starship’s booster executed its first landing burn before reaching the water, but it’s not clear how much of the spacecraft survived re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, writes NBC News’ Denise Chow.

“Despite loss of many tiles and a damaged flap, Starship made it all the way to a soft landing in the ocean!” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote in a post on X. “Congratulations @SpaceX team on an epic achievement!!”

The 397-foot-tall Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, is designed to transport people and cargo to space. NASA’s upcoming crewed missions to the moon plan to dock with a Starship human landing system in space that will carry astronauts to the lunar surface.

With the success of Starship’s test, “we are another step closer to returning humanity to the moon through #Artemis—then looking onward to Mars,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson wrote in a post on X.

Each of SpaceX’s tests of Starship have progressed further than the ones before. During the inaugural test flight in April 2023, the rocket exploded about four minutes in—before its two stages, the Starship spacecraft and the Super Heavy booster, could separate.

Last November, in a second test, the spacecraft and booster successfully separated, then both exploded shortly after,’s Josh Dinner wrote at the time. Starship reached its planned orbit and entered space during its third launch in March, but the spacecraft broke apart during re-entry, about 49 minutes into the mission. The booster was also destroyed before landing.

The fourth test launched from Boca Chica, Texas, on Thursday morning. “The primary objectives will be executing a landing burn and soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico with the Super Heavy booster and achieving a controlled entry of Starship,” SpaceX wrote in a post on its website.

Thirty-two of the rocket’s 33 engines lit during launch, and the spacecraft and booster successfully separated. Just over seven minutes into the mission, the Super Heavy booster successfully landed in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time. The spacecraft continued on to space and coasted at around 130 miles above Earth’s surface for roughly 40 minutes.

“That booster landing on the ocean was phenomenal,” says Laura Forczyk, a space consultant and founder of the George-based firm Astralytical, to Wired’s Jonathan O’Callaghan. “That gives us confidence that SpaceX can make Starship reusable.”

SpaceX streamed live video of the launch, which included a view from a camera attached to the Starship spacecraft. As the capsule began re-entry, debris appeared in the frame, indicating the spacecraft was sustaining external damage. A flap appeared to burn, and particulate matter blocked some of the camera’s view, report CNN’s Ashley Strickland and Jackie Wattles.

“Hoping that the ship can hang on. It’s probably potentially hanging on by a couple of bolts and threads, but it’s still going,” Kate Tice, SpaceX’s senior quality engineering manager, said on the broadcast.

Watch live: SpaceX launches Starship/Super Heavy Booster on fourth test flight

As Starship touched down in the Indian Ocean, cheers erupted in the background of the broadcast. Mission control confirmed that the spacecraft completed its landing burn.

“Our first ever ship landing burn after a launch into space … that was incredible,” Dan Huot, SpaceX communications manager, said on the broadcast, per CNBC’s Michael Sheetz.

Starship must pass several more tests before it’s ready to be used in NASA’s Artemis program—for example, SpaceX hopes to demonstrate next year that it can transfer fuel between two Starships in space.

While the fourth test revealed potential issues with the spacecraft’s heat protection system, it was “a great success,” Abhi Tripathi, a former mission director at SpaceX who is now an aerospace engineer at the Space Science Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Wired.

Starship’s mission comes less than 24 hours after Boeing’s Starliner successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Wednesday morning, carrying NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the International Space Station. The spacecraft docked at the space station on Thursday, after an issue with its thrusters.

Artemis 3, the first flight to the moon planning to utilize Starship, is not expected to launch before September 2026.

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