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Starship reaches orbit during third successful test

The third flight of SpaceX’s Starship finally reached orbit on Friday before cruising partway around Earth.

The test was by far the most successful yet despite Starship losing communications 10 minutes before it was due to splash down in the Indian Ocean. It eventually broke up during its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk later tweeted that Starship would “make life multi-planetary”, while NASA’s administrator, Bill Nelson, said it had “soared into the heavens”.

Starship is the collective name for the SpaceX Super Heavy booster rocket and Starship spacecraft destined to fly humans to Mars one day.


Its first launch in April last year failed to reach orbit but surpassed expectations by crucially passing through Max Q, the period in which the spacecraft endures maximum dynamic pressure.

A second launch in November went one better with a successful first-stage separation and all of its Raptor engines firing as planned.

The milestone third launch, however, came close to fulfilling all of its mission objectives.

“Each of these flight tests continues to be just that: a test,” said SpaceX. “They aren’t occurring in a lab or on a test stand but are putting flight hardware in a flight environment to maximise learning.”


The Super Heavy rocket was due to have made a controlled landing in the Gulf of Mexico after sending Starship on its mission, but eventually malfunctioned after separation, hitting the sea.

The upper stage continued east, with Starlink satellites relaying incredible footage of it flying against the backdrop of Earth for around 45 minutes.

During that time, it checked off a to-do list of objectives that included opening and closing its payload doors.

As it was dragged back through the atmosphere, tiles were shown to be shredded from its heat shield. It was travelling at 16,000mph before communications terminated.

“The ship has been lost. So no splashdown today,” said SpaceX’s Dan Huot. “But again, it’s incredible to see how much further we got this time around.”

The success will be a huge boost to NASA’s Artemis program, which plans to return humans to the lunar surface using a version of Starship.

The third launch also came 22 years to the day Musk founded SpaceX with a handful of staff in LA. The firm’s current chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, said, “Happy Birthday to SpaceX. What a day.”

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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