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Elon Musk shares target date for fifth Starship test

Elon Musk has said his SpaceX team is aiming to get the Starship megarocket airborne for the fifth time in “late July.” And it could be the most spectacular test flight yet of the 120-meter-tall rocket.

That’s because SpaceX is aiming to “catch” the first-stage Super Heavy booster for the first time. The maneuver will allow the rocket’s first stage to be used for multiple flights, paving the way for more cost-efficient Starship missions.

Musk revealed the July target date in a reply to a post on X that included an animation showing how the catch maneuver might look. “Aiming to try this in late July!” Musk wrote.

Aiming to try this in late July!

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 15, 2024

As the animation shows, the maneuver involves a pair of robotic arms on the launch tower clasping the booster as it returns to Earth shortly after deploying the upper-stage Starship spacecraft to orbit.

SpaceX has already perfected the safe return of the first-stage of its much-smaller Falcon 9 rocket, though that particular booster lands upright without the use of robotic arms.

“Catching the booster reduces mass from the launch vehicle, moves hardware complexity to the ground, and enables rapid reuse of the rocket,” SpaceX said in a document published online.

“Following liftoff, and after the two stages separate in-flight, Super Heavy will return to the launch site, reignite its engines to slow the vehicle down, and the tower’s arms will catch the rocket booster before restacking it on the orbital launch mount for its next flight.”

Starship — the world’s most powerful rocket — has flown four times since its first launch in April 2023. The most recent flight earlier this month was by far its most successful outing yet, with both the Super Heavy and Starship completing successful landing burns before coming down in water.

When fully tested and licensed, the Starship is set to be used for crew and cargo missions to the moon and could even carry the first humans to Mars. While SpaceX hopes to send Starship on its first lunar mission before the end of this decade, crewed flights to the red planet are still a ways off.

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
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