Incredible Footage: Watch Elon Musk's Starship Surpass Earth's Atmosphere In Dazzling Orbital Flight

By Victor Smiroff | Friday, 15 March 2024 09:30 AM
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In a triumphant third attempt, Elon Musk's revolutionary Starship successfully completed several historic milestones during its orbital flight test this morning.

This follows two previous attempts last year that ended prematurely in fiery explosions.

The two-stage spacecraft, which stands taller than the Statue of Liberty, launched from SpaceX's Boca Chica, Texas, flight test facility on the Gulf Coast at 9:25 am. The launch was met with jubilant cheers from SpaceX mission control as the craft ascended in a brilliant display of fire and smoke, captured by multiple livestream cameras on and off the Starship.

Starship, the most powerful and largest launch vehicle ever built, achieved a critical first objective: successful separation from its Super Heavy booster. However, the feed cut out before the booster, known as 'Booster 10,' could complete its planned splashdown into the Gulf of Mexico, leaving its fate uncertain.

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Despite successfully forming a 'plasma blanket' of heated atmosphere during its air-drag assisted descent, Starship's reusable 'Ship 28' failed to make a safe splashdown into the Indian Ocean, although it did complete its orbital flight path.

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Spectators watched the high-stakes launch live all morning through the foggy haze near SpaceX's coastal Texas facility. Online viewers witnessed the craft's journey as it soared past Earth's upper atmosphere into the historic orbital phase of its mission.

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The Super Heavy booster was engineered to land similarly to SpaceX’s smaller Falcon 9 rockets, with the goal of achieving a soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico. Starship 'Ship 28' was designed to return from space by coasting in a drag-heavy 'belly-flop' through the atmosphere, using air friction to reduce its speed, before reorienting into a vertical 'dive' position for a safe plunge in the Indian Ocean.

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Viewers of the SpaceX live feed witnessed a pink-fuchsia plasma of heated air develop around Starship as heat-friction escalated during the craft's descent. This 'plasma blanket' effect typically acts as a barrier to transmissions between Starship and Musk's Starlink satellites, which relay live video, telemetry data, and other key signals to Earth.

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The reusability of the SpaceX craft means that all of the expensive, meticulously crafted hardware, including its booster's 33 Raptor full-flow staged combustion cycle (FFSC) engines and Starship's own six Raptors, won't just become ocean debris. This efficient design aims to reduce the cost of launching payloads into orbit, targeting a price of about $10 million to transport 100 tons of material — and potentially NASA personnel — into space, to the moon, and, if all goes well, Mars.

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cleared SpaceX for its third Starship flight on Wednesday morning. "The FAA determined SpaceX met all safety, environmental, policy, and financial responsibility requirements," the agency said in a statement.

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SpaceX claims to have 'significantly expanded' Starship's fire suppression systems and improved the autonomous systems that should have triggered the destruct command sooner during the rocket's previous launch failures.

Starship's first test flight on April 20, 2023, ended in an explosion just 25 miles into the sky after its booster failed to detach. A SpaceX employee later filed a lawsuit against the company and her former manager, alleging that she was forced into an affair and feared job loss if she did not comply.

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SpaceX was forced to manually terminate that first test flight four minutes in as the rocket began spinning dangerously out of control; it crashed in the Gulf of Mexico, creating a dust cloud over a town several miles away.

Beyond the FAA's recommendations, SpaceX also said it has added a 'hot stage' separation system linking Starship to the Super Heavy Booster and reinforced the launchpad with flame deflectors.

Starship is central to SpaceX's future of providing reusable, affordable space transportation. Unlike the Saturn V rocket which took astronauts to the moon, the rocket — boosters and all — is designed to be completely reusable after returning to Earth in an effort to reduce costs.

NASA is relying on Musk's firm to develop rockets that will help it get humans to the moon and someday Mars ahead of China in the modern-day space race. The clock is ticking for a modified Starship to be ready for a planned lunar landing in 2025.

Alongside NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), it will ferry astronauts to the moon, provided all goes according to plan. SpaceX is already heavily involved in the space business, sending supplies and crew to the International Space Station and bringing astronauts back to Earth.

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