Starship: Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launches and lands most powerful rocket ever made

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched and seemingly safely landed the most powerful and largest rocket ever made.

Starship lifted off from SpaceX’s Starbase home in Texas. Its booster separated and splashed down in the ocean, and the spacecraft then flew around the Earth and completed a landing burn as it fell towards the water.

The spacecraft lost many of the tiles that keep it safe from heat, and one of the flaps intended to control its descent was damaged, but SpaceX maintained control of the spacecraft right into the ocean.

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

SpaceX’s previous Starship tests have seen the spacecraft destroyed at various – and increasingly late – parts of the mission.

The company said that it would be launching its next Starship test mission “soon”.

It was the fourth test flight for the spacecraft, which Nasa and Musk hope will eventually fly humans to the Moon and Mars.

For all of these initial trips, however, the spacecraft has been empty. The almost 400-foot tall spacecraft took off above the Gulf of Mexico and then headed to the east.

The first-stage booster that carried it up into the air then separated from the spacecraft as planned.

“And we have splashdown!” SpaceX launch commentator Kate Tice announced from mission control at company headquarters in California.

It was a critical milestone in the company’s plan to eventually return Starship’s super-heavy booster to its launch site for reuse.

Starship then carried on, soaring on a half-lap of the Earth before splashing down in the Indian Ocean.

SpaceX suggested that splash down had gone as planned, with Starship successfully undertaking a landing burn that was intended to ease its drop into the water.

A previous version of Starship had come close to a success in March, but lost contact with the spacecraft as it flew out of space and blew up short of its goal. The booster also ruptured in flight, a quarter of a mile above the Gulf.

Last year’s two test flights ended in explosions shortly after blasting off from the southern tip of Texas near the Mexican border. The first one left a crater in the pad at Boca Chica Beach and threw debris for thousands of feet.

SpaceX upgraded the software and made some rocket-flyback changes to improve the odds.

The Federal Aviation Administration signed off on Tuesday on this fourth demo, saying all safety requirements had been met.

Starship is designed to be fully reusable, which is why SpaceX wanted to control the booster’s entry into the Gulf and the spacecraft’s descent into the Indian Ocean – it is intended as practice for planned future landings. Nothing will be recovered from Thursday’s flight.

Nasa has ordered a pair of Starships for two moon-landing missions by astronauts later this decade. Each moon crew will rely on Nasa’s own rocket and capsule to leave Earth, but meet Starship in lunar orbit for the ride down to the surface.

SpaceX is already selling tourist trips around the moon. The first private lunar customer, a Japanese tycoon, pulled out of the trip with his entourage last week, citing the oft-delayed schedule.

SpaceX’s founder and chief executive has grander plans: Musk envisions fleets of Starships launching people and the infrastructure necessary to build a city on Mars.

Additional reporting by agencies