SpaceX fires up Starship rocket for upcoming 5th test flight (photos, video)

The fourth test flight of SpaceX's Starship megarocket hasn't happened yet, but the company is already gearing up for launch number five.

SpaceX conducted a "static fire" with a Starship upper stage today (May 8) at its Starbase site in South Texas, briefly igniting all six of the 165-foot-tall (50 meters) vehicle's Raptor engines while it remained anchored to the pad.

SpaceX commonly conducts static fires in the leadup to launch, but this vehicle isn't next in line to leave Earth. That would be the Flight 4 Starship, which could launch as soon as this month. SpaceX has already static-fired both of its elements — the upper stage, known as Ship, and its giant Super Heavy first-stage booster, which sports 33 Raptors.

The Flight 4 vehicle is therefore presumably ready to go. But SpaceX still needs to secure a launch license from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is apparently still looking into what happened on Starship's most recent liftoff.

Related: Relive SpaceX Starship's 3rd flight test in breathtaking photos

SpaceX's Flight 5 Starship upper stage conducts a static fire test on May 8, 2024.

SpaceX's Flight 5 Starship upper stage conducts a static fire test on May 8, 2024. (Image credit: SpaceX via X)

That flight — the third involving a full Ship-Super Heavy stack — launched from Starbase on March 14.  

Starship performed quite well that day, according to SpaceX. Its two stages separated successfully, and Super Heavy aced its "boostback" burn shortly thereafter, getting into position for a planned splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.

The upper stage, meanwhile, reached orbital velocity and flew for about 50 minutes — far longer than a Starship vehicle had managed before.

SpaceX is gearing up for the fourth integrated flight test of its huge Starship vehicle — and the fifth one as well, as this test-firing of the Flight 5 Starship upper stage shows. (Image credit: SpaceX via X)

Both stages, however, ended up breaking apart — Super Heavy about 1,650 feet (500 m) above the waves and Ship during reentry to Earth's atmosphere.

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If you can't see SpaceX's Starship in person, you can score a model of your own. Standing at 13.77 inches (35 cm), this is a 1:375 ratio of SpaceX's Starship as a desktop model. The materials here are alloy steel and it weighs just 225g.

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SpaceX is developing Starship to get people and cargo to the moon, Mars and beyond. NASA picked the huge vehicle to be the first crewed lunar lander for its Artemis program, for example, and SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly touted Starship's potential to make Mars settlement economically feasible.

Getting Starship up and running will likely require a lot of test flights, and SpaceX is eager to fly them relatively quickly, as today's static fire shows. Indeed, Musk has said that the company plans to launch Starship at least six times this year.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.