SpaceX fires up Starship rocket ahead of 4th test flight (video)

fire, dust and exhaust billow from the base of a big, stainless steel rocket
A Starship upper stage performs a static fire test ahead of the vehicle's planned test flight, which will be the fourth for the Starship program. This image is a screenshot from a video that SpaceX posted on X on March 25, 2024. (Image credit: SpaceX via X)

SpaceX's next Starship vehicle has breathed fire ahead of its coming test flight.

A 165-foot-tall (50 meters) Starship upper stage just fired up all six of its Raptor engines in a full-duration "static fire" test at SpaceX's Starbase site in South Texas, the company announced today (March 25).

Static fires, in which engines are briefly lit while a vehicle remains anchored to the pad, are common prelaunch tests. SpaceX conducted this one to prep for the fourth Starship test flight, which could take place as soon as early May.

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

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SpaceX is still analyzing data from the third Starship flight, which launched from Starbase on March 14. 

The 400-foot-tall (122 m) megarocket — which consists of the upper stage, known as Ship, and the huge Super Heavy first-stage booster — performed quite well on that test mission, according to SpaceX. 

For example, both stages aced their ascent burns, and Super Heavy conducted a successful "boostback" burn to get in position for a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico. The booster's landing burn didn't go according to plan, however, and it ended up breaking apart about 1,650 feet (500 m) above the waves.

Ship flew for about 50 minutes and notched a number of milestones, including successfully opening and closing its payload door. But the craft broke apart during its reentry to Earth's atmosphere, so it didn't splash down in the Indian Ocean as planned.

Starship's first two test flights, in April 2023 and November 2023, ended after just four minutes and eight minutes, respectively.

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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 aims to conduct six or more Starship test flights this year, in an effort to get the fully reusable vehicle up and running and fast as possible.

But the timing of flights is not entirely up to the company; there are regulatory hurdles to clear as well, chiefly the securing of launch licenses from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is currently overseeing the investigation into what happened on Starship's third flight, and it's unclear when that work will be done. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com 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.