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Watch SpaceX's Starship booster ace its splashdown for the first time

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Starship blasts off from SpaceX's private South Texas launchpad on its fourth test flight, and later demonstrated a soft splashdown of its Super Heavy booster in the Gulf of Mexico on June 6, 2024. Credit: SpaceX

Apparently, SpaceX had some well-placed cameras bobbing in the Gulf of Mexico to capture an unprecedented aspect of its Starship test last week. 

Billionaire Elon Musk's company recently released a video of its Super Heavy booster descending through the air during the rocket system's fourth uncrewed test flight on Thursday, June 6. 

Over 25 seconds, the video shows the enormous booster flaring before softly splashing into the water. The video recorded the rushing and gurgling sounds of the water, disrupted by the ferocious blast of the booster's engines.

While it's not quite clear if all of the flames on that candlestick were where they ought to be, the company has labeled this the first successful water splashdown of its Starship booster, one of its main objectives for the test. Watch the video below in the post on X, the social platform also owned by Musk.

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Recovering the heavy-lift booster, which stands about 233 feet tall, is part of SpaceX's goal of building a rapidly reusable Starship, much like its Falcon 9 rocket, which regularly carries loads of private customers' satellites into low-Earth orbit. The company has since guided its workhorse rocket's boosters down to drone ships in the ocean over 300 times. 

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Aerospace industry experts say landing the costly Starship boosters should lower the price of flight. In the commercial sector, SpaceX has led the way on booster reusability. Prior to its disruption of the space launch market, rocket components were typically discarded as one-and-done. 

"When we start recovering Starship boosters, we'll want them to return to the launch site for a quicker turnaround," said Jessie Anderson, a SpaceX host during the live Thursday broadcast. 

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The Starship launch tower will have a dual purpose, also serving as a booster landing pad, Anderson said. After releasing Starship, the arms — or "chopsticks" — on the tower will help guide the booster into position for a precision landing.

As for the ship itself, it flew longer than ever before and survived the peak heat of reentering Earth's atmosphere before plummeting into the Indian Ocean. A camera mounted to the craft showed flames, a torrent of debris falling off the vehicle, and the camera lens cracking during descent.

Though it's unclear how much of the ship was intact by the time it hit the water, the company said the vehicle successfully flipped and initiated an engine burn as planned before the landing, resulting in a controlled, soft splashdown.

Elisha Sauers writes about space for Mashable, taking deep dives into NASA's moon and Mars missions, chatting up astronauts and history-making discoverers, and jetting above the clouds. Through 17 years of reporting, she's covered a variety of topics, including health, business, and government, with a penchant for public records requests. She previously worked for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia, and The Capital in Annapolis, Maryland. Her work has earned numerous state awards, including the Virginia Press Association's top honor, Best in Show, and national recognition for narrative storytelling. For each year she has covered space, Sauers has won National Headliner Awards, including first place for her Sex in Space series. Send space tips and story ideas to [email protected] or text 443-684-2489. Follow her on X at @elishasauers.

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