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SpaceX video teases possible Starship booster “capture” on next flight

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In early June, the rocket for the fourth full-scale test flight of SpaceX Starship is expected to lift off from Starbase, the company's private launch base in South Texas.
Larger / In early June, the rocket for the fourth full-scale test flight of SpaceX Starship is expected to lift off from Starbase, the company’s private launch base in South Texas.

SpaceX

In a short video released Thursday, perhaps to celebrate the US Fourth of July holiday with the red glow of the biggest rocket of all, SpaceX offered new footage of the latest test of its Starship launch vehicle.

That test, the fourth of the experimental rocket that NASA is counting on to land its astronauts on the moon and that could one day launch humans to Mars, took place on June 6. During the flight, the rocket’s first stage performed well during ascent and, after separating from the upper stage, made a controlled re-entry into the Gulf of Mexico. The Starship’s upper stage appeared to make a nominal flight through space before making a controlled—if fiery—landing in the Indian Ocean.

The new video mainly focuses on Super Heavy’s booster scene and her entrance into the Bay. There are new views from a camera on top of the 71-meter-high first stage, as well as from a small buoy nearby at water level. Video from the buoy, in particular, shows the first stage making a straight landing in the ocean.

Starship’s fourth flight test.

Perhaps most intriguingly, at the end of the video, SpaceX teases an image of the large Starship launch tower in South Texas at the Starbase facility. Prominent are the two “sticks,” large arms intended to catch the first stage booster as it slowly descends back toward its launch pad.

Then, in simulated footage, the video shows the first stage of the Starship descending back towards the launch tower with the title “Flight 5”. And then it fades.

To land or not to land?

This supports the idea that SpaceX is working toward attempting a booster capture of the Starship in its next flight test, which will likely take place later this summer. Admittedly, the company still has technical and regulatory work to do before that happens.

In the days immediately following the fourth flight test, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said it was the company’s intention to make such a landing attempt on the next launch. However, during a conversation last week with local residents in south Texas, Starbase CEO Kathy Lueders said that effort may not happen on Flight 5.

However, new video released Thursday shows that a capture attempt is still on the table as a possibility, and perhaps even a possibility. Such a landing would be visually stunning, as well as a calculated risk to SpaceX’s launch tower infrastructure, as the booster would likely land with several tons of spare methane and liquid oxygen fuel in its tanks.

If SpaceX decides to move forward with the effort, it must obtain a launch and reentry license from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is tasked with ensuring the safety of people and property on the ground. It seems likely that the next test flight will not happen before August.

Flight 5 tease.
Larger / Flight 5 tease.

SpaceX

Meanwhile, activities in the South Texas launch site could be limited for several days as Hurricane Beryl enters the Gulf of Mexico later Friday and then heads toward the Texas coast early next week. The center of Beryl is expected to pass near or north of the launch site late Sunday night or Monday, bringing winds and waves.

However, because Beryl is not expected to be a major hurricane in terms of wind speed, these impacts should not be catastrophic for SpaceX facilities. Heavy rain and inland flooding in the low-lying Starbase area is also a possibility Monday and Tuesday before the storm moves away.

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