Anticipation was running high today, building since it was first announced that the SpaceX Starship – which passed a tethered lift test in July – was finally to break free of the Earth. It did.
It was a glorious show – a hiss of gas, half like an oboe, half like a shoe being scraped against concrete, then two puffs of vapour, billowing pearly white into the sunny Texas afternoon. A shower of snowy condensate as the engine cracks to life. An orange beam of methalox pierces the grey shroud. Finally, the stainless steel behemoth shook free of gravity, lifting like the Wonkavator over the sandy spits of Boca Chica Beach, kicking up a tan cloud of dust and sand.
The ship soon found itself over the horizon of the high-altitude webcam SpaceX mounted to capture the feat, backlit by the sky, with the ocean lapping the shore just metres to the east as Starship gracefully hurled 150 metres into the air.
Reaching its apogee just after 30 seconds of flight, Starship gingerly tilted over toward its target landing pad, the familiar circle with a SpaceX “X” in the centre, just metres away from the launchpad, and carefully came to a soft landing thereupon, kicking up considerably much less sand on landing than on liftoff.
The test is a major milestone for the SpaceX Starship program, which will be fêted in a major press event sometime in September, after a few more features are tacked on to the vessel.
The success follows a more mundane moment earlier in the day, the return of SpaceX CRS-18 to Earth, which splashed down in the Pacific filled with over 1000 kg of returned science payloads, after Christina Koch detached it from the ISS at 1459 UT.