Third test flight of SpaceX’s mega rocket ends with loss of spacecraft

The company said it lost contact with Starship as it neared its goal, a splashdown in the Indian Ocean. It outperformed the previous two test flights

SpaceX launches Starship
SpaceX's next-generation Starship spacecraft, atop its powerful Super Heavy rocket, begins its lift off on its third launch from the company's Boca Chica launchpad on an uncrewed test flight, near Brownsville, Texas, March 14, 2024.Joe Skipper (REUTERS)

SpaceX’s mega rocket blasted off on another test flight Thursday and made it farther than two previous attempts, but the spacecraft was lost as it descended back to Earth.

The company said it lost contact with the spacecraft as it neared its goal, a splashdown in the Indian Ocean, about an hour after liftoff from the southern tip of Texas near the Mexican border.

It outperformed the previous two test flights, which both ended in explosions minutes after liftoff. Minutes later, the booster separated seamlessly from the spaceship and splashed down into the gulf. The spacecraft continued eastward for a planned hourlong flight and splashdown in the Indian Ocean.

Starship, the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built, soared from the southern tip of Texas near the Mexican border before it headed out over the Gulf of Mexico. No people or satellites were on board.

An hour later, SpaceX commentators said contact had been lost with the spacecraft. “The ship has been lost. So no splashdown today,” said SpaceX’s Dan Huot. “But again, it’s incredible to see how much further we got this time around.”

The rocket and futuristic-looking spacecraft towers 397 feet (121 meters), easily exceeding NASA’s past and present moon rockets.

SpaceX’s Elon Musk congratulated his team. ”SpaceX has come a long way,” Musk said via X, former Twitter. The rocket company was founded exactly 22 years ago Thursday.

NASA watched with keen interest: The space agency needs Starship to succeed in order to land astronauts on the moon in the next two or so years. This new crop of moonwalkers — the first since last century’s Apollo program — will descend to the lunar surface in a Starship, at least the first couple times.

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