Here’s what the Starship rocket will attempt on its 4th flight around the Earth

Joe Parker

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SpaceX is aiming to achieve several milestones on the IFT-4 flight, which is scheduled for June 2024. The Starship rocket must revalidate all previous milestones.
This was expected in May. In the end, the Starship’s next test flight should take place in June. At least, that’s what Elon Musk said on X (formerly Twitter) on May 11, 2024, in response to a question from an Internet user. According to the SpaceX founder, the IFT-4 flight will take place in three to five weeks’ time (i.e. in the first half of June).

The main objective of this new Integrated Flight Test, according to Elon Musk, is to ensure that the spacecraft – also called Starship, like the rocket – successfully re-enters the atmosphere after its passage through space. “The aim is for the Starship to exceed maximum heat-up, or at least go further than last time,” he said.

During IFT-3, which took place in mid-March, the mission was completed during atmospheric re-entry, when the last telemetry signals were received 49 minutes after lift-off. In its report, SpaceX stated that it had been able to collect useful data on Starship control and on the temperature affecting its heat shield.

Naturally, SpaceX is expected to revalidate all the steps involved in reaching this critical sequence. This precedes the final phase of the flight, which consists of ditching the craft in the ocean. Initially, this was planned for the Pacific, but for IFT-3, the Indian Ocean was chosen.

Simulating a controlled booster return

During Integrated Flight Test 4, there are other milestones that SpaceX should try to achieve. For the main Super Heavy booster, there are reports of an attempt at a soft landing. This should prepare SpaceX for the day when the Super Heavy’s return to Earth ends between the clamps of the launch tower.

Success during IFT-4 could pave the way for a real-life test during IFT-5, expected later in 2024 (on May 8, SpaceX performed a static ignition test of the spacecraft that will be used for this test). This will be a sensitive moment, as a miss could cause damage to the landing zone and launch tower.

According to the U.S. Civil Aviation Administration (CAA), which was questioned in April, other actions are likely to take place during the IFT-4 flight. However, these were not detailed by the regulator. What we do know, however, is that the FAA will conduct an environmental review of SpaceX’s operations in Florida.

An attempt to relight a Raptor engine in space may also be planned – it didn’t happen on the IFT-3 mission.

Finally, IFT-4 will not be the only flight on which SpaceX will operate an operational mission. There was talk for a while that the Starship would also be used to deploy Starlink satellites into orbit, since the spacecraft is now reaching space. However, SpaceX boss Gwynne Shotwell dismissed the idea.

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