Starship launch - live: SpaceX launches and lands world’s biggest rocket in crucial test of Mars ambitions

The Starship rocket on the launchpad at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas on 5 June, 2024 (SpaceX)
The Starship rocket on the launchpad at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas on 5 June, 2024 (SpaceX)

SpaceX has successfully launched its massive Starship rocket, in what was a critical test of Elon Musk’s hopes of colonising Mars.

The 120-metre rocket is the biggest and most powerful spacecraft ever built, capable of producing 7.5 million kilograms of thrust – roughly double that of Nasa’s Space Launch System (SLS).

The fourth major flight test saw both parts of the rocket return to Earth for the first ime, with the Super Heavy booster splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico and the main Starship making it all the way to the Indian Ocean.

It came less than three months after SpaceX launched a Starship prototype into orbit but failed to return it to Earth.

SpaceX said that “data was the payload” for today’s mission, hailing it as a success despite not being able to recover the rocket. Elon Musk described it as an “epic achievement.

”You can watch a live stream of the Starship launch below.

Hello and welcome...

09:07 , Anthony Cuthbertson

to The Independent’s live coverage of today’s Starship launch attempt. The rocket is stacked, the roads are cleared, and approval has been granted by the necessary authorities for lift off to go ahead.

We’ll be bringing you all the latest updates, analysis and even a live stream of the launch itself as soon as it’s ready.

T-Minus 4 hours.

Fourth major flight test will be critical

09:21 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Today’s attempt comes just three months after SpaceX last sent a Starship rocket into space, and while it successfully reached orbit, not all went to plan.

Both the Super Heavy booster and the main Starship rocket were destroyed before they could make it back to Earth, making today’s attempt a critical test of SpaceX’s hopes of using the spacecraft for missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond in the coming years. Proving that both parts of its massive rocket are reusable is the main aim for SpaceX today, so we will hope to see them splash down in the Gulf of Mexico and Indian Ocean respectively. And no more explosions.

We’ve got a round-up of SpaceX’s explosive Starship history. You can watch it here:

The world’s biggest rocket is about to get bigger

10:29 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Measuring 120 metres tall, Starship is the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built – but SpaceX boss Elon Musk says it will soon be even bigger.

Responding to a post to X (formerly Twitter) last month, Mr Musk wrote that Starship “will probably approach ~140m (currently ~120m) over time”.

For comparison, the Great Pyramid of Giza – the largest Egyptian pyramid – stands at 137m. It is not clear whether this additional height will result in more power, with the current version capable of producing 7.5 million kilograms of thrust – roughly double that of the world’s second most powerful rocket, Nasa’s Space Launch System (SLS).

Starship stacked for flight 4

10:34 , Anthony Cuthbertson

The two-hour launch window will open in just a couple of hours, with Starship fully stacked and waiting to be fuelled on the launchpad at SpaceX’s Starbase facility.

Here’s what the company has said it hopes to achieve with today’s launch:

The fourth flight test turns our focus from achieving orbit to demonstrating the ability to return and reuse Starship and Super Heavy. The primary objectives will be executing a landing burn and soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico with the Super Heavy booster, and achieving a controlled entry of Starship.

To accomplish this, several software and hardware upgrades have been made to increase overall reliability and address lessons learned from Flight 3. The SpaceX team will also implement operational changes, including the jettison of the Super Heavy’s hot-stage following boostback to reduce booster mass for the final phase of flight.

Flight 4 will fly a similar trajectory as the previous flight test, with Starship targeted to splashdown in the Indian Ocean. This flight path does not require a deorbit burn for reentry, maximizing public safety while still providing the opportunity to meet our primary objective of a controlled Starship reentry.

The fourth flight of Starship will aim to bring us closer to the rapidly reusable future on the horizon. We’re continuing to rapidly develop Starship, putting flight hardware in a flight environment to learn as quickly as possible as we build a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond.


What happened last time?

11:35 , Anthony Cuthbertson

On 14 March, which coincidentally is SpaceX’s birthday, Starship lifted off from the Starbase facility and travelled for nearly an hour through space before eventually breaking up upon reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere above the Indian Ocean.

Today’s flight should take a similar trajectory, with the estimated time projected to be one hour and five minutes.

You can watch the launch, flight, and eventual demise of the last Starship spacecraft to attempt it here (skip to around 38 minutes for the lift off):

What to expect today

11:49 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX has helpfully given a full rundown of what to expect from today’s launch, revealing what each stage of the lift-off, flight and landing should look like - to the nearest second.

There’s also an illustration to give a vague idea of what it all should look like:



00:00:02 Liftoff

00:01:02 Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)

00:02:41 Super Heavy MECO (most engines cut off)

00:02:45 Hot-staging (Starship Raptor ignition and stage separation)

00:02:49 Super Heavy boostback burn startup

00:03:52 Super Heavy boostback burn shutdown

00:03:54 Hot-stage jettison

00:06:39 Super Heavy is transonic

00:06:43 Super Heavy landing burn startup

00:07:04 Super Heavy landing burn shutdown

00:08:23 Starship engine cutoff

00:47:25 Starship entry

01:03:11 Starship is transonic

01:04:01 Starship is subsonic

01:05:38 Landing flip

01:05:43 Landing burn

01:05:48 An exciting landing!

SpaceX hoping to build on ‘phenomenal’ Starship progress

12:13 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX described the last Starship flight test in March as “phenomenal”, despite both parts of the rocket being ultimately lost. It is a view that appears to be shared by those financing the endeavour, acoording to those we spoke to following the launch.

Chad Anderson, a managing partner at SpaceX investor Space Capital, told The Independent that he believed it was a “hugely successful” mission and an “incredible breakthrough” for the company.

“The engineering challenges are immense for a vehicle of this size and complexity,” he said. “Starship is a revolutionary launch vehicle that promises to shake up all the givens of space: that it’s expensive, difficult, and dangerous to get there.”

You can read more about Starship Test Flight 3 here:

Elon Musk’s Starship rocket made it to space – is the mission to Mars really on?

Starship launch time pushed back 50 minutes

12:28 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX says the launch is now scheduled for 7.50am local time (1.50pm BST), which is 50 minutes into the two hour launch window. That still gives plenty of time for any minor delays that might arise during the countdown, as they have done in the past.

Weather conditions for the launch are reportedly 95 per cent favourable, which is about as high as it gets for a launch like this.

We’ll have a live stream in about 50 minutes.


Starship backup launch windows in place

12:39 , Anthony Cuthbertson

If today’s launch is scrubbed, SpaceX has backup launch windows for the Starship flight attempt in place.

Beach closure advisories to the public have been issued for 7 June and 8 June by officials at Cameron County where SpaceX’s Starbase facility is located. They list times of 12am local time to 2pm on both days.

SpaceX’s Starship rocket pictured at the Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on 3 June, 2024 (Elon Musk/ X)
SpaceX’s Starship rocket pictured at the Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on 3 June, 2024 (Elon Musk/ X)

13:01 , Anthony Cuthbertson

If successful, today will be the 60th orbital launch of 2024 for SpaceX - one short of the total number of orbital rocket launches the company achieved in 2022.

With more than half of 2024 still to go, SpaceX is well on track to hit three figures for the first time in its 22 year history.

Propellant load for Starship rocket underway

13:05 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX says propellant load for Starship is now underway.

This should take another 15 minutes or so. Once this stage is complete, it is up to the SpaceX flight director to verify whether or not the rocket is go for launch.

The countdown currently stands at 45 minutes.

SpaceX’s Starship rocket fuels up at the Starbase facility in Texas (SpaceX)
SpaceX’s Starship rocket fuels up at the Starbase facility in Texas (SpaceX)

Starship launch live stream

13:21 , Anthony Cuthbertson

You can watch the Starship launch live stream right here:

‘The payload for this mission is data'

13:30 , Anthony Cuthbertson

With no crew or cargo onboard today, SpaceX says “the payload for this mission is data”.

Liquid oxygen and liquid methane propellent are still being loaded to the Starship rocket and its Super Heavy booster, with just over 20 minutes to go until launch.

There are currently no vehicle or weather issues, but SpaceX says a backup launch window will most likely be in 48 hours, just in case.

“Building upon what we achieved during Starship’s third flight test, our primary goal today is to get through the extreme heat of reentry,” SpaceX said.

“We’re continuing to rapidly develop Starship, putting flight hardware in a flight environment to learn as quickly as possible as we build a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond.”

‘Excitement guaranteed'

13:35 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Usually in the build-up to these Starship flight tests, Elon Musk gives his odds for how likely it is to succeed. I haven’t seen any such forecasts this time (comment if you’ve seen anything), but SpaceX has one prediction for today. In its official countdown for the lift-off, SpaceX notes at 00:00:00: “Excitement guaranteed.”

More than half a million people are already tuned into the Starship launch live stream, which is way more than the last launch at this stage. That may be because it’s streaming exclusively on X, so all viewers are concentrated in one place.

Starship’s onboard cameras capture the moment the world’s biggest rocket entered Earth’s orbit on 14 March, 2024 (SpaceX)
Starship’s onboard cameras capture the moment the world’s biggest rocket entered Earth’s orbit on 14 March, 2024 (SpaceX)

Watch an animation of today’s Starship flight

13:41 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX has shared an animation showing the route its Starship rocket should take if all goes well today. After lifting off from the Starbase facility in Texas, the Super Heavy Booster will drop away into the Gulf of Mexico before the main rocket continues on over the Atlantic Ocean, across the southern part of Africa dn then down into the Indian Ocean just before reaching Australia.

You can watch it here:

T-minus 10 minutes.

SpaceX announces plans for Starship launch towers

13:45 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX has said that it is planning to build another launch tower at its Starbase facility in Texas, as well as two additional launch towers in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

It also wants to ramp up its production targets to eventually build one Starship per day. SpaceX boss wants a fleet of thousands to establish a self-sustaining human colony on Mars.


T-minus 5 minutes.

1 million people watch Starship live stream

13:48 , Anthony Cuthbertson

The official live stream for this Starship launch has just passed 1 million viewers, showing just how popular this rocket is.

All the propellant is loaded now, meaning we’re into the final stages of the countdown. There may be a hold at 40 seconds, where it can stay for up to 30 minutes.

We have lift off!

13:50 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Starship has lifted off successfully!

Max Q passed

13:54 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Starship has passed Max Q, which is the moment the maximum stress is put on the rocket.

One of the Raptor rockets on the Super Heavy booster appears to not be working, but this should not be critical. The next big test is hot stage separation, which is where the whole system exploded in an earlier test.


Hot stage separation complete

13:56 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Another major milestone is passed, as Starship separates from its Super Heavy booster.

The booster will now return to Earth for a water landing in the Gulf of Mexico, while the main Starship rocket will continue now for another 40 minutes before attempting its own return to Earth.

We have splashdown!

14:02 , Anthony Cuthbertson

We’ve just had the first ever successful splashdown of the Super Heavy booster. The typically enthusiastic SpaceX team are suitably excited by the giant rocket firing up its landing burn and reaching the water without exploding.

Here’s how it looked coming down:


And a shot of the SpaceX team celebrating:

Starship coasting over the Atlantic

14:10 , Anthony Cuthbertson

There’s going to be a 20 minute break on the live stream while Starship coasts across the Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

There’s currently no signal in these parts of planetary orbit, but SpaceX hopes to equip future versions of the rocket with its Starlink satellite internet that will provide non-stop coverage.

When the stream starts up again we can expect an attempt at a flip manouvre, reentry and hopefully a soft splash down in the Indian Ocean.

In the mean time we’re treated to Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube, a waltz that was used by Stabley Kubrick in his epic 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Interest doesn’t appear to be dropping off, with 2 million people now tuned into the live stream.

Watch the moment the Super Heavy booster returned to Earth

14:15 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Here’s the moment Starship’s Super Heavy booster successfully splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, before toppling over.

Watch the Starship hot stage separation

14:28 , Anthony Cuthbertson

While we wait for the live stream to return, here’s the moment Starship separated from its Super Heavy booster:

Starship begins descent

14:36 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Starship is now making its way back to Earth, with its altitude dropping back below 100 kilometres.

Travelling at more than five times the speed of sound, the plasma around the ship is beginning to build as it approaches the Earth’s atmosphere.


Starship approaches reentry

14:39 , Anthony Cuthbertson

If Starship survives reentry - which it didn’t last time - then it will need to perform a flip manoeuvre before splashing down in the Indian Ocean.

Plasma is really building up now as it approaches “peak-heating”.


Starship flaps burning off

14:49 , Anthony Cuthbertson

We’re at 52km altitude and one of the flaps appears to be on fire.


SpaceX reminds us that the data is the payload on today’s test flight.

Starship camera lens cracks

14:51 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Debris is flying off Starship now, and even the camera lens has cracked. Remarkably, the craft has made it to an altitude of 45km and we still have live views.

“We can’t really tell how much of the ship is left,” SpaceX says.


Starship holding together

14:55 , Anthony Cuthbertson

Starship is somehow still holding together, though it’s hard to tell from the live stream what is actually happening.

There should be a flip manoeuvre right about now but the camera is so broken that it’s impossible to tell. The team at SpaceX is cheering as it passes through 10km altitude.

“It’s probably hanging on by a couple of bolts and threads,” one of SpaceX’s live stream commentator says.

Starship flight test comes to an end

15:00 , Anthony Cuthbertson

“Starship is in the water,” SpaceX says.

Starship somehow managed to do a landing burn having made it through reentry. It is now floating, probably in many pieces, in the Indian Ocean.

Despite the chaotic ending to the flight test, that can be considered a success for SpaceX. Starship made it further than ever before, as did its Super Heavy booster.

The SpaceX team certainly seem happy about it:


SpaceX toast Starship success with marshmallows

15:03 , Anthony Cuthbertson

The SpaceX team are now toasting the latest Starship test by toasting some marshmallows on a custom Starship flame torch.


And that brings the live stream to a close, but we’ll still have more analysis to come and reactions to come.

Elon Musk hails ‘epic achievement’

15:38 , Anthony Cuthbertson

SpaceX boss Elon Musk has hailed his team’s “epic achievement” in bringing both the Starship rocket and its Super Heavy booster back to Earth for the first time today.

“Despite loss of many tiles and a damaged flap, Starship made it all the way to a soft landing in the ocean,” the billionaire wrote on X.

Watch Starship successfully land without exploding for the first time

15:53 , Anthony Cuthbertson

It’s a momentous day for SpaceX, and for its Starship rocket.

Here’s the moment it returns to Earth from orbit for the first ever time:

Countdown begins for next Starship launch

16:06 , Anthony Cuthbertson

As the dust and water drops settle after today’s successful re-entry and splash down, SpaceX is already looking forward to Starship test flight 5. The rocket is already built and has conducted several key tests in the build-up to the next launch, which could place within weeks.

SpaceX is yet to confirm a date for the next flight attempt, nor what its objectives will be, though we will likely see an effort to recoer at least one stage of the rocket.

We’ll be bringing all the latest news and updates on the next Starship launch over the coming days and weeks. Until then, you can read all about today’s flight test here:

SpaceX launches and lands the most powerful rocket ever made