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SpaceX's Starship survives return to Earth on fourth test

(Reuters) -- SpaceX's giant Starship rocket survived reentry through Earth's atmosphere on Thursday and splashed down in the Indian Ocean as planned during its fourth test mission after launching from south Texas.

The two-stage spacecraft, consisting of the Starship cruise vessel mounted atop its towering Super Heavy rocket booster, broke apart during its last attempt in March to survive a blazingly hot reentry through Earth's atmosphere.

But the craft survived its reentry on Thursday, a SpaceX livestream showed.

"Despite loss of many tiles and a damaged flap, Starship made it all the way to a soft landing in the ocean!" SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted on social media after the splashdown.

Starship, stacked atop its Super Heavy booster, blasted off Thursday morning from the company's Starbase launch site near Boca Chica Village on the Gulf Coast of Texas. It is the latest trial mission in the test-to-failure rocket development campaign of Elon Musk's company.

The rocket system's first stage, called Super Heavy, detached from the Starship upper stage three minutes into flight dozens of miles above ground, sending the Starship on its way toward space.

Super Heavy headed back toward land and appeared to achieve a soft landing in the Gulf of Mexico. Starship, meanwhile, blasted its own engines to begin its trek around the globe toward the Indian Ocean, a roughly 70-minute trip.

There, it began its free fall back to Earth, where it endured the intense heat of atmospheric reentry -- the crucial point at which it failed in March.

Designed to be cheaper and more powerful than SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, Starship -- standing nearly 400 feet (122 meters) tall -- represents the future of the company's dominant satellite launch and