SpaceX successfully launches and lands the Starship prototype in a milestone test flight

SpaceX successfully launches and lands the Starship prototype

SpaceX flew the 15th prototype of its Starship fully reusable next-generation rocket

SpaceX aims to use Starship for future lunar and Mars launches and landings

SpaceX launched its latest Starship prototype Wednesday evening, sending the methane-fueled rocket up to an altitude of about 6 miles. The craft then flipped over on its side in a now-familiar “belly-flop” maneuver and plunged back to Earth. It then began righting itself and restarting its engines to stick an on-target touchdown.

The previous four test flights of a Starship prototype were only partially successful, all of them ending with spectacular explosions, either before, during, or just after touchdown. Despite a low deck of clouds obscuring visibility, the retro-looking rocket blasted off at 6:24 p.m. EDT, climbing away from SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas, manufacturing and flight test facility atop a jet of bluish exhaust.

Using three Raptor engines the rocket was burning liquid methane and liquid oxygen. Then, it climbed straight away from its firing stand, knifing through the overcast sky and disappearing from view. But cameras on the rocket provided bird’s eye views of the ascent. They were showing the ground falling away as SN15 gained altitude.

As with earlier test flights, the engines shut down, one at a time, as the Starship climbed. Then, after a brief hover at or near the planned maximum altitude of about 6 miles, the nose tipped over and the rocket began plunging back to Earth in a near-horizontal orientation.

“Starship landing nominal!” tweeted SpaceX founder Elon Musk

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed the good touchdown of 150-foot SN15 just after the launch Livestream concluded. This is a key step in the development of the Starship’s orbital capabilities, which will require the vehicle to perform this landing maneuver after it’s launched to space atop a Super Heavy booster rocket (also in development) and makes the return trip from orbit.

SN15 also features a number of “vehicle improvements across structures, avionics and software” that includes “engines that will allow more speed and efficiency throughout production and flight: specifically, a newly enhanced avionics suite, updated propellant architecture in the aft skirt, and a new Raptor engine design and configuration,” SpaceX said on its website.

SpaceX aims to use Starship for future lunar and Mars launches and landings. The Federal Aviation Administration last week gave authorization for SpaceX to conduct its next three test flights of its Starship program, including Wednesday’s flight. The next two will be the flights of SN16 and SN17 Starships.

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