SpaceX has successfully landed a prototype of its next-generation Starship rocket, marking a major breakthrough for the private space company.
A video of the six-minute flight (above) shows the rocket making a slow and careful approach to the landing spot, similar to how SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket descends at the end of its missions.
Of the four previous attempts to land the rocket, three ended in explosions after heavy landings, while an anomaly caused the other Starship prototype to explode minutes after making what at first appeared to be a decent landing. The fifth try, however, saw the SN15 prototype make a perfect touchdown, with no post-landing anomalies reported.
SpaceX’s successful effort took place at its test site in Boca Chica, Texas, on Wednesday, May 5.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, confirmed the perfect mission in a short post on Twitter, saying: “Starship landing nominal!”
Starship landing nominal!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 5, 2021
At the end of the mission, John Insprucker, SpaceX engineer and flight commentator, said: “The past two weeks have been full of accomplishments by the SpaceX team,” highlighting the launch of the Crew-2 astronauts to the International Space Station, the first night-time recovery of Crew Dragon astronauts with the return of the Crew-1 astronauts, and two successful Falcon 9 flights in the last seven days.
As with Starship’s previous high-altitude test flights, the SN15 prototype used its three Raptor engines to climb to around miles 6.2 miles (10 km). It then performed a mid-air flip maneuver in preparation for a controlled landing, using its engines to bring it in close to the launch site.
SpaceX is designing Starship to be a reusable second-stage rocket and spacecraft that will sit atop SpaceX’s under-development Super Heavy rocket for missions to the moon and Mars, and possibly even further into deep space. The final design will be able to carry cargo and a crew of up to 100 people.
SpaceX has said that it is hoping to launch the powerful Super Heavy rocket and Starship together on an orbital test flight as early as this July, though that date could slip.