SpaceX sent its gleaming Starship spaceship on a high-flying test above Texas Wednesday evening and unlike the previous flights, this one remained in one piece after landing, a big milestone for the private company hoping to send people to the moon for NASA.
Elon Musk’s company is churning out Starship test vehicles in Boca Chica, Texas at the company’s facility. In December, it began testing the launch and landing capabilities in daring flights.
Musk plans to use Starship to send astronauts to the moon and Mars.
Serial No. 15, or SN 15, launched from the company’s site near Boca Chica around 6:25 p.m. and reached about 6 miles up. Each engine then shut down one by one as the vehicle slowly began to orient itself horizontally for descent. Then Starship, in a belly flop, used its four wings, or flips, to control itself.
The landing has evaded SpaceX during the four previous tries but not Wednesday, marking the fifth test in five months. The shiny spaceship had a small fire at the base of the vehicle post landing but remained standing.
SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said the fire “was not unusual” due to the methane fuel and water was quickly used to extinguish the flames.
“Starship landing nominal!” Musk tweeted a few minutes after the landing.
The milestone for SpaceX happened on the 60th anniversary of the first American human spaceflight by Alan Shepard.
The last four prototypes reached more than 6 miles up after take-off in December, February and March but ended up exploding either during the attempt or a few minutes later.
Each of these last test flights lasted 6 1/2 minutes.
The new SN 15 prototype had some upgrades.
“SN15 has vehicle improvements across structures, avionics and software, and the engines that will allow more speed and efficiency throughout production and flight: specifically, a new enhanced avionics suite, updated propellant architecture in the aft skirt, and a new Raptor engine design and configuration,” SpaceX wrote in an update.
The wow-factor test flights have a new weight to them as NASA has selected the SpaceX vehicle to help return Americans to the moon under the Artemis program.
In April, NASA announced it had awarded SpaceX the only contract for Starship as the Human Landing System, or HLS, to the lunar surface. However, the other companies that submitted bids, Blue Origin and Dynetics, have protested the selection effectively putting that contract on hold for now. Either way, SpaceX continues to rapidly develop the spaceship.
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