SpaceX has launched for the first time, a high-altitude Starship concept crocket that overcame a major obstacle in Elon Musk’s quest for a truly reusable Mars rocket. The SN15 Rocket featured “hundreds of structural changes” to previous designs of high altitude that were all damaged in attempts to land exponentially.
Starship SN15 lifted from the Boca Chica, Texas facility to test in-flight maneuvers over 6 miles in the sky. When it peaked, the three Raptor engines of SN15 eventually shut down to return to Earth in a horizontal free fall. Nearby, the rocket redirects and repositions vertically until a gentle touchdown. Two engines reactivated to perform a complicated landing flip maneuver.
The rocket used a pair of small legs and landed squarely on a concrete pad next to its launch pad, becoming the first surviving version of Starship. After landing, a brief fire came up at the bottom of the rocket — “not uncommon with the methane fuel we bring,” said Livestream SpaceX engineer John Insprucker.
SpaceX’s Starship systems are designed for transmission to the Moon and Mars for people and up to 100 tonnes of freight. The 16-story designs such as SN15 are just the top half of Starship. The lower half will be a huge “super-powerful” accelerator, which will serve to launch the top half of Starship before it returns to earth.
In the space industry, several people who expected NASA to choose two companies were surprised by the SpaceX award. Blue Origin and Dynetics opposed the decision of NASA, stating that as predicted it would have been necessary to choose two firms, and that Starship was disproportionately supported by the assessment of the organization. This protest also dealt with SpaceX’s willingness to spend the $2.9 billion, but Starship growth, mostly funded by private financing and Musk’s resources, remained independent. For the two Moon Missions of SpaceX and NASA, Starship will have to show that it can fuel itself in orbit before heading to the lunar surface — two feats that a private corporation never has done.