Launched SpaceX prototype and successfully landed the Starship for the first time, overcoming the main challenge in Elon Musk’s quest to build a fully reusable Mars rocket.
Musk said: The SN15 missile contains hundreds of design improvements compared to previous prototypes, all of which were destroyed during the landing attempts.
The SN15 spacecraft took off from SpaceX’s facilities in Texas, rising more than 9.6 km in the sky to test the maneuvers.
When it reached its peak altitude, the SN15’s three Raptor engines were gradually locked to initiate a free horizontal descent to the ground.
Near the ground, two engines were restarted to perform a complex landing maneuver, with the missile re-orienting itself vertically before landing.
The rocket fired a group of small legs and landed steadily on a concrete platform close to the launch pad, becoming the first prototype to survive the spacecraft.
A small fire appeared near the base of the missile after the landing, and the company said: The small fire is not strange in the presence of methane fuel, and it was extinguished after a few minutes.
Elon Musk was published Tweet About seven minutes after the SN15 landed announcing success, after all the previous four prototypes had exploded on the landing attempt.
SpaceX’s Starship system is designed to send humans and up to 100 tons of cargo to the Moon and Mars.
The 16-story prototypes, such as the SN15, represent the upper half of the Starship only, with the lower half being a massive booster that helps launch the upper half of the Starship before returning to Earth.
Musk had explained for the first time the intended landing of the Starship during a media event in September 2019.
He described it as a unique maneuver that would cause the missile to shoot back into the air with its belly directed towards the ground while the four blades moved slightly to maintain its stability.
It’s a maneuver designed to simulate how a skydiver falls into the air, rather than the straight vertical drop to ground that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets use as they prepare to land, Musk said.
Mastering the landing maneuver is essential to enable a fully reusable transport system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-haul interplanetary flights and help humanity return to the moon and travel to Mars and beyond.
All prototypes of the Starship missile were significantly less powerful than the final product Musk envisioned.
While most experimental vehicles have three engines, the final spacecraft is expected to contain more than 30 engines, including a separate massive rocket booster, called the Super Heavy, used to reach orbit.
SpaceX has not yet publicly tested the Super Heavy booster, although Musk said he hopes the Starship will reach orbit within a year.
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