After a streak of four launch-and-landing attempts, each of which ended in a massive explosion, SpaceX finally managed to get one back on the ground without the fireball part. The Starship prototype SN15 launched, performed a “belly flop” maneuver, then landed vertically Wednesday. Sure, there was a little fire on the pad after it landed, but that was easily extinguished. Finally, SpaceX can call a Starship test a complete success.
This is especially good news since SpaceX got the NASA contract to provide a modified version of Starship as the next lunar lander, so they really ought to sort out the landing bit.
Here’s video of the full test from SpaceX, so you can see SN15 launch, fire maneuvering jets to re-orient itself into the parallel-to-the-horizon “belly flop” position, then fire jets again to return to vertical, firing two of its three Raptor engines to slow it down as it carefully returns to the pad.
There’s some videos from onlookers as well, like this one that gives a great shot of the landing as some dude yells “HISTORY!”
This is still an early Starship prototype, and only reached about six miles in altitude, pretty far from orbit. These prototypes use three Raptor engines, and production Starships are planning on using six, with a Super Heavy variant to use 28 (though that number seems to change). There’s still a good way to go before we’ll see huge orbital or lunar Starships.
But, to move ahead, you have to start somewhere, and this was a crucial milestone. SpaceX hit it, so, onward!