On Wednesday, SpaceX launched a high-altitude Starship prototype rocket and successfully landed it for the first time. Musk previously said the SN15 rocket contained hundreds of design improvements over past high-altitude prototypes, which were all destroyed during explosive landing attempts.
Starship SN15 lifted off at 6:24PM ET from SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas facilities, soaring more than 6 miles in the sky to test in-flight maneuvers. As it reached peak altitude, SN15’s three Raptor engines gradually shut down to begin a horizontal free-fall back to Earth. Nearing land, two engines reignited to execute a complex landing flip maneuver, where the rocket reorients/repositions itself vertically ahead of a soft touchdown.
The rocket deployed a set of tiny legs and landed firmly on a concrete pad not far from its launchpad, becoming the first surviving Starship prototype. A small fire appeared near the base of the rocket after landing — not unusual with the methane fuel that we’re carrying, SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said on the livestream — and was extinguished a few minutes later.
All four previous high-altitude prototypes exploded upon attempting to land — either on, shortly before, or moments after the touchdown.
SpaceX’s Starship system is made for sending humans and up to 100 tons of cargo to the Moon and Mars.