We have all heard the phrase ‘third time is the charm’. Except sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes, fifth time is the charm. The king of the space industry SpaceX, spearheaded by Elon Musk who has vivid visions of colonies on Mars and sending people and cargo to the moon, successfully launched and then landed the latest prototype of its Starship rocket for the first time ever. And as you might have guessed already, this was the fifth Starship test flight.
Liftoff of the 150-foot tall stainless steel SN15 occurred from SpaceX’s Starbase spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas, about 23 miles east of Brownsville. It seems that company has finally learned from its mistakes, as the fifth high-altitude flight test of Starship(powered by three Raptor engines) did not follow the steps of its predecessors and avoided exploding during or after landing.
While a small fire did break out at the base of the rocket after the landing, the blaze was contained a few minutes later. The SN15 flew as high as 33,000 feet, performed a number of maneuvers, and came back down for a safe touchdown at its designated concrete landing pad six minutes after takeoff. As it neared the surface, it reactivated its engines and brought itself back into a vertical orientation.
Musk was ecstatic at the success, tweeting “Starship landing nominal!” soon after the landing. “We are down! The Starship has landed,” John Insprucker, SpaceX’s principal integration engineer, said during live commentary.
Starship landing nominal!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 5, 2021
What makes this success all the more significant that it comes on the 60th anniversary of the flight of the first American in space, Alan Shepard. SpaceX has been riding a wave of success at the moment, with the successful launch of its Crew-2 mission, bagging a $2.9 billion contract from NASA to build a lunar variation of Starship to carry astronauts to the moon’s surface for the agency’s Artemis missions, and launching Starlink satellites into orbit as part of its mission to provide high speed, low latency internet to everyone.
Musk had said last month that the contract would aid in the development of Starship. The SN15 is better than its predecessors, featuring “vehicle improvements across structures, avionics and software, and the engines that will allow more speed and efficiency throughout production and flight: specifically, a newly enhanced avionics suite, updated propellant architecture in the aft skirt, and a new Raptor engine design and configuration.”
It is, thus, of little wonder that SpaceX is today one of the world’s most valuable private companies, and has evolved into a worthy competitor for NASA for the conquest of space. The company routinely transports cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station, and its Falcon 9 rocket has been invaluable in sending Starlink satellites into orbit. The successful flight is part of an “outstanding period as we work to enable the future of human spaceflight and expansion into the solar system,” SpaceX said.