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SpaceX Starship SN15 Lands in One Piece After High-Altitude Flight

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It’s taken a few tries, but the new SpaceX Starship rocket has successfully landed following a high-altitude test, bringing Elon Musk’s spaceflight firm one step closer to the Moon. The success of Starship SN15 comes after four previous landing attempts ended in fiery crashes, but that didn’t stop SpaceX from putting its test flights on display for all to see. It paid off this time, as the world watched SpaceX stick the landing just days after NASA announced its intention to use this vessel to land humans on the moon for the first time in decades

Starship SN15 (serial number 15) lifted off at 6:24 PM EST on May 5th from the company’s Boca Chica, Texas facility. It ascended to an altitude of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) on three Raptor engines, and then it plummeted back down. Unlike some past tests, those engines kicked on exactly as planned, slowing the rocket’s descent for a perfect landing. The entire flight took just over six minutes. 

This is the first time SpaceX has flown a Starship high into the atmosphere and landed it in one piece. It almost managed this feat with SN10 back in March of this year, but the vessel exploded several minutes after touchdown due to damage to its landing skirt. Observers of the latest SN15 landing noted that the rocket’s landing legs appeared to be in comparatively superb shape thanks to recent refinements. According to SpaceX, SN15 brought together “a new enhanced avionics suite, updated propellant architecture in the aft skirt, and a new Raptor engine design and configuration.”

SpaceX hopes to eventually replace its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles with the Starship. This vessel could be used for uncrewed cargo deployments, site-to-site Earth transport, lunar missions, and even Mars colonization (a personal favorite of CEO and founder Elon Musk). With this successful test, Starship is closer than ever to those goals. 

Late last month, NASA announced the Starship would also become the Human Landing System (HLS) for the Artemis Program. While astronauts will fly to the moon aboard the Orion capsule, they will transfer to a Starship for the descent to the lunar surface. Dynetics and Blue Origin filed complaints with the government that their proposals for the HLS were not given proper consideration. While NASA has temporarily halted the program while it waits for the Government Accountability Office to make a decision, SpaceX’s SN15 success could give NASA something to point to as justification for its decision. The Starship exists, and it’s officially reusable. Dynetics and Blue Origin can’t claim either.

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