After months of attempts, including a successful landing and later rapid unscheduled disassembly (also known as an explosion), SpaceX has done the impossible by launching and landing their Starship prototype, at their “Starbase” located in Boca Chica, Texas, on the border with Mexico.
It was a great day for the flight as today was the 60 year anniversary of Alan Shepard’s history-making flight to become the first American in space.
SpaceX has been in the landing-rockets business for several years now, becoming almost routine with their Falcon rockets, which have been used to launch satellites, and was responsible for restoring American capability to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station. In the last week, Falcon’s Dragon 2 Crew Capsule returned four Astronauts from the ISS, and SpaceX has launched two additional Falcon rockets and successfully landed them both from Florida. Those two Falcons were carrying Starlink Satellites, part of a mesh network of microsatellites, which plan to deliver reliable internet service anywhere in the world. The successful landing of the two rockets, marked the 12th successful landing for SpaceX this year, and their 82nd successful landing to date. SpaceX’s last failure was February 16th, which broke their record of 24 successful landings in a row.
Though SpaceX has been landing their Falcon rockets on the regular, Starship’s landing maneuvers are different. This includes falling to Earth in a controlled descent in a “belly flop,” the rocket in a horizontal position. A few hundred feet above the ground, Starship’s engines restart, thrusting the tail of Starship down so that the rocket lands vertically. This eventually will allow for SpaceX to land and take off the same rocket from the surface of the Moon, Mars, or another yet-to-be-explored planet.
The march toward today’s achievement has not been without issues. The first high-altitude flight of Starship was SN8, which nearly landed, exploding tail end down. SN9, while a successful flight, exploded after crashing. During the rocket’s landing maneuver, it over-rotated, landing on its “back” instead of feet. SN10 appeared to have been a success, only to explode on the landing pad 8 minutes after landing. The last attempt SN11, failed catastrophically, exploding prior to its engine reignition and landing maneuver.
Today’s launch had been delayed for several days because of equipment and weather.
Watch the amazing achievement below:
SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted his excitement of the landing of SN15.
Starship landing nominal!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 5, 2021
Other Space geeks (like myself) celebrated the amazing achievement on Twitter as well:
🚨THE STARSHIP HAS LANDED!
Mars is a little bit closer today, congratulation to SpaceX you are inspiring millions of people around the world.
— TankWatchers (@WatchersTank) May 5, 2021
— Everything SpaceX (@spacex360) May 5, 2021
#SN15: Achievement Unlocked
Congratulations SpaceX!!! 🚀🏆 pic.twitter.com/PudVsTxfGQ
— Morgan Denman (@NASAdesigner) May 5, 2021
— Kim Paquette 💫🦄 (@kimpaquette) May 5, 2021
What an awesome feat! Congratulations to the SpaceX team on their amazing accomplishment.