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SpaceX: Starship rocket clocks a win

May 6, 2021

Elon Musk's SpaceX has successfully launched and landed the SN15 after initial attempts ended in explosions mid-air or shortly after landing.

SpaceX SN15 starship prototype comes in for a successful landing
SpaceX has successfully landed its starship prototype from the company's facility in Texas.Image: Gene Blevins/REUTERS

US aerospace company SpaceX successfully landed its prototype Starship rocket at its Texas base on Wednesday, after the earlier four attempts ended in fiery explosions.

"Starbase Flight Control has confirmed, as you can see on the live video, we are down. The Starship has landed!" launch commentator John Insprucker announced after touchdown.

The latest version of SpaceX’s stainless steel rocketship, called SN15, ascended over 10 kilometers over the Gulf of Mexico before flipping and coming down horizontally during the six-minute flight. It switched to a vertical position right before touchdown. 

A small fire broke out at the base of the 50 meter-high rocket soon after landing but Insprucker explained this was "not unusual with the methane fuel we're using," and that engineers were still working out some design issues. It was extinguished successfully.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk took to Twitter to refer to the landing as "nominal", which means normal in the context of spaceflight.

Last month, NASA chose SpaceX's Starship to deliver astronauts to the moon in the next few years in a $3 billion contract. However, the losing companies — Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Dynetics — protested, pausing the contract.

Musk wants to combine the Starship with a Super Heavy rocket to create a fully reusable system for the exploration of the solar system. The final product will be 120 meters tall and have the capacity to carry 100 metric tonnes into Earth’s orbit, to help realize Musk’s goal of pushing humans into a multi-planetary species and establishing a colony on Mars.

However, the planned lunar exploration is a more modest goal, where the vessel will dock with a future lunar orbital station, collect astronauts, and set them down on the moon. 

see/rc (AP, AFP)