SpaceX launches Starship with first successful landing

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The SpaceX rocket that could fly humans to Mars one day has launched and landed in one piece for the very first time on Wednesday, May 5. The 164ft-tall rocket blasted off from SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in South Texas, carried by its three Raptor engines to an altitude of 32,000ft (10km). Starship then plunged back to the surface with its belly-side down – a manoeuvre SpaceX aims to recreate on the Red Planet.

Landing followed just six minutes after liftoff and was all the more astounding considering SpaceX had already destroyed four prototypes since December last year.

The SN8, SN9, SN10 and SN11 were all blown to smithereens, painting a grim picture for the future of SpaceX’s Starship programme.

But with the SN15 breaking the string of failures, fans are excited to see SpaceX is back in the game.

Michael Baylor, a live stream producer for NASASpaceflight, tweeted: “Iterative development. It’s the SpaceX way.”

SpaceX chief Elon Musk replied, saying: “Only way to create rapidly and fully reusable orbital rockets, the fundamental technology revolution needed to make life multiplanetary.”

Starship development has been long and drawn out, with the very first test launch of the scaled-down Starhopper craft in April 2019.

Elon Musk has said he wants to get Starship into orbit this year.

After that, he expects operational flights to kick off by the year 2023.

A full-blown flight to Mars could happen as early as 2026, although the intricacies of such a flight make this a more uncertain proposition.

SpaceX Starship explodes on landing during a test

Before the critical flight, SpaceX has been contracted to return humans to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis programme.

Ardent SpaceX fans are confident these are attainable goals and are excited for the future of human space exploration.

Chris Bergin, the managing editor of NASASpaceflight, declared last night: “We just got a step closer to Mars!”

Fercan Yalinkilic of Bloomberg said: “Another historical milestone for @SpaceX in their journey to Mars.

“SN15 had successfully launched on three Raptor engines, belly flop, return to vertical and a landing! Truly amazing. Congrats.”

And Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said: “What an incredible week for @SpaceX!

“Launches, landings and a splashdown – congratulations to all teams!”

If all goes according to plan, SpaceX believes Starship will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle.

The spacecraft will launch from Earth atop the Super Heavy booster and will rival NASA’s iconic Saturn V – the rocket that carried humans to Mars.

Starship will have the power to carry upwards of 100 tonnes into orbit.

SpaceX said: “Building cities on Mars will require affordable delivery of significant quantities of cargo and people.

“The fully reusable Starship system uses in-space propellant transfer to achieve this and carry people on long-duration, interplanetary flights.”

Starship will come in various variants that will service crewed and cargo missions to Earth orbit, the Moon and Mars.

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