SpaceX launches Starship with first successful landing

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SpaceX fans worldwide rejoiced last night (May 5) when the Starship SN15 touched down on the launch pad in one piece. After a nailbiting six minutes and eight seconds of flight, the rocket landed at the company’s Boca Chica facility in South Texas, powered by two of its three Raptor engines. The historic success the very first time a Starship prototype stuck the landing and ended SpaceX’s string of disastrous test flights.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk confirmed the success on Twitter, telling his more than 52 million fans the landing was “nominal”.

Tim Dodd of Everyday Astronaut congratuled the SpaceX team after watching the test flight live from South Texas.

He tweeted: “UNBELIEVABLE!!! Huge congrats! That was truly something magical to see!!!”

Astronomer and YouTuber Scott Manley also said: “SN15 flew safe. Landing legs look better than any previous landing.”

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

SpaceX’s 164ft-tall rocket launched from Boca Chica late on Wednesday night (UK time) up to an altitude of 32,000ft (10km).

Once the rocket cleared the dense blanket of clouds over South Texas, SN15 tipped over by 90-degrees, belly-side down.

SN15 then plunged to the ground, without any guidance from its three engines, and instead relied on the fins mounted on its side.

About five-and-a-half minutes into the flight, the rocket tipped upright again and with a roar of its Raptor engines, attempted a soft landing.

Elon Musk discusses future of SpaceX's Starship system

This was the moment fans have been desperate to see ever since the failed landing of the Starship SN8 in December last year – and the SN9, SN10 and SN11 after it.

John Insprucker, a SpaceX webcaster and engineer who hosted SpaceX’s official broadcast of the flight, confirmed the touch down with the words: “And Starbase flight control has confirmed, as you can see on the live video, we are down. The Starship has landed.”

He later tweeted: “A few of my favourite phrases from sci-fi suddenly have new meaning.

“Fighting through landing – ‘Never give up, never surrender!’ ‘Oh! My God! It’s real,’ when we’ve done it.

“And of course ‘These are the voyages of the Starship(s)…’ Cue the music. Now to work on video and clouds.”

But the road to success has been hard and paved with many failures.

Starship SN15 was only the fifth full-scale prototype to launch from Boca Chica.

And its four predecessors were all blown to smithereens after failing to stick the landing on their first flights.

SN10 came closest to success on March 3 this year but hit the ground too hard and was damaged in the process.

The damage likely led to a methane leak that ignited just eight minutes after touchdown, engulfing the rocket in a ball of flames.

SpaceX, however, seems undeterred by the past failures and will now look forward to the test flight of the Starship SN16.

The goal is to send one of the vessels into orbit before the year is over, strapped to a powerful Super Heavy booster rocket.

SpaceX said: “These test flights of Starship are all about improving our understanding and development of a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration interplanetary flights, and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond.”

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