Today marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s fateful flight, now today will mark another first. The first successful landing of a Starship vehicle by SpaceX.
On Wednesday afternoon SpaceX launched Starship SN15, an upgraded version of what was selected by NASA to be the next lunar lander for the Artemis Program. Starship is SpaceX’s fully reusable launch vehicle that Elon Musk claims will being the cost of launching payloads down to just the cost of fuel. Starship is also planned to make Musk’s dream of humans on Mars come true.
Starship SN15 took off at about 5:25 PM CDT from SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site on the sub-orbital test pad A. This was the 5th high altitude flight of a Starship vehicle. The previous 4 have all had some sort of issues during the landing that caused the vehicle to explode, either on impact, in the air, or after a soft touchdown.
But SN15 did not, it touched down on the pad using its stubby little landing legs. It actually landed just inches away from the edge of the landing pad but it is still stayed standing. There was a pretty intense fire that formed around the base of the vehicle but using pad water cannons they were able to get the fires put out.
Musk confirmed successfully landing shortly after the first was put out. Making it the first Starship and fly and come back in one piece.
What’s next for Starship?
It’s unclear what this means for the Starship test program. Since the first flight of Starship SN8, the goal has been to launch and land one of these vehicles. Now that SpaceX has done that what will they do next?
Well, Elon Musk has mentioned they want to launch one of these vehicles, SN20 has been the number selected, to orbit. This means they will have to build and test a Super Heavy booster to stack the Starship vehicle on top. When will this happen? That’s is also unknown, BN1, the first Super Heavy booster, is stacked but is just a pathfinder, and BN2 might do some more tests but that has not begun stacking.
More flights like this might also slow down, while SpaceX will need to validate they truly can fly, land, refly, then reland their vehicles, it’s unknown how the timeline will change now. Starship SN16 is already stacked in the High Bay so it would make sense that they might continue these flight tests with SN15 and SN16.
No matter what happens, congratulations to the teams at SpaceX for the major milestone in the development of Starship. The hard work is paying off.
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