SpaceX Nails First Starship Landing Weeks After NASA Moon Lander Contract - Science And Nature

May 6, 2021

SpaceX Nails First Starship Landing Weeks After NASA Moon Lander Contract

First and foremost, excluding simpler Starship prototypes SN5 and SN6, Starship SN15 is the first prototype to actually complete that safing process. In theory, safing a liquid fuel rocket is a fairly novel task given so few rockets are actually reusable. It involves detanking, purging plumbing and Raptor engines, deactivating explosive flight termination system (FTS) charges, and more generally verifying the health and status of all systems. With a rocket as complex as Starship, SpaceX is treading new ground with almost every step, meaning that even something as seemingly benign as keeping a rocket intact after a successful landing carries risk (e.g. SN10).

SN5 and SN6 also had a rough go of things even after surviving their landings and it took anywhere from 12 to 24+ hours before SpaceX declared either vehicle safe to approach. The degree to which Starship SN15’s launch and landing was a success is hinted at by the fact that SpaceX had teams approaching the rocket less than four hours after touchdown. Still, more than six hours after landing, those SpaceX teams were still working to transport a crane to the site after rolling a self-propelled modular transporter (SPMT) within the vicinity of Starship SN15.

Eventually, that crane will lift SN15 onto a custom jig installed on said SPMT and take its flimsy, unreliable legs out of the equation. At that point, the Starship prototype will well and truly be safe and secure and ready for whatever else SpaceX may have in store, be that a quiet future as a permanent display or the program’s first reuse. Stay tuned for updates as SpaceX secures the historic rocket and prepares to reopen the highway to the public.

In perhaps the best possible news that could have followed NASA’s historic SpaceX Moon lander contract, the company has successfully landed a Starship prototype in one piece – without it exploding – for the first time ever.

In spite of unusually unreliable live views from the rocket’s onboard cameras, possible due to SpaceX using Starlink as a Starship antenna for the first time, Starship serial number 15 (SN15) touched down at the very edge of the landing pad a bit less than seven minutes after lifting off from SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch facilities.

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