It was yesterday afternoon in Boca Chica, Texas, when SpaceX conducted the flight test of the Starship prototype identified as SN15, the fifth after the one conducted on March 30, 2021. Clouds and some problems with the signal from the onboard cameras prevented seeing the various maneuvers performed by SN15 but the important thing is that it managed to land successfully without suffering damage that could cause its explosion. Flames were seen at the base of SN15 but got extinguished.
Tests of the new spacecraft called Starship are continuing at increasing speeds with SpaceX building several prototypes. They even moved to SN15 abandoning three prototypes, used only for ground tests. The company is accumulating considerable experience on this spacecraft, which can also be launched on its own, and the new Raptor engines.
Starship’s SN15 prototype has various updates to the design that affect virtually all systems, from the Raptor engines to avionics and even the software that controls it. Implementing such a number of updates is why it was decided that it would be more useful to test SN15 than the three previous prototypes, not equipped with all the updates.
The weather was cloudy in Boca Chica, so it was impossible to get images of the entire test flight of the SN15 prototype from the outside. We know the various maneuvers that bring Starship horizontally and, just before landing, vertically again because those are maneuvers already seen in the previous tests. From the start, the prototypes showed excellent maneuverability, and the problem was with the reliability of the Raptor engines, especially in the landing maneuver.
The SN15 prototype passed the test brilliantly. The Falcon 9 rocket now makes landing seem easy, but Starship’s tests showed how difficult it is to program it correctly, also because the Raptor engines are also under development. In this test, two Raptor engines handled the landing correctly. Soon after it, there was a small fire at the base of the prototype but it got extinguished.
After this success, crucial in Starship’s development, we await SpaceX’s communications, perhaps from Elon Musk himself, on future plans for the next prototypes and those for the SuperHeavy rocket’s prototypes. The next test could reach altitudes above 10 kilometers, but data from tonight’s test needs to be analyzed, and the decisions for the future will depend on the results of that analysis.
Meanwhile, Starship has already gained the appreciation of NASA, which awarded a contract to use it as a Moon lander in its Artemis program. Blue Origin’s complaint blocked everything, but SpaceX is the only company among the ones that proposed a lander to NASA to be at least in the testing phase of its prototypes.
This is SpaceX’s official video from yesterday’s test.