Yes, finally, SpaceX has made history yet again, the Starship SN15 prototype made it back to the landing pad successfully and there were no unexpected happenings this time.
This was SpaceX’s fifth attempt at a 10 km high altitude flight test of a Starship suborbital test vehicle prototype from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas.
Just as Elon Musk had said, this was a far better Starship prototype compared to the previous ones ‘with hundreds of improvements’ — these enhancements were marginal enough to overcome the barrier SpaceX was facing, a successful landing.
“SN15 has vehicle improvements across structures, avionics and software, and the engines that will allow more speed and efficiency throughout production and flight: specifically, a new enhanced avionics suite, updated propellant architecture in the aft skirt, and a new Raptor engine design and configuration,” SpaceX stated in the test flight video description.
The Raptor engines on the SN15 prototype also received engineering and design improvements. SpaceX fired two Raptor engines on landing this time instead of one. This produced enough thrust to land Starship SN15 back to the ground successfully. The timing of re-igniting the engines at landing was perfect this time, hence the result was positive as well.
Similar to previous high-altitude flight tests of Starship, SN15 will be powered through ascent by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the vehicle reaching apogee – approximately 10 km in altitude. SN15 will perform a propellant transition to the internal header tanks, which hold landing propellant, before reorienting itself for reentry and a controlled aerodynamic descent.
The Starship prototype will descend under active aerodynamic control, accomplished by independent movement of two forward and two aft flaps on the vehicle. All four flaps are actuated by an onboard flight computer to control Starship’s attitude during flight and enable precise landing at the intended location. SN15’s Raptor engines will then reignite as the vehicle attempts a landing flip maneuver immediately before touching down on the landing pad adjacent to the launch mount.Source: SpaceX
This was basically the high-altitude flight test but since SpaceX has mastered the flight and belly flop maneuver — the entire world had its eyes on the successful landing. Because, although the SN11 prototype had landed previously, it exploded minutes later, technically called a RUD (rapid unscheduled disassembly).
It took only a little more than a week to put SN15 to go from the static fire tests to the high-altitude flight tests because there was no need to replace a Raptor engine this time.
A controlled aerodynamic descent with body flaps and vertical landing capability, combined with in-space refilling, are critical to landing Starship at destinations across the solar system where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist, and returning to Earth. This capability will enable 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.Source: SpaceX
After the successful landing of Starship SN15, the fire was still coming out of the engine bay, luckily a firefighter robot was installed near the landing pad to cool down the bottom of the SN15. Photographers from NASASpaceflight.com kept recording the live view of the SN15 even after 5 hours of the landing to show us if anything goes wrong (video below).