SpaceX has successfully tested its Starship reusable launch vehicle, sending it to an altitude of about 150 meters and flying it sideways for less than a minute before it landed on a nearby pad at its operational site in Boca Chica, Texas.
The prototype SN5 vehicle, which is to be launched from Earth atop SpaceX’s Super Heavy rocket, is projected to land astronauts for NASA on the moon and Mars.
Tuesday’s test flight came two days after SpaceX returned two astronauts to the Gulf of Mexico in a dramatic splashdown after a launch and two-month stay at the International Space Station.
SpaceX posted video of the flight to its Twitter account, showing the SN5 – described by some as looking like a grain silo or a water tank – ascending, drifting toward the pad before descending, deploying its six landing legs and touching down.
The flight also was the first test of the Raptor rocket engine, which will be used to power Starship, in more than a year.
The final Starship is to be powered by six Raptors and carry as many as 100 people on a single flight. The Super Heavy is to contain as many as 31 Raptors to escape Earth’s gravity.
The test was months behind the schedule set by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who in September suggested that a previous prototype would fly to 65,000 feet and return in one to two months.
That vehicle was destroyed in a test in November as were three successive Starship prototypes, including the SN4 that exploded from a static fire test in May.
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