The newest 150-foot prototype, Starship serial number 15, or SN15, completed a climb of around 30,000 feet above its South Texas facility before executing a series of aerial acrobatics and returning to solid ground from an upright position. Sticking the landing has been a problem for previous prototypes. SN8 exploded on impact. SN9 didn’t fare much better, returning awkwardly onto the landing pad, and turning into a fireball.
Despite the underwhelming final result, principal integration engineer John Insprucker was able to see the silver lining in the test flight. “We’ve got a lot of good data, and [achieved] the primary objective to demonstrate control of the vehicle and the subsonic reentry,” Insprucker said at the time, adding, “We’ve just got to work on that landing a little bit.”
SN10 appeared to right all the wrongs of the previous runs when it landed upright. That is, until a massive explosion sent the prototype soaring back into the sky 10 minutes later. Once again, Musk spun the test run as a success, seeing as the rocket was able to complete the “belly flop” maneuver where it descends in free fall before the engines get turned back on, and return the rocket to the upright position. SN11 appeared to be something of a regression for the program as the rocket failed to even reach the landing pad, but with SN15, they finally got it all right.
Musk envisions that when they are confident enough to send a SpaceX Starship on actual lunar and Mars launches, there will be nearly 30 engines aiding its departure, as well as a massive Super Heavy rocket booster, sending the Starship into orbit.
We’ll have to wait and see if Elon brags about SpaceX’s historical moment when he hosts Saturday Night Live this weekend with Miley Cyrus serving as the musical guest.