In its fifth attempt, SpaceX succeeded not only in launching a Starship, but also in landing it vertically. After a flight of about 6 minutes, SN15 touched down again on the company's premises in Boca Chica (Texas, USA) at 17:30 local time (22:30 UTC). The test flight to an altitude of 10 km was eagerly awaited after the last prototype (SN11) exploded in dense fog during the landing maneuver.
The SN12, SN13 and SN14 prototypes are not undergoing test flights, however, as the changes are only marginal compared to the previous models. Probably the most noticeable change to SN15 are the attached heat shield tiles, which now cover an entire section. In the final version, the entire underside of the Starship - as on NASA's Space Shuttle - will be equipped with them to counteract the high temperatures during re-entry into the atmosphere. Changes have also been made to the landing legs, which are now much more stable.
The flight maneuver itself, however, has not changed. To dissipate as much energy as possible during landing, the Starship falls horizontally towards the ground and is aligned vertically again shortly before landing. The control of the flight attitude takes over the Fins (fins), which hold the Starship precisely in position. For the landing itself, two of three Raptor engines are fired to touch down softly. This procedure has already proved highly successful with the Falcon 9 boosters.
Development of Human Landing System halted, development of Starship and Super Heavy continues
The Starship is scheduled to orbit the moon in 2023 with humans on board and take people to Mars before 2030. On April 16, SpaceX also won a bidding process to build an adapted variant (Human Landing Systems, HLS) to land on the moon as part of NASA's Artemis mission starting in 2024. However, after both Blue Origin and Dynetics appealed the decision, SpaceX must suspend all work until further notice. However, this will not affect the development of the Starship and the Super Heavy first stage.