fire in the hole

SpaceX SN15 clears a huge hurdle on the road to Mars

SpaceX's newest rocket marked its first successful landing.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship sailed through a successful test flight and soft landing on May 5 — but came up just short of a fully successful landing. There were a few too many flames for that.

But don’t worry, it didn’t blow up.

On Wednesday afternoon, the SpaceX rocket prototype rose to an elevation of around six miles before coming back down, pulling off a “Bellyflop” maneuver on the way down to take advantage of aerodynamic drag before reorienting itself to make a soft landing on the ground at the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

However, upon landing, a three-story fire broke out that threatened to make the rocket a smoldering cinder like some previous Starship flights. After it was able to be suppressed, the rocket was relatively intact. The next step may be to see if it can refly with the same engines – a crucial step in reusing the rocket.

“Starship landing nominal!” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted after the fire was out.

Musk’s tweet confirming the mission’s success. Twitter / Elon Musk

The likely source of the flames was a methane leak in the rocket, according to a NASASpaceflight.com livestream. SpaceX deployed autonomous robots to investigate potential leaks around the rocket, though findings have yet to be released.

The flight marks the most successful – and maybe most important – for Starship so far. The craft is intended to take passengers to the Moon, Mars, and points beyond – important considering recent contracts given to SpaceX for NASA’s lunar ambitions.

However, it’s still a long way from flight-ready. Starship has yet to get above a few miles – nowhere close, even, to a suborbital spaceflight yet, let alone orbital (yet autonomous.)

But with proof that the technology can work, SpaceX can move toward refining it from past mission errors into creating the sleek machine it actually seeks to make.

Listen, at least it didn’t blow up this time.

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