SpaceX SN15 Starship Good Flight and Landing

SpaceX had a good flight and landing of the SN15 Starship.

This was a successful high-altitude flight test of Starship serial number 15 (SN15). It was the fifth high-altitude flight test of a Starship prototype from Starbase in Texas. 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.

SN15 used 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 reignited as the vehicle made a landing flip maneuver immediately before touching down on the landing pad adjacent to the launch mount.

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.


29 thoughts on “SpaceX SN15 Starship Good Flight and Landing”

  1. Cloud deck may be playing visual tricks. But they came down on two engines as well rather than one, which normally would favor a quicker late flip, so who knows?

  2. Watching the fire fighting effort felt like reading some children's book about the little fire monitor that could…

  3. While the FAA might say 10km is high altitude for reasons, I don't think 10km is very high in rocket terms…

  4. I think the earlier flights were with an older generation of prototype engines, which they knew were buggy, so they weren't very obsessive about preserving the engines for reuse.

    This flight they had the next generation of engines, which seem to work pretty well, and they're not as keen on throwing them away.

    Also, I suspect they were getting some flack from the FAA about the crashes, even if they were expected and harmless.

  5. I didn’t mean the upgrades. I know that work was well in progress before NASA’s decision. It’s more how they readied SN15 and executed the launch. It was more cautious and considered than the prior sequence of tests.

  6. SN15 was fitted out with its upgrades way before the decision from NASA. The decision to make thiose upgrades probably goes back a year.

  7. I had the impression that after the NASA award, they shifted in SN15 from relaxed “let’s just try it out” to a more serious intention to complete a successful flight test. They are very good at prototyping, learning and testing, so with luck this will see the start of regular successful flights where they expand the envelope and test different failure scenarios.

  8. Now is the time to loft the big boy. Might actually get to orbit by the end of July.

  9. It does make me wonder how close they could land one rocket to another that's fueled up. They'll need to answer that to achieve the goal of commercialized rocket transportation.
    I assume that they'll try to engineer out the issues, but once it's known that it could happen you need to operate with the expectation that it may happen, until you've proven that it can't happen again. And effective safety boards are quite conservative.

  10. Maybe. It clearly caught fire, and burned for several seconds, then went out. So I assume the fire was not based on an ongoing leak.

    My guess would be that there's a highly conductive path between the lower edge of the tank, where the end dome begins, and the outer skin, so that ring is particularly cold. But, sure, it shouldn't be cold enough for methane ice. Maybe a mix of water ice and liquid methane? Shouldn't be possible to form a clathrate at ambient pressure, I think, but you might get a kind of water/methane slush.

    The nice thing about it not crashing is that they can actually look for leaks.

  11. Any landing where the crew survives is a good one.
    Any landing where the rocket can be flown again is a great one.

  12. It's not just good in terms of their having gotten something right. It's great in terms of having an intact Starship that has flown to go over and figure out the leaks. It's going to be enormously easier to do a forensic examination of an intact Starship.

    I noticed they have a ring of methane ice right around where the bottom tank parts ways from the skirt; It caught fire on takeoff. I wonder if they have a similar ring of methane ice building up in the cranny between the tank and skirt, and that was the source of the fire? I did see bits of ice falling in the engine compartment during the flight.

    All that venting of fuel and LOX around the rocket prior to takeoff, it's rather like dousing your car in gasoline at the pump, and just expecting it to evaporate rather than catch fire when you start your engine to drive off. I think they may need to manage the venting better.

  13. Maybe they are trying being more cautious and shaving the margin of safety, rather than being aggressive and trying to gradually make it safer. The former doesn't require as many rockets to go boom and might be faster way of testing.

  14. I guess they were also burning through obsolete test engines on flights they fully expected to crash.

  15. Am I the only one with the impression they ended the belly flop further from the ground than previously?

  16. There was a fire at the engine skirt probably from a small methane leak but they put it out quickly. Still this was the first soft landing which shows excellent progress. The landing legs actually worked this time!

  17. This one also looked more polished, better finished.

    Seems the first ones really were SpaceX getting the hang of making Starships.

  18. Nice test.

    A bit flamey in the rear after landing, though.

    But if the Starship survived to see another day, that's extremely good.

  19. This is the first Starship test flight where I haven't seen flames coming out of the engine somewhere they weren't supposed to be coming out. That's promising.

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