Given the results of the prior test, this event had many individuals on the edge of the seats. In all four efforts, the prototypes managed to reach their highest possible elevation and pull off the bellyflop maneuver but then burst during landing (or shortly thereafter).
As of 05:30 P.M. local time (06:30 P.M. EDT; 03:30 P.M. PDT), the answer to this question is, “WITH GUSTO!” On their fifth attempt, the SN15 not only managed to achieve its target altitude of 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) and pull off the belly-flop and controlled descent, it also stuck the landing and suffered no accidents afterward.
Quite simply, COMPLETE SUCCESS!
Given just how much of SpaceX’s future hinges on the achievement of the Starship and Super Heavy launching method, this is certainly very good news. This goes beyond substituting their Falcon rocket family with Starships to transport everything from crews and cargo to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), in addition, it includes SpaceX’s hopes to fulfill the contract with NASA.
The flight began at 05:24:10 P.M. CDT (06:24:10 P.M. EDT; 03:24:10 P.M. PDT) amid climatic states, similar to what the SN11 flight experienced a couple of weeks ago. As in all previous cases, that the Starship attained its apogee, closed down its three Raptor engines (one by one), then reoriented itself to get its descent (the”belly-flop” maneuver). But this time around, the Starship experienced no issues because it reignited just two of its own Raptor motors and descended the last couple of meters.
Subsequently, 6 minutes and 8 seconds after launching, the SN15 touched down to the landing pad and appeared unscathed. From the first two attempts, the SN8 and SN9 prototypes came in too sexy or over-rotated and burst upon landing. During the next, the SN10 endured a slight malfunction with its landing legs which caused it to property too hard on one side, which caused a propellant flow that triggered a fire and an explosion.
Then there was that the SN11 high-altitude flight that exploded while descending, raining debris all around the landing pad. You see, in between all this testing, SpaceX had been awarded a lucrative contract worth $2.9 billion to develop an Individual Landing System (HLS) for NASA.
As part of the Artemis Program, SpaceX was one of three firms competing to secure the best to construct the lander which will transport the Artemis III astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024 — others being Blue Origin and Dynetics. For their proposition, SpaceX provided a modified variant of the Starship that would take a crew of six astronauts all the way from Earth to the Moon and let for EVAs on the surface.
Soon after NASA granted the Choice A contract to SpaceX, the two firms filed complaints with NASA, citing a lack of proper consultation. As Dynetics stated more than once in the 61-page criticism they registered into the Government Accountability Office (that was co-signed by Blue Origin), at the first solicitation, NASA suggested that it had been committed to fostering an environment of competition.
This included choosing two candidates for Option A contract, something NASA went against in the end, citing budget constraints and scheduling issues. In addition, the team representing Dynetics also attracted attention to the”high and unacceptable risk” which SpaceX’s approach involves.
Landing people on the Moon requires a fantastic deal of space engineering, to spot and reduce the inherent and considerable dangers of human spaceflight, and NASA has given SpaceX a pass onto its demonstrable lack of such systems engineering.
Perhaps Musk’s impotence joke, aimed at Bezos, had something to do with this. Regardless, NASA stated an official spokesperson last week, stating: “Under the GAO protests,” NASA educated SpaceX that advancement on the HLS (human landing platform ) contract was suspended until GAO resolves all outstanding litigation related to the procurement.”
This powerful test of this SN15 is hence a bit of a double whammy. On the one hand, it puts SpaceX closer to creating an entirely reusable heavy launch system that may make normal trips to orbit, the Moon, Mars, and (someday) beyond. On the other hand, SpaceX’s participation in the Artemis Program is being challenged in part according to their record of success and failure with all the Starship prototypes.
By demonstrating that their system may perform all of the significant maneuvers safely and efficiently, SpaceX has undermined the contest’s challenge. There is no method of knowing if this will affect NASA’s conclusion vis-a-vis their stop-work order they put on the HLS.
All things considered, it must feel pretty good to be Elon Musk right now!