After several delays and complications, SpaceX has successfully performed the first flight tests of the Starship SN5 prototype from SpaceX’s Boca Chica test site in Texas, marking a step forward in Journey to send humans to Mars. During testing, the company’s first full-scale prototype achieved an initial flight of around 150-meter (just under 500 feet).
Starship SN5 experimental spacecraft – that looks like a giant metal thermos – used its only Raptor SN27 engine (methane-fueled) and slowly flew into the air, rotated slightly before gently returning to the ground and landing vertically not far from where it took off. After the cloud of dust and smoke dissipated, the broadcast showed that the rocket had successfully landed a few tens of meters from the launch site.
SpaceX continues to develop the Starship spacecraft, which is to get humans back to the moon and, for the first time, to Mars. The SN5 is just the second Starship prototype to get off the ground. While the first prototype, Starhopper, successfully showed engine operation and the possibility of a jet landing, tests of subsequent prototypes (Mk1, SN1, SN3, and SN4 ) were not so successful. Most of the SN5’s predecessors were damaged during pressure testing or preparation for static ignitions.
Both Starhopper and SN5 have a unique Raptor engine, SpaceX’s next-generation powerful engine, whereas the final Starship spacecraft will have six Raptor engines on board for greater thrust. Starship SN5 features a thrust section with liquid oxygen and methane tanks stacked on top.
A nose cone and aero surfaces are the only significant components missing between SN5 and a full-size Starship vehicle. SpaceX hasn’t released the official height of SN5; however, it is estimated to be in the ballpark of 30 meters. SpaceX plans to use Starship not only for space launches but also for suborbital passenger flights between continents.
SN5’s flight attempt successful, SpaceX will likely proceed to higher altitude test flights. According to Elon Musk, the next steps include several more short hops to smooth out the launch process, then go high altitude with body flaps. The exact details of the next testing milestones have not been confirmed. However, they are expected to feature a more fully-fledged Starship design.