SpaceX Just Launched and Successfully Landed Its Mars Rocket

This marks SpaceX's first successful landing. Without explosions.
Brad Bergan

In the wake of two successful static fire tests and multiple delays, SpaceX's Starship SN15 rocket was ready to take off Wednesday afternoon, so long as the weather was agreeable — and luckily, it was — according to a SpaceX live stream on its YouTube channel.

The SN15 prototype launched into the sky at 6:24 PM EDT (5:24 PM Central) carrying a Starlink satellite after receiving an FCC permit to operate a Starlink dish installed on the vehicle. It successfully performed a belly-flop, then landed softly. There was a roughly three-story blazing fire at the bottom of the spacecraft after landing, but it appeared to be extinguished by 6:42 PM EDT.

This marks the first successful landing of CEO SpaceX Elon Musk's Starship prototype, which aims to land humans on Mars in the coming years.

SpaceX's Starship SN15 venting everything after successfully landing

Starship had landed softly at a perfect 90-degree angle to the ground after its clockwork launch on Wednesday afternoon. There was a large fire near the bottom of the spacecraft, but they were extinguished in mere minutes by nearby water pumps.

Take a breath. This has never happened before. It survived.

The Starship SN15 subsequently vented gasses remaining in its tanks — which it will likely continue to do until it is 100% safe for humans to approach. Crucially, there was talk before Starship SN15's launch of having the vehicle launch again in the coming weeks — which would make it the first Starship designed to land on Mars to ever attempt a second landing.

SpaceX's Starship fire appears extinguished, vehicle is undergoing 'safing'

The fire appeared to be extinguished at 6:36 PM EDT as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted in response to the spacecraft's successful test launch and landing.

This is an historic step forward for the Starship prototype — which is slated to land humans on Mars in the coming years. But there's still a potential danger to the Starship — since any methane aboard the craft could have been part of the earlier leak, which is flammable.

SpaceX fire vehicles sprayed water at burning SN15 rocket

Although SpaceX has confirmed Starship SN15's launch as a successful "soft" landing, water pumps are spraying very high quantities of water at the bottom of the rocket — where a raging fire roughly three stories tall raged. As of writing, the flames appear to be extinguished — which means this could be the first Starship prototype to launch, successfully land, and not explode into a fireball.

SpaceX's Starlink SN15 successfully lands, small fire near bottom

The Starship SN15 successfully achieved its belly-flop maneuver, and descended perfectly, with what appeared to be a soft touch-down, but there remains a small fire at the bottom of the vehicle.

The last time this happened after landing, a Starship exploded after landing, so fingers are definitely crossed!

SpaceX's Starlink SN15 momentarily out of view in heavy clouds after launch

SpaceX's upgraded Starship the SN15 just launched from Boca Chica, Texas, and ascended before it reached its maximum altitude — after which it will attempt a belly flop, controlled-burn descent via new Raptor engines, and a landing.

SpaceX's Starship SN15 rocket could see a repeat test launch

SpaceX aims to use the two-month FCC permit to experiment with the idea of adding equipping active launch vehicles with Starlink satellite internet connectivity. But the FCC permit is also a crucial prerequisite for the private aerospace firm to legally kickoff its fifth high-altitude launch and landing. This has raised hopes that the launch could happen before the weekend, but as of Friday morning, it remained unclear if it would move forward.

The FAA license is a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) pass to empty the airspace, in addition to a highway closure set for the Wednesday launch window, plus a marine hazard notice to direct maritime operators away from regions where the Starship could splash down — although this isn't the ideal outcome for the SN15 prototype, which was just upgraded, completing two Raptor engine static fires with no visible issues. In the past, one or more of the Raptor engines needed replacing after a static fire test, which makes this a first for SpaceX.

SpaceX's SN15 has undergone numerous "risk reduction" tests ahead of its triple-Raptor test flight — including filling and pressurizing tanks with ambient, gaseous nitrogen, and finally cryogenic testing with liquid nitrogen. Few opportunities exist for weekend testing, which means Highway 4 in Boca Chica will be closed to the public. Static fire tests were executed this week to increase the chances of a smooth flight — and a landing without snags. But if something goes wrong during the test, SpaceX's SN16 is already prepping for its flight in the Mid Bay of the company's facility.

If the SN15 rocket nails all of its high altitude test goals, SpaceX might try the test again, or even shoot for a higher altitude. Company CEO Elon Musk might even want to integrate the Super Heavy, which could use the booster alone. There's much to intrigue about SpaceX's ongoing testing and re-engineering of the Starship SN15 rocket, and every test is a potential inflection point for progress to the company's ultimate goal: landing humans on Mars in a proprietary reusable rocket.

This is breaking news about the first launch of SpaceX's Starship SN15, so be sure to return here for more updates.

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