New York TimesMay 6, 2021 18:16:49 IST
A prototype spacecraft that SpaceX hopes will one day send to the moon and Mars touched in one piece on a landing pad in South Texas on Wednesday. It was Starship’s Fifth High Altitude Flight Test, a vehicle that exploded on several previous test flights either during or after landing.
“We’re down, Starship has landed,” said SpaceX engineer John Insprucker during the live video stream of the SN15 launch.
The flames continued from the bottom of the rocket after it landed as a result of the fuel used by the rocket, Insprucker said. Shortly after SpaceX had completed its official video feed, Elon Musk, founder of a private space company, wrote a tweet calling for a successful landing in a rocket ban: “Starfish landing nominal!”
Starship landing nominal!
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 5, 2021
The upcoming Vehicle Model is central to Musk’s goal of transporting one day to people far from the Earth’s orbit. NASA also recently awarded SpaceX a contract to build a version of Starship that will transport astronauts to the surface of the moon later this decade.
In the previous four tests conducted since December, the rockets successfully fired and, after reaching a height of several miles, showed controlled abdominal loops back to the ground. But every time problems after landing or rocket contact led to spectacular explosions.
– SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 5, 2021
Wednesday’s flight had no such excitement. A vehicle powered by three engines drove into the cloudy sky over Boca Chica next to the Gulf of Mexico. It traveled four minutes to an altitude of about 6 miles, turning off the engines and hovering for a while before embarking on its journey back to the ground.
After returning to the landing pad, it turned horizontally to begin the landing. As it approached the surface, it reactivated the engines and brought itself back in the vertical direction, slowing the approach to the ground like a cloud of smoke. After the steam escaped, the spacecraft stood in an upright position, the feathers continuing to be ventilated from their sides.
SpaceX uses a failed, correctable approach through tests to identify design deficiencies and make changes on subsequent flights. NASA’s announcement last month will certainly bring more attention to Starship’s progress and setbacks.
A few weeks ago, NASA signed a $ 2.9 billion contract with SpaceX to use Starship to take astronauts from the lunar orbit to the lunar surface. The agreement is part of the Artemis program, and NASA was expected to select more than one company to build the lunar landing, reflecting the approach the space agency has used to hire companies to transport cargo and now astronauts to the International Space Station.
Following the announcement, NASA’s decision was challenged by two other companies competing for the agreement: Blue Origin, a private company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos; and Dynetics, a defense contractor in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA has now ordered SpaceX to stop work on the lunar starship until a decision is made by the state agency. The challenge will not affect SpaceX’s work on the Starship models currently being tested in Texas.
The Musk company has been successful in the launch industry and is now one of the most valuable privately owned companies in the world. Its Falcon 9 rockets have become the dominant workhorse for sending satellites into orbit. It regularly transports goods and astronauts to the International Space Station. Over the past month, it has sent four astronauts to a space station for NASA and later brought another crew home on Saturday night.
However, many are skeptical of Musk’s claim that the company has been sending the Star Ship to Mars for just a few years, pointing out that he has repeatedly set schedules for SpaceX that proved too optimistic.
In 2019, when he submitted an update on Starship’s development, he said the high-altitude test will take place within months and that orbits could occur in early 2020.
Instead, several catastrophic failures occurred due to improper welding. When the propellant tanks stopped rupturing, the two prototypes made short successful flights last year. These earlier Starship prototypes resembled spray paint cans with labels removed and rose nearly 500 meters with a single rocket engine before landing in the Texas test area.
Although it has risen from the ground many times, Starship is far from ready for orbit. But SpaceX has already looked to future tests that will send later Starship prototypes to much higher altitudes. In March, Musk shared a picture of a prototype of the large-scale enhancement phase needed for space travel. It is over 200 meters long.
The prototype won’t actually take off, but Musk said the company’s goal was for another model to be launched by July.
Kenneth Chang and Michael Roston circa 2021 The New York Times Company