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SpaceX’s biggest rocket successfully lands in third try

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SpaceX conceived the stainless steel Starship as a versatile, fully reusable craft that can carry 100 metric tons for deep-space missions to the moon and Mars.

Bloomberg

PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 05:38 AM IST

Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s newest and biggest rocket successfully landed in its third test flight, a milestone for the futuristic spacecraft set to fly humans in 2023.

The Starship SN-10 prototype lifted off from SpaceX’s seaside launch pad at about 5:15 p.m. in Boca Chica, Texas, on Wednesday, based on a live video stream on SpaceX’s website. The rocket then flew to an altitude of about 10 kilometers (around 6 miles) before reigniting its engines and touching down on the landing pad.

The successful landing — the craft’s first — likely marks the start of a new development phase for the massive vehicle, which SpaceX founder Elon Musk plans to use to shuttle as many as 12 people around the moon in two years, land NASA astronauts on the lunar surface and eventually settle explorers on Mars. The company still has work to prepare the Starship for its first orbital flight, which could occur later this year.

“I’m highly confident that we will have reached orbit many times with Starship before 2023, and that it will be safe enough for human transport by 2023,” Musk said Tuesday in a video released by Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, who has invited eight people to apply to join his “fun trip” around the moon. “It’s looking very, very promising.”

An earlier Starship rocket slammed to the ground on Dec. 9, igniting a fireball, followed by a similar outcome with a second prototype last month. No one was injured in the mishaps.

SpaceX conceived the stainless steel Starship as a versatile, fully reusable craft that can carry 100 metric tons for deep-space missions to the moon and Mars. It’s also designed to serve as a hypersonic, point-to-point vehicle to reduce travel times across Earth.

Excluding a heavy booster that creates a two-stage system, Starship is 160 feet (49 meters) high with a 30-foot diameter, and able to carry as many as 100 passengers.

Musk said in October that he’s 80% to 90% confident that Starship will be ready for an orbital flight this year. SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California, plans to fly multiple Starship prototypes from its Texas launch site near the US-Mexico border.

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