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SpaceX's Mars prototype rocket, Starship SN15, might fly again soon

For the first time, the flight of a Starship prototype didn't end in an explosion. Now Elon Musk says there may be an encore.

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SN10 takes flight. SN15 features several upgrades over its predecessors.

SpaceX

Less than 48 hours after landing a version of his next-generation Starship vehicle for the first time, SpaceX head honcho Elon Musk is already looking to launch it again.

SpaceX on Wednesday successfully flew SN15, an updated prototype of its future Mars rocket, following a handful of attempts that all ended in dramatic explosions during the landing phase. In the early morning hours Friday, Musk tweeted: "Might try to refly SN15 soon."

It's always hard to know what Musk means by "soon." We've typically had to wait about a month in between Starship test flights. With SN15 the first one to survive a flight, perhaps its encore can occur in a slightly accelerated time frame.

Last week the Federal Aviation Administration said it had authorized SN15 as well as SN16 and SN17 for flight. It's unclear how that applies to a potential re-flight of SN15.

The early, three-engine version of Starship flew to an altitude of about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers), did a brief single-engine hover before flipping horizontal for its long coast towards the landing pad. It then lit back up to flip to vertical position and came in for a soft and rather pretty landing powered by a landing burn from just two of its Raptor engines.

Starship has landed.

SpaceX video capture/CNET

The landing caps off a busy period for SpaceX that has seen the return of astronauts to Earth aboard a Crew Dragon and a milestone Starlink launch, not to mention Musk is hosting Saturday Night Live this week.

"The past few weeks have been full of accomplishments by the SpaceX team," said SpaceX engineer and commentator John Insprucker on the SpaceX livestream. "An outstanding period as we work to enable the future of human spaceflight."

The company conducted high-altitude test flights of prototypes SN8 through SN11 and had long planned to integrate what Musk called "major upgrades" into SN15. The company skipped SN12, SN13 and SN14, which were never fully assembled.

Musk said SN15 "has hundreds of design improvements across structures, avionics/software and engine," including, apparently, upgrades to cover some of the problems that prevented SpaceX from sticking the landing without a rapid unscheduled disassembly.

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