SpaceX's Starship prototype SN15 stands on the launch and landing pad after a successful flight and landing Wednesday. Photo courtesy of SpaceX
May 5 (UPI) -- SpaceX successfully launched and landed its Starship moon and Mars rocket for the first time in Texas on Wednesday.
Liftoff of the rocket prototype, SN15, occurred at 6:25 p.m. EDT at the company's Starbase spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas, about 23 miles east of Brownsville.
The flight was the fifth for a Starship prototype, after all previous ones ended with a fiery explosion. One flight, named SN10 in March, landed upright briefly, but exploded minutes later.
"We have successfully launched from our facility in South Texas and landed after a flight ... and then we got some great views of the engines lighting up as we came down for a landing," SpaceX principal engineer John Insprucker said during a live broadcast of the launch.
The successful flight is part of an "outstanding period as we work to enable the future of human spaceflight and expansion into the solar system," he said.
Just after the landing, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk posted on Twitter: "Starship landing nominal!"
Like previous flights, the prototype rocket soared about 6 miles high over the launchpad into overcast skies before the spacecraft flipped over, glided downward and reignited its Raptor engines for landing.
A fire that broke out in an engine after landing appeared to be controlled after several minutes.
The newest prototype had several improvements, according to the company's statement about Wednesday's attempt, including new avionics and a new Raptor engine design and configuration.
The rocket will used four wing flaps to guide it back to the launch pad. SpaceX believes such landing ability, and reusability, are "critical to landing Starship at destinations across the solar system where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist, and returning to Earth."
NASA selected Starship to land astronauts on the moon as part of the planned Artemis missions, the space agency announced April 16.
SpaceX also has sold a private flight around the moon using Starship to Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, scheduled for early 2023.
The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on November 8. Photo courtesy of NASA