It comes after four previous prototypes attempted to safely land after soaring a few miles into the air, with all of the prior missions ending in explosions.
SN15 is an early iteration of Starship, the vehicle that Musk envisions will one day carry the first humans to Mars.
The vehicle has several improvements over its predecessors, according to SpaceX. They include upgrades to its hardware, communication and navigation systems, software and it’s massive engines, which are called Raptor engines.
Perfecting the belly-flop landing maneuver is essential to «enable a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration, interplanetary flights and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond,» according to the company’s website.
The last prototype to fly, SN11, exploded during landing, rained shrapnel on a nearby beach and threatened nearby video equipment that was set up by YouTubers trying to capture footage of the launch. The prototype before that, SN10, landed upright in March but independent footage of the event showed the vehicle exploded about three minutes later.
All of SpaceX’s Starship prototypes thus far have been far less powerful than the final product envisioned by Musk. While most of the test vehicles have had three engines, the final spaceship is expected to have more than 30, including a separate, massive rocket booster, dubbed Super Heavy, used for getting to orbit.
SpaceX has yet to publicly test the Super Heavy rocket booster, though Musk has said he hopes a Starship vehicle will reach orbit within a year.
Update: An earlier version of this story stated that the final spaceship will have more than 40 engines. It is not yet clear what that number will end up being, but the latest information from SpaceX suggets that it will be more than 30.