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Musk: Next Starship/Superheavy test launch could happen in only 3 to 4 weeks

Superheavy & Starship, on their way
Superheavy & Starship, shortly after liftoff on November 18th

In a tweet on November 19, 2023, Elon Musk revealed that SpaceX could be ready for its next Starship/Superheavy test launch in only a matter of weeks, assuming federal red tape doesn’t get in the way.

Starship Flight 3 hardware should be ready to fly in 3 to 4 weeks. There are three ships in final production in the high bay (as can be seen from the highway).

In reporting on the second test launch on November 18, 2023, I noted that with prototypes ready to go SpaceX could probably launch within a month. Musk has now confirmed that assessment.

I also predicted that the FAA and Fish & Wildlife would not allow such a thing, and though they will determine there is no reason not to launch again, they will not issue a launch licence until the February/April time frame.

I want this prediction clearly on the record. It is important for the public to know the source of these delays.

It is also important for the press to apply pressure on these government paper pushers so they don’t feel encouraged in their intransigence. When I made a similar (and wholly accurate) prediction in May about the second launch, many in the press criticized that prediction (directly and indirectly) for daring to say bad things about government regulators. Now it appears that others in the press are no longer so naive, and are willing to note the slowness of the licensing process.

The regulators might not want to stand in the way and are simply following procedure. The press however mustn’t treat them gently. It must hold their feet to the fire to make sure they don’t take their time doing so.

Moreover, we have seen fewer headlines claiming falsely that the rocket “blew up” or “exploded.” Instead, a large percentage of the press now got it right and noted the mission’s success and that the destruction was not an accident but part of the self-destruct system.

After the last launch I lambasted the press for getting these facts wrong. Maybe holding their feet to the fire forced a reassessment and better reporting this time around.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 

The print edition can be purchased at Amazon. Or you can buy it directly from the author and get an autographed copy.

 
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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

21 comments

  • wayne

    “We were forced to kidnap a Seal, strap it to a board, put headphones on the Seal, and play sonic-boom sounds to it, to see if it would be distressed. This is an actual thing that happened. This is actually real.”
    (“The amazing part was how calm the Seal was, because if I was a Seal I’d be like, this is the end, they’re definitely going to eat me.”) (“We had to do it twice, btw.”)
    Elon Musk (11-9-2023)
    https://youtu.be/JN3KPFbWCy8?t=4858

  • wayne

    “Currently, the limiting factor for SpaceX, for Starship launch, is regulatory approval.”
    Elon Musk (11-9-2023)

  • Questioner

    Terran Space Academy: “Starship Flight Failure Analysis IFT2”

    We hope you studied the failure modes and came up with what you think happened. This is our failure analysis. Let us know what you think and stay safe!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ePsuru7BKc

  • Questioner

    This man is evil.

    Common Sense Skeptic: “BREAKING DOWN STARSHIP IFT-2 LAUNCH November 18, 2023”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ka5id7ZQKL4

  • Ray Van Dune

    The Terran Space Academy video gratuitously says that both hot staging and grid fins were pioneered by the Soviets, as if SpaceX copied the idea. Well, I think that needs clarification.
    1. The N-1 grid fins appear to be drag devices, perhaps to impart additional 1st-stage stability in light of the limitations of the variable-thrust steering. From the pictures I have seen it appears they could not pivot to provide lateral thrust like Superheavy’s or Falcon’s, and it is not clear that they were even able to pivot in and out like airbrakes.

    2. The hot staging structures on the N-1 look like they were copied from the masts on 1920s-era US battleships, i.e., butt-ugly! Nobody knows if they would have worked, because the N-1 never got that far!

  • Questioner

    Ray Van Dune:

    I have to correct you. Virtually every Soviet space carrier used the hot staging method for ages. By the way, also the US Titan II missile. Gridfins have long been and are used by many Soviet missiles not for stabilization, but also for active control.

  • Edward

    I don’t put a much stock in Musk’s prediction for the next launch. In the past, he has been very optimistic, and this time there has not been much time to analyze what went wrong and how long improvements would take.

    On the Other hand, SpaceX has been willing to launch un-perfected test units with the intention of adding to their experience with the type of hardware they are flying. Even without improvements, they should be able to learn additional lessons. It is possible that they would launch test units weekly, if they could, and save the improvements for the future test units. They did something similar with the bellyflop tests (closer to monthly rather than weekly).

  • Edwaed

    My previous comment sounded a little downbeat. So to remedy that, I will say that it seems that Axiom Space, Nanoracks, Rocket Lab, Sierra Space, SpaceX, Varda, and a few other companies seem to be bringing back the Space Age.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Questioner: I neglected to acknowledge that true grid fins were indeed invented by the Soviets, but specifically for air to air missiles. But my real point was that the grids on N-1 were not of that aerodynamic design, and appear to be either fixed or speedbrake types. If you have additional information I would welcome it.

    My comments on hot-stages for the N-1 were just snark. They are ugly, like the masts on old battleships!

  • Jeff Wright

    N-1’s looked like chain-link fencing:)

  • Questioner

    What is striking is that SpaceX does not provide us with any information about the causes of the two explosions (RUDs). The company also does not provide videos that were made with 100% certainty on board during the flight.

  • Edward: I think Musk’s prediction is reasonable because he has those prototypes ready in the assembly building, and he needs to fly them to get them out of the way in order to build upgraded new prototypes. Even if engineers don’t incorporate changes in them, the results from countdown, launch, and flight, no matter what happens, will be instructive.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Questioner,

    I think the Terran Space Academy analysis is pretty much correct and is also consistent with Scott Manley’s analysis. Implementing their mutual suggestions anent Super Heavy would be pretty much entirely a matter of modest mods to the flight control software to produce a more anti-slosh flight profile for staging and post-staging in which the remaining propellant not only doesn’t slosh, but is also never subjected to any zero or negative G forces.

    The separation dynamics of the Starship may well not be fixable by merely delaying ignition of the three sea-level engines – another software-only fix – though I am far from certain about this.

    An alternative fix would retain the current all-six-engines start-up, but mitigate both pressure on the booster and the magnitude of any “bounce-back” pressure waves on Starship’s engine bay by adding one or two more vented rings to the interstage design. This would increase the distance between the top of the blast shield and the sea level engine bells from inches to yards. An additional helper-outer could be to make the center of the blast shield into a tri-lobed shape with three “flame trenches” rather than the current frustum cone shape.

    This would increase the total height of the Super Heavy by two or four meters and would necessitate an equal raise of the height of the Starship quick-disconnect hardware. Changes already made to this hardware to accommodate the extant hot-staging ring should make a second upward adjustment simpler and quicker than the first.

    Regardless of how it elects to remedy the shortcomings revealed by IFT-2, I have confidence SpaceX can, indeed, be ready for an IFT-3 before year’s end so long as the regulators don’t gum up the works.

    On another matter, Common Sense Skeptic would, no doubt, like to be evil – at least where Elon Musk is concerned – but is, in the event, merely pathetic and self-deluded. That is true of most of Musk’s enemies – which allows him to concentrate attention on the few that are consequential. Media Matters, for example, has recently forged to the front of said pack of baying mongrels. Their takedown should be a good show. I’ve already ordered more popcorn.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Questioner,

    I think the Terran Space Academy analysis is substantially correct and also aligns well with Scott Manley’s analysis. Insuring that Super Heavy’s residual propellant load is not subjected to any longitudinal zero or negative G forces during staging and post-staging, nor to any excessive lateral force loads, should require only modest mods to the flight control software.

    Fixing whatever caused Starship’s eventual failure might also prove possible with software-only changes but I am less certain of this.

    An alternative fix could be to add another vented ring to the interstage. This would increase the separation between the sea-level engine bells and the top of the blast shield from inches to yards. Changing the center of the blast shield from a simple frustum cone to a tri-lobed shape incorporating three “flame trenches” could also contribute to the overall solution.

    This would, of course, necessitate raising the Starship quick disconnect hardware on the launch tower again. But changes already made to accommodate the current hot-staging ring should make doing a second bump upward easier and faster than doing the original modification.

    Whatever the solutions to the problems revealed by IFT-2 turn out to be, I am confident SpaceX can be ready for an IFT-3 before year’s end so long as the regulators don’t gum up the works.

    On another matter, Common Sense Skeptic would probably like to be evil – at least where Elon Musk is concerned. As things stand, he is merely pathetic and self-deluded as is the case with most of Musk’s detractors.

    That allows Musk to ignore nearly all such and concentrate attention only on those which are consequential. Lately, it is Media Matters which leads that particular baying pack of curs. Their upcoming takedown should be a good show. I’ve already laid in extra supplies of popcorn.

  • Dick Eagleson: Why did you post this comment twice?

  • Questioner

    Dick Eagleson

    So they also believe that the massive LOX spill that becomes visible during the flight of the spacecraft’s upper stage at about 7:10 minutes, which ultimately caused the subsequent deployment of the FTS due to trajectory deviation at 8:05 minutes, is a result of a structural failure, which resulted from the combination of potential pre-damage by an excessive pressure wave that acted on the engine compartment during the hot phase separation and the high acceleration at 7 min?

  • Questioner

    Astronomy Live: SpaceX Starship Explosion Filmed from the Florida Keys!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTcSMh4VYow

  • Dick Eagleson

    Robert,

    I didn’t post it twice, I posted the first one once and it failed to appear. I thought perhaps I had made some sort of mistake and so composed a second version and tried posting that. The second version also failed to appear. For the next few hours, while the comment count for this post on the main page continued to increase, only the first 10 comments would appear when I opened this post by itself in a new tab or window. Now, for equally mysterious reasons, I can suddenly see all of the comments the main page entry for this post says are there. Go figure. If you want to kill one or the other of my comments for the sake of retroactive tidiness I shan’t object.

  • Dick Eagleson: Thanks for the explanation. I don’t know why but sometimes comments simply don’t show up immediately. Under normal conditions a delay usually means they went to moderation, sometimes for correct reasons, sometimes for no reason at all that I can discern.

    In your case neither of your comments went to moderation.

    I wonder if maybe this was a cache problem in your browser. The standard solution to stories like yours is to empty the cache, or refresh the page.

  • Questioner

    CSI Starbase: “Superheavy’s Massive Fire Suppression System Dramatically Increases Performance”

    “While the 2nd Integrated Test Flight of Starship ultimately ended in the loss of both vehicles, it was undoubtably a massive improvement from SpaceX’s first attempt.
    This episode is a deep dive analysis of critical upgrades to Starship Superheavy.
    There is a very large focus placed on Booster 7 in this episode. There were a lot of lessons learned from IFT-1 and its important to understand why each of the changes to Booster 9 were necessary.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oedjbrmk3Xw&t=390s

  • Jeff Wright

    To Mr. Eagleson

    I think a bit more highly of stage and a half systems that burn to depletion.

    Though it would rely on major changes, perhaps scaling up SuperHeavy to be winged with separate jet-fuel tanks with GOX afterburners would allow reuse without having to make like Nadia Comaneci with all the flips.

    At least a bulkhead between the amount of propellants needed for return and general tankage.
    That gives the remainder time to settle down.

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