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NASA describes Starship’s first unmanned test lunar landing

In a briefing focused on the science that could be placed on the mission, a NASA official yesterday provided a status update of SpaceX’s first unmanned test flight by Starship to the Moon.

First, the official revealed that NASA is only requiring SpaceX to demonstrate a successful landing. Take-off will not be required. Also,

Starship is not designed to fly directly to the Moon like NASA’s Space Launch System, however. Instead, the first stage puts it only in Earth orbit. To go further, it must fill up with propellant at a yet-to-be-built orbiting fuel depot. Other Starships are needed to deliver propellant to the depot.

Watson-Morgan described the Concept of Operations for Starship’s Artemis III mission, starting with launch of the fuel depot, then a number of “propellant aggregation” launches to fill up the depot, then launch of the Starship that will go to Moon.

Previously SpaceX suggested that the ship would be directly refueled by subsequent Starships, with no middle-man fueling depot. It could be either engineering had made the depot necessary, or NASA politics have insisted upon it.

Finally, the talk outlined the elevator SpaceX is developing to lower the astronauts and equipment to the ground from Starship’s top.

Conscious Choice cover

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From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


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  • Dick Eagleson

    The use of a propellant depot ship in the Starship lunar architecture is not new and is not NASA’s idea. The depot ship has been part of the HLS Starship proposal from the beginning and is even mentioned in the Source Selection Document NASA published at the time SpaceX was awarded the HLS contract. It’s in the list of risk factors.

  • Dick Eagleson: But isn’t that depot ship simply another Starship? That was how I understood it. According to the report above, NASA seems to be talking about a completely different design. Am I wrong?

  • Ray Van Dune

    Comment on the HLS Lander design: I would vote for a set of notches or rings for climbing back up to the airlock entrance in the event of an elevator failure. At 1/6 gee it should not require superhuman effort, just care. If you have to lift off with the elevator platform deployed, no biggie… no atmospheric drag.

  • GaryMike

    Is what is being described is: Starships lofted into low Earth orbit destined for the moon will be only partially filled because the heavy boosters can’t loft a fully fueled starship?

    Lofted 1/3rd loaded, it takes two more partially fueled starships to fully fuel the first?

  • Jeff Wright

    A one way Starship to land in the center of a crater as a feed horn-wet base might need less fuel than a full Lunar Starship.

  • Cloudy

    At this point I find it difficult to take Artemis seriously. Artemis is the only remotely plausible purpose for SLS and Orion, so I don’t really take them seriously either.

    Starship will probably be great as a launch vehicle, but that is all it is right now. There hasn’t been much real work to make it into anything else. It will have to be done essentially from scratch and that is hard for anybody. Also, remember Dragon Rider and Falcon Heavy. Both were supposed to be versions of operational predecessors but turned out to be fundamentally different beasts.

    When Spacex does that work it will be as a purely financial venture. Spacex’s passion is launch service and Mars. That’s it. Musk and his crew will see it as a regretfully necessary distraction. He won’t put his best people onto it.

    We forget how long Falcon 9 & Dragon to get to where they are now. Think from the time the first significant resources were expended on until a reliable and safe capability was in place. Starship (even as a launch vehicle only) may be only halfway down that road.

    Anyway you put it, all signs point to this taking a long time. With the current plan I doubt anybody is putting anyone on the moon before 2030. By then the program will be canceled or the entire landing architecture will be redone. Probably to scale it down radically, having Spacex develop a smaller, purpose built lander. That may be what was planned to begin with. You don’t come up with anything like any part of Artemis if you seriously want to go to the moon.

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