Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

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SpaceX completes first static fire test of Superheavy prototype #3

Superheavy booster #3 fires
Superheavy booster #3 fires.

Capitalism in space: SpaceX yesterday successfully completed the first static fire test of the third Superheavy prototype, firing up three Raptor engines for about two seconds.

I have embedded the live stream from below the fold, cued to just before the engines fire. Because there was a delay of a few minutes from when the static fire was expected and when it actually happened, the announcers had began talking and were caught off guard by the burn.

Next up:

Booster 3 provides a first-time operation for fueling the huge booster with Liquid Oxygen (LOX) and Liquid Methane (CH4) during the test. How much propellant will be loaded, and the schedule for the sequence was unknown. However, NSF’s Adrian Beil wrote a feature on the expectations based on previous experiences with Starship being applied to Super Heavy.

Based on those evaluations, it was expected that Super Heavy would also undergo a Starship-like countdown of 45-60 minutes, with fueling beginning in the 30-40 minute range. Engine chill would then follow at T-12 minutes, ahead of the firing. As with previous Static Fires, the T-10 minute siren sounded, as per the alert notice to local residents. However, as with Starship, mini-holds can be expected, pushing the ignition time to the right. This proved to be the case on Monday.

The booster fired up all three engines for the expected duration, confirmed by Musk before he noted that “depending on progress with Booster 4, we might try a 9 engine firing on Booster 3.”

Booster #4 will be put on the orbital launchpad rather than the test pad, and is likely the booster to be used for the first orbital test flight of Starship, likely to be launched before the end of summer.


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  • Skunk Bucket

    I’m having a hard time imagining ten times that amount of thrust and flame during an actual launch. I’m not an aerospace engineer, so I’ll have to defer to the judgement of the SpaceX experts, but I still worry that the orbital launch mount isn’t up to the job of handling that much (hopefully) controlled violence. The surrounding area is likely to take a tremendous amount of damage when 28-33 Raptors all light off at once. That said, I’m going to try real hard to get down there to watch!

  • Edward

    Skunk Bucket wrote: “I’m not an aerospace engineer, so I’ll have to defer to the judgement of the SpaceX experts, but I still worry that the orbital launch mount isn’t up to the job of handling that much (hopefully) controlled violence.

    I’m not a SpaceX expert, but I am an aerospace engineer. SpaceX does things that are very different than has been standard practices. Why? I don’t know, but they do seem to be successful at doing the utterly impossible.

    The Saturn V launch vehicles had similar thrust and flame during launch, so I am not worried about the amount, but I am worried about what they are doing with that amount. Most rockets larger than a small size have flame deflectors and sound suppression systems that are very different than we see in Boca Chica. The launch pads for these large rockets have these features in order to prevent the pressure waves from the sound of the engines from reflecting back onto the vehicle, where they may cause damage. Whether SpaceX’s system will work has yet to be seen, but this static firing provides them with some amount of data to help them determine whether they are really on the right track or whether they need some modifications somewhere.

    Starship needs to land on and take off of some unprepared surfaces on the Moon and on Mars, so what they are learning about the exhaust impingement and sound waves is important. It may even be why they added a few meters to their orbital test pad. In order to land one-ton rovers and minimize dust plumes, NASA uses a skycrane. SpaceX is planning to land a couple hundred tons, and then take off again but has limited options for minimizing dust plumes.

    Shockingly, SpaceX has also built Starship test units in structures that are more like wind breakers than cleanrooms, and they store flight hardware outdoors and unprotected from the elements and the fauna. Yet their rockets do not blow up. At least not for that reason.

    Engineers have a saying that if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it. “Broken” can mean being more expensive than necessary. SpaceX is showing we aerospace engineers that rocketry, as we have known it, is broken, and SpaceX is making progress in fixing it. SpaceX is doing things differently than we engineers have always done them.

    Engineers need to know how things work and why things work. The phrase “that’s how we have always done it” is a bad phrase in engineering, as it does not explain why it works that way, just that it works that way. In the past decade, SpaceX has been showing aerospace engineers that we haven’t really known how or why rockets need to be built or operated the way they are, just that they work when we do it that way.

    SpaceX is teaching us some very important lessons, and we need to take note and learn them. The engineers at Blue Origin, Rocket Lab, Sierra Nevada, and other companies are paying attention to these lessons. Other companies and countries not so much.

  • I’m far more worried about FAA shutting them down than about anything blowing up. Of course they’re going to blow things up, they’ve been blowing things up all along, they’re figuring on it every step of the way and they never make the same mistake twice.

    Other factors aside, I can’t help but be a SpaceX fan, watching them make more progress, in an order of magnitude less time *and* cost, than anyone else ever has. Nothing can stop them now except government thugs with government guns.

  • Shaun

    Edward and Jeffersonian,

    Well stated. You hit the nail(s) on the head. SpaceX are doing things that are so far outside the thus far accepted practices of space systems engineering /manufacturing that every other company is left guessing (and gasping) at the possibilities. I too am an aerospace engineer dealing in certain products that go into space and am consistently amazed at the ability of SpaceX to think outside the norms and do things at such a swift rate. The only limiting factor will be silly regulatory issues that will be aired out during this certification process. Expect a lot more resistance from the establishment but also expect SpaceX to break through those barriers due to a high level of commercial interest in their success. Especially in the wake of Branson’s and Bezos’s recent successes.

  • Perhaps Bezos’ wheel greasing will have a beneficial effect for all space companies. And as Shaun notes, commercial interest (the source of political money) will likely hold sway. But not without a lot of encumbrance.

  • Craken

    Competition is not standing still. The Euros are working on Adeline and Callisto; the Chinese have similar work ongoing as well. SpaceX has a 10-12 year lead, but they need to keep working to maintain it. Given how high profile space launch is (despite its current economic insignificance), I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chinese, Russians, or Israelis had special espionage units dedicated to stealing the R&D treasures of SpaceX. They would have no qualms about simply replicating the SpaceX rockets. The Soviet failure to simply replicate the Space Shuttle–instead building the “Buran” from scratch–helped to bankrupt Gorbachev’s regime. As with the SDS show Reagan put on, America could afford the outrageous expenditure and the stagnant Soviet economy could not. Nor can the Russians and Israelis afford to redo the R&D of SpaceX today. The Chinese are another matter…but even they have yet to demonstrate impressive native R&D capacity.

  • The Chinese are another matter…but even they have yet to demonstrate impressive native R&D capacity.

    The outside-the-box thinking we see from SpaceX is discouraged by the leaders in authoritarian societies, who Know Better how things are to be done …

  • Edward

    Jeffersonian wrote: “Of course they’re going to blow things up, they’ve been blowing things up all along, they’re figuring on it every step of the way …

    SpaceX had planned on making more test units at the past two stages of Starship development than they ended up flying. This tells me that they are learning faster than they had expected. I believe that this is why they seem so late in building the orbital launch facilities, they discovered that they were several months ahead of their development schedule, and Super Heavy, the Raptor engines, and the ocean platforms need to catch up.

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