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.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

Starship prototype #15 removed from launchpad; likely not to fly again

Capitalism in space: SpaceX engineers have removed Starship prototype #15, the first to successfully land after a test flight, from the launchpad and rolled back towards their assembly building.

They had already removed its three Raptor engines and landing legs for inspection, but taking the ship off the launchpad strongly suggests the company has decided to not fly it again.

The immediate assumption is that they will now fly prototype #16, built and ready for launch. The article however speculates something far more intriguing:

There’s a limited possibility that Starship SN16 – all but finished – could be sent to the launch site instead of heading straight to the scrapyard, but any testing would necessarily delay orbital pad construction and any flight activity would likely have to expend SN16 in the ocean rather than risk a land landing.

Ultimately, it’s looking more and more likely that SpaceX would rather go all-in on Starship’s inaugural orbital launch attempt, even if that means little to no ground or flight test availability for a few months.

Prototype #20 had been assigned that for that first near-orbital flight. Does this mean SpaceX has decided abandon #16 through #19 and to go straight to that orbital flight? To do this would also mean they have decided to forego any separate testing of Superheavy, and will instead fly it the first time with a Starship upper stage attached. It would also be the only possible way they could meet their July target date for that orbital flight.

If #16 does not move immediately to the launchpad and there are no Starship test flights for the next month or so, it will tell us that this is likely their plan.

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7 comments

  • Diane Wilson

    No surprise. #17, what has been built of it, is already being scrapped. SN16 was a backup for SN15, and what is left to be learned from 10km hops?

    It’s possible that they might not scrap SN16 immediately, but it wouldn’t fly until after BN3/SN20 fly. Depending on what happens with SN20, they may find an additional non-orbital flight profile for SN16, but only if the issue occurs on ascent. More likely, the next focus for any Starship prototype will be entry, descent, and landing. Primary concerns that I can think of include flight software, heat shield, and managing cryogenic fuel during orbital flight.

    For now, the orbital pad seems to be the huge priority, and that includes several more GSE tanks to be built in the same facilities that build Starship prototypes.

  • Steve Richter

    NY Times had two front page articles the last few months, where the focus was SpaceX being kind of reckless and endangering the locals and wildlife.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/24/us/space-x-boca-chica-texas.html
    Maybe just too risky to land any more Starships in Boca Chica.

  • James Cooper

    A long while back I saw an interview with Elon where he was asked what was the most challenging task he saw going forward. The answer – building enough Raptors to do all the testing. As soon as SN15 succeeded I think he got nervous looking at how many Raptors would be necessary to put BN3/SN20 into orbit, and landing them in the ocean compounds the problem. He may go for it out of necessity.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Forgive this for being a little all over the map but each point seems connected to me. I’ll let you judge.

    First, on all up testing. If I am recalling things correctly, Saturn 5 was tested for the first time in flight in an all up configuration. This was done after some push back but final acceptance by Von Braun and his team. Tested all up due to time constraints cause by Apollo 1 fire delays as we raced to the moon. It seem like Musk and SpaceX are in a similar type of space race. Partly due to Musk internal drive and partly, I think, to stay so far ahead of others just in case the political winds shift.

    Second, On Starbase in Boca Chica. What an accomplishment! However, this has been in the back of my mind through the last year of watching SpaceX Starship. I wonder if Musk made an error in deciding to build his own self contained site to build and launch Starship?

    I say this because of other discussions I’ve seen in papers similar to Steve Richter’s post. If DJT was president, I would be thinking about this less but he is not. Also because of the discussion in previous months about SpaceX difficulties with the FAA.

    Perhaps Jeff Besos and Blue Origin made the right decision on New Glenn (yes much smaller than Starship but. still…)to put their launch facility at Cape Canaveral under the wing of the USAF (or I guess really the USSF now)?

    Range safety established, tracking facilities established . Established range operations and procedures allow Space Force to be the front man with the FAA. Hard for any detractor to say that it is too dangerous to launch big rockets from Cape Canaveral, all you have to do in answer is show them a clip of every Saturn 5 , Titan IIIC, Delta IV and Space Shuttle that ever launched to stop them talking. Yes there is tremendous advantages to building your own space facilities. In Eric Berger’s LIFTOFF book about the birth of SpaceX he talks about the great value (and shade) that SpaceX got in working with the USAF and US Army in launching from Kwajalein Island complete with an established launch operations and facility system.

    I wonder what smart people here on this site think?

    And on another note – today just for the heck of it, I drove out to McGregor TX and drove the perimeter of the SpaceX engine test facility. Long drive around – huge site. To gain that boon, I only need to let my bride spend a few hours at Johanna & Chip Gaines Magnolia complex in Waco (Great bunch of food trucks!)

  • Dick Eagleson

    There was no error. Musk would never have been able to do what he has done in Boca Chica, nor anywhere near so quickly, had he centered Starship development at KSC-Canaveral. Quite apart from any other consideration, Musk needs both pads in FL to launch all the Starlink birds that, in the end, will be his way of paying for all of this.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “Prototype #20 had been assigned that for that first near-orbital flight. Does this mean SpaceX has decided abandon #16 through #19 and to go straight to that orbital flight? To do this would also mean they have decided to forego any separate testing of Superheavy, and will instead fly it the first time with a Starship upper stage attached.

    I’m not sure that it necessarily means that they won’t flight test Super Heavy before an orbital attempt, but they likely have confidence in the design and the Raptor engines, so a flight test may not be necessary. If they are planning to set it down in the ocean, then they need not test their landing system for Super Heavy for this first orbital attempt.

    If they don’t test 16 through 19, then they likely got most or all of the data that they wanted from this series from their first launch of SN15. Their inspections of SN15 seem to have satisfied them. If they are skipping another four test units, this means that their development program is going much faster than they had expected. This would explain why they are so far “behind” with the construction of the orbital launch pad. On the other hand, if they are merely delaying testing SN16 until after an orbital attempt, then they are likely working on parallel testing, getting to the orbital testing sooner rather than later. Perfecting landing techniques can wait until after their first orbital test unit is splashed into the sea.

    A couple of years ago, Elon Musk said that he thought Starship would cost between $2 billion and $10 billion to develop. They have raised a bit more than $2 billion for Starship, so far, and since they are so far advanced in the development, it looks like they will complete the development for an amount that is closer to the lower value than the higher one. Good for them.

    Doubting Thomas wrote: “If I am recalling things correctly, Saturn 5 was tested for the first time in flight in an all up configuration. This was done after some push back but final acceptance by Von Braun and his team. Tested all up due to time constraints cause by Apollo 1 fire delays as we raced to the moon. It seem like Musk and SpaceX are in a similar type of space race. Partly due to Musk internal drive and partly, I think, to stay so far ahead of others just in case the political winds shift.

    There was some amount of ground testing, but Von Braun wanted more, and there were problems seen on Saturn V launches. SpaceX is skipping some ground tests, but rocketry is better understood, now, so the risks are not as high as half a century ago. The test stand used for the recent SLS green run test had also been used to test Saturn. There does not seem to be a plan for a similar green run test for Super Heavy.

    The SpaceX “race” is most likely a race against costs, because there really isn’t anyone else in competition with them. The sooner they can complete the development, the less it will cost, the sooner Starship will bring in revenue and break even, and the lower the price they can charge for each launch. Low prices is one of SpaceX’s goals.

    I wonder if Musk made an error in deciding to build his own self contained site to build and launch Starship?

    Probably not. I second Dick Eagleson’s comment. It is part of SpaceX being vertically integrated.* The more control that SpaceX has, the more likely they will succeed. Being dependent upon vendors can save money (especially when starting a company), but it can cost time and add complexity and problems. Your company may not be the vendor’s priority; alternatively, your company is the priority because they don’t have enough business to be secure and could go out of business. In the case of location, SpaceX does not have to shut down daily operations due to another company’s launch, it only has to shut down due to its own launches, which it controls. Another advantage to development away from operations is that a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” does not shut down revenue operations while waiting for the area to become safe to enter or while an investigation is underway.

    A side benefit that SpaceX probably didn’t see coming is that the press and interested public are able to see and show the development process and progress. It is giving SpaceX much more publicity than the other companies that are working at or near Kennedy Space Center and Canaveral Air Force Station (it seems to still be Air Force, not Space Force).

    * A company being vertically integrated means that it makes most of its parts in-house, where it has control. A horizontally integrated company buys a lot of its supplies and services from other companies. Falcon 9 is a horizontally integrated rocket, which means that it is assembled and payloads are mounted in the horizontal position, then raised to vertical for launch. Starship, like the Saturn V, is vertically integrated, assembled vertically and does not need rotation to vertical before launch.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Edward and Dick – Thanks for the thoughtful responses. I do agree with Edward’s comment about publicity, since myself and many people I know follow the YouTuber channels on space and SpaceX. Each of the good ones provides some sliver of insight that the others missed.

    Again, thanks for educational and thought provoking replies.

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