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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Starship prototype #8 gets its nosecone

Starship prototype #8, with nosecone
Screen capture from LabPadre live stream.

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has now installed the nosecone on Starship prototype #8 in advance of its first vertical hop to 50,000 feet, or more than ten miles, expected sometime in November.

Curiously, hours prior to nose installation, SpaceX apparently removed one of Starship SN8’s three Raptor engines while also revealing that a spare fourth engine was already in Boca Chica. In other words, the prototype likely has only two Raptor engines installed at the moment, meaning that SpaceX will need to install another before the company can prepare for SN8’s next major test campaign.

According to CEO Elon Musk, the plan was to static fire Starship SN8’s three Raptor engines, perform final inspections and checkouts, perform another static fire, and finally attempt the first high-attitude Starship flight test. As of October 22nd, SpaceX has seemingly completed the two steps. Nosecone freshly installed, it’s likely that SpaceX will use the second triple-Raptor static fire opportunity to test the engines while feeding propellant solely from Starship’s liquid oxygen and methane header tanks – the latter of which is located in the nose.

The removal of one engine suggests they found something in that engine they didn’t like during last week’s static fire test, though that is mere speculation on my part.

The addition of the nosecone, with its own fins, clearly changes the appearance of prototype #8, making it look truly like a rocket ship. In fact, it looks more like the rocket ship imagined by science fiction writers for decades prior to the advent of spaceflight in the 1960s. The irony is that this is the first real rocket since the V2 in World War II to have this look.


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  • mivenho

    I can’t wait to see SN8 soar!
    I am curious how technicians will access the nosecone / upper fins for close inspection & servicing in the absence of a service tower. The current man lifts don’t appear to have the reach.

  • Ray Van Dune

    The use of the term “nosecone” seems a bit misleading. This part of the rocket not carrying propellant comprises more than 1/3 of the total length, the join line being at the top of the orange cherry-picker cranes in the above photo, meaning much of this section is tubular, not tapered in a cone-like fashion. True, there is some fuel in a “header” tank in this section for balance purposes and aerial restarts, but in the main this is where the “payload” goes. Payload meaning cargo, satellites, passengers, or even more propellant, in the tanker version.

    So perhaps “Payload Section” would be a better naming convention, and leave “nosecone” for very topmost segment that actually curves to a point?

  • pzatchok

    I want to go for a ride.

  • Edward

    Ray Van Dune wrote: “The use of the term ‘nosecone’ seems a bit misleading.

    The article used several different words, including “nose section” and “nose.” The nosecone itself is attached to the front of this section (the dictionary defines a nosecone as the cone-shaped nose of a rocket or aircraft, although the Starship nose looks more like a paraboloid than a cone).

    On the other hand, “nosecone” is the word SpaceX used, and it is often best to stick with the manufacturer’s terms. Fairings often have sections that are cylindrical, and we tend to think of the whole fairing as the “nosecone” not just the conical section. We tend to think of the entire payload section of a rocket as the “nosecone.”

    On the third hand, the gripping hand, the Starship (apart from the Super Heavy) is really a combination of different sections of a standard launch vehicle. Super Heavy is the equivalent of the first stage, and Starship is the equivalent of a combination of the upper stage and the payload fairing. What an interesting creation. Imagine someone willingly carrying the weight of the nosecone (fairing) all the way to space.

    Robert wrote: “In fact, it looks more like the rocket ship imagined by science fiction writers for decades prior to the advent of spaceflight in the 1960s. The irony is that this is the first real rocket since the V2 in World War II to have this look.

    More irony is that those science fiction writers had given their readers the impression that the way to get to the Moon, or other planets, was to board a rocket that looked like a V2 and fly directly to the destination. The whole rocket would return to Earth, perhaps available for reuse. Starship comes close to this model, with the exception that a booster stage is needed and refueling is required in Earth orbit. Up until the 1960s, everyone knew that a V2-like rocket would take us to the Moon, and it would either land on its tail and the crew would climb down a long ladder, or if it was a rocket ship named Galileo then it would land on its side and the crew would climb down a short ladder.

    However, rocket scientists of the time knew that the only two ways to get to the Moon required multiple stages, and either it would have to be a huge rocket (e.g. Vega) leaving stages behind, or it would require refueling in low Earth orbit with an Earth orbit rendezvous by a second rocket. For decades I have said that the science fiction writers as well as the experts had gotten it all wrong, because the Apollo solution turned out to be neither but used one large rocket and lunar orbit rendezvous, as imagined by a lone voice in the wilderness, as he called himself in his proposal paper. SpaceX is showing that a method less like Apollo and more like a combination of both groups’s ideas works well, including the reusability of the whole rocket, like the science fiction writers had imagined.

    There is irony that SpaceX is designing their rocket more like the science fiction writers had imagined and somewhat less than the experts had known it had to be. But those science fiction types may be smarter than we give them credit for. One of them also proposed putting relay stations, satellites, in the geostationary orbit that someone else had calculated.

  • Jeff Wright

    Rocketship XM lives!

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