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Updates on Starship development: next 50K foot flight this weekend?

Two different updates yesterday and today on the development of Starship by SpaceX suggest strongly that the company is aiming for its next test flight to about 50,000 feet as early as this coming weekend.

The second story notes how the company has apparently decided it was not worthwhile keeping much of the debris left over from the crash of the eighth Starship prototype after its successful test flight on December 9th. They have instead focused entirely on clearing the landing pad as quickly as possible, even if it meant destroying some of the prototype’s remains.

The first story outlines the ongoing pressure tests for the ninth prototype, now on the launchpad, and how those tests have so far proceeded very smoothly. All that remains is SpaceX’s standard dress rehearsal countdown ending in a static fire test of the prototype. This is presently scheduled for tomorrow. Once it is accomplished, the test flight can follow quickly, probably no more than a week later, depending on weather, the data from the static fire test, and the innumerable uncertainties that routinely occur in a robust test program such as this.

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.

8 comments

  • Ron

    Robert,
    This all seems to be happening so fast, do you think in 4 years Starship could be headed to Mars? I believe the launch window is roughly every 2 years, that would allow for a moon landing in about 3, or does this sound too ambitious even for Spacex?

  • Ron: SpaceX could very possibly send a Starship to Mars in about four years, but I am very doubtful it will be capable of carrying humans. I expect instead it would be a demo flight, unmanned, should it happen, much like the first Falcon Heavy launch sent a Tesla into solar orbit.

  • David Eastman

    A few months ago Elon Musk stated that an unmanned cargo flight via Starship to Mars in 2022 was still their target, but that it was “aspirational.” If Elon is qualifying it as aspirational, it’s probably pretty unlikely. Even for SpaceX, it’s a long way from their current prototype to a Mars mission. Just off the top of my head, they’d need to also manage refueling, site selection, whatever upgrades to the landing software are necessary for picking a landing spot in rough unmapped terrain, interplanetary communications, and all the other bits needed to turn a prototype into a deep space vehicle: power, heating, rad shielding, etc. That’s a big list for 18 months or so.

  • David Eastman: While I agree with your comment generally, the site selection work on Mars is largely done, though not as thoroughly as one would want for a manned mission. See:

    SpaceX completes 1st round of Starship’s Mars landing site images

  • David Eastman

    While I was aware of your earlier posts on site selection, and it was in fact those posts that put it into my mind, there’s a gap between “we know SpaceX is looking at images of these areas” and “SpaceX has done everything related to site selection sufficient to determine trajectories, orbital insertion, etc.” Of course it’s entirely possible that they’ve already done that, or that at least it’s far enough along that it’s not remotely the long pole, but we don’t have that information publicly yet.

  • David Eastman: I would expect it to be a relatively straightforward software revision for SpaceX to get Starship to land in a target area quite small on Mars, likely far smaller than any of the MRO images. As a unmanned demo mission, they could thus pick a site and land.

    They probably haven’t done it yet, but even if they had, I would not expect them to make it public. It is proprietary.

    The bigger problem they face is turning these Starship prototypes into real ships, first with cargo areas and later with manned facilities. And that doesn’t even address the needs for an interplanetary mission, merely getting into orbit.

    It can be done somewhat quickly, if you work like a real company and not a government agency, as much of this engineering research has been done already, both in space and in submarines. It still cannot be done overnight.

  • Ray Van Dune

    I would expect that at least one unmanned round-trip to Mars will be required to prove the ability of the StarShip design to sustain human life for months each way. It’s one thing to play living on Mars in a sealed Earth desert setting, but quite another when the the “desert” is the vacuum of space, and it is tens of millions of miles across. A systems failure there means death, not just a failed PhD thesis..

    By the way, I haven’t seen much speculation on mutual rescue / repair capabilities among StarShips in a Mars fleet. Seems like a pretty obvious contingency. For one thing the swarm flying in formation frequently shown seems a bit expensive in station-keeping fuel required, not to mention the scary prospect of everyone firing their engines for things like trans-Mars injection while in proximity to each other!

  • It’s amazing and wonderful how fast they’re working on this. SLS will probably be obsolete before its first flight.

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