Below is a six-second video of that test. Assuming this test went well, it appears they are aiming to do a 150 meter hop this coming weekend (around August 29-30), adding even more excitement to this week’s busy rocket schedule.
The successfully flown fifth Starship prototype has been moved back to its assembly area while the sixth is now on the launchpad being prepped for its own hop. At the same time, the buildings that will be used for all future ship assembly are going up, as well as construction of the launchpad for Super Heavy, the first stage of this giant reusable rocket.
It appears that SpaceX is going to be alternating hops between prototypes 5 and 6, while it preps prototypes 8 and 9. The use of two alternating prototypes not only speeds testing of the vehicle itself, it also speeds testing of the procedures the company will need for transporting these vehicles about, from the assembly building to the launchpad and then from the landing site back to the assembly building.
Except another hop in mere weeks of Starship prototype #6. As for Super Heavy, the article notes this:
What can be confidently assumed is SpaceX is preparing the facility groundwork for the first assembly and testing of Super Heavy by 2021.
Test programs and new vehicles will always stretch schedules. However, there remains the distinct possibility SpaceX could launch their first Super Heavy rocket before the Space Launch System (SLS – the orange one) is due to conduct her maiden launch at the end of next year. [emphasis mine]
Even if Super Heavy does not fly before SLS, I am very confident in predicting that the SpaceX rocket will fly many more times than SLS, and do it not as an expendable rocket but reused each time.
The job posting seeks a manger to “oversee the development of SpaceX’s first resort from inception to completion,” with the ultimate aim of turning Boca Chica into a “21st century Spaceport.” That would include overseeing the entire design and construction process, as well as getting all necessary work permits and regulatory approvals, and completing the ultimate build of the facility.
Makes perfect financial sense, assuming Starship does eventually fly. Customers will need and expect a nice place to stay before and after their flights, and SpaceX has the land and is best positioned for providing it. And even if Starship doesn’t fly, during the rocket’s development there is money to be made providing tourists the best viewpoint for watching test flights, while also creating a source of profit independent of actual flight.
More Boca Chica residents have accepted SpaceX purchase offers, and are finding other places to live.
While not all are thrilled with the circumstances, the article suggests that there is far more good will then unhappiness. It appears the excitement of what SpaceX is doing, and its willingness to give these residents special viewing privileges in the future, has done wonders to ease the pain for many of them for having to sell their homes.
It has also produced youtube channels providing 24 hour live streams of SpaceX operations.
Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Starship-SN1 prototype has been transported to its launch site at Boca Chica in preparation for a series of tests prior to its first launch hop, hopefully to a height of 12 miles.
Whether SN01 is still destined for flight, it’s safe to say that Starship SN01 tank testing could begin in a matter of days — SpaceX currently has early-morning roadblocks indicative of such testing scheduled from February 29th to March 2nd. SpaceX is likely to kick off by filling SN01 with water to check its tanks for leaks, followed by liquid nitrogen – chemically neutral but still incredibly cold. After that, SN01 would likely graduate to Raptor engine installation and a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) with liquid oxygen and methane before moving on to a static fire attempt, if all goes well.
I have embedded below the fold a fifteen minute video showing the transport operation. The pace is slow, so I suggest playing it at 2x normal speed, using the settings.
My immediate thought in watching this video is that SpaceX’s mobile transport vehicle certainly cost far less than the two mobile launchers NASA built for SLS (for a cost of about a billion dollars). In fact, SpaceX’s entire Starship development program will likely cost less than what NASA spent on just its mobile launchers.
Capitalism in space: In a change in plans, SpaceX is no longer having two competitng Starship design teams working in both Florida and Boca Chica, and is now in the process of moving all hardware to Boca Chica.
Though the article is mostly about SpaceX’s fleet of ships, it notes this change in Starship development plans.
SpaceX has agreed to do new appraisals on the private homesites in Boca Chica that it wishes to purchase, while also agreeing to extend the deadline for owners to accept their offer.
It appears that Musk invited the owners to his Starship presentation on September 28, and then met with some of them afterward to discuss the situation face to face.
Musk met with seven villagers following the presentation, though others … gave up waiting for him to show.
Cheryl Stevens, who owns a house down the street from the Heatons, did stick around. The meeting was “sort of testy” at first, as the owners confronted Musk with their concerns after waiting a long time, though the mood eventually lightened, she said. “We all had things we wanted to say,” Stevens said. “He was good about listening to what we said, then referring to what we said. … I left there feeling OK. Overall it was fairly cordial, just testy at the beginning. At least we felt like we were heard.”
At the same time, she said, “I’m not interested in giving my house away.”
This is the kind of thing that Musk does very well. Rather than stay in his ivory tower, as most modern big corporate heads, he talks with people directly. I expect SpaceX will end up offering these people deals where they can buy homes relatively comparable to what they have now, in a similar location. This will engender good will, and good press for the company.
Their reasons are obvious. They don’t want to move, and they also claim the appraisals SpaceX used to set its price, which the company claims is three times the value of the homes, are too low.
Although the Hawthorne, Calif.-based rocket company, in a letter dated Sept. 12 and sent via FedEx, is offering the Heatons three times the appraised value of their home, they say the offer isn’t close to what they’d need to sell. The appraisal conducted by SpaceX is several thousand dollars less than an appraisal the Heatons got through their bank five years ago, Terry said.
“I sent them an email the day after we got this letter, not being sarcastic or anything else,” he said. “I just told them the facts, that (their) appraisal is extremely low.”
If they obtained an appraisal five years ago that is less than SpaceX’s now, than SpaceX is certainly not offering them three times the value of their home.
SpaceX does not have the right to condemn these properties, as does the government. It must reach an equable deal with the landowners. In the case of the Heatons and several others, it sounds like this is going to take a lot of money. They want enough so that they can buy something comparable elsewhere.
SpaceX has made a purchase offer to all the remaining property owners living in close proximity to its Boca Chica launchsite.
The company has sent a letter to all the owners, stating that the company is
…committed to a fair and equitable process for acquiring this real estate” and, to that end, the company hired an independent firm to appraise each property. … SpaceX is offering you three times the independently appraised fair market value of your property. The offer is good through two weeks from the date of this letter.”
It appears from the article at the link that a number of landowners are unwilling to accept this offer. It appears they to want more money, and also do not like the hard-nosed language of SpaceX’s offer.
Since there are not very many landowners, I would not be surprised if they team-up and get their own negotiating team.
According to FAA regulatory documents, SpaceX has updated its development plan for Starship, including changes in its overall plans for its Boca Chica facility.
The document also lays out a three-phase test program, which it says “would last around 2 to 3 years”:
Phase 1: Tests of ground systems and fueling, a handful of rocket engine test-firings, and several “small hops” of a few centimeters off the ground. The document also includes graphic layouts, like the one above, showing the placement of water tanks, liquid methane and oxygen storage tanks (Starship’s fuels), and other launch pad infrastructure.
Phase 2: Several more “small hops” of Starship, though up to 492 feet (150 meters) in altitude, and later “medium hops” to about 1.9 miles (3 kilometers). Construction of a “Phase 2 Pad” for Starship, shown below, is also described.
Phase 3: A few “large hops” that take Starship up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth — the unofficial edge of space — with high-altitude “flips,” reentries, and landings.
The first phase is now complete, with the company shifting into Phase 2.
Boca Chica meanwhile is no longer being considered a spaceport facility. Instead, its focus will now be a development site for building Starship and Super Heavy.
The FAA’s office that regulates commercial space required SpaceX to increase its insurance coverage for this week’s Starhopper test to $100 million, thirty three times higher than their coverage for the previous Starhopper hops.
Lots of information at the link, though in summary it all makes perfect sense.
There are a number of likely reasons the federal regulator required SpaceX to boost its insurance coverage, says George Nield, a former FAA associate administrator who led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (OCST) for more than a decade.
One is that Tuesday’s launch took Starhopper hundreds of feet higher than in July; during the prior flight, SpaceX’s vehicle only went about 60 feet (18 meters) up before landing. “The higher you want to go, the more propellant you’re going to have to load, and the more propellant you load, the bigger the boom if it were to explode,” Nield told Business Insider prior to Tuesday’s launch.
More importantly, their Boca Chica launch site is only a mile and a half from a small village of about twenty people, much closer than any other launchpad in the world. How SpaceX will manage this issue should they wish to test fly their fullscale Starship prototype from this site I really do not know. It could be that they won’t, and will confine all test flights to Kennedy, where they are also building a second Starship prototype.
Link here. Nothing spectacular yet, just steady and relatively quick developments.
I did find one aspect of these events a little disturbing:
In quick order, residents of Boca Chica Village were notified via mail of imminent tests and road closures that would occur as early as this week, the week of 18 March.
The notice to residents revealed that a security checkpoint would be set up on the road leading to Boca Chica Village and that residents would have to show proof of residence in order to gain access to their homes; any passengers in those vehicles would also have to show proof of residence.
This indicates that no guests will be allowed past the security checkpoint during the coming flight test operations of Starhopper.
A hard checkpoint beyond which no access to Boca Chica Beach will be granted will be further down the road.
By what right do the authorities have the power to prevent American citizens from bringing guests to their homes? None. If I lived in this development I would fight this, hard.
According to this article, the proposed location of the border wall in Boca Chica will bisect SpaceX’s spaceport facility there, and Democrats are working a deal to prevent this.
This article is part of the full court press being put on by the Democrats, with blatant media help, to block the wall, in any way possible, as I noted previously. I have very serious doubts the wall will cut across SpaceX’s property in any way that is significant, but if it is threatening to do so, the solution would not be to not build a wall there (which is what the Democrats want), but to work out an arrangement where the wall is built on the edge of their property and thus does them no harm.
If no wall is built here, the property then becomes a target for illegals, and thus will create even worst problems for SpaceX.
High winds at Boca Chica have toppled the upper half of SpaceX’s Starship Hopper prototype, causing damage that will take “a few weeks to repair,” according to Elon Musk.
The video at the link taken by a driver going past the facility shows the top half lying on the ground.
Link here. The article reviews what has been done for the past few months, as well as what has been done most recently. All of this new work appears focused on preparing for test flights of Starship and Super Heavy.
I should note however that I am beginning to sense a little bit of Barnum in this work. The steel-clad Starship Hopper that SpaceX has assembled here is clearly not even close to doing any hopper tests, as it doesn’t appear to have fuel tanks and its engines appear to be mere “placeholders for fit checks.” It looks really really cool, however, and is impossible to hide to the public, so it thus has garnered the company a lot of attention.
In a burst of activity that should probably be expected at this point but still feels like a complete surprise, SpaceX technicians took a major step towards completing the first Starship hopper prototype by combining the last two remaining sections (aft and nose) scarcely six weeks after assembly began.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also took to Twitter late last week to offer additional details and post what appears to be the first official render of Starship’s hopper prototype, which is now closer than ever before to looking like the real deal thanks to the incredible drive of the company’s southernmost employees. With the massive rocket’s rough aeroshell and structure now more or less finalized, Musk’s targeted February/March hop test debut remains ambitious to the extreme but is now arguably far from impossible.
More details about the status of both the Super Heavy and Starship here. As noted in the first link above, SpaceX is moving very quickly, at a pace unheard of in the rocket industry, to get these hopper prototypes ready for test flights. For example, this new effort at Boca Chica in Texas went from a barren spot to a full facility with a giant spacecraft in less than eight weeks.
Capitalism in space: Even as SpaceX has apparently begun the licensing process with the FAA for its planned hopper tests for its Super Heavy and Starship heavy lift reusable rockets, it is also accelerating work for those flights at its Boca Chica spaceport in Texas.
The applications apparently describe a two-stage testing program divided into low then high altitude flights, “running approximately three times per week.” Meanwhile, at Boca Chica SpaceX has begin building a giant tent as well as other work.
While I doubt they will be able to begin test flights in 2019 as they have announced, it is clear those test flights will happen in the near future.
They hope to start these flight tests as soon as late 2019, but don’t be surprised if they don’t meet that date. It also appears that these test flights will be of the BFR’s first stage as well as its upper stage, presently dubbed the Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS). This upper stage is being designed somewhat like a space shuttle, capable of gliding into the atmosphere in order to shed speed. Unlike the shuttle, however, it will then land vertically.
In related news, the Air Force has admitted that it is having discussions with SpaceX about someday using the BFR to transport cargo from point-to-point, on the Earth.
The article at the link gives the impression that the Air Force is discussing this with multiple companies, but right now the only rocket being designed and built that would be capable of doing this at a reasonable price would be SpaceX’s BFR.
The company terminated a deal reached with the office of then-Gov. Rick Perry in late 2013 that earmarked $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund for the future spaceport at Boca Chica beach, which is near Brownsville. The project has experienced delays and SpaceX had received about $400,000 of the money, but it now has paid back all of it.
The deal mandated that, to receive the incentives dollars, the spaceport be operational by Sept. 30 this year and employ 180 people by the end of 2018. It appears SpaceX was unlikely to meet either target.
This does not mean that SpaceX is abandoning the spaceport, only that it can’t meet the schedule required by this subsidy. This also might explain why they requested an additional $5 million from Texas. They knew they were going to lose this $2.3 million subsidy and were lobbying to make up for it with other state funds.
Hat tip Robert Pratt of Pratt on Texas.
SpaceX’s request to the Texas government for an additional $5 million commitment might be because the company wants to expand on its original plans for its Boca Chica spaceport, and needs additional infrastructure work from the local authorities.
State Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said SpaceX asked legislators to set aside funds to support space-related companies and operations in the state, though the money would not be specifically earmarked for SpaceX or the Boca Chica project. The company also has a rocket development facility in McGregor.
Oliveira, who helped assemble a coalition of key legislators to secure the $5 million in development aid, said some of the money might be used to support rocket operations beyond what SpaceX previously has said it wants to do at Boca Chica. “About a year ago, SpaceX came to me with their concept of a new, larger, expanded plan for Boca Chica Beach,” Oliveira said. “The concept went well beyond conducting launches, and would require new commitments for construction, investment and jobs to support the new operations.”
This could simply be a lobbying technique by Oliveira to get more money. Or it could be because SpaceX has actually decided to expand its plans for Boca Chica, which has the advantage over Florida in that the company would have no scheduling conflicts as the spaceport would be theirs entirely.
It appears that SpaceX is asking for an additional $5 million in government subsidies to build local infrastructure for its Boca Chica spaceport in Texas.
This new money would be in addition to about $15 million already set aside for SpaceX’s spaceport. It is unclear however what it will exactly pay for.
Other provisions of the updated budget proposal might raise eyebrows. One is $10 million for Spaceport America to build a new hangar. State officials hope the Spaceport can become a tourist draw.
I don’t know how they can imagine this will ever be a tourist draw, since Spaceport America is a spaceport with practically no customers except for Virgin Galactic, which unlike SpaceX will likely never fly.
Note: A reader noted that I mistakenly wrote that Spaceport America was in Texas in the initial post. The reader is correct. I wrote without thinking, and now have fixed the post.
Capitalism in space: Several large hotel chains are putting up new hotels in the Boca Chica area near SpaceX’s new spaceport, expressly because they are anticipating a tourist demand once launches begin.
None of this is a surprise. It is good news, nonetheless.
According to SpaceX, [people] won’t have to wait much longer for an increase in activity at the future spaceport. The recently installed antennas at Boca Chica are expected to be operational next year — although they’ll initially track flights blasting off from elsewhere — and the company also indicated development of the overall launch complex should pick up. “Even as our teams worked to modernize and repair our launch complexes in Florida so that we could reliably return to flight for our customers, SpaceX invested $14 million into the South Texas project,” said Gleeson, the company’s spokesman.
“Now, with our launch construction projects in Florida wrapping up by early 2018, SpaceX will be able to turn more attention to our work in South Texas,” he said.
In other words, once SpaceX has got its two launchpads in Florida both up and running, including the first use by the Falcon Heavy of one of those pads, the company will then be able to shift its launchpad operations down to Texas.
The article outlines in detail many of the reasons the development has been slow, but I think the issues highlighted in the quote above, issues I had not considered previously, might be the most important. After the September 2016 launchpad explosion in Florida, SpaceX had to divert resources to repairing that pad, which put Boca Chica on the back burner.
Capitalism in space: SpaceX has completed the installation of two ground station antenna dishes in its Boca Chica spaceport that will be used to facilitate communications with its manned Dragon missions.
A SpaceX spokesman said the antennas will also be used to track flights from Boca Chica once they’re underway. The company acquired the 86-ton antennas from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral and transported them to Boca Chica via semitrailer. The first antenna was installed this summer.
The article also implies that SpaceX plans to eventually launch manned missions from Boca Chica.
The key tidbit from the article however is this:
Besides the property tax breaks and incentives that Cameron County and other entities around the RGV have already offered SpaceX to come to the Valley, Garcia said they’ll continue to do what it takes to stay on target for a 2018 launch. “Every month we’re going to be on the map,” he said.
It appears that the reason work on the spacepad itself has seemingly stalled is because SpaceX has been waiting for this road work by the state to be completed. Either way, they are aiming for a first launch next year. At that time SpaceX should have four launchpads, 2 in Florida, one in California, and one in Texas.
An evening pause: Hat tip Sayomara. This pause is slightly different, and is really two-for-one. The background music is Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” but the visuals are of SpaceX’s future spaceport site at Boca Chica beach near Brownsville, Texas. Apparently someone used a drone to fly over the site and videotaped it. As Sayomara noted, this “shows how far away this site is from being usable.”
Federal agencies question establishment of SpaceX spaceport and three liquefied natural gas plants in Brownsville
Two federal agencies are questioning the safety of establishing three liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants near SpaceX’s new spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is reviewing the applications for the LNG export terminals, which plan to take natural gas from the Eagle Ford south of San Antonio, liquefy it and export the LNG to overseas customers.
The Federal Aviation Administration hosted an Aug. 18 meeting to discuss space launch activities near the proposed LNG facilities, according to a FERC filing released on Thursday. During the meeting, FAA officials discussed their role and regulations regarding commercial space launches, as well as the agency’s licensing and public safety requirements prior to the launch of any future mission.
While it makes perfect sense to keep a rocket launchpad safely away from large amounts of liquefied natural gas, I found the article’s concluding paragraphs to be most revealing:
Meanwhile, environmentalists, who were critical of the SpaceX project and oppose the LNG plants, said the launch site is too close to the proposed export terminals. “This announcement should be a wake-up call and warning that putting LNG terminals within six miles of the SpaceX launch site is a bad idea,” Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club Chair Jim Chapman told the Business Journal. “Furthermore, Annova LNG wants to put its facility within the SpaceX launch closure area. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that idea won’t fly.” [emphasis mine]
Note how the environmentalists are essentially against everything. They really aren’t opposed to having these two facilities being placed too close to each other, what they really want is that nothing gets built at all. Most instructive.