Tag Archives: SpaceX

SpaceX ‘s decision to slash prices/provide reliable launch schedule upends smallsat industry

Capitalism in space: Apparently SpaceX’s decision in August to further slash its launch prices for smallsats while also establishing a regular launch schedule is causing major shifts in that industry.

From the first link::

The revamped smallsat rideshare program, the company announced late Aug. 28, will provide launch opportunities at least once per month starting in March 2020, at a cost of $1 million for a 200-kilogram smallsat.

From the second link:

With the new SpaceX price list, the cost of reaching low Earth orbit falls so dramatically “you should select the cheapest launcher even if it does not go exactly where you need it and then use propulsion to go where you need to be,” Henri said. “From a total system cost standpoint, that will make the most sense.”

This situation is comparable to the shifts that occurred in the ship business when its technology changed from sails to engines. Sailing ships generally did not sail on a schedule. Instead, they sat at port until they filled their cargo holds, then waited for favorable weather before sailing. Customers could only wait.

Once ships were powered this all changed. Ship companies established firm schedules so customers knew exactly when their cargo would ship. This also led to a reduction in the price of shipping.

SpaceX’s ability to reuse its first stage often and quickly is now allowing them to treat the Falcon 9 rocket more like a powered ship rather than a sailing ship. Rather than only launching when they’ve filled their cargo capacity, they can afford to launch on a regular and reliable schedule, allowing customers to jump on board at their own convenience.

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Explosion during Starship tank tests

During tests today of SpaceX’s Starship Mk1 test prototype there was a sudden explosion, damaging the spacecraft. Below is a clip from today’s live stream showing the explosion.

They had been doing a variety of tank and venting tests for the past day. (The link includes a video showing the first pressurization test yesterday.)

The Mk1 (Mark 1) was being built with an initial hoped-for schedule targeting the first orbital flights by next year. No one took that seriously, and today’s incident reinforces that skepticism. At the same time, SpaceX has routinely recovered very quickly from its engineering test failures, treating them as opportunities for improving their designs. It is for this reason that most knowledgeable observers of the company also expected any delays to that target schedule to never be very extended.

Moreover, earlier this week SpaceX revealed that it had already decided not to fly this version and proceed to their next version. A Mk2 version is being built in Florida, so in Boca Chica they will proceed to the Mk3, with the goal to get to build toward the final operational version, what Musk labeled the Mk5. Based on past SpaceX policy, however, expect them to begin commercial flights with the earlier versions as they upgrade to the Mk5.

UPDATE: It appears the explosion occurred during a maximum pressurization test, which means they now have data telling them the limits of their tank design.

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NASA expands list of companies certified to bid on lunar launch/payload contracts

Capitalism in space: NASA today announced that it is expanding the list of companies eligible to bid on lunar launch/payload contracts from 9 to 14.

From the NASA press release:

NASA has added five American companies to the pool of vendors that will be eligible to bid on proposals to provide deliveries to the surface of the Moon through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.

The additions, which increase the list of CLPS participants on contract to 14, expand NASA’s work with U.S. industry to build a strong marketplace to deliver payloads between Earth and the Moon and broaden the network of partnerships that will enable the first woman and next man to set foot on the Moon by 2024 as part of the agency’s Artemis program.

…These five companies, together with nine companies selected in November 2018, now are eligible to bid on launch and delivery services to the lunar surface. [emphasis mine]

The added companies are SpaceX, Blue Origin, Ceres Robotics, Sierra Nevada, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems.

I have highlighted the most important word in this press release, which is most interestingly buried to make it as little noticed as possible. The addition of SpaceX to this list and the mention that the program has now added the ability to for the companies to bid on launch contracts means that NASA’s goal here is to create a situation where it can replace SLS with a bidded contract to private industry that will costs far less and can launch frequently and on time, features that SLS is completely incapable of, and SpaceX can provide easily and reliably. This analysis by me is further reinforced in that Boeing, the builder of SLS, was not included in this list, even though only last week that company offered SLS to NASA in a wider array of launch configurations, for exactly this purpose.

If NASA had made this fact too obvious it might upset certain people in Congress (I’m talking to you Richard Shelby R-Alabama) who are wedded to SLS and its wasteful pork spending in their home states and districts.

The fact remains however that eventually SLS is going to go away. The Trump administration appears very wedded to its Artemis program to get back to the Moon by 2024, and it is apparently discovering that to make that landing happen the administration needs better alternatives.

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Inspector general slams NASA’s management for bonus payments to Boeing

In a report [pdf] issued yesterday, NASA’s inspector general blasted the agency’s manned commercial space management for issuing a $287 million bonus payment to Boeing to help it avoid delays in developing its Starliner capsule — which would have caused gaps in future American flights to ISS — even though the cost to use Russian Soyuz capsules would have been far less.

Worse, the agency never even allowed SpaceX to make its own competitive offer.

NASA agreed to pay Boeing Co (BA.N) a $287 million premium for “additional flexibilities” to accelerate production of the company’s Starliner crew vehicle and avoid an 18-month gap in flights to the International Space Station. NASA’s inspector general called it an “unreasonable” boost to Boeing’s fixed-priced $4.2 billion dollar contract.

Instead, the inspector general said the space agency could have saved $144 million by making “simple changes” to Starliner’s planned launch schedule, including buying additional seats from Russia’s space agency, which the United States has been reliant on since the 2011 retirement of its space shuttle program.

…NASA justified the additional funds to avoid a gap in space station operations. But SpaceX, the other provider, “was not provided an opportunity to propose a solution, even though the company previously offered shorter production lead times than Boeing,” the report said. [emphasis mine]

I’ve read the report, and from it the impression is clear that when NASA management discovered that Boeing was facing delays in Starliner and needed extra cash, it decided to funnel that cash to it, irrespective of cost. While it is likely that the agency did so because it did not wish to buy more Russian Soyuz seats, it makes no sense that it didn’t ask SpaceX for its own competitive bid. By not doing so the management’s foolish bias towards Boeing is starkly illustrated

Eric Berger at Ars Technica also notes that the report makes clear how Boeing’s prices for Starliner are 60% higher than SpaceX’s Crew Dragon prices, further illustrating how the agency favors Boeing over SpaceX.

Boeing’s per-seat price already seemed like it would cost more than SpaceX. The company has received a total of $4.82 billion from NASA over the lifetime of the commercial crew program, compared to $3.14 billion for SpaceX. However, for the first time the government has published a per-seat price: $90 million for Starliner and $55 million for Dragon. Each capsule is expected to carry four astronauts to the space station during a nominal mission.

What is notable about Boeing’s price is that it is also higher than what NASA has paid the Russian space corporation, Roscosmos, for Soyuz spacecraft seats to fly US and partner-nation astronauts to the space station. Overall, NASA paid Russia an average cost per seat of $55.4 million for the 70 completed and planned missions from 2006 through 2020. Since 2017, NASA has paid an average of $79.7 million.

I don’t have a problem with NASA favoring Boeing over Russia, considering the national priorities. I can also understand the agency’s willingness to keep buying some Starliner seats in order to guarantee an American launch redundancy. However, giving Boeing even more money to keep its schedule going, when SpaceX is available to fill the gaps, demonstrates the corruption in the agency’s management. They haven’t the slightest understanding of how private enterprise and competition works.

The report is also filled with the same tiresome complaints about the on-going delays to the manned commercial program, focusing greatly on past technical issues (now mostly solved) while hiding in obscure language how it is NASA’s paperwork that is likely to cause all further delays.

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SpaceX completes Crew Dragon static fire tests

SpaceX yesterday successfully completed a static fire engine test of its Crew Dragon capsule, demonstrating that it has fixed the issues that caused the April 20th explosion during an earlier test that destroyed a capsule.

Wednesday’s test occurred just 207 days after the April anomaly, a quick turnaround time given the complexity of the systems at hand. The incident earlier this year occurred just milliseconds before the engines were to have ignited, and was eventually traced to valves leaking propellant into high-pressure helium lines.

SpaceX made numerous changes to Crew Dragon as a result of the anomaly, including the replacement of the valves with burst-discs. The company has also been performing several smaller-scale tests of the redesigned system at their test facility in McGregor, Texas. Last month, SpaceX Tweeted a video of one such test.

Wednesday’s test was the first full-scale firing of all eight of Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco’s at once since the April incident.

This success clears the way for the launch abort test using this same capsule, now tentatively scheduled for mid-December.

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

All locations photographed of the candidate landing region for SpaceX's planned Mars missions

On August 28, 2019 I broke the story that SpaceX is beginning to obtain images of candidate Starship landing sites from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

It now appears that SpaceX has completed its first round of Starship requests from MRO. In the image releases from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) since September, only three new Starship locations were taken, and all three were the unreleased candidate sites I noted in my September 16, 2019 update.

Below is the full list of all of the Starship images, their locations indicated on the map above by the numbered white boxes:

With the release of these last photographs, the initial list of proposed images of candidate Starship landing sites on Mars has apparently been completed. No additional images at any other locations appear to have been suggested. The MRO science team has taken stereo images of each one of the nine locations, eight of which were in Amazonis Planitia, and one in Phlega Montes.

This however is not the first round of pictures requested by SpaceX of the Arcadia Planitia region in connection with the company’s desire to land spacecraft on Mars.
» Read more

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SpaceX successfully launches 60 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched 60 more satellites in its Starlink internet satellites, while also reusing for the first time a Falcon first stage for a fourth time, reusing a fairing for the first time. The first stage successfully completed a barge landing. No word on whether they were able to recover the fairings.

I have embedded the replay of the live stream below the fold. They now have proved the capability of recovering and reusing 70% of their rocket.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

22 China
17 Russia
11 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. now leads China 23 to 22 in the national rankings.
» Read more

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SpaceX successfully completes 13 parachute drop tests of Crew Dragon

Capitalism in space: SpaceX in two weeks has apparently completed a strong of thirteen successful parachute drop tests of its Crew Dragon capsule.

SpaceX says it successfully completed thirteen consecutive tests of Crew Dragon’s new Mk3 parachutes, all of which were completed in less than two weeks. This essentially blows Bridenstine’s expectations out of the water, as SpaceX has surpassed his predicted 10 tests and done so barely three weeks into the tentative 12-week window he set. SpaceX now has plenty of time to either continue testing Crew Dragon’s parachutes or refocus its efforts on other equally important qualification challenges.

Prior to those thirteen consecutive successes, SpaceX suffered two failures during single-parachute Mk3 testing. The first two development tests of the Mk 3 design used loads much higher than the parachutes would ever see in operation in an effort to better understand overall design margins and system performance. After a period of rapid iteration with parachute provider Airborne Systems, the faults responsible for those two stress-test failures were resolved and subsequent drop tests confirmed that Mk3’s suspension lines – the numerous lines connecting the parachute to Crew Dragon – are far stronger than those on Mk2.

Bridenstine had mentioned in a tweet that SpaceX was planning ten drop tests, so the company has now exceeded those plans.

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Upcoming schedule of Boeing & SpaceX manned capsule tests

The next two months are going to be a busy time for both Boeing and SpaceX as they attempt to complete the last tests necessary to their respectively Starliner and Crew Dragon capsules before they each launch a manned mission to ISS.

Below is that schedule as of today:

November 4: Boeing will do a Starliner pad abort test, to be live streamed.
November 6: SpaceX will do a final static fire test of Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco abort engines.
November-December: SpaceX will do a series of parachute drop tests of Crew Dragon
December 17: Boeing will launch Starliner unmanned in a demo mission to ISS.
December (third week): SpaceX will complete a launch abort test of Crew Dragon

The article at the first link above provides a lot of detail about both companies’ abort tests.

Assuming these tests all go as planned, both companies will then have completed all engineering tests required prior to their first manned missions. As far as I can tell, the only thing standing in their way at that point will be filling out the voluminous paperwork that NASA is demanding from them.

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Update on Starship Mk1 assembly

Link here. It appears its launch pad has been assembled at Boca Chica and the spacecraft has been moved and placed on it.

It also appears that they are aiming for the first tests no earlier than November.

The newest videos at the link are worth a glance, though somewhat tedious as with each they view a worksite from a distance where not much appears to happen quickly. The last however shows the ship being moved and lifted and placed on the launch pad.

I cannot deny a certain skepticism when I look at this first iteration of Starship. The hull especially fills me with trepidation, since it is made up of many welded riveted together plates that do not create a smooth surface. I wonder how this surface will respond to returning from orbit at near orbital speeds.

UPDATE: I mistakenly referred to the plates initially as “riveted”. They are welded together, as correctly noted by one of my readers, and I have corrected the post accordingly.

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Starship manned lunar landings by 2022?

Capitalism in space: According to SpaceX’s CEO Gwynne Shotwell at a conference on October 25, the company is targeting the first unmanned cargo landing of Starship on the Moon by 2021, with manned missions shortly thereafter.

Shotwell, speaking at Baron Fund’s annual investment conference at the Metropolitan Opera House on Friday, gave an update on SpaceX’s goals for Starship. “We want Starship in orbit next year; we want to land it on the moon before 2022 with cargo and with people shortly thereafter,” Shotwell said.

However, much like Musk in his presentation last month, Shotwell hedged her estimate, saying that “every time I make a prediction about schedule I turn myself into a liar.”

If they even come close to doing this they will certainly make NASA’s SLS rocket look ridiculous. They began serious development of Starship in early 2019. Even if development takes twice as long as Shotwell’s prediction, they will be landing on the Moon in about six years, in 2025. SLS has been in development since 2004, and its total cost once launched is expected to be more than $25 billion, a cost that does not include an extra $1.6 billion NASA has said it needs to land on the Moon by 2024 and that Congress has so far refused to appropriate.

SpaceX meanwhile has raised $1.3 billion, from private sources, to build Starship.

If you were a customer which product would you buy?

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Crew Dragon successfully tests SuperDraco engines

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, planned for a launch abort test in December, has successfully completed a set of static fire engine tests of two of its SuperDraco launch abort engines.

They next plan a static fire test of all eight engines, followed by that launch abort flight. If all goes well with both, the only thing blocking SpaceX from launching its first manned mission early in 2020 will be the paperwork NASA is demanding they fill out prior to flight.

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December 17 officially set for Starliner unmanned orbital launch

Capitalsm in space: NASA and Boeing have now officially scheduled the launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule on its first unmanned demo flight to ISS for December 17.

Boeing had announced this date earlier, but it is now official.

The next two months will be a very busy period for tests of the two privately built manned capsules being built by Boeing and SpaceX. Not only will Boeing fly Starliner on its first unmanned orbital mission, the company will also do a pad abort test of Starliner on November 4. SpaceX in turn will be doing a major parachute test campaign for Dragon, as well as a launch abort test, right now roughly scheduled for late November.

If all go well, both companies will be ready for the first manned flights of both capsules in the first quarter of 2020.

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SpaceX expands Starlink concept from 12,000 to 42,000 satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has filed new paperwork for an additional 30,000 proposed satellites for its Starlink constellation, raising the number of satellites it could launch to 42,000 total.

This would be more than five times the total number of satellites launched by every nation since Sputnik in 1957.

The article notes that this paperwork does not mean that SpaceX definitely plans to launch this many Starlink satellites, only that it wants the option to do so. It does suggest however that even if SpaceX loses all of its market share of commercial launches, the company’s rockets will have plenty of work, launching the company’s own satellites.

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SpaceX extends Boca Chica purchase deadline, will do new appraisals

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.

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Bridenstine’s visit to SpaceX a non-story

Link here. Essentially he just reiterated his desire to have the private capsules being built by SpaceX and Boeing flying by early next year.

Essentially, the announcements in the last few days by Musk and Boeing about their upcoming testing and launch schedule for both Dragon and Starliner respectively took the steam out of his SpaceX visit.

In fact, I wonder what the politics were behind this. It is almost as if both companies wanted to take the steam out of his appearance here. Most intriguing.

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Musk confirms: Dragon launch abort test in about 10 weeks

Captalism in space: According to a series of tweets by SpaceX head Elon Musk today, the company now expects they will be ready to fly their launch abort test of their Dragon capsule in about ten weeks, about the third week in December.

Musk noted that they need only do a static fire test and then “reconfigure for flight.”

Expect more detailed information at tomorrow’s press event at SpaceX in California with both Musk and NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

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Bridenstine to hold press event at SpaceX on Oct 10

NASA yesterday announced that its administrator Jim Bridenstine will hold a press event with Elon Musk at SpaceX headquarters this coming Thursday, October 10.

Also at this event will be the two astronauts who have been assigned to fly on the first demo mission of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule.

I am speculating, but I suspect that they will be announcing the launch schedule for both this manned mission as well the launch abort test that must precede it.

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Capsule and booster for SpaceX launch abort test arrives in Florida

Capitalism in space: The Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 first booster for SpaceX’s launch abort test have both arrived in Florida and are being readied for flight.

SpaceX’s launch license suggests this test will occur no earlier than November 1, so it looks like the company is getting close. However, don’t hold your breath about the manned launch. It appears that NASA is still hassling SpaceX “with certification and safety reviews,” which in plain language is mostly paperwork and filling out forms that NASA’s safety panel can then rubber stamp.

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SpaceX wins launch contract for NASA privately-built lunar lander

Intuitive Machines, one of the three companies awarded NASA contracts to build unmanned lunar landers, has awarded SpaceX the launch contract for its planned 2021 mission.

The Houston-based company’s first robotic Nova-C lander will carry up to 220 pounds, or 100 kilograms, of payloads to the moon’s surface. Launch and landing are scheduled for July 2021, according to Trent Martin, vice president of aerospace systems at Intuitive Machines.

Intuitive Machines previously stated plans to launch the first Nova-C mission on a SpaceX rocket, but Martin said in an interview Wednesday that the company held a “fully open competition” among multiple launch service providers before signing a contract for a Falcon 9 launch.

In a statement, Intuitive Machines said it “ultimately selected SpaceX for its proven record of reliability and outstanding value.” The company said the Nova-C mission will take off from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. [emphasis mine]

That “outstanding value” almost certainly was the lowest price by far offered by any rocket company, a reality that continues to bring SpaceX business while taking market share from everyone else.

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NASA in negotiations to buy more Russian Soyuz astronaut seats

Collusion with Russia discovered! NASA has begun negotiations with Russia’s Roscosmos space agency to buy more astronaut flights to ISS using Russia’s Soyuz rocket and capsule.

According to the story at the link, NASA’s last purchased ticket will fly in March of 2020, and these negotiations would buy flights beginning in the fall of 2020 and beyond into 2021. The story also cites statements by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine to CNN, confirming these negotiations.

Apparently NASA thinks the manned capsules being built by Boeing and SpaceX will not be ready by the fall of 2020, and needs to buy tickets from Russia because of this.

However, the only reason those American capsules will not have been approved and flown by then will be because NASA’s timidity in approving their launch. The agency’s safety panel as well as its management have repeatedly delayed these private American capsules, sometimes for very strange reasons, including a demand that lots of paperwork be filled out, and what I consider to be an unjustified demand for perfect safety.

Had NASA adopted a reasonable criteria for launch, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule could have flown three years ago.

Meanwhile, NASA seems quite willing to put Americans on a Soyuz rocket, launched by a foreign power whose safety record in the past half decade has been spotty, at best. In that time Russia has experienced numerous quality control problems, including mistakes that led to an Soyuz abort during a launch and a Soyuz parachute failure during a landing, corruption that forced them to recall all rocket engines and freeze launches for almost a year, and sabotage where someone drilled a hole in a Soyuz capsule prior to launch, a sabotage that Russia still refuses to explain.

It is unconscionable for NASA to favor putting Americans on a Soyuz with many documented safety issues, but block the launch of Americans on American-made capsules, for imagined safety issues that have mostly made no sense. In fact, the contrast makes me wonder about the loyalty of NASA’s bureaucracy. They certainly seem to favor Russia and Roscosmos over private American companies.

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Musk on Starship, engineering, and management

Several listeners have sent me the link to a fifteen minute interview with Elon Musk that took place the day of his big Starship speech on September 30.

I have embedded it below. Watch it. It reveals several very important overarching things about SpaceX and Musk.

1. Musk calls himself SpaceX’s chief engineer, and during this interview he demonstrates why. He understands this stuff at more fundamental level that I think most similar big rocket company heads. This gives him the ability to distinguish good engineering from bad, and thus shape the company’s design direction more forcefully. It also makes him more similar to the early owners of American airplane companies (Douglas, Boeing, McDonnell, Northrop, etc), all of whom were engineers first and managers second. Too often today CEOs know little about the engineering behind their company, and therefore can be easily sidetracked by bad ideas.

2. At several points in discussing his management approach, Musk clearly wants to give an example of how bad management leads to bad engineering, but it is clear he censors himself. I suspect he is thinking of SLS, but does not want to say so to avoid a controversy he doesn’t need.

3. Much of the interview revolves around the aerospike nozzle, and why SpaceX hasn’t used it. It appears Musk’s reason is that while it might make the exhaust of a rocket more efficient, it causes a loss of efficiency in combustion, and the trade-off isn’t worth it.

4. Finally, Musk’s openness to new ideas, even if they prove him wrong, is quite obvious. As he says,

If someone could show that we’re wrong, that would be great. If someone can show you a way to make your design better, this is a gift. I would be like, thank you! Wow, this is awesome. The worst thing would be that we want to do a dumb design and stick with our dumb design. That would be insane.

This is one of those moments where I think he is thinking of SLS, but doesn’t come right out and say so.

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Musk’s speech: Starship is coming on fast!

Musk standing at base of Starship Mk1

Elon Musk has begun his speech. The image to the right shows him as a tiny figure at the base of the just completed Starship Mk1 prototype. I will be adding details here as the speech proceeds.

First, he wants to inspire and thinks making humanity a multi-world species is the way to do it.
Then, to make us multi-world species requires a completely reusable rocket, what he called “the holy grail of space.”
Next, he goes back to the beginning of SpaceX, the first launch of Falcon 1 on this date years ago. “Getting to orbit is hard. We were very naive.”

From here he discussed Grasshopper, and noted that Starship Mk1 will do the a bigger version of that “in one to two months.” To repeat, they will be doing that quickly, and will be aiming for orbital flights in six months.

He is interspersing the speech with videos, of Falcon 1 launching, of Grasshopper, of Falcon Heavy, I think to illustrate how far SpaceX has come in such a short time. For example, he notes that Falcon Heavy’s first launch was only last February.

He is now outlining Starship as planned. Starship is now expected to be at 120 tons in mass, more than first planned. It will be able put 150 tons in orbit with full reuseability.

Next, getting it back to Earth in reusable form: It will return in many ways like the shuttle, but with its own uniqueness. “It will fall like a skydiver, then become vertical, and land.”

Next, the Raptor engines: Starship will have six, three able to adjust their nozzle and three fixed and optimized for efficiency. The Mk1 prototype has the three adjustable, since these will be used for landing. The other three engines will be for getting into orbit.

The heat shield and hull: They are going to use hexagonal ceramic tiles in the thermally critical areas. Everything else will use stainless steel, which he says is actually stronger when hot them some traditional rocket materials. It also has a high melting point. “You don’t need any shielding on the leeward side.” It is also much cheaper than carbon fiber, and much easier to use, shape, weld, install.

Super Heavy booster: Now estimating it will have 37 Raptor engines, but this number will be changeable, even when it is operational. The fins will be legs (just like the 1950s sci-fi movies!).

Final complete stack, both Starship and and Super Heavy, will be 2 1/2 times taller than Starship Mk1, as shown in the image above. They then showed a simulation of a launch, which I am sure will be online very shortly.

To get to either the Moon or Mars Starship will require refueling in orbit. This technology he considers essential. It will require rendezvous and docking, a skill they are learning with their manned Dragon.

He is also outlining the need to go to both the Moon and Mars, and then beyond. However, his first focus is on finding “the fastest path to building a city on Mars.”

His larger focus is making us multi-planetary, in order to preserve both our existence and all life on Earth. “And we should do it now!”

To sum up, the gist of the speech was to outline how far the entire company has come in a very short time, where they think they are going in the near future with Starship — and that’s the very near future — and then to conclude with Musk’s longer term vision for space exploration. Overall, it appears the goal was to once again sell Starship and the magnificent possibilities it might achieve.

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More Starship teasers from Musk

Musk continues to tweet out tiny teasers about the construction and design of the first Starship prototype being built at Boca Chica, dubbed Mk1.

[T]his prototype — the second Starship test vehicle, after the single-engine Starhopper, which was retired last month — will stand 165 feet (50 meters) tall and weigh 1,400 tons when fueled up (and 200 tons when “dry”). But that weight should come down in subsequent iterations, Musk added. “Mk1 ship is around 200 tons dry & 1400 tons wet, but aiming for 120 by Mk4 or Mk5. Total stack mass with max payload is 5000 tons,” he said in one of yesterday’s tweets.

In another tweet, Musk revealed the number of landing legs the Mk1 will have: “Six. Two windward, one under each fin & two leeward. Provides redundancy for landing on unimproved surfaces.”

Musk has previously said that the Mk1 and the Mk2 — a similar prototype being built at SpaceX’s Florida facilities — will be powered by at least three of the company’s next-generation Raptor engines. And today (Sept. 26), he tweeted three photos showing what that three-engine alignment looks like.

Both the Mk1 and Mk2 will start out making suborbital flights, but the goal is to get them to orbit eventually, Musk has said.

He will be giving a major speech on Starship tomorrow at Boca Chica. I have not been able to find any information as yet detailing the time and where to watch, but this will come clear I am sure very soon.

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Musk shows off Starship

Capitalism in space: In a tweet on September 22 Elon Musk gave an update on the status of its Starship rocket.

His tweet provided a picture of crews attaching “rear moving fins” the what they are now calling Starship Mk1.

The photo showed the stainless steel hull of the rocket as SpaceX attached two large fins to the base. Starship is a massive, next-generation vehicle that Musk’s company is building to send cargo and as many as 100 people to the moon and Mars.

Musk is expected to make a major speech on September 28 on Starship’s status.

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Some Boca Chica landowners reject SpaceX offer

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s offer to buy the last homes in the hamlet of Boca Chica for its Starship spaceport has been rejected by some of the landowners.

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.

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Progress on Dragon parachute tests

It appears that SpaceX’s parachute testing for its Dragon manned capsule is finally satisfying the concerns of NASA and its safety panel, based on a Sept 17 NASA blog post.

In fact, SpaceX’s success has even forced NASA “to reevaluate its own [parachute] standards and certification processes.”

The article at the link also notes quite correctly NASA’s tendency to miss the forest for the trees, which is why it has forced SpaceX to do so much additional parachute testing, even though the company apparently had a solid understanding of its parachutes a long time ago.

[T]he space agency has been focused on parachutes and COPVs [the tank issues that caused the 2016 launchpad explosion] for years. This is primarily a result of NASA’s notoriously reactive approach to safety: SpaceX suffered two COPV-related Falcon 9 failures in 2015 and 2016 and has experienced an unknown number (likely 1-3) of anomalies during Crew Dragon parachute testing.

As a result, NASA has focused extensively on these two stand-out concerns. To an extent, this is reasonable – if you know things have a tendency to fail, you’re going to want to make sure that they don’t. However, prioritizing reactive safety measures at the cost of proactive safety would be a major risk, akin to getting in a car crash because you didn’t use a turn signal and then prioritizing turn signal use so much that you forget to look both ways before making turns. Sure, you will probably never get in the same crash, but you are raising the risk of new kinds of accidents if you overcorrect your attention distribution.

Either way, it increasingly appears that a manned Dragon mission might finally be getting close to launch.

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Starlink satellite launches to dominate SpaceX’s 2020 launch schedule

According to statements made by an SpaceX official on September 10, in 2020 the bulk of all the company’s launches will be to launch satellites in its Starlink internet constellation.

SpaceX plans as many as 24 launches next year to build out the company’s Starlink network to provide broadband Internet service from space, following up to four more Starlink missions before the end of this year, according to SpaceX’s chief operating officer.

The rapid-fire launch cadence for SpaceX’s Starlink fleet will take up the majority of the company’s launch manifest next year with a series of missions taking off from Florida’s Space Coast, adding new nodes to a network that could eventually contain nearly 12,000 small satellites.

If they complete this schedule, then SpaceX could complete as many as 40 launches in 2020, when all its other backlogged launches are included.

At the same time, this schedule indicates the slowdown in the launch of geosynchronous satellites, as predicted by many in the launch business. The communications industry appears to be shifting to lower orbit constellations and smaller satellites, as illustrated by Starlink itself.

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SpaceX offers to buy all nearby property to Boca Chica launchsite

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.

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