Tag Archives: SpaceX

SpaceX’s reusable first stages and their dramatic impact on the bottom line

This article by Eric Berger at Ars Technica outlining the status of SpaceX’s fleet of reusable first stages contained this incredible fact:

On May 11, 2018, the company launched the first of its new “Block 5” version of its Falcon 9 rocket. This new version of the first stage incorporated all of the company’s previous performance upgrades to the Falcon 9 rocket while also maximizing its reuse. It worked—SpaceX has now flown two different Falcon 9 cores five times, and it may fly a first stage for the sixth time later this summer.

The success of the Block 5 rocket means that SpaceX has had to devote less time and resources to building Falcon 9 first stages. Since May 2018, it has launched 31 times on a Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket—while using just 10 cores. Put another way, reuse has saved SpaceX the cost of 189 Merlin rocket engines, dozens of fuel tanks, and many complex avionics systems. [emphasis mine]

That is a lot of cost savings, which the company is not only using to cut its prices but also to reduce the cost of its Starlink launches. It appears SpaceX wants those launches, as much as possible, to use reused boosters in order to lower the overall cost of getting that internet constellation into orbit. This in turn will make it possible for them to charge less for the service, once they begin offering it.

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Starship prototype #5 passes cryogenic test

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s fifth Starship prototype #5 last night successfully completed a cryogenic test of its tanks, setting the stage for its first vertical test flight.

SpaceX’s Starship SN5 prototype performed a cryogenic proof test at the launch provider’s Boca Chica, Texas facility on Tuesday evening. The test marked a rapid recovery for SpaceX – managing to return to testing a month after the previous vehicle exploded on the pad.

The cryogenic proof is when the vehicle’s propellant tanks are filled with liquid nitrogen and pressurized to flight pressures. Then, hydraulic pistons (otherwise known as a thrust simulator) press against the base of the vehicle to mimic the force of a Raptor engine. The proof test will ensure that Starship SN5 is structurally sound ahead of testing with liquid oxygen and methane. Unlike oxygen and methane, nitrogen is inert and will not combust if something were to go wrong.

The article at the link gives a nice overview of the test program, and what is to come next.

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SpaceX successfully launches GPS satellite for Space Force

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched its first satellite for the Space Force, a GPS satellite.

It also successfully landed the first stage, which was on its first flight. This was also the 88th flight of the Falcon 9 since its inception in 2010, which now makes it the rocket with the most launches of any U.S. operational rocket, bypassing ULA’s Atlas 5, and doing it in about half the time.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

13 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 16 to 13 in the national rankings.

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Dragon capsule on ISS doing better than expected

Capitalism in space: The first manned Dragon capsule, presently docked to ISS, is doing better than expected according to NASA officials, who have also now set August 2nd as their target date for the return to Earth.

Tests of the solar panels and the capsule’s power systems have so far been “better than expected.” Besides these tests, they still have one other major in-orbit test.

On July 4, the space station crew will perform a habitability test with the craft, with four astronauts climbing into the capsule and practicing everyday activities like sleeping, hygiene tasks, as well as emergency procedures to see what it will be like for future crewed missions. On Demo-2, only two astronauts were on board for the trip but regular flights will carry at least four people, so this test will help inform astronauts on those future trips.

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SpaceX tests 7th Starship test prototype to failure

Capitalism in space: As they had planned, SpaceX has done a tank pressure test of its seventh Starship prototype to failure, destroying the prototype.

This was actually the second test to failure for this tank, which is testing a new stainless steel alloy. The first had only sprung a leak that could be repaired.

Deemed 304L, the type of steel is still readily available off the shelf and only 10-20% more expensive than the 301 alloy SpaceX has used to build all Starship prototypes up to SN7. The biggest change it brings to the table is improved ductility (malleability), particularly at the cryogenic temperatures Starship’s tanks will often be held at. By reducing brittleness, Starships built out of 304L steel should be able to fail far more gracefully by developing stable leaks instead of violently decompressing. In fact, the very same test tank destroyed on June 23rd demonstrated that capability perfectly when it sprung a leak during its first pressure test on June 15th.

During its first cryogenic pressure test with liquid nitrogen, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed that the SN7 test tank managed to reach 7.6 bar (~110 psi) before it began to leak – technically satisfactory for orbital Starship launches with an industry-standard 25% safety factor. Thanks to the general flexibility of steel, including the new 304L alloy SN7 was built with, SpaceX was able to simply repair the leak it identified, readying the test tank for a second cryogenic pressure test barely a week later.

Below the fold are two videos showing this second failure. Unlike earlier tests using different alloys, the tank does not go flying hundreds of feet into the air. The rupture seems more gentle, if I can use such a word for such a failure.

They have another tank ready to go, so testing should proceed quickly even after this test failure. And they also are prepping the full scale #5 Starship prototype for testing, which if all goes well will include actual test hops.
» Read more

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Trump official skeptical of point-to-point suborbital transportation

During the FAA’s annual commercial space conference, the executive secretary for Trump’s National Space Council, Scott Pace, expressed strong skepticism about plans by some companies to develop point-to-point transportation using suborbital spacecraft.

“I still see that as somewhat speculative and somewhat over the horizon,” he said. “I see us working right now on trying to get the suborbital market up, running and sort of stabilized. I think people look forward to the possibility of point-to-point passenger and cargo travel, but right now just getting routine suborbital access to space and pushing hard on the unmanned hypersonic and military applications is where the action is.”

“Maybe it’s not too soon to think about,” he added, “but I still think that’s a bit farther out until I see how the initial market settles out.”

In this context Pace noted his primary focus was in helping Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin get their space tourism businesses off the ground. Virgin Galactic has been making noises that it wants to do point-to-point transportation as well. His skepticism of this is actually quite realistic, since Virgin Galactic has not even completed its first commercial tourism flight and its rocket and spacecraft are underpowered as well.

If Pace’s skepticism is however aimed at SpaceX’s Starship plans to do point-to-point transportation, he is exhibiting a typical Washington bureaucrat’s timidity about new technology.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic has gotten a contract from NASA to train private astronauts. To my mind this is NASA’s attempt to keep this company above water, as it certainly isn’t the most qualified to do this kind of training. If I wanted training for going on a private space mission, SpaceX and Boeing would be better places to get that preparation.

The deal however has done wonders for Virgin Galactic’s stock, causing it to rise almost 16% yesterday following the announcement of this contract. Great timing for Richard Branson, who by coincidence just happens to be trying to sell some of his stock at this moment.

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Three Starship prototypes in line for testing

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s assembly line for building Starship prototypes is heating up, with three such ships completed or under construction in Boca Chica, Texas.

Initially numbered 5 through 7, the goal of the first two will be to do the first full scale vertical hops, flying as high as 7.5 miles.. #7 however has a different purpose:

While stouter than an actual Starship-class methane or oxygen tank, this particular test tank is maybe only 25% shorter than the methane tanks installed on Starship prototypes. According to Musk and effectively confirmed by writing all over the prototype, this particular test tank – formerly Starship SN7 – was built to determine if a different kind of steel could be preferable for future ships.

Shortly after the June 15th test began to wind down, Musk announced that the new material (304L stainless steel) had performed quite well, reaching 7.6 bar (110 psi) before it sprung a leak. The fact alone that it sprung a leak instead of violently depressurizing is already a major sign that 304L is preferable to 301L, as it means that Starships built out of it could fail much more gracefully in the event of a leak instead of collapsing or violently exploding. A step further, SpaceX has already managed to repair the leak on SN7 and will likely test the tank again in the next few days.

SpaceX is once again demonstrating how to properly do this kind of cutting edge development. You test, you fix or, you change, based on what your tests tell you. You don’t lock down design in the early stages, because at that point you really don’t know enough to do so.

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SpaceX hiring engineers for building floating Starship spaceport

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has issued advertisements looking for two engineers to help build an offshore floating spaceport for launching its Starship/Super Heavy reusable rocket.

This plan is not really a surprise, as Musk from his first description of Starship said that it would likely launch and land on floating platforms. The rocket is big, so putting its launch and landing in the ocean reduces the risk to populated areas, while giving the company some flexibility about where it will land. The latter point reinforces the company’s stated goal of using this rocket not only to make interplanetary travel affordable but to also provide point-to-point transportation on Earth.

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SpaceX recovers both reused fairings from most recent launch

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has successfully recovered both of the reused fairings that were used in its June 13th Starlink launch.

This sets the stage for the first reuse of a fairing for the third time. The article at the link notes this important detail about these used fairings, both of which were not caught prior to landing in the ocean:

Preventing a vast majority of seawater exposure, a catch with [the ships] Ms. Tree or Ms. Chief may always be preferable for fairing reuse but the fact remains that all three successful reuses up to this point have been achieved with fairing halves that landed in the ocean. That success means that SpaceX has found a way to fully prevent or mitigate any potential corrosion that might result from seawater immersion. Given that that problem must have been a showstopper for the ~2.5 years SpaceX was able to recover – but not reuse – intact fairings, it’s safe to say that the company’s engineers have more or less solved the problem of corrosion. [emphasis mine]

In a sense we should not be surprised that the fairings were not seriously damaged by their short exposure to salt water. As designed, the shape of the fairings is essentially that of a boat hull. By landing them controlled by parachute, SpaceX guarantees that the sensitive electronics and equipment inside the fairings remains dry and untouched by salt water.

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Successful SpaceX launch

Falcon 9 shortly after launch

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched 58 Starlink satellites as well as three Planet earth observation satellites. The image to the right looks up at the exhaust from the nine firing Merlin engines of Falcon 9 rocket, about two minutes after launch.

That first stage also successfully landed, the third time this stage has completed a launch. The fairing halves were also reused.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

11 China
9 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 15 to 11 in the national rankings.

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NASA aiming for late July/early August Dragon crew return

According to statements made by NASA officials today, the agency is now targeting a late July to early August return date for the first manned Dragon.

Bob Behnken, one of the two Dragon astronauts, will likely do two spacewalks while on ISS to replace batteries on the stations main truss. In addition, they will do a number of tests of Dragon to check out its in-space long term operation.

Mission controllers planned to place the Dragon capsule into a hibernation mode, then wake up the ship’s systems to verify the spacecraft can perform its role as a quick-response lifeboat to scurry astronauts back to Earth in the event of an emergency. Mission managers are also checking data to monitor the status of the solar arrays.

It appears however that the biggest factor for determining the launch date will be weather conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. If they are good in late July mission managers might decide to return the astronauts earlier to take advantage of those conditions.

The next Dragon manned flight, carrying four astronauts, is planned in late August, thus giving NASA time to do a full assessment of this first demo flight before its launch.

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NASA endorsement allows SpaceX to shift focus to Starship

Capitalism in space: Three different news stories today about SpaceX point out strongly the direction in which the company is heading, both in its design focus and in where it will be doing it.

First, SpaceX has informed the Port of Los Angeles that it is now definitely abandoning all plans to establish a Starship manufacturing facility there.

The company made this announcement on March 27th, which means it is not directly related to the tiff that Musk had with Alameda County officials about keeping his Tesla factory open during the California Wuhan panic lock down, which occurred in early May. Nonetheless, this decision, combined with Musk’s May 9th statement that he was going to move Tesla from California, suggests strongly that he and SpaceX is losing patience with California politics, and is likely to increasingly minimize the presence of Musk’s companies there.

This also means that the company will be expanding its Starship operations in both Texas and Florida.

In a second related story, it appears that — with the success of the first manned Dragon mission — Musk now wants SpaceX to shift its development focus entirely to Starship. Prior to that successful Dragon launch, NASA had made it clear that it did not want the company distracted by Starship, and instead stay focused on fixing any issue that might delay Dragon. As NASA is SpaceX’s biggest customer, the company was obliged to comply.

With the Dragon success however SpaceX has completed the job, so Musk now feels free to shift the company’s development teams over to Starship. And NASA is even helping him do this (today’s third SpaceX story) by agreeing at last to permit the company to use reused Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon capsules for future manned missions.

In a wholly unexpected turn of events, a modification to SpaceX’s ~$3.1 billion NASA Commercial Crew Program (CCP) contract was spotted on June 3rd. Without leaving much room for interpretation, the contract tweak states that SpaceX is now “[allowed to reuse] the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Crew Dragon spacecraft beginning with” its second operational astronaut launch, known as Post Certification Mission-2 (PCM-2) or Crew-2.

NASA in the past was very slow to accept the use of reused capsules and rockets. It now appears they have abandoned this reluctance entirely, so much so that we could even see American astronauts flying into space on a reused rocket and in a reused capsule before the end of the year.

I want to pause to let this fact sink in. SpaceX has turned what what was considered only a few years ago as an absurd, dangerous, and wholly insane idea into the only and right way to do things.

This big endorsement of reusability by NASA also means that the agency is now willing to let SpaceX make its shift to Starship, since refurbishing rockets and capsules does not take the manpower as building new equipment.

Expect the action in Boca Chica to ramp up quite spectacularly this summer.

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A detailed update on SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation

Link here. With yesterday’s launch, SpaceX now has put 420 satellites in orbit.

In a recent interview with Aviation Week, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said that they should begin beta testing the network this year and would want to complete around 14 launches before publicly promoting Starlink service. That could allow service to begin as soon as early 2021 depending on how fast launches can be performed.

In a recent ITU filing, SpaceX laid out a very aggressive schedule for continuing the Starlink deployment, with 13 launches in the May to September time period. This schedule is likely to spread out a bit as they run into normal launch cadence issues such as weather, range coordination, booster recovery operations, and booster refurbishment.

The first launch in that group (June 3 in Florida) has been delayed nearly a month for the above reasons. Regardless of exactly how long those launches end up taking, Ms. Shotwell’s comments indicate SpaceX doesn’t think satellite production will be a gating factor for their deployments in the near future.

An interesting feature of the schedule is that after this frenzy of launches, there would be a gap with only one launch in four months, followed by a period of twice-monthly launches to finish out the initial 1584 satellite shell of the constellation. SpaceX may have options to make changes to the satellites during that pause in the deployments, such as adding the optical inter-satellite links that have been mentioned as debuting later in 2020.

The article then provides a great deal of information about the system’s design and status for beginning operations in the U.S. Well worth a close read.

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Live feed of tonight’s SpaceX Falcon 9 Starlink launch

UPDATE: A successfully launch, with a successful landing of the first stage, the fifth time this particular stage has completed a mission.

10 China
8 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 13 to 10 in the national rankings.

Original post:
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Since there was such a positive response to the embedded live feed of SpaceX’s first manned Dragon launch a few days go, I’ve decided to embed below the live feed of their next launch tonight of 60 Starlink satellites. The launch is set for 9:25 pm (Eastern), with the live feed starting fifteen minutes before that.

Enjoy. Watching that first stage land never gets old.

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Musk confirms cause of most recent Starship prototype failure

Capitalism in space: During a press event following the successful launch of SpaceX’s first manned Dragon, Elon Musk confirmed that the cause of the most recent Starship prototype failure was a leak at the connection point, called a quick disconnect or QD, for one of the umbilical cords that fuel the spacecraft.

If so, this cause is generally good engineering news, as it indicates the problem was not related to the prototype itself but with equipment that is more easily fixed. The article at the link notes:

Given that Starships are currently being tested independently on spartan launch mounts, it’s unclear if the current generation of prototypes has been outfitted with advanced QD panels. More likely, Musk was referring to a test of a less advanced QD panel similar to the rough version used on Starhopper last year, and SpaceX simply wanted to test its ability to disconnect and reconnect to Starship on command.

The explosion itself had not only completely destroyed the prototype, it rendered the test stand unusable. Yet, as another demonstration of SpaceX’s agility and competence as a company, the test stand was “fully dismantled and scrapped in the two days since the anomaly.”

Two days! More important, the fifth prototype is ready to go, with a sixth almost finished. They expect to resume tests before the end of the month.

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Thar’s ice in them Martian hills!

Icy mountains in Erebus Montes?
Click for full image.

Overview map of Starship landing site images

Cool image time! Today we return to the Erebus Mountains, located just to the west of SpaceX’s prime candidate landing site for Starship on Mars. The photo to the right, taken on April 4, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, shows one particular area between the peaks in those mountains, and also happens to be very close to what I have labeled image #1 in SpaceX’s Starship landing site photos.

The second image below and to the right shows an overview map of this region, with the SpaceX photos indicated by the numbered white boxes and the location of this image indicated by the red box, right next to image #1. The black boxes were images that SpaceX had obtained from MRO earlier, when it was first planning to send a Dragon capsule to Mars using a Falcon Heavy, a project the company has put aside in its focus on building Starship.

To my eye, everything in the first image above reeks of an icy, glacial terrain. I certainly am guessing, but it is an educated guess based on looking at numerous similar images in this region (see here and here, ) as well as in the nearby Phlegra mountains to the west. I also base my guess on what I have learned interviewing planetary scientists who are studying these images. The reasonableness of this guess is further strengthened in that the location is at 39 degrees north latitude, dead center in the mid-latitude bands where scientists have found evidence of numerous buried glaciers.

If Starship lands just to the east of the Erebus Mountains, the first colonists will likely not only have water available at their feet close to the surface in the flat lowland plains, if they find that resource insufficient they will need only climb uphill a bit into these hills to dig out as much ice as they could ever need.

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Dragon docks with ISS; astronauts reveal its name is Endeavour

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s first manned Dragon capsule successfully docked today with ISS.

A few hours after launch the two American astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, also revealed that they had named the capsule “Endeavour.”

I know this is really old news from late last night and early this morning, but I was out on a cave trip (taking a work break to have some fun underground for the first time in three months). I post it for completion. I also know that the live stream of these events was active here all day for my readers to follow things, as they happened.

Prepare for even more increasing space excitement in the coming years. The Trump administration increasingly is shifting NASA’s gears to have private companies build its spaceships and rockets and science instruments. The more they do this, the less expensive and the more capabilities we shall have as a nation. This success will be a challenge for other nations to match, which in turn will raise the stakes and increase the competition, the excitement, and the action in space.

Yes, the 20s I hope are going to roar, at least in space.

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SpaceX’s first manned SUCCESSFUL Dragon launch

UPDATE: I am off on a caving trip on Sunday, May 31st, so I will not be doing any updates to this post. The live feeds however will still be here and, though they are presently showing a replay of the launch today, should be covering Dragon’s rendezvous and docking with ISS on Sunday..

UPDATE: Dragon is in orbit. SpaceX has successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to place to Americans into space, the first American launch from American soil in an American spacecraft on an American rocket in nine years.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

9 China
7 Russia
7 SpaceX
3 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 12 to 9 in the national rankings.

UPDATE: I have added NASA’s media live feed to the one provided on SpaceX’s website. There will be some hype on SpaceX’s feed, but the media feed had no commentary. Pick which you prefer.

UPDATE: NASA and SpaceX have decided to attempt a launch today. The weather remains at 50-50 for launch.

Capitalism in space: Below are the live streams of SpaceX’s first manned Dragon launch, presently scheduled for launch at 3:22 pm (Eastern) tomorrow, May 30, 2020.

First, the feed from SpaceX’s website:

Second, the media feed from NASA, with no narration:

The live coverage will begin at 11 am (Eastern), and because this presentation is a partnership of NASA and SpaceX, will be filled with a lot of hype that one normally does not see during a SpaceX live feed, though I will note that during the live feed of the May 27th scrubbed launch, the NASA hype was kept relatively tame, compared to previous events. It seemed they accepted some guidance from SpaceX on how to do this in a way that seemed less fake or propagandistic.

This time I am embedding the media feed, which might have even less hype.

This post is also set to remain at the top of the page until after the launch, or after the launch is scrubbed, whichever happens. At the moment the weather says there is a 50-50 chance of launching, so we might end up having a scrub again, like on May 27th. In fact, NASA and SpaceX have already said in the evening of May 29th that they will reassess the weather in the AM on May 30th and decide whether to continue with the countdown or scrub. If so, this link and live feed will remain for the Sunday, May 31st, launch attempt.

As I did during the first launch attempt on May 27th, I will also periodically post below the fold images captured from the live feed, with some commentary. Comments from readers are of course welcome, as always.

NOTE: You will need to refresh the post periodically to see new images and commentary.

For other news updates, scroll down.
» Read more

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SpaceX and NASA will reassess weather for launch in morning

Because of the 50-50 weather conditions for launching the first manned Dragon mission to ISS tomorrow at 3:22 pm (Eastern), managers at both SpaceX and NASA have decided to maintain the schedule but reassess whether they will proceed come morning.

Thus, it is possible they might scrub the launch attempt very early in the countdown, and instead focus on the Sunday, May 31st launch opportunity. We shall have to wait.

In the meantime the embed of the live stream will appear here at Behind the Black at around midnight (Eastern). If the launch proceeds, the feed begins officially at 11:00 am (Eastern) tomorrow.

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Explosion during test of 4th Starship prototype

Capitalism in space: SpaceX engineers experienced another explosion during testing of their fourth Starship prototype today, completely destroying the protoype.

They already have their fifth prototype almost complete, so I expect they will clean up the debris, analyze again what went wrong, and start testing again.

At a certain point however these explosions have got to end, or else the project will begin to be in trouble.

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New Starship engine test; launch license issued

Capitalism in space: Yesterday SpaceX completed a new static fire engine test of its fourth Starship prototype while also obtaining a two-year launch license from the FAA for a future short up-and-down test hops

SpaceX briefly fired up the single Raptor engine of Starship SN4, the latest prototype of the company’s Mars-colonizing spaceship. The Raptor blazed for a few seconds while the SN4 remained tethered to the ground at SpaceX’s facilities near the South Texas village of Boca Chica. It was the fourth “static fire” test for the SN4, and the second with this particular Raptor engine. The previous static fire blazed a little hot, scorching the base of the spacecraft, but the flames seemed to behave themselves this time around.

Musk has said he wants to take the SN4 out for a spin soon, on an uncrewed test flight to a target altitude of about 500 feet (150 meters). With four static fires now in the books, SN4 seems poised to take that leap. But the prototype won’t get off the ground before Demo-2 does. “I have redirected SpaceX’s priorities to be very focused on the crew launch,” Musk told Aviation Week & Space Technology’s Irene Klotz recently. “As a rough guess, I think we’re a few weeks away from a hop.”

SpaceX has its paperwork in order to take Starship prototypes pretty high up, by the way. Today [now yesterday], the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation issued the company a two-year license to launch suborbital flights from the Boca Chica site.

Note that whatever caused the fire that occurred in the previous static fire test has apparently been identified and quickly resolved.

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Weather for Saturday’s SpaceX launch is presently poor

The weather for Saturday’s SpaceX launch presently gives only a 40% chance of launch.

Forecasters from the 45th Weather Squadron have issued a slightly more pessimistic outlook for the next two Crew Dragon launch opportunities Saturday and Sunday.

There’s now a 60 percent probability of weather conditions at the launch site violating one of the criteria for liftoff for launch opportunities at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT) Saturday and at 3:00 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) Sunday, according to the weather team.

The worst part is that the weather doesn’t look good for either day.

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SpaceX raises $346 million more in investment capital

Capitalism in space: According to Elon Musk, SpaceX has raised an additional $346 million more in investment capital.

According to the very short article at the link, this brings the total raised during this latest fund-raising round to $567 million. This is puzzling, as in March SpaceX announced that it had raised $500 million in this round. If the company has raised an additional $346, the total should be higher.

Either way, this brings the total raised by the company to close to $2 billion, almost all of which is being dedicated to building Starship & Super Heavy. Compared to what NASA spends on SLS/Orion — about $3 billion per year with a total about $50 billion when its first manned mission occurs finally in 2024 — this is chicken feed. However, for a private company fueled by competition and good management (unlike NASA), it is likely more than enough to get the job done.

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SpaceX’s first manned Dragon launch scrubbed due to weather

UPDATE: They were forced to scrub at T-16:54 because of weather. They will try again in three days on May 30th, at 3:22 pm (Eastern). I will post the live stream here on Behind the Black late Friday night.

Original post:
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I have embedded below SpaceX’s live stream of the first manned Dragon mission, set to launch at 4:33 pm (Eastern). The stream begins at about 12:15 pm (Eastern). Feel free to watch as the day unfolds. Sadly, it is being managed by NASA, not SpaceX, and thus is filled with a lot of the agency’s fake hype.

I have also set it to remain at the top of the page until after the launch, or if it is scrubbed.

On a side note, NASA is now aiming for an August 30 launch of SpaceX’s next manned Dragon mission, the first official operational flight.

Below the fold I am also posting images captured, with some commentary.


» Read more

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SpaceX’s first Starship tourist customer accused of tax evasion

Capitalism in space: Yusaku Maezawa, the first person to buy a ticket to fly on SpaceX’s Starship around the Moon, has now been accused in the Japanese press to have evaded $4.6 million in taxes.

The reports, which first appeared in the Yomiuri newspaper, suggested that Mr Maezawa had failed to fully declare the personal use of a corporate jet owned by his asset management firm over a three-year period.

Japan’s national tax agency declined to comment.

Maezawa has vigorously denied the allegations on Twitter.

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Weather improves for tomorrow’s manned Dragon launch

Capitalism in space: The weather outlook has brightened tomorrow, increasing the chances that the SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule will launch as scheduled.

No major technical issues of any significance were under discussion Monday, but the weather could be a factor. Forecasters initially predicted a 60% chance of a weather-related launch rule violation, but Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer with the 45th Weather Squadron, said conditions appeared to be improving somewhat. “If I was to issue the forecast today, right now we would probably be down to 40% chance of violation,” he said. “We have a bit more rain to go here and maybe another round of afternoon thunderstorms tomorrow, but … it looks like much less (cloud) coverage. So we have some hope for launch day.”

But McAleenan’s forecast does not include downrange conditions in the Atlantic Ocean along the Crew Dragon’s trajectory where Hurley and Behnken could be forced to ditch in the unlikely event of a catastrophic booster failure during the climb to space.

SpaceX managers will assess a complicated mix of weather models, high-altitude balloon data and actual wind, rain and wave data from multiple buoys along the ground track to determine whether conditions, on average, are acceptable for launch.

The launch is set for 4:33 pm. I will embed SpaceX’s live stream here on Behind the Black tomorrow earlier in the day, when things begin..

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In space exploration, freedom wins again

Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, with Falcon 9 in background
Dragon astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken
with their Falcon 9/Dragon in the background

This week we shall once again see a demonstration of the power of freedom, and it will not be a demonstration by protesters in Hong Kong or Michigan or New York against the petty dictators who rule them.

No, it will simply be the launch of an American rocket, owned by an American company, putting two Americans in space. While most reports of the manned Dragon launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will properly focus on the new engineering and the specific achievement — the first American manned space mission in almost a decade — few will recognize how it is freedom, that forgotten word, that more than anything made it possible.

And it has always been this way, since the very beginnings of the space age. As John Kennedy expounded in his 1961 speech committing the U.S. to a lunar landing, that commitment was to demonstrate that a free people and nation could do it better:
» Read more

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SpaceX successfully completes static fire dress rehearsal of manned Dragon Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully completed its standard static fire dress rehearsal prior to launch of the Falcon 9 rocket that will place the first manned Dragon capsule, carrying two astronauts, into space on May 27th.

Today NASA also gave its final okay for the launch. It is now set to happen.

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Almost lost: The flag that SpaceX astronauts will claim on ISS

The American flag that flew on the first and last shuttle mission and was left on ISS for the next crew flown on an American spacecraft to claim apparently went missing during the decade since the last American shuttle flight, and took several weeks of searching in 2018 for astronauts to find it.

“We looked and looked and looked,” said Tingle. “I talked to my fellow astronauts that were on board the ISS and everybody had a little bit of a different memory on where it could be or where it might be. So we spent probably three or four weeks just kind of scouring in our spare time, trying to find it.”

They did find it, and now it awaits the arrival of the two-person crew of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, set to launch on May 27th, the first Americans to launch from American soil on an American rocket in an American spacecraft in almost a decade.

More important: This will be the first flight of any Americans on a private rocket and spacecraft, built and owned by a private commercial company instead of the government. For the capitalistic and free United States, it marks the end of a half century of a government-run Soviet-style space program and a return to capitalism and freedom.

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Fire during most recent Starship prototype test

Capitalism in space: A fire during most recent Starship prototype test that did not do any apparent serious damage has however left that prototype in limbo.

The fate of SpaceX’s fourth full-scale Starship prototype appears to be in limbo after a third (seemingly successful) engine ignition test unintentionally caught the rocket on fire.

Now more than 12 hours after Starship SN4 fired up its new Raptor engine, the ~30m (~100 ft) tall, 9m (~30 ft) wide prototype is apparently trapped with one or both of its propellant tanks still partially filled with liquid (or gaseous) methane and/or oxygen. An initial road closure scheduled from noon to 6pm local quickly came and went and SpaceX and Cameron County Texas have since modified the paperwork, extending the closure a full 24 hours. In other words, SpaceX has reason to believe that Starship SN4 may continue to be unsafe (i.e. pressurized) as many as ~30 hours after it technically completed its third static fire test – extremely unusual, to say the least.

The article at the link offers a lot of speculation. The bottom line is that the first actual hop of this prototype is probably delayed. SpaceX had said it wanted to do it before the end of the month (probably to maximize publicity by having it occur about the same time as the manned Dragon launch). They will need to get this prototype safed, review the data and damage from the fire, and then make repairs before doing that hop. I would also expect SpaceX to do another tank and engine test first as well, to make sure those repairs worked.

This is not to say that the delay will be long. SpaceX does not waste time in these matters. It just probably means the hop won’t occur until mid- to late June.

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