Tag Archives: SpaceX

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

More potential Starship landing sites on Mars

Starship landing sites

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).

Many news sources, skilled in their ability to rewrite press releases, saw my article and immediately posted stories essentially repeating what I had found, including my geological reasoning. Some did some more digging and, because they came out a few days later they were able to take advantage of the next MRO team image release, issued on August 30th, to find a few more candidate site images.

Those additional images included the remaining stereo images for all the images in my August post, indicated by the white boxes in the overview map above. They also included two new locations, indicated by the black boxes. One was of one more location in the easternmost hills of Erebus Montes. The other was a stereo pair for one entirely different landing location, farther to the west in the mountains dubbed Phlegra Montes, a location that SpaceX had previously been considering, but until this image had not been included in its MRO image requests.

The grey boxes in the map above show the approximate locations of images not yet officially released by MRO. Though unreleased, their existence is still public knowledge, as they are listed as already acquired images in the HiWish database. Below are links to the three upcoming new images (the second stereo images for locations #1 and #2 are not included)

Both the Phlega Montes location and #3 above appear to be looking at soft slushy material that might have a lot of water just below the surface.
» Read more

Share

Update of Texas Starship prototype construction

Link here. The article is mostly what I would call “in the weeds,” mostly of interest to engineering geeks. Nonetheless, the progress described suggests that they are working hard to meet Musk’s proposed schedule of first test flight by October, and even have a small chance of doing it.

Share

SpaceX wins launch contract for seven SES satellites

Capitalism in space: SES yesterday announced that it has awarded SpaceX’s Falcon 9 the launch contract for the next seven satellites in its next generation communications constellation.

This is a big win for SpaceX, made even more clear by a briefing held yesterday with reporters by Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israel. In that briefing Israel outlined that company’s upcoming launch contracts, where he also claimed that this launch manifest is so full he had to turn down SES’s launch offer.

Because of its full manifest, Arianespace was unable to offer SES launch capacity in 2021 for its next generation of medium Earth orbit satellites, mPOWER. SES announced plans Sept. 9 to fly mPOWER satellites on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets from Florida’s Cape Canaveral. Arianespace launched the 20 satellites in the SES O3B constellation.

It was important to SES to launch in 2021, Israel said. Given Arianespace’s full manifest, it was difficult “to offer the guarantee they were asking for,” he added.

If you believe that I have a bridge I want to sell you. Arianespace has been struggling to get launch contracts for its new Ariane 6 rocket. They have begun production on the first fourteen, but according Israel’s press briefing yesterday, Ariane 6 presently only has eight missions on its manifest. That means that six of the rockets they are building have no launch customers. I am sure they wanted to put those SES satellites on at least some of those rockets, and couldn’t strike a deal because the expendable Ariane 6 simply costs more than the reusable Falcon 9.

Share

Update on SpaceX’s plans for Starship

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.

Share

SpaceX issues explanation for nonresponse in potential satellite collision issue

SpaceX today issued an explanation for why it had not responded when ESA officials had asked them to change the orbit of one of its Starlink smallsats to protect against a possible collision with ESA’s Aeolus spacecraft.

SpaceX, in a statement Sept. 3, said it was aware of a potential conjunction Aug. 28 and communicated with ESA. At that time, though, the threat of a potential collision was only about 1 in 50,000, below the threshold where a maneuver was warranted. When refined data from the U.S. Air Force increased the probability to within 1 in 1,000, “a bug in our on-call paging system prevented the Starlink operator from seeing the follow on correspondence on this probability increase,” a company spokesperson told SpaceNews.

“SpaceX is still investigating the issue and will implement corrective actions,” the spokesperson said of the glitch. “However, had the Starlink operator seen the correspondence, we would have coordinated with ESA to determine best approach with their continuing with their maneuver or our performing a maneuver.”

This incident increasingly strikes me as a tempest in a teapot created by ESA for any number of reasons, including their overall dislike of SpaceX (for generally making all government-run space programs look foolish). There is also this quote from an ESA official in the article above:

“The case just showed that, in the absence of traffic rules and communication protocols, collision avoidance has to rely on the pragmatism of the involved operators,” Krag said. “This is done today by exchange of emails. Such a process is not viable any longer with the increase of space traffic.” He said that, if the Space Safety initiative is funded, ESA would like to demonstrate automated maneuver coordination by 2023. [emphasis mine]

I can just see ESA officials drooling with eager anticipation the coming of more “traffic rules and communication protocols,” partly inspired by this fake crisis they just created. Imposing more rules and getting increased funding is what they do best, since it certainly isn’t exploring space with creative and efficient innovation.

Share

SpaceX declines to shift Starlink satellite to avoid collision

When European Space Agency (ESA) engineers realized there was a greater than normal chance that a new SpaceX Starlink satellite could collide with ESA’s already orbiting Aeolus satellite, they asked SpaceX to shift its orbit, only to have SpaceX decline.

According to Holger Krag, head of the Space Debris Office at ESA, the risk of collision between the two satellites was 1 in 1,000 – ten times higher than the threshold that requires a collision avoidance maneuver. However, despite Aeolus occupying this region of space nine months before Starlink 44, SpaceX declined to move their satellite after the two were alerted to the impact risk by the U.S. military, who monitor space traffic. “Based on this we informed SpaceX, who replied and said that they do not plan to take action,” says Krag, who said SpaceX informed them via email – the first contact that had been made with SpaceX, despite repeated attempts by Krag and his team to get in touch since Starlink launched. “It was at least clear who had to react. So we decided to react because the collision was close to 1 in 1,000, which was ten times higher than our threshold.”

As to why SpaceX refused to move their satellite, that is not entirely clear (the company did not respond to a request for comment). Krag suspected it could be something to do with SpaceX’s electric propulsion system, which “maybe is not reacting so fast” as the chemical propulsion on board Aeolus.

The article is clearly spun to make SpaceX look bad, though based on the stated facts the company shot itself in the foot quite ably. If their propulsion system could not have done the job as well as the other satellite, they should have simply said so and worked with ESA to get the issue fixed, rather than simply saying they would do nothing.

Share

FAA required SpaceX to up its insurance for Starhopper test

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.

Share

SpaceX begins hunt for Starship landing sites on Mars

Candidate landing sites for SpaceX's Starship

In the August image release from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) were five images whose title immediately caught my interest:

The overview map on the right shows the location on Mars for these five photographs. The second and third images are of the same location, taken to produce a stereo pair.

To put it mildly, it is most intriguing to discover that SpaceX is beginning to research a place where it can land Starship on Mars. I immediately emailed Nathan Williams, the JPL scientist who requested these images from SpaceX, but he was bound by a non-disclosure agreement with SpaceX and could not comment. I have since tried to get some information directly from SpaceX but so far the company has not responded. A 2017 news story had indicated the company’s interest in this Mars’ location, but gave no details either.

Based on what we now know of Mars, however, it is possible to figure out why they favor this location, on the border between the two large northern lowland plains Arcadia and Amazonis Planitia.
» Read more

Share

What Starhopper achieved

Starhopper in flight
Click for full image.

Captalism in space: While most news reports (including mine yesterday) have focused on the spectacular 150-meter flight of Starhopper, the real story here is the Raptor engine. As one of my readers said most succinctly in a comment:

As impressive as the flight was, there is so much more going on here. This is the most efficient rocket engine ever, with all fuel and LOX running through the combustion chamber – including exhaust from the turbopumps. The Russians tried it, and NASA tried it, but this is the first time such a design has flown. It’s also the first major engine using methane, so SpaceX is learning all the ground support processes for storing, fueling, and detanking methane (mostly) safely. (Still causing grass fires at launch…) They’re aiming for production cost below $2M per Raptor, and they’re about ready to go full production on the engines, around 500 engines per year.

In fact, Musk himself reveals the truth of Diane Wilson’s comment in a tweet, found in this news story about yesterday’s flight:

Starhopper’s flying days may be done, but the stubby prototype will be retasked rather than put out to pasture.

“Yes, last flight for Hopper. If all goes well, it will become a vertical test stand for Raptor,” Musk said via Twitter on Saturday.

In a sense, yesterday’s flight was no different. Starhopper was essentially a flying test stand for Raptor, which is in itself an incredible concept, when you think about it. Now it will continue to be used as a test stand, but will no longer fly.

I have been told by rocket engineers more than once that you need to build and test your engine before you can really start your rocket design. Once you know its capabilities you can then design and construct the rocket.

This is why Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo has generally been a failure. They built the ship before the engine, and when the engine had issues they had to improvise redesigns that have limited the ship’s capability and seriously delayed its launch.

SpaceX now has its engine ready. Construction on its two prototype Starships, in Boca Chica and Florida, will now proceed quickly. Based on how quickly it took SpaceX to do the first Starhopper test flights (announced in late 2018 and flying in about eight months), expect test flights within six to eight months. (Note that in this last link I expressed doubt they could get those Starhopper flights off in 2019. SpaceX proved me wrong.)

Finally, a minor news note: SpaceX today successfully brought a Dragon cargo capsule back to Earth after a month at ISS, completing its third flight in space. That this multi-use flight is hardly mentioned in the news illustrates how far SpaceX has reshaped space engineering in only a few years.

Share

Starhopper: Success!

Starhopper in flight
Click for full image.

It appears today’s 150 meter hop (about 500 feet) of SpaceX’s Starhopper prototype was a complete success. To the right, and also below, are screen captures grabbed by me from one private live stream as well as from SpaceX’s own live stream.

In fact, this quick hop appears to have gone amazingly smoothly. It launched almost exactly at the target time, and landed quite softly on the launchpad, as intended. You can see the nozzle of the Raptor engine shifting and adjusting throughout the flight, also another indication that their engineering here is working perfectly. Congratulations SpaceX!

I have embedded SpaceX’s video below the fold. The flight begins around 30 minutes in.

Starhopper near the top of its flight

Starhopper beginning its descent

Starhopper on the ground
» Read more

Share

Starhopper test flight scrubbed

The planned 150-meter-high test flight of SpaceX’s Starhopper test prototype was aborted at T-0 seconds last night when the Raptor engine did not ignite as expected.

A live video feed provided by SpaceX showed the squat, 30-foot-wide (9-meter) Starhopper vehicle counting down to a planned liftoff shortly after 6 p.m. CDT (7 p.m. EDT; 2300 GMT) Monday from the company’s facility in South Texas. The vehicle’s single methane-fueled Raptor engine could be seen swiveling side-to-side in a preflight steering check, as the Starhopper pad’s sound suppression system dumped water under the vehicle.

But the Raptor engine did not ignite as the countdown clock reached zero.

“Test aborted just after T-0,” read a text banner on SpaceX’s webcast. “Teams evaluating next test opportunity.”

They say they will try again today. If you want to watch this link provides some suggestions.

These test flights are testing the Raptor engine more than they are testing vehicle take-off and landing. This engine is a significant advancement from not only SpaceX’s Merlin engine but from almost every rocket engine previously built. It has the potential to set the record for the most efficient and powerful engine. It is therefore not unexpected that there will be issues during these test flights.

Share

Planned Starhopper test shuts down Boca Chica

SpaceX’s planned next hop of its Starhopper test vehicle is apparently forcing local residents from their homes, as well as threatening damage to buildings as much as two miles away.

Those residents live in tiny Boca Chica Village, Texas, which sits less than 2 miles (3 km) from a SpaceX-operated launch site near the US-Mexico border along the Gulf Coast. SpaceX’s test of the so-called “Starhopper”—a prototype of a reusable shuttle meant for human transit—may well create an “overpressure event” capable of breaking glass in buildings nearby. The police-delivered warnings advise residents to, at a minimum, exit their homes when they hear police sirens around the 4pm launch window.

Comments posted under the Brownsville Herald article include, “Doesn’t sound good to me that they have to evacuate their homes all because Space X is testing” and “I think spacex should be prepared to pay for the window replacements.”

The test is also forcing the closure of roads required by residents to access or leave their neighborhoods.

It seems that SpaceX’s decision to conduct their Starhopper tests in Boca Chica rather than at their McGregor, Texas, engine test facility might have been a mistake. Unlike Boca Chica, McGregor is a much larger facility, which means tests are farther away from local residences. While Boca Chica gives SpaceX great visibility (hence some great publicity) for Starhopper, it appears to also be causing some bad press because of these negative impacts on the local community.

Either way, expect news of Starhopper’s biggest hop in the next day or so.

Share

Satellite company switches from Falcon Heavy to Ariane 5

Capitalism in space: The communications satellite company Ovzon has switched from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to Arianespace’s Ariane 5 for the launch of its first wholly owned satellite in 2021.

In an interview Aug. 24, Ovzon CEO Magnus René told SpaceNews the company received a more appealing launch offer from Arianespace. “It’s nothing political or anything like that, it’s not that we don’t trust SpaceX — it’s just that we could get a better deal in cost and time and so on from Ariane at this time,” René said.

SpaceX charges $100 million for a Falcon Heavy launch, about the same as Arianespace charges for one of the two berths on its Ariane 5. Arianespace must have therefore cut its standard price to make it more attractive, and win the deal.

Ain’t competition wonderful? Governments have been trying (and failing) to get us into space for half a century, using the model of international cooperation. Introduce some competition and suddenly it becomes both easier and cheaper to do it. Who woulda thunk it?

Share

SpaceX’s Tesla has completed its first solar orbit

Capitalism in space: The first privately launched car, a Tesla placed in solar orbit on SpaceX’s first launch of its Falcon Heavy, has now completed its first orbit around the sun.

Its future?

Car and driver will probably make many more laps around our star. Last year, an orbit-modeling study calculated that the Roadster will eventually slam into either Venus or Earth, likely within the next few tens of millions of years. But there’s just a 6 percent chance of an Earth impact, and a 2.5 percent chance of a Venus impact, within the next million years, the study’s authors found.

Share

SpaceX gets 2nd boat to catch rocket fairings

Capitalism in space: It appears, from a Elon Musk tweet, that SpaceX has obtained a second boat to catch its rocket fairings for reuse.

Based on previous comments by Musk, the company is now on the verge of recovering and reusing about 70% of its Falcon 9 rockets during each launch. I’d say that’s pretty good, especially considering industry rocket experts have been saying for half a century that none of this was even possible or practical.

Share

SpaceX and Arianespace complete successful launches

Today, as I was giving my lecture in Denver, both Arianespace and SpaceX successfully completed launches.

SpaceX put a commercial communications satellite in orbit. The first stage was not recovered, but this was intended. The company however was successful in catching one half fairing in the giant net of its recovery ship Mrs. Tree., the second time they have done so.

Arianespace used its Ariane 5 rocket to launch a commercial communications satellite and a European Space Agency data relay satellite.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

12 Russia
11 China
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. now leads Russia 16 to 12 in the national rankings.

Share

SpaceX offers new cut-rate prices for smallsats

Capitalism in space: SpaceX yesterday announced that the company is now offering new cut-rate prices to launch smallsats on its rockets.

The company is offering rideshare opportunities for satellites weighing up to 150kg at the price of $2.25 million. The rideshare-only missions, flying aboard the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, will launch at regularly scheduled intervals. “SpaceX is committed to serving the commercial market as it grows and changes,” a spokesperson for the company said. “And we believe we can address the needs of small satellite operators by offering reliable, cost-effective access to orbit through regularly scheduled, dedicated rideshare missions.”

The company has previously flown rideshare missions using its Falcon 9 rocket, but those flights were organized and integrated by a third-party provider, Spaceflight Industries. Now SpaceX will do all of that work directly for customers

This move makes SpaceX’s smallsat prices very competitive. It also makes it easier for smallsat companies to bypass China’s semi-private commercial companies, thus avoiding the risk of China stealing their technology.

Share

SpaceX to launch Super Heavy/Starship from Florida

Capitalism in space: According to a SpaceX environmental report submitted to NASA, the company now plans to launch Super Heavy/Starship missions from Florida, and only Florida.

The report details the work they want to do at launch complex 39A, where they presently launch both Falcon 9s and Falcon Heavies.

The facilities will be able to support up to 24 Starship/Super Heavy launches a year, the company said in the report, with a corresponding decline in Falcon launches from the complex. “Due to the higher lift capability, Starship/Super Heavy could launch more payloads and reduce the overall launch cadence when compared to Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy,” the report states.

SpaceX ruled out performing Starship/Super Heavy launches from its other two existing launch sites, Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and Space Launch Complex 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The company ruled out the sites because they would require more modifications and because the Vandenberg site didn’t support trajectories for the “vast majority” of missions.

Falcon Heavy launches especially will vanish once this new rocket is operational, as it will be cheaper to use and have greater capabilities, should it succeed in being everything SpaceX hopes it to be.

Share

New NASA development contracts include refueling work by SpaceX

Capitalism in space: Yesterday NASA announced a bunch of partnership agreements with thirteen companies, where those companies will get NASA assistance at no cost to help them develop new engineering that would aid future solar system exploration.

The partnerships covered everything from helping small companies develop new space electronics, heat shields, and new types of thrusters to helping Blue Origin develop the technology for for landing on the Moon.

An article at Ars Technica today about this NASA announcement focused specifically on the SpaceX deal, mainly for its important political implications.

The partnership will have two different NASA agencies helping SpaceX develop the refueling technology it needs for Starship to reach Mars. The key is that this deal has NASA openly supporting technologies that are in direct competition with its own SLS rocket. When such research work was proposed back in 2010, it was opposed quite strongly by past agency officials as well as powerful politicians in Congress, for exactly that reason.

It was a contentious time in space policy, as the White House was pushing for more funding for new space companies—and new space ideas such as fuel-storage depots—while Congress wanted to keep NASA in the rocket-building business.

Eventually, Congress got the upper hand, putting NASA on track to build the large SLS rocket at a development cost of more than $2 billion a year. The rocket program mostly benefited the Alabama space center and was championed by Alabama State Senator Richard Shelby. The potential of in-space fuel storage and transfer threatened the SLS rocket because it would allow NASA to do some exploration missions with smaller and cheaper rockets. As one source explained at the time, “Senator Shelby called NASA and said if he hears one more word about propellant depots he’s going to cancel the Space Technology program.”

The line from other NASA officials was that as a technology, propellant depots were not ready for prime time. In 2011, former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin and current Executive Secretary of the National Space Council Scott Pace—both SLS advocates—wrote a withering criticism of the technology for Space News.

Now however the Trump administration is helping SpaceX develop refueling for Starship, which if successful will help make SLS irrelevant. This is more evidence that the Trump administration is laying the political groundwork that will allow it to shut SLS down, actions that were impossible in the political culture of Washington only two years ago.

This quote in the article is probably the most startling of all:

“Administrator Bridenstine is clearly executing on President’s Trump’s guidance to increase commercial public-private-partnerships at NASA,” Miller, now chief executive of UbiquitiLink, told Ars. “The game-changing technology that NASA has discovered is capitalism. This program proves NASA leadership has figured out the future is reusability mixed with commercial public-private-partnerships.” [emphasis mine]

Imagine that. An American government agency has learned that capitalism is the way to go. Will wonders never cease?

Update: See this related Ars Technica article: The SLS rocket may have curbed development of on-orbit refueling for a decade (Hat tip reader Calvin Dodge.)

Share

Starhopper has hopped

Capitalism in space: SpaceX last night successfully completed the first untethered flight of its Starship/Super Heavy prototype dubbed Starhopper.

This hop attempted and flew about 65 feet. They hope to do next flight, planned to be about ten times higher, in a week or two, according to a Musk tweet.

Below the fold is video of the hop. You can’t see much as the viewing angle is ground level, it is night, and the engine flames obscure things. Expect better footage from future hops.
» Read more

Share

SpaceX launches used Dragon to ISS with used Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully used a Falcon 9 rocket to launch a Dragon freighter to ISS.

The Dragon is making its third flight to ISS. The first stage, which landed successfully, was making its second flight, and will likely be used on the next Dragon cargo mission.

Video of the launch and 1st stage landing is below the fold. The launch is at about 15 minutes. The first stage landing is one of the most spectacular yet.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

10 China
9 Russia
9 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. now leads China 15-10 in the national rankings.
» Read more

Share

Starhopper’s 1st test hop aborts

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s first attempt to fly Starhopper untethered in a short vertical flight was aborted only a few seconds after engine ignition.

Video of the test is below the fold. The vehicle never leaves the ground, and there are flames visible near its top, something one should not see. Obviously this is a development program, so failures like this are to be expected. More significant is the speed in which the company is moving. It is only a week since their last StarHopper test, which also had issues. Rather than take years to move forward (like NASA), they are pushing forward aggressively.
» Read more

Share

Starhopper static engine test engulfs vehicle in flames

Capitalism in space: A Starhopper static engine test yesterday testing the newly installed Raptor engine resulted in the vehicle being engulfed in flames.

While the test itself appeared to fire for its full duration, events relating to this test appeared to cause some issues with Hopper, later seen when a secondary fire rose up to engulf the test vehicle. This is understood to have been related to two small fires – one on the vehicle and one on the pad.

A discharge of methane – during the safing of the vehicle, which involved a fire hose being directed at the small fires – ignited and caused a fireball to rise from the aft of the vehicle.

However, the vehicle survived and photos show it is suffering from no obvious damage from external views. This was backed up by a successful detanking and power down overnight.

I have embedded a slow motion video of the test below the fold, with that secondary fire occurring at about 50 seconds in, at about the moment it appears a stream of water hits a smaller fire.

Their plans had been to follow this static test with a 20 meter vertical flight of Starhopper, unattached. When this will occur is now unclear.
» Read more

Share

SpaceX pinpoints cause of Dragon explosion during test

SpaceX today revealed that it has pinpointed the cause of the explosion that destroyed a Dragon manned capsule during an engine test in April.

The company believes that the problem originated with the Crew Dragon’s emergency abort system, which consists of a series of small thrusters embedded within the capsule. If all goes well during a mission, these tiny thrusters are never really meant to be used. But if there is some kind of failure during a future launch, the thrusters can ignite and carry the Crew Dragon safely away from a disintegrating rocket.

SpaceX says that a leaky valve caused the propellant needed for these thrusters to cross into another system — one of really high pressure. When this contamination occurred, the high forces slammed the liquid around, causing valuable components to fail and leading to the ultimate loss of the capsule.

Koenigsman said that this contamination definitely was not anticipated, though the kind of valve that leaked has been known to have some internal leakage problem. Ultimately, he acknowledged that, to some extent, this was a design issue. “It’s something that the components should not have done,” Koenigsman said. “But at the same time, we learned a very valuable lesson on something going forward, one that makes the Crew Dragon a safer vehicle.”
““it was a huge gift for us.” ”

SpaceX will replace all of these types of valves with another component known as a burst disk, which is supposed to be much more reliable, according to Koenigsman.

The company is still hoping to fly before the end of the year, but admits that this may not be possible. Right now they have a tentative launch date in November.

Share

Fire at SpaceX Starhopper facility in Florida

A fire in SpaceX’s Florida facility yesterday, where it is building a Starship prototype, caused between $50,000 to $100,000 damages.

City spokesperson Yvonne Martinez confirmed a small fire broke out at the facility on Cidco Road around noon and that the Cocoa Fire Department was able to quickly extinguish it. She said crews suspected an electrical fault as the source of the fire.

“This afternoon, a small fire occurred at a SpaceX facility in Cocoa,” SpaceX spokesperson James Gleeson told FLORIDA TODAY. “The fire was contained to a sea van on site and extinguished thanks to the Cocoa Fire Department, which responded within minutes.”

“There were no injuries as a result of the fire, and the cause is under investigation,” he said.

Martinez said the fire department estimates about $50,000 to $100,000 in damages were sustained by the shipping container and equipment inside, as well as the adjacent building.

This will be a blow to the Florida SpaceX unit that is competing with the Boca Chica unit on the construction of Starship.

Share
1 2 3 4 36