SpaceX raises another $250 million in investment capital

Capitalism in space: SpaceX in July raised $250 million in investment capital from five unnamed investors, bringing the total raised in 2022 to $2 billion.

Added to the amount brought in before this year, SpaceX has raised about $9 billion in private capital, most of which is focused on financing the development of Starship/Superheavy. When you add the $2.9 billion contract it won from NASA to develop Starship as a manned lunar lander, the company has raised about $12 billion to build this heavy lift rocket.

The numbers demonstrate several things. First, Wall Street is apparently very confident SpaceX will succeed in building the rocket, and then make a lot of money from it. Second, the numbers prove it shouldn’t cost $60 billion and two decades to design and build a heavy lift rocket, as NASA has done with its SLS rocket. SpaceX is doing it for less than a fifth of the cost, in a third of the time.

Environmentalists opposed to Starship at Boca Chica appeal dismissal of their lawsuit

Environmentalists from the Sierra Club and one Texas Indian tribe have now appealed the dismissal of their lawsuit aimed at blocking further tests or launches of Starship and Superheavy by SpaceX at its Boca Chica facility.

The Sierra Club and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of South Texas jointly appealed the 445th District Court’s decision July 7 to dismiss a lawsuit concerning SpaceX testing of its next-generation Starship vehicle closing nearby Boca Chica Beach, the coalition said July 28. In the dismissal, Judge Gloria Rincones argued there is “no private right of enforcement” concerning the beach access, according to KRGV.com (opens in new tab). The dismissal took place over the appellants’ protests that closing the beach violates the Texas state constitution, along with access rights by traditional groups.

The Sierra Club’s Brownsville organizer, Emma Guevara, stated the appeal is taking place because the beach is closed weekly to allow “a billionaire [to] launch deadly rockets near homes and wildlife.”

Citing a fireball that briefly and unexpectedly engulfed Starship during testing July 12, Guevera said her family was “forced” to hear the noise, which “launched without any warning for the public.” [emphasis mine]

My my, what a horror! I suppose everyone must stop what they are doing because Guevera and his family might be inconvenienced. And who cares if the lawsuit prevents thousands of south Texas citizens from having jobs and a thriving economy? It is more important Guevera doesn’t have to hear loud noises.

The lawsuit claims that allowing SpaceX to periodically close access to the nearest beach violates the state’s constitution, despite laws passed by both the local and state legislatures allowing for these closures.

Update on status of first orbital Starship/Superheavy

Link here. The main focus of the article is the state of Superheavy prototype #7, which experienced an explosion and some damage during testing earlier this month.

The day after the anomaly, Elon indicated on Twitter that Booster 7 would roll back to the production site to work on repairs to the vehicle and assess the next steps. Rollback occurred on July 14, and in the following days, it’s been observed that several Raptor engines have been taken off from the vehicle, likely for further inspection and testing at SpaceX’s McGregor test facility a few hours drive up north from Starbase.

As of writing, repairs are continuing on Booster 7, and it will likely still be undergoing repairs for the next week or two. So while an early retirement for the vehicle could be expected, the current target by teams is still an orbital flight by Booster 7 and Ship 24 with a notional target date of late August for the flight.

If SpaceX decides to retire #7, it already is prepping #8 and #9, with #8 likely to be put on the launchpad for testing in the next week.

The target date for that first orbital launch is still in August, but that schedule appears increasingly unlikely.

NASA is apparently withdrawing its permit for Starship launches in Florida

We’re here to help you: In requesting public input into SpaceX’s plans to expand operations in Florida to accommodate launches of its Starship/Superheavy rocket, NASA is apparently withdrawing the permit it issued in 2019, allowing for such launches.

While a Final Environmental Assessment for Starship was issued in September 2019, NASA said that communication with SpaceX will be ongoing prior to a future first flight from Florida.

“NASA will review the risks to the area and programs at KSC [Kennedy Space Center] prior to any hazardous work,” Bob Holl told Spectrum News in a statement. “NASA will be involved in the lead-up of activities prior to the first loading and any static fire events of Starship and coordinate impacts across the spaceport.” Holl serves as the chief of the Spaceport Management and Integration Division in the Spaceport Integration and Services Directorate at KSC.

It appears NASA and the federal bureaucracy have decided that a new environmental assessment is necessary for SpaceX’s proposed new operation in Florida. After a 30-day period for public input, ending on July 29th, NASA will issue a new draft environmental assessment by September, which will then be subject to another public comment period. Then, the agency will issue a final decision in November, either declaring the new work causes no further impact or that a new environmental impact statement is required.

If the latter, expect Starship launches at Kennedy to be delayed several years.

This action continues the increased regulatory oversight on new space activities being imposed since the arrival of the Biden administration. The federal government is now apparently trying to set a new policy whereby any new work by a private company on or even near federal land will require its full approval, and even if given that approval will carry with it strict and endless governmental demands, all designed to slow things down.

The political timing of this new action however is significant, since this decision will occur after the November midterms. If control of Congress shifts significantly into Republican hands, as expected, the Biden administration’s new heavy-handed regulatory approach might face some pushback.

Superheavy prototype #7 explodes during tanking test

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Superheavy prototype #7 exploded yesterday during a tanking test in Boca Chica, Texas.

I have embedded the video of the explosion below, cued to just before it occurred.

According to Musk, the engineering teams are presently assessing damage. The booster itself appeared relatively intact afterward, though leaning slightly to one side.

At a minimum this incident will delay the orbital launch attempt, especially if booster #7 must be replaced with booster #8, already being prepped in the assembly building nearby.

» Read more

SpaceX preps for final engine tests before first orbital Starship/Superheavy flight

Capitalism in space: Having moved its 7th prototype Superheavy booster to the launch pad in Boca Chica even as its installs the six Raptor engines on the 24th prototype of Starship, SpaceX is now about to begin the final engines tests prior to the first orbital Starship/Superheavy flight.

For the first time the chopstick arms on the launch tower were used to lift and place the Superheavy booster onto the pad. It is expected that static fire tests of its 33 Raptor engines could begin within the next few weeks.

The orbital Starship meanwhile is still in the assembly building, where engineers are installing its own six Raptor engines.

Though SpaceX has not made public the exact schedule of tests leading to launch, it is expected that the company will do a short static fire test program with Superheavy alone, and then do a follow-up short series of tests once the Starship prototype is stacked on top. Based on past history, if the tests show no problems SpaceX will quickly move to launch. Though there have been indications that it is targeting July, it would not be surprising if that date slips to August.

The race between Starship and SLS for which will get into orbit first appears to be tightening.

NASA now targeting late August launch of SLS

NASA officials today confirmed that they are satisfied with the results from this week’s incomplete dress rehearsal countdown of the SLS rocket, and are targeting a late August launch of SLS.

NASA officials have reviewed the data collected during the test run and decided that a leaky hydrogen valve was not significant enough to force a delay in the launch of Artemis I, an uncrewed mission planning to orbit the moon and return to Earth. It’s the first step toward putting humans back on the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972.

“The team is now ready to take the next step and prepare for launch,” said NASA’s deputy associate administrator Tom Whitmeyer.

NASA officials said they will roll the massive Space Launch System rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, where the valve’s faulty seal will be replaced. Rollback is slated for Friday July 1, though weather concerns could push that back.

SLS won the five-plus year race with the Webb telescope on which would have the most delays and launch last. Now the race will be between SLS and SpaceX’s Starship/Superheavy. Which will launch first this summer? In a rational world, SLS should win hands down. It has been in development since 2004, while Starship only began design work in 2017.

This is not a rational world, however, and SLS’s long gestation had little to do with designing a rocket and everything to do with politics and a corrupt Congress and an incompetent NASA. The rocket that has come out of this is thus difficult to operate and incredibly cumbersome. Its components have also not been tested thoroughly.

SpaceX meanwhile has been designing and building its heavy-lift rocket with only one goal: the rocket must be efficient to operate.

I predict Starship will reach orbit first, though if it doesn’t it most likely will be because SpaceX finds it needs to do more ground tests and revisions, not because SLS has surged ahead. And regardless, Starship will likely fly many times in the next three years, while SLS will only get off the ground once.

More important, the chances of SLS and Orion working perfectly throughout that that lunar orbit mission seem almost impossible, based on track record during the past eighteen years of both programs. Expect some issues to crop up, first during the launch countdown, forcing several scrubs, and then during the mission itself. None might be mortal, but all will raise questions whether it would be wise to put humans on this rocket and capsule on its next flight, and attempt to take them to the Moon.

NASA blocks Starship/Superheavy launches at SpaceX’s new Florida launchpad

Capitalism in space: NASA officials revealed yesterday that it will not allow any Starship/Superheavy launches at SpaceX’s new Florida launchpad, at least for the moment, because of the threat a launchpad failure might have on the launchpad SpaceX uses to launch manned Falcon 9 missions to ISS.

The NASA statement said the agency “is responsible for ensuring SpaceX remains compliant with the requirements of the property agreement for the use of Launch Complex 39A.”

“These requirements include those related to construction, safety and environmental conditions,” the statement said. “At this time, NASA has only provided approval to build. Additional review for hazards, operational impacts and supportability will be required prior to a launch.”

The new Starship launchpad is 1,000 feet away from pad 39A, which is SpaceX’s manned Dragon launchpad. NASA management thinks this is too close. However, the managers have also not ruled out future launches, only that they wish to do a thorough review of the issue with SpaceX.

Because NASA and the federal government is also relying on Starship to land its astronauts on the Moon, it can’t block Starship flights outright. It could be however that this issue might shift Starship operations back to Boca Chica, after federal government opposition there forced SpaceX to shift more operations to Florida.

In other words, the government wants its cake and eat it to. Some factions within the Biden administration and the Washington bureaucracy want to block Starship, others want it to fly. The result is a tug-of war, with SpaceX in the middle.

Our oppressive federal government really does want to squash SpaceX

Targeted by the government for destruction
Targeted by the government for destruction

In order to understand the full context of the FAA’s environmental reassessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas and its approval of Starship/Superheavy launches there, it is important to take a closer look at the entire document [pdf] that was released on June 13, 2022. While that approval will now allow SpaceX to proceed, the nature of the document shows us that this government permission has been given very reluctantly, and that there are factions in the federal bureaucracy that are working hard to lay the groundwork to block it at first opportunity.

First, what did the reassessment conclude about the impact of future heavy-lift rocket launches at Boca Chica?

In summary, the FAA concluded that SpaceX’s planned operations “would not result in significant environmental consequences.” [emphasis mine] It then proceeded to provide many pages of analysis for each of the following issues, with almost all coming to the same exact conclusion [emphasis mine]:
» Read more

FAA finally releases its environmental reassessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility

SpaceX's plan of operations at Boca Chica

After almost a half year of delays, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today released its environmental reassessment of SpaceX’s operations in Boca Chica, Texas, possibly recommending that future launches of Starship/Superheavy be allowed at that location but also leaving open the continuing ability of the federal government to block further flight tests.

The FAA determined that the Proposed Action would not result in significant environmental consequences and has issued a Mitigated Finding of No Significant Impact/Record of Decision (FONSI/ROD). … Required mitigation measures are listed throughout Chapter 3 of the final PEA [the environmental reassessment]. Should any future license or permit be issued to SpaceX to perform any aspect of the Proposed Action, the FAA will ensure that SpaceX implements these mitigation measures as conditions for licensure.

You can read the executive summary here [pdf]. The actual reassessment [referred to as the PEA] can be read here [pdf]. The key quote, on page 2 of the reassessment, is this:

The applicant has provided the FAA with a mission profile of proposed launch operations that is
analyzed in this PEA. The FAA’s Federal Action is to issue experimental permit(s) and/or a vehicle operator license to SpaceX for this mission profile, which is described in more detail in Section 2.1. If SpaceX modifies or adds operations as part of its Starship/Super Heavy program in the future, the FAA would analyze the environmental impacts of those activities in a tiered environmental document, which would summarize the issues discussed in this PEA that remain applicable (e.g., the environment around the Boca Chica launch site) and concentrate on the issues specific to the subsequent action (e.g., a mission profile involving a new landing site).

The completion of the environmental review process does not guarantee that the FAA will issue an experimental permit or vehicle operator license to SpaceX for Starship/Super Heavy launches at the launch site. [emphasis mine]

Essentially, SpaceX — after some revisions based on public comments — provided the FAA a detailed outline of its proposed operations, as summarized by the graph above (taken from the executive summary), and the FAA agreed to that program. However, this agreement by the FAA does not include any actual permits for flights or tests.

Furthermore, this recommendation by the FAA is not final. The reassessment also included in great detail a second option, dubbed the “No Action Alternative”:

Under the No Action Alternative, the FAA would not issue new experimental permits or licenses to SpaceX for any test or launch operations at the Boca Chica Launch Site. In this situation, SpaceX’s production and manufacturing that that do not require a license from the FAA or approval by any other federal agencies would continue at its existing facilities and production and manufacturing infrastructure would expand. Testing operations, including tank tests and static fire engine tests, that do not require approval by the FAA or other federal agencies would also continue at the VLA. In addition, SpaceX could conduct missions of the Starship prototype launch vehicle as authorized by the current license (LRLO 20‐119). 6 The license expires on May 27, 2023. This alternative provides the basis for comparing the environmental consequences of the Proposed Action.

Under this alternative, SpaceX operations at Boca Chica would be severely limited, and would essentially end in May ’23.

In reviewing both documents, it appears that the FAA has given SpaceX a go-ahead with this reassessment, but done so with many caveats. It will issue SpaceX its launch permits, probably on a per launch basis, each of which will require SpaceX to meet more than 130 pages of further environmental and social justice requirements. As noted in the first quote above, should SpaceX fail to meet any of those mitigation measures, future permits will be blocked.

Furthermore, the reassessment appears to have left it open for the White House to choose the “No Action Alternative.”

In either case this reassessment appears to have given any number of agencies within the federal government — including the White House — the clear ability to block SpaceX’s operations repeatedly, after each test flight.

I suspect SpaceX will immediately apply for a launch permit, and hope that political pressure will force the federal agencies to approve that permit.

NOTE: This analysis is based on a first quick review. The documents are long and purposely written to make it hard to figure out what is being proposed. More review is still required.

Update on Starship in Texas and Florida

Link here. The article goes into great detail describing the status of the Superheavy booster prototype and the Starship prototype now planned for that first orbital launch, with this comment:

While some claim FAA is the hold up for Starship plans [I wonder who], even if the FAA had approved a launch in December of last year, SpaceX likely still would not have been ready for an orbital launch.

Maybe so, but why do journalists today have to bend over backwards making believe the federal government is not a problem, or is not interfering with this private company’s operations? It clearly is a problem, and is interfering with private companies, and it is doing so more and more for political reasons. Good reporting must note this.

The report also provides details on the status of SpaceX’s Florida Starship orbital launchpad. The company only began serious construction in Florida in April, yet large sections of the launch tower as well as its foundation have already been built. The pace of construction — as well as SpaceX’s past history building the Boca Chica launchpad — suggests this launchpad could be ready before the end of the year.

Compare that with NASA’s incompetent effort to build its SLS mobile launchers. The contrast is striking.

Woman arrested for trespassing at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility

A Pittsburgh woman, Nivea Rose Parker, 20, was arrested on June 1, 2022 while trespassing at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility.

SpaceX security personnel informed deputies a woman, later identified as Parker, was roaming around the fifth floor of the High Bay #1 building. Parker claimed to be an employee of SpaceX and wanted to speak to Elon Musk, security said. [emphasis mine]

Very little additional information has been made available. However, that Parker could get so far into one building, where rockets are assembled, is quite worrisome, considering the “hate Musk” campaign that is growing on the left. These people willfully riot and bomb facilities. SpaceX must take this trespass as a warning that worst could happen if it doesn’t tighten security at all its facilities, especially Boca Chica.

FAA once again delays approval for launching Starship from Boca Chica

Capitalism in space: The FAA today announced that it is once again delaying release of its environmental reassessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas, setting a new release date only two weeks hence.

The FAA intended to release the Final PEA on May 31, 2022. The FAA now plans to release the Final PEA on June 13, 2022 to account for ongoing interagency consultations. A notice will be sent to individuals and organizations on the project distribution list when the Final PEA is available.

The previous five delays had each been month-long. This two week delay strongly suggests that the bureaucrats are getting close to a final agreement. Whether that means SpaceX will receive an approval, which is what the initial draft had suggested back in December, or be blocked, we shall have to see. A statement SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell in mid-May that the company would be ready to launch Starship by June suggests it will be an approval.

I have been predicting since December that the month-by-month delays would continue until after the November election. I will be quite happy if that prediction ends up wrong.

Environmentalists sue local Boca Chica officials for closing beaches for SpaceX

Muskhate: The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have now sued a variety of local Boca Chica government agencies for periodically closing the beaches during hazardous SpaceX operations.

The Sierra Club, the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas and non-profit Save RGV have joined together in a lawsuit against the Texas General Land Office, Texas land commissioner George P. Bush and Cameron County in Texas for closing Boca Chica Beach periodically for SpaceX operations during Starship tests, the Sierra Club stated May 5. The Boca Chica beach is near SpaceX’s Starbase facility, where it is building Starship rocket prototypes and their massive Super Heavy boosters.

“Restricting access to a public beach, as the defendants have done, violates the Texas constitution,” the Sierra Club said in a statement. None of the allegations have been proven in court, and the statement does not name SpaceX among the entities pursued in the lawsuit.

These are the same groups that have been lobbying government officials for the past few years to shut SpaceX down. They claim that a change to the state’s laws allowing these closures that was passed in 2013 violates the state’s constitution, and want the courts to agree.

Of course, we all know these organizations really have no interest in keeping the beaches open for public use. What they really want is to shut down SpaceX in Boca Chica, because that company is actually doing something exciting and innovative while bringing billions of investment capital to the Rio Grand Valley, including tens of thousands of new jobs. (The group called “Save RGV” is especially ironic and dishonest, since RGV stands for Rio Grand Valley. If their effort succeeded, they would not save RGV, but destroy it. All those jobs and billions would vanish, leaving the area as depressed and as poor as it has been now for decades.)

These groups also wish to destroy Elon Musk, because he has recently made it clear that he no longer is a knee-jerk supporter of all leftist causes.

Nor will their effort cease should they lose this case in court. They will do what environmental groups have done now for decades, find another minor legal issue and sue again, and again, and again, and again.

Part 2 of Elon Musk’s most recent tour of Starbase

Looking up from the bottom of the tower
Looking up from the bottom of the tower

Looking down from the top of the tower
Looking down from the top of the tower

Tim Dodd of Everyday Astronaut has now posted part two of his long and most recent tour of Starbase at Boca Chica with Elon Musk. This section is 33 minutes long, and takes us to the top of the new orbital launch tower that SpaceX will use to launch Starship and Superheavy, as well as eventually catch Superheavy upon its return.

Part 1 can be viewed here.

The two images to the right are screen captures from today’s tour.

I have embedded Part 2 below. It has the following interesting take-aways:

  • Musk: “At SpaceX, we specialize in converting the impossible into late.”
  • Musk and his engineers spent several minutes describing in detail how the tower’s chopsticks will work in conjunction with Superheavy as it comes down and the chopsticks grab it.
  • Musk also provided some details about the Starlink-2 satellites, explaining that it is impractical to launch them on Falcon 9, and thus Starship must become operational to fly them.
  • The tour not only stopped near the top of the tower to get a close look at the attachment points for the chopsticks, it went to the tower’s top, at 469 feet in the air, 106 feet taller than the Saturn-5 rocket.
  • In discussing how the economy is not zero sum, Musk revealed why he is at heart a conservative, and is slowly finding this out. That he still leaves out that forgotten word that makes this all possible, freedom, shows his journey is not quite complete.
  • Musk also added his thoughts on the importance of making human civilization multi-planetary. For him, it is really a question of survival.

» Read more

SpaceX seeking another $1.725 billion in investment capital

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has begun another private funding round, now asking for $1.725 billion in new investment capital.

The space venture is looking to bring in up to $1.725 billion in new capital, at a price of $70 per share, according to a company-wide email on Friday obtained by CNBC. Notably, SpaceX split its stock price 10-for-1 in February, which reduced the common stock to $56 a share – with the new valuation representing a 25% increase.

When added to past funding rounds — and including the $2.9 billion provided by NASA for turning Starship into a manned lunar lander — SpaceX will have raised approximately $12 billion total for building Starship.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, compared to what NASA has spent for its expendable SLS rocket (about $60 billion), $12 billion is chicken feed, especially because Starship will not be expendable, but entirely reusable.

If this contrast doesn’t illustrate the strength of freedom, competition, and private enterprise over government, I don’t know what does. Government, not caring about making a profit, produces a disposable rocket costing many billions, and takes two decades to do it. Private enterprise in comparison also wants a big rocket, but it also doesn’t look kindly on throwing away its investment with each launch. It instead insists the cost to build it be constrained, as well as the time to do it.

The result: Government accomplishes little and wastes a lot. Private enterprise makes it happen, and quickly for a reasonable cost.

Elon Musk gives another tour of Starbase

Tim Dodd of Everyday Astronaut has posted another 44 minute long interview with Elon Musk that took place as Musk gave him a recent tour at Boca Chica, walking around the base of the Starship and Superheavy boosters being prepared for that first orbital launch.

I have embedded the interview below. It has the following interesting take-aways:

  • In describing their decision to eliminate completely a separate attitude thrust system for Starship and instead use the fuels in the main tanks using controllable vents, Musk once again demonstrated his engineering philosophy that “the best part is no part.”
  • The company is definitely planning to test the deployment of some Starlink satellites on that first orbital test flight.
  • Musk once again emphasized that there is a high expectation that this first orbital flight will fail, but they are unbothered by this because this first ship is considered a prototype anyway that must be redesigned. Whether it completes its flight or not, the flight will tell them what needs to be done for future iterations.
  • They are aiming with Starship to reduce to cost to bring a ton to the surface of Mars from $1 billion to $100K. Musk called this improvement “insane” but entirely possible.
  • Musk also noted how the design of Starship is not like a plane, which wants to develop lift. Starship instead is designed to fall, but do so as “draggy” as possible. The goal is to shed as much velocity as possible, as soon as possible.

Dodd also notes this video is the first of a new series.
» Read more

SpaceX CEO: Starship could launch as early as June

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s CEO and president Gwynne Shotwell revealed today that Starship could be ready for its orbital test flight from Boca Chica as early as June, though government regulatory obstacles make that launch more likely three to six months from now.

It appears that the delays in getting FAA approval for launch have not been the only issues that have delayed that first launch attempt. Though SpaceX would have likely tried a launch months ago with earlier prototypes had the approval arrived as originally promised, that launch would have likely failed based on ground tests the company has been doing during the delay.

When Musk tweeted his “hopefully May” estimate, SpaceX was nowhere close to finishing the Starship – Ship 24 – that is believed to have been assigned to the orbital launch debut. However, SpaceX finally accelerated Ship 24 assembly within the last few weeks and ultimately finished stacking the upgraded Starship on May 8th. A great deal of work remains to truly complete Ship 24, but SpaceX should be ready to send it to a test stand within a week or two. Even though the testing Ship 24 will need to complete has been done before by Ship 20, making its path forward less risky than Booster 7’s, Ship 24 will debut a number of major design changes and likely needs at least two months of testing to reach a basic level of flight readiness.

A more likely launch date is probably late July at the earliest, though of course that will also depend on the government’s approval, something that presently appears difficult to get.

A quake south of Starship’s prime landing sites on Mars

The lowlands south of Starship's prime landing site
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on February 23, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Though it shows the largely featureless northern lowland plains of Mars, it is particularly interesting for two reasons.

First, according to the photo’s label this scarp/ridge is apparently near a quake detected by the seismometer placed on Mars by the lander InSight, located about a thousand miles to the southwest. Though no information of the strength of this quake is available, it is likely to have been a small and weak one, interesting mostly because it indicates some small underground instability or a recent small impact on the surface. The image favors the former, as it shows no obvious recent features of change. What it does show is one very intriguing flow feature draping the scarp. As the location is at 34 north latitude in a region where scientists have found a lot of evidence of water ice very close to the surface, the flow could very well be glacial in nature, though dismissing a lava origin would be a mistake.

The second reason this location is of interest is what lies relatively nearby, as shown in the overview map below.
» Read more

Fish & Wildlife documents now reveal its objections to SpaceX Boca Chica facility

We’re here to help you! Documents obtained by CNBC under a Freedom of Information request have revealed the specific objections of Fish & Wildlife that has helped delay the approval of the FAA’s environment reassessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility for Starship launches.

SpaceX must take steps to track and mitigate its impact on endangered species and their habitat in order to gain approvals for testing and commercial launches of its Starship Super Heavy lift-launch vehicle in Boca Chica, Texas, according to documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtained by CNBC.

The documents, released by the federal agency in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, show that recent declines in an endangered bird species, the piping plover, have already been correlated with SpaceX activity at the South Texas facility.

The documents also reveal that SpaceX is, for now at least, reducing the amount of energy it plans to generate at a utility-sized natural gas power plant on the 47.4-acre launch site there.

According to a lawyer from the radical environmentalist organization the Center for Biological Diversity who was interviewed for the article, Fish & Wildlife’s demands are not tremendously restrictive, and might actually allow the project to go forward, since they appear to only require SpaceX to “monitor affected animal populations carefully, limit construction and launch activity to specific seasons or times of day and night, and use shuttles to reduce vehicle traffic of workers on location.”

I see it differently. I think Fish & Wildlife bureaucrats are struggling to come up with reasons to block SpaceX. They know that decades of data in Florida prove that rocket launches have no negative impact on wildlife. To claim such a thing in Texas is thus not justified. They are trying to do it anyway.

Surprise! FAA delays SpaceX approval at Boca Chica another month

As I have been predicting now for months, the FAA today announced that it is once again delaying approval of its environmental reassessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility one more month, to May 31, 2022.

This is the fifth time since December that the FAA has delayed the release of the environmental assessment. When the first delay was announced in December 2021, I predicted that this stone-walling by the government will likely continue for many months, and delay the first orbital launch of Starship “until the latter half of ’22, if then.”

Since then it has become very clear that the other federal bureaucracies at NOAA and Fish & Wildlife which must sign off on the approval are hostile to Elon Musk, SpaceX, and Starship, and are acting to block this approval, with this stone-walling having the unstated support of the Biden administration. When the third delay was announced at the end of February, I predicted no approval would ever occur, that the Biden administration wants to reject the reassessment and force the issuance of a new environmental impact statement, a process that could take years. To do this before the November election however will cost votes, so the administration would instead delay the approval month by month until November.

This prediction has been dead on right, unfortunately. Expect more month-by-month delays until November, when the Biden administration will then announce — conveniently just after the election — the need for a new impact statement requiring years of study.

The one hope to stop this government intransigence will be a complete wipe-out of the Democratic Party in Congress in those November elections. A strong Republican Congress with large majorities in both houses could quickly force the Biden administration to back down on many issues, including this effort to shut SpaceX down in Texas.

SpaceX goes full speed ahead on construction of Starship launchpad in Florida

Capitalism in space: Faced with regulatory delays caused by the Biden administration that are preventing further Starship launches from Boca Chica, SpaceX has accelerated construction of a new Starship launchpad at its facility in Florida.

Compared to SpaceX’s Starbase tower assembly [in Boca Chica], Florida Starship work appears to be proceeding at a similar pace. SpaceX began assembling the fourth Florida tower section about 30 days after starting the first, while Starbase took about 25 days to reach the same point. However, SpaceX does appear to be taking a slightly different approach for Pad 39A. On top of tower section assembly, SpaceX is constructing an extra four sets of the small concrete foundations and steel frames each tower section is assembled on, implying that Starship’s Florida launch tower could be almost entirely prefabricated before SpaceX begins to combine those sections.

Meanwhile, Boca Chica remains blocked. While the FAA says it will issue approval of its environment reassessment by the end of this month, SpaceX would be foolish to believe this. It has become very clear that the Biden administration has so far allowed the federal bureaucracy free rein to obstruct SpaceX. For the company to think things will suddenly change now is to be living a fantasy. It must move forward to satisfy its investors.

Worsening the situation in Texas was the decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to suspend the permit process on a request by SpaceX to expand its Boca Chica facility. It appears SpaceX failed to provide the Corps some required information, possibility because the company sees no reason now to complete this expansion if the Biden administration is going to ban Starship launches from Texas.

Faced with this political situation, Texas governor Greg Abbott yesterday claimed he is fighting the stonewalling by the Biden administration, but provide no specifics:

“What I am going to do if Biden interferes with the ability of SpaceX to launch from Boca Chica; I am going to be working every step of the way to make sure that they are going to be able to launch from Boca Chica. We heard the vision from Mr. Patel himself about what they are working on and our job is to make sure they are able to achieve their vision. And I have worked with Elon Musk very closely with regard to Tesla and the Giga factory in Austin, Texas. And we will be working with him very closely, every step of the way in Boca Chica for the future of SpaceX. We want that future and that vision to come from Boca Chica, from Brownsville, Texas.”

Allow me to translate this political blather into plain English: “I can’t or won’t do anything, but I am now going to make a superficial claim of action so my Texas constituents won’t get angry at me.”

It appears more and more that the first orbital test flight of Starship will take place in Florida, not Texas. And if so, it will be delayed for at least another six months because of this government interference.

Update on SpaceX’s Starship/Superheavy operations at Boca Chica

Link here. Though the permitting process for launching Starship from Boca Chica is stalled or maybe even blocked, SpaceX is continuing to use this waiting time to upgrade and improve the design of both Starship and its giant booster, Superheavy, abandoning earlier prototypes for newer versions incorporating those upgrades.

[Superheavy] Booster 4 and [Star]Ship 20, having served as articles to test the ground systems and verify the major design outlines of booster and ship, have now been phased out, with Elon Musk confirming on Twitter that these wouldn’t perform the long-awaited orbital velocity test flight.

Instead, it is now expected that Booster 7 and Ship 24 will be the duo performing this duty. For that same reason, SpaceX cleared the way for Booster 7 by removing Booster 4 from the OLM on March 24.

The company has been doing tank tests and stack tests of these new prototypes at a fast pace, even as it is assembling even newer prototypes.

Breaking: Army Corp of Engineers suspends SpaceX’s Boca Chica permit process

We’re here to help you! According to this very short Bloomberg news report today, the Army Corp of Engineers has entirely suspended SpaceX’s Boca Chica permit process for expanding the facility.

The reason given is that SpaceX “failed to provide requested information.”

Though not yet confirmed, this permit appears to be separate from the environmental reassessment process being led by the FAA to approve Starship launches from Boca Chica. Instead, this appears to have an application to add an additional launchpad and other facilities to the site.

Assuming this distinction is true, then launches from Boca Chica of Starship might still be approved. The action however once again indicates the growing hostility to SpaceX within the federal bureaucracy, apparently aided and abetted by the Biden administration.

The most valuable real estate on the Moon

The most valuable real estate on the Moon
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, reduced and annotated to post here, is an oblique view of the terrain near Shackelton Crater and the Moon’s south pole, taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and released today.

Shackleton-de Gerlache ridge, about 9 miles long, is considered one of the prime landing sites for both a manned Artemis mission as well as the unmanned Nova-C lander from the commercial company Intuitive Machines. To facilitate planning, scientists have created a very detailed geomorphic map [pdf] of this region. As explained at the first link above,

Going back to time-proven traditions of the Apollo missions, geomorphic maps at a very large scale are needed to effectively guide and inform landing site selection, traverse planning, and in-situ landscape interpretation by rovers and astronauts. We assembled a geomorphic map covering a candidate landing site on the Shackleton-de Gerlache-ridge and the adjacent rim of Shackleton crater. The map was derived from one meter per pixel NAC image mosaics and five meters per pixel digital elevation models (DEM) from Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) ranging measurements.

Such geology maps guide planning and exploration, but actual images tell us what the first explorers will see. Below is a close-up overhead view of small area at the intersection of the ridge and the rim of Shackleton.
» Read more

FAA again delays decision on environmental reassessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility

Surprise, surprise! According to an FAA email sent out today, the agency has once again, for the fifth time, delayed its decision on the environmental reassessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica Starship launch site.

From the email:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is updating the release date for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) on the Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard (Permitting Dashboard) and project website. The FAA plans to issue the Final PEA on April 29th. The planned April 29, 2022 release date will allow the FAA to review the Final PEA, including responses to comments, and complete consultation and coordination with agencies at the local, State, and Federal level. All consultations must be complete before the FAA can issue the Final PEA.

This date is now listed on the FAA’s SpaceX-Starship webpage. Nor is the decision a surprise. Expect the FAA to continue this charade month-to-month until after the November election, when the Biden administration will then feel free to block SpaceX’s effort in Boca Chica completely.

NASA solicits proposals for second commercial manned lunar lander

Having received a budget boost from Congress for its manned lunar lander Artemis program, NASA yesterday announced that it is soliciting proposals from the private sector for a second lunar lander, so that the agency will not be reliant only on SpaceX’s Starship.

To bring a second entrant to market for the development of a lunar lander in parallel with SpaceX, NASA will issue a draft solicitation in the coming weeks. This upcoming activity will lay out requirements for a future development and demonstration lunar landing capability to take astronauts between orbit and the surface of the Moon. This effort is meant to maximize NASA’s support for competition and provides redundancy in services to help ensure NASA’s ability to transport astronauts to the lunar surface.

As part of this revised program, NASA also is negotiating a revision to its contract with SpaceX. It appears that this change will have SpaceX fly an additional manned mission with Starship, after which NASA would open up competition to everyone on future flights. The press release however is not entirely clear on this point.

This new competition will of course be a boon to the losers in the first manned lunar lander competition, Blue Origin and Dynetics. Both will certainly submit bids, as will others.

SpaceX switches to newer Starship and Superheavy for orbital test

Capitalism in space: According to Elon Musk, SpaceX has decided that the company will no longer use Starship prototype #20 and Superheavy prototype #4 for the rocket’s first orbital test flight.

Instead, the company will fly two more recently built and upgraded prototypes, rumored to be numbers #24 for Starship and #7 for Superheavy. The company has also decided to switch from the first generation Raptor engines to Raptor-2s.

All these changes likely explain Musk’s announcement that the first orbital launch will not happen sooner than May. The changes also further suggest that SpaceX has realized federal permission to launch from Boca Chica will be further delayed, and thus it might has well push forward in other ways as it waits for the right to launch.

I suspect that if the federal government hadn’t moved in to block operations, it would have flown prototypes 20 and 4 two months ago, just to get some data. Now such a flight seems pointless, as more advanced prototypes are now almost ready to fly.

This decision also reinforces my prediction that no orbital flights will occur out of Boca Chica before summer, and are more likely blocked through November. It also increases my expectation that the first orbital flight might not occur at all in Texas. The longer the Biden administration delays SpaceX’s operations there, the greater the chance the entire Starship/Superheavy launch program will shift to Florida.

Musk says Starship will be ready for first orbital launch in May

Capitalism in space: In a tweet yesterday Elon Musk said that Starship will be ready for first orbital launch in May, a delay of two months from his previous announcements.

“We’ll have 39 flightworthy engines built by next month, then another month to integrate, so hopefully May for orbital flight test,” Musk tweeted in response to CNBC.

While the delay could certainly be because the company needed to prepare enough Superheavy engines, I also suspect it is also because Musk now expects the FAA to not approve the environmental reassessment of Starship’s Boca Chica launch site by the end of March, as has been promised. I predict that sometime in the next few days the FAA will announce another one-month delay in that process, the fourth such delay by that federal agency.

In late-December, when the FAA announced the first delay, I predicted that the first orbital launch of Starship would not happen until the latter half of ’22. I now think that prediction was optimistic. I firmly believe the federal government, controlled by Democrats, will delay that launch until after the mid-term elections in November. It appears to me that the Biden administration wants to reject the environmental reassessment, which would block Starship flights from Boca Chica for years. It just doesn’t want to do it before November, because of the negative election consequences.

I truly hope my cynical and pessimistic analysis is utterly wrong. So far, however, my prediction has proven to be more right than wrong.

Elon Musk targets 2029 for first Starship manned mission to Mars

Capitalism in space: In a tweet today Elon Musk announced 2029 as his present target date for the first Starship manned mission to Mars.

This target date should not be considered firm, though it must be taken seriously. Musk’s past predictions tended to be optimistic, but also not unrealistic. If Starship development proceeds at the pace SpaceX is presently maintaining, this date is wholly doable.

The article at the link also said that the first Starship orbital test flight “is expected to take place within the next month.” That certainly matches with Musk’s previous statements, but ignores the bureaucratic delays from the FAA that at the moment prevent it from happening.

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