Tag Archives: Starship

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 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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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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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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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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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 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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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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The salty liquid water on Mars

Map of seasonal salty liquid water on Mars
Click for full unannotated image.

The map above, reduced and annotated by me, comes from a new science paper that has attempted to model where on Mars we might find liquid very salty water, based on the planet’s known temperature and make-up. From the press release:

The team of researchers used laboratory measurements of Mars-relevant salts along with Martian climate information from both planetary models and spacecraft measurements. They developed a model to predict where, when, and for how long brines are stable on the surface and shallow subsurface of Mars. They found that brine formation from some salts can lead to liquid water over 40% of the Martian surface but only seasonally, during 2% of the Martian year.

“In our work, we show that the highest temperature a stable brine will experience on Mars is -48°C (-55° F). This is well below the lowest temperature we know life can tolerate,” says Dr. Rivera-Valentín. “For many years we have worried about contaminating Mars with terrestrial life as we have sent spacecraft to explore its surface. These new results reduce some of the risk of exploring Mars,” noted Dr. Alejandro Soto at the Southwest Research Institute and co-author of the study. [emphasis mine]

I have added a red rectangle to the map, showing the candidate landing zone for SpaceX’s Starship. This paper illustrates again that this choice is a good one. We know from other research that there is a lot of ice very close to the surface here. This research indicates that for a little less than one percent of each year, some of that ice will turn to liquid brine.

Whether it will be easier to process the ice or the brine into drinkable water remains unknown. This location however will give future colonists that option.

That this model also suggests that there is little risk of contaminating Mars accidently with terrestrial life is really not a surprise. All the research of Mars for decades has found that it is inhospitable to terrestrial life. This data however is further confirmation, and tells us once again that worrying about contaminating the planet is a irrelevancy. For scientific reasons some precautions should be taken, but to spend a lot of time and money sterilizing the spacecraft we send there will be a fool’s errand. For humans to settle Mars will require a very very high level of engineering and adaptation, something we humans are very naturally good at, but something that shouldn’t be burdened with unnecessary tasks or restrictions.

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A relaxed crater on Mars

A relaxed crater on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, shows what the science team for the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) call a “Relaxed Crater.” This particular image was taken in July 2014. A more recent photo was taken in March 2020 to create a stereo pair, but because this older image shows more of the crater I decided to highlight it.

The crater is considered relaxed because it is very shallow and appears as if, after impact, some process caused the interior to in-fill with material even as the rim became less pronounced and degraded (as explained in this paper [pdf]). The process could have involved either molten magma or melted ice. As this crater is located in the northern highlands to the southwest of Erebus Mountains, in a region that research has consistently suggested has a great deal of ice just below the surface, the latter seems likely. This assumption is further reinforced in that the crater is also located in the mid-latitudes where scientists have found a lot of craters they think are filled with buried glaciers. This certainly seems the case here.
» Read more

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Successful static fire Raptor engine test on 4th Starship prototype

Capitalism in space: SpaceX yesterday successfully completed the first static fire Raptor engine test on its fourth Starship prototype, laying the foundation for a planned 150-meter vertical hop later this month.

The test lasted about three seconds.

I want to make a quick comparison between SpaceX’s approach for developing Starship, and NASA’s development of SLS. The differences are stark.

First, SpaceX began cutting metal a little over one year ago, and is already testing a full scale prototype, fully fueled, with its planned flight engine.

SLS began development officially around 2011. It uses the engines from the Space Shuttle, so those are already flight proven. However, even after almost a decade of development NASA as yet to do a single static fire test with those engines actually installed on an SLS rocket, either a prototype or the real thing.

Second, in the past year SpaceX has been aggressively testing the fueling of Starship, using a series of prototypes. With this fourth iteration they have apparently gotten the fueling process and the tanks to work effectively. Further tests of course will increase their confidence in the system’s reliability.

SLS, even after almost a decade of development, has yet to do any similar tank tests. Instead, NASA has done separate individual tests of the rocket’s tanks, but never with everything fully assembled. The agency, and its lead contractor Boeing, hope to finally do their first full scale SLS tank test and static fire test sometime later this year. As they have never filled the tanks in this manner before, they have admitted that problems could arise, including the possibility that the tanks could leak.

Note the big difference. SpaceX has done this testing very early in development. NASA is doing it very late in development. Which to you seems the better approach?

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Funding breakdown for three lunar landing contracts

Capitalism in space: The contracts awarded by NASA yesterday to build manned lunar landers totaled almost a billion dollars, distributed as follows:

  • Blue Origin: $579 million
  • Dynetics: $253 million
  • SpaceX: $135 million

That Blue Origin got the biggest amount might have to do with the bid’s subcontractors, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. This gives these traditional big space partners, who normally rely on these kinds of government contracts and have little ability to make money outside them, some financing. This will also please their political backers in Congress.

For SpaceX, this is the first time they have taken any government money in connection with Starship. It also appears that NASA is going to stay back and generally let SpaceX develop it without undue interference.

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4th Starship prototype passes tank pressure test

Capitlism in space: SpaceX’s fourth Starship prototype has successfully passed a tank pressure test, the first to do so, allowing engine testing to now begin.

In the end, SN4 passed the cryogenic proof test – hitting 4.9 bar. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk admitted in a tweet that this was “kind of a soft ball…” However, “that’s enough to fly,” he added. It is now expected to move on to engine testing within the coming days.

Currently, SpaceX has three flight-ready Raptor engines waiting for the opportunity to participate in the testing. One of these engines will be installed on SN4. A Raptor engine is not installed until after the cryogenic proof test, as that test uses hydraulic pistons to simulate the forces created by Raptors during flight.

After SpaceX performs the Raptor installation on SN4, teams will need to conduct checkouts of the engine on the vehicle. These will include gimbal, ignitor, and fuel pre-burner tests, among others. Only then will SpaceX be ready to attempt a static fire. April 29 was originally the target for a static fire test, but a one day delay with the cryogenic proof test means that the static fire is now likely targeting no earlier than April 30

All in all, the company’s target of doing a hop with this prototype this summer appears increasingly likely.

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SpaceX rolls out next Starship prototype

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has completed construction of its next Starship prototype and has moved it to its test stand in preparation for further tests.

This is the fourth prototype. If the tank pressure tests go well, they hope to add engines and do a twelve mile hop with this prototype, landing vertically. If not, they will try again with later prototypes. Regardless, the goal is to do that hop this year.

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SpaceX reuses sections of damaged Starship prototype for next version

Capitalism in space: In building its fourth Starship prototype for testing, SpaceX has decided to reuse large sections of the previous Starship prototype, badly damaged during a pressure test several weeks ago.

On April 15th, eight days after Starship SN3’s [the damaged third prototype] remaining aft section was cut in half, the rearmost half – known as the skirt – was spotted stacked beneath a brand new engine section built for SN4. While confirming that a significant part of SN3 will be reused on SN4, it also indicates that only a less critical SN3 remnant was fit to join SpaceX’s next prototype.

Though they are not reusing the engines from that third prototype, I have full confidence they will, as they were part of the same bottom section of that prototype that was damaged during the test. This statement is incorrect. I had mistakenly assumed that because SpaceX had said it planned actual test hops eventually with this third prototype that three engines were already in place. They were not.

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Third Starship prototype collapses during tank pressure test

During the final part of a tank pressure test the third SpaceX Starship prototype apparently collapsed, its outer welded hull failing.

Video below the fold. The prototype is on the right, and it appears it fall inward along its hull welds.

The SN3 (Serial Number 3) vehicle incorporated lessons learned from previous vehicles and test articles, and took advantage of improved manufacturing techniques and expanded facilities at SpaceX’s South Texas launch facility.

The next round of testing began this week with cryogenic proof testing. These tests saw the vehicle filled with liquid nitrogen at cryogenic temperatures and flight pressures. Proof testing began in Thursday and continued through to Friday morning when SN3 failed during what appeared to be the end of the test.

With Elon Musk noting “we will see what data review says in the morning, but this may have been a test configuration mistake,” on Twitter and the first-look observations, the fault may have been related to detanking, rather than another failure under pressure.

I’m no engineer, so I wonder how detanking could cause such a failure.
» Read more

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SpaceX prepares next Starship prototype; releases Starship user manual

From SpaceX's first user manual for Starship

Capitalism in space: Even as SpaceX has begun preparing its third Starship prototype for new testing, it has also released a first user manual for the rocket, outlining its proposed capabilities and potential uses by customers.

From the first link:

The next round of testing is anticipated to begin this week with cryogenic proof testing. These tests will see the vehicle filled with liquid nitrogen at cryogenic temperatures and flight pressures. Prior Starship test vehicles have had their campaigns cut short by failed cryogenic testing, including the last flight vehicle SpaceX rolled to the Boca Chica launch pad, Starship SN1.

If all goes right, they hope to begin short flight tests with this prototype, moving to longer and higher flights with the next.

The user manual [pdf] is mostly a short description of what they hope they will be able to accomplish with Starship. It notes that they will build both a cargo and manned variety, and that both will be available for point-to-point transportation on Earth. It also notes:

Starship has the capability to transport satellites, payloads, crew, and cargo to a variety of orbits and
Earth, Lunar, or Martian landing sites. Potential Starship customers can use this guide as a resource for preliminary payload accommodations information.This is the initial release of the Starship Users Guide and it will be updated frequently in response to customer feedback.

I guarantee that much of what is written and drawn here, such as the illustration above, will change significantly as development proceeds.

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More Boca Chica residents move out, accepting SpaceX offers

More Boca Chica residents have accepted SpaceX purchase offers, and are finding other places to live.

While not all are thrilled with the circumstances, the article suggests that there is far more good will then unhappiness. It appears the excitement of what SpaceX is doing, and its willingness to give these residents special viewing privileges in the future, has done wonders to ease the pain for many of them for having to sell their homes.

It has also produced youtube channels providing 24 hour live streams of SpaceX operations.

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SpaceX raises $500 million for Starship, twice the amount planned

Capitalism in space: In a just completed fund-raising round, SpaceX raised twice the investment capital proposed, $500 million instead of $250 million.

These funds are in addition to the $1.33 billion raised previously. And according to the SpaceX official in charge of their Starlink satellite constellation, most of this money is not for Starlink:

While SpaceX expects it will cost about $10 billion or more to build the Starlink network, [vice president Jonathan] Hofeller said the company’s fundraising so far has largely not been directed to the Starlink division, as “we’ve been able to fund the development of Starlink primarily from our internal businesses.” He declared the company is in a “different position” in how it raises funds compared to other companies that are building satellite networks. “That’s why, in general, we’ve been very quiet about what we’re doing because we don’t need to go out and raise money for this particular venture,” Hofeller said.

This means the $1.83 billion raised is almost certainly all for developing Starship/Super Heavy.

Can SpaceX build this new heavy lift completely reusable rocket for that price? Considering that it cost them $500 million to develop Falcon Heavy, and that much of the engineering work from that will be applicable for the new rocket, I am willing to bet that they can.

My prediction is further reinforced by the company’s recent activities testing Starship’s tanks at Boca Chica, Texas. Only two weeks after a test to failure (resulting in some spectacular fireworks), the company has apparently successfully completed new tank tests on the next prototype.

In other words, they blew up a prototype, were able to clean up the mess, redesign what failed, and test it successfully, in only two weeks. To say such a pace would be impossible for NASA and its big space contractors like Boeing is probably the biggest understatement I’ve ever made.

This success should not make anyone think that the challenge of building Starship/Super Heavy will be easy or fast. This effort will be cutting edge engineering that in many ways will be beyond that edge. SpaceX is guaranteed to have further test failures along the way. Their pace, management approach, and track record however shows that the company knows how to deal with such issues, and will thus be able to proceed to completion.

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Explosion during static fire test of SpaceX’s Starship-SN1 prototype

Capitalism in space: It appears that about two seconds into a static fire engine test tonight of SpaceX’s Starship-SN1 prototype, something went wrong, there was an explosion, the prototype suddenly lifted into the air and then crashed to the ground in a bigger explosion.

The video below shows the event three times. We shall have to await word from SpaceX as to what happened. So far it appears that no one was hurt.

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Starship moved to launch site

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Starship-SN1 prototype has been transported to its launch site at Boca Chica in preparation for a series of tests prior to its first launch hop, hopefully to a height of 12 miles.

Whether SN01 is still destined for flight, it’s safe to say that Starship SN01 tank testing could begin in a matter of days — SpaceX currently has early-morning roadblocks indicative of such testing scheduled from February 29th to March 2nd. SpaceX is likely to kick off by filling SN01 with water to check its tanks for leaks, followed by liquid nitrogen – chemically neutral but still incredibly cold. After that, SN01 would likely graduate to Raptor engine installation and a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) with liquid oxygen and methane before moving on to a static fire attempt, if all goes well.

I have embedded below the fold a fifteen minute video showing the transport operation. The pace is slow, so I suggest playing it at 2x normal speed, using the settings.

My immediate thought in watching this video is that SpaceX’s mobile transport vehicle certainly cost far less than the two mobile launchers NASA built for SLS (for a cost of about a billion dollars). In fact, SpaceX’s entire Starship development program will likely cost less than what NASA spent on just its mobile launchers.

» Read more

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SpaceX gets approval for Starship/Super Heavy factory in LA

Capitalism in space: Having abandoned plans to build its Starship/Super Heavy rocket factory at the Port of Los Angeles in 2019, SpaceX has changed its mind and now gotten approval for the factory from the LA City Council.

First announced in March 2018 and abandoned for about a year beginning in March 2019, SpaceX has refreshed plans to build giant rocket parts in a California port, simplifying aspects of the original proposal and relying heavily on the fact that steel is far easier to handle than carbon fiber. Now, the company wants to refurbish and repurpose a number of old abandoned buildings already present at Port of LA Berth 240, effectively replicating a somewhat smaller version of the Starship production facilities SpaceX is in the middle of building in South Texas.

With Los Angeles Harbor Commission and City Council approvals both safely in hand, SpaceX’s Port of LA Starship is now officially a question of “when”, not “if”. When the concept first popped back into the public discourse late last month, it came alongside a report from CNBC reporter Michael Sheetz that SpaceX wanted to start building Starship parts as few as 90 days after it reapproached Port officials.

The speed in which SpaceX is moving here is very typical for the company. Bodes well for real test flights both this year and next.

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SpaceX begins assembling its next Starship test prototype

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has begun the assembly in Boca Chica of its next Starship test prototype, with a targeted launch date in April.

That first test flight is expected to be a 12-mile-high hop, using three Raptor engines.

Do not be surprised if that launch is delays by a few months. At the same time, do not be surprised if it occurs before the summer.

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A bullseye on Mars

Bullseye crater on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo on the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on November 30, 2019. It shows a lone crater on the flat northern lowlands of Mars in a region dubbed Arcadia Planitia.

The crater is intriguing because of its concentric ridges and central pit. As this region is known to have a great deal of subsurface water ice, close to the surface, these features were probably caused at impact. My guess is that the ice quickly melted, formed the kind circular ripples you see when you toss a pebble in a pond, but then quickly refroze again, in place.

This location is also of interest in that is it just north of the region that SpaceX considers the prime candidate landing site for its Starship manned spaceship.

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SpaceX’s next Starship test flight will go almost eight miles high

Capitalism in space: In its licensing request to the FCC SpaceX has revealed that its next Starship test flight, set to take off sometime between March and September of this year, will take off and land in its space facility in Boca Chica, Texas, and go almost eight miles high.

The filing also indicates the test could possibly go as high as twelve miles.

In related news, the company has announced a job fair this week, aimed at hiring people to work on Starship at Boca Chica. Want to help build the first totally reusable rocket? Here’s your chance.

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SpaceX wins first new launch contract in 2020

Capitalism in space:The Egyptian communcications satellite company Nilsat this week announced that it has awarded SpaceX the launch contract for its next satellite.

This was SpaceX’s first contract award in 2020.

The article goes into great detail about SpaceX’s present launch manifest, which according to the company has contracts for future launches equaling $12 billion.

Based on public info, SpaceX has roughly 55 customer launches on its manifest. The company also intends to launch as many as 24 dedicated Starlink missions this year and will need at least another 40-50 on top of that to complete the first phase of the broadband internet satellite constellation (~4400 spacecraft). Meanwhile, SpaceX has won at least nine separate launch contracts – two Falcon Heavy missions and seven Falcon 9s – in the last 18 months, but has launched 22 customer payloads in the same period.

In fewer words, SpaceX is effectively launching its existing commercial missions much faster than it’s receiving new contracts. In 2019, for example, the company launched only 11 commercial missions – 13 total including two internal 60-satellite Starlink launches. SpaceX launched 21 times in 2018, a record the company initially hoped to equal or even beat last year, but – for the first time ever – the launch company was consistently ready before its customers were.

It appears SpaceX intends to pick up any slack in launch contracts with Starlink satellite launches, which once in orbit are another major income source for the company.

Overall, it seems to me that SpaceX is quite awash with capital, which reinforces their decision to not take government money to develop Starship. Using their own capital they are free to build as they see fit, with no one from the government who knows less than they do looking over their shoulder and kibitzing.

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