Musk gives update on Starship/Super Heavy

Capitalism in space: During a phone conversation at a conference earlier this week, SpaceX founder Elon Musk gave an update on the development of Starship/Super Heavy, intended to be the first completely reusable rocket.

He did not reveal much that isn’t already known but his broad overview is helpful for understand what is happening at the company’s development facility in Boca Chica, Texas. One detail of note:

Asked on Monday when SpaceX might perform the first orbital Starship launch and re-entry, Musk replied: “Probably next year.”

“I hope we do a lot of flights,” Musk continued. “The first ones might not work. This is uncharted territory. Nobody has ever made a fully reusable orbital rocket. So just having that at all is pretty significant.”

Musk also said that they plan to do a lot of orbital flights before upgrading the ship for humans. I think his experience with Dragon has influenced him on this score.

Another Starship/construction update at Boca Chica

Link here.

The successfully flown fifth Starship prototype has been moved back to its assembly area while the sixth is now on the launchpad being prepped for its own hop. At the same time, the buildings that will be used for all future ship assembly are going up, as well as construction of the launchpad for Super Heavy, the first stage of this giant reusable rocket.

It appears that SpaceX is going to be alternating hops between prototypes 5 and 6, while it preps prototypes 8 and 9. The use of two alternating prototypes not only speeds testing of the vehicle itself, it also speeds testing of the procedures the company will need for transporting these vehicles about, from the assembly building to the launchpad and then from the landing site back to the assembly building.

Except another hop in mere weeks of Starship prototype #6. As for Super Heavy, the article notes this:

What can be confidently assumed is SpaceX is preparing the facility groundwork for the first assembly and testing of Super Heavy by 2021.

Test programs and new vehicles will always stretch schedules. However, there remains the distinct possibility SpaceX could launch their first Super Heavy rocket before the Space Launch System (SLS – the orange one) is due to conduct her maiden launch at the end of next year. [emphasis mine]

Even if Super Heavy does not fly before SLS, I am very confident in predicting that the SpaceX rocket will fly many more times than SLS, and do it not as an expendable rocket but reused each time.

Starship fifth prototype set for first 500 foot hop

Capitalism in space: SpaceX fifth Starship prototype has passed all of its static fire tests and is now ready for its first flight, a 500 foot vertical hop.

That hop should occur within days.

I have embedded a nice video that summarizes well all of the work being done right now at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas, including the construction of large assembly buildings for both Starship and Super Heavy.
» Read more

SpaceX to raise another billion in private investment capital

Capitalism in space: SpaceX is now in the process of raising another billion dollars in private investment capital in order to fund both its Starlink and Starship projects.

Space Exploration Technologies, Elon Musk’s reusable rocket venture, is in talks to raise $1 billion in series N funding at a valuation of $44 billion, according to documents reviewed by CNBC. SpaceX plans to use the funding to make its Starlink satellite broadband service operational, and to conduct suborbital and orbital test flights of its Starship and SuperHeavy booster launch vehicle.

Up to now SpaceX has raised just under $2 billion in private capital, which they had said was devoted solely to developing Starship. The company had also said that it was developing Starlink with in-house funds. It appears that — having gotten almost 400 satellites in orbit (with many more coming) — they are now willing to seek outside help to make the Starlink system operational, because this situation allows SpaceX to negotiate the best deal with any investor.

It must also be emphasized that SpaceX is developing Starship/Super Heavy entirely from private funds, not government subsidies. This lack of government funds also means a lack of government oversight, which gives SpaceX complete freedom during development. Government oversight would only slow things down and likely prevent the company from innovating.

Instead, it is free to build the first completely reuseable rocket that also happens to be as powerful as a Saturn 5. And it will do it for less total than NASA has and will spend each year on SLS, for more than twenty years.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

Further explorations at candidate Starship Mars landing site

Beginning of Possible Glacial Unit near candidate Starship landing sites
Click for full image.

Close-up on exposed lower layer

Cool image time! Even though it appears that SpaceX has completed its first round of images of its candidate landing sites surrounding the Erebus Montes mountains in the Arcadia Planitia plains in the Martian northern lowlands, this does not mean that other planetary scientists are not asking for more images of this region, for their own scientific research.

The photograph on the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was released in the early November image download from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Uncaptioned but dubbed “Beginning of Possible Glacial Unit,” it shows what appears at first glance to be a relatively featureless area south of Erebus Montes, out in the flat plains.

A closer look suggests otherwise. For one, the full image shows darker and lighter areas. The close-up to the right, its location indicated by the white box in the wider image above, also shows several intriguing depressions that appear to be revealing a knobby lower layer. In fact, in the full image it appears that the darker areas are areas where material has covered that knobby lower layer. Where it is bright the ground resembles the floors of these depressions, knobby and complex.

I do not know why they label this the “beginning” of a glacial unit. What I do know is that the research of this region has consistently found evidence of a lot of buried ice. To quote Donna Viola of the University of Arizona noted, “I think you could dig anywhere to get your water ice.” The knobby features to me suggest a surface that is showing signs of sublimation, where the exposed ice is slowly eroding. Think of what happens to a block of ice when you spray warm water on it. As it melts it leaves behind just these kinds of strange formations.

Overview of all MRO images at Starship candidate landing site

The red box in the map on the right shows the location of this photograph relative to the other images taken for SpaceX. The white boxes are the company’s images taken for Starship. The black boxes are the images it obtained in 2017 when it was thinking of sending a Dragon capsule to Mars.

This map does not show all images taken by MRO’s high resolution camera in this area, but the coverage is very scattered, with many gaps. Over time I suspect these gaps will be filled more quickly than other northern plain regions, because the scientists know that SpaceX has an interest in this area. That interest means there is an increased chance that a mission will fly here in the relatively near future, which in turn is going to generate more scientific interest as well.

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.

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.

SpaceX seeking more investment capital

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has begun its third round of private fund-raising this year, this time seeking more than $300 million.

The latest round, filed on Monday, seeks to raise $314.2 million at a price of $214 a share, according to a document seen by CNBC. The new equity would bring SpaceX’s total 2019 fundraising to $1.33 billion once completed.

The block of this new round appears to already be funded from the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

Super Heavy/Starship construction now in SpaceX facilities in Texas and Florida

Capitalism in space: Even as it prepares for more Starhopper vertical test flights next month, SpaceX has now initiated Super Heavy/Starship construction in its facilities in both Boca Chica, Texas, and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

SpaceX is working a dual test flow for its new Super Heavy and Starship systems, with construction ongoing in Florida while Starhopper prepares to restart test operations in Texas. Two orbital Starship prototypes are now in staggered stages of production while the first Super Heavy booster is set to begin construction in the next three months. However, the focus will soon return to Starhopper, as it prepares for an incremental series of untethered test hops.

Earlier this month it came to light that SpaceX crews at Cocoa Beach in Florida were starting to assemble a second orbital Starship prototype vehicle, similar to the first of such articles that are currently located at the company’s launch and testing facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, these two builds were going to be the center of a cooperative/competitive effort between the two sites and their respective team members, in which they would share insights and lessons learned during development – although they were not required to put them to use.

There is another aspect to this that must be emphasized. Super Heavy and Starship are not rockets as we have come to think of them. They are the names for a class of vehicle, each of which is intended to fly many times. SpaceX is therefore not building the first version of a throwaway rocket, but a ship it will use over and over. Because of this, they are not going to be building many of these ships, as you would with an expendable rocket. Instead, they are going to build only a handful, like a ship company that builds luxury ocean liners.

Building two ships simultaneously thus allows them to hone the engineering more quickly and efficiently. It also means that when they are done, SpaceX will have two giant space liners for getting people and cargo into orbit, literally a small fleet that will give them redundancy and make quick flight turnarounds possible.

SpaceX raises more than a billion in investment capital

Capitalism in space: SpaceX announced this week that it has raised more than a billion dollars in investment capital.

The launch provider turned satellite operator raised $486.2 million in one round, and $535.7 million in another, the company said in May 24 filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The filings show SpaceX sold all but $18.8 million of the shares available between the two rounds. The company raised $1.022 billion in total.

It appears the money will be used to finance the construction of both Super Heavy/Starship and their Starlink satellite constellation. The article also notes that SpaceX generated $2 billion in revenues last year. All told, the company seems to be in very healthy shape financially.

Update of Starhopper testing in Texas

Link here. Nothing spectacular yet, just steady and relatively quick developments.

I did find one aspect of these events a little disturbing:

In quick order, residents of Boca Chica Village were notified via mail of imminent tests and road closures that would occur as early as this week, the week of 18 March.

The notice to residents revealed that a security checkpoint would be set up on the road leading to Boca Chica Village and that residents would have to show proof of residence in order to gain access to their homes; any passengers in those vehicles would also have to show proof of residence.

This indicates that no guests will be allowed past the security checkpoint during the coming flight test operations of Starhopper.

A hard checkpoint beyond which no access to Boca Chica Beach will be granted will be further down the road.

By what right do the authorities have the power to prevent American citizens from bringing guests to their homes? None. If I lived in this development I would fight this, hard.

First SpaceX Starship Hopper tests this week?

Capitalism in space: According to this news story on Sunday, SpaceX could attempt its first Starship Hopper tests this week.

A sheriff hand-delivered road closure notices to residents on Friday, according to a local resident. The document warned locals that SpaceX will “conduct testing” as soon as Monday, March 18.

The article also cites a flurry of tweets about the hopper that Elon Musk made on Sunday. Unfortunately, Musk’s tweets do not say anything about tests this week.

Regardless, it appears that SpaceX might actually be close to beating the schedule it announced for these tests back in November, when Musk said they were aiming for tests in June. If so, this would be a remarkable achievement, one that is almost unheard of in the aerospace launch industry.

SpaceX about to install engines on Starship hopper

Capitalism in space: Late last week SpaceX officials revealed that they are about to install the first two Raptor engines on their Starship hopper prototype being assembled at the Texas spaceport.

According to an official SpaceX statement, once Raptor is installed on Starhopper, the integrated vehicle will perform a combination of ground systems testing, propellant loading, static fire tests, and low-altitude hover demonstrations to prove out the brand new vehicle, engine, and facilities. Prior to the final months of 2018, the build site, launch pad, and prototype Starship now preparing for imminent hop tests were little more than empty dirt lots on the southern tip of the Texas coast.

…“SpaceX will conduct checkouts of the newly installed ground systems and perform a short static fire test in the days ahead,” he said. “Although the prototype is designed to perform sub-orbital flights, or hops, powered by the SpaceX Raptor engine, the vehicle will be tethered during initial testing and hops will not be visible from offsite. SpaceX will establish a safety zone perimeter in coordination with local enforcement and signage will be in place to alert the community prior to the testing.” – James Gleeson, March 8th, SpaceX

It is not clear when these first hopper tests will occur, but based on the pace that SpaceX is setting, it should not be too far into the future. Before that however they will likely need to first do some static fire tests, on the ground.

SpaceX’s new Raptor engine: The world’s most powerful?

According to a tweet by Elon Musk, SpaceX’s new Raptor rocket engine has achieved during testing a chamber pressure that exceeds that of Russia’s RD-180 engine, which for decades has held the record.

First and foremost, it’s far too early to actually crown Raptor as the new official record-holder for combustion chamber pressure. RD-180 has been reliably flying on ULA’s Atlas V rocket with chamber pressures as high ~257.5 bar (3735 psi) since the year 2000, while Raptor has been performing subscale integrated testing for roughly two years and full-scale integrated testing for less than seven days. As such, the fact that full-scale Raptor has achieved ~269 bar (3900 psi) is an almost unbelievably impressive achievement but probably shouldn’t be used to jump to any conclusions just yet.

Thanks to the 10-20% performance boost supercool liquid methane and oxygen will bring Raptor, currently stuck using propellant just barely cold enough to remain liquid, the engine performing tests could already be made to reach its design specification of 300+ bar (4350+ psi), although Musk cautioned that he wasn’t sure Raptor would be able to survive that power in its current iteration. Nevertheless, 250 bar is apparently more than enough to operate Starship and its Super Heavy booster during most regimes of flight, although maximum thrust (and thus max chamber pressures) is probably desirable for the first minute or so after launch when gravity losses are most significant. [emphasis in original]

If the Raptor meets these goals, it will make most of Musk’s dreams for Startship and Super Heavy very possible.

SpaceX test fires next generation rocket engine

Capitalism in space: This week Elon Musk tweeted pictures of the first static test firing of the first flight Raptor engine, to be used on SpaceX’s next generation rocket, the Super Heavy first stage and the Starship upper stage.

The billionaire entrepreneur also tweeted out several videos of the 3-second test, which took place at the company’s development facility in McGregor, Texas.

Starship is the 100-passenger stainless-steel vehicle SpaceX is building to take people and cargo to Mars and other distant destinations. Starship will launch atop a giant rocket SpaceX calls Super Heavy. Both of these vehicles will be reusable and Raptor-powered. Starship will sport seven of the new engines, and Super Heavy will use 31 Raptors to get off the ground.

A “hopper” prototype that SpaceX will use to test the Starship design on short flights within Earth’s atmosphere will have three Raptor engines. This hopper will debut soon, Musk has said — perhaps within the next month or so, if everything goes according to plan.

This engine appears to be the first built with the intention to actually fly, and is likely going to be used in that “hopper” prototype.

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