Eric Berger, senior space editor of Ars Technica, recently visited the SpaceX Starship assembly and test facility at Boca Chica, Texas. He was given a tour of (but not allowed to photograph inside) the huge tents, just erected in January, February, and March 2020, where work on the Starship components is underway. His report, just published, is “Inside Elon Musk’s plan to build one Starship a week—and settle Mars”, and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it outside science fiction. In fact, it reminds me of “Doc” Smith’s Skylark stories where things of astonishing scale were done by tiny teams on a breakneck schedule.
Tomorrow, SpaceX is planning to conduct what promises to be a spectacular test flight of the crew escape system for their Crew Dragon spacecraft. If successful, this should clear the launcher for the first crewed flight to the International Space Station later this year. The launch is scheduled for a four-hour launch window which opens at 13:00 UTC on 2020-01-18. At this writing, there is a 90% probability of acceptable weather for the test. Update: Saturday test scrubbed due to high winds and rough seas in the recovery area. Now re-scheduled for a six-hour launch window beginning at 13:00 UTC on Sunday, 2020-01-19.
If all goes as planned, the flight will be brief. At the moment of maximum dynamic pressure (when the combination of velocity and air density produces maximum stress on the vehicle [“max q”]), the capsule’s Super Draco thrusters should fire to carry it away from the booster, whose engines will be cut by the abort system. This is expected to occur around 84 seconds after launch.... [Read More]
In the early morning of September 29th, 2019 UTC (evening of September 28th local time in Texas, the 11th anniversary of SpaceX’s first orbital launch for a Falcon 1), SpaceX founder and Chief Engineer Elon Musk presented a perspective on the history of SpaceX and its plans for the Starship and Super Heavy reusable heavy lift launcher.
We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming. — Wernher von Braun
SpaceX is in the process of developing a completely reusable two-stage super-heavy class orbital launch vehicle called Super Heavy / Starship. This is the latest iteration in an evolving design which has previously been called the Mars Colonial Transporter, Interplanetary Transport System, and Big Falcon Rocket (BFR). The present design (which continues to evolve) specifies a payload to low Earth orbit (LEO) between 100 and 150 tonnes. This compares to the 140 tonnes to LEO of the Saturn V which was, of course, completely expendable. The Super Heavy/Starship will be, if built to the current design, the largest and most powerful rocket ever, with a lift-off thrust of 62 meganewtons (MN), compared to 35.1 MN for the Saturn V.... [Read More]
Fifty years ago, with the successful landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon, it appeared that the road to the expansion of human activity from its cradle on Earth into the immensely larger arena of the solar system was open. The infrastructure built for Project Apollo, including that in the original 1963 development plan for the Merritt Island area could support Saturn V launches every two weeks. Equipped with nuclear-powered upper stages (under active development by Project NERVA, and accommodated in plans for a Nuclear Assembly Building near the Vehicle Assembly Building), the launchers and support facilities were more than adequate to support construction of a large space station in Earth orbit, a permanently-occupied base on the Moon, exploration of near-Earth asteroids, and manned landings on Mars in the 1980s.
But this was not to be. Those envisioning this optimistic future fundamentally misunderstood the motivation for Project Apollo. It was not about, and never was about, opening the space frontier. Instead, it was a battle for prestige in the Cold War and, once won (indeed, well before the Moon landing), the budget necessary to support such an extravagant program (which threw away skyscraper-sized rockets with every launch), began to evaporate. NASA was ready to do the Buck Rogers stuff, but Washington wasn’t about to come up with the bucks to pay for it. In 1965 and 1966, the NASA budget peaked at over 4% of all federal government spending. By calendar year 1969, when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, it had already fallen to 2.31% of the federal budget, and with relatively small year to year variations, has settled at around one half of one percent of the federal budget in recent years. Apart from a small band of space enthusiasts, there is no public clamour for increasing NASA’s budget (which is consistently over-estimated by the public as a much larger fraction of federal spending than it actually receives), and there is no prospect for a political consensus emerging to fund an increase.... [Read More]
Ahhh…, those anomalies—those pesky anomalies. The worst kind of anomaly is when your spacecraft, in the process of being qualified for human spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS), goes kaboom on the ground while preparing for a static firing of its launch escape system rocket motors. You know, kaboom, like this (sorry for the poor quality video—it’s all that’s presently available; there are some nasty words on the audio track.)
Crew Dragon is off and running. (This is far more important than any of the political crap occurring now.) This is our current generation’s Apollo 11 moment, but it is more of a serial drama instead of a gigantic moment in time. We are about to keep our brave space-faring citizens out of the Soyuz. MAGA in the technical universe.
Yesterday, 2018-12-05, SpaceX successfully launched a Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral to deliver more than 2500 kg of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). The Dragon spacecraft (apart from its disposable “trunk” section) was previously flown on the CRS-10 mission to the ISS in February 2017. The Falcon 9 booster was new, on its first flight. Here is a video of the launch, starting at 15 seconds before liftoff through deployment of the Dragon’s solar panels.
The first launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is currently scheduled for Tuesday, 2018-02-06, with a two and a half hour launch window which opens at 18:30 UTC and closes at 21:00 UTC (since this is a test flight which need not enter a precise orbit, the launch time is not critical). If the launch is postponed, the same launch window will be used on successive days, subject to availability of the range. The Sunday weather forecast predicts 80% probability of favourable conditions for launch during the Tuesday window.... [Read More]
Early Monday, January 8th, at 01:00 UTC (20:00 EST on January 7th at the launch site in Florida), SpaceX launched a spacecraft identified only as “Zuma”. This mission has been a mystery since word of it first became public, and the mystery appears to have just deepened even more.
In October 2017, SpaceX filed paperwork with the Federal Communications Commission requesting permission for a “Mission 1390”. This was unusual, as no mission for the range of dates requested appeared on the SpaceX mission manifest statement. A few days later, several sources reported that the flight would launch a payload built by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. government. A Northrop Grumman spokesman confirmed this, but said nothing further about the payload or its government customer. This is already unusual: classified payloads launched by the Air Force or the National Reconnaissance Office are usually identified by at least the name of the contracting agency. All that is known about this payload is that the customer is an unnamed part of the U.S. government.... [Read More]