Mars Starship Update from SpaceX

Starship Lunar Base
(Photo Credit: SpaceX)

Last week, Elon Musk gave a presentation on the state of the Starship project, standing directly in front of a beautiful, soon to be functional full scale prototype of the ship itself, from their Boca Chica facility. The video below is entirely worth a watch, and the Q&A portion is actually much more illuminating and detailed than the main presentation so be sure to stick around for that portion as well.

SpaceX continues to do incredible work on a schedule to boggle the mind. The voices which are sometimes pitched against them, out of ignorance, confusion or disbelief, are growing ever quieter as it becomes clear that “space is hard” is no longer a viable excuse for mediocre performance, embarrassing budget over-runs, and 50 year old disposable technology.

The next 6 months are sure to be incredibly important for SpaceX, and arguably mankind depending on your level of agreement with their philosophy. Not only should the crew dragon program begin launching actual humans to the Space Station, but we will likely see the first sub-orbital tests of Starship, with the Super Heavy booster soon to follow. Elon reminded everyone that the window for the light of consciousness on this planet to leave for the stars took 4.5 billion years to open, and it won’t be open for long so we have a responsibility to seize the moment. He also mentioned that they will commence building a fleet of ships as fast as they can. I often speculate about what he knows, that we do not! At least, one can have faith that if there is any way possible to save conscious thought, he’s the one most likely to succeed at that mission.

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SpaceX Starhopper Test Flight Paves Mars Superhighway

Starhopper
(Image Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX is at it again, this time with a successful second ‘hop test’ of their Starhopper prototype craft. This rather glib name doesn’t do justice to the astonishing spectacle which was the completely perfect 57 second flight of their ‘water tower’ shaped demo craft. Using a single super powerful new Raptor engine, the craft lifted off to a height of 500′, then maneuvered smoothly sideways another 150′ using almost entirely the thrust vector from that single engine as it was precisely adjusted and pivoted. During this entire portion of the flight, a beautiful mach diamond in the supersonic exhaust plume is visible coming from the engine – be sure to watch the embedded video below. As a finale, in a move we have come to expect from them, Starhopper touched down gently on a nearby landing pad, precisely in the middle of the tidy target area.

What’s the big deal, you may ask? This flight:

  • Demonstrated the thrust vector control capability of the Raptor engine
  • Was the first significant flight of a liquid methane powered rocket
  • Continued to diminish fears of launch failures through its perfection
  • Brought attention of politicians, who are taking notice of the money this work brings to districts
  • Further encouraged NASA to issue notices that upcoming flights should not be entirely reliant on the SLS.

Perhaps the most exciting part of all this, however, is the extremely strong step this test takes on the path to Mars. The Starship program of SpaceX is their bid to affordably transport tons and tons of material to the Red Planet, and eventually humans as well. The incredible success they have had developing this new technology from whole cloth, on a razor thin budget and on timetables that boggle the mind of ‘old space’ gives us all reason to hope that they (he) may actually be able to pull it off! And on a timescale that the author may actually get to see.

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Lightsail 2, Mission Success!

Lightsail 2 Deploys over Earth
(Image Credit: The Planetary Society)

The good folks over at The Planetary Society have been engaged in some monumental citizen science, having recently launched their solar sail experimental demo craft on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy on June 25th 2019. After reaching the target orbit, and running several days of status checks, the boxing ring sized solar sail was successfully deployed on July 23rd! What is more important still is that on July 31st the sail achieved the goal of raising the orbit of the craft using only the power of the photons impacting upon it, thereby proving the effectiveness of solar sailing for the first time in history.

It makes me tremendously happy to see Bill Nye continuing to do important work, and to try so hard to be the science advocate that society needs. I hope he keeps up the good fight, and now that the cost barriers to these sorts of scientific achievements are getting lower by the month, we should be seeing more excellent crowd funded work from both his organization, as well as others around the world. An excellent bit of forward motion and positive news for a change!

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SpaceX Falcon Heavy Milestone Launch 6/24/2019

Falcon Heavy Launch 6/24/2019
(Image Credit: SpaceX )

Set your kronoforms folks, because the next SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch is on the books for Monday, the 24th of June at 11:30pm Eastern. As always, there is no such thing as a ‘regular’ launch that doesn’t also have a lot of side-stories and goals to accomplish. Even though SpaceX has started to make this all look easy, they are accomplishing so much with every single launch it’s important to keep that in mind always!

This time around, they will be lofting 24 small government and academic satellites into orbit during what is codenamed the STP-2 mission, for the US Air Force. The launch, however, is more about certifying the use of previously-flown boosters for USAF missions which is a big deal. Those brand new to the spaceflight field may already take booster reuse as a given, but the idea that we are now far enough along with that technology that it is getting certified by the biggest of big government shows how important and recognized it has become. In many ways, this will further solidify that any launch system which is not reusable is simply not to be considered viable in the near future.

The upper stage, which houses and deploys the satellites, will itself be performing a grueling set of maneuvers requiring “four separate upper-stage engine burns, three separate deployment orbits, a final propulsive passivation maneuver, and a total mission duration of over six hours.” (teslarati). This will serve to further validate the capabilities of the launch system in the eyes of the USAF.

Because SpaceX is never content to just accomplish one extraordinary goal with their launch, they have also just announced that the center core booster will now be landing on Of Course I Still Love You at a distance of over 1240km out in the Atlantic ocean, instead of a modest 40km from shore which is more typical. OCISLY is being towed out there even now by tugboat Hollywood (Current Position Report), given the extreme distance. This will be an extremely risky and challenging recovery, and this distance breaks the previous SpaceX record for drone ship landing by over 30%.

This is such an important mission for SpaceX, they have a whole website all about it! Be sure to go there for more incredible info on the launch, the various items in the payload, and the hardware we all love. Of course watch the webcast if you can. A Falcon Heavy launch should be appreciated as the incredible breakthrough it is, every time.

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SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 Mission! Saturday March 2, 2:49am Eastern

Ripley, aboard the Dragon
(Image Credit: Elon Musk)

The time has finally come for SpaceX to fly their crew-ready Dragon capsule on the first Demo mission for their client, NASA! This tremendously important milestone marks start of the next important phase in the effort to return American capacity for human spaceflight, which has been lost since the end of the shuttle program in 2011.

It was several years after the end of the famous shuttle missions that NASA realized the way forward would very likely be with private enterprise, and wisely awarded two contracts, to Boeing and SpaceX, for them to develop crew-rated craft and systems to safely bring astronauts to the ISS and return them safely to Earth. Of course, NASA has a long history of human space travel, and some very reasonable associated rules, regulations and certifications that must be achieved in order to qualify a vehicle for that task. Saturday’s flight will be a critical next step in that certification process, and if all goes well, it may result in a crew mission taking place in July of this year (though more likely closer to December).

While this mission will not have any humans aboard the craft, it will feature a mannequin in the stylish SpaceX flight suit, bristling with sensors to capture as much information as possible about the experience of the flight. The name of this figure? Ripley. Nice.

Flight Time: Liftoff is set for 2:49 a.m. EST (0749 GMT)
Flight Location: NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, from historic Pad 39A (Apollo missions, and final Shuttle flight were launched from this pad as well)
Booster Recovery: on the autonomous robotic droneship Of Course I Still Love You

Webcast!

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SpaceX Launch Feb 21, 8:45pm Eastern, Featuring Lunar Lander

Beresheet Lunar Lander
(Image Credit: SpaceIL)

Affordable spaceflight is enabling a new golden age of mankind going to the stars. This has been possible in tremendous part due to the extremely important innovation by SpaceX of reusable boosters which can land after launch, as we all know. As if this was not enough, a newly emerging trend in the launches we have been seeing is that of rideshare, where multiple companies launch their projects on a single flight, thereby further reducing the cost to each organization.

Tonight, SpaceX has a launch planned on of one of their workhorse Falcon 9 boosters, and this will be the third flight for this proven craft. Previously it flew the Iridium-7 mission in July 2018 and the SAOCOM 1A mission in October. This mission will feature three payloads, arguably the most exciting of which being an Israeli lunar lander! The Beresheet robotic lunar lander is a joint project between SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, and if successful will make Israel only the 4th country ever to land on the moon – ranking them among China, Russia and the United States. After the successful launch today, the craft will undergo an 8 week journey before landing on the lunar surface. In Hebrew, ‘beresheet’ means ‘in the beginning’.

The other payload on this ride share launch consists of the PSN-6 communication satellite from the Indonesian company PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara as well as a U.S. Air Force satellite code named S5, intended to assist with identifying orbital debris which is an increasing problem.

The launch is scheduled for 8:45pm Eastern time, February 21st, from Cape Canaveral Air Force station (SLC-40), with a planned booster recovery on everyone’s favorite autonomous robotic droneship, Of Course I Still Love You!

You will be able to watch the launch live via the regular SpaceX production (embedded below) or on the SpaceIL Facebook page!

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SpaceX – Starting That New Year Right!

SpaceX - Iridium-8 Launch

(Image Credit: Iridium Communications)

After a little hiatus around the holidays – always a packed time – the Gazette is back to bring you space news and 4th planetary highlights to help you make your colonization plans! This post doesn’t come to you with very much time to spare, but SpaceX is at it again, this time with their first launch of 2019 nearly upon us! It’s another landmark flight for the disruptive upstart company, as it will mark the 8th and final launch of this important contract to place 75 Iridium NEXT satellites (numbers 66-75 on this round) into orbit.

The booster is B1049.2, which previously hefted the Telstar VANTAGE satellite into geostationary orbit and then executed a perfect touchdown landing on Of Course I Still Love You. The launch is planned for:

January 11th at 10:31am Eastern time / 7:31am Pacific

from Vandenberg Air Force Base, pad SLC-4E, with recovery planned by autonomous drone ship Just Read the Instructions.

So – set your alarms, and get ready for the first of many amazing launches for this new year!

Check out the Press Kit for more details about tomorrow’s planned launch, and of course the excellent mission patch!

And Iridium apparently put together a Launch Soundtrack – enjoy!

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Two SpaceX Launches Incoming!

Falcon 9 Upcoming Launches
(Image Credit: SpaceX)

After a handful of weeks without a launch, SpaceX comes roaring back (as they are wont to do!) with a pair of launches in quick succession, from opposite sides of our fair country. The first of the series is slated for Thursday, November 15th at 3:46pm from the historic pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The payload of this first launch is Qatar’s Es’hail 2 satellite, which is designed to improve television service across the Middle East as well as supply amateur radio capabilities for Brazil and India. The block 5 booster B1047 which is powering this launch is slated for landing on the Autonomous Drone Ship Of Course I Still Love You, which is in the Atlantic poised and ready for action.

Not to be outdone by themselves, SpaceX has another launch scheduled on November 19th from Vandenberg at their new SLC-4E pad. This launch, dubbed the SSO-A mission, will be remarkable, as it will be the first time in history that a rocket has been reused three times! The booster B1046 will carry what is being called a ‘rideshare mission’ into orbit, deploying more than 50 satellites from at least 17 countries. Included in the pile of technology are two SkySat high-resolution Earth Imaging devices, a middle school science project, the German Eu:CROPIS satellite designed to investigate crop growth in alternate gravity situations, ITASAT-1 from Brazilian Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica and plenty more! While SpaceX was recently certified to re-land rockets at Vandenberg, a range conflict this time around means that they will likely rely on Just Read the Instructions, which is being made ready to depart port and get into position for another flawless booster recovery at sea.

Check out the exhaustive and impressive list of rideshare equipment over at NASA Spaceflight.com! And enjoy these upcoming two launches!

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SpaceX SAOCOM-1A Launch – October 6th 10:22pm EST

SpaceX SAOCOM-1A
(Image Credit: CONAE)

The SpaceX launch schedule has been a real thing of mystery this year, setting re-usability and turn-around records earlier this summer, and having a bit of a dry spell lately. Well never fear, because you can be sure that Shotwell and the whole crew at everyone’s favorite commercial launch megagiant is busy planning and prepping for the rest of the domination of that 60 year old industry, in short order!

Coming up next we have the launch of the relatively light weight SAOCOM-1A (about 1600 kg) from the West coast at Vandenberg. The device name is an acronym of Satélite Argentino de Observación Con Microondas, and is managed by the Argentine Space Agency CONAE. The device has a L-band (about 1.275 GHz) full polarimetric Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and it’s main mission, in collaboration with the Italian Space Agency, is to assist with emergency management of natural disasters.

There’s usually something cool or special about a SpaceX launch, and this time around it is the planned RTLS (Return To Launch Site) landing of the booster at the newly completed California Landing Zone, a pad only 1400 feet from the SLC-4 launch area. This will be a reused Block 5 booster, which we hope goes 2-for-2 with hardly a second thought. Onward to double digits!

So get excited for an on-shore landing – next time the drone ship Just Read the Instructions may get some more use!

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NASA ADEPT Folding Heat Shield for Mars

NASA ADEPT Folding Heat Shield for Mars
(Image Credit: NASA)

The good folks at NASA have conducted the first flight test of a new foldable heat shield on September 12th, with great success. This new concept is touted as a transformative technology that will enable larger and lighter ships to perform more advanced missions, not the least of which will be both cargo and crew missions to Mars with an enhanced ability to survive the rigors of reentry using a vastly slimmed down system. Any time you can save weight on a spacecraft, that savings can be redistributed to more critical areas, namely additional cargo and scientific apparatus (and pizza ovens).

Called the Adaptive Deployable Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT), a backronym worthy of Gary Busey, it consists of a 3D-woven carbon fibers arranged in a thick layer, formed on top of a structure which can flex and deploy the shield. This is in contrast to the traditional rigid, heavy, difficult to construct plastic shielding which has been used for decades. It’s this sort of novel and creative thinking which will allow us to accomplish more important and ambitious flight objectives, and is another great sign that key decision makers are aligned correctly to move us forward.

You can check out a video of the heat shield here!

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