This roundup provides a sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here). Part 2 here focuses on SpaceX while Part 1 reports on activities and news of other space transportation companies and organizations around the world.
There were no Starship prototype flights since the last roundup on May 18th but a tremendous amount of activity continued at SpaceX regardless. The Starship section below describes the action in Boca Chica Beach. We start, though, with a look at Falcon 9 and non-Starship related activities:
- Launch/Landing: A rapid F9 mission rate continued up till a pause in July due to a scheduled pause for launches to allow KSC/Cape Canaveral to carry out annual maintenance. There have been 20 F9 launches so far this year. Only one of the 20 booster landings failed.
- Reuse of F9 boosters has reached as many as 10 flights. The max number could reach significantly more than that according to Elon Musk. So far, SpaceX has detected no need for retirement, or even major refurbishment, of boosters after 10 missions, which was the original target for the number of reuses with minimal refurbishment between flights.
- Starlink constellation reached the initial operational size of nearly 1600 active satellites with the Starlink 28 v1.0 mission. Once all the satellites reach their final target orbits, uninterrupted global service between the polar circles will be available.
- New customized droneship goes operational for landings on the Atlantic and a droneship arrives on the West Coast. Starlink launches into polar orbit will start this summer from Vandenberg AFB and a droneship is needed to provide for booster landings.
- CRS-22 Cargo Dragon launched, docked, departed, and landed safely.
- Crew-2 Dragon remains at the ISS but was moved to a new docking port to open the target port for the Boeing Starliner, which will be launched at the end of July for an uncrewed test mission: SpaceX crew capsule relocated outside space station before Boeing mission – Spaceflight Now
** May 26 : Starlink 28 v1.0 put 60 more satellites into orbit. With this launch, the total number of satellites fills the “first shell” needed to provide global coverage between +/- 53 degrees latitude. The first stage booster previously flew once before for the Sentinel-6A mission. The booster landed successfully on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. According to SpaceX, “One half of Falcon 9’s fairing previously supported four Starlink missions, and the other previously supported a Starlink mission and the Transporter-1 mission.”
- Starlink v1.0 L28 mission completes first “shell” of satellites for worldwide coverage – NASASpaceFlight.com
- TheSpaceXFans – Starlink-28 (v1.0)
- Is SpaceX reliable? Company goes for 100th successful flight in a row today | Ars Technica
- SpaceX sets Falcon 9 fairing reuse mark with Starlink launch – SpaceNews
*** June 3: Cargo Dragon launched to the ISS and docked two days later. The CRS-22 mission involves a brand new Dragon craft (denoted as C209) and the Falcon 9 used a a brand new Falcon 9 booster (denoted as B1067). Along with supplies and science materials, the Dragon delivered two new solar arrays for the ISS.
- SpaceX Cargo Craft Docks to Station – Space Station/NASA Blogs
- SpaceX launches CRS-22, new solar arrays to International Space Station – NASASpaceFlight.com
- Science, Solar Arrays Launch on NASA’s SpaceX Cargo Mission | NASA
July 9: Cargo Dragon returns to earth following departure from the ISS on July 8th.
- Cargo Dragon splashes down to complete SpaceX CRS-22 mission – NASASpaceFlight.com
- SpaceX cargo capsule splashes down in Gulf of Mexico – Spaceflight Now
- Cargo Dragon Departs Station, Returns to Earth Friday – Space Station/NASA
*** June 6: Falcon 9 launched SirusXM Radio satellite SXM-8, built by Maxar. The first stage booster landed successfully for the 3rd time. It previously flew for SpaceX’s Crew-1 and Crew-2 missions carrying astronauts to the International Space Station. The first stage landed on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, located in the Atlantic Ocean.
- SpaceX launches 2nd mission in three days with SiriusXM-8 – NASASpaceFlight.com
- SpaceX delivers for SiriusXM with successful midnight hour launch – Spaceflight Now
- SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches SiriusXM radio broadcasting satellite – CBS News
*** June.17: Falcon 9 launches GPS satellite for USAF. This was the fiirst national security satellite to launch on reused booster. The booster landed safely on a droneship platform in the Atlantic.
- Falcon 9 launches GPS satellite in first national security mission with reused booster – SpaceNews
- Upcoming SpaceX mission a reusability milestone for national security launch – SpaceNews
** June 30: SpaceX launches Transporter-2 Rideshare mission with 88 satellites on board. The first stage landed safely back at Cape Canaveral after its 8th flight.
- SpaceX rocket hauls 88 small satellites into polar orbit – Spaceflight Now
- SpaceX sends its Transporter-2 mission into orbit – Ars Technica
- SpaceX launches second dedicated rideshare mission – SpaceNews
*** Customized droneship for F9 booster landings unveiled: The new droneship, A Shortfall of Gravitas (ASOG), will soon provide a platform for boosters landings in the Atlantic. ASOG differs significantly from the older droneships –Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) and Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) – in looks and capabilities. Most of the support equipment is protected from the rocket’s flames within dark metal casings. The landing pad is somewhat smaller. ASOG also has its own propulsion system so it doesn’t need towing to and from the recovery location. Combined with the robotic Octagrabber robot that secures the booster after it lands, the ship will eventually allow for recovery and transport to port to be controlled remotely with no need for workers to come on board.
Autonomous SpaceX droneship,
A Shortfall of Gravitas pic.twitter.com/hNZ5U7nxUg
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 9, 2021
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 9, 2021
July 9: The “Of Course I Still Love You” (OCISLY) droneship arrived on the West Coast after a long trip from Florida aboard the semi-submersible ship “Mighty Servant 1“. OCISLY will provide a landing platform for boosters launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base that cannot return to the launch site for landing.
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The primary focus of the Starship program since the successful SN15 flight on May 5th has been the construction of the orbital launch and landing facility at Boca Chica Beach plus assembly and testing of two Super Heavy Booster prototypes. The goal of all this work is to carry out an orbital test flight of a combined Starship/Super Heavy booster as soon as possible. (See the animation below of the orbital test, which would have the Starship reenter and land on the ocean near Hawaii, short of a complete orbit.)
- Booster #3: This non-flight unit was assembled and moved to the suborbital launch pad area where it was prepared for pressure and firing tests. Three Raptor engines were attached and on
- Booster #4: Stacking is underway in the High Bay building. This will be the first flight-capable Super Heavy booster.
- Starship SN20 is expected to be the first Starship prototype to do an orbital test flight. It is currently being assembled in the Mid Bay hangar.
- Raptor engine progress includes full duration firing, acceleration of assembly of new engines, and plans for a new Raptor factory at the McGregor, Texas site.
- Orbital launch tower reached its final height on July 28th with the lifting of the final segment into place. Considerable work remains to install the tower’s infrastructure of power lines, propellant piping, crane, etc.
- Orbital launch site tank farm involves several large tanks to provide propellants for the vehicle plus water to flood the area beneath the rocket blast at liftoff. The tanks are constructed in a manner similar to the Starship/Super Heavy tank bodies using nine meter diameter stainless still rings. There are also shells being built to cover the metal tanks to provide for insulation to maintain the cryogenic temperatures of the propellants. A complex network of pipes, pumps, cooling systems, etc. supports the tank farm.
- Summer target for the first orbital test launch has been a goal. However, FAA regulatory hurdles, including a possible requirement to carry out a whole new environmental impact study for Starship/Super Heavy launches from Boca Chica, could lead to a long delay and, worst case, a permanent block.
- Sea launch facilities using two converted oil drilling platforms could be ready by early 2022. If launches from the Boca Chica site suffer a lengthy delay due to regulatory issues, these platforms could become a viable alternative.
- Starship applications will extend far beyond just transporting settlers to Mars. Delivery of large bunches of Starlink satellites to orbit, space debris retrieval, orbiting of large space telescopes, etc have been mentioned recently.
Here is a diagram showing the status of development of elements of the Starship/Super Heavy booster vehicles and the related facilities:
Starbase Production Diagram – 24th July 2021 pic.twitter.com/QFvYTkKNbV
— Brendan (@_brendan_lewis) July 24, 2021
This comparison of images illustrates the dramatic rate of change at Boca Chica in the past three years:
Starbase, Tx Launch Site 3 year difference.
July 2018 to July 2021 pic.twitter.com/woXiAEVjLY
— RGV Aerial Photography (@RGVaerialphotos) July 7, 2021
Yet an even bigger hangar assembly building is coming:
Only a little taller, but much bigger base & two gantry cranes that run full span
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 26, 2021
*** A selection of Starship related tweets from Elon:
Yes, we can fly Starship around space & chomp up debris with the moving fairing door
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 3, 2021
By “volume production”, I mean 2 to 4 engines per day. That’s super high volume for big rocket engines, but low volume by automotive standards.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 10, 2021
Yes. It will be the highest output & most advanced rocket engine factory in the world.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 10, 2021
Final decision made earlier this week on booster engine count. Will be 33 at ~230 (half million lbs) sea-level thrust. All engines on booster are same, apart from deleting gimbal & thrust vector actuators for outer 20.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 11, 2021
Yeah, that would be cool. Also, using ship itself as structure for new giant telescope that’s >10X Hubble resolution. Was talking to Saul Perlmutter (who’s awesome) & he suggested wanting to do that.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 7, 2021
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 7, 2021
** Lots of Raptor engines will be needed for the 100s of StarShips (6 engines) and Super Heavy boosters (33 engines) rolling off the assembly line in the coming years. SpaceX has already produced a good sized flock of Raptors:
100th build of a Raptor engine complete pic.twitter.com/ymoJmV820Z
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 26, 2021
** USAF program studying use of Starship-class vehicles for fast global transportation. The Air Force is requesting $47.9 million in the 2022 budget for a study of “Rocket Cargo“. (The US military is starting to get really interested in Starship | Ars Technica.) Since the 1960s there have been occasional studies by the military into using suborbital rocket transports for super-fast global delivery of supplies and troops to crisis spots. The emergence of the fully reusable, vertical takeoff and landing Starship has clearly generated renewed interest in such technology, which is no longer just theoretical. From the start, SpaceX has a promoted the Starship as capable of suborbital, point-to-point transport in additional to orbital and deep space missions. This was presented in the context of civilian passenger flight services but clearly military transport is an option as well.
Although the budget request aroused major media attention in the past few weeks, the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) actually announced last fall that it was partnering with SpaceX and Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc) into looking at the feasibility of such systems: USTRANSCOM Announces the Next Frontier for Logistics – Space – United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) – Oct.7.2020
While speaking at the National Defense Transportation Association’s Fall Meeting on Oct. 7, U.S. Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, commander, U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), announced USTRANSCOM is looking to space to quickly move critical logistics during time-sensitive contingencies or to deliver humanitarian assistance, helping to project and sustain the Joint Force in support of national objectives.
Speaking at the virtual meeting from the command’s headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, on Oct. 7, Lyons told the audience about USTRANSCOM’s partnership with Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) and Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc) to explore this emerging capability of rapid transportation through space.
“Think about moving the equivalent of a C-17 payload anywhere on the globe in less than an hour,” Lyons asked the virtual audience. “Think about that speed associated with the movement of transportation of cargo and people. There is a lot of potential here and I’m really excited about the team that’s working with SpaceX on an opportunity, even perhaps, as early as 21, to be conducting a proof of principle.”
Logistics traditionally labors under the tyranny of distance and time, and global access. For example, operations in the Pacific Ocean theater may transit 10,000 miles—one way.
“For the past 75 years or so, we have been constrained to around 40,000 feet altitude and 600 miles per hour in our very fastest method of logistics delivery—airlift,” said USTRANSCOM deputy commander, U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Dee Mewbourne, who leads the command’s effort in this area.
Current space transportation is also more weight- and volume-constrained than airlift, and faces challenges in positioning, launching, and recovery operations. As industry advances to overcome these challenges as well as increase its pace of launches to decrease costs, a space transportation capability to put a crucial cargo quickly on target at considerable distances makes it an attractive alternative.
XArc described the goals of the USTRANSCOM Global Space Transportation study:
The XArc CRADA [Cooperative Research and Development Agreements] tasks are to determine global spaceport basing criteria for Point-to-Point space transportation and delivery, and assess the ground support and logistics requirements needed for integrating a spacelift capability. The research study evaluates ground support infrastructure requirements with regard to support facilities, cargo standardizations and logistics for materiel handling, mission dedicated equipment, supplies, materiel and personnel, and intermodal cargo transfer. International regulatory issues of air and space law are also addressed, as well as infrastructure security considerations.
The goal is to establish a seamless integration of air and space transport modalities to work through a variety of possible contingencies. The study considers a variety of emerging space transportation technologies in development by commercial service providers, and also considers Orbital Depots to determine viability of “space drop” supply logistics.
A press briefing on June 4th by the US indicated that the Rocket Cargo Program is a serious initiative and intended to be more than just another paper study: Yes, the military is serious about rocketing supplies around the planet | Ars Technica
It seems clear that defense leaders are eager to be an early adopter of these technologies. Officials said the Department of Defense would even consider buying initial launches at a reduced price to both support the companies’ test programs as well as to test logistics materials and procedures.
And while, initially, cargo-carrying rockets probably would land at existing spaceports or runways, that need not always be the case. One day, such urgent rocket deliveries might land anywhere on the planet, rugged terrain or not, Spanjers said. He noted that rockets, after all, have landed on the Moon.
“If they can land in those places, we’re interested in knowing to what extent we can extend that to a larger range of terrains on Earth, so that we can do immediate cargo transports to basically anywhere on the planet quickly,” he said.
- ‘Rocket Cargo’ Becomes Latest Vanguard Project To Get Priority from Air Force – Air Force Magazine
- New military program to study using huge rockets for global cargo delivery – Spaceflight Now
- Rocket Delivery Of Cargo Anywhere In An Hour In New Air Force Budget Proposal – The Drive
- Air Force to further study use of commercial rockets to deliver cargo around the world – SpaceNews
- Air Force Rocket Cargo Concept | Airdropping Cargo from Space – Popular Mechanics
With suborbital Starship tests seemingly complete with SN15’s successful landing, all eyes are on the first orbital test flight of a full Starship-Super Heavy stack. This test, scheduled to take place only in a few month’s time, will feature the world’s tallest and most powerful rocket ever built taking flight for the first time. This animation shows the proposed flight plan of that first orbital test flight. NOTE: Some aspects of this animation are inaccurate or out of date. During the production many new pieces of information were revealed that weren’t known at the time certain scenes were animated.
*** Sampling of daily video reports from Boca Chica:
*** July.20: Super Heavy Booster 3 Static Fires for the First Time | SpaceX Boca Chica – NASASpaceflight – YouTube
SpaceX performs a full duration static fire of Super Heavy Booster 3. This is the first prototype booster to be fueled and ground tested. Booster 3 has three Raptor engines installed though Elon Musk stated they may try to fire it with nine engines in the future. Video from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and the NSF Robotic Camera Team. Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist)
*** July.21: New Raptor Boost Engine “R2B2” Delivered for Super Heavy | SpaceX Boca Chica – NASASpaceflight – YouTube
As crews inspect Booster 3 after its successful static fire, more Raptor engines for a Super Heavy booster are delivered. Dubbed “R2B2” by McGregor crews, Raptor Boost 2 (RB2) may be mounted on the outer engine ring of a Booster prototype in the coming months. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and the NSF Robotic Camera Team. Edited by Nathan Shields
*** July.20 SpaceX Starbase, Tx Flyover – RGV Aerial Photography
** July 23: Raptor Engine Removed from Super Heavy Booster 3 | SpaceX Boca Chica – NASASpaceflight – YouTube
Raptor engine RC59 was removed from Super Heavy Booster 3, work started on the 9th section of the Launch Tower, and a Super Heavy Aft dome was spotted being worked on inside one of the production tents. Video and Pictures from Steven Marr (@spacecoast_stve). Edited by Nate Shields.
*** July.27: Three Raptor Engines Delivered – Booster 4 Methane Transfer Tube Installed | SpaceX Boca Chica – NASASpaceflight – YouTube
Three Raptor engines were delivered, Super Heavy Booster 4’s Methane Transfer Tube (also known as the downcomer) was installed, and work on the orbital launch table continued. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and the NSF robots. Edited by Nate Sheilds.
*** Other Starship and space transport videos:
*** July.26: Starship Tests Payload Bay Design, Booster 3 Static Fire, New Test Rig Built | This Week in Starbase – NASASpaceflight – YouTube
As SpaceX pushes toward the Orbital Test Flight, critical pieces needed to support the flight start to fall into place. Ian Atkinson walks you through the progress being made at Starbase. Hosted by Ian Atkinson (@IanPineapple).
*** July.21: SpaceX working on design for Starship 2.0! – What about it!?
Today we’ll talk Starship 2.0. SpaceX’s latest design changes that will be present on the orbital flight. We’ll also talk about the lead theory for the mystery structure, and we’ll talk about the Super High Bay. SpaceX’s even larger Starship high bay to begin construction soon! Let’s find out!
*** July.24: SpaceX’s Mechazilla Rises, Starliner Prepares, Nauka Launch, Wally Funk’s flight to Space – Marcus House
Not only did we see Raptor action this week with SpaceX’s record-sized rocket booster, but we witnessed the launch of Russia’s Nauka Laboratory for the International Space Station. Better late than never. We have updates on Hubble’s Trouble and Rocket Lab’s anomaly review. The Dragon has been tamed yet again, and of course, we had the first crewed flight of New Shepard with Wally Funk’s long-awaited ride to space. Quite the action-packed week right there!
*** July.27: SpaceX’s Mechazilla Rises, Starliner Prepares, Nauka Launch, Wally Funk’s flight to Space – Marcus House
Today, we’ll have a closer look at how NASA and SpaceX might fly to the Moon. We already teased the scenarios in the last video talking about SpaceX’s Human Landing System and what mission options could be possible, but today, we want to add some numbers. True, there are lots of official numbers missing but we have found some clues on how it might go. …
*** July.12: Why SpaceX Will Move To New Thrusters To Simplify Starship – Scott Manley
Starship and SuperHeavy development continue, there hasn’t been any more test flights of Starship as they have decided to move on to testing the booster and putting Starship into orbit.
*** Other SpaceX news:
- SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell explains company’s ‘no a–hole’ policy, leads to less hostile workplace – BusinessInsider.co.za
- SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s hat is safe after ULA Vulcan rocket launch slips to 2023 – Teslarati
- Private civilian spaceflights:
- Lunar missions:
- ISS Cargo:
- ‘It just shouldn’t be going on here’; Brownsville activists say Elon Musk’s SpaceX spaceport damaging wildlife habitat – St. Antonio Express-News
- Elon Musk Announces Expansion To McGregor, Texas Facility On Twitter | TPR
- Area leaders: SpaceX rockets could be built in McGregor by year’s end – wacotrib.com
- SpaceX CEO: Second McGregor factory will make 100s of rocket engines per year – wacotrib.com
- SpaceX responds to DA office letter regarding possible state law violations | KVEO-TV
- SpaceX’s New Rocket Factory Is Making Its Texas Neighbors Mad : NPR
- Liftoff in Brownsville: Elon Musk’s SpaceX is putting an impoverished South Texas community on the map – City Journal
- No more SpaceX testing road closures, South Texas non-profit urges county | BorderReport
- Sea platforms:
- Regulatory issues:
- Judges reject Viasat’s plea to stop SpaceX Starlink satellite launches | Ars Technica
- Court denies Viasat attempt to halt Starlink launches pending legal action – SpaceNews
- Judge rules SpaceX must comply with Justice subpoena – BehindTheBlack
- Federal judge: SpaceX must comply with DOJ hiring records subpoena – CNBC
- Judge orders SpaceX to comply with DOJ subpoena on its hiring practices | Fox Business
- District Attorney warns SpaceX about unauthorized road closures, security personnel | KVEO-TV
- FAA issues:
- FAA warns SpaceX that Starship launch tower in Texas is unapproved – CNBC
- Falcon 9 launch scrub highlights airspace integration problems – SpaceNews
- Space X likely to miss July date for Mars rocket test – CNN
- FAA, local Texas DA, and environmental group out to get SpaceX and Starship – Behind the Black
- SpaceX ignored last-minute warnings from the FAA before December Starship launch – The Verge
- SpaceX Starlink Satellites Tracker
- Tesla bull ARK Invest estimates Starlink to generate over $20B cash flow per year – Teslarati
- SpaceX attacks Dish for ‘flaws’ in 12 GHz argument | FierceWireless
- Foust Forward | The sky isn’t falling (yet) – SpaceNews
- Starlink’s “next-generation” user terminal will cost a lot less, Musk says | Ars Technica
- Elon Musk’s Starlink reaches meme-worthy milestone of 69,420 active users – Teslarati
- Elon Musk: SpaceX Starlink on track for 500,000 users – CNBC
- Elon Musk says Starlink will IPO when cash flow is more predictable – CNBC
- Elon Musk provides update on Starlink’s IPO – Teslarati
- Starlink dishes go into “thermal shutdown” once they hit 122° Fahrenheit | Ars Technica
- Starlink v1.0 L28 mission to complete first “shell” of satellites for worldwide coverage – NASASpaceFlight.com
- 3+ Billion Potential SpaceX Starlink Customers | NextBigFuture.com
- SpaceX’s Starlink is in talks with ‘several’ airlines for in-flight Wi-Fi – The Verge
- Payload contracts:
- NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Europa Clipper Mission | NASA
- Lynk books SpaceX flight for direct-to-cellphone satellites – SpaceNews
- Falcon Heavy’s first national security launch slips to October – Spaceflight Now
- Firefly selects SpaceX to launch its lunar lander – SpaceNews
- SpaceX set to launch six commercial Moon landers after latest win – Teslarati
** WATCH: Elon Musk discuss Starlink Internet at MWC 2021 – Livestream – Interview on June 29th. See also the summary: Elon Musk interview: SpaceX, Starliink and his motivation and philosophy – CIS 471
** Sampling of dearMoon expedition applicant videos – SpaceX moon mission billionaire reveals who might get a ticket to ride Starship – CNET
Continue to Roundup Part 1.
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