Space transport roundup – Nov.10.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):

** SpaceX Falcon 9 set to launch 60 Starlink satellites on Monday at 9:56 am EST, 14:56 UTC.

[ Update: The launch was a success. The booster landed right on target and the satellites were deployed as planned. Apparently the sea was quite rough, though, and so the ships returned without any attempt to capture the fairings.


This will be the first  booster to fly four times. It will also be the first time that a recovered fairing will be re-flown. SpaceX will attempt to catch both fairings from this flight with two ships outfitted with large nets.

More about the mission:

More SpaceX items below.

** Updates on the recent Boeing Starliner pad abort test. (See previous roundup.)

A second video from Boeing:

Boeing said Nov. 7 that a misplaced pin prevented a parachute from deploying during a pad abort test of its CST-100 Starliner vehicle three days earlier, the only flaw in a key test of that commercial crew vehicle.

In a call with reporters, John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for commercial crew at Boeing, said an investigation after the Nov. 4 test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico led the company to conclude that a “lack of secure connection” between a pilot parachute and the main parachute prevented that main parachute, one of three, from deploying.

See also

** Update on Boeing’s uncrewed Starliner test mission to the ISS currently set for Dec. 17th: OFT Mission Taking Shape at Space Launch Complex 41 – Commercial Crew Program/NASA

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket set to launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on its maiden voyage to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is ready for the mating of Starliner to the top of the launch vehicle.

On Monday, Nov. 4, the Atlas V’s first stage was lifted to the vertical position inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, followed by the mating of two solid rocket boosters to the booster. ULA teams then attached the Centaur upper stage and launch vehicle adapter atop the Atlas V first stage.

** The history of Japan’s reusable suborbital rocket projects are described in this set of tweets:

See also a related item in an earlier roundup.

** Video tour of Rocket Lab‘s New Zealand launch facility:

Join Amanda Stiles, Director of Mission Management and Integration, as we take you on a tour of Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1. Located on the Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s East Coast, LC-1 is the best spot in the world to launch more frequently than anywhere else on the planet.

** “What are Hypergolic Rocket Fuels? (Other than Explosive, Corrosive, Toxic, Carcinogenic and Orange)” – Scott Manley answers the question, ”

Hypergolic fuels are a core technology in rocket science, propellents that will spontaneously combust when mixed together. This makes them attractive for rocket designers, who generally aren’t the people who have to get in a the protective gear to load the stuff. So, what are they made of, and why do designers pick one option over another?

** Govt launch cost estimates as seen by former Shuttle mission director, Wayne Hale. See the response from Eric Berger on Twitter. Hale was probably responding to Berger’s article on SLS mission launch estimates in which Berger concluded the following:

Adding all of this up, the true cost of a Space Launch System mission with Orion on top in the 2020s, including the rocket’s development but excluding ground systems and Orion development costs, appears to be in the ballpark of $5 billion per flight. Let’s hope the astronauts are served more than just pretzels after takeoff.

I’ve always been amazed and angered that NASA for decades has gotten away with using theoretical marginal cost numbers (i.e. count only the cost of fuel, metals, operators salaries, etc. to do one additional flight)  when asked for the cost of a Saturn V, Shuttle or SLS mission. This is clearly a grossly misleading way to answer the question of how much taxpayer money it took for a flight to take place. I’m quite disappointed that Hale defends the practice and I posted a comment on his post but he hasn’t approve it. So [Now approved.] here is what I said (with some typos fixed):

So the cost of the James Webb ST is not $10B, like those knuckle-headed bloggers claim, but is actually ~$500M because that’s about how much it would cost to build a second one?

Marginal (i.e. incremental) cost is an interesting number after making a million widgets and you want to know how much the next widget costs. The fixed cost contribution vanishes. Marginal cost is an irrelevant number when only making, or launching, a 100 or so widgets. The fixed cost contribution doesn’t vanish – and no magical accounting or browbeating by a highly respected Flight Director can make it do so.

It’s definitely relevant to know who is doing the calculation but it’s also good to know if the calculation answers the question being asked. In this case, the question from taxpayers is simply how much did it cost to make those [135] Shuttle flights happen? If only $105B instead of $210B (in 2010 dollars) had been allocated, would [135] launches still have taken place? No, of course not. It is irrelevant if NASA used a substantial portion of the money for items like roofs and non-essential civil servant salaries. That’s what govt organizations do with their budgets. If half the total Shuttle expenditure had instead been allocated to NASA, half [i.e. 67] or fewer flights would have happened.

Yes, who calculates what number is a factor. We can be sure NASA in the next few years will calculate $500M as the cost of a SLS flight. And the $3B+ that it will cost to make each flight happen will be [accurately] calculated by knuckle-headed bloggers.

** SpaceX:

*** Video: Elon Musk discusses SpaceX and the importance of fully reusable rockets at a US Air Force event last week:

Opening day of Air Force Space Pitch Day. The two-day event was hosted by the U.S. Air Force to demonstrate the Air Force’s willingness and ability to work with non-traditional startups. The “Fireside Chat” features Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, Space and Missile Systems Center Commander, and Elon Musk, Space X Chief Engineer. The chat covers the future of space, space industry, how to find talent, and various other topics.

See also SpaceX Starship: Elon Musk outlines an ultra-low price tag for launches | Inverse

*** USAF also testing Starlink for global broadband communications capabilities SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet was tested by the US Air Force and the results are in – Teslararti

The technical viability and utility of beaming high speed, low-latency broadband internet directly into the cockpits of military aircraft is being tested under a program called Global Lightning. SpaceX has engaged the initiative and was awarded $29M to pursue development and testing, far more than any other contract recipient. In October 2019, SpaceX and the USAF began publicly discussing the latest results of that effort to test Starlink’s capabilities in the realm of in-flight connectivity. As reported by SpaceNews, SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell revealed that Starlink had successfully demonstrated a data link to the cockpit of a military aircraft with a bandwidth of 610 megabits per second (Mbps), equivalent to a gigabyte ever ~13 seconds.

*** Views of recent Starship construction activity at Boca Chica Beach:

[ Update: A video from Sunday:


*** And a fly-around of the Mk2 Starship construction activity in Florida:

Aerial Flyby, Quiet Sunday. Working on new ring on top of the engine section. Hints of 6 Raptor engines to be included on MK2. Lot of sheets of steel getting stored in the “On Deck” area. These sheets can be used to construct domes and nosecones.

*** Speaking of Florida, launch facilities for Starships are under construction at KSC: SpaceX begins Starship launch mount installation at historic Pad 39A in Florida – Teslarati

At the same time as SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas team is working around the clock to prepare Starship Mk1 for several major tests, the company is building a second dedicated Starship launch complex at Pad 39A and as of November 4th, that construction effort has reached a symbolic milestone.

== Amazon Ad ==