A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):
** SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites: The Falcon 9 with the second batch of operational Starlink satellites lifted off from Cape Canaveral on Monday night and an hour later the upper stage released them into orbit. The first stage successfully landed but a fairing half-shell was not caught in a net as hoped. Fairings lifted out of the water, however, have been reused a couple of times so far.
- SpaceX is now the world’s largest satellite operator [Updated] – Ars Technica
- SpaceX becomes operator of world’s largest commercial satellite constellation with Starlink launch – SpaceNews.com
- SpaceX kick-starts global 2020 launch year with Starlink mission – NASASpaceFlight.com
- SpaceX test-fires rocket ahead of record-setting Starlink launch – Spaceflight Now
- SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket tests engines for first launch and landing of the new decade – Teslarati
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 7, 2020
Falcon 9 first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship – SpaceX’s 48th successful landing of an orbital class rocket booster pic.twitter.com/wLal1xfsjO
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 7, 2020
Successful deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed! pic.twitter.com/hA8eUp7dNI
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 7, 2020
Falcon 9 streaks to orbit from Cape Canaveral at 9:19pm this evening, launching 60 additional #Starlink satellites as a part of #SpaceX’s mission to provide fast, reliable internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable. pic.twitter.com/DX3DKGNv76
— John Kraus 🚀 (@johnkrausphotos) January 7, 2020
** CRS-19 Cargo Dragon left the ISS this morning and later successfully splashed down in the Pacific:
- Dragon Released from Station Carrying Science for Earth-Analysis – Space Station/NASA
- SpaceX CRS-19 Returns with Mighty Mice and Other Research – ISS National Lab
This video shows the release and departure of the spacecraft from the station.
Splashdown of Dragon confirmed, completing this spacecraft’s third mission to and from the @space_station!
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 7, 2020
More SpaceX items below.
** Blue Origin opens new HQ facility: Blue Origin Opens New Headquarters in Kent, Washington- Blue Origin
We named this building the O’Neill Building after Gerard O’Neill, a physicist who envisioned millions of people living and working in space for the benefit of Earth. Gerard O’Neill was one of the visionaries who thought about how we go out into space in a quick and sustainable way so that we can preserve our planet.
For those of you that are Washington State residents, what is exciting is we’re going to be doing all this work from a headquarters based here in Kent. It’s a remarkable statement to say that we’re going to fly humans to space, we’re going to build and design large engines and a large orbital rocket, and we’re going to go back to the Moon – all through work centered here.
We’re excited to continue to see this growth in this new facility. We broke ground on this facility in January of 2019 and it came up in just 11 months. It houses approximately 1500 people. The building sits on a 30-acre plot of land, and we’re using 13 of those acres for a wildlife habitat and flood storage, as well as protecting against invasive species. This is a very sustainable building with better insulation and better energy consumption than a traditional building. And it all came together very quickly.
This couldn’t have been done without our great partners. Thanks to Sprung Instant Structures, our architect Nelson, our general contractor Sierra Construction, civil engineering group Barghausen Consulting Engineers and our environmental consultants Soundview Consultants.
Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith told GeekWire that the new HQ was required because “we’re growing like crazy.”
“We’ve grown a third in just the past year,” Smith said during an interview on the mezzanine of the U-shaped building. “So we’re now north of 2,500 people here.”
The new structure, built on a 30.7-acre site that the company purchased a little more than two years ago for $14 million, is built to accommodate 1,500 of those employees. Hundreds more are based elsewhere in the Kent area, south of Seattle, as well as at Blue Origin’s suborbital launch site in West Texas, the Florida rocket factory where Blue Origin’s New Glenn orbital-class rocket will be assembled, and at the site of its future BE-4 rocket engine factory in Alabama.
As we continue to grow our exceptional team, we’re kicking off the year by opening the O’Neill Building, our new headquarters and R&D facility in Kent, WA. Thanks to @RepAdamSmith, @RepDerekKilmer, @RepDennyHeck, and @dana_ralph for helping us open the doors today. pic.twitter.com/3KMHzo9txY
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) January 6, 2020
While Truax’s concept was at the extreme, there is in fact a big advantage in big rockets: the margins can be big.
Conventional rockets are notoriously sensitive to small shortcomings in the performance of the engines and other systems and structures. However, to get payloads of useful size into orbit, rocket designers must necessarily push those components to their limits, aiming for maximum performance at minimum mass. This results in reliability and safety issues. With a giant rocket, some percentage of the giant payload can be sacrificed to obtain highly reliable systems and robust structures while still getting lots of payload to orbit.
We see signs of this approach in the huge SpaceX Starships. Multiple Raptor engines will provide enough performance to allow for wide margins in component systems and structures. They can be built like ocean liners out in the open in shipyard-like environments rather than like fine watches built in tightly confined workshops.
** At the other extreme, several new small rockets will start flying this year: Small Satellite Launchers Poised for Big 2020 – NASASpaceFlight.com
In 2019, American companies reached crucial milestones on the path towards launching small satellites. Firefly Aerospace and Virgin Orbit both secured partnerships and accomplished test objectives ahead of their respective rockets’ first flights this year. Concurrently, Rocket Lab improved its launch cadence and began evolving their Electron rocket as they look towards expanding their capabilities in 2020.
Firefly is now aiming the first Alpha launch for April: Firefly Aerospace Preps for Debut Flight of Its Alpha Rocket in April – Space.com.
** China launches TJSW-1 military satellite on Long March 3B rocket: Long March 3B launch opens China’s busy 2020 schedule – NASASpaceFlight.com
After the successful return to flight of the powerful Long March 5 closing the orbital launch activities for China in 2019, the country launched another secretive Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing (TJSW) satellite on January 7, opening what could be a record-breaking year. The launch took place at around 15:20 UTC using the Long March 3B/G2 (Y64) ‘Chang Zheng-3B/G2’ launch vehicle from the LC2 launch complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.
As with the previous launch of Communications Engineering Test Satellites, there is very little information regarding the new satellite.
**** In-flight abort flight test slips to no-earlier-than Jan. 18th: SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test Launch Date Update – Commercial Crew Program/NASA
NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Saturday, Jan. 18, for an In-Flight Abort Test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, pending U.S. Air Force Eastern Range approval. The new date allows additional time for spacecraft processing.
The demonstration of Crew Dragon’s in-flight launch escape system is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and is one of the final major tests for the company before NASA astronauts will fly aboard the spacecraft.
[ Update: More about the IFA preparations: SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft shown off in photo ahead of next launch – Teslarati.]
Vern Estes founded his namesake model rocket company, and helped start the National Association of Rocketry. Many areospace professionals started with launching Estes rockets as a first step along the road to their helping launch Falcon, Delta, Titan, and Space Shuttle etc.
As Vern’s 90th birthday was January 4, 2020, it would be fitting to have one of the first experimental Starships named after him, especially since he is still able to enjoy the honor.
****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Bulkhead/Dome Flipped/Installed on Stand [Jan.7.2020] – NASASpaceflight
Starship development: The first dome/bulkhead was lifted, flipped and installed on to the stand/rig as the team prepares to build what we believe will be a Starship tank for a tanking test. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF (Many thanks to her for spending all night filming this). Several hours timelapsed.
****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Preparing for Tank Testing – Jan 6, 2020 – NASASpaceflight
Work continues on Starship SN1’s domes as the RollLift arrives, likely to transport the soon-to-be-assembled domes/rings for a tanking test (per road closures). Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.
****** SpaceX Boca Chica 1/6/20 – SPadre
Panoramic 4K video of SpaceX Boca Chica launch pad, Starhopper, and Starship assembly area.
****** Florida Starship assembly facility currently focused on supporting Boca Chica activity: SpaceX’s Texas Starship factory set to receive more parts from Florida – Teslarati
After successfully delivering Starship hardware and manufacturing tools to SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas rocket factory and launch facilities, the company has begun preparing a second load of parts to be shipped from Florida to Texas in the near future.
This is the latest chapter in a saga that began when SpaceX revealed that it would effectively pause its Florida Starship manufacturing operations and reassign most of its affected employees. Since SpaceX’s early-December confirmation, the company’s Cocoa, Florida Starship production hub has been more or less at a standstill, only interrupted once and awhile by efforts to either scrap hardware that is no longer needed or send it to Texas, where SpaceX has redoubled efforts to build the next series of Starship prototypes.
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