Space transport roundup – Nov.3.2020

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

** ULA Atlas V launch of the NROL-101 spysat for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is currently set for Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 5:38 pm  EST (2238 GMT) from Cape Canaveral. A roll-out on Monday was aborted and the vehicle moved back into the Vertical Integration Facility. ULA said the vehicle “experienced an upper payload environmental control system flow rate reduction” and they decided to postpone the launch to investigate the issue.

** Rocket Lab‘s Electron puts 10 satellites into orbit for Canon and Planet. Rocket Lab Successfully Launches 15th Mission, Deploys Satellites for Planet, Canon Electronics Inc. | Rocket Lab

The payloads on ‘In Focus’ included the latest flock of Planet’s Earth-imaging SuperDove small satellites, each integrated with and deployed from Rocket Lab’s Maxwell satellite dispensers. Flock 4e’ bolsters Planet’s constellation of Earth-observation satellites already on orbit providing medium-resolution global coverage and near-daily revisit. Canon Electronic’s mission objective with their CE-SAT-IIB microsatellite is to demonstrate the company’s Earth-imaging capability with a middle-size telescope equipped with an ultra-high sensitivity camera to take night images of the Earth and small size telescopes suitable for CubeSat use.

See also Rocket Lab successfully launches satellites for Planet and Canon – Spaceflight Now.

*** Rocket Lab Kick Stage demonstrates a new trick: Rocket Lab demonstrates flexible in-space transportation with new Kick Stage maneuver | Rocket Lab

*** Next Electron launch set for Nov.16th : Rocket Lab to Launch Most Diverse Mission Yet | Rocket Lab

    • The mission will deploy 30 satellites to unique orbits using the Electron launch vehicle’s Kick Stage space tug
    • The satellites will enable internet from space, test new methods of deorbiting space debris, and enable research into predicting earthquakes
    • The launch will also feature a 3D printed mass simulator for Valve’s Gabe Newell to raise funds for Starship Children’s Hospital

** Russian launches new type of GLONASS navigation satellite on a Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat rocket: Russia launches Soyuz with next-generation navigation satellite –

GLONASS is Russia’s global satellite navigation system, analogous to the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and European Galileo constellations; like its counterparts, it is available for both military and civilian use.

Sunday’s launch carried a third-generation Uragan-K satellite, Uragan-K No.15L, which is the third Uragan-K to be launched. This class of satellite was originally intended to consist of two prototype satellites for on-orbit testing in an operational environment prior to the entry into service of the operational Uragan-K2 series. Delays to the Uragan-K2 project have led to Russia ordering 11 additional Uragan-K satellites, including No.15L – which will be pressed into service.

The Uragan-K satellites are constructed by ISS Reshetnev and are based around the Ekspress-1000K satellite bus. The 935 kilogram (2,061 pound) spacecraft have design lives of at least 10 years.

** Chinese Long March-2C rocket launches 3 reconnaissance satellites into orbit from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province: China launches new Yaogan-30 group of military satellites –

China launched a new group of triplet satellites for the Chuangxin-5 (CX-5) constellation on Monday. Launched under the name Yaogan Weixing-30 Group-7, the three satellites were orbited by a Chang Zheng-2C launch vehicle from the LC-3 Launch Complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, with launch taking place at 15:19 UTC.

Like the previous missions on the series, this mission is once again classed as involving new remote sensing birds that will be used to “conduct electromagnetic probes and other experiments.”

As was the case in previous launches of the Yaogan Weixing series, analysts believe this class of satellites is used for military purposes, in particular forming a high-revisit smallsat constellation for signal intelligence missions or imaging activities.

See also China launches new remote-sensing satellites – CGTN.

** ABL Space Systems progresses towards first launch of RS1 rocket delivery system in 2021: ABL Space Systems performs integrated stage test of the RS1 launch vehicle – ABL

ABL Space Systems has completed integrated stage testing of the RS1 small satellite launch vehicle. Testing was performed on the RS1 second stage with the in-house designed E2 liquid rocket engine at the Area 1-56 test site on Edwards Air Force Base. Critical aspects the campaign included handling of the propellant tanks, operating pressurant management systems, and refining the stage arming and engine startup sequences, all of which were accomplished successfully. This test campaign builds on the successes of eighteen months of extensive component, engine and stage testing.

ABL manufactures engines and stages in state-of-the-art facilities in El Segundo, California. By staying highly verticalized and focusing on low-cost, scalable manufacturing processes, ABL delivers industry leading capability and pricing to the small satellite community. RS1 can deliver one metric ton to sun synchronous orbit, 400 kilograms to geosynchronous transfer orbit, and 250kg to lunar injection orbit.

RS1 Integrated Stage Test at Edwards Air Force Base. Credits ABL Space Systems

“Simplicity is key,” said Harry O’Hanley, Founder and CEO of ABL. “Our company is just over three years old. Yet, we’ve moved markedly faster and been more capital efficient than others because we avoid exotic, unproven architectures and manufacturing processes. Unless an innovation adds measurable value to our customer, we do not pursue it.”

ABL supports a variety of customers throughout the defense, civil and commercial sectors, with over $44 million in announced contracts and a deep customer backlog. RS1 is best in class in all dimensions that launch customers value: price – as low as $9,000/kg; capability – the highest lift capacity throughout the cislunar volume; reliability – only proven technologies in the system; and cadence – existing production lines can produce a launch vehicle in under thirty days.

ABL will continue performing stage test operations at Edwards Air Force Base in the coming weeks to accumulate additional run time on the engine and stage. The launch vehicle system will undergo a series of stress tests to demonstrate performance in a variety of different flight conditions. RS1 is scheduled for an initial launch in the first quarter of 2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, where ABL has received a Right of Entry for LC-576E from the 30th Space Wing.

See also ABL Space Systems tests launch vehicle stage – SpaceNews.

** Protolaunch optimizing rocket propulsion systems for small payload transports.

Protolaunch has taken a bottom-up design philosophy to propulsion development, designing specifically for small payloads from the outset. Based on work conducted at the University of Cambridge, Protolaunch has developed a novel thermodynamic cycle that eliminates the need for any turbomachinery while enabling the use of cleaner biofuels, and simplifying propellant handling and storage. 

Protolaunch technology leverages thermodynamic optimisations to eliminate the need for complex pumps & turbmachinery and reduce manufacturing complexity.

Our propulsion technology presents a number of strategic advantages over turbomachinery or high-pressure blow-down. Our technology is the key enabler for a dedicated microlauncher and will facilitate a future of dedicated launches for small payloads.  

** Stratolaunch receives first Ursa  Major rocket engine for Talon-A reusable hypersonic vehicle:

Ursa Majors Technologies specializes in smaller class engines that use complex staged combustion cycle designs to achieve high efficiencies and performance.

Here are some views of Stratolaunch’s Talon-A uncrewed vehicle, which is now under construction:

According to the company’s website:

Talon-A is a fully reusable, autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle with a length of 28 feet (8.5 m), wingspan of 11.3 feet (3.4 m), and a launch weight of approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 Kg). The Talon-A will conduct over 1-minute of hypersonic flight testing, and glide back for an autonomous, horizontal landing on a conventional runway. The vehicle will also be capable of autonomous take-off, under its own power, via a conventional runway.

** Virgin Galactic nears first high altitude flight since moving to New Mexico spaceport: Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight test on track to launch this fall – CNBC

    • Space tourism venture Virgin Galactic on Wednesday confirmed to CNBC that it remains on track to conduct its next test spaceflight in the coming weeks.
    • “We expect our first spaceflight from Spaceport America to occur later this fall and we are pleased to confirm that we are still on track to meet this timeframe,” the company said.
    • This will be the first of two spaceflights that the space tourism company has planned to complete testing of its SpaceShipTwo spacecraft system.

*** Update on preparations for the upcoming SpaceShipTwo flight to suborbital space from Spaceport America in New Mexico: Virgin Galactic Flight Test Program Update: Spaceflight from New Mexico Progress – Virgin Galactic

…Our next spaceflight is set to deliver that first taste of human spaceflight for the state and, having completed two spaceflights, we as a team know how special these historic moments can be.

If all goes to plan, not only will this flight be the first human spaceflight to depart from New Mexico, it will also mark Virgin Galactic Pilot CJ Sturckow’s sixth time in space, and will see him become the first person to have flown to space from three different U.S. States, an extraordinary professional achievement. I too have had a long relationship with space. At NASA I worked numerous Space Shuttle missions and oversaw the launch of 12 flights, and I have managed another two during my time at Virgin Galactic. This mission will mark number 15! One thing is for certain, the feeling you get from witnessing your team run a safe and successful mission, followed by greeting the astronauts on their return to earth, never ceases to thrill me.

One thing to note about this flight is that once we are in space, we will be flying slightly differently than how we plan to fly with our Future Astronauts. This is because we’ll have three NASA payloads in the cabin, flown through NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. Unlike our Future Astronauts, these payloads aren’t on board for the view, so instead of stopping the vehicle pitch in the inverted position for the best views of Earth, we’ll pitch the vehicle 270 degrees following boost to get to the entry attitude as soon as possible. This maneuver will maximize time for the payloads to remain in data-collection mode. Carrying these payloads not only makes this test flight a revenue-generating one, but also demonstrates our commitment to facilitating regular, accessible space-based scientific research.

The payloads will be placed in the spaceship cabin, where we have other test objectives planned. While we have flown passenger seats on previous flights, this will be the first time in flight where we actively recline the seats once in space, which will create extra room when Future Astronauts are floating in zero gravity. For this first test of the seat recline in a space environment, we will have instrumented test mannequins strapped in.

Since our last flight to space, we’ve refined and upgraded a few other elements on the spaceship. We’ve extensively tested these changes on the ground and in our previous two flights from Spaceport America, and we are now ready to test them on a rocket-powered flight. We’ve made upgrades to the horizontal stabilizers (known as H-Stabs), which are the flight control surfaces on the outboard of the feather booms. We’ve also made improvements to the flight control system that commands these Hstabs to move in response to pilot inputs. We’ve already flown these improvements on our last two glide flights, and they performed well. Together these mods will enhance the performance of the spaceship and support long-term commercial service.

*** WhiteKnightTwo flew twice today: Virgin Galactic Flight Test Program Update – SpaceShipTwo Prepares For First Spaceflight From New Mexico – Virgin Galactic

“VMS Eve has the ability to test pilot proficiency by simulating the glide and approach-to-land phase of flight for SpaceShipTwo pilots.  The cockpit structure of Eve is almost identical to that of Unity: the same pilot seats and windows, as well as very similar flight controls and instruments.  This, coupled with the fact that with Eve’s landing gear down, and one set of speed brakes out, it descends on the same flight path angle as SpaceShipTwo,  means that the crew can practice the identical approach and landing pattern to the one they will fly in Unity – with much of the same information displays, and the same view out the window.  This makes Eve a very valuable in-flight simulator for the spaceship’s final approach and landing phases.’’

*** VG also expands its corps of SS2/WK2 pilots: Virgin Galactic Hires Two New Pilots into its Pilot Corps – Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic today announced the appointment of two new pilots into its Pilot Corps, bringing the total number of pilots to eight.

Jameel Janjua and Patrick Moran will be based at Spaceport America, New Mexico, and join the Virgin Galactic team as preparations for commercial service continue.

Both will embark on an extensive training program before flying SpaceShipTwo. In addition to the Spaceship, the pilots will also train to fly the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve. VMS Eve provides a way for the pilots to fly simulated parts of the SpaceShipTwo flight trajectory, gaining valuable hands-on training. Other assignments for the pilots will include flying other company support aircraft, working mission control, flight planning, and support various detailed engineering and project roles across the company.

** Firefly Aerospace raising public profile as it nears first launch: Here are four recent items of interest involving the company:

*** Firefly counting down to an Alpha launch by end of the year: Firefly Aerospace aims for first rocket launch in late December – CNBC

    • Firefly Aerospace currently plans for its maiden Alpha rocket launch to happen as early as Dec. 22, co-founder and CEO Tom Markusic told CNBC.
    • Standing at 95 feet tall, Firefly’s Alpha rocket is designed to launch as much as 1,000 kilograms of payload to low Earth orbit – at a price of $15 million per launch.
    • “I think it’s very reasonable for us to expect complete success on the first launch,” Markusic said.

*** Firefly signs up new customers : Firefly Aerospace Announces New Customer Agreements, Completes Stage 1 Acceptance Testing Ahead of First Alpha Launch – Firefly

Firefly has signed a Launch Services Agreement (LSA) with Spire Global (Spire) for the launch of Lemur spacecraft on the Alpha launch vehicle. The LSA will provide for the launch of Spire spacecraft on multiple Alpha missions over the contract period. Firefly has also executed an LSA with Geometric Space Corporation for the full payload capacity of an Alpha launch vehicle.

In addition to the customer agreements, Firefly also provided information on recently achieved Alpha milestones. The Alpha Flight 1 Stage 1 performed a 35 second static fire, including a full suite of thrust vector control maneuvers. Subsequently, a 15 second final trim test was performed, and the stage will now ship to Firefly’s launch complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB).

Concurrently, the Alpha Flight 1 payload fairing successfully completed a separation test. The payload fairing separation system was designed and manufactured by Firefly. The system is operationally recyclable, allowing for multiple tests of the flight unit.

Firefly is also nearing completion of its Launch Control Center, Integration Hangar, and launch pad, including assembly of the Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) at historic Space Launch Complex 2 West (SLC-2W) at VAFB. Firefly’s TEL, built by Firefly’s design and fabrication teams in Texas and California, is being integrated and will soon commence ground system activation.

*** Firefly tests composite fairing separation system:

***  Firefly installing high through-put automated composite rocket assembly system: Firefly Aerospace to Automate Composite Rocket Production with Ingersoll Machine Tools – Firefly. Ingersol’s Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) Mongoose Hybrid systems will enable Firefly to  “produce its all-composite Alpha rocket airframe in as little as fourteen days”.

Firefly will install the first of two planned AFP systems in May 2021 at its manufacturing and test facility in Briggs, Texas, where Alpha will be requalified using AFP manufacturing processes. Firefly’s new Florida Space Coast factory and launch site at Cape Canaveral will house the second automated assembly line beginning 2022 and will ultimately be capable of producing an estimated 24 Alpha rockets per year, with the Briggs plant switching to automated developmental builds of the larger Beta launch vehicle.

Firefly’s new automated rocket factories will produce a broad range of benefits, including a 30-50% reduction in composite materials waste, increased repeatability, reduced touch labor and build times, and a tailored and optimized structure that further reduces weight and overall costs.

More about Firefly’s use of composites: The Alpha launch vehicle: Designing performance in, cost out –

** ULA and Vulcan-Centaur rocket updateTory Bruno, CEO of ULA, was a guest on The Space Show on Friday,Oct.23.2020 and discussed “many listener email questions and phone calls on a variety of ULA related topics”.

Eric Berger points to some interesting comments by Bruno regarding Blue Origin‘s BE-4 engine, which will power the first stage of the new ULA Vulcan- Centaur rocket: With turbopump issues “sorted out,” BE-4 rocket engine moves into production | Ars Technica

Blue Origin appears to have solved some development issues related to the turbopumps in its powerful BE-4 rocket engine.

United Launch Alliance chief executive Tory Bruno said Friday that the problem was “sorted out,” and that the full-scale, flight-configured BE-4 engine is now accumulating a lot of time on the test stand. Bruno made his comments about one hour into The Space Show with David Livingston.

Bruno also indicated that they are continuing with plans to recover the first stage engine pod in a later model of the Vulcan.

Development of the  Centaur V upper stage is apparently going well:

He also expressed excitement about the performance of Vulcan’s new Centaur V upper stage. The current Centaur III vehicle uses a single RL-10, but the new Centaur V will use a pair of uprated RL-10s. The new upper stage should provide more than twice as much energy thanks to its low mass and high performance. “I’m really excited about that,” Bruno said. “It’s a pretty incredible upper stage.”

** The latest from Launcher:

** Update on Reaction Engines progress in development of the Skylon SSTO vehicle and the SABRE propulsion system. The presentation was given at the recent IAC 2020 symposium (Item via Rocketeers blog) :

Simon Feast, Future SABRE Studies Lead, will be delivering a symposium keynote lecture on the Development Status of SABRE, as part of the Space Propulsion symposium on Hypersonic Air-breathing and Combined Cycle Propulsion, and Hypersonic Vehicles – In this pre-recorded talk, he discussed the SABRE design and engineering challenges as well as the technical strategy behind the development programme. IAC-20-C4-7-1 The Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) – Development Status Update

See also Air-breathing rocket engines: the future of space flight – Physics World.

** Masten to build Xogdor high altitude suborbital vehicle with NASA funding: Masten Space Systems Awarded Two NASA Tipping Point Contracts — Masten Space Systems

NASA and Masten Space Systems announced that the Space Technology Mission Directorate has chosen Masten for two Tipping Point awards as part of the agency’s Artemis mission to return to the Moon. The first award is for Masten’s Metal Oxidation Warming System (MOWS) which is being developed in partnership with Penn State as a chemical heating solution to help spacecraft survive in sunlight-deprived lunar environments. The second award will drive completion of Masten’s state-of-the-art aerospace testbed, named Xogdor, to provide the industry an updated flight test analog for critical Artemis technologies.

Masten will mature its Xogdor flight vehicle to operational service to provide an updated system for testing aerospace technologies in a relevant flight environment. Over this three year project, Masten will complete the development and flight testing of a Xogdor vehicle. The defined effort will support risk reduction of technologies through flight testing in pursuit of NASA’s Moon-to-Mars campaign with a focus on building an EDL (Entry, Descent, Landing) test capability for near-term lunar missions. Xogdor will be the sixth vehicle in Masten’s line of reusable rockets, which have had more than 600 successful VTVL (Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing) flights over 15 years of heritage.

“Xogdor is poised to become the industry’s state-of-the-art testing analog with performance capabilities far exceeding those of currently available EDL testbeds,” said Masten CTO, Dave Masten. “Through this Masten-NASA partnership, Xogdor will be available to test critical Artemis technologies, including hazard detection instruments, precision landing avionics, innovative flight software, Plume Surface Interaction (PSI) experiments, and other critical EDL experiments as early as 2023.”

Masten Space mentioned Xogdor as far back as 2011 but has not had sufficient funding till now to build it.

A sketch of the Xogdor vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) suborbital space vehicle. Credits: Masten-Space presentation from 2011 (pdf)

** UK-based Skyrora tests booster:

In just 5 days, the Skyrora team completed a full static fire test of the Skylark L rocket, on a mobile launch complex built from scratch. The team also managed to carry out tests leading up to the ground rocket test during this time, to ensure maximum safety precautions were applied.

An animation of Skyrora’s Skylark XL launch system:

** USNC-Tech provides NASA a nuclear propulsion design based on the company’s encapsulated low-enriched Uranium fuel technology: Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies Delivers Advanced Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Design To NASA – USNC

Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies (USNC-Tech) has delivered a design concept to NASA as part of a study on nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) flight demonstration. NTP technology provides unprecedented high-impulse thrust performance for deep space missions such as crewed missions to the moon and Mars. The NASA-sponsored study, managed by Analytical Mechanics Associates (AMA), explored NTP concepts and designs enabling deep space travel.

“We want to lead the effort to open new frontiers in space, and do it quickly and safely,” said Dr. Michael Eades, principal engineer at USNC-Tech. “Our engine maximizes the use of proven technology, eliminates failure modes of previous NTP concepts, and has a specific impulse more than twice that of chemical systems.”

Advancements in nuclear fuel design and passive safety measures pioneered by Ultra Safe Nuclear (USNC, USNC-Tech’s parent company) with Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated (FCM™) fuel enabled USNC-Tech to create a novel NTP concept with specialized performance capabilities. The enhanced safety characteristics and design flexibility of the USNC-Tech concept is a critical step forward in achieving extensibility of NTP systems to deep-space missions.

The USNC-Tech NTP concept uses a specialized variation of USNC’s FCM™ fuel, featuring high-assay low-enriched Uranium (HALEU) ZrC-encapsulated fuel particles. This variation enables high-temperature operation while maintaining the integrity of the fuel. FCM™ fuel is extremely rugged, enabling a new family of inherently safe space-optimized reactor designs that ensure astronaut safety and environmental protection. Using low quantities of HALEU, this unique NTP concept delivers high thrust and specific impulse previously only achievable through high-enriched uranium. Furthermore, FCM™ fuel leverages pre-existing supply chains and manufacturing facilities used by terrestrial nuclear reactor developers, reducing production risks and enabling sustainable industry involvement.

In an NTP system, exceptionally high levels of thrust are achieved by passing propellant through a specialized reactor core, reducing interplanetary transfer durations. Additionally, NTP systems achieve expanded payload mass capabilities due to their two-fold increase in specific impulse compared with chemical propulsion systems. As a result, NTP offers an entirely new mode of in-space transportation, enabling rapid movement of high-mass spacecraft architectures to deep space destinations (current NTP designs could deliver a crew to Mars in as few as three months) and a new, highly agile degree of cislunar mobility. If designed with commercial sustainability in mind, modern NTP systems can offer these benefits to commercial space entities in addition to government agencies like NASA and the DOD, enabling new business opportunities such as rapid orbital logistics services.

** How Can Soyuz Reach The Space Station In Only 3 Hours?Scott Manley

This week Soyuz MS17 set a space station record by going from launch to docking with the International Space Station in only 3 hours and 3 minutes, half the time that Soyuz used to take, and much faster than the day long approaches used by US spacecraft. For Soyuz is has much shorter on orbit endurance compared to US spacecraft and is much less spacious than the US equivalents, incentivizing fast rendezvous trajectories.

** Some recent Future In-Space Operations (FISO) seminars dealing with space transportation:

** Presentations given at the recent Advanced Propulsion Workshop 2020, sponsored by the Space Studies Institute,  are now available on video. The presentations included updates from Jim Woodward and Hal Fearn on the Woodward Mach Drive. Their talks focused on the nuts and bolts technicalities of their latest device, which they say is giving much higher thrust than previous versions. They are working with some other teams on replicating the performance of this new design.

Here is a more general talk from Sonny White, previously of NASA and now at the Limitless Space Institute, on advance propulsion concepts:

** Briefs:


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Strides and Views, Rocket Lab, Bernard Kutter, RIP
Vol. 15, No. 6, September 18, 2020

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** SpaceX:

*** As many as nine Falcon 9 missions could take place over the next two months. The first is the launch of the Air Force’s GPS 3 SV04 satellite set for liftoff from the SLC-40  pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on November 5th during the window 6:24-6:39 pm EST) p.m. EST (2324-2339 GMT). The booster passed a static firing test on the pad on Oct. 31st:

*** Merlin engine problem traced to improper cleaning of coating used during manufacture of a relief valve. GPS launch and Crew missions can now proceed.

*** First operational Crew Dragon mission to the ISS now set for November 14th:

** Falcon 9 launch of the NASA Sentinel-6 spacecraft, which will measure the height of the ocean, it was set for November 10th from Vandenberg AFB, on the coast of California but may now slip a few days.

A simulation of the Sentinel 6 launch on the Falcon 9:

*** The recent Starlink 14 launch became the 100th successful SpaceX rocket mission:

On Saturday, October 24, 2020, SpaceX completed its 100th successful flight since Falcon 1 first flew to orbit in 2008. Over the course of these flights, SpaceX landed Falcon’s first stage booster 63 times and re-flew boosters 45 times.

*** The Starlink broadband Internet constellation is taking an increasingly important role in SpaceX launch vehicle operations and future development.

  • The majority of Falcon 9 launches are now devoted to delivering Starlinks to orbit.
  • Reuse of Falcon 9 boosters is key both to the rapid launch rate of Starlink satellites and the affordability of orbiting so many spacecraft.
  • The launch of nearly 900 operational satellites in a year has allowed SpaceX already to begin offering a “beta” Internet service to the public to a limited geographic area.
  • The level of initial customer demand will help indicate whether the service will be a profitable enterprise and fulfill the company’s goal of helping to fund the development of Starships and the establishment of a permanent settlement on Mars.
  • At the current launch rate, the constellation by the middle of next year could reach the minimum size – 1,440 satellites in 72 orbital planes of 20 satellites each – needed to provide global coverage.
  • Starships will be needed for affordable orbital installation of the ~30k satellites that the company says is required to provide high performance broadband services globally to a large number of users.

More Starlink items:

*** Starship

Since the last report, a lot has happened at Boca Chica, as usual:

  • Oct.20: Successful static firing of three Raptor engines attached to the SN8 prototype Starship. More about this below.
  • Oct.23: Starship SN8 got a nosecone and finally looked like a real spaceship: The nosecone, with fins attached  for air braking on return from high altitude, was moved from the assembly area to the launch site and then a huge crane lifted and set it carefully atop the barrel section. Immediately multiple workers standing in platforms attached to the long high arms of boom lifts (also known as cherry-pickers) attending to the seam.  See videos below.
  • Multiple Starships and the first Super Heavy booster are  under construction. Here is a nice display of components seen by observers watching the Boca Chica site:

Upcoming activities:

Here is an infographic describing the test flight of the SN8 prototype:

Elon in a Tweet responds to a query regarding a webcast of the SN8 flight:

Sure, although it might be quite a short livestream! Lot can go wrong, but we’ll provide video, warts & all. You will see every frame that we do.

**** An extensive review of the history of the design and development of the Starship: SpaceX Starship: The Continued Evolution of the Big Falcon Rocket –

**** Gwynne Shotwell predicts a wide array of applications for the Starship system including space debris collections.

**** Elon Musk gave an update on the Starship program during an online interview for the Mars Society convention last week:

lon Musk’s comments with questions relayed from the Mars Society Membership by Dr. Robert Zubrin, James L. Burk, and Carie Fay. Following Elon’s 30 min time, Dr. Zubrin took additional questions. This special event was part of the 2020 Mars Society Virtual Convention from October 14-18, 2020. For more details on this event and The Mars Society, visit

According to his comments on Twitter, Musk may release a more detailed written update soon.

**** Estimates of launch cost for Starships:

**** Three Raptor engines test fired together for another first in Starship development: For the first time, a Starship prototype roars to life with three engines | Ars Technica

Early Tuesday, October 20th, three Raptor engines on the SN8 Starship prototype fired together for the first time: SpaceX Boca Chica – SN8 First Ever 3 Raptor Static FireNASASpaceflight – YouTube

SN8 fires up its three Raptor engines for the first time ever in this static fire test. Also included is the preburner test a few hours before. […] SN8 on Pad A Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@TheJackBeyer)

***** Oct.23: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN8 nosecone mate – Raptors on the move – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

A long highlight video of Thursday’s historic event of Starship SN8 nosecone stacking and the surprise double Raptor merry-go-round. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack Bayer (@thejackbeyer) and Nic Gautschi (@NGautschi).

***** Oct.26: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Factory Drive-Thru – New Flaps Delivered and New Nosecone Moved Outside – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Mary provides us with one of her classic driving tours of the SpaceX Boca Chica complex, new body flaps were delivered, and a new nosecone was rolled out of the production tent. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Nic Gautschi (@NGautschi).

**** Oct.30: SpaceX Boca Chica – As Starship SN8 waits, SPMTs convoy arrives, Orbital Pad work – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

While Starship SN8 has to wait a few more days until the second Static Fire test campaign, four additional SPMTs arrived, along with large concrete blocks for the Orbital Launch Pad. The final structural test nosecone met its demise and heck, there’s a lot more….there always is at SpaceX Boca Chica. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@TheJackBeyer)

**** Nov.1: High Bay Gets Busy Under a Halloween Blue Moon – StarshipBocaChica/Maria Pointer – YouTube

**** Nov.2: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN10 stacked as SN9 receives aft flaps  – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

While Starship SN8 waits for pre-launch testing, SN9 received her aft flaps and SN10 was stacked! That’s three new and stacked Starships for those keeping score. The SPMT squad also rolled out to the launch site. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Theo Ripper (@TheoRipper).

**** Other Starship and space transport reports:

**** Oct.31: SpaceX Starship – Final preparation for SN8 flight – Space news update – Marcus House

The progress at BocaChica continues with SpaceX Starship SN8 going through some more testing prior to its 15-kilometer flight that we are thinking will be occurring in the upcoming week. These are the final preparation for SN8 flight. We have an overall Space news update with Starlink’s beta looks to have expanded to the public so we will talk about that along with SpaceX’s incredible 100 flight milestone. We’ve got a new Crew 1 launch date set which is exciting. Interesting news with confirmation that there are traces of water on sunlit areas of the moon. We’ll dive into that. And yes, yet another beautiful flight by RocketLabs launching Electron mid-week.

**** Nov.3: SpaceX Starship orbital Starlink flight from ignition to landing! – What about it!?

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