Space transport roundup – April.8.2021

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

** Apr.8: The Starship prototype SN15 moved to launch site. The vehicle has many upgrades according to Elon Musk. A test flight could happen within a week or two. I certainly hope it achieves the first successful landing of a Starship (without a post touchdown explosion) after rising to high-altitude (~10km).

** Apr.7: Falcon 9 puts another batch of 60 Starlinks into orbit. This is the tenth SpaceX Falcon 9 mission in 2021. The total number of Starlink satellites in orbit is increased to 1,378. The first stage booster made its 7th successful landing. And it makes for the 79th booster landing to date. Both fairing halves were also previously flown.

More at:

** Mar.30: Starship SN11 lifted off in dense fog, flew to 10 km, descended back into fog bank, and then exploded just before landing. The fog prevented the usual eruption of replays of a Starship explosion across the Web but also kept anyone from seeing exactly what happened. The SpaceX website offered this info:

On Tuesday, March 30, SpaceX launched its fourth high-altitude flight test of Starship from Starbase in Texas. Similar to previous high-altitude flight tests, Starship Serial Number 11 (SN11) was powered through ascent by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the vehicle reaching apogee – approximately 10 km in altitude. SN11 performed a propellant transition to the internal header tanks, which hold landing propellant, before reorienting itself for reentry and a controlled aerodynamic descent.

Shortly after the landing burn started, SN11 experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly. Teams will continue to review data and work toward our next flight test.

On Twitter, Elon initially provided some hints of what happened:

On April 5th, he revealed the results of subsequent analysis:

For the Falcon 9, SpaceX has always emphasized that the nine engines on the first stage are shielded from one another such that even a catastrophic failure of one will not affect the others and prevent destruction of the rocket. There have in fact been a couple of in-flight engine failures and the boosters continue to fly nonetheless. (The most recent case occurred in February and did prevent the booster from successfully landing.)  The Raptors do not appear to be shielded in the prototypes flow so far and perhaps this “hard start”, i.e. engine explosion, was so violent that no practical shielding could have prevented the obliteration of the vehicle anyway.

More about Elon’s comments:

Here is the SpaceX webcast video:

A view of the debris field:

Elon is already looking ahead to the next upgrades:

See also:

Find more news and info on the Starship program and other SpaceX activities below…

** Reusable orbital launch systems are now in development by several companies around the world. As demonstrated by the successful reuse of the Falcon 9 first stages, reusability is key to lowering launch prices significantly and competing successfully with SpaceX.

Some of the companies are even aiming to recover and reuse not only the first stage of their two stage rockets but the second stage as well. There is essentially a kilogram loss in payload mass for every kilogram added to enable the return and recovery of a second stage. SpaceX decided to pursue development of full reusability with the Starship system rather than reduce the F9’s payload capability with a reusable upper stage. As a rocket scales up in size, the impact on the total payload from reusability diminishes. Attaining full reusability with a small or a mid-range launch system and still offering a commercially viable payload capability is quite a challenge. The companies aiming for full reusability are currently keeping their design plans secret.

Here is a list of several companies aiming for reusable launchers:

** Will Blue learn vertical landing the SpaceX way? SpaceX’s success at landing F9 boosters remains an amazing feat to watch. Eric Berger talks about how this capability has changed his thinking on what is possible with rockets and spaceflight: SpaceX landed a rocket on a boat five years ago—it changed everything | Ars Technica.

SpaceX learned to do vertical landing with test hops of the Grasshopper demonstrator at their McGregor, Texas  facility and by setting stages down softly onto the ocean surface on Falcon 9 missions.

Blue Origin intends to land the first stage of its New Glenn rocket on a ship at sea. Blue recently announced that the first New Glenn flight would not happen before the end of 2022. I’m wondering, though, if in the meantime they will do some short hops of a first stage prototype like the Grasshopper. The ship will be sailing to provide what Blue claims will be more stable pad than the SpaceX stationary platforms. However, landing on a moving target still looks like a tough challenge, especially without any practice even with landing on solid ground.

** Mar.30: Virgin Galactic rolls out VSS Imagine, the first of the next generation SpaceShip III vehicles: Virgin Galactic Unveils VSS Imagine, The First SpaceShip III In Its Growing Fleet – Virgin Galactic

    • SS Imagine will commence ground testing, with glide flights this summer
    • Breakthrough livery design allows Imagine to mirror the surrounding environment as it moves from Earth to Space
    • Manufacturing ramps up on next SpaceShip III in the fleet, VSS Inspire

Virgin Galactic today unveiled the Company’s first Spaceship III in its growing fleet, VSS Imagine. The spaceship showcases Virgin Galactic’s innovation in design and astronaut experience. Imagine also demonstrates progress toward efficient design and production, as Virgin Galactic works to scale the business for the long-term. VSS Imagine will commence ground testing, with glide flights planned for this summer from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The breakthrough livery design, finished entirely with a mirror-like material, reflects the surrounding environment, constantly changing color and appearance as it travels from earth to sky to space. Along with providing thermal protection, this dynamic material is naturally appealing to the human eye, reflecting our inherent human fascination with space and the transformative experience of spaceflight.

Leveraging a modular design, the SpaceShip III class of vehicles are built to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate. This third generation of spaceship will lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles.

As VSS Imagine begins ground testing, manufacturing will progress on VSS Inspire, the second SpaceShip III vehicle within the Virgin Galactic fleet. The introduction of the Spaceship III class of vehicles is an important milestone in Virgin Galactic’s multi-year effort that targets flying 400 flights per year, per spaceport.

See also: Virgin Galactic unveils new suborbital spaceplane – SpaceNews

** Mar.25: Arianespace/Russian Soyuz puts 36 OneWeb satellites into orbit: The launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in northern Russia brings the total number of OneWeb satellites in low earth orbit to 146 . The goal is 648 satellites to provide Internet services globally. Flight ST30: Arianespace successfully deploys OneWeb constellation satellites – Arianespace

Arianespace has launched 146 OneWeb satellites to date. Soyuz successfully orbited the initial six from French Guiana during February 2019. In February and March 2020, Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate successfully launched 68 OneWeb satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome, as well as an additional batch of 36 satellites from the Vostochny Cosmodrome during December 2020.

Pursuant to an amended launch contract with OneWeb, Arianespace will perform 14 more Soyuz launches through 2021 and 2022. These launches will enable OneWeb to complete the deployment of its full global constellation of low Earth orbit satellites by the end of 2022.

Internet services above 50 degrees north latitude should be available by the end of this year.

See also:

** Mar.22: Rocket Lab launches Electron with 6 satellites from a variety of organizations. The largest satellite was the 56 kg Blacksky Global 9 earth imaging spacecraft for BlackSky Inc. Following deployment of the satellites, the Photon kick stage began the Pathstone mission to demonstrate its capabilities as a platform for deep space operations. Rocket Lab Successfully Launches 19th Electron, Deploys 100th Satellite – Rocket Lab

Following the deployment of the final customer payload on this mission the Kick Stage was reconfigured to Photon, Rocket Lab’s in-house built spacecraft. Photon Pathstone is equipped with new power management, thermal control, and attitude control subsystems that will be utilized for the CAPSTONE mission to the Moon for NASA later this year. Photon Pathstone is also testing on orbit new deep-space radio capability, an upgraded RCS (reaction control system), and sun sensors and star trackers.

More at:

** A preview of Rocket Lab’s Capstone lunar mission:

Rocket Lab is excited to be launching CAPSTONE this year for @NASA in support of #Artemis. Electron and Photon will deploy this pathfinding satellite to a never-before-used cislunar orbit near the Moon

** An interview with Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck: T+183: Peter Beck on Neutron, Going Public, and Eating Hats | Main Engine Cut Off

Peter Beck, Founder, CEO, and CTO of Rocket Lab, joins me to talk about going public, their new, bigger launch vehicle, Neutron, updates to their Electron and Photon offerings, eating hats, and avoiding eating hats in the future.

** Mar.22: Russian Soyuz-2.1a launches South Korea’s CAS500-1 remote sensing satellite and 37 other satellites including AstroScale‘s ELSA-d demo debris removal spacecraft. The liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on Monday morning followed a scrubbed attempt last Saturday. With the aid of the Fregat upper stage, the satellites were deployed into three polar orbits with slightly different altitudes and inclinations.

See also:

** Mar.31: Chinese Long March-4C rocket sends Gaofen-12 02 Earth observation satellite into orbit.

** Mar.13: Chinese Long March 4C rocket launches three Yaogan-31 remote sensing satellites into orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China

** Mar.11: China’s Long March 7A launches successfully from Wenchang Spacecraft spaceport located in southeastern China on Hainan Island. The modernized, liquid-fueled (keroscene and liquid oxygen) vehicle failed in its third launch a year ago. The payload was the Shiyan 9/Xinjishu Yanzheng-6-02 satellite, described by Chinese sources as an experimental spacecraft but otherwise little information released.

** Update on Relativity Space development of Terran 1 rocket: Relativity Space printed its Terran 1 rocket’s second stage in a few weeks | Ars Technica

In an interview, Relativity CEO Tim Ellis said the company recently printed the second stage that will be used on the inaugural flight of the Terran 1 rocket, which is presently scheduled to take place before the end of 2021. The stage was printed at a rate of about 1 linear foot per day, so in printer time it took about three weeks in total to produce the 20-foot tall second stage.

“We’re now confident in this build process,” Ellis said. “Not only is the second stage now completed, but we’re 75 percent of the way through printing the rocket’s first stage.”

With the printing complete, the company has begun installing an Aeon vacuum engine, avionics, and a separation system for the first stage. The California-based company intends to ship the second stage to its facilities at Stennis Space Center, in Mississippi, for testing this summer. Assuming a successful test campaign, the stage will then be moved to Florida, where it will be integrated with the first stage for launch.

** Sierra Nevada offers a vision of a commercial space station serviced by DreamChaser vehicles: Ozmens’ SNC Announces Details for Commercial Space Station and LEO Commercialization – Sierra Nevada.

SNC released

… development plans for its low-Earth orbit (LEO) space station – leveraging its transportation and destination technologies – releasing new images, details and video of the unique concept in support of LEO commercialization.

The space station is a configuration of multiple large inflatable LIFE™ habitats that can be serviced by both cargo and crew carrying Dream Chaser® spaceplanes.

“There is no scalable space travel industry without a spaceplane,” said SNC’s Chairwoman and owner Eren Ozmen. “Dream Chaser and its runway landing offer the scalable, preferred solution for humans and science in support of a vibrant LEO economy.”

The Dream Chaser, America’s Spaceplane®, is a reusable, multi-mission space utility vehicle. Dream Chaser Tenacity™ spaceplane and the Shooting Star™ transport vehicle will begin providing cargo delivery and disposal services to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract late next year.

The LIFE habitat is a three story, 27-foot large inflatable fabric environment that launches on a conventional rocket and inflates on-orbit. The LIFE habitat is undergoing a NASA soft-goods certification this year and the full size ground prototype developed under NASA’s NextSTEP-2 contract is in the process of being transferred from Johnson Space Center in Texas to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for further testing on short-and long-term habitation. SNC’s Astro Garden® system also provides fresh food within the habitat.

“NASA has asked private industry to come to the table with alternatives to the International Space Station,” said Janet Kavandi former NASA astronaut and SSG executive vice president of SNC’s Space Systems. “SNC intends to lead in LEO commercialization, building on NASA’s efforts to date and welcoming additional public and private partners worldwide.”

** C6 Launch Systems and Ursa Major Technology open engine test stand at Spaceport America in New Mexico. C6 is developing a rocket for smallsat delivery to orbit. They will use Ursa Major’s staged combustion engines for the rocket’s propulsion system.

From Las Cruces Sun:

Designed and built by Highland Enterprises of Las Cruces, the stand will support static testing of engines of various sizes, and while it does not move or produce a dramatic silhouette against the San Andres Mountains, the new piece of infrastructure represented a step into a post-pandemic year for the spaceport.

C6 Launch, an Ontario-based startup launching small satellites, invested $200,000 to develop the test stand and conduct launches at the facility, but the frame is a permanent piece of infrastructure that will be available for other clients as well.

The company hopes to begin testing a rocket engine, developed by Ursa Major Tech in Colorado, next week. The engine had not yet arrived, but the fuel and oxygen tanks’ test system was in place.

From the Media Kit:

We know that the industry urgently needs new reliable, dedicated smallsat launch capacity. We are on track to deliver payloads up to 30 kg into SSO and custom orbits with suborbital flights by mid-2022 and orbital flights in 2023. …


C6 Launch, Spaceport America, and Ursa Major partnered to test all systems (avionics, engine controls, communications, and ground controls) through a series of hot-fire engine burns in March and April. The tests will confirm the design of fundamental components as a major step in building the launch vehicle. C6 spent the last eight months designing and building the entire test system with support from Spaceport America and Ursa Major. The Vertical Launch Pad at Spaceport America will be the site of the test. Spaceport will also provide logistical support to the team. C6, through its affiliated U.S.-based corporation (CLS 7691 LLC), purchased the Hadley engine from Ursa Major. Ursa Major will also provide a team of propulsion engineers to assist the American employees of CLS in the tests

This report includes videos about the Spaceport and the C6 test stand: New Mexico has chance to make history with Spaceport America –

** Update on development of a hydrogen gas gun for orbial space access at the Green Launch Company: Dr. John Hunter spoke on The Space Show on Tuesday, Mar.16.2021 about the “Green Launch Company, their technology, pros and cons, competition and more“.

See also a slide presentation on the project: Research & History – Green Launch. And here is one of the company’s videos:

** Orbex and Skyrora get support from ESA for launcher development. The UK based companies will receive 7.45 million euros and 3 million euros respectively. Both have raised substantial private funding and gotten UK government support as well.

Skyrora in Scotland is developing the three stage Skyrora-XL. First launch is targeted for 2022.

Orbex is developing the two stage Prime rocket and is aiming for a first flight in early 2022. The vehicle will launch from a Scottish site.

** Briefs:


We are thrilled to announce that this Easter, the entire CS crew will be spending the holidays testing our latest engine development technology on the test bench! And it is not just going to be just a couple of test shots, it will be the busiest test weekend ever in CS history with 15 engine tests planned over two days!

And an overview of their engine injectors:

  • Fusion, Fission, Antimatter and the Roadmap to InterstellarSpace Matters

Join us this week as we discuss the road to #goinginterstellar​, with leaders in the industry. Get first hand insight from Dr. Ryan Weed of Positron Dynamics, Dr. Troy Howe, and Dr. Steve Howe of Howe Industries, our own Jeff Greason of Electric Sky and the Tau Zero Foundation, and Dr. Gerald Jackson of HBar Technologies.

  • China Private Launch Companies Forging Ahead, Expace Liquid-Fueled Rockets, Geely in Nansha – Ep 27 – Dongfang Hour – YouTube – Updates on Chinese commercial rocket companies:

LandSpace tested

its TQ-11 methalox engine for 4000s, its longest run so far (more than 1 hour!). This follows a batch of tests which included: simulating different regimes of flight, mixing ratios, autogenous pressurization & thrust vectoring. The TQ-11 is the engine that will be powering the upperstage of the ZQ-2 small to medium lift reusable (at some point) rocket.


tested its Jiaodian-1 liquid methalox engine during a 500s test, throttling the engine significantly (50%-100%) to simulate vertical take-off vertical landing.

JZJY tested

their Longyun engine, which the 80t methalox 1st stage rocket engine developed by the company, and aims to be reusable multiple times.

CAS Space, a  spin-off of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS),  tested

a small 23kg VTVL prototype for future sea-based launch and landing. The test was mostly about testing the flight control characteristics: stability, robustness, horizontal and vertical movements.

Expace, a spinoff from CASIC, the main Chinese government rocket maker, now has a factory for mass manufacturing the Kuaizhou solid-fueled rockets (basically missiles modified for orbital launch). Unexpectedly, the company is expanding into liquid propulsion systems.


Check out the
The Lurio Report
for news and analysis of key developments in NewSpace

The latest issue:
Blue Spends, Rocket Lab’s Growth, Space Tourism
Vol. 16, No. 2, March 16, 2021

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** SpaceX:

As indicated by the Falcon 9 Starlink launch reported above and the previous three Starlink launches described below, SpaceX is off to a very busy year.  At the current rate, the Starlink constellation should reach global operational size in the next few months.

The upcoming Crew-2 Dragon mission to the station is a major milestone for the company. There could be three Crew Dragon flights to orbit in 2021 counting the Inspiration4 private crew mission discussed below and the Crew-3 mission to the ISS in October.  The Crew-1 team currently on the Station is scheduled to return to Earth in the Dragon Resilience on April 28th.

*** Liftoff of the Crew-2 mission to the ISS is targeted for April 22nd at 6:11 am EDT (1011 GMT) from LC-39A pad at Kennedy Space Center. The crew on the  Dragon Endeavour will include Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur from NASA, Thomas Pesquet from ESA, and Aki Hoshide of JAXA.

*** SpaceX Dragon moved from one ISS port to another in preparation for the Crew-2 arrival. On Monday, April 5th, US astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and Shannon Walker along with JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi made the short trip together in the Resilience. The four had to travel together in case there was an emergency of some sort that prevented re-docking to the station and they needed to return to earth. (There must always be sufficient transport capability at the station to return all crew to Earth.) The move will allow the robot Canadarm2 to reach the CRS-22 Cargo Dragon’s trunk after it docks to the PMA-3/IDA-3 port in June.

*** Inspiration4 mission completes crew selection with announcement of final two members. The target date of the three day flight to low earth orbit has also been moved up: Final Crew Members Named for World’s First All-Civilian Mission to Space – Inspiration4

The mission is being targeted for no earlier than Sept. 15, 2021. It will launch from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and will be carefully monitored at every step by SpaceX mission control as the spacecraft orbits the planet every 90 minutes along a customized flight path. The crew is targeting an approximate 540 km orbit, flying further than any human since Hubble, for an expected mission duration of approximately three days. In advance of the mission, the crew is working closely with SpaceX and multiple organizations to identify scientific research opportunities they can support while in orbit. Upon conclusion of the multi-day journey, Dragon will reenter Earth’s atmosphere for a soft water landing off the coast of Florida.

Here is a video of the announcement event:

Inspiration4, the world’s first all-civilian mission to space, today announced the final two members of the four-person crew that will undertake a historic voyage to the stars later this year. Representing the mission pillar of Generosity is Christopher Sembroski of Seattle, WA, and representing the mission pillar of Prosperity is Dr. Sian Proctor of Phoenix, AZ. Both will join previously announced crew member Hayley Arceneaux representing the mission pillar of Hope, under the command of Shift4 CEO Jared Isaacman. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will launch the crew aboard a Dragon spacecraft later this year. Watch the full crew introduction from the SpaceX hangar at historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

See also:

** The Inspiration4 crew will enjoy a great view through a new all glass cupola:

*** After two year slowdown, Falcon 9 launches from Vandenberg AFB to become more frequent this summer as SpaceX begins sending more Starlink satellites into polar orbit. SpaceX to ramp up Vandenberg launch cadence with Starlink missions – Spaceflight Now

After a lull in launches from America’s primary West Coast rocket base, SpaceX is set to resume a regular cadence of missions from Vandenberg Air Force Base as soon as July to deploy Starlink internet satellites into polar orbits, SpaceX’s president and industry officials said.

The launches from Vandenberg will allow SpaceX’s ever-growing Starlink network to fill in coverage gaps and provide internet connectivity over the poles.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, said Tuesday that the company plans to start launching more Starlink satellites into polar orbit this summer. So far, nearly all of the Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX have gone into 341-mile-high (550-kilometer) orbits tilted at an inclination of 53 degrees to the equator.

** Mar.24: SpaceX launches fourth Falcon 9 mission of March and ninth of 2021. As with the other missions this month, the rocket put 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. The first stage landed safely on an ocean platform. This was the 6th flight of this booster. The two fairing halves had also flown previously.

This was the 25th Starlink mission overall, including two early missions that deployed prototype Starlink satellites as secondaries. Of the 1385 Starlink satellites launched so far, 1321 are currently in orbit, after 64 were de-orbited. The official goal for initial global Internet service requires 1,584 satellites. The company is expected, however, to continue a regular pace of launches to reach up to 12,000 satellites. A second generation satellite design is expected to start launching soon. These will presumably have inter-satellite laser communications capabilities, which have been tested on some current 1st generation satellites in orbit.

*** Mar.14: Third Falcon 9 launch of the Month with 60 more Starlinks: The booster on its 9th mission landed successfully.

The Falcon 9 first stage rocket booster supporting this mission previously supported launch of Crew Dragon’s first demonstration mission, RADARSAT Constellation Mission, SXM-7, and five Starlink missions. Following stage separation, SpaceX will land Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which will be located in the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon 9’s fairing previously flew on the Transporter-1 mission.

The 9th flight of the booster was a major milestone for the reusability of the F9 stages yet such milestones are happening almost monthly. The high launch rate needed to implement the Starlink constellation will test the reuse capability of the boosters to the max. Perhaps within a year we will see a booster on a 20th flight.

Development and constant improvements of the boosters and their support equipment are key to expanding their reuse capabilities. The remotely controlled Octagrabber, for example, allows for safer securing of a booster on its floating platform after landing. This enables launches during weather and sea conditions that prevented launches previously: SpaceX evolving fairing recovery plans, taking advantage of Octagrabber in pursuit of rapid reusability –

*** Mar.11: Second Falcon 9 launch in March puts 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit.

With the L20 mission complete, the company has now orbited “1,265 Starlink satellites to date, and 310 since the start of the year”. There could be two more Starlink missions this month as well. At the current rate, the goal of 1,584 satellites for a baseline operational global system should be reached by this summer. This will mean that any spot on earth, except near the poles, will always have at least one satellite in view. However, SpaceX will continue to add satellites since the number of users within a given antenna spot area on the ground that can connect at the minimal service level ( ~150 Mbps, ~20 microsecond delay times) is limited.

*** Starship

It’s really a full time job to keep up with the wide range of Starship related activities. The SN11 prototype flight was the biggest single event since the last roundup but there were many other developments happening in parallel.   For example,  recently we saw

  • BN1 Super Heavy Booster stacked.
  • First sections of SN20 were observed. This could be the first Starship to attempt an orbital flight.
  • Ground storage tanks built nearly identically to the Starship propellant tanks section.  Several are to be placed near the launch pads and one has been moved there in the past week: SpaceX is building launch pad tanks out of Starship parts and that’s a big deal – Teslarati
  • The High bay got an overhead crane.
  • SN15 rolled out today (see item at top).

In the next few weeks, we will see

**** Raptor engine refinement and testing continues at a rapid pace. The Raptor engines are among the highest performing engines in history in terms of the overall score of thrust, thrust-to-weight, and specific impulse . The design uses the Full Flow Staged Combustion cycle, which leads to extremely high pressures and temperatures that are very demanding for the structural materials, the pumps, etc. Nevertheless, the Raptors must also be robustly reusable and need little or no refurbishment between flights. Throttling down the thrust for hovering and landing is also another tough requirement.

The Starship prototypes have provided the first test flights of the Raptors. Clearly, there have been difficulties, though some of the failed landings were due to the systems that feed propellants to  the engines rather than the engines themselves. The SN11 failure discussed above, though, appears to be due directly to the explosive failure of a Raptor.

The next Starship prototype SN15 is a next-gen design with many improvements throughout and the Raptors are also said to be upgraded. This will include the “6 ways to Sunday” fixes.

The engines are manufactured at the SpaceX factory in California and then tested at the McGregor, Texas facilities. Here is a photo of two Raptors, one with a nozzle optimized for sea-level operation and the other with a nozzle for vacuum. An orbit-grade Starship will have three of each type.

**** Super Heavy BN1 stacked but only as a learning experience.  Appears that the giant tube will not even be moved to the launch pad to test the ground support equipment.

**** Intensive work on the Orbital Launch Pad area continues as seen in some of the videos below. These include an extensive layout of piping, tanks, buildings, vehicle launch mounts, etc. Below are FAA documents that include maps and descriptions of the facilities. It will be interesting to see how SpaceX deals with launching the largest operational rocket in history within the limits of the Boca Chica Beach environmental agreements.

**** Elon  reiterates plan to catch Starship booster with launch tower:

**** Boca Chica action is just getting started. Elon aims to ramp it up another order of magnitude or so:

**** Elon Musk commented on landing issues and potential fixes regarding the SN10 flight but before the SN11 flight discussed above took place. Unfortunately, the Raptor engine eruption obviated an attempt to try out the landing fixes. Here is a sampling of the exchange on Twitter:

  • Elon Musk on Twitter:
    • SN10 engine was low on thrust due (probably) to partial helium ingestion from fuel header tank. Impact of 10m/s crushed legs & part of skirt. Multiple fixes in work for SN11.
  • Chris B – NSF on Twitter:This is a tricky one given that I believe said helium pressurization was added to the CH4 header tank to mitigate what happened with SN8. That’s why it’s a test program, of course.
    • Elon Musk on Twitter:Fair point. If autogenous pressurization had been used, CH4 bubbles would most likely have reverted to liquid. Helium in header was used to prevent ullage collapse from slosh, which happened in prior flight. My fault for approving. Sounded good at the time.
  • Everyday Astronaut on Twitter:Are there baffles in future designs to prevent slosh?
    • Elon Musk on Twitter: “There were baffles, but one may have acted like a straw to suck bubbles in from above liquid/gas level. Something similar happened on an early Falcon 1 flight, resulting in unexpectedly high liquid oxygen residuals at main engine cutoff.
  • Toby Li on Twitter:Has the SpaceX team concluded with a better landing leg design for Starship?
  • Everyday Astronaut on Twitter: Starship’s belly flop terminal velocity is already only like 75 m/s… what if… remove the 30 tones of landing prop, add 10 more tones of flaps, get that down to like 50 m/s and just use the world’s largest and most ridiculous net?
    • Elon Musk on Twitter: Yeah, we talked about that internally. Could just have it land on a big net or bouncy castle. Lacks dignity, but would work. But, optimized landing propellant is only ~5% of dry mass, so it’s not a gamechanger.

**** SpaceX tried to snag a launch contract for a Starship flight: SpaceX bid on launch of NASA cubesat mission – SpaceNews. Not a big contract but a little money is better than no money. It would also have been a way to demo the Starship’s satellite deployment capability.

An intriguing possibility is that SpaceX instead offered its Starship vehicle under development. That vehicle has an FAA launch license today only for its current series of suborbital test flights. The FAA is also performing an environmental assessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas, site for orbital launches of that vehicle. The agency recently published a “scoping summary report” outlining public comments it received in the scoping process of the assessment, but did not issue a schedule for the release of a draft version of the environmental assessment.

Starship would appear to be massively oversized for TROPICS. When launched with a booster called Super Heavy, Starship will be able to place more than 100 metric tons into low Earth orbit. SpaceX has previously suggested, though, that the Starship upper stage alone may be able to reach orbit, but without a significant payload. That could be sufficient for TROPICS, whose combined mass is about 56 kilograms.

**** SpaceX’s Cocoa, Florida facility still does support work for Starship and other programs after ceasing construction of Starship prototypes: New permits shed light on activity at SpaceX’s Cidco and Roberts Road facilities –

Building and testing SpaceX’s next generation launch system, Starship, has primarily been conducted at the village of Boca Chica, Texas. But just a couple years ago, Starship hardware was also being built at a SpaceX facility on Cidco Road in Cocoa, Florida, near America’s most active spaceport at Cape Canaveral.

Today, only a single Starship nosecone section remains at the site, but new permits have been filed showing that the facilities at both Cidco and Roberts Road in Florida still hold very active roles in the Starship program.

**** SpaceX narrowing down possible locations on Mars for the first settlement:

The red spots covering some stars are the big story: SpaceX has narrowed its choice for its Starship landing site to four prime locations (indicated by the bright red spots) and three backup locations (indicated by the dark red spots). The images under the red spots numbered 2, 4, and 6 were linked to in my November 2019 post. The images under red spots marked by a “D” are earlier images taken by MRO when SpaceX was researching a potential Dragon landing site. The images under red spots labeled 1P and MRO are subsequent images taken by MRO since November 2019, with the 1P image previously linked to in a post in April 2020 entitled “The icy Phlegra Mountains: Mars’ future second city.”

**** Some Videos of recent activities at Boca Chica Beach, Texas

**** Mar.30:  SpaceX Boca Chica Build Site FlyoverRGV Aerial Photography

***** Apr.4: Thrust Simulation Ram Installed for SN15 Testing | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX is planning to rollout Starship SN15 as early as Monday. In preparation for its arrival, a hydraulic ram has been installed at Suborbital Pad A to simulate Raptor forces against its new Thrust Puck. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist)

**** Apr.4: SpaceX Starship Boca Chica 2021 004 03 Debris Cleanup Easter PrepStarshipBocaChica/Maria Pointer – YouTube

Dedicated to my husbands sister Mary ‘Liz’ who lost her battle tonight. She was a dedicated sister and follower to our video’s and hoped she would experience a launch with her grandkids. R.I.P. Liz. Miss you so much. In this Video: Sights from the Production Shipyard covers all things tank and simulators. What is that noise that sounds like a motor hum or harmonic power tool? Also, leave comments and identifiers of what you pick out to help with our descriptions for others. Thanks, this was a miracle we got this out as is. When driving by the hard check point, we get instructions to proceed to beach without stopping. On the BocaChica Beach you’ll experience the Easter traditional weekend family gatherings of the locals. I had a picnic with friends and caught up on news watching the waves. Down here I climbed a dune and took pictures of the east side of launch site on top of the dunes. …

**** Apr.5: GSE Tank & Crane Rolled Out to the Launch Pad | SpaceX Boca Chica  – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX rolled out their current largest crane, “Tankzilla”, along with the first of the GSE tanks for the Orbital Launch Site. Tankzilla will also be tasked with lifting Starship SN15 onto the launch mount when it is rolled out later this week. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and the NSF Robotic Camera Team. Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist)

**** Apr.6: GSE Tank 1 Lifted Into Position – Thrust Ram Installed on Suborbital Pad A | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

The thrust simulation rams were installed on Suborbital Pad A in preparation for SN15’s arrival at the launch site, GSE Tank 1 was lifted onto its mount at the orbital launch site, and construction on the foundation for the integration tower continued. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Nic Gautschi (@NGautschi).

**** Apr.7: Orbital Class Starship SN20 Dome Spotted | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

As Starship SN15 prepares to roll to the launch site, the Forward Dome of SN20 has been spotted, with this vehicle set to be an Orbital Class Starship. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Theo Ripper (@TheoRipper).

**** Other Starship reports:

**** Apr.3: SpaceX Starship Explodes Before Landing & Starship SN15 is fully stacked, Inspiration 4 update – Marcus House

It has been a bit of an odd kind of week with Starship serial number 11’s launch in the fog. That SpaceX Starship Explodes before landing & Starship SN15 is fully stacked. Some pretty awesome ideas to share around a future orbital propellant depot idea, a sweet rundown of a new Starship 3D printed model, and we also have a few great Inspiration 4 update items to talk about.

**** Apr.5: What’s Next for SpaceX in Boca Chica | NSF ExplainsNASASpaceflight – YouTube

Ian Atkinson explains what’s next for SpaceX in Boca Chica after Starship SN11 failed to land. 2021 appears to be a pivotal year for the Starship team as they push toward a milestone orbital flight. Video from Mary (@BocaChicaGal), Jack Beyer (@TheJackBeyer), and the NSF Robotic Camera Team. Edited by Nic Gautschi (@NGautschi)

*** Other SpaceX news:

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