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.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship pic.twitter.com/9a7LUPYZue
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 7, 2021
- SpaceX launches Starlink v1.0 L23 mission – NASASpaceFlight.com
- SpaceX launches another set of Starlink satellites as it nears global coverage – SpaceNews
** 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:
Looks like engine 2 had issues on ascent & didn’t reach operating chamber pressure during landing burn, but, in theory, it wasn’t needed.
Something significant happened shortly after landing burn start. Should know what it was once we can examine the bits later today.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 30, 2021
On April 5th, he revealed the results of subsequent analysis:
Ascent phase, transition to horizontal & control during free fall were good.
A (relatively) small CH4 leak led to fire on engine 2 & fried part of avionics, causing hard start attempting landing burn in CH4 turbopump.
This is getting fixed 6 ways to Sunday.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 5, 2021
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:
- Musk says methane leak doomed latest Starship test flight – Spaceflight Now
- Engine explosion blamed for latest Starship crash – SpaceNews
Here is the SpaceX webcast video:
A view of the debris field:
Elon is already looking ahead to the next upgrades:
Next major technology rev is at SN20. Those ships will be orbit-capable with heat shield & stage separation system. Ascent success probability is high.
However, SN20+ vehicles will probably need many flight attempts to survive Mach 25 entry heating & land intact.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 30, 2021
- SpaceX loses another Starship prototype as landing sequence fails | Ars Technica
- SpaceX working toward early Tuesday morning Starship launch – Ars Technica
- SpaceX crashes another Starship prototype – SpaceNews
- FAA to investigate crash of SpaceX’s Starship prototype during landing attempt – CNBC
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:
- Rocket Lab:
- Electron – Parachute return and retrieval of the Electron’s first stage booster from the ocean was demonstrated last November. A description of the Electron’s reuse strategy: How to bring a rocket back from space | Rocket Lab. “The stage held up remarkably well – not bad after experiencing the trip to space and back in just 13 minutes. The carbon composite structure was completely intact.” This stage is not to be reused. After one more ocean recovery, the company plans this year to snag a booster before it touches the ocean by snagging its parachute with a helicopter. This booster would then be a candidate for reuse.
- Neutron – “features a reusable first stage designed to land on an ocean platform, enabling a high launch cadence and decreased launch costs for customers.” See previous roundup for the Neutron announcement.
- Relativity Space – Terran R medium lift rocket would be fully reusable. (The company’s first rocket, the small-lift Terran 1, will have no reusable stages.)
- PLD Space –
- Stoke Space – Stock claims first and second stage reusability with “zero refurbishment with 24-hour turnaround“. No public info on the design of the second stage.
- Stoke Space aims to take reusable rockets to new heights with $9M seed | TechCrunch
- Stoke Space raises $9.1M for a new breed of reusable upper stages – GeekWire
- Stoke raises seed round to work on fully reusable rockets – SpaceNews
- SBIR Phase I: Integrated propulsion solution to enable reusable upper stages of space vehicles | SBIR.gov
** 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.
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.
** 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.
- Successful Launch Marks Key Milestone for OneWeb’s ‘Five to 50’ Ambition | OneWeb
- Arianespace and Starsem to continue OneWeb constellation deployment with fifth launch – NASASpaceFlight.com