SpaceX aiming for first orbital test launch of Starship in July

SpaceX is hoping to attempt to fly its in-development spacecraft Starship to orbit for the first time in July, according to company president Gwynne Shotwell. Shotwell shared the timeline at the International Space Development conference during a virtual speaking engagement.

Starship has been in development for the past several years, and it has been making shorter test flights, but remaining within Earth’s atmosphere, since last year. Its most recent flight also included its first fully successful landing, which is a key ingredient in the development of the Starship launch system, which is designed to be SpaceX’s first that is fully reusable.

July (aka next month) is an ambitious timeline for making the first orbital flight attempt of Starship, but in May SpaceX filed its planned course for the flight, which would lift off from the company’s Starship development site in south Texas near Brownsville (known as ‘Starbase’) and then eventually return to Earth with a splash down in the Pacific Ocean somewhere off the cost of Hawaii.

This first flight won’t end with a controlled landing, and the focus will be on reaching orbit and testing the spacecraft component through that part of the flight. Later tests will include a controlled landing of the Starship spacecraft, with the goal of eventually making the entire system, including the Super Heavy booster that will help propel it to orbit, fully reusable.

While Shotwell seemed to indicate high confidence that SpaceX is pretty much technically ready to begin orbital test flights of Starship, the company still needs to secure a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order to perform orbital launches, since its existing license only covers suborbital flights. The FAA is currently in process on reviewing the requirements for that license, including an environmental impact review of what it would mean for the surrounding area.

#federal-aviation-administration, #gwynne-shotwell, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #starship, #super-heavy, #tc

Max Q: Selling space

Max Q is a weekly newsletter from TechCrunch all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Mondays in your inbox.

This week actually includes two, since I was out last week for a Canadian national holiday (and back today for the U.S. one, ironically). There’s plenty to cover, including Blue Origin’s bidding process, lunar landers, spaceships launching at sea and the return of our very own space event.

Blue Origin’s big bid

Blue Origin is auctioning off one seat on its first ever human spaceflight, and the bidding got started at $1.4 million — or at least, the public bidding started there. Before last week, people had been submitting blind bids, but now Blue Origin is posting the top current bid to its website whenever it hits a new high. It’s currently set at $2.8 million, meaning it’s doubled since the bids opened up to public scrutiny, and presumably FOMO.

Everything’s building up to June 12, when the auction will conclude with a live, real-time online competitive bidding round. Seems likely it’ll at least cross the $3 million mark before all’s said and done, which is good news for Blue Origin, since run-of-the-mill tickets for the few minutes in suborbital space going forward will probably end up more in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range.

The winning bidder will be flying on July 20, if all goes to the current plan, and will be accompanied by other passengers selected by Blue Origin through some other mechanism. We don’t yet know who else will be on the ride. Bezos maybe?

SpaceX’s Deimos spaceport is under construction

ENSCO offshore oil rig like the one SpaceX is converting

ENSCO offshore oil rig like the one SpaceX is converting.

SpaceX is really flexing its sci-fi-made-real muscle with its latest move: The company is turning two offshore oil rig platforms into floating spaceports, and one of the two, codenamed ‘Deimos’ after one of Mars’ moons, is already being worked on. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared that the company is hoping to have it ready for operations next year, meaning it could host actual launches in 2022.

Eventually, Deimos and its twin, Phobos, will provide launch and landing services to SpaceX’s first fully reusable launch vehicle — Starship. Starship only just managed to land successfully after a high, but still very much atmospheric flight test, however, so it has a way to go before it’s making amphibious departures and arrivals using the converted oil platforms.

Putting these in the ocean presumably helps solve some key issues, not least of which is being mindful of the impact of launching absolutely massive rockets on land anywhere near people. Ditto the landings, which at least early on, are bound to be risky affairs better carried out with a buffer of surrounding ocean.

Landers; lunar ones

Lander Rover

Concept graphic depicting ispace’s HAKUTO-R lander and rover.

There’s quite a bit of lunar lander news this week, including Japan’s ispace revealing that it’ll provide commercial lunar lander service to both Canada and Japan, with a ride for both provided by SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket. These will be two separate missions, with the first one set for next year, and the second one set to take place in 2023.

Both will use ispace’s Hakuto-R lander, which it originally developed to take part in the Google-backed Lunar XPRIZE competition. That ended without a winner, but some companies, including ispace, continued to work on their landers with an eye to commercialization. The Hakuto-R being sent on behalf of JAXA will carry an adorable ball-shaped Moon robot which looks like a very novel take on a rover.

Meanwhile, GM announced this past week that it’s working with space industry veteran Lockheed Martin to develop a next-gen Moon rover that will provide future lunar astronauts with more speed and greater range. GM and Lockheed will still have to win a NASA contract in order to actually make the thing, but they’re clearly excited about the prospect.

TC Sessions: Space is back in December

Last year we held our first dedicated space event, and it went so well that we decided to host it again in 2021. This year, it’s happening December 14 and 15, and it’s once again going to be an entirely virtual conference, so people from all over the world will be able to join.

We had an amazing line-up of guests and speakers at last year’s event, including Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck, NASA’s Kathy Lueders and more, and we’re already working on a fantastic follow-up agenda that’s sure to thrill all kinds of space fans.

You can already get tickets, and if you get in early, you save $100.

#bezos, #blue-origin, #canada, #ceo, #elon-musk, #falcon, #google, #google-lunar-x-prize, #ispace, #japan, #kathy-lueders, #lockheed-martin, #max-q, #outer-space, #peter-beck, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-lab, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #techcrunch, #united-states

FAA authorizes SpaceX’s next three Starship test launches

SpaceX is continuing its Starship spacecraft testing and development program apace, and as of this afternoon it has authorization from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct its next three test flights from its launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. Approvals for prior launch tests have been one-offs, but the FAA said in a statement that it’s approving these in a batch because “SpaceX is making few changes to the launch vehicle and relied on the FAA’s approved methodology to calculate the risk to the public.”

SpaceX is set to launch its SN15 test Starship as early as this week, with the condition that an FAA inspector be present at the time of the launch at the facility in Boca Chica. The regulator says that has sent an inspector, who is expected to arrive today, which could pave the way for a potential launch attempt in the next couple of days.

The last test flight SpaceX attempted from Boca Chica was the launch of SN11, which occurred at the end of March. That ended badly, after a mostly successful initial climb to an altitude of around 30,000 feet and flip maneuver, with an explosion triggered by an error in one of the Raptor engines used to control the powered landing of the vehicle.

In its statement about the authorization of the next three attempts, the FAA noted that the investigation into what happened with SN11 and its unfortunate ending is still in progress, but added that even so, the agency has determined any public safety concerns related to what went wrong have been alleviated.

The three-launch approval license includes flights of SN16 and SN17 as well as SN15, but the FAA noted that after the first flight, the next two might require additional “corrective action” prior to actually taking off, pending any new “mishap” occurring with the SN15 launch.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has at time criticized the FAA for not being flexible or responsive enough to the rapid pace of iteration and testing that SpaceX is pursuing in Starship’s development. On the other side, members of Congress have suggested that the FAA has perhaps not been as thorough as necessary in independently investigating earlier Starship testing mishaps. The administration contends that the lack of any ultimate resulting impact to public safety is indicative of the success of its program thus far, however.

#elon-musk, #faa, #federal-aviation-administration, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc

SpaceX nears final assembly of its first massive testing rocket booster for Starship

SpaceX has completed what’s known as the ‘stacking’ of its first Super Heavy prototype, the extremely large next-generation first-stage rocket booster that it will eventually use to propel its Starship spacecraft to orbit and beyond. The Super Heavy Booster is about 220 feet tall – which is roughly the wingspan of a Boeing 747, or a bit taller than the Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World in Florida.

That’s without Starship on top, which will add around another 160 feet. Super Heavy will undergo its own testing prior to flying with Starship, however, and a lot of that will be focused on assuring its fuel tanks can handle the pressurization and extreme temperatures required for keeping all that ignitable material stable prior to when the engines actually fire.

Super Heavy uses the same engines as Starship — Raptor engines, to be specific, which SpaceX created new for this generation of launch vehicle. The final version will have a total of 28 Raptor engines, but this first prototype will likely be outfitted with far fewer, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that it’ll also remain grounded, as it’s intended to be use only for testing things like build and transportation mechanics.

He did say the next prototype will fly, and while he isn’t always accurate about timelines, the Starship upper stage (i.e., the one that looks like a big grain silo with fins) is progressing quickly in its development, including with a recent test flight that ended with a near-perfect landing — minus the subsequent explosion that took out the prototype rocket entirely a few minutes after it had touched down successfully.

Musk clearly wants to move fast with Starship and Super Heavy, in part because of ambitious goals it has of serving as a provider to NASA for future human lunar landing missions as part of the Artemis program, and also because it’s still planning to fly the first commercial tourist flight of a Starship in just two short years in 2023.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #florida, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #starship, #super-heavy, #tc, #transportation, #walt-disney-world

SpaceX’s Starship prototype flies to 32,000 feet and sticks the landing in third flight test

SpaceX has launched SN10 – the tenth iteration of its current prototype series of Starship, the heavy-lift reusable spacecraft it’s developing. Starship SN10 took off from Boca Chica, Texas, where SpaceX is developing the vehicle. It flew to a height of roughly 10 km or 32,000 feet, before performing a maneuver to re-orient itself for a friction-assisted landing descent.

Unlike the last two Starship prototypes to fly this high, however, the roughly 6 minute flight did not end in a fireball [UPDATE: Well, not immediately. The rocket did blow up while stationary on the landing pad a few minutes after landing, potentially due to a leak]. Instead, it completed its landing flip maneuver as intended and slowed itself for a soft touchdown, with the rocket remaining vertical and intact afterwards.

This was a fantastic outcome, and a nominal one in all regards according to SpaceX’s live stream. But why the prior explosions to get to this point? That’s partly down to the way in which it’s being doing its development of this vehicle. All rocket development includes unexpected events and sub-optimal outcomes, but SpaceX has a couple of things at work that mean is efforts are subject to unusual scrutiny vs. your average spaceship manufacturer.

First, it’s doing this out in the open – the Boca Chica facility is basically just a couple small buildings, some concrete pads, some storage tanks and some scaffolding. It’s extremely close to a public roadway (which is closed during testing, while the surrounding area is evacuated), and people can and do just drive up and set up cameras to film what’s going on. That’s not at all how legacy rocket makers have typically done things.

Second, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has been adamant that SpaceX pursue a development strategy of rapid iteration and prototyping with Starship’s development. That has meant it’s manufacturing and assembling Starship prototypes simultaneously, making small changes as it goes, rather than stepping back after each test and doing a prolonged, multi-month analysis before proceeding with building and flying another version.

A launch attempt earlier in the day was cut short after a brief engine fire, when instrument readings from the rocket showed a slightly high thrust value that violated what Musk termed “conservative.” The fix that SpaceX instituted was actually adjusting the limit higher in order to avoid the abort initiation.

No doubt the company will do an investigation into the cause of the explosion that followed the successful flight and landing maneuver, but the test was still successful in all the ways that matter most for SpaceX at this stage of development. Next up for Starship is likely increasing the height of these test flights. Eventually, the goal is to reach orbit of course, but SpaceX is likely to try a few launches that remain atmospheric but far exceed this one before it attempts making that trip.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #rocket, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #texas

SpaceX’s Starship prototype once again flies to great heights, and again explodes on landing

SpaceX has once again flown its Starship spacecraft, a still-in-development space launch vehicle it’s building in south Florida. This test was a flight of SN9, the ninth in its current series of prototype rockets. The test involved flying SN9 to an altitude of around 10 km (just over 6 miles or nearly 33,000 feet). After reaching that apogee, the SN9 spacecraft altered its attitude to angle for re-entry (simulated, since it didn’t actually leave Earth”s atmosphere) and then descended for a controlled landing.

This is the second test along these lines, with the first happening in December using its SN8 prototype, the one before this in the current series. Today’s test saw SN9 reach its target altitude as intended, and saw a successful ‘belly flop’ maneuver, as well as the required propellant hand-off. This was also a successful test of the flaps on Starship, which control its angle as it moves through the air, and which alter their angle via on-board motors to do so. The landing portion didn’t go as smoothly – the spacecraft attempted to re-orient itself to go vertical for landing, but didn’t make it quite straight up-and-down, and also had too much speed going into the touchdown, so it exploded rather spectacularly when it hit ground.

Image Credits: SpaceX

SpaceX had a very similar test the first time around, with things going mostly smoothly up until the landing portion of the mission. During SN8’s flight, the Starship prototype appeared to be better-oriented for landing before touching down too hard, but it’s difficult to say too much about which was more or less successful without access to the data and the testing parameters.

Starship is designed to perform this crucial maneuver as part of its approach to reusability – the spacecraft is intended to be fully reusable, and will accomplish this with a powered-landing that includes, obviously, not the exploding component. As the company noted, however, the rest of this test looks pretty much like what they wanted to happen.

This kind of early testing isn’t expected to go exactly to plan, and the point is primarily to collect data that will help improve further attempts and spacecraft development. Of course, you’d hope to get things exactly right upon your first attempts, but it never actually works that way in rocketry. What is unusual is how public SpaceX is with its development program at this stage of testing.

The company will be back at it with another try soon. It already has its SN10 prototype set up on its launch site at its Texas facility, which is the other spaceship you see in the early part of the animation above.

#aerospace, #animation, #florida, #outer-space, #south-florida, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #texas

SpaceX bought two oil rigs to convert into offshore launch pads for Starship

SpaceX’s next spacecraft is in development in Texas, and CEO Elon Musk previously revealed that the company was planning to build floating spaceports for Starship operations, after a job ad was posted looking for someone to oversee their development. Now, SpaceX has purchased two oil rigs to convert for this purpose, as first reported by spaceflight.com’s Michael Baylor, and confirmed by CNBC.

The rigs have been named Deimos and Phoibos by SpaceX, which are the names of the two moons of Mars (and the names of the gods of both dread and fear in Greek mythology before that). The rigs were originally designed for offshore deepwater drilling, up to a maximum depth of 8,500 feet. They’re currently located in Brownsville, a port city on the Gulf of Mexico near SpaceX’s Starship development site in Brownsville, Texas.

These vessels measure 240 feet by 255 feet and will in theory be repurposed to support launching of Starship (and perhaps return landing, given their reusable design). Thus far, SpaceX has been launching and landing its Starship prototypes on land at its Boca Chica site, though it’s only done lower altitude flights so far. The company also operates two drone ships, which are 300 feet long by around 170 feet wide, as autonomous floating landing pads for its current Falcon 9 rocket boosters.

SpaceX also posted another ad seeking a resort development manager to turn its south Texas facility into a “21st century spaceport,” specifically looking for someone with resort expertise. Meanwhile, Musk confirmed that he has moved to Texas last December, following a number of public suggestions that he would do so owing in part to California’s taxation and regulatory environment.

Musk’s other company Tesla also selected Austin as the site of its next gigafactory in the U.S., intended for assembly of its Cybertruck, Model Y and Tesla Semi, as well as Model 3 cars destined for customers on the east coast. SpaceX has maintained engine test facilities in McGreger, Texas, and set up Boca Chica as one of two Starship development sites alongside Florida, before making the south Texas location the sole focus for that spacecraft’s construction and testing after consolidating its efforts.

#aerospace, #austin, #california, #ceo, #east-coast, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #gulf-of-mexico, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-cybertruck, #texas, #united-states

Elon Musk says SpaceX to double launch pad usage for Starship tests, Super Heavy flights coming in a ‘few months’

SpaceX is set to significantly ramp up its Starship development program in the new year, in more ways than one. SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk noted on Twitter on Thursday that the company will seek to make use of both of its two launch pads at its development facility in Boca Chica, Texas with prototype rockets set up on each, and that it will begin flight testing its Super Heavy booster (starting with low-altitude ‘hops’) in as few as “a few months” from now.

Recently, SpaceX has set up its SN9 prototype of Starship (the ninth in the current series) at Pad B at its Texas testing facility, which is on the Gulf of Mexico. SN9 will be next to undergo active testing, after SpaceX successfully flew its predecessor SN8 to an altitude of around 40,000 feet, and then executed a crucial belly flop maneuver that will be used to help control the powered landing of the production version. SN8 was destroyed when it touched down harder than expected, but SpaceX still achieved all its testing goals with the flight – and more.

SN9 will now undergo ground tests before hopefully doing its own flight test later on. That’ll provide the team with even more valuable data to carry on to further tests – with the ultimate goal of eventually achieving orbit with a Starship prototype vehicle. Musk’s tweet that two prototypes will be stood up next to each other on both Pad A and Pad B at the Boca Chica site could indicate the pace of these test flights might speed up, to match the fast clip at which SpaceX is constructing new rocket iterations.

Meanwhile, news that Super Heavy could be undergoing testing soon is also reason to get excited about 2021 for SpaceX and Starship. Super Heavy is the booster that SpaceX will eventually use to fly Starship for orbital launches, and to eventually help propel it to deep space – for destinations including Mars. Super Heavy will be around 240-feet tall, and will include 28 Raptor engines to provide it with the lift capacity needed to break Earth’s gravity well when it’s stacked with a Starship loaded down with cargo.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #gulf-of-mexico, #hyperloop, #new-years-day, #outer-space, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #starship, #tc, #texas

Watch SpaceX fly its Starship spacecraft during its first high-altitude test live

SpaceX is all set to conduct a high-altitude test of its Starship rocket – a first for the spacecraft prototype design. The test will see Starship serial number 8 (SN8) fly from SpaceX’s development site in Cameron County, Texas, climb to a max height of around 41,000 feet, and then return to Earth during a controlled landing using its Raptor engines, if all goes exactly to plan. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has noted that things likely won’t go exactly to plan with this test, saying he anticipates they’ll achieve maybe 1/3 of their goals with this attempt.

This is the first time that Starship will be flying with three Raptor engines on board – prior short hop tests of earlier prototypes used just one. It’ll also involve a key maneuver that the Starship will ultimately be required to get right in order to achieve its reusability goal and return safely through Earth’s atmosphere when landing – a mid-air belly flop of sorts to orient it correctly to avoid burning up during re-entry.

SpaceX has flown Starship prototypes to a height of just under 500 feet, and successfully landed both with a controlled descent. This attempt will also include an attempt to relight Starship’s engines and return it to Earth in a vertical orientation, but those are much less likely to be successful at this stage vs. the earlier stage goals just reaching that max altitude and then ideally completing that ‘belly flop’ maneuver. Conducting tests like this with low likelihood of successful outcomes is absolutely par for the course for rocket development programs, but SpaceX is one of the few companies that conducts these out in the open – and perhaps the only that does so with live-streamed access for all.

Ultimately, Starship will prove the central component of a new generation of launch vehicle that SpaceX hopes to use to reach Mars – and to replace all of its current launch activities with Falcon vehicles, as well as to provide high-altitude point-to-point flights between destinations on Earth for hyper-fast travel. The production Starship will be paired with a Super Heavy rocket for additional thrust for high mass cargo missions and long-duration deep space trips.

The test launch today could happen anytime between roughly 9 AM EST (6 AM PST) and 6 PM EST (3 PM PST), and SpaceX says that it will begin the livestream shortly before the actual launch attempt, so stay tuned to the video above and our Twitter account for updates.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #falcon, #outer-space, #raptor, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #texas

SpaceX targeting next week for Starship’s first high-altitude test flight

SpaceX looks ready to proceed to the next crucial phase of its Starship spacecraft development program: A 15km (50,000 feet) test flight. This would far exceed the max height that any prior Starship prototype has achieved so far, since the current record-setting hop test maxed out at around 500 feet. Elon Musk says that SpaceX will look to make its first high-altitude attempt sometime next week.

This tentative date (these are always subject to change) follows a successful static test fire of the current SN8 generation prototype – essentially just firing the test spacecraft’s Raptor engines while it remains stationary o the pad. That’s a crucial step that paves the way for any actual flight, since it proves that the spacecraft can essentially hold together and withstand the pressures of active engines before it leaves the ground.

SpaceX’s SN8 prototype is different from prior versions in a number of ways, most obviously because it has an actual nosecone, along with nose fins. The prototypes that did the short test hops, including SN6, had what’s known as a mass simulator up top, which weighs as much as an actual Starship nose section but looks very different.

Musk added that the chances of an SN8 high-altitude flight going to plan aren’t great, estimating that there’s “maybe a 1/3 chance” given how many things have to work correctly. He then noted that that’s the reason SpaceX has SN9 and SN10 ready to follow fast, which is a theme of Starship’s development program to date: building successive generations of prototypes rapidly in parallel in order to test and iterate quickly.

We’ll likely get a better idea of when the launch will take place due to alerts field with local regulators, so watch this space next week as we await this major leap forward in SpaceX’s Starship program.

#aerospace, #elon-musk, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc

Elon Musk says an update for its Starship spacecraft development program is coming in 3 weeks

SpaceX will provide an update about what’s happening with their Starship spacecraft in roughly three weeks, according to CEO and founder Elon Musk. Starship is a next-generation, fully reusable spacecraft that the company is developing with the aim of replacing all of their launch vehicles, including Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, for mission both to Earth orbit, and beyond to the Moon and eventually Mars.

Starship has been making rapid progress in recent weeks as SpaceX assembled multiple prototypes at once at its Texas-based development facility. Starship SN6 has completed a hop test, as did SN5 before it, climbing to 150 meters (just under 500 feet) before descending again for a controlled landing. SN8 is now preparing for a higher-altitude flight, and Musk teased that at its update in a few weeks, the company will be presenting a “V1.0” prototype that will actually be the vehicle to finally perform a test flight to orbit.

SpaceX has a lot riding on Starship – including potential contracts for Moon landing missions for crewed flights from NASA in the future as part of the Artemis program. It was one of three companies selected by the agency to bid on those contracts, alongside Blue Origin’s industry-spanning team and Dynetics.

Meanwhile, Musk also said that the SpaceX Starlink internet service is technically reachable in the Brownsville area where Starship is being developed in Texas, but that it will be around three months before the connection quality will actually be good from that far south in the U.S.

#aerospace, #blue-origin, #ceo, #dynetics, #elon-musk, #falcon-9, #falcon-heavy, #hyperloop, #internet-service, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #starlink, #starship, #tc, #texas, #united-states

Elon Musk says Starship SN8 prototype will have a nosecone and attempt a 60,000-foot return flight

Elon Musk has shared some details about future testing of Starship, the SpaceX launch vehicle currently being developed by the company at its Boca Chica, Texas facility. Recently, SpaceX has completed short, 150 meter (just under 500 feet) test flights of two earlier Starship prototypes, SN5 and SN6 – and SN8, which is currently set to be done construction “in about a week” according to Musk will have “flaps & nosecone” and ultimately is intended for a much higher altitude test launch.

The prototypes that SpaceX has flown and landed for its so-called ‘short-hop’ tests over the past few weeks have been full-sized, but with a simulated weight installed on the top in place of the actual domed nosecone that will perch atop the final production Starship and protect any cargo on board. SN5 and SN6, which are often compared to grain silos, are also lacking the large control flaps on either side of the nosecone that will help control its flight. SN8 will have both, according to Musk.

This version of the prototype will also undergo the same early testing and its precursors, including a static fire and other ground checkouts, followed by another static fire before ultimately attempting to fly to an altitude of 60,000 feet – and then returning back to the ground for a controlled landing.

SpaceX is off pace when it comes to Starship development relative to Musk’s earliest, rosiest projections – but the CEO is known for overly optimistic estimates when it comes to timeframes, something he’s repeatedly copped to himself.

Rocket development is also notoriously difficult, so this first high-altitude flight attempt could just as easily go very poorly. SpaceX in particular has a development program that focuses on rapid iteration, and learning from earlier mistakes while building simultaneous development prototypes incorporating different lessons gleaned from various generations. And while it may not have made Musk’s crazy timelines, it is moving very quickly, especially now that the most recent prototypes have survived pressure testing and made it up into the air.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #hyperloop, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #texas

SpaceX completes another successful short test flight of its Starship spacecraft prototype

SpaceX has done it again – a second ‘hop’ flight in under a month for its Starship prototype. This was a 150 meter (just under 500 foot) test flight from its Boca Chica, Texas development site. The prototype used in this instance was SN6, a more recent model than the SN5 test article that SpaceX used to complete a similar test at the beginning of August.

The hop flight is a key part of its testing program for Starship, and its Raptor engine. These prototypes are equipped with only one such engine, but the final production version will have six, including three designed to fly in Earth’s atmosphere, and three to be used while the vehicle is in space.

SpaceX accomplishing two of these flights with a controlled, upright landing in rapid succession is a very good sign for the spacecraft’s development program, since there have been a number of previous prototypes which never made it to this point. Earlier versions encountered pressurization failures under load when simulating what the conditions would be with fuel on board.

These short hops help SpaceX gather data bout Raptor performance, as well as the performance of a full-sized prototype Starship (though without elements including the nosecone and eventual landing legs). All of this will inform later tests, including a much higher sub-orbital atmospheric flight intended to go around as high as commercial airplanes fly, and eventually, the first orbital Starship launch, which is currently likely to take place next year at the earliest.

SpaceX is pursuing a rapid iteration development plan for Starship, creating multiple generations of prototype at once at its Boca Chica site, with the aim of testing and improving the design quickly, while also learning from failures. The goal had been to fly Starship’s first operational missions sometime next year, but it will be incredibly impressive if the company manages that considering where they’re at in the rocket’s development cycle.

#aerospace, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #texas, #transportation

SpaceX successfully flies its Starship prototype to a height of around 500 feet

SpaceX has been developing Starship, its next-generation spacecraft, at its site in Boca Chica, Texas. The company has built a number of different Starship prototypes to date, include one prior version called the Starhopper that was essentially just the bottom portion of the rocket. Today, the company flew its first full-scale prototype (minus the domed cap that will appear on the final version, and without the control fins that will appear lower down on its sides), achieving an initial flight of around 150 m (just under 500 feet).

This is the furthest along one of these prototypes has come in the testing process. It’s designated Starship SN5, which is the fifth serialized test article. SpaceX actually built a first full-scale demonstration craft called the Starship Mk1 prior to switching to this new naming scheme, so that makes this the sixth one this size they’ve built – with the prior versions suffering failures at various points during preparations, including pressure testing and following a static engine test fire.

SN5 is now the first of these larger test vehicles to actually take off and fly. This prototype underwent a successful static test fire earlier this week, paving the way for this short flight test today. It’s equipped with just one Raptor engine, whereas the final Starship will have six Raptors on board for much greater thrust. It managed to fly and land upright, which means that by all external indications everything went to plan.

Starhopper previously completed a similar hop in August of 2019. SpaceX has an aggressive prototype development program to attempt to get Starship in working order, with the ambitious goal of flying payloads using the functional orbital vehicle as early as next year. Ultimately, Starship is designed to pair with a future Falcon Heavy booster to carry large payloads to orbit around Earth, as well as to the Moon and eventually to Mars.

#aerospace, #falcon-heavy, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #starship, #tc, #texas

Starship SN5 completes engine test – short, low-altitude flight test to follow ‘soon’ says Elon Musk

The sixth full-scale testing prototype of SpaceX’s Starship has successfully completed a key static fire test of its Raptor engines, according to SpaceX founders and CEO Elon Musk . The so-called ‘SN5’ Starship prototype is now ready to move on to a 150m (nearly 500 feet) short duration flight test, which would mark the furthest yet that one of these testing spacecraft has made it through SpaceX’s planned development program.

SpaceX has been building and testing Starship prototypes (which are designed by the ‘SN’ followed by their number in sequence) since last year, after the company first built a sub-scale demonstrator that was made up of basically just the base of a Starship with a single Raptor engine mounted to demonstrate low-altitude flight and landing capabilities.

Since then, SpaceX has been building full-scale demonstration prototypes to perform more test flights, initially seeking to go immediately into high-altitude testing. These were known as Mk1 and Mk2, and Mk1 was destroyed during pressure tank testing, while Mk2 was scrapped with the company turning its focus to Mk3 (renamed SN1, starting the new naming convention for the series). The prototypes that have bene developed since have been built and tested rapidly, with SN3 and SN4 both suffering catastrophic failures during the testing process.

SpaceX has successfully test-fired the SN5 prototype, however, as of today, and will now move on to the first low-altitude ‘hop’ flight of full-scale prototype test vehicle.

Ultimately, SpaceX hopes to replace all of its launch vehicles with Starship – including Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy – as well as to use it with its forthcoming Super Heavy booster to carry large loads of cargo to Mars for establishing a permanent human presence on the red planet. It obviously still has many tests, and many iterations to go before it reaches that lofty goal, but Musk and SpaceX seem keen on a rapid pace of iteration and testing with a relatively public audience. The ample testing is pretty standard for space vehicle development, but doing it out in the open is novel, as is the speed with which SpaceX is building real test articles and then using the results to create new (and hopefully improved) versions.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #hyperloop, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc

Elon Musk says Starship is now SpaceX’s top priority

SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk says that after accomplishing its first human launch, the company’s primary focus going forward will be developing Starship, its next-generation spacecraft. According to an internal email seen by CNBC, Musk said that Starship is job one for the company, with the exception of ensuring that everything goes well with the forthcoming return of the Crew Dragon capsule from the International Space Station, which will be carrying NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on their homeward bound trip.

Starship has been in development at a SpaceX production and testing site in Boca Chica, Texas, since 2019, and was also originally being developed by a second team in parallel in Florida. SpaceX combined the efforts and focused prototype builds in Texas late last year and has been building a number of Starship prototypes using a model of rapid iteration.

The spacecraft is designed to be a fully reusable vehicle that can support both crew and cargo configurations that can make trips to both Earth orbit and deep space destinations including the moon and Mars when paired with the forthcoming SpaceX Super Heavy rocket booster. SpaceX eventually wants to replace both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy with Starship, which should reduce costs by unifying its production lines and offering full reusability.

Thus far, development of the Starship has met with a number of challenges. After early successful testing of the Raptor engine that will power it, using a subscale prototype called the “Starhopper.” SpaceX has been building full-scale test vehicles, but each of those has so far succumbed to some failure during testing, either of its fuel compartments during pressure testing, or, most recently, shortly after a static fire test of its engine. SpaceX is now assembling SN5, the fifth prototype of Starship, to continue its testing — even while SN6 and SN7 are also under construction.

Musk says in the email seen by CNBC that SpaceX employees should “consider spending significant time” at its Boca Chica development site to help with the vehicle’s development. The company now has a bit more time pressure driving Starship’s development, since it was selected as one of three suppliers for NASA’s human lunar lander contracts, with Starship intended to act as a last-mile transportation system for taking astronauts from NASA’s Lunar Gateway to the surface of the moon.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #falcon-9, #falcon-heavy, #florida, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #raptor, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #texas

SpaceX’s Starship SN4 launch vehicle prototype explodes after static engine fire test

SpaceX had just conducted yet another static fire test of the Raptor engine in its Starship SN4 prototype launch vehicle on Friday when the test vehicle exploded on the test stand in Boca Chica, Texas. This was the fourth static fire test of this engine on this prototype, so it’s unclear what went wrong versus other static fire attempts.

This was a test in the development of Starship, a new spacecraft that SpaceX has been developing in Boca Chica. Eventually, the company hopes to use it to replace its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket, but Starship is still very early in its development phase, whereas those vehicles are flight-proven, multiple times over.

SpaceX had just secured FAA approval to fly its Starship prototype for short, suborbital test flights. The goal was to fly this SN4 prototype for short distances following static fire testing, but that clearly won’t be possible now, as the vehicle appears to have been completely destroyed in the explosion following Friday’s test, as you can see below in the stream from NASASpaceflight.com.

The explosion occurred around 1:49 PM local time in Texas, roughly two minutes after it had completed its engine test fire. We’ve reached out to SpaceX to find out more about the cause of today’s incident, and whether anyone was hurt in the explosion. SpaceX typically takes plenty of safety precautions when running these tests, including ensuring the area is well clear of any personnel or other individuals.

This isn’t the first time one of SpaceX’s Starship prototypes has met a catastrophic end; a couple of previous test vehicles succumbed to pressure testing while being put through their paces. This is why space companies test frequently and stress test vehicles during development — to ensure that the final operational vehicles are incredibly safe and reliable when they need to be.

SpaceX is already working on additional prototypes, including assembling SN5 nearby in Boca Chica, so it’s likely to resume its testing program quickly once it can clear the test stand and move in the newest prototype. This is a completely separate endeavor from SpaceX’s work on the Commercial Crew program, so that historic first test launch with astronauts on board should proceed either Saturday or Sunday as planned, depending on weather.

#aerospace, #falcon-9, #falcon-heavy, #federal-aviation-administration, #florida, #outer-space, #raptor, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #starship, #tc, #texas

SpaceX gets FAA permission to fly its Starship spacecraft prototype

SpaceX has received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly suborbital missions with its Starship prototype spacecraft, paving the way for test flights at its Boca Chica, Texas site. SpaceX has been hard at work readying its latest Starship prototype for low-altitude, short duration controlled flight tests, and conducted another static engine fire test of the fourth iteration of its in-development spacecraft earlier today.

Officially, the FAA has granted SpaceX permission to conduct what it terms “reusable launch vehicle” missions, which essentially means that the Starship prototype is now cleared to take-off from, and land back at, the launch site SpaceX operates in Boca Chica. The Elon Musk-led space company has already conducted similar tests, but previously used its ‘Starhopper’ early prototype, which was smaller than the planned production Starship, and much more rudimentary in design. It was basically used to prove out the capabilities of the Raptor engine that SpaceX will use to propel Starship, and only for a short hop test using one of those engines.

Since that flight last year, SpaceX has developed multiple iterations of a full-scale prototype of Starship, but thus far they haven’t gotten back to the point where they’re actively flying any of those. In fact, multiple iterations of the Starship prototype have succumbed during pressure testing – though SN4, the version currently being prepared for a test flight, has passed not only pressure tests, but also static test fires of its lone Raptor engine.

The plan now is to fly this one for a short ‘hop’ flight similar to the one conducted by Starhopper, with a maximum altitude of around 500 feet. Should that prove successful, the next version will be loaded with more Raptor engines, and attempt a high altitude test launch. SpaceX is quickly building newer version of Starship in succession even as it proceeds with testing the completed prototypes, in order to hopefully shorten the total timespan of its development.

There’s something of a clock that SpaceX is working against: It was one of three companies that received a contract award from NASA to develop and build a human lander for the agency’s Artemis program to return to the Moon. NASA aims to make that return trip happen by 2024, and while the contract doesn’t necessarily require that each provided have a lander ready in that timeframe, it’s definitely a goal, if only for bragging rights among the three contract awardees.

#aerospace, #bfr, #federal-aviation-administration, #outer-space, #raptor, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #texas

SpaceX’s Starship prototype successfully completes key engine static fire test

SpaceX’s Starship prototype is on a streak of successes, at a key moment for the spacecraft’s development. The Starship SN4 (so-named because it’s the fourth full-size prototype) tester managed to pass a test of its Raptor engine firing while installed on the test stand. SN4 previously passed a crucial low temperature pressure test designed to emulate conditions in space, and now seems ready to take on the next phase: a short flight demonstration.

The static test fire occurred late Tuesday night in Texas, where SpaceX is developing Starship at its facilities in Boca Chica. The SN4 Starship prototype had one Raptor mounted – which is far fewer than the six engines that the spacecraft will eventually have once it achieves full operational status. SpaceX is going to be adding more as it continues its testing and development program, however, with one planned for this iteration in order to demonstrate a short, roughly 500 feet controlled flight – similar to the one achieved by the sub-scale Starhopper testing vehicle last year.

That test flight could happen relatively soon, as SpaceX has been pursuing the required clearances to perform it for a few weeks now. Pending successful completion of that test, SpaceX is also already in process of developing the next iteration of its Starship prototype, which is designed to be outfitted with three Raptor engines and perform a higher altitude flight, paving the way fo the first ever orbital demonstration, which the company still wants to achieve sometime later this year.

The stakes for Starship were already high, considering how much SpaceX has invested in the vehicle, and how it hopes to eventually use it to replace both its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launchers for all mission activities. But they were recently raised higher still, as NASA has selected SpaceX and Starship as one of the approved contractors for its human lander development program. That means the agency will be looking to Starship as a means of transporting astronauts to the surface of the Moon, which it aims to do by 2024.

#aerospace, #bfr, #falcon-9, #falcon-heavy, #outer-space, #raptor, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #starship, #tc, #texas

SpaceX’s latest Starship prototype passes a key test that puts it on track for a first flight

SpaceX has been developing its next-generation Starship rocket for some time now, but the large-scale prototypes it’s building in Boca Chica, Texas, have thus far always encountered a fatal error during an important part of testing called “cryo” – or filling the fuel tank to full pressure in conditions that simulate the vacuum of space. The latest prototype, called ‘SN4’ for ‘serial number 4,’ has finally passed this test however, and that clears the way for an engine fire test followed by a short flight.

SpaceX’s SN4 prototype resembles what its final rocket will look like, unlike the Starhopper sub-scale demonstrator that the company originally flew just to show off what its new Raptor engine could accomplish. The SN4, like the Starhopper, is equipped with a single Raptor engine, which will make it possible for the vehicle to make short flights for testing purposes. The next version, SN5, will have three raptor engines according to SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk, which is still less than the six that the full, functional version of Starship is intended to have, but that will allow it to perform longer test flights in preparation for an orbital launch demonstration.

Testing and developing a new rocket and launch system is always going to have hiccups, since all the simulation in the world can’t replicate real-world use conditions and physics. But Starship’s prior failures at the cryo testing phase were beginning to look like they could be a more fundamental problem – it’s what laid low SN1 through SN3, after all.

SpaceX will now perform a static test fire of the Raptor engine installed on the prototype, which could happen as soon as sometime later this week, and then the development craft will look to do a flight of around 150 meters (around 500 feet), which is the same height as the Starhopper performed. That’s nowhere near as high as it’ll need to go to fly orbital missions, of course, but it’s a test that will show how a full-scale vehicle performs at low-altitude, which is key info that SpaceX needs before developing its high-altitude and orbital prototypes.

#aerospace, #bfr, #ceo, #elon-musk, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #raptor, #simulation, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #texas

SpaceX’s latest Starship prototype fails under pressure testing

The process of designing, testing and building an entirely new spacecraft is definitely a difficult one and bound to encounter some issues. SpaceX’s efforts to build Starship, its massive new fully reusable spaceship, is no exception. The most recent Starship prototype, designated “SN3,” failed catastrophically during cryogenic proof testing, which is designed to simulate pressures the spacecraft would encounter during a test flight.

That might sound familiar: SpaceX’s first prototype, the Mk1, was also destroyed during pressure testing of its fuel tank, and the next full-scale prototype under development, SN1, was also destroyed during a pressure test in late February. Another prototype, SN2, was stripped to just a test article designed for cryogenic testing, and it passed that same cryo test, but now the next full-scale prototype being developed, SN3, has once again succumbed during cryogenic testing at SpaceX’s launch stand in Boca Chica, Texas.

You can see the moment the stacked SN3 fuselage crumples during the cryogenic pressure testing in the video below from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) on YouTube, and its seems pretty likely there won’t be any attempt to rebuild and reuse this prototype. Instead, SpaceX will likely proceed to building its next prototype, presumably named SN4. The original plan was to have SN4 be a high-altitude flight prototype, but that seems unlikely given the result of this test.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that the SN3 failure “may have been a test configuration mistake,” rather than an issue with the spacecraft itself. He said that the company will no more once they undergo a data review in the morning.

This is most definitely a setback, but not an unusual one in the process of spacecraft development. SpaceX has also had successes in their development program, including a test of the “Starhopper” sub-scale prototype, which proved out the basic performance of the Raptor engines that SpaceX is using to propel the Starship, and eventually its Super Heavy booster.

#aerospace, #outer-space, #prototype, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #texas