Update: According to FAA flight restrictions that were redacted yesterday (Dec. 3rd), the date for the hop test has since been moved to Monday, Dec. 7th, at the earliest. The altitude of the test has also been dropped from 15 km to 12.5 km (41,000 ft).
SpaceX has really hit its stride lately! Throughout the Summer of 2020 and well into the Fall, the company has experienced a string of successes with the construction and testing of its Starship prototypes. This has included multiple cryogenic load tests, static fire tests, test tank pressure tests, and even two 150 m (~500 ft) hop tests. And now, it looks like SpaceX could be making its first high-altitude flight test as early as tomorrow!
This test will see the first Starship prototype with three Raptor engines (SN8) fly to an altitude of 15 km (9.3 mi) before returning home safely. The engineering teams will be using this test to validate the Starship maneuvering fins as well, conducting a “belly-flop” maneuver that will see how the spacecraft’s aerodynamic surfaces allow it to make controlled landings on bodies that have an atmosphere.
It’s beginning to look like SpaceX will attempt to make the 15 km (9.3 mi) hop test before Christmas! After two successful 150 m (~500 ft) hops with the SN5 and SN6 prototypes, engineers at SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch facility in South Texas rolled out the SN8 – the first Starship prototype to have three Raptor engines. But before the SN8 can conduct a high-altitude test flight, the engineers needed to run a static fire test.
This test is crucial to ensuring that the Starship‘s interior plumbing can handle its cryogenic propellants, and is the last milestone before the Starship can conduct a high-altitude flight. On the evening of Tuesday, October 20th, that’s exactly what they did! At 3:13 AM local time (01:13 AM PDT; 04:13 AM EDT), the SN8 fired up its three Raptor engines and kept firing them for several seconds straight.
Continue reading “SpaceX Starship Passes Static Fire Test With Three Raptor Engines, Finally Gets Nose Cone!”
SpaceX has been very busy lately with the development of its Starship prototypes. Based on recent activity at its Boca Chica facility, and recent images provided by Musk himself, it looks like they are about ready to make their biggest leap yet. Yesterday, on Oct. 14th, Musk announced that the eighth prototype of the Starship (SN8) has received the three Raptor engines it will use to make its planned 15.25 km (50,000 ft).
Continue reading “Elon Musk Shares a View of Starship With Three Raptor Engines Installed”
On February 6th, 2018, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful launch vehicle in their rocket family, and in service today. Not only was this a major milestone for SpaceX, it was also the biggest public relations coup ever orchestrated by Musk. For this launch, Musk decided that the payload would be his cherry Tesla Roadster with a SpaceX spacesuit (affectionately named “Starman”) at the wheel.
Those who watched the live footage of the event (or caught the compilation video released shortly after) are not likely to forget Starman and the Roadster orbiting Earth as David Bowie played in the background. At the time, it was also anticipated that Starman and the Roadster would eventually make a close pass of Mars. Two years after launch, Starman finally accomplished a flyby of the Red Planet!
Continue reading “Starman Just Made his Closest Approach to Mars”
It’s no exaggeration to say that NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the Moon has faced its share of challenges. From its inception, Project Artemis has set some ambitious goals, up to and including placing “the first woman and next man” on the Moon by 2024. Aside from all the technical challenges that this entails, there’s also the question of budgets. As the Apollo Era taught us, reaching the moon in a few years doesn’t come cheap!
Funding is an especially sticky issue right now because of the fact that we’re in an election year and NASA may be dealing with a new administration come Jan of 2021. In response, NASA announced a budget last week (Mon. Sept 21st) that put a price tag on returning astronauts to the Moon. According to NASA, it will cost taxpayers $28 billion between 2021 and 2025 to make sure Project Artemis’ meets its deadline of 2024.
Continue reading “NASA’s New Budget for Artemis? $28 Billion”
Every year, the Pacific Northwest and California experience “wildfire season,” a period where heat and low humidity combine, leading to an increased risk of fires. This year has been particularly bad and in California alone, wildfires have destroyed over two million acres of land, forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, and threatened many historic institutions and landmarks.
One of them is the Mount Wilson Observatory that sits atop Mount Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains overlooking Pasadena (northeast of LA). This famous observatory is home to several telescopes that were, for a time, the largest of their kind in the world. And thanks to the heroic efforts of firefighters, it looks as though the Mt. Wilson Observatory is now safe amid a particularly bad wildfire season.
Continue reading “It Looks Like Firefighters Saved Mt. Wilson Observatory”
SpaceX is getting closer to the day when it will be able to make good on its promise of conducting regular missions to orbit, the Moon, and to Mars. At the heart of all this is the progress they are making with their Starship and Super Heavy launch system. In recent weeks, Musk’s commercial space company conducted two successful 150 m (500 ft) hop tests with the SN5 and SN6 prototypes at the Boca Chica launch facility in southern Texas.
Based on the latest announcements to come out of SpaceX, it appears that this recent string of successes has emboldened Musk and his company. Previously, Musk indicated that he was planning on making several more small hop tests and that the SN8 would attempt a 20 km (12 mi) flight sometime next year. More recent indications, however, suggest that Musk wants to conduct this high-altitude test before the end of October.
Continue reading “The SpaceX Starship Could be Making its Biggest Hop Yet (and a Belly-Flop) Next Month!”
On Aug. 10th, a little over a month ago, the iconic Arecibo Observatory suffered serious damage when an auxiliary cable broke and struck the reflector dish. This cable struck the observatory’s Gregorian Dome on its way down and twisted an access platform before landing on the reflecting dish itself. The impact created a gash over 30 meters (100 feet) in length and forced the observatory to shut down until repairs could be made.
Since then, teams have been busy working to stabilize the structure and determine the cause. These teams are made up of technicians from the observatory and the University of Central Florida (UCF), which manages the facility for the National Science Foundation (NSF). For the past few weeks, they have been meeting with experts from various fields and laying the groundwork for an investigation and a rigorous repair schedule.
Continue reading “An Update on the Damage to the Arecibo Observatory”
SpaceX has done it again! Earlier today (Thurs. Sept. 3rd), the company completed a second hop test with a Starship prototype. This time, it was the sixth iteration (SN6) that successfully made the 150-meter (~500 foot) flight at their launch facility near Boca Chica, Texas. This latest test has further validated the Starship design and the Raptor engine, two systems which Musk hopes will someday take humans to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond!
Continue reading “SpaceX’s Starship Prototype Nails Another Hop Test! Bring on Orbital Flights!”