SpaceX Founder and CEO Elon Musk recently took to Twitter and hinted that the much-anticipated Starship—currently undergoing upgrades in preparation for its upcoming maiden flight—could launch as soon as November.
Responding to a question from a curious Twitter account asking about updates for Starship’s orbital flight date, Musk responded, “Late next month maybe, but November seems highly likely. We will have two boosters & ships ready for orbital flight by then, with full stack production at roughly one every two months.” As usual, his tweet garnered thousands of likes and hundreds of retweets.
SpaceX has enjoyed a lot of wins in the past few years. In addition to successfully glide-testing and landing multiple Starship prototypes, they’ve rolled out its first Super Heavy boosters, test-fired the new Raptor Vacuum engines, and assembled the “Mechazilla” launch tower at Boca Chica, Texas. They also unveiled the first fully-furbished orbital test vehicle (SN20) that was stacked with a first stage booster for the first time on its launch pad.
Given the prodigious rate of progress, few were surprised when Musk announced that the first orbital flight test could take place as soon as January 2022. Unfortunately, this date had to be pushed back to an environmental assessment and the usual bureaucratic rigmarole. However, Musk recently announced on Twitter that in light of his company’s success with the new Raptor engines, they could be ready to conduct the long-awaited orbital test flight this May.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to an outpouring of support and material aid from the international community. For his part, Elon Musk obliged Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov‘s request for assistance by sending free Starlink terminals to Ukraine. For some besieged communities, like the city of Mariupol, this service constitutes the only means of getting up-to-date information, communicating with family members, or sharing their stories from the front lines of the war.
Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister and its Minister of Digital Transformation, thanked Musk on Twitter for the devices. However, there is also the possibility that as the fighting continues, Starlink transmissions could become beacons for Russian airstrikes. John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher with The Citizen Lab (University of Toronto), pointed out this potential danger via Twitter and even recommended strategies for how this can be avoided.
The world is on high alert because of the unfolding crisis between Ukraine and Russia. Ever since Russian troops began deploying to the border regions between the two countries, there have been fears that conflict would ensue. Since the invasion began, there have also been genuine anxieties that it could spill over into neighboring states and even escalate to the point of a nuclear standoff. In the midst of all this, there have also been worries about the toll it might take on international efforts in space.
The International Space Station (ISS) is made possible through the cooperative efforts and funding of its participating space agencies – NASA (U.S.), Roscosmos (Russia), the ESA (Europe), the CSA (Canada), and JAXA (Japan). As such, it was rather curious when Russian state media company RIA Novosti posted a video online that showed Russian cosmonauts packing up and detaching the Russian segment from the ISS. Whether this represents a threat or a prediction, the message is clear: cooperation in space may be the next casualty of this war!
In January of 2021, Elon Musk announced SpaceX’s latest plan to increase the number of flights they can mount by drastically reducing turnaround time. The key to this was a new launch tower that would “catch” first stage boosters after they return to Earth. This would forego the need to install landing legs on future Super Heavy boosters and potentially future Starship returning to Earth.
Musk shared this idea in response to a Tweet made by an animator who goes by the Twitter handle Erc X, who asked if his latest render (of a Starship landing next to its launch tower) was accurate. As usual, Musk responded via Twitter, saying:
“We’re going to try to catch the Super Heavy Booster with the launch tower arm, using the grid fins to take the load… Saves mass & cost of legs & enables immediate repositioning of booster on to launch mount—ready to refly in under an hour.”
At their South Texas Launch Facility, just outside of the village of Boca Chica, SpaceX is gearing up to test the Super Heavy, the booster element of their Starship launch system. This massive reusable first stage rocket will be responsible for sending the Starship orbital vehicle to space, where it will deliver satellites to orbit, payloads and people to the Moon, and (if all goes as planned) the first human settlers to Mars.
According to a recent statement issued by SpaceX founder Musk Musk, the Starship could also be used to “chomp up debris” in Earth orbit. As usual, the statement was issued via Twitter, where Musk was once again addressing questions posted by followers and fans. The topic arose after Musk shared the latest updates about Starlink, one of a handful of satellite constellations that are bringing broadband internet services to every corner of the planet.
According to Elon Musk, SpaceX’s Starship Hopper just completed its inaugural hop test at the company’s South Texas Launch Site. As the first of many, this test is intended to validate the sophisticated Raptor engines that will be used aboard the full-scale Starship spacecraft, which is intrinsic to Musks’ long-term vision of providing intercontinental flights and making commercial trips to the Moon and Mars.
2019 has been shaping up to be an interesting year for SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk. After completing work on the miniaturized version of the Starship (Starship Alpha or “Starship hopper”) over the holidays, SpaceX moved ahead with the test-firing of its new Raptor engine in late January/early February. In accordance with Musk’s vision, these engines will give the Starship the necessary thrust to reach the Moon and Mars.
The test-firing took place at SpaceX’s Rocket Development and Test Facility, located just outside of McGregor, Texas. As Musk recently tweeted, the tests went very well, achieving the thrust necessary for both the Starship and its first-stage booster, the Super-Heavy. Musk also claimed that the engine broke the previous record for combustion chamber pressure, which was established by the Russian RD-180.
About a week ago, it was revealed that the roughly 50 million Facebook profiles were harvested by Cambridge Analytica. This private data firm, which worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the Brexit campaign, reportedly used this data build a software program that could predict and influence voter choices. Since that time, Facebook stock has taken a serious hit, investigations have been mounted, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself has come under fire.
In addition, this revelation has led many Facebook users to reconsider their privacy settings or cancel their accounts. One such person is Elon Musk. In a move that could prove rather harmful for the social media giant, Musk recently responded to the news by deleting the official Facebook pages for Tesla and SpaceX. And in a rather ironic twist, the announcement came via another social media giant – Elon Musk’s twitter account.
It all began after Musk responded to a tweet posted by Brian Acton, the famed programmer and entrepreneur who co-founded WhatsApp and is the founder of Signal (an encrypted communications app). In what was clearly an act of jest, he responded to Acton’s statement (“It is time”) and use of the trending hashtag (#deletefacebook), by inquiring “What’s Facebook?”
Naturally, no one was buying it, given that SpaceX and Facebook – and their respective CEOs) – have a rather colorful history of business relations. These include the failed launch that took place in September of 2016, where a Falcon 9 carrying a Israeli telecommunications satellite (which would have also been used by Facebook) exploded on the launch pad.
In response to the news, Zuckerberg posted a statement on Facebook that placed the blame for the failed launch squarely on Musk’s company:
“As I’m here in Africa, I’m deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent.”
This old grudge was also raised on Twitter amidst the discussion about Facebook’s data breach, with a user reminding everyone about the incident. Musk brushed this aside, tweeting, “Yeah, my fault for being an idiot. We did give them a free launch to make up for it and I think they had some insurance.”
This led to a challenge being issued to Musk, where users wrote him and urged him to delete his company’s accounts. In what was arguably an attempt to keep the joke going, Musk responded by indicating that he didn’t know these accounts existed. He did, however, also promise to remove the accounts forthwith.
And it appears that Musk was true to his word. While SpaceX and Tesla still have Facebook pages and show up in searches, the official accounts appear to be gone. Musk chose to maintain the company’s official Instagram account though, and used the opportunity to once again stress that he had little use for Facebook:
“Instagram’s probably ok imo, so long as it stays fairly independent. I don’t use FB & never have, so don’t think I’m some kind of martyr or my companies are taking a huge blow. Also, we don’t advertise or pay for endorsements, so … don’t care.”
Well, martyr or not, Musk appears to have put his money where his mouth is. And of course, his twitter feed is still going strong and there is no indication he plans on turning that off anytime soon! And whether this was intended as as slight to Zuckerberg or a sincere expression of indifference, it is likely that Musk’s move could prompt more users to delete their accounts.
But of course, the social media giant will survive. And given Zuckerberg‘s and Musk‘s competing visions to provide global broadband internet access using satellites, its a certainty that the two entrepreneurs are not done with each other!
On May 28 the crew of Expedition 40/41 launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, their Soyuz TMA-13M arriving at the International Space Station about eight and a half hours later. And it didn’t take much time for the newly-arrived NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman to start taking photos from his new vantage point in orbit and sharing them on Twitter for the rest of us to enjoy! Here are some of Reid’s latest images from the edge of space, looking down on the beautiful blue world we call home.