Musk Confirms how “Mechazilla” Will Catch and Assemble Starship and Super Heavy for Rapid Reuse

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.”

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According to Elon, Starship Could Chomp up Space Junk

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.

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The Starhops Have Begun!

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.

Continue reading “The Starhops Have Begun!”

New SpaceX Raptor Engine Beats the Chamber Pressure of Russia’s RD-180 Engine, According to Elon Musk

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.

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Wow, Elon Musk Just Deleted the Facebook Pages for SpaceX and Tesla

And Liftoff for Falcon Heavy. Credit: SpaceX

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!

Further Reading: Futurism, Twitter

Stunning Snapshots from Space Courtesy of Reid Wiseman

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.

One of Reid Wiseman's first few tweets from space
One of Reid Wiseman’s first few tweets from space!

A "beautiful pass over the Falkland Islands" (aka Malvinas) on May 30 with docked Soyuz in the foreground
A “beautiful pass over the Falkland Islands” (aka Islas Malvinas) on May 30 with docked Soyuz in the foreground

Reid confirmed that the Earth is indeed round with a 12mm lens on June 1
Reid confirmed that the Earth is indeed round with a 12mm lens on June 1

Looking down on glacial flows near the Strait of Magellan
Looking down on glacial flows near the Strait of Magellan

Pink clouds at sunset may look beautiful from Earth but "not as pretty here" according to Reid Wiseman
Pink clouds at sunset may look beautiful from Earth but “not as pretty here” according to Reid Wiseman

May 31 was a "nice day to hit the beach" in Santos, Brazil
May 31 was a “nice day to hit the beach” in Santos, Brazil

"Our planet is almost all ocean and so pretty," Tweeted Reid on June 1
“Our planet is almost all ocean and so pretty,” Tweeted Reid on June 1

A "Soyuz selfie" in the cupola with Expedition 40/41 crew members Alexander Gerst, Oleg Artemyev, and Reid Wiseman, shared on June 2
A “Soyuz group selfie” in the cupola with Expedition 40/41 crew members Alexander Gerst, Oleg Artemyev, and Reid Wiseman, shared on June 2

"Chile just left me speechless," Reid tweeted on June 4
“Chile just left me speechless,” Reid tweeted on June 4

"Clouds turn 2D into 3D" tweeted Reid on Thursday, June 5
“Clouds turn 2D into 3D” tweeted Reid on Thursday, June 5

Just a week into his stay aboard the ISS microgravity is already second nature!
Just a week into his stay aboard the ISS microgravity is already second nature!

See these photos (and more as they are taken!) on Reid Wiseman’s Twitter feed, and learn more about Expedition 40 here.

Photos courtesy Reid Wiseman/NASA.

Astronomers and Their Dobs: Paying a Twitter Tribute to John Dobson

Amateur astronomers love their Dobs. As we said in a previous article, “A Dobsonian is simplicity in itself; a simple set of optics on a simple mount. But don’t be fooled by this simplicity. Dobsonian telescopes are incredibly good and are great for amateurs and professional astronomers alike.”

And so, we were all saddened to learn of the passing of John Dobson, the inventor of this beloved telescope. We asked our followers on Twitter to tweet pictures of their Dobs, and our feed got flooded with pics and remembrances. See a bunch of our retweets below:

You can see more on our Twitter feed.

Captain Kirk Tweets the Space Station

 Chris Hadfield’s response to William Shatner got quite a bit of attention on Twitter

You know that you’re living in a very special point in time when you can watch a man who became famous playing a starship captain on television send a tweet to a man who’s actually working in a spaceship orbiting the Earth — and get an amusing response back.

Which is exactly what happened earlier today when William Shatner got a reply from Chris Hadfield, currently part of the Expedition 34 crew aboard the ISS. For many people Shatner was the first starship captain remembered from TV in the late ’60s, and in a couple of months Chris Hadfield will become the first Canadian astronaut to assume command of the International Space Station.

(Shatner, by the way, is also from Canada. Hmm…maybe there’s something more going on here…)

‘Live’ Tweeting Apollo 17’s Mission


40 years ago on December 19, 1972, Apollo 17 splashed down on Earth, marking the end of the manned moon missions. The astronauts came back with a treasure trove of rocks collected in 22 hours of extra-vehicular activity on the lunar surface, including “orange” soil that ended up coming from an ancient volcano.

Twitter wasn’t around back then, but anyone tuning into several Twitter accounts recently week would have a chance to experience what it could it have been like. Using mission transcripts and historical accounts of Apollo 17, these folks took it upon themselves to tweet the Apollo 17 mission, moment by moment, as “live” as possible.

Universe Today caught up with two of the tweeters. This is an edited version of what they said about the experience.

Liz Suckow (@LizMSuckow), a NASA contract archivist who tweeted on her own time

Researching a mission is divided into two parts, prelaunch and flight. For prelaunch, I use whatever official NASA documents, histories, and relevant astronaut and mission controller autobiographies I can find.

From what I’ve seen on the missions I’ve tweeted, until Apollo, no prelaunch conversation was transcribed at all. For Apollo, the last hour or so before liftoff is on the mission transcript. So, I can schedule those tweets. But, prelaunch activities for the astronauts start as long as 10 hours before liftoff. So, I use whatever resources I can to find references to the time of important events, and the rest of the prelaunch scheduling is educated guesswork. Flight is easy.

I have been trying to tweet as if I was the Johnson Space Center public affairs officer during the particular mission. When I joined Twitter in November of 2010 and was looking for accounts to follow, I came across a dead feed from JSC, I can’t remember the account name, that tweeted what had happened during a shuttle mission in real time.

Apollo 17, the only lunar mission to launch at night. Image Credit: NASA/courtesy of

I thought, “Wow, that’s cool! Somebody ought to do that for the historical missions.” The celebration of the 40th anniversary of Apollo was still a big deal at NASA at the time, and the next mission up was Apollo 14. I figured someone else at NASA would have the same idea, but it was never mentioned.  So, I figured I would do it on my personal account, just to see if it could be done and if anybody else (even if it was only a few people) liked the idea.

I am definitely going to be doing another one. I think the next anniversary is either Gordon Cooper‘s Mercury flight in May 2013, or the first Skylab missions. Not quite sure how I want to handle Skylab yet, may throw that one open to followers for ideas. Why do I do it? I do it because it is fun. Sometimes, I get so mentally involved the mission I get excited for what’s coming next as I am scheduling the tweets (even though I know full well what’s going to happen).

Buck Calabro (@Apollo17History), space fan who live-Tweeted along with Thomas Rubatscher

I’m live tweeting because I’m interested in Apollo. It’s a life-long interest. I myself live Tweet mostly by actually typing the tweet into or I have collaborated with Thomas by creating a spreadsheet of candidate tweets that he can upload into HootSuite’s bulk uploader for time-delayed tweeting.

My tweets mostly center around the command module pilot, Ron Evans. He spent three days all by himself in the CM, doing photography, mapping and other experiments. Not exactly the same sort of fame that the moonwalkers got. It’s a different kind of grit. Imagine being Evans, as AMERICA goes around the limb of the moon, completely cut off from every human being in the universe. Nothing but some fans, pumps and procedure to keep you going.

I have no plans for leveraging the Tweets. I’ll probably do another one someday. It’s a lot of work. As far as resources, I prefer source material. I have copies of the original transcripts for ground-to-air communications. The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal is a treasure trove of images and transcripts for the lunar surface portion of the mission, and the Lunar and Planetary Institute has an extensive catalog of imagery by camera magazine (which can be found in the transcripts.) NASA has scanned vast quantities of Apollo-era documentation, and the experiment results are likewise mostly available in the public domain.

Memorable Space Tweeps of 2012

To space Tweeps, Twitter is so much more than just a news service. It’s a community, a spot where everyone can showcase their interests and form professional bonds with each other.

The most prominent space-themed Twitter accounts of 2012 somehow transcended their original purpose, too. A NASA Mars Curiosity account ended up hobnobbing with comedian Steve Martin, and a space-station-passing service suddenly found itself in bit of a Twitter controversy.

Here are 10 of some of the most memorable Twitter accounts from this year. Yes, there’s a lot of Mars reflected here, but the entities quoted below explore all over the Universe.


Dutch astronaut André Kuipers spent the first half of 2012 orbiting Earth. From his perch aboard the International Space Station, he participated in the historic SpaceX docking in May and finished 50 experiments. But rather than dwell on these achievements, he spent his tweeting time in space showing his gorgeous pictures of Earth. Maybe that old Apollo phrase about going to space and discovering Earth still has resonance today.


Phil Plait is a good scientist-cum-journalist to follow in general, because his tweets constantly show his love of the universe. (“Embiggen!” he would perhaps shout at this point.) What made him stand out in 2012, though, was his willingness to use his immense Internet fame to showcase the work of others, such as his frequent Tweeting and posting of great space images and timelapse videos, or helping to ‘kickstart’ new projects and help them get off the ground, such as the Uwingu astronomy startup. He shows that Twitter most definitely has altruistic use.


Chris Lintott demonstrated how to handle a situation when a close, beloved colleague passes away. The co-presenter of The Sky At Night was among the first official voices giving word of Sir Patrick Moore‘s death, and he retweeted messages of remembrance from colleagues and ordinary people. Nicely done, during what was a difficult time.


Hard to believe Clara Ma is a mere 15 years old when reading tweets like this. The Kansas-based teenager named the Mars Curiosity rover. This year, she has been graciously fielding interview requests from journalists, and messages of support from NASA employees, ever since the rover made it to Mars in August.


OK, I’ll admit my bias here: I’m Canadian. I’ve been watching Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield since he was selected 20 years ago. But in the Twittersphere, he’s made an impact. My fellow journalists publicly speak about his work, with respect. His tweets showing his astronaut training are favourited and retweeted by people all over the world. And as the first Canadian to command the International Space Station next year, Hadfield will be a force to watch in 2013.


Three NASA employees are behind the “hive mind” of @MarsCuriosity. The official feed for the Curiosity mission skyrocketed to fame in 2012, receiving tweets from celebrities ranging from Britney Spears to the aforementioned Steve Martin. In this case, happily, “official” doesn’t always mean “staid.” The Twitter account has been a bevy of jokes and cheerful updates in between the standard scientific results.


At 35 years and counting, the two NASA Voyager spacecraft have ventured into the newer field of social media. The accounts received more attention as Voyager 1 reached the edge of our solar system in 2012. It’s hard to summarize solar and interstellar physics in just 140 characters, but this official NASA account does it quite well.


Nothing says pop culture as seeing your catchphrase — “Let’s Do a Science!” — repeated ad nauseum by planetary scientists on Twitter. The brainchild of Jason Filiatrault, this account is a parody of the official Mars Curiosity Twitter and depicts a rover angrily making its way around Mars after being ordered there by unfeeling humans. Besides wry observations of Martian life, the rover broadcasts its point of view on recent discoveries in a unique way.


Not often that a corporate account uses four exclamation marks in a row, but the space geeks would argue this is justified. SpaceX made headlines and history in 2012 when the Dragon spacecraft berthed with the International Space Station — a first for a private spacecraft. SpaceX’s Twitter not only broadcasts mission news, but also seeks out mentions of the company and adds commentary.


Just before the International Space Station passes by overhead, @twisst gives you a heads-up that you’ll be able to see it. This popular account’s service was briefly shut down in 2012 due to Twitter’s concerns about the duplicate accounts required to make the service work. But a few tweaks later, @twisst returned — to the delight of its thousands of followers.