SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says Starhopper’s first hover test is scheduled early next week
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced via Twitter that Starhopper’s first untethered hover tests – flying as high as ~20 meters (65 ft) – could be attempted as early as Tuesday, July 16th.
SpaceX engineers and technicians have been working around the clock the last several months to prepare Starhopper for flight and – even more importantly – prepare the company’s next-gen Raptor engine to ensure it is reliable enough to risk losing the Hopper in flight. Neither task is a small challenge, with both pushing SpaceX’s workforce into new and (partially) unfamiliar territory, ranging from Starhopper’s use of steel propellant tanks to Raptor’s adoption of liquid methane and oxygen instead of the kerosene/oxygen or hydrazine SpaceX’s workforce is familiar with
Back in April 2019, SpaceX – having installed Raptor SN02 roughly two weeks prior – static fired Starhopper for the first time ever, simultaneously lifting the massive craft a few inches off the ground as it strained against its tethers. Three and a half months later, SpaceX engineers appear to have finally solved a mechanical resonance (vibration) issue that plagued all Raptors that came before SN06, forcing aborts, limiting test length, and even destroying or damaging engines beyond repair.
As previously discussed on Teslarati, Starhopper’s first true flight tests have been a long time coming. 9m (30 ft) in diameter and perhaps 25m (80 ft) tall, Starhopper is an extremely unusual and visually bizarre test article, effectively acting like a (vaguely) mobile Raptor test stand and a full-fidelity way for SpaceX’s aluminum-focused welding and fabrication crews to gain experience building a moderately functional stainless steel rocket.
Last month, there was some hope that Raptor SN05 would be capable of supporting Starhopper’s first hover tests as early as mid-to-late June, but it’s understood that the vibrational issue described above by Musk damaged the engine during one of its final acceptance tests, delaying Starhopper testing by several weeks. Had that resonance issue been solved months ago, it’s probable that Raptor SN02 could have taken Starhopper directly from its first static fires to untethered flight operations in April.
According to CEO Elon Musk, SpaceX’s Raptor manufacturing team is rapidly moving from a development-focused line to something more like mass-production. Once the design has been more thoroughly pinned down, the production ramp could max out with up to two Raptor engines completed daily, averaging out to an annual production rate of an incredible ~500 engines.
Additionally, Musk tacitly acknowledged that SpaceX’s recent development Raptors likely cost around $2M apiece, but the final mass-production cost could drop as low as $200,000 per engine, almost unfathomable for such a high-performance, cutting-edge engine.
For the time being, SpaceX will be focused on wringing out any subtler design flaws and general bugs in Raptor as the engines are gradually produced and tested at increasing volumes. This includes hop/hover tests like those Starhopper is scheduled to attempt next Tuesday, as well as even wilder ~20-km suborbital flight tests that could come once one or both of SpaceX’s “orbital” Starship prototypes are fully integrated.
Starhopper fires up for an eventful Static Fire test
Following the arrival and installation of a new Raptor engine on to the Starhopper vehicle at SpaceX’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas – a Static Fire test was conducted late on Tuesday. This test was required ahead of what is expected to be a 20 meter hop for the vehicle. However, the Static Fire appeared to cause some secondary events that will have caused what is clearly expected to be some damage to the vehicle, which will, in turn, delay the hop test.
Resuming Starhopper testing is part of facilitating further development of Raptor, the orbital Starship spacecraft, and the Super Heavy booster.
SN-4 was, at one point, intended to power the upcoming hop tests. However, after encountering issues in McGregor, the engine was only used for fit checks and Thrust Vector Control (TVC) testing in Boca Chica.
The engine was installed on the Starhopper vehicle, and commanded to gimbal to various directions at various speeds. After these tests, the engine was removed and shipped away, and Starhopper waited for another Raptor.
Raptor SN-5, however, also ran into issues in McGregor. Two seconds into a planned 50-second test firing, the engine was damaged beyond repair. The failure prompted changes for engine SN-6, which would have to pass testing in McGregor before being shipped to Boca Chica.
The first and second test firings of SN-6 went well, lasting 20 and 10 seconds respectively. The third firing lasted 50 seconds before a “soft abort” occurred. The test program continued, though, and the engine was successfully fired a fourth time for 65 seconds. On the fifth and final firing, Raptor roared for 85 seconds, a new record for the Raptor engine.
Having aced its McGregor test program, Raptor SN-6 was shipped to Boca Chica and installed on the Starhopper vehicle.
The engine was first used for further TVC tests. Now, it will be used for the next phase of Starhopper tests, which will incrementally get closer to firing the engine and eventually flying untethered above the launch pad.
The first test saw Starhopper fueled with liquid methane and oxygen and put through Ox spin prime and Fuel spin prime testing – effectively testing how to start up the turbines, as required ahead of testing the preburner.
Once this is completed nominally, Raptor’s preburner itself was tested, but without completely igniting the engine.
Only after successful preburner testing did SpaceX teams move towards the static fire test, which took place late on Tuesday at 10:25 pm Central time.
While the test itself appeared to fire for its full duration, events relating to this test appeared to cause some issues with Hopper, later seen when a secondary fire rose up to engulf the test vehicle.
Pad safing may take some time before crews can check on how much damage was sustained on the vehicle. However, it is clear the Hop test will be delayed for some time.
Starhopper has already completed two such static fire tests using Raptor SN-2. The engine will briefly fire while the vehicle is tethered to the ground, only allowing Starhopper to rise a few inches off of the pad.
When the hop test takes place, the tethers will be removed, and Starhopper will be ready to fly untethered for the first time.
The first free flight will reach an altitude of 20 meters. The vehicle will also “divert” sideways, similar to early flights of SpaceX’s Grasshopper test vehicle that informed the development of the reusable Falcon 9 booster. Starhopper will then return to the same pad to land.
The most recent rings have had a protective covering, removed after the ring is welded to the cylinder.
The Boca Chica team is also building a windbreaker structure, which will be covered in fabric once complete. The purpose of the structure is understood to be protection from coastal winds, which affects the quality of the welding between each steel section.
The plans for these orbital Starship prototypes are fluid. They also may not represent the latest design of the operational Starship vehicle, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has stated further design changes have been made to the fins/legs.
An official update by Musk, on both the vehicle’s design and launch plans, is expected after Starhopper’s first untethered test flight.
Although Musk did note the hop will be webcast by SpaceX – which has numerous internal use cameras around the pad that could be fed into a live stream – no official word on this option has yet been provided.
SpaceX’s Starhopper engulfed in fireball after critical Raptor static fire test
SpaceX’s Starhopper was engulfed in a fireball shortly after a static fire ignition of its Raptor engine, almost certainly delaying the low-fidelity Starship prototype and testbed’s first untethered flight.
With any luck, Raptor, Starhopper, and SpaceX’s spartan Boca Chica facilities have escaped relatively unharmed. Regardless, even if Raptor’s static fire was technically successful, some repairs will likely be necessary and the off-nominal behavior that occurred after the ignition test will have to be dealt with and understood to prevent such behavior during future Starhopper operations.
Aside from the anomalous behavior after the test, Starhopper’s Raptor static fire looked downright brutal from local livestreams hosted by LabPadre and several other onlookers.
Due to the inherently low quality of video captured through thousands of feet of thick, humid Texas air, it’s almost impossible to make specific details out. However, shortly after the static fire ignition and shutdown, some viewers believe that there was fire visible at one or several points on Starhopper, although what looks like fire could easily be a simple reflection of the active flare stack just a few hundred feet away.
By all appearances, the anomaly looks much worse than it was. More likely than not, some sort of leak began during or after Raptor’s static fire test, creating a cloud of gaseous oxygen and methane that was eventually ignited by either the latent heat of Raptor components or a fire somewhere on or around the vehicle. What’s important is that Starhopper appears to be fully intact after the incident, meaning that SpaceX should still be able to detank and safe the vehicle and analyze it to figure out what went wrong. Watch live as the rocket is safed and technicians (hopefully) begin to arrive on-site to begin inspections.
Elon Musk: SpaceX Starship prototype to fly from Florida in coming months
A prototype of SpaceX's heavy-lift rocket that could one day send humans on deep-space missions could begin flying within the coming months, according to CEO Elon Musk.
Named "Starship," Musk responded via Twitter Friday night that the Texas and Florida prototypes are scheduled to fly in two to three months.
The aerospace company is currently building its Starship prototypes in two locations: Boca Chica as well as in the isolated dirt pathway on Cidco Road here in Cocoa.
Simultaneously building multiple Starships in both locations, Musk said in May, they would look to see which location is most effective.
Rising above the trees in an industrial park off of U.S. 1 in Cocoa, the top of the prototype of SpaceX's Starship is now visible. Workers can be seen working on the shiny rocket, working from lifts surrounding the rocket. The Starship prototype, also known as "Starhopper," is also being built at SpaceX's facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Plans are to build smaller prototypes of the rocket to test engines, other hardware, and software.
MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY
"Both sites will make many Starships," Musk said via Twitter. "This is a competition to see which location is most effective. Answer might be both."
In order to be ready to fly from Kennedy Space Center pad 39A, Musk said a separate Starship launch structure is being built off-site.
As for what will happen to the old launch tower in pad 39A. Musk said, "(It) won’t change. Starship launch structure will be attached to the other side from tower."
The ultimate goal is to build a Starship and Super Heavy rocket – the massive booster that will carry Starship, which together would stand at nearly 400-feet in height and would send crewed and cargo missions beyond low-Earth orbit including to the moon and Mars.
SpaceX already has its first paying customer for Starship – a Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa, has paid for several seats on Starship for a trip around the moon scheduled no earlier than 2023, one year before NASA is scheduled to return humans to the moon.
The first full test flight is currently scheduled for no earlier than 2020.
Meanwhile, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 40, SpaceX is targetting to launch its cargo Dragon spacecraft atop its Falcon 9 rocket for the 18th mission under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract on July 24, the 50th anniversary of when Apollo 11 splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
Quelle: Florida Today
SpaceX’s Starship prototype has taken flight for the first time
We were on hand, in Boca Chica, for Starhopper's big moment.
BOCA CHICA BEACH, Texas—It flew. It really did. On Thursday night, SpaceX's stainless steel Starship prototype took to the skies for the first time.
It was a beautiful night for Starhopper's debut. In the wake of a rare mid-summer front, temperatures in South Texas fell below their sultry averages for late July, with somewhat drier air. By 10:45pm local time, a mostly cloudy sky had broken into a mostly clear night along the coast. So when Starhopper leaped into the skies, it did so beneath the stars—toward the stars.
Never before had SpaceX taken this stubby, cobbled-together spacecraft off its leash. Never before had the company's next-generation Raptor rocket engine flown free. And so as the engine roared to life Thursday night, no one wearing a SpaceX badge was quite sure what would happen when they set Starhopper free.
It made for nervous moments at the roadside, about two kilometers from the launch pad. The launch lit up the night sky, first with fire, and then smoke. Soon, the prodigious amount of smoke produced by the Raptor engine obscured the vehicle. Was it moving? We couldn't tell. Eventually, the smoke cleared, and the vehicle had moved. How high had it gone was not immediately clear, perhaps 20 or 30 meters, but company founder Elon Musk declared the flight a success.
And the test was a success. SpaceX had shown that not only could Raptor breathe fire, but they could control the complex engine enough to ascend, hover, move a short distance horizontally, and then safely return to the surface.
A key moment
For locals here, the moment had considerable weight. Nearly a decade ago, they had watched as SpaceX had come into the mostly poor border community, asking questions and touring the low-lying scrubland at the end of Boca Chica Highway. Then, after the state of Texas and SpaceX announced an agreement to build a launch facility five years ago, only very slowly did the California company start to build facilities. For a long time, people in South Texas have watched, and waited. On Thursday night, they finally saw something leave the ground.
For SpaceX employees, too, the momentary flight offered validation. For years, hundreds of the company's smartest engineers have worked on Starship, the spacecraft that may one day fly humans to Mars. NASA isn't paying SpaceX to build Starship. Rather, the extraordinary amount of time and money being put into Starship by SpaceX and the company's investors represents a huge bet on their talent—and its capacity to build the kinds of spaceships that no one has built before.
But it is one thing to draw up a vehicle on a white board, or on a computer. It is quite another thing to cut metal, to bring a vehicle into existence, and then finally to fly the vehicle. And so they hastily built Starhopper out of sheets of stainless steel. Finally, on Thursday night, they lit the candle and held their collective breaths.
This marked the first time SpaceX’s Starhopper vehicle has flown untethered. In early April, the hopper made two short, tethered “hops” of less than 1 meter off the launch pad. On July 16, after modifying the vehicle for additional testing, the company performed a five-second, full-duration static fire of the hopper’s single Raptor engine. About four minutes later, however, a secondary fireball briefly engulfed the engine and vehicle. Although this looked dramatic, the Starship prototype did not sustain significant damage.
Since then, the company had been working toward Thursday evening’s test.
About three kilometers down Boca Chica Highway from the Starhopper launch site, SpaceX employees are busy working on Starship Mk 1, a more advanced prototype with similar dimensions to the actual Starship. Even after the “hop” test late Thursday, the spotlights were on at the build site, and the sounds of grinders and other machines could be heard. And so it goes every night.
At present, the vehicle in Texas is broken into two pieces. The top half includes the vehicle’s nose cone, and the aft section is composed of barrels that make up the fuselage. More barrels will be added, and then in the coming weeks the two sections will be mated. Musk has said the company intends to fly this Mk 1 vehicle within two or three months, with the goal of reaching an altitude of 20 or 30km later this year. It is not clear whether this orbital prototype will fly with three or six Raptor engines.
Halfway across the country, in Cocoa, Florida, another team of SpaceX engineers is working on a Starship Mk 2 vehicle, with similar goals to the Texas vehicle. The two teams are both competing, in that they’re trying different designs to solve the same challenges but are also collaborating by sharing ideas and solutions. Competition drives innovation, and faster development.
The goal of developing these orbital prototypes, in turn, is to finalize the design for an orbital test vehicle, which will be powered by six Raptor engines. It is possible that SpaceX could fly this orbital test vehicle as soon as next year, Musk has said. Like most aerospace schedules, this date is probably more aspirational than realistic.
But there can be no denying the frenzied activity in South Texas to try and make this happen. So much work remains before SpaceX and its ambitions to build the world's largest rocket and most capable spaceship. Yet already, they have come so far.
Quelle: ars technica
SpaceX’s new test rocket briefly hovers during first free flight
Finally, some air!
Late on Thursday, July 25th, SpaceX launched a test version of its next big rocket from Texas, sending the vehicle hovering in the air for a few seconds before it landed back on the ground. The hardware didn’t get very high, but it was the first time the test vehicle flew detached from the ground, powered by SpaceX’s next-generation rocket engine.
The vehicle is a test prototype of SpaceX’s future, Starship rocket. Starship is the company’s most ambitious vehicle concept yet: it’s a fully reusable design intended to send cargo and people to deep space destinations like the Moon and Mars. Similar to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, Starship is supposed to land upright — on Earth or on distant worlds — and then be able to take off again.
Starship still has a long way to go before it even gets to space, let alone lands on another planet. First, SpaceX wants to validate the basic design of the vehicle as well as its newly developed main engine, the Raptor. That’s what this test was all about. Thanks to a single Raptor engine mounted on its base, the Starship test vehicle briefly flew above SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, moved sideways, and then landed upright. These kinds of tests are often referred to as “hops,” which is why this test vehicle was dubbed “Starhopper.” The whole test took about 15 seconds, but it demonstrated the very basic launch and landing capability that Starship will need in the future.
SpaceX first tried to do the flight on Wednesday, July 24th, but had to abort right after igniting the engine. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said Starhopper would fly up to 65 feet (20 meters) high during this flight, though he did not confirm if it reached that height once the test was complete. Live feeds of the test showed the Starhopper covered in clouds, making it difficult to see just how high it flew. The Raptor ignition also caused a large fire near the launch site after the test that burned for up to an hour afterward. Musk confirmed that the test was successful, though. The company will try another hop test in a week or two, he says — one that will fly more than 650 feet (200 meters) up.
SpaceX has already ignited a Raptor engine underneath Starhopper a few times before, though the rocket remained tethered to the ground for those tests, so it only rose a few inches. Today marked Starhopper’s first free flight, and it came just a week after the vehicle suffered a small failure. Last week, the company ignited the engine underneath the vehicle in preparation for this hop test, and the hardware briefly caught on fire due to a fuel leak. However, the rocket only sustained minimal damage, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. “[B]ig advantage of being made of high strength stainless steel: not bothered by a little heat!” he wrote on Twitter.
SpaceX plans to fly this same vehicle on more hop tests in the months ahead, but the company is already working on scaling things up. SpaceX is currently building two Starship prototypes that are meant to fly much higher than Starhopper — one in Boca Chica and another in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Those vehicles will be outfitted with three Raptor engines, Musk says. He claimed that one of the prototypes will “hopefully” reach an altitude of 12 miles (20 kilometers) in the next few months. Musk has also hinted that he’ll give a more in-depth presentation on the Starship design later this month, once the Starship vehicles start flying. The CEO has given two presentations on the vehicle — one in 2016 and one in 2017 — but the design of Starship has evolved in the months since.
Musk recently claimed that the Starship / Super Heavy system could perform its first uncrewed landing on the Moon within the next two years, followed by a crewed landing in four. It’s an incredibly ambitious timeline, especially since there’s still quite a lot of work to be done. The final Starship design calls for six total Raptor engines — three optimized for working best at sea level and three optimized for working best in the vacuum of space. And the entire spacecraft is supposed to launch on top of a larger rocket booster known as the Super Heavy, which has not been developed yet. Musk is also fairly notorious for giving unrealistic estimates for big projects.
After today’s test, SpaceX can boast that its precursor to Starship has finally flown. Now, it just needs to keep flying again and again.
Quelle: The Verge
Report details Starship launch, landing plan at Kennedy Space Center
SpaceX plans to construct launch mount, landing pad for Starship at 39A
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - An environmental report from SpaceX for NASA details what interplanetary launches could look like from NASA's Kennedy Space Center including where Elon Musk’s company plans to land Starship and its mega rocket booster Super Heavy.
SpaceX produced a draft report for NASA to provide a possible action plan to avoid environmental impacts that Starship and Super Heavy booster launches and landings could have on the Space Center, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Canaveral National Seashore and the greater Space Coast.
Starship is SpaceX’s fully reusable spacecraft designed for human and spacecraft launches to the moon and Mars. The 180-foot-tall, 30-foot-wide Starship will launch on a reusable booster called the Super Heavy which is powered by 31 Raptor engines.
For those launches, SpaceX plans build an additional launch mount for Starship/Super Heavy within the Launch Complex 39A at KSC, according to the 250-page action plan. The company currently launches its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets from the historic KSC launch site where Saturn V launched Apollo 11 to the moon 50 years ago.
The document also shows SpaceX plans to construct a new landing pad at 39A to support Starship landings. Before a new pad is complete, Starship will land at Landing Zone-1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station where SpaceX currently lands its Falcon boosters.
The new landing pad at 39A would be approximately 85 meters in diameter and look similar to the existing landing pads SpaceX uses at Cape Canaveral.
However, land landings of Starship at 39A will require "additional analysis to fully assess the potential impacts to NASA programs, facilities, personnel and operations," according to the report.
The company considered utilizing Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 for Starship launches and landings but the infrastructure and size of the facility wouldn’t support the operation, according to the report.
SpaceX plans to eventually launch the spaceship about 24 times a year with the first test flight happening no earlier than next year.
Musk said last year the paid moon flight could happen as soon as 2023, after several test flights without crew. However, the SpaceX founder also said he was "pretty not sure" about that timeline, because "things do not go right in reality."
Part of the report provides information on what noise residents can expect when Starship comes back in for landing. Sonic booms will be generated when Starship and Super Heavy travel faster than the speed of sound coming in for landing.
At liftoff, Super Heavy will produce 13.9 million pounds of thrust. Approximately 43 miles above the launch site, Super Heavy’s 31 engines would cut off and Starship would separate from the booster.
The Super Heavy booster would come back to land downrange no closer than 20 miles away on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. If SpaceX is able to land the booster back on land like it does with Falcon booster currently, then another environmental assessment would need to be developed.
It’s unlikely, people on land will hear sonic booms associated with the ocean landings 20 miles out, according to the report.
However, when Starship returns from its mission SpaceX plans to land it Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at landing Zone 1, where SpaceX currently lands its Falcon boosters.
A graphic (featured below) in the report shows what a Starship re-entry and landing would look like.
A sonic boom foot print for a Starship landing at LZ-1 shows that residents in the surrounding areas of the landing pad to Florida’s West Coast could hear the multiple booms when Starship comes in for landing.
Weather conditions also have an affect on how intense a sonic boom is and how far the sound travels.
The spaceship would also have the option to land on an ocean drone ship no closer than five nautical miles off the Space Coast.
SpaceX said it plans to notify the public through news media and law enforcement prior to a landing that would produce a sonic boom.
Moving a giant spaceship and rocket booster
Currently, Starship prototypes are under construction and being tested at sites in Boca Chica, Texas and in Cocoa. According to the action plan, SpaceX plans to continue to use the sites to manufacture Starship.
Together, the spaceship and booster will stand 400 feet tall.
The crawlerway would be used to transport the vehicles to the launch pad, similar to how SpaceX transports its Falcon rockets. A mobile crane would then be used to hoist the spaceship on top of the booster after the booster is mounted to the launch tower.
SpaceX will utilize the same area of the Turn Basin NASA used during the Space Shuttle Program to offload hardware just southeast of the Vehicle Assembly Building.
SpaceX's Starship Prototype Could Make Its Biggest Hop Yet This Weekend
SpaceX's Starhopper Starship prototype makes its first untethered flight at the company's Boca Chica test site in South Texas on July 25, 2019 in this still from a drone camera.
SpaceX's Starhopper will make its biggest-ever leap soon, if all goes according to plan.
The private spaceflight company aims to get Starhopper, an early test prototype of the company's Mars-colonizing Starship vehicle, about 650 feet (200 meters) off the ground this weekend, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter on Friday (Aug. 9).
"Starhopper 200m on Aug 16-18? ;)" Twitter user Reagan Beck asked the billionaire entrepreneur Friday. "Just spoke with FAA, so hopefully yes," Musk responded, referring to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which grants licenses for test flights and other launches.
Starhopper is designed to help pave the way for the 100-passenger Starship and Super Heavy, the giant rocket that will loft the spaceship off Earth's surface. Starship will feature six of SpaceX's next-generation Raptor engines, and Super Heavy will be powered by 35 of them, Musk has said. (These numbers may change, however; Musk plans to give a Starship-Super Heavy design update on Aug. 24.)
Starhopper, by contrast, has just one Raptor. The stubby prototype has flown three times to date. It made two brief hops in early April of this year, staying tied to the ground for safety's sake both times. Starhopper also lifted off on July 25, on its first untethered test flight, which had a targeted altitude of about 65 feet (20 m). All three hops occurred at SpaceX's facility in Boca Chica, near Brownsville, Texas.
SpaceX is also building two orbital prototypes of Starship — one at Boca Chica, known as Mk1, and one on Florida's Space Coast, called Mk2. The goal is to improve the final Starship design via a little intracompany competition, Musk has said. The Mk1 and Mk2 prototypes will each have at least three Raptor engines.
If everything goes well with the test campaign, Starship and Super Heavy could be ready to fly as early as 2021, SpaceX representatives have said. The first few missions will probably loft commercial communications satellites, but passenger flights could follow in short order. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has booked a trip around the moon for himself and a handful of artists; that flight is currently targeted for 2023.
Musk made some other news via Twitter on Friday as well. He confirmed that SpaceX now has a second net-equipped boat and will attempt to snag both halves of the company's falling payload fairings during orbital launches.
Payload fairings are the nose cones that surround and protect satellites during launch. Each one SpaceX uses costs about $6 million, so there's a strong incentive to refly each one. And catching fairings before they hit corrosive seawater makes reuse more feasible, Musk has said.
The first boat, named GO Ms. Tree, has caught falling fairing halves twice over the past month and a half. The new one, GO Ms. Chief, will try to add to these successes.
SpaceX’s first Super Heavy hardware is already being built at Florida Starship campus
Based on some basic analysis of recent photos of SpaceX’s East Coast Starship facility, situated in Cocoa, Florida, SpaceX has almost certainly begun fabricating and staging hardware that will eventually become part of the company’s first Super Heavy booster prototype.
This is by no means surprising but it does confirm the reasonable assumption that SpaceX is already working hard to ensure that the first Super Heavy booster(s) can be assembled as quickly as possible. Additionally, SpaceX appears to have started clearing brush in the process of preparing to transport the Florida orbital Starship prototype (“Mk2”) to SpaceX’s Pad 39A launch facilities, dozens of miles away.
The aforementioned “basic analysis” is more or less comprised of looking for and counting the massive steel rings that SpaceX has decided to build its Starships (and Super Heavy boosters) out of. By all appearances, SpaceX is doing nearly everything short of milling and preparing the raw materials (steel) internally. In Florida and Texas, giant rolls of stainless steel are delivered to the worksite by semi-truck, where SpaceX technicians prepare the rolls for sectioning (likely with a plasma torch or laser) and any necessary machining.
Intriguingly, SpaceX’s Texas and Florida teams are using different sizes of sheets – Florida has gone for taller segments while Texas uses rings that are a fair bit shorter ring, welding two rings together before installing each section on Starship. Florida’s rings are roughly 1.8m (6 ft; +/- 5%) tall.
In August alone, Cocoa has effectively doubled the height of the barrel section of its Mk2 orbital Starship prototype, jumping from 7-8 to 15 steel rings. The barrel section is now ~28m (90 ft) tall and Starship Mk2’s pointed nose section is still approximately 20-22m (65-70 ft) tall, adding up to a stacked height of 48-50m, approximately 10% shy of its final 55m (180 ft) height. Assuming that SpaceX hasn’t stretched Starship further since CEO Elon Musk’s September 2018 update, this leaves Starship Mk2 around 2-4 rings and a small nose cap shy of its full height (excluding legs).
SUPER HEAVY RISING
This brings us to even more recent views of SpaceX’s Cocoa Starship facility, taken on August 15th by local pilot Brian (Twitter: @flying_briann). A video from the flight offers an uninterrupted ~360-degree overview of the site, including glimpses of a surprising number of staged steel rings that have completed initial welding and are waiting for stacking and integration.
Two photos taken a bit less than two weeks ago provide a decent overview of SpaceX’s Cocoa facility. Of note, six staged rings are visible, as well as four additional rings in the form of two stacked sections of two rings. Those latter two sections (four rings) have since been stacked on Starship’s tank section, bringing it to its current 15-ring, ~28m height.
Despite the fact that Starship Mk2 appears to be just a few rings away from its final height, Brian’s August 15th overview revealed that no fewer than 11 additional rings (18m, 60 ft) are either staged or in the final stages of welding. Even if SpaceX has significantly stretched Starship over the last 10 or so months of design iteration, it seems exceedingly unlikely that Starship has grown by a full 10-12m (~20%).
Rather, these rings are probably the beginnings of SpaceX’s first Super Heavy booster prototype, a necessity before Starship can begin crucial orbital flight tests. Per the vehicle’s official 2018 specifications, Super Heavy will stand at least 63m (205 ft) tall before accounting for its landing legs/fins, requiring around 35 steel rings to complete its propellant tanks, interstage, and thrust structure.
According to CEO Elon Musk, Super Heavy will likely perform its first flight tests with approximately 20 Raptor engines, eventually arriving at a full 31-37 engines depending on the configuration. Musk also believes that Starship could be ready for its first orbital flight tests as early as December 2019, implying that SpaceX’s first Super Heavy prototype(s) could be fully assembled as few as 4-5 months from now.
In reality, 2020 is far more likely for both milestones, but Musk is not exactly well-known for his conservative schedule estimates.
The SpaceX 'Starhopper' is ready to make its biggest leap
After delays, the prototype version of Elon Musk's Mars rocket could soon get the go-ahead to rise up.
It looks like Elon Musk's Starship prototype, dubbed "Starhopper," might make its highest hop yet as soon as Monday.
SpaceX had planned to test the single-engine version of its eventual Mars vehicle with its second short flight last week, but the launch was abruptly canceled. Musk later tweeted that the Federal Aviation Administration required a bit more "hazard analysis" and Starhopper "should be clear to fly soon."
Now the FAA has posted a new airspace closure for the area around the SpaceX test facility in Boca Chica, Texas, beginning Monday afternoon and running through Wednesday night. However, the agency has not yet issued an updated permit that would give Starhopper the green light to fly to new heights: it's currently permitted to fly no higher than 25 meters above ground level (82 feet).
Elon Musk shows off the shiny SpaceX Starship
If a new permit is issued, we could finally see Starhopper make some serious maneuvers. Its last test hop was a short, nighttime 20-meter (66 feet) liftoff, hover and landing that was mostly obscured from view by fire, smoke and darkness.
This time the hope is that Starhopper will reach an altitude of around 650 feet (198 meters) before returning to the ground.
If this next hop is successful, Musk has said, he'll follow it with a public presentation "hopefully mid September," updating us on the design and vision for Starship.
In previous presentations from the past few years, Musk has outlined his plans to use his next-generation heavy launcher (also previously known as BFR or Big Falcon Rocket) to help build a colony on Mars, send a group of artists on a trip around the moon and even provide transcontinental travel on Earth.
But before any of that can happen, Starhopper needs to show it has real hopping chops, hopefully soon.
Originally published Aug. 22, 11:05 a.m. PT.
Update, 6:30 p.m.: Adds information on the status of SpaceX's permit to fly Starhopper from the FAA.