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2019-09-22 Science & Technology
A good backgrounder on the impending Musk speech on Starship at Boca Chica TX
[NASAspaceflight.com]

Elon Musk’s upcoming Starship presentation to mark 12 months of rapid progress.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is set to provide a highly anticipated update on the company’s Starship program on September 28th from Boca Chica, Texas. The presentation is expected to take place in front of the first nearly completed Starship prototype – capping off 12 months of rapid progress which has seen the program transition from fancy renders to reality.


Over the past few years, Musk has been conducting annual presentations on the status of SpaceX’s next-generation vehicles designed to colonize the Moon and Mars.

While the names of the vehicles have changed numerous times over the years, the spacecraft is currently called Starship with its first stage booster called Super Heavy.

The system is designed to be fully reusable – with both Super Heavy and Starship capable of landing propulsively.

During last year’s presentation, Musk announced that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa had purchased a flight to send Maezawa and several artists around the Moon. While the news caught the attention of many, the launch vehicle was still in the very early phases of development.

At SpaceX’s launch site in Boca Chica, there was not much more than a mound of dirt. And, the state of affairs were similar at a planned Starship factory at the Port of Los Angeles.

While the concept was exciting, the launch system was far from flight-ready.

Fast forward 12 months and the state of Starship development is radically different.

In Boca Chica, the mound of dirt has been transformed into an operational launch site – outfitted with the ground support equipment needed to support test flights of the methane-fueled Starship vehicles.

Additionally, at the nearby operations center, the first full-scale Starship vehicle is nearing completion and is expected to be the backdrop of the upcoming presentation.

And if that was not enough, a second Starship prototype is also nearing completion near Cape Canaveral, Florida. That vehicle will be launched from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center which is already undergoing renovations to prepare for the upcoming Starship flights.

As for the factory at the Port of Los Angeles, it was scrapped just weeks after Musk’s 2018 presentation. The cancellation was made after a radical change of plans which saw the Starship and Super Heavy designs pivot from carbon fiber to steel.

The switch was made to reduce the technical complexity of the project and removed the need for a factory with advanced machinery.

Consequently, SpaceX is now assembling the vehicles near their launch site, as transporting a nine-meter diameter rocket for thousands of miles is less than ideal.

The 150 meter hop was the final flight of Starhopper. It is now set to be converted into a vertical Raptor test stand – with the flight test campaign transitioning to a full-scale Starship prototype.

Named Starship Mk1, the new prototype is expected to perform flights to much greater altitudes – with a launch to around 20 kilometers expected in the coming weeks.


To do so, the vehicle will be far more advanced than the single-engine Starhopper. Not only will it be substantially taller, but Mk1 will also be outfitted with landing gear, control surfaces, and three Raptor engines.

SpaceX teams have been racing around the clock to prepare the Mk1 vehicle for the presentation on September 28th – with the goal of having the vehicle’s primary structure fully assembled in time for the event.

During the presentation, Musk is expected to outline the current state of the program, including the methane-powered Raptor engines, launch site developments, and changes to Starship’s design since the last presentation.

Like all previous years, this year’s update will once again feature a change in the aero surfaces of the vehicle – used to help the spacecraft navigate in the atmosphere before landing.

The plans for the launch pads have only materialized over the past few months, with many of the details found in environmental documents already outdated.

What is known is that modifications are well underway to prepare the Boca Chica and Kennedy Space Center-based pads for their respective Starship activities.

In Boca Chica, Texas, construction is ongoing to transition the launch pad from Starhopper to Starship flights.

Since Starship is substantially bigger than the Starhopper, the vehicle will require additional propellant. Thus, teams have been working to increase the propellant storage capacity at the launch site.

Posted by 3dc 2019-09-22 00:34|| E-Mail|| Front Page|| [6461 views ]  Top

#1 How soon do we discover NASA's incompetence and donor fatigue has led to Intelligence Community quietly funding commercial space ventures ?
Posted by Besoeker 2019-09-22 02:11||   2019-09-22 02:11|| Front Page Top

#2 It is all private funding with SpaceX a PRIVATE not a PUBLIC corporation. That being the case, it is doubtful that one will ever see who the real investors and shares actually are.
Posted by 3dc 2019-09-22 10:26||   2019-09-22 10:26|| Front Page Top

#3 Only similar large company is Bechtel.
Posted by 3dc 2019-09-22 10:26||   2019-09-22 10:26|| Front Page Top

#4  Besoeker, About this point in a discussion of possible copycats is where you might find interest
Posted by 3dc 2019-09-22 11:44||   2019-09-22 11:44|| Front Page Top

#5 This is the real problem with the 'copy' idea. The concept can be replicated with very old tech. (with higher liftoff mass).

But, if you have anything resembling a 'conventional' space program, you've basically got to throw it all away.

Most of those that have the capability to do this easily from a technical POV are utterly incapable from a political/managerial POV.
Posted by 3dc 2019-09-22 11:46||   2019-09-22 11:46|| Front Page Top

#6 Thanks, very interesting thread. Walked over to the 'Borshtch n Tears' last week, but they were closed on the morning I visited...too early. Looked like an interesting place but the lads I was with were 'stuck on shushi.' Perhaps next time.
Posted by Besoeker 2019-09-22 11:55||   2019-09-22 11:55|| Front Page Top

#7 OKAY, LISTEN UP. i'M ONLY GOING TO POST THIS ONCE.

In response to 3dc's statement,

Most of those that have the capability to do this easily from a technical POV are utterly incapable from a political/managerial POV.:

McDonnell Douglas was doing it, when:

a) the SDI program they were working with was shut down. Bill Fucking "I Got My Dick Sucked In The Oral Office!" Clintoral USED THE LINE ITEM VETO ON IT, AS IF HE'D FOUND THE ONLY DAMN PIECE OF WASTE IN A THREE TRILLION DOLLAR FEDERAL BUDGET.

b) Their program was transferred to NASA, which managed to blow up their only test vehicle.

c) After the loss of their only test vehicle they shut down MacDac's program and started over with Lockheed, which a) had a design that wasn't an incrementally testable vehicle, and b) was implicitly lying about a lot of their supposed expertise with composite materials. Eventually they discovered they couldn't build the fuel tank they had continuously hinted that they had already built some of for Aurora, which was a major factor in that program being cancelled when the replacement for their delaminating multilobe tank made the vehicle not work for center of gravity reasons.

d) In the aftermath, McDonnell Douglas was shut down and the whole company, including the team that built DC-X, were transferred to over to management by Boeing, which hadn't come up with a design because their Official Corporate Position was that it was impossible.

The analogy I'd use to describe all this is the one I've seen elsewhere and used back in the day myself, and am going to use again now:

(I don't want to go on about the analogy, because I want to go to lunch, but look up about cats and vegan diets and Taurine.)

(And about losing test vehicles: Also note that SpaceX lost a lot of vehicles in the early years, but it didn't matter as much because they were mostly doing their experimenting after the staging process and they had an assembly line for their stages.)

Required reading: G. Harry Stine's _Halfway To Anywhere_ if you can find it, plus (I forget his current rank and status) Mitchell Burnside Clapp's paper on launch vehicle design and fuel selection. You can find an sscii-fied version of the latter (_after_ some discussion by Henry Spencer, who was posting to usenet after listening to a talk on the paper) here: https://yarchive.net/space/rocket/fuels/hydrogen_deltav.html.

And that's it for now, I'm off to lunch.
Posted by Thing From Snowy Mountain 2019-09-22 12:37||   2019-09-22 12:37|| Front Page Top

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