New Video of SpaceX Starship Flight

Video Caption: On December 9, 2020, Starship serial number 8 (SN8) completed a high-altitude flight test as it successfully ascended, transitioned propellant, and demonstrated a first-of-its-kind controlled aerodynamic descent and landing flip maneuver – which will enable landing where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist, including the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

FAA Holding Public Scoping Period for SpaceX Boca Chica Environmental Assessment

Starship SN8 takes off from Boca Chica, Texas. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site Scoping Period
FAA Announcement

The FAA is holding a public scoping period to assist the FAA in determining the scope of issues for analysis in the draft environmental assessment (EA). As a part of the public scoping period, the FAA requests public comments. More information about providing public comments can be found at the end of this email.

(more…)

Starship Flies, Explodes While Attempting to Land

Starship SN8 takes off from Boca Chica, Texas. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX flew its Starship SN8 vehicle for nearly seven minutes on Wednesday, but the ship exploded as it attempted to land at the test site in Boca Chica, Texas.

Starship SN8 in flight. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

The vehicle flew vertically, powered by three Raptor engines. One engine stopped, and then a second one stopped firing, leaving a sole Raptor to power the flight.

Starship SN8 flies on one engine. (Credit: SpaceX website)

“Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted.

Starship SN8 in glide mode. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

Starship then pitched and glided to its landing area. However, SN8 was not able to right itself using engine power before it struck the ground at 6 minutes 42 seconds into the flight.

Starship SN8 explodes on impact. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

“Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!” Musk tweeted.

Prior to the flight test, Musk had estimated that SN8 had about a 30 percent chance of landing successfully.

SN8 was the latest in a series of Starship prototypes. SpaceX wants to use Starship and the Super Heavy rocket to launch crewed missions to the moon and Mars, satellites into orbit, and rapid point-to-point flights between distant locations on Earth.

Starship Flight Test Set for Next Week

SpaceX will attempt a high-altitude flight test of its Starship prototype sometime next week. Teslerati reports:

CEO Elon Musk says that SpaceX’s first fully-assembled Starship prototype is on track for its 15-kilometer (~50,000 ft) launch debut after completing a second three-engine static fire test on Tuesday.

Starship serial number 8’s (SN8) three Raptor engines ignited for a few seconds around 5:30 pm CST (UTC-6) on Tuesday, November 24th, less than four hours before a record-breaking Falcon 9 rocket  launched another batch of Starlink satellites roughly a thousand miles to the east. Perhaps briefly producing upwards of 600 metric tons (6000 kN/~1.3M lbf) of thrust, Starship SN8’s second triple-engine static fire was actually the first with that particular trio of engines.

Cameron County has posted the following schedule for closing Highway 4 and Boca Chica Beach to allow SpaceX to conduct the test.

TEMP. CLOSURE DATETIME OF CLOSURE
(CST)
CURRENT BEACH STATUS
Primary DateNov 30, 20207:00 am to 6:00 pmClosure Scheduled
Secondary DateDec 1, 20208:00 am to 5:00 pmClosure Scheduled
Secondary DateDec 2, 20208:00 am to 5:00 pmClosure Scheduled

Musk has estimated there is a one-in-three chance of Starship landing successfully. There are two more Starships in production.

FAA To Begin Environmental Review at SpaceX Texas Launch Site

Rendering of SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch complex. (Credit: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) — SpaceX has informed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that it plans to apply for licenses for suborbital and orbital launches of its Starship spacecraft powered by the Super Heavy rocket at its launch site in Boca Chica, Texas.

The proposed update to Starship/Super Heavy operations  falls outside of the scope of the existing final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision for the launch site and requires additional environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

(more…)

Virgin Galactic Pivots High-speed Aircraft Program in a Crowded Field

Credit: Douglas Messier

Virgin Galactic’s record of delays and broken promises raises doubts about its ambitious supersonic aircraft project as company founder Richard Branson fights to save his struggling empire in the midst of a global pandemic.

Updated on 10/27/20 at 12:39 p.m. PDT to include spending comparison of Virgin Orbit to Rocket Lab.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s dream of a suborbital Virgin Galactic vehicle zipping passengers between distant cities at hypersonic speeds above Mach 5 (6,174 km/h, 3,836 mph) is dead. At least for now.

In August, the space tourism company he founded pivoted to a slower supersonic Mach 3 (3,704 km/h, 2,302 mph) business jet. Virgin Galactic unveiled a mission concept for an aircraft that would carry 9-19 passengers at a cruising altitude of 60,000 ft (18,288 m).

(more…)

Supersonic & Hypersonic Civilian Transport Projects in Development

Overture supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boom Supersonic’s recent rollout of its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator aircraft marked a milestone in an accelerating race to revive an era of civilian supersonic travel that ended when the Concorde jetliner was retired in 2003.

XB-1, aka Baby Boom, is set to begin flight tests next year from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The Mach 2.2 (2,717 km/h, 1,688 mph) vehicle is the precursor to Boom’s 55-seat Overture airliner, which is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in 2029.

(more…)

SpaceX Loses Lawsuit Against U.S. Air Force Over Starship Funding

Starship lifts off on a point to point flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A federal judge had denied SpaceX’s claim that the U.S. Air Force should have provided development funding for its Starship booster, according to media reports.

USAF awarded $2.2 billion in contracts in October 2918 to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to help the companies develop new rockets to launch national security payloads. SpaceX’s proposal for Starship funding was rejected.

(more…)

SpaceX Tells Boca Chica Residents: Sell Now or Else!

Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor’s Office)

Vice reports that SpaceX gave a Friday deadline for two Boca Chica Village homeowners to sell their homes or Elon Musk’s launch provider would pursue “alternate approaches” to get them to vacate the settlement near the company’s south Texas spaceport.

(more…)

SpaceX, Boeing & Firefly File FCC Applications for Fall Flights

Starship hopper under construction at Boca Chica. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has applied for a temporary Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license to fly its Starship prototype to an altitude of 20 km (12.4 miles) from its Boca Chica test site in Texas.

The approval would be valid for hops from Oct. 11, 2020 to April 11, 2021. Starship prototypes have flown to an altitude of 150 meters from Boca Chica.

Boeing has filed for a FCC license for its second Starliner orbital flight test. The application covers a six-month period from Nov. 1, 2020 to May 1, 2021.

The uncrewed Starliner test is a repeat of a flight that went awry last December. The spacecraft failed to dock with the space station due to software and communications problems.

Firefly Aerospace has filed for approval for the maiden flight of its Firefly Alpha booster from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The approval would be valid from Nov. 21, 2020 until May 21, 2021.

Apha is designed to loft 1 metric ton into low Earth orbit and 630 kg into a 500 km sun synchronous orbit at a dedicated mission cost of $15 million.

Dispute Erupts Over SpaceX’s Boca Chica Test Facility

Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor’s Office)

A dispute has erupted between several environmental groups and the federal government over the impact of SpaceX’s test operations at Boca Chica Beach in south Texas.

The issue: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved SpaceX’s plan to use the coastal site for launching its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets up to 12 times per year.

However, Elon Musk’s company has instead been using its facilities to develop and flight test its larger Starship and Super Heavy boosters. The resulting impacts have been much greater than anticipated under the original proposal, environmental groups argue.

(more…)