Archive for the ‘starship’ Category

NASA selects SpaceX as its sole provider for a lunar lander

April 16th, 2021
Rendering of SpaceX's Starship vehicle on the surface of the Moon.

Enlarge / Rendering of SpaceX's Starship vehicle on the surface of the Moon. (credit: NASA)

In an extraordinary announcement on Friday, NASA said that it has selected SpaceX and its Starship vehicle to serve as the lunar lander for its Artemis Program. This is NASA's plan to return humans to the Moon later this decade.

About a year ago, NASA gave initial study and preliminary development contracts for Moon landers to SpaceX, Dynetics, and a team of aerospace heavyweights led by Blue Origin. The cost of SpaceX's bid was about half that of Dynetics, and one-fourth the amount received by Blue Origin. That frugality, at least in part, led NASA on Friday to choose SpaceX as the sole provider of landing services during the down-select phase.

"We looked at what’s the best value to the government," said Kathy Lueders, chief of the human exploration program for NASA, during a teleconference with reporters on Friday.

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SpaceX loses another Starship prototype as landing sequence fails

March 30th, 2021

Despite a thickly fogged launch site in South Texas, SpaceX let its SN11 Starship prototype fly on Tuesday morning at 8 am local time.

An onboard camera showed the vehicle making a nominal ascent to about 10 km, shutting off its three Raptor rocket engines in turn. As the vehicle ascended, it cleared the low cloud deck into blue skies. Starship then hovered before beginning its return to Earth.

The camera attached to the Starship vehicle's exterior provided imagery during the descent, which appeared to be fairly smooth as the vehicle "flopped" over and oriented itself to come back through the thickening atmosphere. During three previous high-altitude flights, Starship prototypes have performed this graceful maneuver without much apparent difficulty.

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SpaceX working toward early Tuesday morning Starship launch [Updated]

March 26th, 2021

7:45 am ET Tuesday Update: Today's the day—probably. After an inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration arrived on Monday evening, SpaceX checked the last remaining box for its Starship SN11 launch attempt.

The launch window runs from 7 am local time (12:00 UTC) to 3 pm (20:00 UTC). Although the region is clouded in this morning, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said early Tuesday that the company is working toward an 8 am launch (13:00 UTC), and roads are already closed to local traffic.

It is not clear how much visibility SpaceX will want for today's test flight, and we do anticipate some clearing of skies later this morning. So we'll watch and wait to see what happens with the vehicle and the weather. When SpaceX's official webcast goes live it will be embedded below. In the meantime, local activity can be tracked through's livestream.

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SpaceX reveals the grand extent of its starport plans in South Texas

March 8th, 2021
An orbital view of SpaceX's South Texas launch site, with SN10 on the pad, in early March.

Enlarge / An orbital view of SpaceX's South Texas launch site, with SN10 on the pad, in early March. (credit: Maxar Technologies)

As part of a federal review process for its plans in South Texas, details of SpaceX's proposed spaceport have been made public. They were posted late last week in a public notice from the US Army Corps of engineers, which is soliciting public comments on the changes.

Most notably, the new documents include a detailed architectural drawing of the multi-acre site at the southern tip of Texas, along the Gulf of Mexico. The major hardware that exists or will be built includes:

  • Two orbital launch pads, one of which is already under constriction
  • Two suborbital launch pads, one of which already exists
  • Two landing pads, one of which already exists
  • Two structural test stands for Starship and the Super Heavy booster
  • A large "tank farm" to provide ground support equipment for orbital flights
  • A permanent position for the totemic "Starhopper" vehicle at the site's entrance

What is striking about this architectural drawing is its compact nature, largely because SpaceX has limited land to work with at the facility and must include stormwater ponds to mitigate against flooding. All of these facilities will be concentrated within a couple dozen acres, which is in stark contrast to more expansive launch sites in Florida at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

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Starship goes up. Starship goes down. But is the program moving forward?

March 4th, 2021

So what, exactly, are we to make of the third flight of a full-scale Starship prototype?

If nothing else, Wednesday afternoon's flight provided several minutes of first-rate entertainment: Rocketship goes up. Rocketship comes down. Rocketship lands. And then, with an incredible plot twist 10 minutes later, rocketship briefly ascends again and then blows up.

It all looked remarkable. Like many of the most inspiring things SpaceX has accomplished over the last decade, this launch, landing, and subsequent explosion looked almost otherworldly. It felt like a peek into the future, a glimpse of something yet unseen, that might yet be.

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SpaceX recycling vehicle for second Starship launch attempt [Updated]

March 3rd, 2021
Starship SN10 on the pad on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.

Enlarge / Starship SN10 on the pad on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann / Ars Technica)

Update 3:45 pm EST: The SN10 Starship prototype very nearly launched on Wednesday afternoon from South Texas, but a last-second out-of-bounds reading aborted the attempt. The abort was caused by a "slightly conservative high thrust limit," SpaceX founder Elon Musk said afterward. Basically, the onboard flight computer received data from one of the engines that it was producing more thrust than anticipated.

The good news? This thrust limit can be adjusted upward in the flight software, and the vehicle is now recycling through propellant loading for another attempt. SN10 may still fly later today, time to be determined.

Original post 8:12 am EST: SpaceX may launch its third full-scale Starship prototype—named Serial Number 10, or SN10—as early as Wednesday from South Texas.

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Putting the latest Starship crash into perspective—it’s “stupidly difficult”

February 3rd, 2021

Once again, on Tuesday afternoon, a Starship prototype soared into the clear skies above South Texas like something out of the pages of a science fiction novel. Once again, after reaching a high altitude, the spaceship leaned into a "belly flop" maneuver, making a controlled descent back toward the planet.

And then, once again, a problem within the last few seconds caused the Starship prototype to spectacularly crash near its launch platform.

Seven weeks have passed since the first full-scale Starship prototype, SN8, performed its high-altitude flight. Now, SN9 has met a similar fate. It appeared that one of the two Raptor rocket engines intended to power the final, controlled descent failed to relight (see a great, slow-motion view). As a result, when the vehicle began reorienting itself into a vertical position, it never stopped swinging. Then, BOOM!

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SpaceX launch attempt of Starship prototype is imminent [Updated]

February 2nd, 2021
A Starship on the pad, and a second on the way in South Texas.

Enlarge / A Starship on the pad, and a second on the way in South Texas. (credit: Elon Musk/Twitter)

SpaceX finally has won approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to launch its Starship prototype vehicle SN9 in South Texas.

The notification came early Tuesday morning, when the FAA posted "The SpaceX Starship launch is scheduled off Boca Chica with no major impacts," as part of its daily planning advisory. The handful of local residents in Boca Chica were also notified of the need to evacuate from their homes this morning.

If you've been following this saga, this approval has been a long time coming. The company first began making final preparations for a launch more than a week ago, but an attempt on Monday, January 25, was eventually called off. Then, last Thursday, SpaceX went so far as to evacuate nearby residents, have local sheriffs clear nearby beaches, and fully fuel the vehicle. Weather conditions were perfect.

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What’s really going on with Elon Musk, the FAA, and Starship?

January 29th, 2021
Starship prototype SN9 has not launched yet.

Enlarge / Starship prototype SN9 has not launched yet. (credit: SpaceX)

There were moments of high drama on Thursday afternoon, and again Friday morning, in South Texas. For two days in a row, SpaceX evacuated the handful of residents remaining in Boca Chica Village. Sheriff's deputies cleared beaches and closed roads. And at the company's launch site, a Starship rocket prototype underwent preparations for launch.

The vehicle was ready, with ground equipment venting away. The winds were light. And then—nothing. As the hours ticked by, the rocket remained on the ground. Unfortunately for SpaceX, the Federal Aviation Administration had not given its final approval to launch. It all made for quite a South Texas Showdown.

SpaceX, which officially said it was targeting a launch attempt on Thursday, has not publicly commented on what happened. Nor has the FAA provided specifics on what transpired other than offering a generic statement: “We will continue working with SpaceX to resolve outstanding safety issues before we approve the next test flight.”

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Sidewalk-robot startup celebrates 1 million deliveries

January 27th, 2021
A masked woman holds up a package next to a self-driving robot about the size of an ice cooler.

Enlarge / Annika Keeton. (credit: Starship)

Last March, just as the Washington, DC, area was locking down for COVID-19, I traveled to George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, to eat a hamburger delivered by a robot.

The robot was owned by delivery startup Starship. Today, Starship announced that it has completed 1 million deliveries. Annika Keeton, a college student in Bowling Green, Ohio, was Starship's millionth customer.

In recent years, a lot of hype has followed companies like Waymo and Tesla as they try to build full-size, go-anywhere self-driving cars. But designing these vehicles has proven fiendishly difficult. Tesla's self-driving software still requires careful supervision, while Waymo's driverless taxis are still limited to one corner of the Phoenix metropolitan area.

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