SpaceX’s Starship prototype moved to launch pad on new rocket transporter

Over the last two or so weeks, SpaceX engineers and technicians have continued to make progress on the company’s first full-scale Starship prototype …

Over the last two or so weeks, SpaceX engineers and technicians have continued to make progress on the company’s first full-scale Starship prototype, intended to support experimental suborbital hop tests as early as March or April.

That work reached a peak on March 8th when the massive Starhopper was transported from build site to launch pad on a brand new transporter that was delivered and assembled barely 48 hours prior. Ahead of the suborbital prototype’s move, work has been ongoing to construct a replacement fairing for the partial-fidelity vehicle, although there is a chance that the new BFR-related stainless steel sections being assembled could be the start of the first orbital Starship prototype.

Space X Boca Chica Site Aerial Photography Update March 03, 2019 @elonmusk@SpaceX 🚀#SpaceX#starhopper#Bocachicapic.twitter.com/lKLHnlOdWr

— RGVAerialPhotography (@RGVaerialphotos) March 3, 2019

Required after improper planning destroyed Starship’s original nosecone (or fairing) when it broke free from its insufficient moorings during high coastal winds, the replacement has sprouted from sheets of metal into a far more substantial structure in barely two weeks. Designed as two integral parts of a suborbital Starship prototype, the upper section (i.e. fairing, nosecone, etc.) is predominately a passive aerodynamic structure with no major active functions, thankfully meaning that the first article’s accidental destruction was a relatively minor loss.

Starship test flight rocket just finished assembly at the @SpaceX Texas launch site. This is an actual picture, not a rendering. pic.twitter.com/k1HkueoXaz

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 11, 2019

In fact, it’s entirely possible that the fairing’s demise has had a minimal impact on the commencement of hop tests, and may have even been a net-good for the program given some visible differences between Starship fairings #1 and #2. Despite the fact that the first fairing was destroyed in late January and a comment from CEO Elon Musk indicating that it would trigger a delay of a few weeks, SpaceX did not begin to assemble its replacement until February 21st, a full month later. Over the course of those 30 or so days, the company’s propulsion team simultaneously began hot-fire tests of the first full-scale Raptor engine, ramped thrust and chamber pressure from roughly 40 to 100 percent, and ultimately pushed the engine to the point of damage around the second week of February.

Work on the primary structure of the Starship prototype also proceeded apace, fleshing out the brute-force steel vehicle with the beginnings of serious avionics and plumbing and more or less completing the structure of its liquid oxygen and methane propellant tanks. SpaceX workers also rapidly expanded and built-out Starship’s prospective hop test launch pad just a few thousand feet distant, installing tank farms, piping, water deluge hardware, and building an actual concrete ‘pad’ with umbilical connection ports and attachment points for the ship’s three fin-legs.

On March 7th, Starhopper’s replacement fairing was lifted onto a concrete work stand, where curved sections will begin to be attached. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Welding and assembly of the replacement nosecone began around February 21st, rapidly growing from a few sheets of steel to a nearly-complete barrel section measuring about 9m tall and 9m in diameter (30ft x 30ft). Intriguingly, the new fairing appears to be a significant departure from the structural composition of its predecessor, utilizing far thicker sheets of stainless steel joined by uninterrupted width and lengthwise welds. Compared to the first fairing’s dependence on extremely thin (nearly foil-like) steel sheets and a separate internal framework of metal bars, Starship fairing V2 appears to be easily capable of standing under its own weight and then some. While largely passive, it’s likely that once the structure is complete, some level of additional avionics (and perhaps cold or hot-gas maneuvering thrusters) will be installed inside.

Heres a close up of the launch site. pic.twitter.com/Q32SHjUH8F

— RGVAerialPhotography (@RGVaerialphotos) March 4, 2019

U-Crawl

Keeping in the practice of dramatically lowering costs by prioritizing consumer off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware solutions wherever possible, SpaceX has purchased or leased a quartet of (likely used) crawlers for the purpose of transporting Starship between the company’s South Texas build, launch, and landing sites. Built by a European conglomerate known TII Group and owned by US-based Roll Group, SpaceX’s four crawlers – coupled to form a duo of larger crawlers – should be more than capable of transporting anywhere from 500t to 1000t or more, easily supporting Starhopper and/or Starships and Super Heavy boosters.

SpaceX accepted delivery of a quarter of crawlers on March 6th and immediately coupled them and began installing massive steel beams to form a Starship transporter. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Rather than spending huge amounts of money to develop or contract out a custom-designed crawler or transporter solution for BFR, SpaceX appears to have simply purchased off-the-shelf hardware and affixed them with heavy steel structures capable of securing and supporting Starhopper during transport. Within 24 hours of the crawler arrivals, those beams were installed and the transporter had been moved underneath Starhopper and attached to it before quite literally jacking the massive ship off the ground, allowing technicians to weld additional structures to the tips of its three legs.

The latest addition to SpaceX’s fleet of rocket transporters, March 6th. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Last but not least…

Perhaps most curious of all, Starhopper’s replacement fairing was recently joined by the start of work on a separate barrel section that appears to be nearly identical. Assuming the presumed fairing is, in fact, a fairing-to-be, the combined height of the two barrel sections would already make it significantly taller than the original nosecone, and the beginning of the conical taper has yet to appear on either assembly. This could generally mean one of two things. First, the new fairing could make Starhopper much taller than its short-lived predecessor. Second, SpaceX could be planning to begin (or even complete) hop tests without a fairing, in which case the presumed fairing and its slightly younger twin could actually be the beginning of a higher-fidelity Starhopper or even the orbital Starship prototype hinted at by Musk earlier this year.

While far less likely than the first option, the latter alternative is further supported by the fact that visible work has begun on some sort of tapered or curved steel complements to the new sections in work. While they certainly could be the beginning of the fairing’s tapered cone, the latest segments only loosely resemble the start of a gradual curve. Instead, they look similar to the steel segments of several giant tank domes that were assembled, welded, and installed inside Starhopper last month.

One of the latest curved sections of welded steel, March 7th. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal
Meanwhile, giant 9m-diameter tank domes are being assembled and welded together a few hundred feet away from Starhopper. (NSF – bocachicagal)

On March 8th, SpaceX began the transport of its first full-scale Starship prototype at the same time as CEO Elon Musk indicated that the first flightworthy Raptor(s) would be delivered to South Texas and installed on the hop test article as early as next week (March 11-17). It’s now looking increasingly likely that any replacement fairing that may or may not be under construction might not be ready for installation on Starhopper before SpaceX begins integrated static-fire tests and maybe even low-altitude tethered hop tests.

“SpaceX will conduct checkouts of the newly installed ground systems and perform a short static fire test in the days ahead,” he said. “Although the prototype is designed to perform sub-orbital flights, or hops, powered by the SpaceX Raptor engine, the vehicle will be tethered during initial testing and hops will not be visible from offsite. SpaceX will establish a safety zone perimeter in coordination with local enforcement and signage will be in place to alert the community prior to the testing.” – James Gleeson, March 8th, SpaceX

pic.twitter.com/o6F0hhfme2

— SPadre (@SpacePadreIsle) March 8, 2019

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX takes major step towards reviving US astronaut presence

A privately-funded rocket has taken a major step towards once-again sending American astronauts into space from US soil. NASA stopped its Space …

A privately-funded rocket has taken a major step towards once-again sending American astronauts into space from US soil.

NASA stopped its Space Shuttle programme eight years ago. It has sent people into space aboard Russian rockets but has also been working with Elon Musk’s SpaceX project.

The SpaceX rocket took off this morning from Florida carrying only a test dummy. But it could be carrying passengers as early as July.

Harry Smith reports.

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Elon Musk’s war with the SEC heats up during a historic launch week for SpaceX

Elon Musk’s ongoing war with the Securities and Exchange Commission continued this week when the agency targeted recent tweets by the …
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NASA, SpaceX and Boeing are targeting 2019 to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from American soil. NASA

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Elon Musk’s ongoing war with the Securities and Exchange Commission continued this week when the agency targeted recent tweets by the billionaire entrepreneur, sparking a standoff that could result in a judge finding him in contempt.

On Monday, the SEC filed documents indicating its belief that Musk last week violated a late 2018 settlement that restricted his Tesla-related communications, specifically on Twitter.

“Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019,” he tweeted Feb. 19. “Meant to say annualized production rate at end of 2019 probably around 500k, ie 10k cars/week. Deliveries for year still estimated to be about 400k.”

The SEC found Musk had not sought out approval from Tesla’s communications team for the tweets, a provision that had been established in a 2018 settlement Musk reached with the SEC after tweeting that the energy company had “funding secured” to exit the public markets and go private. The SEC sued Musk over the statements and a settlement involving a fine, restricted communications and removal as chairman was reached, more or less closing that chapter.

But his Tesla-related tweets last week sparked the SEC to file documents indicating that he is in contempt of court.

“Musk did not seek or receive pre-approval prior to publishing this tweet, which was inaccurate and disseminated to over 24 million people,” the agency’s documents show. “Musk has thus violated the Court’s Final Judgment by engaging in the very conduct that the pre- approval provision of the Final Judgment was designed to prevent.”

Musk, who in a December 60 Minutes interview said he has “no respect” for the SEC, has until March 11 to formally respond. So far, he has said his tweets were nothing new – transcripts from previous Tesla earnings calls had already released that information.

How SpaceX is involved

The battle comes during a critical week for another company in which his celebrity CEO status is undeniably interwoven: SpaceX.

The launch provider is targeting 2:49 a.m. Saturday for the premiere launch of a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule, a critical uncrewed mission that will demonstrate to NASA its hardware is ready and safe for astronauts. It will mark the first time a commercially built, human-rated spacecraft meets with the International Space Station.

Crews haven’t launched to the orbiting outpost from American soil since the space shuttle program’s last flight in July 2011.

During Musk’s first run-in with the SEC in late 2018, SpaceX unexpectedly found itself in the agency’s crosshairs: If certain waivers had not been obtained, the launch provider could have been unable to pursue specific forms of fundraising due to its ties to Musk.

Because Tesla, Musk and his statements were central figures of the SEC lawsuit, his private ventures became subject to limitations in the securities laws.

In the end, the issues were resolved, but that SpaceX could have found itself in such a position shows just how deeply Musk’s personality and presence are tied to his companies.

Experts, however, agree that SpaceX has a strong hand with its president, Gwynne Shotwell. She is seen as the stable figure, experts say, and is responsible for day-to-day operations, as well as outside representation at many conferences and events.

“I would imagine that Air Force leadership is cognizant of Elon’s situation, but I doubt that it would in any way threaten their commitment to SpaceX as a core supplier of launch services,” space industry analyst Chris Quilty, president of Quilty Analytics in St. Petersburg, told FLORIDA TODAY.

Contact Emre Kelly at aekelly@floridatoday.com or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly.

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A year after the colossal SpaceX rocket’s debut, Falcon Heavy has ‘high value’ uses – despite …

A year ago SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time. Millions tuned in as Elon Musk’s space company moved to number one on the …

A year ago SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time. Millions tuned in as Elon Musk’s space company moved to number one on the list of the world’s most powerful rockets.

Falcon Heavy’s maiden launch was nearly flawless. The only blemish was when one of its three boosters crashed into the ocean, rather than gently coming to a landing on a company barge.

Yet, even after Falcon Heavy succeeded, critics focused on the market for the massive rocket’s services. Department of Defense applications of Falcon Heavy were apparent. But even the prospect of lucrative military contracts was not enough to convince some within the space industry that Falcon Heavy would generate solid revenue for SpaceX.

Skeptics pointed to the slowing market for large communication satellites and the need for U.S. Air Force certification to fly national security missions. They said these were two reasons SpaceX would not be able to fill Falcon Heavy’s manifest.

With the test flight under its belt, the rocket needed “to get some commercial customers,” Dr. Greg Autry told CNBC. Autry is a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business, as well as the director of the Southern California Commercial Spaceflight Initiative.

“The lone test flight was incredible but not enough to prove for someone to put an expensive payload on board,” Autry said of Falcon Heavy. “SpaceX needs to prove it’s a reliable vehicle.”

Orders did arrive in the past year and, even before a second flight, Air Force certification came with them. The manifest for Falcon Heavy has grown to five contracted missions, including three commercial missions. While only one has a known price tag – a $130 million contract to launch the Air Force Space Command-52 satellite – the rocket’s manifest is worth somewhere between $500 million and $750 million, given the price range per launch.

That means Falcon Heavy has enough contracts to cover the cost of its development, which was more than $500 million, Musk noted last year, with the all funding coming from inside SpaceX.

Chad Anderson, CEO of Space Angels, which invests in space projects, told CNBC some people in the industry doubted the concept of reusability, or launching, landing and launching again, which has become a trademark for SpaceX. Last year, SpaceX became the first company to launch and land the same orbital rocket three times. That’s in part due to the increased power and reliability of the company’s evolved Falcon 9 rocket, which Musk said is “capable of at least 100 flights.”

And the criticisms of Falcon Heavy are starting to sound familiar. “There’s a recurring pattern here,” Anderson said, “It’s the same tired, old arguments we’re seeing applied to Falcon Heavy.”

The lack of competitive rockets is also a boon for Falcon Heavy. The only operational rocket that compares is United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy and it’s retiring soon. NASA’s Space Launch System (or SLS) and Blue Origin’s New Glenn are possible new entrants in the market of heavy lift vehicles but neither rocket is expected to launch before 2021. The Ariane 6 rocket is supposed to launch next year but a French auditor published a blistering assessment of the European rocket that found Ariane 6 will not be a competitive or sustainable option.

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The new $1.37 billion border-security deal might save SpaceX’s launch site in Texas, where Elon …

Most immediately, SpaceX plans to fly a stainless-steel “test hopper” vehicle: a squat prototype for a much larger launch system that Musk calls …
  • SpaceX , the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, is building a spaceship prototype at its launch site in south Texas .
  • Because the site is less than 3 miles from the US-Mexico border, it’s embroiled in President Donald Trump’s push for a border wall .
  • Department of Homeland Security maps reportedly showed a proposed physical barrier running directly through SpaceX’s site.
  • However, a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday released a $1.3 billion border-security deal that excludes SpaceX’s site from fencing.

Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, is working around-the-clock to build a rocket-launch site at the southern tip of Texas.

Most immediately, SpaceX plans to fly a stainless-steel “test hopper” vehicle: a squat prototype for a much larger launch system that Musk calls Starship. When finished, that system a Starship spaceship and Super Heavy rocket booster stacked together may stand about 39 stories high.

SpaceX’s launch site is between one and three miles from the Mexican border. Firing off rockets to the moon or Mars from that site might be impossible, though, if a border wall cuts through the launch facility. Yet lawmakers said that is precisely what proposed maps from the US Department of Homeland Security showed, according to Bloomberg .

However, a $1.37 billion, 1,159-page border-security agreement drafted by a bipartisan group of lawmakers would spare SpaceX’s nascent launch site from DHS bulldozers.

“None of the funds made available by this Act or prior Acts are available for the construction of pedestrian fencing … within or east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge,” the text states.

That wildlife refuge region encompasses SpaceX’s 50-acre site launch site.

Why SpaceX’s newest launch site might be at risk

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SpaceX pitched the site to commissioners in Cameron County, Texas, around 2012 as a place to launch up to 12 rockets per year.

Environmental impact statement documents filed by SpaceX suggest the company would annually launch up to 10 missions on the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rockets from the site, and no more than two missions on Falcon Heavy currently the world’s most powerful operational rocket.

But during a May 2018 press briefing , Musk said the South Texas launch site “will be dedicated” to the upcoming Starship system (formerly called ” Big Falcon Rocket “).

Read more : SpaceX test-fired a Raptor rocket engine with ‘insane power’ for moon and Mars missions. The future of Elon Musk’s company may ride on its unrivaled performance.

But now parts of the site, if not the entire area, is at risk of being taken over by the government, due to a push for a border wall by President Donald Trump.

Trump campaigned on erecting a southern border wall, andrecently pushed for about $5.7 billion of taxpayer funding for the physical barrier. That push prompted a 34-day partial shutdown of the US government the longest in history . About two-thirds of Americans oppose funding a physical border, according to opinion poll data collected in early January.

The new bipartisan compromise does not come close to Trump’s desired level of funding, and Trump said Wednesday that he is not happy with the deal , according to the Associated Press. But he has yet to say whether or not he’ll sign the legislation into law.

“The wall is getting built, regardless. It doesn’t matter because we’re doing other things beyond what we’re talking about here,” Trump said.

For now, US Congressman Henry Cuellar , a Democrat representing Texas’ 28th district, claimed credit for getting language that protects SpaceX’s interests into the new agreement.

“This is a big win for the Rio Grande Valley,” Rep. Cuellar said in a statement emailed to Business Insider. “I worked hard to include this language because protecting these ecologically-sensitive areas and ensuring local communities have a say in determining the solutions that work for them is critical. I know we can secure the border in a much more effective way, and at a fraction of the cost, by utilizing advanced technology and increasing the agents and properly equipping them on the border.”

SpaceX declined to comment on the proposed legislation.

Some fencing already exists near the SpaceX launch site in South Texas, but it “is full of gaps” that US Customs and Border Patrol agents and landowners “drive through daily,” a former local government official who used to live in the area told Business Insider.

However, a physical wall is not all that guards the region.

“There are sensors all over and they know when someone is going through,” the official said. “The [Rio Grande] river below that is patrolled by boat, helicopter, drone, and monitored by the blimp.”

NOW WATCH: How SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic plan on taking you to space

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SEE ALSO: SpaceX test-fired a Raptor rocket engine with ‘insane power’ for moon and Mars missions. The future of Elon Musk’s company may ride on its unrivaled performance.

DON’T MISS: These are the 577 positions SpaceX is cutting at its headquarters in a major round of layoffs

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