A month in space #30

What has happened above our heads for a month? SpaceX occupies the news of the month of June, between the escapades of Elon Musk, the FAA report, and the preparations for the first flight of the Starship, which will be powered by 33 engines.

SpaceX: faster, higher, bigger

SpaceX is resuming its – spatial – march forward. The American firm broke yet another record a few days ago, performing three launches in less than 36 hours. For this, SpaceX has used its reusable launcher, the Falcon 9. These are 53 satellites labeled Starlink, a radar imaging satellite built by Airbus for the German army, and finally a spare satellite for the operator Globalstar, which were sent by SpaceX into orbit between June 17 and 19.

Note that two of these missions were operated from Florida, while the second, on behalf of Airbus, was carried out from the Californian launch site located on the Vanderberg military base. The three launchers returned to land on barges off the coasts of Florida and California, as planned, and can be used again. Moreover, one of the launchers was celebrating its thirteenth use!

In video, here is the landing of the Falcon 9, back from the mission.

Despite everything, SpaceX is going through a delicate period: Elon Musk, who recently acquired the social network Twitter, has chained escapades online. If the native South African is customary to the fact, it seems that his recent outings have eroded the confidence of SpaceX employees and installed a form of climate of concern within the company. This gave rise to the sending of a letter, written by certain SpaceX employees, to express their dissatisfaction. Before getting fired.

Also, the recent accusations of harassment made against Elon Musk add to this heavy climate.

Finally, the FAA, the federal aviation agency that oversees private flight authorizations across the Atlantic, published its report on June 13 on the environmental impacts of SpaceX’s activities in southern Texas. A report which obliges the American space firm to take 75 measures to reduce its ecological footprint, but which authorizes SpaceX to continue its activities on the Boca Chica site. An expected, but decisive outcome for the extraordinary ship, Starship, that Elon Musk and his engineers have been developing for several years.

SpaceX has already carried out high altitude tests with the Starship spacecraft, but it is now a question of carrying out a first orbital flight, using the Super Heavy heavy launch vehicle. A major challenge, with multiple stakes: the Starship vessels will be reusable, so they must be brought back to Earth. These tests have already been carried out successfully. Then the launchers. The latest Super Heavy launcher, the Super Heavy Booster 7, was placed on the Boca Chica launch pad days after the FAA report was released. This giant launcher, equipped with 33 Raptor engines, must undergo a battery of tests, including a static firing test.

On June 23, the launcher was moved by “Mechazilla”, a huge robotic crane placed on the launch pad, which has, as can be seen in the video below, two huge mechanical arms that allow it to move launchers and vessels, in order to speed up the positioning phases on the launch pad. The proper functioning of this robotic crane is also a major challenge for SpaceX, the size of Super Heavy and Starship making them extremely complicated to move with the existing means today.

Elon Musk, an eternal optimist, would like the maiden flight to take place in July, if all the tests go perfectly. So as not to miss this, SpaceX has set up a live stream from Boca Chica, which allows you to constantly follow what is happening on the launch pad:

By Pierre Thouverez

Headline image: Raptors engines ©SpaceX

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