The news dealing with SpaceX has been jostling for the last few days. Although the Insipration4 flight is due to take off in just over a month, Elon Musk’s company does not intend to limit its return to this event, and SpaceX engineers have not been short of work in recent days.
If you follow Elon Musk on Twitter, you will surely understand what we want to talk to you about today. The installation of the Super Heavy, SpaceX’s heavy launcher that is being assembled in Boca Chica, at the company’s operational base. The big news of this launch that should propel the Starship into orbit, and even on Mars, if we look at SpaceX’s long-term timeline, is the number of engines. While Starship, which has so far flown at an altitude of 15 kilometers, has three, SpaceX is mounting 29 at the foot of its launcher. Enough to generate unprecedented momentum.
Super Heavy Booster moving to orbital launch mount pic.twitter.com/axaDnXNm84
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 3, 2021
Before seeing this power monster take off, SpaceX still needs to work out some details, especially with Elon Musk’s great friend, the FAA. The American Aviation Federation is, in fact, the only body capable of issuing a flight authorization for such a machine. However, relations between the FAA and SpaceX are strained to say the least. Which doesn’t help the plan by Elon Musk, the very impatient billionaire to see his launcher, whose design projects began in 2009, finally go live.
FAA approval is expected upon completion of an environmental review of the launch pad. The latter was built without the prior consent of the American federation, which could, in the event of non-compliance, ask SpaceX to simply demolish its launch tower.
While waiting for the FAA to finally decide on this dragged file, SpaceX continues its frenetic pace and continues to develop its starship at full speed, as if to put pressure on the FAA, which today has part of the backpack of public opinion. On the federation side, the schedule is much more vague, a first version of the exam report must be returned in the next few days, then there is a 30-day response period, and after this month, the FAA will finally give its verdict.
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If the American federation is only interested at the moment in the SpaceX launch pad, there is something inside Boca Chica that does not respect all environmental laws, it is the Super Heavy with its 29 Raptor engines. Because the latter are real outdoor exhaust pipes. They work with a complex mechanism of combustion of liquid oxygen with liquid methane, this combustion will create gases, which will be used to propel the rocket through the air.
The use of liquid methane, quite rare in the aerospace world, is one of SpaceX’s signatures. Until recently, the American company was the only one to use this methane-oxygen mixture to make its rockets fly, but in recent months a fashion effect has affected New Space, and everyone is gradually switching to methane. This is the case, for example, of Blue Origin, which must abandon the hydrogen-oxygen-methane mixture with its new BE-4 engine.
With this liquid methane, Elon Musk isn’t giving the planet a gift. We must recognize it. But the advantages are numerous for SpaceX, which can reuse its engines much more easily than other companies in the world. new spaceprecisely thanks to this new engine.
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Denser than hydrogen, methane is therefore easier to store, takes up less space than hydrogen and, above all, its boiling point is much higher, which facilitates its conversion to a liquid state. Methane also has a liquefaction temperature very close to that of oxygen, which allows SpaceX to keep both tanks at nearly the same temperature. A serious advantage when you know the temperature and pressure differences that can exist between the hydrogen and oxygen tanks in a conventional launcher.
Finally, the use of methane is a choice made with the idea of one day coming to colonize Mars. In fact, SpaceX claims that it will be possible, once it reaches the red planet, to produce methane. Elon Musk’s company here solves the big problems of Martian travel, which are the transportation and conversion of resources needed for the return trip.
If in their plans NASA or the other space agencies thought of leaving with propellant (fuel) for the round trip, which weighed heavily on the spacecraft, SpaceX announces that it will make the trip with half full, just enough to go. The return is made with the fuel recovered on site. A compelling idea that has yet to prove itself, as no one has been able to demonstrate that Mars was capable of providing methane in such quantities.