A month in space #30

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

SpaceX: Faster, Higher, Bigger

SpaceX is resuming its march – space – forward. The American company broke yet another record a few days ago, making three launches in less than 36 hours. For this, SpaceX used its reusable launcher, the Falcon 9. There are 53 satellites labeled as 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 the SpaceX in orbit between June 17th and 19th.

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

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

Despite everything, SpaceX is going through a delicate period: Elon Musk, who recently acquired the social network Twitter, chained escapades online. If the South African native is used to the fact, it seems his recent departures have eroded the confidence of SpaceX employees and installed a kind of worry atmosphere within the company. This gave rise to the sending of a letter, written by some SpaceX employees, to express their dissatisfaction. Before being fired.

Furthermore, the recent harassment allegations made against Elon Musk add to this heavy climate.

Finally, the FAA, the federal aviation agency that oversees authorizations for private flights across the Atlantic, published its report on June 13 on the environmental impacts of SpaceX’s activities in South Texas. A report that obliges the American space company to take 75 measures to reduce its ecological footprint, but that authorizes SpaceX to continue its activities on the Boca Chica site. An expected but decisive result 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 now it is a matter of carrying out a first orbital flight, using the Super Heavy heavy launch vehicle. A big challenge, with multiple stakes: the Starship ships will be reusable, so they must be brought back to Earth. These tests have already been successfully performed. Then the launchers. The last 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 pass 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 stop accelerate the positioning phases on the launch pad. The smooth running of this robotic crane is also a major challenge for SpaceX, the size of the Super Heavy and Starship making them extremely complicated to move with today’s existing means.

Elon Musk, an eternal optimist, would like the maiden flight to take place in July, if all tests were perfect. 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

Title image: Raptor Engines ©SpaceX

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