SpaceX adds mystery “Zuma” mission, Iridium-4 aims for Vandenberg landing

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In what has already been a busy year for SpaceX, the commercial launch provider is adding one more mission to its jammed-packed end-of-year schedule.  A mysterious mission codenamed “Zuma” will launch No Earlier Than 10 November 2017 from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center.  Meanwhile, CRS-13 is slipping at least one week per the Station’s schedule, and the Iridium NEXT-4 mission from Vandenberg has received permission to debut RTLS landing of the Falcon 9 booster back at SLC-4W.

SpaceX adds mystery “Zuma” mission:

It’s not often that one can point to a last-minute (from the public side) addition of a mission to a launch manifest – let alone one that manages to stay secret until 30 days before the opening of its launch campaign.

But that is the case for a mystery Falcon 9 mission that is now set to launch between Koreasat-5A and CRS-13/Dragon.

The mystery mission, codename Zuma, is known on its FCC launch license as Mission 1390 and will see a Falcon 9 rocket launch from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center before performing a RTLS (Return To Launch Site) landing at LZ-1 at Cape Canaveral.

The mission is a new addition to SpaceX’s manifest and now appears to be the last flight off Pad 39A before the pad undergoes final configurations for the debut of the Falcon Heavy, which is still slated for NET (No Earlier Than) December 2017.

With such secrecy, the customer candidate for Zuma would normally be the U.S. government/military (i.e.: the National Reconnaissance Office or the Air Force); however, there is industry speculation claiming this is a “black commercial” mission.

Nonetheless, Zuma represents a likely rapid launch response from SpaceX for the satellite’s operator.

While nothing is known of the payload, what is known is that Zuma will use Falcon 9 core B1043 – a brand new core that was originally (as understood by NASASpaceflight.com) intended for the CRS-13/Dragon mission.

However, a brand-new booster might not be needed for CRS-13.  With Falcon 9 first stage reuse proving highly successful in its first two flights by August, NASA – as confirmed in a press conference following the CRS-12 launch – was actively investigating and reviewing data toward approving a future CRS launch on a flight-proven Falcon 9.

According to information recently obtained by NASASpaceflight.com and available on L2, NASA has completed a technical review for reuse with successful results limited to the second flight of a booster that flew a LEO mission.

This means that from NASA’s technical review standpoint, all engineering considerations for Falcon 9 reuse meet the agency’s strict safety standards and that nothing from a technical/engineering standpoint would stop a future CRS mission from launching on a once-flown Falcon 9 booster that lofted a payload to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

The information adds that approvals are in management review but may not occur in time for SpX-13.

However, CRS-13 is understood to be slipping about one week from its NET 28 November date into early December per the International Space Station’s schedule – affording additional time for NASA management to approve CRS-13’s launch on a flight-proven Falcon 9.

A public decision on CRS-13’s booster is expected from NASA by early November.

SpaceX end-of-year manifest realignment:

Under the recently realigned launch manifest, Koreasat-5A (on a brand new Falcon 9) is targeted to leave LC-39A NET 30 October in a 2hr 24 minute launch window that extends from 15:34 to 17:58 EDT (19:34-21:58 GMT).

The Koreasat-5A mission’s booster will then attempt landing on the ASDS (Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship) Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean – the last anticipated drone ship/ocean landing of Falcon 9 for the year.

Koreasat-5A will then be followed off Pad-A by the Zuma Falcon 9 mission – slated for NET 10 November with a RTLS landing back to the Cape.

At this point, launch operations will shift to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the newly-rebuilt SLC-40.

According to L2 processing information, SLC-40 will be “flight ready” by the end of November.  This corresponds to the CRS-13/Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station, still set for an officially announced launch date of NET 28 November.

However, CRS-13 – according to L2 information – is slipping at least one week to NET early December due to ISS scheduling considerations, something that adds additional margin for SLC-40’s reactivation.

Per the launch license, CRS-13/Dragon will depart from SLC-40 and its first stage booster will then perform a RTLS landing back at LZ-1.

After this, the Iridium NEXT-4 mission will follow from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

This mission is – as of writing – NET late-November; however, Iridium CEO Matt Desch was clear to all on-site press at the Iridium NEXT-3 launch last week that Iridium NEXT-4 will likely be NET early December 2017.

This is – in part – to deconflict the launch (specifically the final elements of launch processing for the Iridium team) with the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. and to also work on a few remaining points with SpaceX.

Intriguingly, there are some indications that Iridium NEXT-4 could make use of a flight-proven Falcon 9 – reusing the booster (B1036) that launched the Iridium-2 mission in June of this year.

While not confirmed as of writing, if Iridium NEXT-4 does reuse the Iridium-2 booster, the mission would be the first flight-proven Falcon 9 from Vandenberg and the 5th flight-proven mission of the year (if CRS-13 does, indeed, use a flight-proven core).

But perhaps most excitingly for Vandenberg is that Iridium NEXT-4, according to sources, will be the first mission to debut RTLS landing of the Falcon 9 at Vandenberg.

For a Vandenberg RTLS landing, the Falcon 9 will launch from SLC-4E and return to SLC-4W, which is just 1,425 ft (434.3 m) away – measured from center of launch mount to center of landing pad.

The commencement of Vandenberg RTLS landings has been a long time coming, with environmental studies finally clearing the way last year on 7 October 2016.

Since then, SpaceX has been hard at work building the landing pad and assembling/testing all of the systems needed to safely track and communicate with a returning Falcon 9 booster to SLC-4W and all the equipment needed to safe, process, and house RTLS boosters post-landing.

All of these endeavours are now either complete or on track to be completed in time for Iridium NEXT-4.

An early December launch of Iridium NEXT-4 would result in a launch at approximately 18:00 PST – about 1hr after local sunset and 20mins before complete darkness at the launch site.

Following Iridium NEXT-4, one final mission (from the Cape) of Falcon 9 is still labeled as “Q4 2017”.  That satellite is Hispasat 1F (30W-6).

Hispasat 1F is a heavy payload going to GTO (Geostationary Transfer Orbit) and will likely see Falcon 9 fly in her expendable configuration – though Block 4 upgrades may permit a hot entry ASDS attempted landing – sometime in December.

The satellite currently does not have a firm target launch date, but the packed Cape schedule from 30 October – 28 November (with two U.S. Federal holidays therein) almost certainly precludes a launch until NET December from SLC-40.

At present, the GovSat-1/SES-16, Iridium NEXT-5, and PAZ missions (which until recently were penciled in for flights late this year) have all officially slipped into 2018.

If Koreasat-5A, the Zuma mission, CRS-13, Iridium NEXT-4, and Hispasat 1F (30W-6) all fly before the end of the year, SpaceX will achieve a total of 20 Falcon 9 flights in 2017 – with five of those missions (with CRS-13 and Iridium NEXT-4 reusing core stages) being flight-proven Falcon 9s.

If that occurs, a full 25% of SpaceX’s flights in 2017 will have been on flight-proven boosters.

Falcon Heavy:

With the end-of-year manifest taking shape, one final – and big – question for SpaceX’s manifest for 2017 remains: Falcon Heavy.

The addition of the Zuma mission launching from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center would seemingly throw a wrench into SpaceX’s plans to take Pad-A offline in order to perform final configurations of the pad and the TEL (Transporter/Erector/Launcher) for Falcon Heavy.

In the first part of this year, it was known publicly that Pad-A would require approximately 60 days of down time to properly configure it for Falcon Heavy.

However, by late summer, SpaceX had utilized some of the down time provided between missions and during the range stand down in July to perform some of this work and had cut the total number of days needed to finalize Pad-A for Falcon Heavy from 60 down to 45.

Since July, SpaceX has continued that trend, working around launches off 39A and utilizing downtime to do what they can to get Pad-A ready for Falcon Heavy between Falcon 9 missions.  

Most recently, some of the launch mounts/hold-down points for the side boosters of Falcon Heavy were installed on the TEL between the OTV-5 and SES-11/Echostar-105 launch campaigns.

While it’s not entirely clear how much additional time SpaceX requires at present to finalize Pad-A, a great deal of work has already taken place to streamline the configuration efforts.

Nonetheless, while it is possible Falcon Heavy’s debut could slip into 2018, there is reason and evidence to state that a December 2017 maiden voyage is still possible and likely.

If Falcon Heavy does launch this year (and the five remaining Falcon 9 missions occur as understood), 23 Falcon 9 cores will launch in 2017, seven of those being flight-proven cores.

That would make flight-proven cores responsible for 30% of the total number of Falcon 9 core flights in 2017.

(Images: SpaceX, Thales Alenia, Iridium Communications, Google Maps, SSL, and Philip Sloss, Chris Gebhardt & Jay DeShelter for NASASpaceflight.com, and L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (Falcon Heavy to Dragon to Starliner, MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)

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Safety is Elon Musk’s chief concern for new SpaceX rocket

In response to a question asking what will be sent in the first missions to Mars, Musk responded that SpaceX’s goal will be to transport colonists and make sure the basic necessities for survival were in place. He compared it to building the transcontinental railway. “A vast amount of industry will need to be built on Mars by many other companies and millions of people,” Musk explained, which makes clear he’s not planning on SpaceX colonizing Mars singlehandedly.

Musk addressed safety issues when it comes to using BFR for transportation around the Earth. SpaceX’s goal is to reach (or even exceed) current levels of safety for passenger airlines. The focus of the Raptor engines is on reliability; they’ll have a flak shield to protect them, as well as more engines than most airlines to ensure redundancy. “That will be especially important for point to point journeys on Earth,” Musk said. “The advantage of getting somewhere in 30 mins by rocket instead of 15 hours by plane will be negatively affected if ‘but also, you might die’ is on the ticket.

Safety was also cited as the reason that the Raptor engines were downscaled from roughly 300 tons-force to 170 tons-force. After cheekily responding to a question addressing the downscaling with, “We chickened out,” Musk cited the possibility of engine failure as the reason behind the decision. The ship’s mass decreased between the previous IAC talk and this one; the engine downscaling is in proportion to that. “In order to be able to land the BF Ship with an engine failure at the worst possible moment, you have to have multiple engines,” he explained “The difficulty of deep throttling an engine increases in a non-linear way, so 2:1 is fairly easy, but a deep 5:1 is very hard.”

Musk also addressed his vision for a future city on Mars. The illustration provided shows ships that appear to have been used to construct the colony. One commenter asked whether that meant the first two spaceships would remain on Mars permanently as a part of the city. Musk’s answer was succinct: “Wouldn’t read too much into that illustration.”

Another commenter asked about landing sites for the Mars base. Were the priorities on science or safety? As was a theme throughout this AMA, safety and survival are the paramount concerns. “Landing site needs to be low altitude to maximize aero braking, be close to ice for propellant production and not have giant boulders,” he said. “Closer to the equator is better too for solar power production and not freezing your ass off.”

If you’re interested in technical specs and getting down into the nitty gritty, you should check out the full AMA for yourself. Musk answers quite a few detailed and well thought out questions (including a warning that the future design of the fuel tanker for the BFS will look “kinda weird.”)

Elon Musk answered questions on Reddit Space yesterday about the Spacex BFR

Elon Musk answered questions about the Spacex BFR, Raptor Engine, Mars colonization and other space related topics.

Here are Elon Musks answers to questions.

* Elon on space radiation – Ambient radiation damage is not significant for our transit times. Just need a solar storm shelter, which is a small part of the ship.
Buzz Aldrin is 87.
* Our goal is get you there [to Mars] and ensure the basic infrastructure for propellant production and survival is in place. A rough analogy is that we are trying to build the equivalent of the transcontinental railway. A vast amount of industry will need to be built on Mars by many other companies and millions of people.
* Best mass ratio is achieved by not building a box in a box. The propellant tanks need to be cylindrical to be remotely mass efficient and they have to carry ascent load, so lowest mass solution is just to mount the heat shield plates directly to the tank wall.
* Wouldn’t call what BFS has a delta wing. It is quite small (and light) relative to the rest of the vehicle and is never actually used to generate lift in the way that an aircraft wing is used.
It’s true purpose is to “balance out” the ship, ensuring that it doesn’t enter engines first from orbit (that would be really bad), and provide pitch and yaw control during reentry.
* Some parts of Raptor will be printed, but most of it will be machined forgings. We developed a new metal alloy for the oxygen pump that has both high strength at temperature and won’t burn. Pretty much anything will burn in high pressure, hot, almost pure oxygen.
* The control thrusters will be closer in design to the Raptor main chamber than SuperDraco and will be pressure-fed to enable lowest possible impulse bit (no turbopump spin delay).
* The heat shield plates will be mounted directly to the primary tank wall. That’s the most mass efficient way to go. Don’t want to build a box in box.
* At first, the tanker will just be a ship with no payload. Down the road, we will build a dedicated tanker that will have an extremely high full to empty mass ratio (warning: it will look kinda weird).
* Thrust scaling is the easy part. Very simple to scale the dev Raptor to 170 tons.
The flight engine design is much lighter and tighter, and is extremely focused on reliability. The objective is to meet or exceed passenger airline levels of safety. If our engine is even close to a jet engine in reliability, has a flak shield to protect against a rapid unscheduled disassembly and we have more engines than the typical two of most airliners, then exceeding airline safety should be possible.
That will be especially important for point to point journeys on Earth. The advantage of getting somewhere in 30 mins by rocket instead of 15 hours by plane will be negatively affected if “but also, you might die” is on the ticket.
* Will be starting with a full-scale Ship doing short hops of a few hundred kilometers altitude and lateral distance. Those are fairly easy on the vehicle, as no heat shield is needed, we can have a large amount of reserve propellant and don’t need the high area ratio, deep space Raptor engines.
Next step will be doing orbital velocity Ship flights, which will need all of the above. Worth noting that BFS is capable of reaching orbit by itself with low payload, but having the BF Booster increases payload by more than an order of magnitude. Earth is the wrong planet for single stage to orbit. No problemo on Mars.
* Landing will not be a hoverslam, depending on what you mean by the “slam” part. Thrust to weight of 1.3 will feel quite gentle. The tanker will only feel the 0.3 part, as gravity cancels out the 1. Launch is also around 1.3 T/W, so it will look pretty much like a launch in reverse….
* The main tanks will be vented to vacuum, the outside of the ship is well insulated (primarily for reentry heating) and the nose of the ship will be pointed mostly towards the sun, so very little heat is expected to reach the header tanks. That said, the propellant can be cooled either with a small amount of evaporation. Down the road, we might add a cryocooler.
* 3 light-minutes at closest distance. So you could Snapchat, I suppose. If that’s a thing in the future.
* But, yes, it would make sense to strip the headers out and do a UDP-style feed with extreme compression and a CRC check to confirm the packet is good, then do a batch resend of the CRC-failed packets. Something like that. Earth to Mars is over 22 light-minutes at max distance.

Question – Why was Raptor thrust reduced from ~300 tons-force to ~170 tons-force?
One would think that for (full-flow staged combustion…) rocket engines bigger is usually better: better surface-to-volume ratio, less friction, less heat flow to handle at boundaries, etc., which, combined with the target wet mass of the rocket defines a distinct ‘optimum size’ sweet spot where the sum of engines reaches the best thrust-to-weight ratio.
Yet Raptor’s s/l thrust was reduced from last year’s ~300 tons-force to ~170 tons-force, which change appears to be too large of a reduction to be solely dictated by optimum single engine TWR considerations.
What were the main factors that led to this change?
permalinkembedreport
ElonMuskElon Musk – We chickened out
ElonMuskElon Musk
The engine thrust dropped roughly in proportion to the vehicle mass reduction from the first IAC talk. In order to be able to land the BF Ship with an engine failure at the worst possible moment, you have to have multiple engines. The difficulty of deep throttling an engine increases in a non-linear way, so 2:1 is fairly easy, but a deep 5:1 is very hard. Granularity is also a big factor. If you just have two engines that do everything, the engine complexity is much higher and, if one fails, you’ve lost half your power. Btw, we modified the BFS design since IAC to add a third medium area ratio Raptor engine partly for that reason (lose only 1/3 thrust in engine out) and allow landings with higher payload mass for the Earth to Earth transport function.

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The Space Coast lived up to its name Sunday morning thanks to the compressed appearances of two rockets – one departure, one arrival.

Just hours after a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket took flight from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage that boosted a communications satellite from Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday sailed into Port Canaveral on the company’s Of Course I Still Love You drone ship.

Following in the wake of Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruise ships, the booster’s arrival at the port just after sunrise marked an end to its mission, which took a commercial satellite for Colorado-based EchoStar and Luxembourg-based SES to orbit from pad 39A. The charred 156-foot-tall first stage – or 162 feet with its landing legs deployed – appeared to tilt slightly on the drone ship, likely a result of its high-speed re-entry and subsequent landing.

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Here’s what Elon Musk revealed about the ITS and SpaceX’s Mars ambitions in his Reddit AMA

Last month, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made a presentation before the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, a followup to his 2016 talk where he unveiled SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport System and his ambitions to colonize Mars. This year’s presentation showcased some updates and design changes to his plans and the rocket itself — he wants to put all of SpaceX’s resources into the BFR, and use it to provide long-distance travel around planet Earth.

On Saturday evening, Elon Musk hosted an Ask Me Anything session in r/space, where he answered questions about his the ITS, the engines that power it, and more.

Interplanetary Transport System

The key focus of the AMA was on the ITS vehicles that Musk hopes to use to travel between Earth and Mars — otherwise known as the Big Fucking Rocket. SpaceX made some changes to the design between the 2016 and 2017 presentations, and one user asked about the change to a more cylindrical shape. Musk noted that he wanted to get the “best mass ratio” and that “the propellant tanks need to be cylindrical to be remotely mass efficient and they have to carry ascent load, so lowest mass solution is just to mount the heat shield plates directly to the tank wall.” Some users also asked about the changes to the design of the propellant tanks, going from a series of spherical tanks to something more elongated. Musk replied that it was to “avoid/minimize plumbing hell, but we don’t super love the current header tank/plumbing design,” but that “further refinement [are] likely.”

Another user observed that the 2016 design appears to have its wings and heat shield integrated into the airframe, while in this year’s presentation, they seemed to be modular, prompting them to ask if could be detached. Musk pushed back on the characterization that they were delta wings, and said that they’re not designed to generate lift, but to ensure that the ship “doesn’t enter engines first from orbit,” and to “provide pitch and yaw control during reentry.” However, he didn’t really speak to whether or not they could be detached. In another question about the wings, someone noted that while there were two on the ship, there wasn’t a tail (noting that the space shuttle had one), and asked how vertical stabilization worked for the rocket. Another user jumped in, saying that the shuttle didn’t really use it for reentry, and that it’s likely that the BFR doesn’t need it either, to which Musk affirmed, and followed up by saying that “tails are lame.”

Another user asked about the heat shield, asking if it was mounted on the ship or embedded into the skin of the rocket, to which Musk said that they would be mounted to the primary tank wall.

Other questions concerned the cargo that the ship would carry between Earth and Mars, with a user asking about what the BFR tankers might carry: will they go over empty, or will they include extra propellant? Musk replied that the first tanker will “just be a ship with no payload,” but that he plans to build a rocket with an “extremely high full to empty mass ratio” that will be used as a tanker, adding that it “will look kinda weird.”

Keeping the ship’s propellant cool during the trip to Mars was the source of another question: one user pointed out that a rise in temperature in the tanks would eventually boil off the fuel, and asked insulating the tanks will be enough, or if they would require liquid methane and oxygen to keep cool. Musk explained the tanks will be insulated, but that they might add a cryocooler.”

When it came to landing the rocket, someone crunched some numbers of the available thrust and weight of the rocket, and asked if the BFR would perform a “hoverslam” landing when being used on Earth. Musk noted that the “landing will not be a hoverslam, depending on what you mean by the ‘slam’ part. Thrust to weight of 1.3 will feel quite gentle. The tanker will only feel the 0.3 part, as gravity cancels out the 1. Launch is also around 1.3 T/W, so it will look pretty much like a launch in reverse….”

Another minor change between the 2016 and 2017 renders was the number of landing legs, going from three to four. When asked about the change, Musk simply replied, “because 4.”

Finally, someone asked one of the big questions left unanswered by Musk’s 2016 talk: what about the threat of radiation for astronauts? Musk said that “Ambient radiation damage is not significant for our transit times,” and that the BFR would just “need a solar storm shelter, which is a small part of the ship.” He followed up by saying that Buzz Aldrin is 87, seemingly implying that his short trip to the moon and back left no lingering damage.

Raptor Engines

Another major topic that users focused on was on the ITS’s Raptor engines. During this year’s presentation, Musk unveiled a scaled-down version of the ITS, one that utilizes 31 Raptor engines, rather than 42, as initially planned, along with some other changes. One user asked why the Raptor engine was reduced from 300 tons to 170 tons of thrust. Musk first said that they chickened out, but explained that “The engine thrust dropped roughly in proportion to the vehicle mass reduction from the first IAC talk.” He went on to explain some of the thinking behind it:

In order to be able to land the BF Ship with an engine failure at the worst possible moment, you have to have multiple engines. The difficulty of deep throttling an engine increases in a non-linear way, so 2:1 is fairly easy, but a deep 5:1 is very hard. Granularity is also a big factor. If you just have two engines that do everything, the engine complexity is much higher and, if one fails, you’ve lost half your power. Btw, we modified the BFS design since IAC to add a third medium area ratio Raptor engine partly for that reason (lose only 1/3 thrust in engine out) and allow landings with higher payload mass for the Earth to Earth transport function.

Another user asked for an update on scaling up the prototype Raptor engines to their final size. Musk replied that scaling up the engines is the easy part, and went on to explain that their objective “is to meet or exceed passenger airline levels of safety.”

The flight engine design is much lighter and tighter, and is extremely focused on reliability. The objective If our engine is even close to a jet engine in reliability, has a flak shield to protect against a rapid unscheduled disassembly and we have more engines than the typical two of most airliners, then exceeding airline safety should be possible.

This is, he noted, critical for SpaceX’s ambitions to use the BFR to travel around Earth. “The advantage of getting somewhere in 30 mins by rocket instead of 15 hours by plane will be negatively affected if ‘but also, you might die’ is on the ticket.”

Another question was about the engine’s autogenous pressurization system, in which the propellent is pressurized in the tanks, rather than using a system using helium. The user asked if the engines would use a heat exchanger system, where the propellent is heated in the engines, with hot gas routed back into the tanks to help pressurize the propellent. If that was the case, would a all of the raptor engines would use them? Musk was a bit snarky about this, saying that they’ll be using the Incendio spell from Harry Potter, but followed up with a “yes and probably.” Another user asked about the control thrusters, and if they’ll be “derived from Raptor or from SuperDraco engines,” to which Musk noted that they’ll be “closer in design to the Raptor main chamber than SuperDraco and will be pressure-fed to enable lowest possible impulse bit (no turbopump spin delay).”

One detail Musk unveiled during his talk was that the BFR has two different types of Raptor engines: four that can operate in a vacuum, while two others are designed to operate at sea level. When asked if those vacuum engines could work at sea level in the case of an emergency, Musk replied that they could but that it wasn’t recommended.

Finally, someone asked Musk whether the rocket engines would be 3D printed, given that the company already has experience 3D printing with its SuperDraco engines. Musk replied that some components would be printed, but that “most of it will be machined forgings.” He went on to note that the company has “developed a new metal alloy for the oxygen pump that has both high strength at temperature and won’t burn.”

Mars

Another line of questions was about SpaceX’s ambitions on Mars, and how the company would set up infrastructure for its colonists. The first question was about whether or not SpaceX would put more satellites around the planet, or if the satellites in place would be sufficient. Musk answered yes, but it’s not clear what question he was answering. He also didn’t quite answer a question about specific landing sites for SpaceX’s base, saying only that the site needs to be in a “low altitude to maximize aero braking, be close to ice for propellant production and not have giant boulders.” He also noted that somewhere near the equator will be good for solar panels.

Musk did say that SpaceX will design the ISRU (in-situ-resource utilization) system designed to collect materials for propellant on Mars and that the design is pretty far along. Someone also asked if they’ll transport one of the boring machines that Musk has been using with his Boring Company, to use to mine ice or build tunnels. Musk only replied “more boring!,” so take that as you will.

Another big question about SpaceX’s Mars plans have been how the company would keep a colony supplied: one user asked “what companies are you working with to provide the technology that SpaceX isn’t focused on?” Musk didn’t really provide any details on the first two points, but did lay out that their “goal is get you there and ensure the basic infrastructure for propellant production and survival is in place,” comparing it to the development of the transcontinental railway. Importantly, he noted that industry on Mars would “need to be built on Mars by many other companies and millions of people.” It looks as though Musk will have to get help from other companies to realize his vision of a self-sustaining colony.

When asked about the illustrations of the Martian city in his 2017 and if some ships would be permanently anchored, Musk said that we shouldn’t “read too much into that illustration.”

Preparations for 2022

Finally, Musk answered a questions about the preparations to get to Mars. One was about what to expect between now and 2022: would SpaceX perform hop tests with the BFR, build new facilities, and test out propellant? “Yes, yes, and yes,” was his reply.

He elaborated by saying that SpaceX will start off with short, hops of a “few hundred kilometers altitude and lateral distance,” and then will begin “orbital velocity Ship flights, which will need all of the above.”

Here’s Everything Elon Musk Unveiled About Tesla & SpaceX in His AMA

Ask Me Anything

Saturday on Reddit, Elon Musk took to Reddit to join a massive internet audience in an AMA (ask me anything) questions thread to follow up on his International Aeronautical Congress (IAC) 2017 presentation. While Musk is typically candid and open about the progress of his various endeavors, he dedicated the AMA time and space to take questions specifically related to the IAC presentation — namely, what SpaceX is working on. As such, most of the questions users posed (and the ones he answered) were of a technical nature, though the mood was still lighthearted.

Rocket Science

One of the first questions, collected on the r/SpaceX subreddit leading up to the AMA, was about the Raptor’s thrust. It was one of the highest ranked questions at the AMA’s outset, and the first Musk answered.

Another question wondered just how the dry mass and thrust of the rockets would affect their return to Earth — namely, whether they would land by “hover-slam.” Musk responded that “Landing will not be a hoverslam,” and explained that the thrust to weight ratio will actually “feel quite gentle” and that as the ratio of thrust to weight at launch (also around 1.3) it will “pretty much look like a launch in reverse. . .”

Musk also provided some insight into the design of the rockets, and gave some context as to their design’s function and purpose. When one user asked about how the BFS will manage the temperature of propellents in zero gravity, Musk explained the venting procedure — adding that a cryocooler could be added in the future.

When user CMDR-Owl asked about what progress we’ll see in terms of development and testing over the next five or so years before SpaceX’s first planned launch, Musk explained that they’ll be starting “with starting with a full-scale Ship doing short hops of a few hundred kilometers altitude and lateral distance,” adding that:

Next step will be doing orbital velocity Ship flights, which will need all of the above. Worth noting that BFS is capable of reaching orbit by itself with low payload, but having the BF Booster increases payload by more than an order of magnitude. Earth is the wrong planet for single stage to orbit. No problemo on Mars.

3D printing has already become beneficial to many industries, and naturally the question or whether it will benefit rocket production was a good one to ask. Musk responded that although most of the Raptor’s parts will be machine forged, some could be 3D printed.

Life on Mars

Speaking on life on Mars, while the focus was mainly on the rocket technology that will get us to there (and potentially elsewhere), users did have questions about what SpaceX needs to do to ensure that when we get to the Red Planet, we’ll be able to survive. Reddit user foxyjim99 asked about considerations such as food (namely, how you would calculate the amount needed for a mission and ensure that the need is met) — vitally important, but admittedly not something that SpaceX has as a primary focus. Musk responded that “Our goal is get you there and ensure the basic infrastructure for propellant production and survival is in place,” comparing the work that SpaceX is doing is roughly analogous to building “the equivalent of the transcontinental railway” — and as for terraforming Mars to make (and keep) it habitable, other companies and millions of people will need to be involved.

To that end, when user adammrxifgnqph asked if there were plans to send up additional satellites before the Mars mission, to facilitate communication, another user jumped in to ask about Mars-to-Earth communication. Musk’s response? “If anyone wants to build a high bandwidth comm link to Mars, please do.” Whether meant in jest, a challenge, or a call to action, user general-information pointed out that the concept interplanetary transmission is pretty cool. Musk responded to the user’s thoughts with an eloquent “Nerd,” but then offered a few more thoughts — ensuring us that when we go to Mars, we’ll probably be able to brag on social media about it.

The AMA was definitely a treat for those interested in the technical aspect of designing and building the rockets, but Musk didn’t keep it too serious:

Elon Musk is clearly not your typical CEO. Not only is he, through SpaceX, attempting feats of space travel and exploration never before attempted, but he’s communicating with the public about his efforts with a level of transparency that’s very atypical. There are some who think that Musk’s ambitious plans of getting to Mars within the near future are impossible — or at the very least, not probable. But whether or not SpaceX is able to accomplish exactly what they are intending, Elon Musk is proving that everyone is invited to be included in that process.

Delivery by rocket could change the game for UPS, FedEx

Airplanes and Panamax cargo ships redefined the parcel service in the 20th century, but those days may be fading quickly.

Morgan Stanley believes the SpaceX plan for the Big Falcon Rocket as a reusable mode of Earth transportation could change the game for United Parcel Services and FedEx.

“The freight transportation business — especially parcel delivery — is on the cusp of transformation from multiple new transportation modalities,” a team of Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a note Thursday. “Elon Musk recently announced a new option that could potentially have the biggest impact of all — rockets.”

The booster system BFR is a 42-engine rocketcapable of holding around 100 people – and yes, the code name connotes more than just “Falcon” to those inside SpaceX. With a payload capacity of 150 tons, BFR would be nearly 10 times the capacity of the flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket and five times that of the soon-to-be-tested Falcon Heavy rocket.

SpaceX wants to use BFR to land two cargo ships on Mars by 2022, establishing a human presence two years later. But Musk also announced that the technology could be used to speed up transportation on Earth, an idea Morgan Stanley says could have serious shipping implications.

“If you build a ship that’s capable of going to Mars, what if you take that same ship and use it to go from place to place on Earth,” Musk said on Sept. 29, showing a promotional video of a rocket taking passengers from New York to Shanghai in 30 minutes.

The parcel service “industry could see a fundamental reset with the introduction of rockets as a transportation modality,” Morgan Stanley said.

The firm noted that parcel service portion of the freight transportation market is “the most obvious and effective application” of rockets. Morgan Stanley says parcel delivery is a service characterized by slow, GDP-like growth of 2 to 3 percent per year.

Rockets could push the ceiling for the parcel service industry, which Morgan Stanley says “suffers from excess capacity,” and give new meaning to same-day delivery.

Regulatory filings suggest SpaceX plans November launch with mystery payload – Spaceflight Now

File photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at launch pad 39A in Florida. Credit: SpaceX

Information found in federal regulatory filings suggests SpaceX plans to conduct a Falcon 9 rocket launch as soon as mid-November with an unidentified payload that has so far escaped public disclosure.

It is unusual for such a mission to remain secret so close to launch, and there has been no public claim of ownership for the payload — codenamed Zuma — from any government or commercial institution.

SpaceX did not respond to questions on the mission Saturday, but an application submitted by the launch company to the Federal Communications Commission says the flight will use a Falcon 9 booster launched from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The existence of the mission was first reported on NASASpaceflight.com Saturday, but the FCC filings are public record.

SpaceX must apply for special authority from the FCC to authorize the company to use telemetry transmitters and receivers to track the Falcon 9 rocket in flight.

Two filings concern the secretive launch next month, one for the Falcon 9’s liftoff and climb into orbit from Florida’s Space Coast, and another for the first stage booster’s planned return to Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for refurbishment and reuse.

The launch could occur as soon as Nov. 10, according to information in the FCC applications.

The identity and the purpose of the Zuma payload remain secret.

With rare exceptions, U.S. government agencies have claimed ownership of the country’s top secret spy satellites. The National Reconnaissance Office began acknowledging launches of its missions in the 1990s, but the spy satellite agency does not typically reveal details about its programs.

The NRO has two more missions on its manifest this year — codenamed NROL-52 and NROL-47 — launching on an Atlas 5 rocket Sunday and a Delta 4 booster in December.

Two mysterious satellites launched by Atlas 5 rockets in 2009 and 2014 did not fit the mold of most U.S. government spy missions.

Known only by the names PAN and CLIO, the satellites were not claimed by the NRO or any other agency. They were built by Lockheed Martin for an undisclosed U.S. government customer, and climbed into geostationary orbit more than 22,000 miles above the equator.

PAN parked alongside commercial communications satellites over the Middle East, intercepting voice and data traffic to support U.S. intelligence-gathering and military efforts in the region, according to documents released by Edward Snowden and published by The Intercept in 2016.

CLIO is suspected to have a similar eavesdropping mission.

But Zuma’s owner — commercial or government — has not been revealed, and Falcon 9 launches into high-altitude geostationary-type orbits populated by communications satellites typically use more of the rocket’s propellant reserve, requiring landings on vessels at sea, and not on land.

Earth-imaging satellites that fly in lower orbits normally launch into polar orbits providing more global coverage. Such payloads flying on Falcon 9 rockets usually take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but launch trajectories to the northeast from Cape Canaveral have been used for some NRO satellites in high-inclination low Earth orbits, most recently in May when a Falcon 9 rocket launched from Florida placed a secretive payload 250 miles above Earth for the government’s spy satellite operator.

SpaceX is developing its own satellites for global Internet service, but the first two test craft are not scheduled for launch until next year.

The mysterious Zuma launch next month will come after a scheduled Falcon 9 flight Oct. 30 with the Koreasat 5A communications satellite, a commercial spacecraft owned by KTsat of South Korea.

The Koreasat 5A satellite pictured at Thales Alenia Space’s manufacturing facility in Cannes, France. Credit: Thales Alenia Space

Designed for direct-to-home television broadcasts and maritime relay services in Asia, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean, Koreasat 5A arrived at the Florida launch base Oct. 5 from its Thales Alenia Space manufacturing plant in Cannes, France, for final pre-flight processing and fueling.

The Falcon 9’s first stage will attempt landing on SpaceX’s floating barge in the Atlantic Ocean after sending Koreasat 5A toward a perch in geostationary orbit.

The Koreasat 5A and Zuma missions are slated to take off from launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Both flights are expected to use newly-built Falcon 9 booster stages.

SpaceX has launched Falcon 9 rockets with previously-flown first stages three times since March, including a launch Wednesday with the SES 11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite, the company’s most recent mission.

SpaceX’s next resupply mission to the International Space Station is scheduled for liftoff no earlier than Nov. 28. An application submitted to the FCC for that launch indicates it is tentatively expected to take off from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the first flight from there since a Falcon 9 rocket exploded during a countdown test Sept. 1, 2016, and knocked the facility offline.

Since Falcon 9 launches resumed earlier this year, all SpaceX flights from Florida have launched from pad 39A, the former space shuttle complex at the Kennedy Space Center.

A NASA spokesperson said Friday that the agency has not confirmed whether the cargo resupply launch, which is operated by SpaceX on behalf of NASA, will use a newly-built or previously-flown booster. NASA officials said earlier this year they were studying whether to permit the launching of space station supplies on reused rockets once SpaceX demonstrates the capability on commercial satellite deployment flights.

SpaceX is also readying for the launch of the fourth set of next-generation Iridium voice and data relay satellites from California, a flight that could blast off as soon as late November.

This year’s SpaceX launch manifest — already with 15 missions in the books — will be rounded out in December with another Falcon 9 flight from Cape Canaveral carrying a powerful communications satellite for the Spanish operator Hispasat, and potentially the inaugural test flight of the Falcon Heavy, a huge new rocket made by combining three Falcon 9 first stage cores.

The Falcon Heavy must launch from pad 39A at KSC, and SpaceX will only go ahead with the test flight once pad 40 is ready to host Falcon 9 takeoffs, ensuring no schedule bottlenecks while ground crews prepare the heavy-lifter and its ground facilities for the maiden launch.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

SpaceX seeks FCC approval to test satellite antenna setup in Seattle area – GeekWire

SpaceX Redmond office
SpaceX’s Redmond office is the center for its satellite operations. (GeekWire photo by Kevin Lisota)

SpaceX has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission to begin ground testing of a satellite communications system between its facilities in Redmond, Wash., as early as this month.

Redmond is the base of operations for SpaceX’s multibillion-dollar effort to create a 4,425-satellite constellation in low Earth orbit for global broadband internet access and remote imaging. This week’s filing suggests that the company is getting closer to deploying its first prototype satellites.

The filing first came to light on Reddit’s SpaceX discussion forum.

SpaceX’s application covers the time frame from Oct. 24 to April 24, 2018, and refers to “antenna testing at the SpaceX Redmond Facility for SpaceX Mission 1400.” The equipment to be tested includes experimental rigs built by SpaceX, plus standard components from Texas-based Fairview Microwave.

“All tests will be short duration, and will only be performed once,” SpaceX said. The filing says the purpose of the operation is to test satellite communications links as well as telemetry, tracking and control systems for a “commercial payload prior to flight.”

No high-flying spacecraft would be involved in the tests described in the FCC application.

Sharp-eyed SpaceX fans on Reddit checked out the GPS coordinates listed in the document and figured out that the antenna system would be deployed at SpaceX’s recently acquired lab at Redmond Ridge Corporate Center. The other end of the communications link would be located about three miles away, in the vicinity of SpaceX’s satellite development offices on Northeast 68th Street in Redmond.

Redmond Ridge facility
SpaceX has leased lab space at Redmond Ridge Corporate Center, (Sierra Construction)

SpaceX’s plan calls for the first operational satellites of the constellation to be launched in 2019, to support a commercial service that may be called StarLink.

In May, a SpaceX executive told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that a prototype satellite could be launched for testing by the end of this year — and the company hasn’t yet publicly ruled out that possibility.

In a separate application, SpaceX is seeking FCC authorization to communicate with a launch vehicle for a mission during a time frame running from Nov. 10 to April 10. That mission has a different designation, listed as SpaceX Mission 1390.

Although SpaceX hasn’t yet announced what the payload for Mission 1390 will be, the favored view is that it’s a spy satellite or a military payload.

SpaceX launches 15th mission of the year on previously flown rocket booster

In addition to its ocean-based rocket landing pads on both coasts, SpaceX has a ground-based landing pad at Cape Canaveral and is building a second one near it to land two boosters and a rocket core simultaneously from its in-development Falcon Heavy rocket.

Falcon Heavy is set to be tested before the end of the year, but Musk has already announced that the company is developing an even larger rocket, called BFR.

A ground-based landing pad near SpaceX’s West Coast launch site has also been built, and the company is in the process of completing final tests and getting regulatory approvals to land there.

“Because SpaceX is such a valued launch partner, the 30th Space Wing is excited to help them work on a few items needed to enable landing a Falcon 9 first stage at SLC-4W,” U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. William Colllette, spokesman for the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, said in a statement. “An environmental assessment, pad modifications and resource protection analysis are among the items needing to be complete before an approval can be given.”

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