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By Stergios Georgopoulos
Elon Musk confirms first SpaceX ocean spaceport is under construction
by Stergios Georgopoulos
Last year, SpaceX announced plans to build floating spaceports for space travel and hypersonic flights around the Earth. The floating launchpads, built on refurbished oil platforms, will serve as a launch and landing platform for the Starship rocket, a spacecraft that the company intends to use to fly astronauts to the Moon, as well as for the exploration and habitation of Mars in the coming years.
On Sunday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Deimos, the first of the two platforms, is under construction and is expected to become operational next year. Both launchpads, the other one being Phobos, are named after Mars’ moons. The tweet was in response to a fan, who shared a rendered concept image of the offshore spaceport.
Earlier this month, the company performed a successful soft landing of the latest iteration of Starship, dubbed SN15, for the first time. Previous tests of older prototypes all saw the spacecraft blow up at landing and had varying degrees of success.
SpaceX's Starship performs successful soft landing for the first time [Update]
by Paul Hill
SpaceX has successfully landed its Starship craft that it plans to use to fly astronauts to the Moon later in the decade. The Starship SN15 which flew on this test is the first Starship craft to make a successful soft landing after descending from an altitude of 10 km. Previous tests all saw the various Starship iterations blow up at landing and had varying degrees of success.
The launch today took off around 5:24 p.m. CDT (10:24 p.m. UTC) from Boca Chica in Texas. The main goal of the mission was to perform a successful soft landing which SpaceX did manage to pull off. With all that said, a fire did break out near the base of the ship and it was promptly doused with water before it eventually went out. SpaceX will definitely need to get this sorted out in future missions as fires can cause an explosion, as happened with Starship SN10 back in March.
Following the landing of Starship, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to what is presumably his favourite social media site, Twitter, to report that Starship’s landing was nominal – in other words, everything went to plan.
At the end of April, Reuters reported that the Federal Aviation Administration had authorised three launches of Starship – the one that just occurred, SN15; SN16; and SN17. It’s not clear yet when the next two launches are going to take off but we should see them in a relatively short time. We’ll be watching to see whether SpaceX truly has perfected the landing and whether it can stop fires from breaking out on the landing pad.
Update: Elon Musk has said that SpaceX may try to re-fly Starship SN15, following its successful landing.
TWIRL 11: SpaceX to launch 60 Starlink satellites and maybe Starship SN15
by Paul Hill
Background image via SpaceX We’ve got a pretty quiet week in terms of rocket launches this week. SpaceX will try to launch its Starlink 25 mission, we may see Virgin Galactic launch its VSS Unity rocketplane, and a Long March rocket will put three satellites into orbit to carry out possible SIGINT work. We may also see SpaceX launch its Starship SN15 this week as a launch was scrubbed on Friday.
Tuesday, May 4
On Tuesday, we’ve got just one launch from SpaceX who will be launching its Starlink 25 mission. This mission will send 60 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit where they’ll beam internet connectivity back down to the planet. The satellites will be taken into space atop SpaceX’s trusty Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket which has reliably sent hundreds of Starlink satellites to space. If you’d like to watch the launch, head over to SpaceX’s website at 7:01 p.m. UTC on Tuesday.
Wednesday, May 5
May 5 will be the first date that we could see the launch of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo-class VSS Unity. It’s really important to point out that this launch is marked as no earlier than which means the launch could take place after Wednesday. If the flight does go ahead, VSS Unity will launch from a VMS EVE carrier aircraft and fly to the edge of space. It will carry payloads as part of the NASA flight opportunities program that will generate revenue for Virgin Galactic.
Friday, May 7
The final flight of the week will launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China. A Long March CZ-2C rocket will launch three satellites that have been designated as Yaogan 30 Group 08. The satellites will perform electromagnetic detection and perform other technical tests but to what ends is unknown. It’s speculated that the satellites could be being used for signals intelligence work. No live stream will show this launch but post-launch videos could appear on YouTube afterwards.
We could see SpaceX launch its Starship SN15 from Monday onwards following its flight last Friday that was scrubbed due to bad weather. SpaceX has still not performed a smooth landing of a Starship vehicle to date but NASA recently selected SpaceX’s Starship to land the next Americans on the Moon; this should motivate the firm to nail the landing process.
TWIRL 9: SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon to take astronauts to ISS, NASA to try Mars Helicopter
by Paul Hill
Background image by NASA This week is panning out to be quite dramatic with NASA set to test its Mars Helicopter and SpaceX taking astronauts to the ISS on its Crew Dragon spacecraft. In addition to those events, SpaceX is also expected to launch the Starship SN-15 mission which will see the firm attempt to land the craft following NASA’s decision to pick Starship as the human landing system for its missions to the Moon from 2024.
Monday, April 19
There are no rocket launches listed for Monday, however, Elon Musk did put out a tweet explaining that SpaceX is aiming to launch Starship SN-15 this week, therefore, Monday is the earliest time we will see the launch. This is the first Starship launch since NASA chose the vehicle for its human landing system on the Artemis missions so SpaceX should have a bit more motivation to get the landing right this time around.
While this series is called This Week in Rocket Launches, it’s probably worth mentioning that NASA is looking to fly the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter from Monday at 3:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 a.m. PDT). Data from the autonomous flight will take time to get back to Earth and a live stream is due to start at 6:15 a.m. EDT (3:15 a.m. PDT). If the flight takes place, NASA will hold a briefing at 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT) to apprise us of how the mission went.
Tuesday, April 20
There’s only one event set for Tuesday and that is ExPace’s planned launch of the Kuaizhou KZ-1A with the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite (Jilin 28) aboard. We’ve spoken several times about this launch in older issues of TWIRL but briefly, this satellite will capture high-resolution full-colour images from 535 km and will work within the Jilin 1 constellation that’s already in orbit.
Thursday, April 22
Thursday will be one of the most interesting days of the week with SpaceX carrying out the Crew-2 Dragon mission which will carry NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide to the international space station. This Dragon capsule is named Endeavour after the Space Shuttle and was the first of the dragon capsules to carry a crew.
Interestingly, the ISS only got new arrivals two weeks ago so when the four new astronauts arrive there will 11 people on-board which is the highest number that has ever been on the space station at once, though, it’s not the highest number of people that have been in space at one time. Luckily for those on board, four of the astronauts will be departing on the SpaceX Crew-1 on April 28 bringing the ISS crew size to 7.
Sunday, April 25
On Sunday there will be two missions. Roscosmos is looking to launch the Resurs-P 4 satellite from Baikonur atop a Soyuz 2.1b rocket and OneWeb will have 36 of its satellites put into orbit by a Starsem-owned Soyuz 2.1b rocket. The Resurs-P satellite will conduct Earth observation for Russian government agencies while the OneWeb satellites will make up a constellation providing internet for people on Earth and flying in planes.
NASA chooses SpaceX to land next Americans on the Moon
by Paul Hill
NASA has awarded a $2.89 billion contract to SpaceX to continue developing a commercial human lander that will deliver the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface. Under current plans, the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft will take astronauts to Lunar orbit where two of the up to four crew members would transfer to SpaceX’s human lander.
Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate, said:
You’re probably already familiar with SpaceX’s human landing system, it’s the Starship which the firm has recently been smashing into the ground as it attempts to perfect the landing sequence. The latest Starship test is expected next week where it will hopefully achieve a landing with the newfound financial motivation from NASA.
For those wondering whether the private sector can meet the rigorous NASA requirements, the space agency has confirmed that SpaceX has been working closely with NASA experts to ensure the lander design meets NASA’s performance requirements and human spaceflight standards. The standards range from engineering, safety, health, and medical technical areas.
The first mission to the Moon's surface by NASA is its Artemis 3 mission which is expected in 2024 but it could still be delayed. Artemis 3 will be preceded by Artemis 1 expected in November 2021 and Artemis 2 planned for August 2023. Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed lunar orbital test flight while Artemis 2 will send a crewed mission to lunar orbit.
NASA has big plans for the Moon in this decade. It wants to carry out several lunar surface missions and build a space station in orbit around the Moon for easier access to the lunar surface.