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SpaceX is taking the steps necessary to begin test flying the orbital-class version of its Starship spacecraft, with new documents filed by the company (via Teslarati) with the FCC seeking necessary permissions for it to communicate with the prototype while it’s in flight.

The company filed documents with the U.S. regulatory agency this week in advance of the flight, which lists a max altitude of 74,000 feet, which is a far cry from Earth orbit but still a much greater distance vs. the 500 or so feet achieved by the squat ‘Starhopper’ demonstration and test vehicle that SpaceX has been actively operating in preparation for Starship .

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed that prep was underway via tweet. Musk has previously said that he hoped to follow the Starhopper’s most recent and final successful test quickly with tests of the full-scale vehicle. Like with that low-altitude test, SpaceX will aim to launch and land the Starhopper, with touch down planned just a short distance away.

Assembly and construction of the Starship prototype looks to be well underway, and Musk recently teased a Starship update event for September 28, which is likely when we’ll see this prototype assembled and ready to go ahead of its planned October first test flight window.

Starship is the next generation of SpaceX spacecraft, designed for maximum reusability, and with the aim of creating one vehicle that can serve the needs of current and future customers, eventually replacing both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. Starship is also a key ingredient in Musk’s ambitious plan to reach and establish a continuing human presence on Mars.


TechCrunch

SpaceX has completed a second low-altitude test flight of its ‘Starhopper’ demonstration prototype, which is being used to test technologies that will be used to build the full-scale next-generation SpaceX ‘Starship’ spacecraft. This test involved ‘hopping’ the Starhopper (hence the name, get it?) to a height of around 150m (or a little under 500 feet), the highest it’s flown so far, at a SpaceX test facility in Texas. After the hop, which lasted around 50 seconds (the GIF above is sped up 2X) it successfully navigated itself to a target landing pad a short distance away.

This is the second untethered test trip for the Starhopper, and will is intended to be its last, as SpaceX moves forward with construction of its Starship Mk I and Mk II prototypes, which is taking place currently and simultaneously at sites in Florida and Texas. Today’s attempt was the second try after a planned test yesterday was aborted at the last second, with SpaceX resetting and ensuring everything was in place for this longer hop, which lasted just under a minute.

In July, SpaceX ran its first untethered hop, which is designed to test the operation of the Raptor engine SpaceX is developing for Starship, along with other subsystems for use in the production Starship. That flew only for around 22 seconds, and attained a height of just 20 meters (a little over 65 feet).

Construction is currently in progress at both SpaceX’s Texas and Florida facilities on its full-scale Starship prototypes, which SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is ambitious will begin their own flight testing later this year, in perhaps as little as a few months. The larger prototypes, which should be closer to what will actually launch, will test more Raptor engines working together and aim to fly to higher altitudes, another key step as the company works towards a true first orbital test flight.

Ultimately, SpaceX is hoping to replace both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy entirely with different configurations of Starship, which will help the company in terms of cost efficiency thanks to its fully reusable nature, and streamlining all of its rocket construction efforts around one type of vehicle.


TechCrunch

NASA and SpaceX continue their joint preparations for the eventually astronaut crew missions that SpaceX will fly for the agency, with a test of the emergency evacuation procedure for SpaceX’s GO Searcher seaborne ship. The ship is intended to be used to recover spacecraft and astronauts in an actual mission scenario, and the rehearsals this week are a key part of ensuring mission readiness before an actual crewed SpaceX mission.

Photos from the dress rehearsal, which is the first coordinated end-to-end practice run involving the full NASA and SpaceX mission teams working in concert, saw NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken don SpaceX’s fancy new crew suits and mimic a situation where they needed to be removed from the returned Crew Dragon spacecraft and taken to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from the GO Searcher by helicopter.

By all accounts, this was a successful exercise and seems to have left parties on both sides happy with the results. Check out photos released by NASA of the dry run below.

SpaceX and NASA continue to work towards a goal of launching Crew Dragon’s first actual crewed flight this year, though they’ve encountered setbacks that make that potentially impossible, including the explosion of a Crew Dragon test vehicle during a static test fire in April.


TechCrunch

SpaceX encountered a snag in an attempted test key to the development of its next-generation Starship spacecraft. Specifically, the StarHopper sub scale demonstration and testing craft it’s using to work on the Starthip’s propulsion system fails to undertake its first untethered test flight at a testing site in Boca Chica Beach in Texas,

The plan was to have the demonstration craft take off and fly to a height of 20 meters before returning to Earth, all under tis own power and directed by its own guidance system. Instead, It seemed to fire rockets and then was engulfed in smoke, before venting fire out of the top of the test craft for a few minutes prior to extinguishing, with StarHopper looking relatively unscathed. We’re still waiting on official confirmation of what happened from SpaceX, but they characterized this as an “abort” on a livestream of the test.

Last week during a static test fire, the StarHopper vehicle was engulfed in a large ball of flame. This wasn’t a planned event, but did not result in significant damage to the spacecraft, SpaceX later said.

StarHopper succeeded in flying its first tethered flight at the beginning of April, and has undergone further testing since then to prepare for this untethered trip. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said earlier this month that a successful untethered test would pave the way for a full presentation of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft plans at the end of July, but the test has encountered a few issues since then.

The reason SpaceX and other companies run tests like these is to identify potential issues early in the development process, so it’s good to see them making progress even if that doesn’t mean a “success” in the traditional sense of actually having achieved untethered flight.

SpaceX designed Starship will be fully reusable once complete, unlike Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, so it’ll reduce the cost of launches, and the company hopes to eventually use it to fly all its missions, though it’ll keep Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy in service for its paying customers as long as there’s appetite.


TechCrunch

SpaceX has been awarded a new contract by NASA to launch the agency’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE. This research spacecraft will study polarized light from sources including neutron stars, pulsar wind nebulae and supermassive black holes, and provide much more imaging than existing space-based observation resources.

The mission will help scientists in the study of magnetars (a specific type of neutron star with especially powerful magnetic fields), black holes and “Pulsar Wind Nebulae,” which are nebula that are found within the remains of supernova.

SpaceX will launch this IXPE mission aboard a flight-proven Falcon 9, and the total cost for the contract is around $ 50.3 million. The launch will take place in April 2021 per current plans, taking off from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“SpaceX is honored that NASA continues to place its trust in our proven launch vehicles to deliver important science payloads to orbit,” said SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell in a statement. “IXPE will serve as SpaceX’s sixth contracted mission under NASA’s LSP, two of which were successfully launched in 2016 and 2018, increasing the agency’s scientific observational capabilities.”

This is just one of a number of upcoming launches SpaceX is contracted to perform for NASA, including the commercial resupply missions it regularly performs for the International Space Station.


TechCrunch


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