Space History

Several firsts today. I think this is the first time we’ve seen an entry without a plasma blackout. It’s amazing that it managed to do a soft landing with all of that damage to the fin. I’ll be curious to know if all of the fins suffered like that, or just the one in the video, but it’s a testament to how robust the design is.

[Update a while later]

I suspect that this is going to upstage Starliner docking with ISS.

[Update a while later]

Commentary from David Strom.

[Friday-morning update]

Reflections from Glenn Reynolds.

Centuries from now, on other worlds, Joe Biden and Donald Trump will be minor footnotes in history, but everyone will know the name Elon Musk.

[Update a while later]

Ellie Sheriff interviews Elon:

45 thoughts on “Space History”

  1. It is and allows detailed analysis without having to recover any of it. Starlink is a huge enabler. And like an episode of Connections, shows how free market forces enable possibilities no one from a strictly top-down program would have even considered.

    Recovery next.

  2. If you play the video backwards you can see a Sea Starship and hear Ozzy Osbourne singing “Truax was right!”

  3. God, I thought we a little drama on the Super Heavy soft-landing: 0 km indicated altitude and something like 45 second behind schedule (IIRC) before the engines light; then we get the fin melting on Starship? If you’d have seen it in the movie it would have been unbelievable, but we saw it live.

  4. I understand the excitement, but the X comment is a bit overdone. Setting aside that none of the hardware is expected to be reused; even the design of the hot fire separation ring is not intended to be reused as it currently is discarded, and a new design will be intended for full reuse. Otherwise, the comment could be said about any of the previous launches. Still, I feel the same about the sentiment behind the post. 80 years from a tragic day, our country truly has something to celebrate.

    That said, it was the first space launch in which the major components made it back to the surface. Coming a day after ULA threw away another booster, 2nd stage, and more; it shows the gulf between old space and new space.

    I only wished SpaceX could have got the booster stage over Florida and had a soft landing in sight of KSC.

    1. It’s possible that the hot stage jettison is a temporary measure. I have heard that the header tank for the booster landing burn just above the ocean is not big enough because various fixes have added weight to the booster. So the header tank is not big enough. It will be larger in future models.

      Until then they dump the hot stage ring to reduce the weight so that the header tank is large enough.

      Again this is someone’s conjecture and not a proven fact.

      1. It is a temporary measure. Kate Tice and Jessie Anderson said so on the webcast. The current hot staging ring design will soon be replaced by a lighter design. Based on pictures shown at Elon’s all-hands presentation at Starbase last month, the new design will be taller and look quite Russian.

        Have seen no confirmation of header tank insufficiency for Super Heavy, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find this to be true. Header tanks for both Super Heavy and Starship have been redesigned several times. They’re works-in-progress like every other aspect of both vehicles.

        1. The video Brinksedge is referring to, if it’s the same one I saw, assumed the hot stage ring design remains the same, therefore necessitating a larger LOX header tank. If they redesign the ring maybe not. The video claims 10 tons is the magic number to get below.

          1. It won’t stay the same. That will apply to much else as well. The forward flaps are due to get smaller and their hinge axes are due to migrate leeward. Thinner skins combined with additional longitudinal stringers and lateral ribbing to significantly trim net mass look to be coming for both Super Heavy and Starship. A more heat-resistant alloy formulation for the stainless steel used in ship construction is also said to be in the works. A lot of detailed changes to the heat shield design seem inevitable as well.

        2. Even if it goes operational with a disposable interstate, it’s still 95%ish reusable. And I suspect the interstage is rather cheap, having no engines and comparatively few electronics on it.

  5. I’ve noticed that as of 11:14 MDT Ars Technica still has no mention of today’s flight. Have they upped their war against Elon Musk?

    1. If so, it won’t be because of the writers. The Free Press could use a Technology Bureau (hint)…

    2. Give Berger time. I suspect he is trying to get some inside nuggets to put into his article.

    3. Stephen Clark finally posted a story (at 6:14 EST).

      My sense is that Eric and Stephen have a pretty free hand at Ars in space reporting, and they (obviously) continue to be pretty pro-SpaceX.

      1. For what it’s worth the comments on Clark’s story seem a lot less Musk-hatey than is usual at Ars. Probably the more extreme of the usual troll patrol are still busy digging up and repotting the goalposts.

        1. Oh, don’t get me wrong: Ars is a toxic swamp.

          The space team is just the one oasis (well, largely) in the swamp. Eric’s and Stephen’s comboxes are not exactly SpaceX subreddits, but there remains a shockingly sizable number of level-headed and knowledgeable posters providing leaven for the Musk Derangement Brigade.

          1. “Toxic swamp” for sure – especially the inveterate prevaricators Mole, Gitlin and Belanger. Berger and Clark are pretty nearly the only reasons I still look at Ars at all. I suspect the woke-party-line-free nature of their writings is largely due to their stuff providing an out-sized proportion of the site’s total viewership. I would read Berger even if he was on staff at Pravda or The Nation and I think I’m far from alone in that respect.

  6. There will be new Tim Dodd video interview with Musk from Starbase, coming hopefully out by week’s end. Taken either last week or this week just prior to IFT-4. In addition, Tim on today’s live stream said Elton promised him a follow-on interview should both stages come down successfully. Looks like that happened. So looking forward to that follow-on interview.

    1. Elton? Elon. I wonder about this keyboard. Acts like it’s made out of Yellow Bricks…

    2. Tim has already started posting short clips from it (with Elon’s clearance, I assume).

      But yes, looking forward to watching the full thing. Hopefully, soon.

  7. I suspect that this is going to upstage Starliner docking with ISS.

    Undoubtedly, and that’s unfortunate. I will watch the docking video at home tonight.

  8. That was unbelievable. My son and I watched cracks appear in that fin, and plasma appearing to stream _through_ it. I thought it would be gone in a few more seconds. And then that camera, continuing to work after getting hit. All the way to the landing.

  9. Lots of drama with this one and they even had an intermission between acts to use the bathroom and make snacks.

  10. After TDRS became operational, the Shuttle had no entry blackout period. They had an antenna on the lee side, and were able to maintain constant contact, though I doubt that the data rates were high enough to include a video channel. Mission Control was watching all of the measurements going crazy during the Columbia accident, right up until they lost communication entirely. That’s when they know it was gone.

    1. As I mentioned above: I’m thinking a top-down, NASA style approach for such a massive spaceship would have tried to leverage TDRS again, with same low data rate.

      Having a separate Starlink constellation, because of a separate but affiliated enterprise enables both telemetry and video. It’s hard to get tax money for side ventures…

      1. I was only addressing the idea that this was the first time we saw an entry during what would normally be a plasma blackout period, noting that the Shuttle didn’t have one. Starlink is phenomenal resource, not just for Amazon tribe porn and social media, but for space launch flight safety. The number of launches that have been scrubbed because “the range” went down – a radar failed, Ascension Island had a power failure, the ARIA had an engine problem and had to return – are legion. They’re also enormously expensive on an individual basis. Whether it is so configured now, Starlink can be made to act as “the range.” That makes it enormously valuable, beyond its commercial internet application.

    2. Bandwidth for Starlink vs. TDRSS during re-entry is apparently roughly equal to a fireboat’s water cannon compared to a kid’s squirt gun. In addition to the two external cameras, there were 14 more cameras inside Starship’s hull keeping “eyes” on areas of particular interest. There were four Starlink antennae installed on the leeward face of Starship to transmit all of this video.

  11. So should they lube the hinges with an ablative grease, with a big electrically powered grease gun to keep feeding more in as it burns away? Should they make the hinge area out of Rene 41, Inconel X, Hastelloy, or Haynes 214?

    Should they move the hinge point to a more high-wing position so it’s somewhat shielded by the fuselage? Or should they just add a big ceramic chine below the hinge to deflect the “spray”? Or could they just pump cool gas into the hinge joint at a higher pressure than the atmosphere’s stagnation pressure at the current velocity?

      1. Made out of more of the same stuff as the heat shield tiles. Only probably thicker.

      2. I think that a modest chine would do the trick. I think The Brave Little Flap lost only tiles from its trailing edge and maybe a few more on its windward face just above its trailing edge. As the plasma came through the gap between flap and hull, it melted mostly just the lower leeward skin of the flap. After this burned away, the structural ribs proved much more durable. One could also clearly see the longitudinal reinforcing stringers on the inside of the windward flap skin – neither of which melted significantly. I conclude, therefore, that most of the windward heat shield tiles on the flap stayed attached and did their job all the way to the water. The actuator motors, hinges and linkages were all obviously Pretty Damned Tough too.

    1. There was an interesting exchange on Twitter involving Elon today.

      First, Tim Dodd posted a short clip of his interview with Elon yesterday (the full interview will be released within the week, after Tim’s team finishes editing it and SpaceX’s lawyers sign off on it). The clip shows Elon expressing his concern about the tiles on the flaps. Dodd comments: “The night before #Starship’s 4th flight, @elonmusk described one of the main concerns about Starship’s heat shield. He turned out to be right as it was the exact spot that burned through. More video to come!”

      Elon responded with two tweets:

      “Not a difficult prediction! We will have this nailed for next flight.”

      “Note, a newer version of Starship has the forward flaps shifted leeward. This will help improve reliability, ease of manufacturing and payload to orbit.”

    2. Lots of options. They’ve been planning to move the flap to a higher, more leeward position for quite some time.

      No doubt with many other changes and upgrades when they move on to Block-2. Three more vacuum engines on the upper stage, for instance.

  12. Avoid any major blunders, like wwiii, and in a couple decades we won’t have to worry about any of our adversaries except China.

    1. Probably not China either. We have already passed Peak PRC. Its rapidly declining population and economy won’t be giving us much trouble a decade or two from now. The odds seem excellent that the PRC regime won’t even exist by then.

      1. Possibly.

        Or possibly they’re able to do the same projections and think that they might as well grab what they can while they still have the power.

        1. Maybe, but I doubt it. The PRC is rapidly expiring of numerous self-inflicted wounds – as previous Chinese regimes have done any number of times over the long and decidedly checkered history of that region. That constitutes a direct contradiction to much foolishness noised about in the West anent some supposedly innate Chinese cultural superiority in farsightedness and long range planning.

          If the PRC does decide to do something promptly fatal, like make a run at Taiwan, it won’t do so because it sees its own true condition and elects to go down swinging but because, like Nazi Germany and the erstwhile Soviet Union, it is overly full of itself and high from huffing its own farts.

          The PRC, among other significant miscalculations, seems to be of the opinion that its main enemy, in the event of an attempted forcible “reunification” of Taiwan, would be the United States. I think it would quickly find that both Japan and India would instantly do their mutual best to strike death blows to the PRC while the ponderous U.S. was still getting a saddle on its horse – and would very likely succeed.

  13. Centuries from now, on other worlds, Joe Biden and Donald Trump will be minor footnotes in history, but everyone will know the name Elon Musk.

    Oh yeah, big time. Centuries hence, I suspect there will be a frequently included photo/video-based Jeopardy category entitled “People shaking hands with Elon Musk.”

      1. Yes. And with more than a bit of Carnegie, Edison, Ford, the Wright brothers, Glenn Curtis, William Randolph Hearst, Bill Boeing and even Alfred P. Sloan thrown in. He is the most consequential single human being of the 21st century. And, as the fictional General Maximus said at the dawn of said century, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

    1. Well, when they establish Elonopolis and Musktown on Mars, his name will live on long after we’re gone.

  14. We pray for one first landing
    In the state that gave us Texaco;
    Let us see the HEBs
    And the warm, green Gulf of Mexico.

    1. Somewhere, Robert Anson Heinlein is thoroughly enjoying himself watching life imitate his art.

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