Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Headline of the Day

From Teslarati: "SpaceX eyes multiple Starship lunar landings before first NASA Moon mission"
SpaceX Director Nick Cummings says that the company could potentially attempt multiple uncrewed Starship lunar landings before the first attempt at landing NASA astronauts on the Moon.

In April 2020, NASA announced the first commercial contract recipients under its new Human Landing System (HLS) program, awarding almost $1 billion in an uneven split between Dynetics, Blue Origin’s “National Team”, and SpaceX. While an undeniable boon for Dynetics, SpaceX’s inclusion arguably came as the biggest surprise, marking NASA’s first serious investment in Starship – the company’s next-generation, fully-reusable launch vehicle.
I have to admit I hadn't heard that name before (Nick Cummings), however he has been with the company since January of '19 as Director of Advanced Development for Civil Space.  I'll use that American Astronautical Society link instead of LinkedIn!

All that aside, note that the linked paragraph above said multiple uncrewed (i.e. robotic) lunar landings.  SpaceX is not taking the opportunity to compete with NASA by sending people to land on the moon; that's probably unwise.  Still, maybe it's because I've been an incurable space nut since the earliest days, but seeing a Starship land on the moon under autonomous control, maybe collect a sample or something and come back to earth would be unspeakably cool.

In testing their vehicle operationally and getting it to land on the moon and return, that would be an obvious challenge to the other HLS competitors.  Marcia Smith (@SpcPlcyOnline) put out two Tweets, saying.
"SpX's Nick Cummings shows nice aerial view of Boca Chica. And one of SN8 on pad getting ready to fly to 15 km with 3 Raptor engines. SN9 and 10 in production. 50 Raptors built now, prod rate will increase.
First orbital flight next yr; booster in construction now. "


"Wright (Dynetics) and Cummings (SpX) say they also plan uncrewed demo flt to lunar surface (Blue said earlier they will in '23). Wright says late '23/early '24. Cummings doesn't give dates, but will have many Starship flts to orbit and maybe more than 1 uncrewed lunar landing."
SpaceX has a well-publicized plan to send a space tourist on a lunar orbital mission by 2023.  The tourist is Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa who is planning to take a small crew of artists with him. I'm excluding that mission since it won't land on the moon. 

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said that he's hoping to have several contractors for manned flight, which I have to assume includes going to the moon.  It's possible that all three of the HLS demo systems will be accepted, two, or only one.  I suppose at some point, the companies will have to make their hardware compatible or come up with ways for NASA to use the different pieces if there's more than one supplier.  

Mary, @bocachicagal, caught a shot of the painted nose cone in Texas and Teslarati paired it with this concept rendering of the Starship on the moon. I'm all but 100% sure the one on the right shows the NASA meatball logo right under the flag rather than the worm, like the one on the left.


  1. I'd like to see SpaceX go to the moon before the Nasa schedule. NASA getting men to the moon after the President Kennedy's speech was amazing! That was then, buying a ticket from the Russians to go into space was embarrassing.
    It would be great to see the SpaceX ship land, someone get out and walk far enough away to take a great selfie then walk back to the space ship and fly home.

    More work to be done... way to go SpaceX!

  2. Too cool for words.

    Maybe I'll live to see us return to the Moon after all.

  3. It would be great to see the SpaceX ship land, someone get out and walk far enough away to take a great selfie then walk back to the space ship and fly home.

    ...and watch this all happen in the background of a live broadcast NASA manned mission.

  4. SpaceX could land equipment, such as a rover or other gear that would be used in exploration in advance of a manned landing (person'd landing). That makes a lot of sense and it means that the new LEM doesn't have to be as large or heavy as it might otherwise need to be.

  5. While I'd put better odds on SpaceX getting their vehicle to work before NASA does EM2, I'd still say that everyone involved is bragging about rockets they don't have yet. There will be a learning curve.

    Starship is just the upper stage of the assembled vehicle: They still need to build the booster stage (2.5x as tall with 31 engines) and get that to work before any of this is an orbital vehicle. They're already pushing the limits of light-weight construction (you can see the skin-buckling in their tests), and will have to add a heat-shield (unless they intend to try the transpiration cooling.) This is so that they can make the extreme mass-margins necessary for a chemically powered Mars mission to work.

    Anyway, there will be a learning curve. SpaceX is going to be learning because they're bending metal instead of trying to pull their vehicle fully functional out of abstract-space like Boeing is with their crew-capsule. But the booster working as designed is not a foregone conclusion - there will be vibration issues to deal with.


    1. A year or two ago, they released a video called how not to land a booster, with shots of every one that crashed. I expect they'll be somewhat better with Starship but still crash a few. I just hope they don't blow up any infrastructure on the ground and especially that they don't hurt any workers. Coming from a few miles up, there isn't much angular difference from the landing pad to the homes at Boca Chica Village.

      This year's video came out this week, on the 100th Falcon launch.

  6. My only issue with SpaceX is the great height from the personnel section to ground, whether on Mars or on the Moon.

    I know that all the old sci-fi writers like Heinlein used either elevators or a crane and cage, but still, a long way to the ground.

    Though I wouldn't put it past SpaceX to do some sort of fun-slide that is inflatable or something in order to make it interesting to get down.

    Guess I'll just have to wait.

  7. I do believed that SpaceX will make more than one unmanned landing on the Moon before the NASA manned mission. The caveat to that is if SpaceX is dropped as a Moon lander, they may well land some people on the Moon before NASA.

    MadRocketSci, the Starship will be using a heat shield instead of transpirational cooling. Also, Elon noted that the task of building the Superheavy booster was much less challenging than building Starship; there will be a lot of technology transfer from Falcon9/Falcon Heavy to the new booster. I am sure that SpaceX Engineering is well aware of the strength needs of the booster.