Monday, August 30, 2021

Monday Space News Roundup

Firefly Aerospace is another one of the private companies trying to get into the launch services market like Astra we talked about yesterday.  They've showed up in the blog a few times before.  In January, there was news they were planning to launch their Alpha rocket “this summer.”  Summer is waning, but it looks like they're going to make that date.  They're planning to launch on Thursday, September 2nd.  The rocket has been at Vandenberg Air Force Base for a while, and was static fired earlier in August (video of the 15 second static firing).  

Firefly Alpha, first stage, prior to shipment to Vandenberg.  Firefly Aerospace photo

The launch is scheduled for 6:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time, with the launch window extending to 10:00PM.  It will be streamed by Everyday Astronaut; expect the stream to start at 5PM PDT but it sounds like loose scheduling. 

Over at Starbase, SpaceX's operation at Boca Chica, the first of the three arms that the Orbital Launch Integration Tower (OLIT) will get was added Saturday. This is called the quick disconnect or QD arm and its purpose is to provide connections to ground support equipment (GSE) including electrical monitoring signals back to launch control as well as to supply propellants to the Super Heavy booster on the pad.  

Screen capture of the QD arm on the right side of the OLIT.  This is not one of the arms that will capture the Super Heavy when it returns to the pad.  Those will be higher up the OLIT.  Those two arms, which have been in construction for weeks, will transform the OLIT into Mechazilla, (Elon's term).  They are to grab a hovering Super Heavy booster well enough to hold it, but gently enough not to crush it.  

During the two hour and 20 minute walk around of Starbase with Elon Musk that Everyday Astronaut conducted, Elon said something that stuck in my mind like a sand spur in a wool sock.  He said when the Super Heavy returns to the launch tower to be caught in the air, its density (pounds per cubic inch) is close to that of an empty beer can.  A very, very tall beer can. 

Elsewhere at Boca Chica, they began the work of putting all 29 Raptor engines onto booster 4 while it's in the high bay.  For the second time.  

Back on August 1st, SpaceX mounted all 29 Raptors in the course of a day, less than an hour per engine.  This was part of the move to stack the booster and Starship for the first time ever a few days later.  

Since Booster 4’s later August 11th build site return, SpaceX teams have been hard at work fitting the massive 69m (225 ft) tall rocket booster with thousands of feet (if not miles) of secondary plumbing and power and avionics cables. That process effectively began with removing the Super Heavy’s 29 Raptor engines, which finished just a few days after its return to the high bay.

Now, just 12 days after Super Heavy Booster 4 arrived back at the high bay and 11 days after workers briskly removed its Raptors, SpaceX has begun the process of reinstalling those engines – albeit with several new entrants this time around. When SpaceX first fitted B4 with Raptors, it became clear that five or more of had never been tested, making the removal of some of the Super Heavy’s 29 engines more or less inevitable. Indeed, as expected, several new Raptors (engines that weren’t clearly installed the first time around) have joined around two dozen engines that were installed earlier this month.

It can be hard to keep up with the pace of work at Starbase.  From what we know now, B4 was nowhere near ready for static testing and certainly not launch, nor was any of the infrastructure ready.  They're still completing assembly of B4.

Except for four pairs of black composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs), virtually none of the complex plumbing or wiring visible here was present when B4 was in the launch complex.  (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Currently, Cameron County's road closure web site is saying "intermittent closures" between 8AM and noon CDT, tomorrow and Wednesday.  Seems like something or some things might be going between the shipyard and the launch complex. 


  1. SiG, A quick correction and not trying to be snarky, I saw somewhere that the QD is to provide connection to the Starship. The Super Heavy has a system on the Orbital Launch Pad to provide connections. SpaceX has moved the Starship umbilical connections to the side of the vehicle for the QD.

    1. Interesting! It didn't look high enough up the tower to be at a level of Starship. It's hard to get a sense of scale, but it's all I've got. I'll see if I can find anything like what you saw.

    2. Geez. Right after this, I went and looked up one of my sources again and found what sounds like what you're saying, BillB. And then had to do something and forgot to update this.

      From here:

      "However, once work began on Starship S20, the first potentially space-capable prototype, it was clear that SpaceX had foregone the umbilical plate normally installed at the base of Starship skirts and moved that connection to the ship’s lower back."

  2. And then there's the news about how 'wonderful' the Nauka module performed even before its random thruster firing once connected to the ISS.

    Ah, yeah. No. Don't think I'd be on the ISS with that thing connected to the ISS.

    Other than that, go SpaceX, go! And Firefly!