The Great Ongoing Space Exploration Thread

A fully-stacked Starship is going to be one impressive vehicle. The Super Heavy booster is already significantly taller than a Falcon 9, and almost triple the diameter. With the upper stage on top, it’ll really be a monster.

I’m curious what they do about landing legs for the booster. Musk says they plan on “catching” the booster eventually, but that has to be a far-out thing, if it ever happens. In the meantime they’ll need something else. Maybe just a half-dozen beefed-up Falcon 9 legs…


Elon Musk’s response to this article on Twitter today:

“They are aiming too low.

Only rockets that are fully & rapidly reusable will be competitive.

Everything else will seem like a cloth biplane in the age of jets.”

Then later he commented…

“SpaceX will be landing Starships on Mars well before 2030. The really hard threshold is making Mars Base Alpha self-sustaining.”

ESA is surely facing an existential crisis right now. Their plans are becoming outdated fast and EU red tape (which I can tell you from experience is considerable) will not help matters.

This Chinese rocket is expected to fall back to Earth in the next two or three days and could land absolutely anywhere:

More Chinese activity but this time a bit more significant. They have landed a rover on Mars with a somewhat familiar technique:

Nevertheless it is a great achievement.

Some failure:

And some success:

Was watching the Rocket Lab launch last night. Stage separation seemed off, though it was dark and hard to tell, and then the cameras cut out. Telemetry looked wrong too, but again that got cut. A couple minutes later and they ended the webcast. They hadn’t announced anything official at that point but it was pretty clear they were not going to space today.

Hopefully they get back on their feet quickly. Electron is still a pretty new vehicle.

A map of dark matter has been created for an eighth of the night sky:

A somewhat related article that I saw recently:

The team of physicists put MONDian theories to the test and found that they contain features that allow for non-locality and acausality. In other words, if MONDian theories are correct, then it’s possible for events to happen without a cause and for effects to travel instantaneously, which violates the speed-of-light limit in the universe.

MOND is a proposed alternative for dark matter. Instead of hidden mass, it proposes that gravity doesn’t fall off at the same rate as general relativity says it should. This is already fairly problematic, but it turns out that you can’t even preserve locality and causality with them. That should put another nail into the MOND coffin… but dark matter isn’t without its problems, either.

Seems to me if there’s repeated non-conformity to the existing laws of physics in the observable universe then everything must be in doubt including things like the expansion of the universe. However there are not too many scientific agnostics who can earn a living.

Depends a bit on how widespread they are.

Pockets of apparent non-conformity imply there is something locally different there, perhaps a concentration of rare but real AsYetUnknownium. Which does not invalidate what we think we know, just widens the error bars on it a bit sometimes someplace. For TBD but probably small values of “bit”, “sometimes”, and “someplace”.

Conversely, widespread non-conformity from existing expectations, like the surprise following the discovery of the CMB, pretty well says there’s something significant, if not fundamental, missing from the current theory. So the “bit” part may be small in magnitude, but the “sometimes” and “someplace” turn into “everywhere” and “always” as far as we can tell so far.

Ref the two articles, if indeed we discover that the gravity equations need a few new terms to account for dark matter, but at very large scales dark matter is, on average, evenly distributed, the effect on much of cosmology will be a bit like the effects near-c velocities have on mass and time versus normal earth-bound engineering. IOW very significant in the very high speed corner of the envelope, and a rounding error in 99.9% of it.

At the particular scale where dark matter anisotropies matter, it will matter a LOT. But that scale is neither whole universe, nor whole Solar system. It’s somewhere in between.

DAVINCI+ seems the most interesting to me:

DAVINCI+ will measure the composition of Venus’ atmosphere to understand how it formed and evolved, as well as determine whether the planet ever had an ocean. The mission consists of a descent sphere that will plunge through the planet’s thick atmosphere, making precise measurements of noble gases and other elements to understand why Venus’ atmosphere is a runaway hothouse compared the Earth’s.

We could learn some very interesting things about the Earth with this mission.

And it’s official:

Launching on the SLS would have cost $3 billion: $2B for the launch itself, and $1B for the modifications needed to ensure the rocket doesn’t vibrate the probe into pieces.

Instead, NASA will pay $178M for a Falcon Heavy launch. This is more than a usual Falcon Heavy mission, but it’s almost certain that NASA will be using the FH in expendable mode, which obviously increases the price. There are likely other mission-assurance costs factored in. NASA claims this is the total launch services contract price.

Astra did not go to space today:

This is among the most… remarkable liftoffs I’ve ever seen. Major props to their vehicle control team, which seems to have prevented their pad from being destroyed. Sure, they didn’t make orbit, but losing the pad is a much bigger setback than losing the vehicle.

Let’s hope for the fourth time being the charm. Worked for SpaceX, at least.

I’ve never seen a rocket go sideways right off the pad before. At least not without immediately crashing, that is.

In other news, Blue Origin had another suborbital launch the other day. This time without any billionaires (or anyone else) on board. Ho-hum. Wake me up when you’re going to do something interesting.

It’s happened to me many times… in Kerbal Space Program. It was fairly clear early on, and confirmed later, that they lost one out of the five engines very early into flight, which brought their thrust/weight ratio from a healthy 1.25 to about 1.0. So it just hovered for a bit until it burned off enough fuel to rise. But of course that was too wasteful to make orbit, or even stay within the launch corridor. Still, it was impressive to see their control systems deal with the situation, keeping the rocket upright and away from the pad. Maybe there was a bit of luck, too.

How many companies will make orbit before Blue Origin does? Or before BO even ships their BE-4 engines to ULA, or finishes their lawsuit against the government? Time will tell, I guess…

SpaceX is a few hours from launching the Inspiration4 mission:

It’s the first flight to orbit with a fully-private crew. IMO, it’s a lot more interesting than the Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic rides. Those lasted a few minutes; this will last a few days. The astronauts will be doing some scientific work as well as fundraising for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Unlike other Dragon missions, this one won’t be docking/berthing with the ISS. Hence they’ve managed to replace the docking adapter with a nice hemispherical window. Should be a great view. That’s also where the toilet is located, so they’ll probably have the human record for the best view taking a dump.

And they’re in orbit! Looks like a fun ride, as always.

That was awesome! My aunt sent me a video she shot with her phone from her porch, too!

Nice! Late evening launches always have the best views.

There is a Netflix documentary on the mission. I haven’t watched it yet but I hear it’s pretty good. I assume there will be another after we get the actual mission footage.

Of the four, Chris Sembroski seems the most relatable to me. He’s not one of those super type-A personalities, but has always been interested in STEM subjects (and was a counselor at Space Camp, which I went to as a kid).