Musk Reads: Starship user guide reveals big plans

SN3 suffers a setback and Crew Dragon is still set to fly. Could Starlink help in the coronavirus lockdowns?

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SN3 suffers a setback and Crew Dragon is still set to fly. Could Starlink help in the coronavirus lockdowns? It’s Musk Reads: SpaceX Edition #157.

A version of this article appeared in the “Musk Reads” newsletter. Sign up for free here.

Musk quote of the week

“Each of these engines is also slightly different. Raptor is evolving rapidly.”

SpaceX Starship

SpaceX released its Starship user guide last week, revealing a number of new insights into the rocket designed to send humans to Mars:

  • SpaceX is exploring the option of using the ship for Earth-to-Earth cargo deliveries. The company has previously suggested the ship could transport humans from Los Angeles to New York in just 25 minutes, suggesting this would offer a speedy alternative to traditional routes. Read more.
  • The crew configuration, designed to transport 100 people to places like the Moon and Mars, will feature “private cabins, large common areas, centralized storage, solar storm shelters and a viewing gallery.” Eric Berger, the senior space editor at Ars Technica, claimed the cabins are “roomier” than expected. Read more.
  • A discrepancy in the figures suggests the ship could lift 156 tons to low-Earth orbit, slightly more than the approximate 150 tons previously expected. Read more.

Starship SN3, a prototype built last month, suffered a failure late last week during a cryogenic pressurization test. In captured footage, the stainless steel prototype emits gas and crumbles. Musk later explained that it was caused by a test configuration error instead of any sort of design mistakes: “Not enough pressure in the LOX tank ullage to maintain stability with a heavy load in the CH4 tank. This was done with N2.” It was previously speculated that SN3 would be the first full-size Starship prototype to fly.

What’s next for SpaceX: SpaceX is set to launch a SAOCOM 1B satellite from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida using a Falcon 9 booster. Originally set to launch on March 30 at 7:21 p.m. Eastern time, it has been postponed to an as-yet undetermined time. SpaceX launched the SAOCOM 1A satellite in October 2018, and the pair are designed to assist with disaster relief management in Argentina.

In other SpaceX news…

NASA and SpaceX are still set to move ahead with the first manned Crew Dragon flight in late May, CNBC reported Friday. Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the publication that it was “essential” for the United States to have access to the International Space Station from the country rather than to depend on Russian Soyuz rockets.

In other news:

  • SpaceX has dropped video conferencing service Zoom due to privacy concerns. Read more.
  • The Starship’s spider-like legs have been demonstrated in a new 3D-generated video. Read more.
  • The Dragon capsule could end up being replaced by Starship, Musk declared last week, as part of the company’s broader goal to enable Starship to take on more roles. Read more.

Musk Reads mailroom

Arthur Shupe writes:

Could Starlink network be activated? The schools are closed here in Florida. The school board is trying to conduct classes over the internet which is overloaded. Could Starlink be used by students to further their education?

It may unfortunately take a while before Starlink is available as far south as Florida. The internet service is set to start serving the northern United States and Canada this year, while more southern states and the rest of the world is expected to receive coverage after more launches next year. The coronavirus pandemic does highlight, however, why high-speed internet access is a modern necessity. Starlink’s goal to serve rural and under-connected communities could help plug those gaps.

Edward Harris writes:

I’ve heard that a Mars rover will be bringing Mars soil samples back sometime. Has protection been put in place in case it contains a deadly virus like the coronavirus that we have no defence against?

The outbreak has brought these issues back to the forefront, like with last week’s Musk Reads. Adam Camilletti from the Mars Sample Return Program has suggested samples could be quarantined on the Moon first before returning to Earth. NASA’s Planetary Protection Independent Review Board has pushed for the agency to establish a proper containment facility to ensure it meets its goal of stopping something from spreading and infecting the planet. It’s a key goal of NASA’s future mission, which could include returning a Mars sample. Catharine Conley, NASA’s former planetary protection officer, told that the biggest concern may not be a coronavirus-like pandemic, but an organism that changes the environment.

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Photo of the week

Starship fuel header tank gets pictured.

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The ultra-fine print

This has been Musk Reads: SpaceX Edition #157, the weekly rundown of essential reading about futurist and entrepreneur Elon Musk. I’m Mike Brown, an innovation journalist for Inverse.

A version of this article appeared in the “Musk Reads” newsletter. Sign up for free here.

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