Roundup Hello, Starlink. SpaceX launched and landed another Falcon 9, Russia sent its next freighter to the ISS and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk celebrated failing to explode the latest Starship in the latest space-tastic news roundup.
First off, the fourth Starship full-scale prototype stayed standing following a cryogenic proof test on Sunday evening.
SN4 passed cryo proof! 😅 pic.twitter.com/EJakThZRGF— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2020
While the earlier failures had been down to duff welding, the last collapse was attributed to a test configuration mistake that led to the top tank collapsing the bottom tank of the booster. This time the filling went well and, aside from the expected venting, there was no repeat of the earlier incidents.
Musk told fans that the tank had gone to 4.9 bar, which even his Muskness admitted was "kind of a softball" but will be enough for the company to attempt to fly (and land) the prototype.
That first flight will take place following the fitting and test firing of a single Raptor engine, which Musk hoped would take place next week. While later versions will be outfitted with three Raptors, SN4 will stick with just the one, which should still be sufficient to lift the stage for a 150m "hop".
Starlinks and static fires
While Elon Musk's latest Starship managed to survive its latest round of testing, SpaceX engineers busied themselves with test firing the first and second stages of the Falcon 9 rocket that will form the basis of the first operational mission (Crew-1) to the ISS. Assuming Demo-2, which is due to launch a pair of astronauts from US soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle programme was shut down, works as planned next month.
The team at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas completed a static fire test today of the Falcon 9 first stage that will launch Crew Dragon’s first operational mission (Crew-1) with 3 @NASA astronauts and 1 @jaxa_en astronaut on board later this year pic.twitter.com/iagTmZUXDu— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 24, 2020
The six-month mission, tentatively scheduled for August, will see four crew loaded into the Crew Dragon capsule – NASA's Shannon Walker, Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover Jr and JAXA's Soichi Noguchi.
The test came after SpaceX successfully landed a Falcon 9 first stage on its drone ship following the deployment of another 60 Starlink satellites. The launch was the fourth for this particular booster and the successful landing came as a relief following the previous two Starlink launches, both of which failed to land intact.
The successful launch leaves the company with 420 operational satellites (according to Musk, although others put the count at 417), much to the unalloyed joy of professional sky watchers.
The launch was also notable for being the 84th Falcon 9 launch, making the SpaceX booster the busiest US operational rocket, ahead of the Atlas V and its 83 launches. However, before Musk fans get too overexcited, it is worth noting that other than depositing a satellite in the wrong orbit in 2007 (a mission that was subsequently declared a success) the Atlas V has never suffered a failure.
The Falcon 9, on the other hand, has gone foom – both on the pad and during flight. However, at its current cadence (the next Starlink launch is due next month) it seems likely that SpaceX will soon overhaul its rival in terms of consecutive success.
Russian Progress freighter rockets to the ISS in less than four hours
The last Russian freighter before the US commences flying astronauts in its own spacecraft, Progress 75, left Baikonur Cosmodrome at 01:51 UTC on 25 April, carrying almost three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the ISS.
The uncrewed freighter docked to the Zvezda Service Module at 05:12 UTC, a little more than three hours after lift-off. It will remain attached to the ISS for the next seven months or so, in which time it is expected that at least two US crews will arrive without the need of Russia's workhorse Soyuz (although NASA will continue to fly astronauts in Soyuz at least into 2021). ®