Jeff Bezos is trusting Blue Origin’s new rocket with his life. It’s flown 15 times, but he’ll have no pilot and possibly no spacesuit.

Jeff Bezos is seen speaking beside a photo of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket lifting off.
Jeff Bezos (left) is set to launch aboard the New Shepard rocket (right) on July 20.

Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, and two unnamed people – at least one of whom is a multimillionaire – are about to place their lives in the hands of Blue Origin’s rocket engineers.

Bezos, who founded the company in 2000, announced on Monday that he and his brother would be the first passengers on its New Shepherd rocket, along with the highest bidder for the third seat. The as yet unnamed winner of that auction bid $28 million on Saturday to go on the trip. (The money will go to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future.) A fourth person will join them as well.

The group will strap into a capsule on the top of the five-story rocket as early as July 20.

“Bezos is a risk-taker,” John Logsdon, the founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council, told Insider. “He certainly understands that there are risks involved, and probably has a good handle on how risky it is.”

For the rest of us – who don’t have access to Blue Origin’s rocket design or risk calculations – it’s difficult to say just how much risk Bezos is taking. The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. But a few key factors offer clues.

New Shepard has flown successfully before – 15 times – but never with humans onboard. The rocket has a good test-flight record, and it features an emergency system that can jettison the passenger capsule away from a failing rocket. Plus, the whole trip is only 11 minutes long.

At the same time, however, Bezos will fly with no pilot, and probably no spacesuit. And no matter how safe New Shepard is, spaceflight is always risky. About 1% of US human spaceflights have resulted in a fatal accident, according to an analysis published earlier this year.

“That’s pretty high. It’s about 10,000 times more dangerous than flying on a commercial airliner,” George Nield, a co-author of that report, told Insider. Nield formerly served as the Federal Aviation Administration’s associate administrator and led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

“In order to learn how to do this safer, more reliably, and more cost effectively, many people believe we need to keep gaining experience by having more and more of these flights,” he added. “[Bezos] obviously has made the decision that having millions of people living and working in space is something that he strongly believes in, and he wants to do his part to help make that happen in some small way.”

Skimming the very edge of space lowers the risk

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Jeff Bezos inside a New Shepard Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 5, 2017.

If all goes according to plan on the day of Bezos’ flight, here’s what it’ll look like: The New Shepard rocket will fire its engines, spewing flame and smoke across the plains of West Texas. As it screams through the atmosphere, the force of the climb and the pull of Earth’s gravity – which will feel three times stronger than normal – will pin the Bezos brothers and their guests into their seats.

After three minutes, the rocket should separate from the capsule and fall back to Earth. The passengers will feel weightless as they clear the boundary of space.

The view from space on New Shepard's 15th flight, April 14, 2021.
The view from space on New Shepard’s 15th flight, April 14, 2021.

Bezos and his companions will have just three minutes in space. During that time, they can unbuckle and float around the cabin, drifting from one window to another to savor the views of Earth on one side of the spaceship and the blackness of space on the other.

As gravity takes hold again and the spaceship begins to fall back to Earth, Bezos and his co-passengers will strap in for a high-speed plunge. They will likely feel a significant jerk as three parachutes balloon into the air to brake the spaceship’s fall.

The New Shepard crew capsule parachutes to a landing at Blue Origin's Launch Site One in Texas on January 14.
The New Shepard crew capsule parachutes to a landing at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in Texas, January 14, 2021.

The parachutes should carry the capsule to a gentle landing in the Texas desert, where a recovery crew will be waiting.

This type of flight is referred to as suborbital, since the capsule won’t enter orbit around Earth. Blue Origin designed and built New Shepard specifically to carry high-paying customers to the edge of space. The rocket is too small, and its engines don’t have enough thrust, to push itself into orbit.

But keeping the flight short and suborbital comes with pluses: There’s less chance that something will go wrong, and the vehicle is easier to control because its engines are smaller and the rocket is traveling slower than would be needed to reach orbit.

If Bezos’ flight goes well, the new launch system could look more attractive to future space tourists.

New Shepard is thoroughly tested and has an emergency-escape system

Blue Origin's reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.
Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.

The most nail-biting parts of this spaceflight will probably be when the engines burn for liftoff, when the rocket separates from the capsule, and when the parachutes deploy.

“You have a high-performance piece of machinery in the rocket engine that could break, come apart, do bad things,” Logsdon said.

New Shepard has executed all these maneuvers many times before – just not with people on board. It’s flown 15 times since 2015, with three successful tests of its emergency-escape system, which would jettison the capsule away from a failing rocket.

If a parachute fails to deploy, the capsule is designed to give more thrust to its downward-facing engines to help it land safely. If two chutes fail, a crushable “bumper” section on the bottom of the capsule should absorb the impact of landing.

“The capsule is the most highly redundant and safe spaceflight system, we think, that has ever been designed or flown,” Gary Lai, senior director of New Shepard’s design, said in a Blue Origin video about safety, posted online in April. “In most cases, you have a backup to the backup system.”

Logsdon described the New Shepard testing process as “very thorough” and “slow-paced.” He pointed out that the Space Shuttle’s very first flight had humans on board.

“Compared to the Space Shuttle Program, this is a far less risky undertaking,” Logsdon said.

Flying without spacesuits could add risk, but it may be safer if someone vomits

Ever since the Challenger disaster in 1986 – when the Space Shuttle broke apart during launch, killing all seven crew members – all NASA astronauts have worn pressurized spacesuits for launch and landing.

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A sneak peek at the final design of Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule for suborbital space tourists.

Spacesuits would not have saved those aboard Challenger, but they could save lives if a space capsule experiences a cabin leak yet remains intact.

Blue Origin’s website, however, indicates that New Shepard passengers will wear only a jumpsuit – not a pressurized spacesuit and helmet. According to CNN, there are oxygen masks in the capsule, much like on an airplane, in case the cabin becomes depressurized. The company hasn’t specified what Bezos or his companions will wear, however.

Both Nield and Logsdon said the chance of a cabin leak is very small. So the decision to wear a spacesuit or not depends mostly on the design of the capsule. If it has especially thick skin and strong windows, and if its systems can accommodate hiccups and technical errors without endangering the passengers, then flying without a spacesuit could be safe.

When it comes to flying tourists, it may even be better to skip the spacesuit, since first-time fliers often throw up during launch or landing.

“Especially if you are not a trained and experienced astronaut, wearing a spacesuit could be riskier if you got sick,” Nield said.

If you weren’t sufficiently trained to operate the spacesuit, you could choke on your own vomit.

A fully automated flight with no pilots isn’t necessarily a safety issue

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An interior view of Blue Origin’s Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 5, 2017.

New Shepard conducts its flights autonomously.

“Its design does not allow anybody to do much flying,” Logsdon said.

That’s not necessarily more risky than a rocket that requires a pilot, as long as the passengers are properly trained on what to do in an emergency.

Still, this fully automated launch system is relatively new, and lots of things can go wrong during early flights. Rocket failures can often be traced back to small errors across all kinds of hardware and software. It is rocket science, after all.

“Until we get lots of experience, like we’ve had with millions of airplane flights over the years, then there’s going to be some learning involved. And we’re going to get some surprises along the way. And there’s going to be some more accidents or incidents in future years,” Nield said. “With cars and boats and planes and trains, people die every year. And spaceflight is not going to be any different when it comes to that.”

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Jeff Bezos will spend just 3 minutes in space, without a pilot. His launch will be unlike any prior US spaceflight.

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Jeff Bezos (left) is set to launch aboard the New Shepard rocket (right) on July 20.

Jeff Bezos is preparing to rocket into space on July 20, but he won’t be there for very long. With Earth shining outside the windows, Bezos will float around the cabin of his company’s New Shepard spaceship for just three minutes before he has to strap into his seat again and fall back to the ground.

Blue Origin, the rocket company that Bezos founded in 2000, plans to use this launch system to carry tourists up to the edge of space. New Shepard’s goal is simple: give paying customers the ride of their lives. Passengers will get a few minutes of stunning views out of the largest windows of any spaceship in the world.

This is the first launch system designed for that purpose, and Bezos will be among the first people to fly on it, alongside his brother Mark and the highest bidder for the third seat. Combined, these factors make this flight unlike any other before it.

“Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space,” Bezos said in a Monday Instagram post announcing his plans to rocket into space.

“I want to go on this flight because it’s a thing I wanted to do all my life. It’s an adventure – it’s a big deal for me,” he added in an accompanying video.

In this dream-realizing flight of Bezos’s, there will be no pilot, since the process is automated – and perhaps not even spacesuits either. Here’s what to expect.

3 minutes of weightlessness

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Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.

On launch day, Bezos, his brother, and a to-be-determined multimillionaire will climb into the round, spacious cabin of the New Shepard and strap in. If all goes according to plan, the rocket will then fire its engines, spewing flame and smoke across the plains of West Texas, in order to heave itself off the launchpad and into the skies.

As New Shepard screams through the atmosphere, the force of its climb and the pull of Earth’s gravity will pin the Bezos brothers and their guest into their reclining seats.

After just three minutes, they will suddenly feel weightless. They’ll have another three minutes to unbuckle and float around the cabin, drifting from one window to another. Those windows, which make up one-third of the capsule’s surface, will show the passengers the curve of Earth on one side of the spaceship and the blackness of space on the other.

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The view from space on New Shepard’s 15th flight, April 14, 2021.

Astronauts have a term for the feeling of awe this view of Earth can inspire: “the Overview Effect.”

“When we look down at the Earth from space, we see this amazing, indescribably beautiful planet. It looks like a living, breathing organism. But it also, at the same time, looks extremely fragile,” Ron Garan, an astronaut who spent 177 days in space, explained in a 2013 documentary film titled “Overview.”

He added: “Anybody else who’s ever gone to space says the same thing because it really is striking and it’s really sobering to see this paper-thin layer and to realize that that little paper-thin layer is all that protects every living thing on Earth from death, basically.”

Briefly, for just a minute or two, the New Shepard spaceship should clear the Kármán line – an imaginary boundary 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, where space begins.

Then as gravity takes hold again and the spaceship begins to fall back to Earth, Bezos and his co-passengers will strap in for a high-speed plunge through the atmosphere. Then the capsule should deploy three parachutes – likely giving the passengers a significant jerk as the chutes balloon into the air to brake the spaceship’s fall.

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The New Shepard crew capsule parachutes to a landing at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in Texas, January 14, 2021.

After that, the parachutes should carry the capsule to a gentle landing in the Texas desert, where a recovery crew will be waiting to retrieve the Bezoses and their companion.

Meanwhile, the rocket booster will fall back to Earth separately, fire its engines to slow itself to about 5 mph, and self-land on a concrete pad, to be restored and fly again another day.

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The New Shepard booster lands after the vehicle’s fifth flight, May 2, 2019.

The whole journey will last about 11 minutes. That’s because New Shepard is a suborbital rocket. It’s too small, and its engines don’t have enough thrust, to push itself into orbit. So any tourists riding it, including Bezos, will just get to peek above the edge of space.

Another rocket company, Virgin Galactic, has flown people on similar suborbital flights before. But their missions require pilots to land their plane-like vehicle. For New Shepard, the entire flight is automated, so there will be no pilots or professional astronauts on board.

No spacesuits, either?

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A dummy called Mannequin Skywalker flies onboard the New Shepard in a Blue Origin flight suit, January 14, 2021.

Blue Origin hasn’t specified whether Bezos or his companions will wear a pressurized spacesuit and helmet during their flight. But the company’s website indicates that New Shepard passengers will wear only a jumpsuit.

NASA astronauts and their international counterparts all wear pressurized spacesuits when they launch or land. NASA started requiring this after the Challenger disaster in 1986, when the Space Shuttle broke apart during launch, killing all seven crew members.

Spacesuits probably would not have saved the people aboard Challenger, but they could save lives if a space capsule happens to experience a cabin leak yet remain intact.

Blue Origin did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the upcoming flight. The New Shepard has flown successfully 15 times and has twice tested an emergency-escape system that should jettison the capsule and its passengers away from a failing rocket.

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SpaceX’s high-flying Starship prototype has finally landed successfully – a big step towards Elon Musk’s reusable mega-rocket

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The SN15 prototype stuck the landing (left), a big step towards becoming the reusable rocket Elon Musk (right) wants it to be.

On Wednesday, SpaceX sent the latest prototype of its mega-rocket system roaring six miles above Texas, its fifth such launch since December.

SpaceX is no stranger to Starship launches, but unlike the last four attempts, this prototype landed smoothly, without blowing up during its first 15 minutes back on Earth. A previous prototype exploded 10 minutes after landing, after a fire burning around its skirt wouldn’t go out. But this time, the fire at the prototype’s feet appeared to be extinguished.

“Starship landing nominal!” Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder, CEO, and chief engineer, declared on Twitter.

This version of the spaceship, called Starship serial No. 15, or SN15, followed the same trajectory as its predecessors. The 16-story rocket lifted off from SpaceX’s launch facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. As it approached the peak of its flight, the vehicle shut off two of its three truck-sized Raptor engines. It hovered at roughly 33,000 feet before cutting the final engine, then tipped sideways and plunged back to Earth. As it neared the ground, the engines reignited to flip the rocket upright, and then it lowered itself to the landing pad.

As of Wednesday afternoon, SN15 was still sitting upright and intact on the landing pad.

A final version of this mega-spaceship is set to become NASA’s next moon lander – the vehicle that could put boots on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.

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An illustration of SpaceX’s Starship as a lander carrying NASA astronauts to the moon.

Musk has an ambitious vision for the launch system. The prototypes his company is launching are meant to be the upper stage of a two-part system. Eventually, a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would heave the spaceship toward orbit. Musk wants this system to carry humans into low-Earth orbit, to the moon, and even to Mars, then return to Earth to do it again. The smooth landing of SN15 gets Starship a big step closer to being the reusable vehicle Musk wants.

“It’s a tough vehicle because we’re trying to crack this nut of a fully and rapidly reusable rocket,” Musk said in a NASA press conference on April 23. “Somebody’s got to do this. And if you have rapid and complete reusability, then that is the gateway to the heavens.”

SpaceX is building a booster that could carry Starship to orbit

The SN15 was the second of the five high-flying Starships SpaceX has launched that touched down in one piece – at least initially. The other was SN10, which landed in one piece in early March but blew up 10 minutes later. The first two Starship prototypes that soared to a high altitudes, SN8 and SN9, both slammed into the landing pad at high speeds and exploded immediately. Another, SN11, exploded in midair as it relit its engines for landing.

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From left to right: The SN8, SN9, and SN10 explosions.

SpaceX began assembling its first prototype of the Super Heavy booster – the other part of the Starship system – at its Texas facilities in mid-March. Musk said this version of Super Heavy is just for production testing, though the next prototype should fly.

To grasp the size of this launch system, look for the person standing on the lift in this photo Musk shared on Twitter. Starship, not pictured, would sit on top of that booster.

In addition to landing astronauts on the moon, Musk wants the Starship-Super Heavy system to power hypersonic travel on Earth. Ultimately, he has said, he plans to build 1,000 Starships that would carry people and cargo to Mars in order to establish a self-sustaining settlement.

Making Starship-Super Heavy reusable could slash the cost of reaching space by “a factor of 100 or more,” according to Musk. Its enormous size would allow it to carry large payloads to space, including tens of thousands of Starlink internet satellites that SpaceX plans to put into orbit.

In short, this is the launch system on which SpaceX is staking its future. But there are several hurdles to clear before it can reach space.

Environmental reviews could slow Starship’s journey to orbit

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An illustration of SpaceX’s planned 39-story Starship rocket system launching from Boca Chica, Texas.

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has already booked tickets for himself and eight others for a week-long Starship flight around the moon in 2023. The group is set to become the spaceship’s first passengers. After that, NASA hopes that Starship will return astronauts to the moon in 2024. But a report from the agency’s Office of the Inspector General suggested it’s “highly unlikely” NASA will meet that deadline.

In addition to successfully landing Starship prototypes, SpaceX will need to integrate the Super Heavy booster with the spaceship, learn to launch the two parts together, and show it can land the booster in one piece.

The company will also need to rocket a Starship into orbit to test its ability to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. That will require a new type of launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration, which involves many regulatory hurdles, including a thorough environmental assessment. Depending on the findings of that assessment, it’s possible SpaceX may need to conduct a new environmental impact statement, which could take up to three years.

Complicating matters is a leaked FAA draft document obtained by Insider that revealed SpaceX’s plans to dig natural gas wells and build gas-fired power plants in Boca Chica. Such plans could prolong SpaceX’s environmental review process.

Still, Musk maintains that Starship could fly its first people in “a couple years.” He has also said he is “highly confident” that SpaceX will launch an uncrewed Starship to Mars in 2024, followed by a crewed mission in 2026.

“I tend to be somewhat optimistic with respect to schedules. I feel I should acknowledge this,” he said in the NASA briefing. “So take that with a grain of salt. But I think it’s not out of the question that it could fly people in a couple years.”

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SpaceX has safely landed 4 astronauts in the ocean for NASA, completing the US’s longest human spaceflight

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NASA’s Crew-1 mission crew members in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft (left to right): NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, as well as JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

SpaceX just returned its first full astronaut crew to Earth, completing the longest human spaceflight any US vehicle has ever flown.

The astronauts of the Crew-2 mission – Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins of NASA, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – felt the pull of Earth’s gravity for the first time in six months as their Crew Dragon spaceship tore through the atmosphere early Sunday. The spaceship, which they’ve named Resilience, protected them as its speed superheated the air around it to a 3,500-degree-Fahrenheit plasma.

A few miles above the ocean, four parachutes ballooned from the gumdrop-shaped capsule, jerking it into a slower fall. They gently lowered Resilience to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:57 a.m. ET. The waves were calm and the weather was clear.

This was NASA’s first nighttime splashdown since 1968. Thermal cameras on a nearby recovery ship and a NASA plane captured video, below, of the spaceship and its parachutes falling into the ocean.

“On behalf of NASA and the SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth. Thanks for flying SpaceX. For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program, you have earned 68 million miles on this voyage,” a mission controller quipped to the Crew-1 astronauts as they splashed down.

“We’ll take those miles. Are they transferable?” Hopkins responded.

The astronauts’ return to Earth concludes SpaceX’s first routine crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS). That’s where Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi have been living and working since they launched in November.

SpaceX first proved it could launch and land humans last year when it rocketed NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS for a two-month test flight. Now it has shown that it can carry out full-length crew rotations.

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There were 11 humans aboard the International Space Station last week.

NASA has contracted five more round-trip flights from SpaceX. The next one, Crew-2, already delivered four more astronauts to the ISS last weekend. Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi greeted their Dragon-flying colleagues with smiles and hugs. The football-field-sized orbiting laboratory was crowded with 11 people during the week that the two missions overlapped.

But on Saturday evening, the Crew-1 astronauts said goodbye and climbed back into the Crew Dragon Resilience.

The capsule undocked from its ISS port and fell into orbit around Earth, slowly lining up with a path to its splashdown site over the next 6.5 hours.

“This marks many important milestones, but it really is important for getting a regular cadence of crew to the station and back,” Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said after the Crew-2 launch.

“What we do on ISS is important not only for the research and technology development that we do for here on Earth but also to prepare for what we’re going to do in the future,” he added. “Our ultimate goal is sending astronauts to Mars.”

Having fun and making history 250 miles above Earth

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Left to right: Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover gather around a laptop computer to join a video conference on February 7, 2021.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi conducted hundreds of science and technology experiments during their time in orbit. They did a few spacewalks. They also relocated the Crew Dragon from one ISS docking port to another – a first for the spacecraft.

The crew celebrated Glover’s 45th birthday on Friday, their last full day on the ISS. The party featured cake, musical instruments, and balloons.

“Gratitude, wonder, connection. I’m full of and motivated by these feelings on my birthday, as my first mission to space comes to an end,” Glover, who is the mission pilot, tweeted. “This orbiting laboratory is a true testament to what we can accomplish when we work together as a team. Crew-1 is ready for our ride home!”

Glover was a rookie at the beginning of this mission, but Noguchi is a spaceflight veteran. He’s spent more than a year of his life in space and has flown on three different spacecraft. He said after the launch that Crew Dragon was the best.

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Soichi Noguchi poses with his SpaceX Crew Dragon spacesuit inside the International Space Station.

Hopkins, the mission commander, has had to sleep inside the spaceship for the last five months since the ISS didn’t have enough beds. That gave him the only room with a window 250 miles above Earth. The views were “absolutely stunning,” he told reporters last week.

As their departure date approached, the astronauts wondered what the Crew Dragon had in store for them.

“We don’t know quite what to expect landing on the water under parachutes like this,” Walker said. “And it’s just exciting that we get to go home and see our friends and family.”

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The Crew Dragon Endeavour parachutes into the Gulf of Mexico with Demo-2 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley onboard, August 2, 2020.

Their return trip was originally scheduled for Wednesday, then for Saturday morning, but NASA rescheduled twice after forecasts predicted high winds in the splashdown zones.

Akihiko Hoshide, a JAXA astronaut on Crew-2, has taken over the role of ISS commander. He spoke to the Crew-1 astronauts over the radio as their spaceship backed away from the station: “Resilence departed. Have a safe trip back home and a soft landing.”

“Thanks for your hospitality,” Hopkins responded. “Sorry, we stayed a little bit long. And we’ll see you back on Earth.”

‘A new era of space exploration’

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Elon Musk celebrates after SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft launch their first astronauts on the Demo-2 mission, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 30, 2020.

NASA shares its Mars ambitions with Elon Musk, the founder, CEO, and chief engineer of SpaceX. So far, SpaceX seems to be the agency’s first-choice commercial partner in expanding human spaceflight.

NASA recently chose the company’s Starship mega-spaceship to land astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972. However, work has been temporarily halted after competing firms Dynetics and Blue Origin filed complaints.

“The future’s looking good,” Musk said in a press conference after the Crew-2 launch. “I think we’re at the dawn of a new era of space exploration.”

That era begins in low-Earth orbit, with the six Crew Dragon missions NASA has purchased. So far, this is the only commercial spaceship ever to fly humans – and it’s done so for three crews.

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The Crew Dragon Endeavour approaches the International Space Station with the Crew-2 astronauts on board, April 24, 2021.

Those missions restored NASA’s ability to launch astronauts from the US for the first time since the last Space Shuttle flew in 2011. The Crew Dragon also gives other space agencies, like JAXA, an alternative to the Russian Soyuz rockets that have dominated human spaceflight for the last decade.

This was what NASA wanted from its Commercial Crew Program, which funded SpaceX to build Crew Dragon and prepare its Falcon 9 rockets for crewed launches. NASA did the same for Boeing’s Starliner spaceship, but that vehicle has to re-do an uncrewed mission to the ISS before it can fly humans.

To the moon and Mars

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Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry NASA astronauts to the Moon’s surface during the Artemis mission.

Through the partnerships fostered in the Commercial Crew Program – and using its own mega-rocket, the Space Launch System – NASA aims to put boots on the lunar surface in 2024. Musk has said he thinks this timeline is “doable,” though NASA’s Office of the Inspector General recently determined it is “highly unlikely.”

Whenever it happens, that mission would kick NASA’s Artemis program into full gear. The eventual goal is to establish a permanent human presence on the moon – picture ISS-like orbiting laboratories and research stations on the lunar surface. NASA plans to send human missions to Mars from there.

Musk has his own plans, including building SpaceX’s planned Starship-Super Heavy launch system and using it to build a self-sustaining settlement on Mars. For now, Starship prototypes are still trying to fly and land without exploding.

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A snapshot from a SpaceX livestream of a Starship prototype flying up to 6 miles above Texas.

SpaceX also plans to start launching private spaceflight missions for paying customers. The first, set to launch this year, is called Inspiration4. For that flight, billionaire Jared Isaacman purchased four seats on Crew Dragon Resilience – the same capsule that just splashed down in the ocean. He and three other civilians plan to take a three-day joy ride around Earth.

“I think it’s a good thing for human spaceflight to see more and more people getting up into orbit around Earth. It’s just an amazing experience,” Mike Hopkins told reporters in a call from the ISS last week when asked how he felt about civilians flying in the spaceship he’s been commanding.

“As we look to kind of transition low-Earth orbit to the commercial industry, this is a big step along that way. And then NASA can continue to focus on exploration and getting back to the moon and on to Mars.”

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Watch live: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship is bringing 4 astronauts back to Earth, ending NASA’s longest human spaceflight

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Flying aboard SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission for NASA are astronauts (from left) Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover.

A gumdrop-shaped fireball is set to plummet through the dark Florida skies overnight.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, carrying four astronauts for NASA, is preparing to plow through the atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound, deploy four parachutes as it approaches the coast of Florida, and then glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at about 2:57 a.m. ET on Sunday.

The return journey has already begun. The spaceship, named Resilience, has backed away from the International Space Station (ISS), carrying Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins of NASA, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Resilience carried these astronauts to the ISS in November. They have been living and working there ever since.

Their mission, called Crew-1, officially restored NASA’s ability to launch people into space on a US spacecraft for the first time since the Space Shuttles stopped flying in 2011. Six-month spaceflights have been routine for NASA astronauts launching on Russian Soyuz spaceships, but until now, the US had never flown such long-term missions on its own.

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There were 11 humans aboard the International Space Station last week.

Crew-1 is also SpaceX’s first routine astronaut flight for NASA. The agency has already purchased five more Crew Dragon missions. The second one, Crew-2, launched four more astronauts toward the ISS on April 23; they reached the station the following morning.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi greeted the new arrivals, but the ISS was getting crowded. So on Saturday evening, the Crew-1 team climbed back aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience for the journey home.

Watch live as Crew-1 returns to Earth

NASA is broadcasting the nearly seven-hour journey – including the fiery plunge to Earth and the splashdown at the end – via the livestream below, which began at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi boarded the Resilience capsule and closed its hatch behind them at 6:20 p.m. ET on Saturday. After about two hours of checkouts, the hooks keeping Resilience attached to the space station retracted at 8:35 p.m. ET, undocking the spaceship from the ISS. The vehicle then fired its thrusters to back away.

The Crew-1 return trip was originally scheduled for Wednesday, then for Saturday morning, but NASA delayed it twice after forecasts predicted high winds in the splashdown zones.

SpaceX has flown humans back to Earth from the ISS once before – on a crewed test flight called Demo-2. In May, that mission rocketed NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into orbit. They stayed on the ISS for two months before splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico.

The entire descent and landing process is automated, but Hurley advised the Crew-1 astronauts to make sure they’re “staying ahead of the capsule,” according to Hopkins, the mission commander.

“Preparing for that landing is just going over our procedures and making sure when we get into that sequence of events, that we’re ready to go, and we’re following right along with all of the automation as it takes us to, hopefully, a safe landing,” Hopkins told reporters in a call from the ISS on Monday.

If all goes well, Resilience is expected to spend the next few hours orbiting Earth and maneuvering into position. At 10:58 p.m. ET, the capsule should jettison its trunk – a lower section outfitted with fuel tanks, solar panels, and other hardware – which it will no longer need.

From there, the Crew-1 astronauts could be in for a bumpy ride.

“The landing was – I would say it was more than what Doug and I expected,” Behnken told reporters after he returned to Earth aboard the spaceship. “I personally was surprised at just how quickly events all transpired.”

crew dragon return reentry demo2 doug hurley bob behnken
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, aboard the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft on August 2, 2020.

“It felt like we were inside of an animal,” he added.

Behnken also said that pivotal moments of the landing process – such as when the capsule separated from its trunk and when the parachutes deployed – felt “very much like getting hit in the back of the chair with a baseball bat.”

What to expect as the astronauts plummet to Earth

As the Resilience spacecraft approaches Earth, it is expected to fire its thrusters continuously, pushing itself further into the atmosphere.

dragon v2 reentry
An animation of Crew Dragon plowing through the atmosphere.

Soon, the spaceship should be plummeting through the atmosphere, superheating the material around it to a blistering 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point in his flight, Behnken said, he could feel the capsule heating up, and the force of Earth’s gravity pulling on him for the first time in two months. It felt like being in a centrifuge, he added.

The Crew Dragon’s heat shield – a collection of heat-resistant tiles that line the spaceship’s underbelly – must deflect that superheated material to protect the astronauts inside. After the Demo-2 landing, NASA and SpaceX found that one of those tiles had worn away more than expected. So SpaceX reinforced the heat shield with stronger materials.

Once it’s about 18,000 feet above the ocean, Resilience should deploy four parachutes – which brings a “pretty significant jolt,” Behnken said.

demo-2 splashdown parachutes crew dragon spacex
The Crew Dragon Endeavour lands in the Gulf of Mexico, returning astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to Earth on August 2, 2020.

From there, Resilience should glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at 2:57 a.m. ET on Sunday. A recovery crew is expected to retrieve the charred capsule and carry the astronauts to shore.

During Behnken and Hurley’s return to Earth, a crowd of onlooking boats got dangerously close to the spaceship after it splashed down. To prevent that from happening again, SpaceX, NASA, and the Coast Guard plan to secure a 10-mile no-boat perimeter around the Crew-1 splashdown site.

demo2 crew dragon recovery splashdown spacex nasa
The SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship lifts the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour out of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, on August 2, 2020.

“Landings are always fairly dynamic, particularly with the capsules like this, particularly when the chutes are opening. So that’s always a little bit exciting,” Hopkins said.

When asked what he’d like to eat upon returning from the ISS, he replied, “If I have an appetite, that’s going to be a bonus.”

This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published on April 26, 2021.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Watch SpaceX’s Crew-1 astronauts plummet to an ocean landing on Wednesday, ending the longest human spaceflight in NASA history

spacex nasa crew 1 mission 4x3
Flying aboard SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission for NASA are astronauts (from left) Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover.

A gumdrop-shaped fireball is set to plummet to Earth on Wednesday.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, carrying four astronauts for NASA, is scheduled to plow through the atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound, deploy four parachutes as it approaches the coast of Florida, then glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at about 12:40 p.m ET.

The spaceship, named Resilience, flew to the International Space Station in November, carrying Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins of NASA, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The astronauts have been living and working in orbit for more than five months – the longest human spaceflight in US history.

Their mission, called Crew-1, officially restored NASA’s ability to launch people to space on its own spacecraft for the first time since the Space Shuttles stopped flying in 2011. Six-month spaceflights have been routine for NASA astronauts launching on Russian Soyuz spaceships, but until now, the US had never flown such long-term missions on its own.

Crew-1 was also SpaceX’s first routine astronaut flight for NASA. The agency has already purchased five more Crew Dragon missions. The second one, Crew-2, launched four more astronauts on Friday and reached the ISS on Saturday morning.

nasa space x
There are currently 11 people aboard the International Space Station.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi greeted the new arrivals, but the ISS is now crowded. So on Wednesday morning, the Crew-1 team will climb back aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience for the journey home.

SpaceX has flown humans back to Earth from the ISS once before – on a crewed test flight called Demo-2. In May, that mission rocketed NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into orbit. They stayed on the ISS for two months before splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico.

During Behnken and Hurley’s return to Earth, however, a crowd of onlooker boats got dangerously close to the spaceship after it splashed down. To prevent that from happening again, SpaceX, NASA, and the Coast Guard plan to secure a 10-mile no-boat perimeter around the Crew-1 splashdown site.

Watch live as Crew-1 returns to Earth

NASA will broadcast the entire day’s events via the livestream below, starting at 4:45 a.m. ET.

The entire descent and landing process is automated, but Hurley advised the Crew-1 astronauts to make sure they’re “staying ahead of the capsule,” according to Hopkins, who is the mission commander.

“Preparing for that landing is just going over our procedures and making sure, when we get into that sequence of events, that we’re ready to go, and we’re following right along with all of the automation as it takes us to, hopefully, a safe landing,” he told reporters in a call from the ISS on Monday.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi will board the Resilience capsule and close its hatch behind them at 5 a.m. ET. After two hours of checkouts, the hooks keeping Resilience attached to the space station should retract at 7:05 a.m. ET, undocking the spaceship from the ISS. The vehicle will then fire its thrusters to back away.

If all goes well, Resilience will spend the next few hours orbiting Earth and maneuvering into position. Then the capsule will jettison its trunk – a lower section outfitted with fuel tanks, solar panels, and other hardware – which the astronauts will no longer need.

From there, the Crew-2 astronauts could be in for a very bumpy ride.

“The landing was – I would say it was more than what Doug and I expected,” Behnken told reporters after he returned to Earth aboard the spaceship. “I personally was surprised at just how quickly events all transpired.”

“It felt like we were inside of an animal,” he added.

crew dragon return reentry demo2 doug hurley bob behnken
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, aboard the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft, August 2, 2020.

Behnken also said that pivotal moments of the landing process – like when the capsule separated from its trunk and when the parachutes deployed – felt “very much like getting hit in the back of the chair with a baseball bat.”

As the Resilience spacecraft approaches Earth, it will fire its thrusters continuously, pushing itself further into the atmosphere.

dragon v2 reentry
An animation of Crew Dragon plowing through the atmosphere.

Soon, the spaceship will be plummeting through the atmosphere, superheating the material around it to a blistering 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point, Behnken said, he could feel the capsule heating up, and the force of Earth’s gravity pulling on him for the first time in two months. It felt like being in a centrifuge, he added.

The Crew Dragon’s heat shield – a collection of heat-resistant tiles that line the spaceship’s underbelly – must deflect that super-heated material to protect the astronauts inside. After the Demo-2 landing, NASA and SpaceX found that one of those tiles had worn away more than expected. So SpaceX reinforced the heat shield with stronger materials.

Once it’s about 18,000 feet above the ocean, Resilience should deploy four parachutes – which brings a “pretty significant jolt,” according to Behnken.

demo-2 splashdown parachutes crew dragon spacex
The Crew Dragon Endeavour lands in the Gulf of Mexico, returning astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to Earth, August 2, 2020.

From there, Resilience should glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at 12:40 p.m. ET. A recovery crew will be waiting to retrieve the charred capsule and carry the astronauts to shore.

demo2 crew dragon recovery splashdown spacex nasa
The SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship lifts the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour out of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, August 2, 2020.

“Landings are always fairly dynamic, particularly with the capsules like this, particularly when the chutes are opening. So that’s always a little bit exciting,” Hopkins said.

When asked what he’d like to eat upon returning from the ISS, he replied: “If I have an appetite, that’s going to be a bonus.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

SpaceX hopes to launch and land a new prototype of its Starship mega-rocket next week. The last 3 exploded.

starship explosion sn10 elon musk thumb
Elon Musk (right) needs Starships to stop exploding (left) to realize his dream of a fully reusable mega-rocket.

Starship launches have become a regular occurrence at SpaceX’s rocket-development facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. For the second time this month, the company is preparing to fly an advanced prototype of its next spaceship. That could happen as early as Monday.

Called Starship serial No. 11, or SN11, the prototype is set to roar tens of thousands of feet into the air, shut off its engines, flip sideways, then freefall back to Earth. Four wing flaps should control the rocket’s fall, and its engines should re-fire just in time to flip it upright and lower it to the landing pad.

SpaceX has launched three such high-altitude test flights already, but each ended with a catastrophic explosion. The first two prototypes, SN8 and SN9, slammed into the landing pad at high speed and exploded immediately. The third, SN10, landed in one piece but blew up 10 minutes later.

starship prototype explosions collage spacex boca chica spadre
From left to right: The SN8, SN9, and SN10 explosions.

All these prototypes represent the upper stage of a two-part system: Eventually, a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit. The whole system is meant to be fully and rapidly reusable, which could enable SpaceX to slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s long-term vision is for the system to fly astronauts to the moon and power hypersonic travel on Earth. He has said he plans to build 1,000 Starships in order to carry people and cargo to Mars and establish a Martian settlement.

sn11 starship prototype spacex boca chica spadre
Spectators gather to watch SpaceX roll out the SN11 prototype.

SpaceX was preparing the prototype for flight on Friday, after conducting a static-fire engine test, but appeared to cancel those plans about five hours before the launch window closed.

“Standing down SN11 until probably Monday,” Musk tweeted Friday afternoon. “Additional checkouts are needed. Doing our best to land & fully recover.”

We will update this post once SpaceX confirms the launch date.

Watch the Starship prototype fly live

sn10 starship
A screengrab from a SpaceX livestream shows SN10 ascending in the skies above Boca Chica, Texas on March 3, 2021.

SpaceX is expected to broadcast the test flight live, as it did with the last three. That livestream will be embedded below once it becomes available. In the meantime, a few fans of the company are broadcasting from the launch facilities.

LabPadre offers six unique views of the Starship launch site. Below is the channel’s main 4K-resolution feed.

For a more distant view of the launch site – broadcast from the top of a resort in South Padre Island about 6 miles away – check out SPadre’s 24-hour live feed.

NASASpaceflight offers broadcasts with multiple high-quality camera views and input from a group of knowledgeable commentators. Their livestream will be embedded below once it’s available.

Read the original article on Business Insider

SpaceX hopes to launch and land a new prototype of its Starship mega-rocket on Friday. The last 3 exploded.

starship explosion sn10 elon musk thumb
Elon Musk (right) needs Starships to stop exploding (left) to realize his dream of a fully reusable mega-rocket.

Starship launches have become a regular occurrence at SpaceX’s rocket-development facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. For the second time this month, the company is preparing to fly an advanced prototype of its next spaceship. That could happen as early as Friday or over the weekend.

Called Starship serial No. 11, or SN11, the prototype could launch as early as Friday. It’s set to roar tens of thousands of feet into the air, shut off its engines, flip sideways, then freefall back to Earth. Four wing flaps should control the rocket’s fall, and its engines should re-fire just in time to flip it upright and lower it to the landing pad.

SpaceX has launched three such high-altitude test flights already, but each ended with a catastrophic explosion. The first two prototypes, SN8 and SN9, slammed into the landing pad at high speed and exploded immediately. The third, SN10, landed in one piece but blew up 10 minutes later.

starship prototype explosions collage spacex boca chica spadre
From left to right: The SN8, SN9, and SN10 explosions.

All these prototypes represent the upper stage of a two-part system: Eventually, a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit. The whole system is meant to be fully and rapidly reusable, which could enable SpaceX to slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s long-term vision is for the system to fly astronauts to the moon and power hypersonic travel on Earth. He has said he plans to build 1,000 Starships in order to carry people and cargo to Mars and establish a Martian settlement.

sn11 starship prototype spacex boca chica spadre
Spectators gather to watch SpaceX roll out the SN11 prototype.

Before SpaceX can try to fly and land SN11, it has to conduct a new static fire test, which involves clamping down the rocket and test-firing its engines. Earlier this week, the prototype’s first static fire revealed that one of the Raptor engines needed to be replaced, so it has to try again before launch.

In a unique twist, documentation from the Federal Aviation Administration indicates that SpaceX will try to conduct the static fire on Friday, then reload the engines and fly SN11 before the day is over. The company has until 7:30 p.m. CT – when a local road closure ends – to accomplish the dual feat.

Watch the Starship prototype fly live

sn10 starship
A screengrab from a SpaceX livestream shows SN10 ascending in the skies above Boca Chica, Texas on March 3, 2021.

SpaceX is expected to broadcast the test flight live, as it did with the last three. That livestream will be embedded below once it becomes available. In the meantime, a few fans of the company are broadcasting from the launch facilities.

NASASpaceflight offers broadcasts with multiple high-quality camera views and input from a group of knowledgeable commentators.

LabPadre offers six unique views of the Starship launch site. Below is the channel’s main 4K-resolution feed.

For a more distant view of the launch site – broadcast from the top of a resort in South Padre Island about 6 miles away – check out SPadre’s 24-hour live feed.

The FAA has issued an airspace closure over the area, with further closures on Saturday and Sunday – backup dates in case SpaceX misses the Friday launch window. Both air and road closures are required for launch.

However, these closures can be rescheduled if SpaceX is not ready to fly. Ahead of the SN9 flight, new closures were posted week after week before SpaceX made any launch attempt. We will update this post once SpaceX confirms the launch date for SN11.

Read the original article on Business Insider

SpaceX hopes to launch and land a new prototype of its Starship mega-rocket this week. The last 3 exploded.

starship explosion sn10 elon musk thumb
Elon Musk (right) needs Starships to stop exploding (left) to realize his dream of a fully reusable mega-rocket.

Starship launches have become a regular occurrence at SpaceX’s rocket-development facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. For the second time this month, the company is preparing to fly an advanced prototype of its next spaceship.

Called Starship serial No. 11, or SN11, the prototype could launch as early as Tuesday. It’s set to roar tens of thousands of feet into the air, shut off its engines, flip sideways, then freefall back to Earth. Four wing flaps should control the rocket’s fall, and its engines should re-fire just in time to flip it upright and lower it to the landing pad.

SpaceX has launched three such high-altitude test flights already, but each ended with a catastrophic explosion. The first two prototypes, SN8 and SN9, slammed into the landing pad at high speed and exploded immediately. The third, SN10, landed in one piece but blew up 10 minutes later.

starship prototype explosions collage spacex boca chica spadre
From left to right: The SN8, SN9, and SN10 explosions.

All these prototypes represent the upper stage of a two-part system: Eventually, a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit. The whole system is meant to be fully and rapidly reusable, which could enable SpaceX to slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s long-term vision is for the system to fly astronauts to the moon and power hypersonic travel on Earth. He has said he plans to build 1,000 Starships in order to carry people and cargo to Mars and establish a Martian settlement.

sn11 starship prototype spacex boca chica spadre
Spectators gather to watch SpaceX roll out the SN11 prototype.

SpaceX may try to fly and land SN11 as early as this week. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued airspace closures in the area for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and the Cameron County judge has issued local road-closure notices for Wednesday and Thursday. Both air and road closures are required for launch.

However, these closures can be rescheduled if SpaceX is not ready to fly. Ahead of the SN9 flight, new closures were posted week after week before SpaceX made any launch attempt. We will update this post once SpaceX confirms a launch date for SN11.

Watch the Starship prototype fly live

sn10 starship
A screengrab from a SpaceX livestream shows SN10 ascending in the skies above Boca Chica, Texas on March 3, 2021.

SpaceX is expected to broadcast the test flight live, as it did with the last three. That livestream will be embedded below once it becomes available.

In the meantime, a few fans of the company are broadcasting preparation activities at the launch facilities. Some of their video feeds captured a static-fire test last week – that’s when SpaceX fires a rocket’s engines to test them ahead of flight.

LabPadre offers six unique views of the Starship launch site. Below is the channel’s main 4K-resolution feed.

For a more distant view of the launch site – broadcast from the top of a resort in South Padre Island about 6 miles away – check out SPadre’s 24-hour live feed.

NASASpaceflight also covers events at Boca Chica, offering broadcasts with multiple high-quality camera views and input from commentators. Their livestream of the launch will added once it’s available as well.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Minutes after a seemingly successful landing, SpaceX’s Starship rocket exploded on the pad

starship sn10 landing
The SN10 reignites its three Raptor engines to upright itself and land in this screengrab from a SpaceX livestream.

SpaceX finally launched a prototype of its Starship rocket miles into the air on Wednesday, then landed it successfully. But 10 minutes later, the rocket exploded.

The roughly 16-story test vehicle – called Starship serial No. 10, or SN10 – lifted off at at 5:14 p.m. on Wednesday. As it climbed, it shut off one engine and then another. The rocket hovered at the peak of its flight for about 30 seconds, then cut its last engine, tipped over, and belly-flopped toward the ground. 

As it neared the ground, the Raptor engines reignited, flipped SN10 upright, and slowly lowered it to the landing pad.

“Third time’s the charm, as the saying goes,” John Insprucker, SpaceX’s principal integration engineer, declared on the company’s livestream.

But a fire persisted around the rocket’s skirt. Then about 10 minutes later, an explosion thrust SN10 back into the air, leaving it in pieces on the landing pad.

The prototype’s predecessors, SN8 and SN9, completed similar high-altitude flights but flubbed their landings. They each slammed into the landing pad and immediately blew up. Still, those flights – and this one – demonstrated that Starship could rocket to high altitudes and control its plummet back to Earth. On Wednesday, SN10 showed that it can land on the ground in one piece, too – at least initially.

A 2-part, fully reusable launch system

sn10 starship
The SN10 lands in one piece on SpaceX’s Boca Chica landing pad, in this screengrab from the test flight livestream.

SpaceX broadcast the test flight, which you can watch in the YouTube video below, minus the delayed explosion. To start, Starship’s three truck-sized Raptor engines roared to life, heaved it off the ground, and rumbled past the launchpad at SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, a remote strip of land in southeastern Texas. After it began its descent, two aerodynamic wing flaps at the rocket’s nosecone and two at its base – operated by an on-board computer – moved independently to control SN10’s fall and maintain its belly-flop position.

SN10 is the upper stage of a system designed to have two parts: A roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would one day heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit.

If it works, the Starship-Super Heavy launch system could slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold, since it would eliminate the need to build new rockets and spaceships for each spaceflight. Musk wants to construct a fleet of reusable Starships to power round-the-world hypersonic travel on Earth, fly astronauts to the moon, and one day carry people to Mars.

An eventual flight to low-Earth orbit

illustration starship spaceship rocket ship super heavy booster launching clouds looking down earth spacex
An illustration of SpaceX’s Starship spaceship and Super Heavy rocket booster launching together toward space.

Once SpaceX figures out how Starship can nail its launch and landing, the company will want to rocket a prototype into orbit to test its ability to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. That will require a new type of launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration, but obtaining it involves clearing many regulatory hurdles, including a thorough environmental assessment. Depending on the findings of that assessment, it’s possible SpaceX may need to conduct a new environmental impact statement, which could take up to three years.

Complicating matters is a leaked FAA draft document obtained by Insider, which revealed that SpaceX plans to dig natural gas wells and build gas-fired power plants in Boca Chica. Such plans could prolong SpaceX’s environmental review process.

Musk and the FAA have clashed before: SpaceX launched its first high-altitude Starship flight, for its SN8 prototype, without FAA approval, which triggered an investigation.

starhip sn8 nosecone spacex boca chica test flight explosion
The nosecone of the Starship prototype SN8 after it exploded during a test flight, December 10, 2020.

That inquiry was still ongoing, as was another investigation into the causes of SN8’s explosive landing, at the time SpaceX wanted to launch its next Starship prototype, SN9. In January, SpaceX announced that the SN9 was about to fly. But as the rocket sat ready on the launchpad, the FAA suddenly yanked the airspace closure that made way for the rocket’s path. There was no launch that day.

In response to the delay, Musk railed against the FAA on Twitter, saying its space division had “a fundamentally broken regulatory structure” and that “humanity will never get to Mars” under its rules.

The following week, the FAA approved the SN9 launch license updates and gave SpaceX the green light. The rocket soared and crashed, much like its predecessor.

Musk says he is “highly confident” SpaceX will launch an uncrewed Starship to Mars in 2024, followed by a crewed mission in 2026.

Read the original article on Business Insider