On 2024-01-12 Elon Musk gave an update on SpaceX activities at an all hands meeting at Starbase in Texas. Some key points in the presentation are:
- Falcon 9 aiming for 150 orbital flights in 2024, up from 96 in 2023
- Falcon Heavy has already broken Saturn V’s record for most heavy launches in a year
- Dragon’s (cargo and crew) time on orbit now exceeds that of the Space Shuttle
- Dragon (cargo and crew) has now flown to the International Space Station more times than the Space Shuttle in 30 years
- Plan to qualify Falcon 9 first stage boosters for at least 40 flights
- Goal is to reduce Falcon pad turnaround time to less than 24 hours
- Starship’s upper stage failure in the second launch was due to venting liquid oxygen carried as ballast. If there had been a payload on board, it would have achieved orbit.
- Expects to get to orbit on next Starship launch
- Starship has an upgrade path to eventually launch 200 tons of payload to orbit
- Starlink will introduce a mini ground terminal in 2024 that fits in a backpack
- Starlink goal is to reduce mean latency below 20 milliseconds
- Hopes to demonstrate Starship docking for propellant transfer in 2024
The videos interleaved with the presentation are silent. There is nothing wrong with your television set.
In the talk, Elon Musk said that, “with luck”, they might get to Mars in eight years.
Meanwhile, here is NASA’s current reference plan for humans to Mars, based upon the “HEOMD Strategic Campaign Operations Plan for Exploration” [PDF. 52 pages].
Why would venting LOX cause an explosion? I mean I can speculate things like there being ongoing methane ullage pressure venting to provide the reducing agent for the oxidizer external to the Starship but even then the hypersonic forced convection would seem to provide very little explosive mass near the Starship structure.
Timecode of the Starship LOX venting cause of the explosion.
What Elon said was,
We vented the liquid oxygen, and the liquid oxygen ultimately led to a fire and an explosion. So, we wanted to vent the liquid oxygen 'cause we only wouldn’t have that liquid oxygen if we had a payload, so ironically, if it had a payload it would have reached orbit.
I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what this means. My guess is that because there was no payload in the Starship, they loaded extra liquid oxygen (LOX) in order to keep the centre of gravity within limits, and then planned to vent the LOX toward the end of the flight. I don’t know how or where it was vented. Since the Raptor engines run fuel-rich, if the LOX was vented through or in such a way that it could enter the engine compartment, it may have burned along with unburnt methane in the exhaust plume (which would have been expanding in all directions at that altitude) possibly creating a fire which destroyed engine components, leading to explosion in one of the engines.
It’s true SpaceX flew Falcon Heavy more often than Saturn V, but the capacity for higher orbits is much smaller. Saturn V could put >48T into lunar orbit, while Falcon Heavy only 26T in GTO. NASA is paying for FH to launch the Lunar Gateway, but I don’t know how much FH can carry to lunar orbit.
Dragon has flown to the ISS more often and for longer than the Space Shuttle, but that’s in part because it’s payload to ISS is approximately one fifth of the SS.
Very impressive achievements, the marketing spin gets a bit much, though I get that Elon has got to keep the team motivated and energized.
Seems like SpaceX is the only game in town until at least 2027 with FH when Long March 10 comes in. And Starship’s likely next competitor - Long March 9 - is currently planned for 2033. That is if the Chinese don’t overachieve their 5-year plan