reflections of a pragmatic optimist, lover of freedom

Category: Aviation and Space (Page 2 of 11)

“Growing Beyond Earth” Maker Challenge

Interesting competition with big relevance to off-Earth food production and our ability to thrive in new places:

Design, build, and test an autonomous system that can support plant growth without human intervention. Develop a smart system that might include sensors, cameras, and automated controllers for lighting, watering, and air circulation within a 50 cm cubic growing environment. Plant seeds of one or more of the predetermined plant varieties by hand, and grow them without any further human interaction over a 30 day period.

The contest has high school, college, and professional entry categories. Submissions are due by February 3, 2020. Your ideas could help shape and facilitate the future of space settlement!

The No Fear Pioneer, Episode 7: Extending the Frontier Cycle

My short-form podcast, The No Fear Pioneer, is back with a new episode, pursuing some key questions that have been on my mind: Can a frontier culture only thrive for a sustained interval where life is relatively hard? And are there ways we might be able to extend the flourishing of a newly opened frontier?

Join me for a 12-minute whirlwind exploration of related ideas in Episode 7: “Extending the Frontier Cycle”.


I’ve released this episode with new artwork that celebrates SpaceX’s Starship — the vehicle most likely to be our ride to Mars — and the tremendously exciting test launch, descent, and landing attempt of the SN8 prototype this past week. I’m looking forward with much excitement to seeing further developments in this visionary program.

The No Fear Pioneer Podcast Artwork

SN8 Did Great

After days of delays and postponements that tested the patience of those of us waiting breathlessly on the edge of our seats, SpaceX conducted the first (and last) high-altitude test of its SN8 Starship prototype yesterday. Despite going out in a fiery blaze of glory due to insufficient fuel tank pressure at landing, in what many in the rocket business like to call “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly”, SN8 appears to have done a spectacular job of each of its test-flight tasks up to that point, in what I would consider a thrilling and encouraging series of successes.

Robert Zimmerman has a great post with lots of snapshots at Behind the Black, and points out, importantly, that “the systems for controlling the ship on its return through the atmosphere appeared to work as intended. Though SpaceX obviously has a lot more work to do to achieve an orbital return, they have made a magnificent start.” He continues: “And they have gotten this far in only two years, for less than $2 billion. Compare that to NASA and Boeing and their SLS, which is half a decade behind schedule and will likely cost $30 billion once launched.” SpaceX appears to be well on the way to its goal of revolutionizing the economics interplanetary transport, paving the way for rapid acceleration toward the opening of a new frontier on Mars, the Moon, and elsewhere.

Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc has a play-by-play with screen grabs too.

Here’s SpaceX’s official livestream of the test, fast-forwarded to just before engine ignition & launch. Note the beautifully steady ascent, paring back from three Raptor engines firing in unison to two and then one, the controlled free-fall in horizontal orientation, the engine relight and reorient to vertical, and what would likely have been a perfect landing if not for just a wee bit of excess velocity… Note also the green flashes from one of the engine nozzles during the landing attempt, which I’d have guessed might be a burst of TEB attempting to ignite the engine in vain, but John Carmack (who has earned his rocket-scientist chops running Armadillo Aerospace) remarked “is the color of a copper rocket combustion chamber eating itself”.

Don’t miss this spectacular perspective on the free-fall, flip back to vertical, and landing attempt that SpaceX posted shortly afterward.

LabPadre’s YouTube channel deserves a plug for their excellent, practically round-the-clock streaming of Starship progress at SpaceX’s Boca Chica site. Here’s their recap of the launch. Long live the “Nerdle Cam”!

“Mars, here we come!!”, a surely elated Elon Musk tweeted after the spectacular test. Indeed. Ad astra!

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