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”.
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”.
I’m working on plans to start publishing on this site again, with a renewed focus on the development of new frontiers. This will include resuming the No Fear Pioneer podcast and adding to the post series I titled “The Way Out”.
Development of commercial space capability has accelerated rapidly in recent years, and the resultant advances have been thrilling to watch, thanks in no small part to SpaceX’s relentless achievements and bold, inspiring, and impatient vision for our off-Earth future. I’ve been following developments in this area with tremendous interest and enthusiasm, and will aim do so some useful thinking and writing about the implications here — focusing on the great and exciting potentials for space colonization, but also exploring novel opportunities to open new frontiers, physical or virtual, here on Earth.
We live in an amazing time full of immense possibilities — greater, I think, than most realize. I’m particularly energized by the potential that new places and the challenges that go with them hold to rekindle our resilience and our hunger for adventure. I foresee places where, out of great difficulty, our long-lost sense of fun and playfulness will get to emerge again. Places where those who are willing to embrace risk will have the chance to know what an easy-going, free-wheeling approach to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness feels like, and where humanity’s tremendous potentials can be set free to great benefit.
The month alone featured a successful second Crew Dragon launch to the ISS, and a couple of textbook satellite launches with beautiful first-stage landings, and it now looks like next week will hold possibly the most exciting development yet: the first 15km test flight and re-landing of a Starship prototype. Elon Musk Tweeted yesterday:
Good Starship SN8 static fire! Aiming for first 15km / ~50k ft altitude flight next week. Goals are to test 3 engine ascent, body flaps, transition from main to header tanks & landing flip.
I’ll be watching for sure, and cannot wait to see it.
Meanwhile, for your inspiration and enjoyment and a reminder of the amazing future that I believe lies ahead of us, I’ll just leave these here for now:
Freedom is a tremendous and precious inheritance. To develop our potential, thrive in it, and pass it along to each successive generation is our highest calling. I write here to give my thanks, and to seek ways we can cultivate the resilience, independence, courage, and indomitable spirit necessary to sustain a culture that cherishes liberty.