NASA's lunar spy looks for hide-and-seek

Unlike SpaceX's Crew Dragon, which plops down in the ocean at the end of a mission (ideally in one piece), Boeing's CST-100 Starliner is designed to land on, er, land. As NASA and Boeing inch ever closer to its first crewed launch, rehearsals were conducted last week to practice locating a capsule, safing it and preparing for hatch opening.

The gang went through more than half a dozen scenarios at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, encompassing the return of both the impending uncrewed test and subsequent crewed flights.p On hand to observe were intrepid 'nauts Nicole Mann, Mike Fincke and Chris Ferguson, who will eventually be stuffed into the capsule for the first flight.

The trio would have been relieved to see the recovery team managed to locate and prep a Starliner test capsule for hatch opening in less than an hour.

Of course, that first crewed flight is very much a moving target as milestones continue a relentless march to the right. NASA effectively wiped the slate clean at the end of July, deferring the setting of new dates until "new leadership is in place to deliver realistic schedule plans".

However, there remains every chance that an uncrewed Starliner will pay a visit to the International Space Station (ISS) before 2019 is out.

Not to be outdone, SpaceX, which has already sent a Crew Dragon to the ISS, boasted of its upcoming abort test which will require the use of the spacecraft's eight SuperDraco engines.

Happy birthday, Space Shuttle Enterprise

Shuttle-huggers will be lighting a candle or two today for the 43rd anniversary of the craft's first rollout.

On 17 September 1976, Space Shuttle Enterprise emerged from Rockwell's Palmdale construction facility in California ahead of its maiden flight the following year. Much of the cast of Star Trek attended the event after determined fans persuaded the administration to rename the orbiter, designated OV-101, after the sci-fi show's fictional starship.

Not that Enterprise did any orbiting. that Enterprise did any orbiting. Lacking engines, a heat shield, in fact pretty much

Dropped from a converted Boeing 747, Enterprise enjoyed five free flights, during which a crew of two piloted the glider to a landing. The first three free flights featured a tailcone to improve aerodynamics, which was removed for the final two and replaced with mock-ups of the eventual Space Shuttle Main Engines and OMS pods.

The last landing, on 26 October 1977, was a tad sporty thanks to a touch of pilot-induced oscillation.
The last landing, on 26 October 1977, was a tad sporty thanks to a touch of pilot-induced oscillation.

Following testing, NASA had hoped to refit Enterprise for orbital duties, but the cost turned out to be too much for the agency, which opted to turn another structural test article into what would become Challenger.

Enterprise was stripped of any components that could be useful to the Space Shuttle programme and sent on a worldwide tour before being used to fit-check the never-used Shuttle launchpad at Vandenburg. It was then handed over to the Smithsonian Museum for display.

Enterprise's story does not quite end there. Following the destruction of Challenger, NASA once again considered a retrofit of Enterprise before eventually electing to build Endeavour out of spares.

Enterprise was also called upon to assist in the Columbia investigation. A section of the fibreglass leading edge of Enterprise's wing had a block of foam fired at it. While the panel was not destroyed, it was sufficiently damaged to suggest that the less flexible reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC) of Columbia would have fared less well. Subsequent tests blew a hole through a sacrificial section of RCC.

Enterprise enjoyed one final flight in 2012 as a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) flew the orbiter to New York while the rest of the Shuttle fleet were retired and decommissioned. A gust of wind damaged a wing tip as the Shuttle was moved to the Intrepid Air and Space Museum.

A new pavilion, opened in 2013 after the previous one blew down, affords visitors some close-up views of the almost-a-spacecraft and is well worth a visit

SpaceX’s orbital Starship prototype construction progress detailed in new photos

SpaceX is making progress assembling its Starship orbital spacecraft prototype, as seen in new photos shared by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. This full-scale testing version of the Starship will take over for the StarHopper, which was a scaled down version used to test the Raptor engine initially with low-altitude ‘hop’ flights.

The Starship Mk I Prototype and Mk II prototypes, which are under construction simultaneously at SpaceX facilities in South Texas and Florida, will be used to test flight at higher altitudes and higher speeds, and will use as many as three to six Raptor engines simultaneously, vs. the single engine used with the StarHopper.

The round sections of the prototype you see in the second photo being lowered on top of one another measure 9 meters (about 30 feet) in diameter, and unlike the StarHopper, these will feature a smooth curved top section, which you can see in the first photo.

Once complete, SpaceX will run a first test of the orbital prototype with the goal of reaching a height of 12 miles, or 63,000 feet, before moving on to higher velocity testing at similar heights, and finally a first orbital flight.

Ultimately, SpaceX’s goal with Starship is have it become the workhorse of all of its commercial operations, replacing entirely the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon Capsule spacecraft and servicing both Earth orbital needs, as well as trips to ferry supplies and astronauts to Mars, and potentially beyond.

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