SpaceX delays launch of Starling as drone ship improvements cross the sea

SpaceX delays launch of Starling as drone ship improvements cross the sea

SpaceX’s 13th Starling launch was delayed indefinitely. “Severe weather in the rescue area, then CEO Elon Musk explained that the drone had lost war with the sea.

Originally scheduled to launch on September 17, the Starling-12 – 12th Starling V1.0 mission – was pushed to an hour before the liftoff on September 18. SpaceX did not put forward a reason, but now suggests that the weather in the recovery zone (Atlantic Ocean) was responsible for the delay for the 24-hour recycling and the soon-to-be-launched indefinite launch.

CEO Elon Musk added that the SpaceX drone spacecraft assigned to Starling-12 revealed that it was unable to maintain its position in strong Atlantic Ocean currents, thus forcing the company to delay work indefinitely. The company will not be able to start Starling operations until conditions improve in SpaceX’s drone rescue zone. However, Kasturi already has a solution in mind.

In the same tweet, Musk revealed that SpaceX means its drone “needs to be upgraded for future mission”, an obviously intuitive response to drone ships being defeated by ocean currents. There is a simple problem, however: the drone Just Reed the Instructions, which is currently unable to keep the same ship (acceptably strong) at sea currents, completed extensive upgrades a few months ago.

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Drone Ship of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY), December 2019. (SpaceX)
Drone Ship Just Read the Instructions (JRTI), January 2019. (Pauline Agalin)

Prior to those upgrades, JRDI and OCSLI were identical – both with a few moderate generators and four small station keeping thrusters (bright blue). After more than half a year of work, the drone JRTI came to the other end with dramatically larger azimuth thruster pods and at least several times the power output. The space beyond the drone is more or less on the edge of JRTI’s booster landing deck with new generators.

In other words, with some major configuration changes or a small landing area for balcony boosters, it’s hard to imagine how SpaceX could be significantly improved.

The drone JRDI has since been embellished with dramatic propulsion and power upgrades. (Richard Angle)

Under the protection of the drone ship JRDI, Hurricane Teddy is still a few days away, and the East Coast is still feeling the remnants of Hurricane Sally. At ~ 48 hours from now, Starling-12’s Falcon 9 booster landing zone is subject to 30-40 miles (50-70 km / h) of wind and 15 feet (~ 4.5 m) high wave heights in the shade of the teddy. Oceans in the region will not be able to accept booster landings until September 24 or 25 without major changes in current forecasts.

Current climate models Do not predict that the frequency of Atlantic Ocean hurricanes will increase as a result of global warming, although warming will greatly increase the intensity of most hurricanes. So, since the tropical storm season lasts only a fraction of the year, investing heavily in dramatic drone ship performance upgrades is actually a bit worth the Balkan booster recovery. If you want to launch SpaceX 50-100+ times a year from Florida, it’s not a brainstorm.

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The Falcon 9B 1051 and its Starling-9 payload enjoy Florida summer rains. (Richard Angle)

However, as SpaceX continues to upgrade beyond the current structure of Just Read the Instructions, it remains to be seen what the company’s two working drones will look like. Given the current forecasts, Starling-12 is unlikely to launch until late next week, which has pushed the delayed Starling-13 (formerly net in late September) into October.

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