In the beginning of this year, SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket, from Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Falcon Heavy carried a Tesla Roadster as payload in its demo launch, instead of the conventional blocks of concrete, in an orbit around Mars.
Space X’s 2018 missions
SpaceX has had several complete missions since then using Dragon and Falcon 9. The most recent of which was last Tuesday, May 22nd, as SpaceX attempted their 10th launch in 2018 and the 56th launch for the Falcon 9 family. The Falcon 9 rocket was launched from pad 4-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base northwest of Los Angeles carrying seven satellites; five communications satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation. In addition to two gravity-measuring satellites for NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences, GRACE Follow-on, which will be flying in tandem 137 miles apart in a 305-mile orbit around Earth’s poles and using ultra-precise gravity readings to measure how water is distributed around the world, track the movement of water and ice on and under the surface of the Earth, as well as changes in the planet’s mass and gravity field. NASA has a bigger contribution in the GRACE-FO mission than the German Research Centre for Geosciences, spending $430 million on the program so far while the German Research Centre spent $90.9 million on instrument development.
The launch went smoothly in good weather conditions which allowed for unique, spectacular pictures of the rocket launch. After a successful liftoff, the fairing deployed then the GRACE-FO satellites, followed by the deployment of the Iridium NEXT satellites.
SpaceX misses the payload fairing, again
SpaceX said that they came very close to catching the payload fairing, that is the nose cone on top of the rocket that surrounds the payload, shielding it during launch, but missed. Fairing recovery has been a goal for SpaceX since April 2016 and they succeeded in doing it for the first time ever on March 30th, 2017 and has been attempting to repeat this impressive feat in every rocket launch since then. Payload fairings cost a couple million dollars each and being able to recover fairings would help develop cheaper, reusable rockets so SpaceX has installed a guidance system and tiny engines on the fairings to help guide the pieces through the atmosphere when they break away from the rocket.
“Going to try to catch the giant fairing (nosecone) of Falcon 9 as it falls back from space at about eight times the speed of sound. It has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship, named Mr. Steven, with basically a giant catcher’s mitt welded on, tries to catch it.”
Elon Musk described SpaceX’s attempt to catch the fairing last Tuesday on Instagram by controlling the fairing’s descent using thin parachute-like structures known as parafoils to slow their fall while a SpaceX boat named Mr. Steven tries to catch one of the fairing pieces with a giant net. A fairing missed the boat by a few hundred meters and landed in the Pacific Ocean.
And Mars is still on their minds
SpaceX’s successful launches aren’t distracting Musk from his ultimate goal of inhabiting Mars. He’s utilizing all his companies’ resources to overcome obstacles of living on the red planet. The Boring Company, the newest of his companies, is no exception. The Boring Company was created to help solve the problem of traffic by digging a large network of tunnels of many levels deep to fix congestion in any city. Their target is to increase tunneling speed and drop digging costs by a factor of 10 or more.
“I think the Boring Company could be the way that we house people on Mars. We’ll have to dig tunnels for folks.”
Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX, mentioned that digging tunnels for people to live in can be the way to house people on Mars in an exclusive interview with CNBC. It could be a way to shield people in tunnels away from the high levels of radiation Mars receives from space due to its lack of a strong magnetic field. The Boring Company has digging projects in Hawthorne, Chicago and Los Angeles and Musk would like nothing better than for his youngest, startup company’s next digging project to be on Mars. With all his companies doing wonders on Earth, it would be no wonder if one day they help him make his dream come true and travel to, maybe even live on, Mars.