SpaceX has been granted a heat shield manufacturing refinement contract worth $8.5 million USD by the US Air Force with the aim of revitalizing their hypersonic weapons program. SpaceX has long been the top player with regards to rocket technology and has worked with the US military previously on other projects.
China and Russia have been leading the hypersonic weapon research and development race; with multiple prototypes available to them already. The US military apparatus has turned to SpaceX for support and innovative solutions in exchange for complementary funding.
A Drop in the SpaceX Bucket
The $8.5 million figure is one of the smaller ones that the company has received from the US government, and is a very minor contribution in relation to SpaceX’s other sources of income. But the real meaning behind this project is the emphasis on the close relation between the US military and the company, as they have previously been assigned to work on the next generation Raptor engine for a sum of about $73 million USD.
The US military also showed interest in the fully-reusable Starship launch vehicle that is meant to be powered raptor, but no further action was taken by either party.
In addition to this collaborative project, SpaceX is currently expanding Starship heat shield production at its locations in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral, Florida as was indicated by documents revealed through a forum post on a Nasa Space flight forum.
At SpaceX’s Boca Chica Starship facility, teams are also further developing the integrity and size of heat shield installation tests in preparation to install the heat shields on more complex Starship archetypes.
A Project Shrouded in Secrecy
Details about the contract, like most other military technology contracts, have been kept under wraps. The Air Force has seen the success of SpaceX in its own rockets’ development, as well as its work on the Raptor, so a mutual level of trust exists between the two sides.
The Air Force is in some way buying a stake in any future breakthroughs in their heat shield program so that they can reap some of the benefits when the heat shield tiles enter production at a larger scale.
New Landing Gear Designs
New official Starship pictures apparently included upgraded rocket landing leg design, a SpaceX fan and digital artist drew up what those new rocket legs could look like.
New SpaceX landing gear improvements have been a goal for Elon Musk for the past year, as he has talked about the issue publicly before. Although the Starship SN10 was finally able to land safely despite the faulty landing legs, the previous models’ crashes have pushed this issue to the top of the company’s schedule.
It is interesting to point out that the updated design, as seen in the Erc X’s concept photos, is similar to a previous landing leg concept that SpaceX teased back in the April of 2020 as part of a NASA announcement. At the time, SpaceX won funds to start the process of developing a Starship variant that is able to land NASA astronauts on the Moon in the middle of 2020.
As the fan renders show, there are several varying possible landing leg designs that can possibly fit into the strange trapezoidal shroud which can be seen on the latest official Starship renders. Knowing Elon Musk and SpaceX, it’s likely that these pictures are old and one or several versions outdated.
With all this in mind, the Starship rocket SN10’s landing and the advancements of the SN11 and SN15 thru SN18, seriously improved landing gear could start popping up at SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas factory any day now.