The Military Takeover: Pentagon Considering SpaceX's Starship? Launch Date For IFT3?
It is getting close! SpaceX’s third Starship launch in under two weeks! Can they do it? The Military is interested in taking over Starship! What does it mean? SpaceX launches a capsule to the ISS. Wait, this isn’t Dragon? And Rocket Lab recovers another Booster! How’s this possible? My name is Felix. Welcome to What About It!? Let’s dive right in! Starship Updates It's only been two months since the last Starship launch, and we're already on the brink of the next one! SpaceX’s increase in launch cadence is a result of hard work and ever-improving prototypes! Curious about what's left to be done before IFT-3? Follow me along as I explain it all! Thankfully, the orbital launch site withstood the second Starship launch way better than the first one. Gone are the days of concrete chunks scattered everywhere and the need to replace half the launch mount.
Did you know that refurbishing the site has still not been a small feat though? Recently, there have been some indications that the work on the Orbital Launch Table is nearing completion. They’re on the final stretch again! The mount's legs, which had developed cracks after the last liftoff, have been patched up, and since then, the structure has endured one of the most intense static fires we've seen to date. At the end of January, the legs received a fresh coat of paint, meaning that work there is finished! Aerial views, possible thanks to Redline Helicopter Tours, reveal that most of the work on the clamps also seems to be finished, with the blue tarp and chains that once held some of them now removed. However, there's still noticeable rust on the deck and plenty of scaffolding around. This has to be
sorted out before the next launch can occur. Currently, the focus is on beefing up the infrastructure, aiming to minimize the time needed for post-launch refurbishments. Thick metal shields now almost entirely cover the base of the tower, extending to the black panels guarding the tower's interior. It’s turning into a super heavy turtle. Closer to the tank farm, a weirdly shaped section of concrete was removed. At first sight, this might suggest underground maintenance work, but comparing this area with older photos offers a clue suggesting something different. The shape of the removed section aligns with the spot where the sections of concrete poured at different times meet. It appears that the removal of the concrete
might be due to the development of cracks, which could become a weak point during the next launch. Crews are likely working to patch this up, strengthening the area to prevent any issues. At least, that’s our theory. Moving closer to the tank farm, there's a noticeable increase in activity related to the modernization of the entire system. One significant task nearing completion is reinforcing the water tank. While not necessarily a requirement for the third launch, adding stiffeners could help prevent the Ground Support Equipment shells from denting even further.
It’s easier to address this now rather than conduct another set of repairs after the third launch. The most eye-catching changes by far are happening on the liquid oxygen side of the farm. At the front are the LOX pumps, followed by eight subcoolers. The stuff that kind of looks like a Robot hand. These subcoolers or kettle reboilers are crucial for super-cooling the oxidizer in the tanks using cryogenic nitrogen to make them even denser. Previously, upon heating and transforming into gas, the nitrogen was just released from the top of the sub-coolers. Did you know that SpaceX recently changed that? The outputs of the subcoolers have been linked to manifolds in pairs of two, creating an exhaust-like system that will redirect the nitrogen behind the tank farm. This change is likely intended
to enhance the durability of the equipment, as constant exposure to cold nitrogen might not be optimal for the hardware's longevity. A new wall has been erected beneath these new pipes. This structure is a Shuttabloc system. A type of precast concrete retaining wall, repurposed here to function as a blast protection barrier. The construction process for this wall system is quite ingenious! It involves purchasing ready-to-install segments, which are then stacked side-by-side, much like Lego bricks. The final step is to simply
pour concrete around these segments and voilà, a protection wall is set up in just a few days. Another wall, serving the same protective purpose, is nearing completion behind the new horizontal cryogenic tanks. However, they still haven’t been integrated into the farm, so this clearly isn't an immediate priority for SpaceX. It won’t be used during the third flight. Lastly, the mystery surrounding a peculiar tank, first spotted by our photographer John, has finally been solved. When it arrived, it was clear that this wasn't a cryogenic storage vessel, leading to speculation that it might be intended for water storage. Aerial views have now confirmed this hypothesis.
The tank has been insulated and mounted adjacent to the power and communications building. Pipes leading from this tank appear to connect to what are likely industrial HVAC units, suggesting the tank's primary function is to store water for cooling purposes. Additionally, it's possible that this water supply could also feed the FireX system. Looking at things from the bird's-eye view can really tell you a lot about the inner workings of Starbase. How about you go see all of this for yourself?
Book your own ride at Starbase and see these things in person, or just enjoy one of the most incredible views in the world. Go to redlineheli.com/felix! You'll find the link in the description as well! I promise you won’t ever forget this. At the production site, the main focus is on the next orbital pair, Ship 28 and Booster 10, as they gear up for the upcoming launch. Ship 28 has been stationed at the engine installation stand, where the engine section has been receiving some attention from SpaceX technicians. Turns out it’s not just a parking spot this time.
Although it's somewhat concerning to witness this level of activity there just two weeks before launch, SpaceX has a track record of swapping the engines remarkably quick. Even though this is an additional step to launch readiness, I wouldn’t worry too much. Meanwhile, Booster 10 is almost ready! With its hot staging ring reattached, workers have started to dismantle the scaffolding around the methane tank access hatch. This indicates that we might soon witness the rollout of this Super Heavy booster back to the launch site. Once both prototypes return, the remaining
steps include stacking the rocket and conducting a wet dress rehearsal, which is a test where both stages are filled to the brim with propellant. After that, the rocket will be ready to launch. That is after SpaceX obtains the modified launch license. We mentioned it before. Did you know that SpaceX seems to be aiming for a launch on the 14th? We should expect to see the full stack on the launch pad roughly a week from now. A week! Excited? What are your thoughts? Does a February launch seem feasible, or are we more likely looking at a delay until March? Get your crystal balls out and share your predictions in the comments. There’s more, though. While the third Starship launch is getting the most attention, SpaceX hasn't neglected its other vehicles.
In fact, it appears that another Booster is nearing completion. Our recent footage captured a glimpse of the CO2 tank installed on Booster 13's liquid oxygen tank. Interestingly, this time, the tank was installed before the final stacking of the prototype. In the past, this was done just after the main assembly was completed. These tanks are crucial for purging the engine section during flight. The inaugural flight of Starship revealed that the original system was not powerful enough, failing to prevent an onboard fire. However, since the first flight, this purge
system has been upgraded to be ten times stronger, explaining the larger size of these tanks. The installation of these tanks indicates that the two halves of Booster 13 might soon be welded together. Over at the second Mega Bay, there's some progress in equipping this facility with the hardware needed to produce Ships. The roof is finally receiving its panels, and inside, we can spot white legs positioned in the middle. These legs are likely to support a Ship Raptor installation stand currently located at the Sanchez site.
And currently, Ship 29 is the lone prototype in this Bay, but it seems SpaceX may be planning a setup similar to what's seen in the first Mega Bay. That is, three work stands next to each other, but this time dedicated to Ships. And if you didn't know, this marks the beginning of a rapid Starship production era! Mass production is coming! With two Bays and the support of the Starfactory, a production line will emerge where Boosters and Ships can be ready for launch just weeks after their conception. Parallel manufacturing is the secret sauce here! Such an efficient production system is required, as Starships won’t be used just to colonize Mars.
Longtime viewers might recall the Rocket Cargo program - an initiative by the United States Space Force aimed at revolutionizing military and humanitarian cargo delivery across the globe. I know, this sounds crazy. But just because it hasn’t been done yet, it doesn’t mean that it won’t become normal in the future. Keep that in mind.
In 2022, SpaceX was awarded 102 million dollars to demonstrate this capability. Since then, the Department of Defense, or short DoD, has become involved! The Pentagon reportedly expressed interest in taking over Starships. Does this mean that the Starship program is at risk of being classified? No. Instead, it appears the US government is exploring the possibility of temporarily renting Starships for highly sensitive or potentially hazardous missions. The Starship Uber. This arrangement could involve the Pentagon operating its own launch towers and staff specifically for Starship missions. Alternatively, it might mean borrowing the vehicle along with the necessary launch control infrastructure to manage these missions independently.
The reasoning behind this proposal seems to be the extreme secrecy of certain missions, which might require limiting involvement to Pentagon personnel exclusively, excluding even SpaceX's own workers. SpaceX has not publicly confirmed whether they have agreed to this proposal. However, from a financial perspective, such an agreement could be quite beneficial. Military contracts typically come with huge amounts of money, and this could become a massive revenue stream for the Starship program. This development raises some questions about the use of commercial space vehicles for military purposes.
What are your thoughts on this? Should Starship be used for military missions? Feel free to share your views in the comments down below. I love reading them! Now, here’s a little task for you before we continue with the news. YouTube may have unsubscribed you without your knowledge. This has happened to thousands of WAI viewers, and it can happen frequently. Please double-check that you’ve hit that subscribe button so that you don’t miss our updates! While checking, hit the like button and consider becoming a WAI supporter for exclusive SpaceX updates.
With it, you get access to daily Starbase photo galleries, now including orbital, aerial, and ground photos of SpaceX’s progress and countless other extras on top. And no matter how much you decide to give, Everyone gets the same supporter content and access! You decide what you want to give! Check our new website as well. Launch previews, road closures, the latest weather report, and our Multistream Viewer! -> whataboutit.space <- The link to our Patreon page and the new website is in the description! Thanks to all the supporters who help lift our production quality to the next level! We can’t thank you enough! You rock! To all of my business-savvy viewers: How safe is your data? As WAI Media's founder, I prioritize our security, so I've collaborated with NordPass– it's easy to use and far more crucial than your typical password manager. How often do you share company passwords over chat or email? Be honest! 64% of organizations have productivity impacted due to access issues, leading 53% to share credentials across teams. While convenient, this poses exceptional security risks, causing 1 in 10 small firms to fall victim to cyber attacks annually. NordPass guarantees simple and secure access anytime,
fostering confidential team communication and eliminating risks and guesswork in data sharing. Secure your business effortlessly with a 3-month NordPass trial! Don’t miss out- Use the activation code "felix" at nordpass.com/felix ! Say goodbye to password hassles and welcome NordPass - Protecting your business security needs! On we go! Are you still with me? Here’s the next one! Staying on the topic of SpaceX, we've just witnessed a collaboration that no one would have thought possible just a few years ago. A truly special day. On January 30th, a Falcon 9 rocket launched from Florida's SLC-40, carrying a resupply cargo mission to the International Space Station. But Felix, we saw tons of Cargo Dragon missions before. What’s so special about this one?
How about it wasn’t a Cargo Dragon? Cygnus is an expendable cargo vehicle manufactured by Northrop Grumman with a rich history. Selected alongside the original Dragon for NASA's first Commercial Resupply Services program - Cygnus has played a key role in delivering supplies to the ISS, reducing NASA's reliance on Russia and Europe. With a capacity of up to 3,000 kilograms or 6,600 pounds, Cygnus missions were typically launched aboard the Antares rocket, also developed by Northrop Grumman. Though that wasn’t always the case… From 2015 to 2017, the company was transitioning to a more powerful Antares 200 series.
During this time, they used Atlas V to launch their capsules. The Cygnus program was progressing quite smoothly, with NASA extending the contract for missions through 2028. However, everything changed when Russia invaded Ukraine. This conflict impacted Cygnus in two significant ways. Firstly, the Antares rocket's first stage was produced by Ukraine's Pivdenmash factory, which was bombed last year. Secondly, it also relied on Russian RD-191 engines, which became unavailable due to economic sanctions imposed on Russia. No more Russian engines. Consequently,
the last Cygnus mission on an Antares 230+ launched in August 2023. Northrop Grumman is now working with Firefly to domestically produce an upgraded Antares 300 series, but this new rocket isn't expected to fly until 2025. Meanwhile, the ISS still requires regular resupply, right? This urgent need led to Falcon 9 being selected for three Cygnus missions. While it might seem that Northrop Grumman would be a competition to SpaceX, the reality is that both have signed long contracts for ISS delivery anyway. Not to mention that SpaceX has a simple philosophy. You pay for the rocket - you can put anything you want on top of it.
Interestingly, for this mission, the company had to modify Falcon 9’s fairing. They’ve added a special door, enabling the capability for last-minute cargo loading. Despite the name, this feature isn't just for last-minute additions - though it can be used for that as well. It’s actually required for items that can't be stored in the capsule for extended periods, like, say, hamsters, hot coffee, or Ice Cream. The launch itself was a textbook success! The hamsters live! Following a smooth separation, the Falcon 9 B1077 touched down at Landing Zone 1 for its tenth time.
I watched it live, and the sonic booms this time were unusually loud! This particular livestream also provided us with one of the most spectacular views of a Falcon 9 booster’s return. Kudos to the SpaceX media team! You rock! By the time you’re watching this, the capsule has likely already arrived at the International Space Station, where the Canadarm2 grabbed and manually berthed it to the orbiting laboratory. Adding to the excitement, this mission marked SpaceX's tenth Falcon 9 launch in January alone - a historic first for the company. It looks like they weren’t joking when
they announced that their goal for 2024 is to launch a whopping 144 times. Fingers crossed! Let’s now turn our attention to Rocket Lab and their incredible Electron and Neutron Rockets. They've been eager to resume their regular launch schedule following a second-stage failure in September. After a return to form with a successful launch in December, Rocket Lab continues its momentum with the "Four of a Kind" mission.
True to its name, the mission carried four satellites, intriguingly named the Low Earth Multi-Use Receiver, or LEMUR for short. That explains King Julien on their mission patch! These compact, six-kilogram, or 13-pound satellites are designed to monitor maritime, aviation, and weather activities from orbit. During their latest mission, Rocket Lab was able to recover the booster once more. You can tell if it’s a reusable variant by the red accents and silver paint on Electron's first stage.
Pretty convenient. But this color scheme isn't merely aesthetic. Do you know why? It's a critical component in making recovery possible. Initially, Electrons weren't designed with reusability in mind. In fact, Rocket Lab's CEO, Peter Beck, was so skeptical about reusability that he famously claimed he'd eat his hat if they ever decided to recover an Electron. Believe it or not, he actually ate it! To allow the Electron's first stage to survive atmospheric reentry, two major modifications were needed. The first upgrade was an extended carbon-composite
shield, protecting the nine Rutherford engines from the intense heat generated during reentry. The second - the aforementioned silver paint - is actually a thin layer of aerogel mixed with graphite. Really high-tech stuff! This coating forms a protective shell around the booster, effectively insulating the fuel tanks from taking the heat. Rocket Lab’s initial plan for recovery involved the booster descending back to Earth under a parachute, to be caught midair by a helicopter and then placed on a boat. They gave it a try, but it proved too dangerous for the pilot. It dangled wildly and unpredictably under the helicopter.
Consequently, the company moved on to a different strategy - still using parachutes but allowing the booster to splash down in the ocean. While this method isn't perfect - the saltwater can easily destroy the booster if not retrieved quickly - it seems to work just fine. Following stage separation at around 70 kilometers or 44 miles, the booster's reaction control thrusters reorient it for an optimal reentry trajectory. As the first stage descends back to Earth, it can reach staggering speeds of up to 8,300 kilometers or 5,150 miles per hour and endure temperatures as high as 2,400 degrees Celsius or 4,350 Fahrenheit.
Very hot. Just five minutes after separation, the booster, now at an altitude of 13 kilometers or 8 miles, deploys its drogue chute, followed by the main parachute. This slows it down to a manageable 40 kilometers or 25 miles per hour, allowing for a controlled and safe splashdown in the ocean. Upon a successful touchdown, a recovery vessel equipped with a specialized mount is dispatched to retrieve the first stage. To date, Rocket Lab has successfully recovered seven boosters, with four recoveries achieved after abandoning the helicopter catch approach. Notably, the company has already re-flown one
of the recovered Rutherford engines. The next milestones on their roadmap include reusing all nine engines and eventually reflying an entire first stage. However, this is only the beginning, as most of the experience from Electron recovery will carry over to Rocket Lab's medium-lift vehicle, Neutron. And there is some big news here! Announced in 2021, Neutron aims to rival SpaceX's Falcon 9 thanks to first-stage recovery, either through a return-to-launch-site maneuver or via a floating platform. I think I’ve seen this before. Propulsive landing! Throughout 2023, Rocket Lab has teased the space community with snippets of Neutron's development. This included images and videos of test hardware
and the cryogenic testing of its second-stage tank. At the same time, they're progressing on the Archimedes engine, designed specifically for Neutron, as well as the required infrastructure at Launch Complex 3 on Wallops Island. Recent updates include laying the foundations for a water tower, liquid oxygen storage tank, and the launch mount itself.
The maiden launch of Neutron is officially slated for 2024. However, given the current state of development, it seems unlikely that this timeline will be met. Nevertheless, Neutron is an exciting rocket that will bring a breath of fresh air to the launch market! I can’t wait to see it on the pad! That’s it for today! Remember to smash that like button. Subscribe for more awesome content! This is what fuels the Algorithm and helps us immensely! Check out our epic shirts in your favorite space nerd store! Link is in the description. And if you want to train your space IQ even further, watch this video next to continue
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