Spacing Out: StarShip Explodes (Again), Passenger Space Flight, Space Bugs, Astronaut Bone, And Martian Water

This time I promise I only have a couple of stories from Elon Musk’s company. SpaceX’s latest Starship test launch ended in another explosion, proving that space hardware remains hard to get right. We’ll keep watching as they keep launching, and it can’t be long until they’ve ironed out all the problems. Meanwhile there’s brighter news from the company’s Crew Dragon, a modified version of the capsule with the forward docking ring replaced by a transparent dome is planned for launch in September with the company’s first flight carrying civilian passengers. It’s doubtless unwelcome news for Virgin Galactic, whose suborbital passenger flights are edging closer to reality with the unveiling of their first SpaceShip III craft. Finally, a Falcon 9 upper stage broke up on re-entry over the northwestern USA, giving observers on the ground a spactacular show.

Spectacular view of the Falcon 9 debris. Via Lu Jerz

Meanwhile up there in orbit there have been found on the ISS some strains of bacteria previously unknown to scientists on Earth, but it’s not yet time to panic about Mutant Bugs From Space. It seems these bacteria are of a type that is essential in the growing of plants, so it’s likely they originally hitched a ride up with one of the several plant-growing experiments that have taken place over the station’s lifetime. Staying on the ISS, astronauts visiting the station have been at the centre of a recently published study looking at loss of bone density over long periods in space. The bone experts found that bone density could still be lost despite the astronauts’ in-flight exercise programs, and concluded that exercise regimes pre-flight should be taken into account for future in-orbit exercise planning.

Further away from Earth, the ESA Mars Express satellite has been used for a multi-year study of water loss to space from the Martian atmosphere. The ESA scientists identified the seasonal mechanism that leads to the planet’s upper atmosphere having an excess of water and in particular the effect of the periodic planet-wide dust storms on accelerating water loss, but failed to account for the water that they estimate Mars must have lost over its history. From a study of water-created surface features they can estimate how much liquid the planet once had, yet the atmospheric losses fail to account for it all. Has it disappeared underground? More studies are required before we’ll have an answer.

The exciting news over the coming days will no doubt be the Ingenuity Martian helicopter, which we have seen slowly unfolding itself prior to unloading from the belly of the Perseverence rover. If all goes according to plan the little craft will be set down before the rover trundles off to a safe distance, and the historic flight will take place on April 8th. We’ll be on the edges of our seats, and no doubt you will be, too.

24 thoughts on “Spacing Out: StarShip Explodes (Again), Passenger Space Flight, Space Bugs, Astronaut Bone, And Martian Water

  1. I much prefer that StarShip explode while in testing and development than afterwards. They are getting lots of good data for disaster scenarios… all of which end with StarShip exploding. I do wonder if this will eventually lead to the addition of an emergency propellant venting system.

      1. It runs on oxygen and methane, so just think of it as the world’s biggest you-know-what. Venting a full Starship a handful of times would have an environmental impact smaller than a rounding error. If venting tons of methane were to become part of every launch process, then it might have an impact after years of doing it.

        1. Don’t be silly. It’s required by law not to vent the CH4 in any substantial amount during *normal* operations. That’s why they have the hugeass flare stack. But nowdays they don’t use it anymore (i.e. they don’t even release CO2) because they use CH4 recondenser.

    1. if the spacecraft relies on propulsive landing only, venting the propellant would lead to another inevitable failure. as for SN11, most probably the fuel and the oxidiser was (unintentionally) mixed in the (damaged) tanks, so venting it would not make things better. let’s just assume, the mixture only ignites (and explodes) once everything is out – the shockwave would still knock away the craft. plus w/o propellant it would just come down from the skies like a rock.

  2. On Mars the amount of water unaccounted for is a puzzle that needs to be solved. If a mission to land on Mars touches down in an area where water erosion has taken place subsurface who’s to say how small or large, or shallow, or deep? Could there be quicksand on Mars or some form based on Crystal’s? IDK but Mars apparently has many mysteries.

    1. I suspect the Iron content of Mars is a bit higher than that of Earth. As the old saying goes: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, water on iron causes rust -Also, the hydrogen from the water dissipates into space faster because of lower gravity.

      1. Which always gets me thinking about magnets at the beach. Run a magnet through the sand and you get a bunch of iron flecks. They don’t appear to be rusted or rusting. Why not? Salt water always ruins cars for that reason.

        1. If by “they don’t appear to be rusted” you mean it’s not orange-ish, that’s because it does not contain significant amounts of Iron(III) oxide or “ferric oxide” but rather other iron oxides, such as magnetite (Fe3O4) or ferrous oxide (FeO). The iron flecks you collect certainly aren’t pure, shiny iron particles.

  3. To reduce the physical degradation in zero g why don’t astronauts wear suits that pull against the body (say would pull the body into a fetal position) so the body would have to work against continually, sort of like gravity, to help keep astronauts in shape.

    1. LOL at using the word reality in the same sentence as Virgin Galactic, all their “astronauts” will remain deluded virgins until they actually pass 100km. Anything less is an insult to the memory of Gagarin.

  4. Makes you wonder, are they making cargo rockets or missiles?

    (In all seriousness though, rockets are, indeed, very hard to get right. Spacex has a lot of resources to expend on full test flights that can fail.)

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