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SpaceX: Starhopper soars above Texas in record-breaking test
The water tower-shaped craft is an early prototype of Starship, which SpaceX hopes will someday send humans to Mars.
- The test marked the first time a craft used a liquid-methane-burning engine to lift itself that high.
- The successful test paves the way for larger-scale tests of Starship prototypes.
- SpaceX could send Starship to Mars by as early as 2024. More realistically, the company plans to use the rocket to conduct cargo missions in 2021.
Spacex successfully on Tuesday completed its highest and most difficult test of Starhopper, the early-stage prototype of the spaceship CEO Elon Musk hopes will someday transport humans to Mars and beyond.
In a video of the test at SpaceX's test site in Boca Chica, Texas, the prototype craft — which some say resembles a flying water tower — can be seen lifting itself about 500 feet in the air, hovering for about 10 seconds, and finally descending back to ground, stirring up a cloud of dust in the process.
At first glance, the test might not seem too impressive. But it marked the first time a craft used a liquid-methane-burning engine to fly that high above the ground, serving as a proof-of-concept that SpaceX can use to move forward confidently with full-scale prototypes of Starship. These prototypes — which SpaceX is calling Mk1 and Mk2 — will pave the way for future moon and Mars missions using Starship.
Starship is set to use six SpaceX Raptor engines, which are a family of methane-fueled SpaceX engines that the company plans to use on interplanetary missions. (For context: Starhopper used a single Raptor engine; Mk1 and Mk2 will probably use three each; and the "Super Heavy" rocket is set to use 35.) However, Musk said Starship's specifications might get updated after SpaceX reviews data from Tuesday's test.
As for Starhopper, Tuesday's test was its last. But although Starhopper will never make it to space, SpaceX plans to make use of the experimental craft on Earth.
"Yes, last flight for Hopper," Musk said via Twitter on Saturday. "If all goes well, it will become a vertical test stand for Raptor."
Starship is set to be a 100-passenger spacecraft that will be launched off of Earth by SpaceX's Big Falcon Rocket, or "Super Heavy" rocket. But Starship is unique because it's also a rocket unto itself, one that's designed to land on and take off from distant planets all on its own. It's also unique because it's fueled by liquid methane and liquid oxygen, both of which are gasses that could theoretically be produced on other planets and used to refuel the craft.
What's next for Starship? It's hard to say exactly — in part because Musk is known for setting aspirational timelines — but, based on the company's statements, you might expect to see Starship:
- 2021: Launch a commercial satellite into space
- 2022: Carry cargo to Mars (though this is unlikely)
- 2023: Transport Japanese billionaire Yukazu Maezawa, along with a handful of other artists, around the moon.
- 2024-2026: (Possibly) send humans to Mars
Even if SpaceX doesn't send humans to Mars by 2026, Musk is confident Starship will get the job done someday.
One day Starship will land on the rusty sands of Mars https://t.co/EfENYVdOzM— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk)1566947477.0
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Got $55 million lying around? If so, you might be able to score a spot aboard the International Space Station starting 2024.
- NASA awarded a contract to startup Axiom Space to attach a "habitable commercial module" to the International Space Station.
- The project will also include a research and manufacturing module.
- The move is a major step in NASA's years-long push to privatize.
Image: Axiom Space<p>But first, space-tourist-hopefuls would have to pass through physical and medical exams, and 15 weeks of expert training. After that, the trip sounds pretty comfy:</p><p>"There will be wifi," Suffredini <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/09/style/axiom-space-travel.html" target="_blank">told the New York Times</a> last year. "Everybody will be online. They can make phone calls, sleep, look out the window. [...] The few folks that have gone to orbit as tourists, it wasn't really a luxurious experience, it was kind of like camping. [...] Pretty soon we're going to be flying a butler with every crew."</p>
A render of the ISS tourist experience.
Image: Axiom Space<p>In a blog post, NASA wrote:</p><p>"Developing commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit is one of <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-opens-international-space-station-to-new-commercial-opportunities-private" target="_blank">five elements</a> of NASA's plan to open the International Space Station to new commercial and marketing opportunities. The other elements of the five-point plan include efforts to make station and crew resources available for commercial use through a new commercial use and pricing policy; enable private astronaut missions to the station; seek out and pursue opportunities to stimulate long-term, sustainable demand for these services; and quantify NASA's long-term demand for activities in low-Earth orbit."</p>
NASA's push to privatize the ISS<p>When a Russian rocket launched the first module of the ISS into space in 1998, NASA expected the space station to operate for about 15 years. But the agency has extended the life of the ISS twice, with funding currently set to expire in 2024. NASA spends between $3 and $4 billion per year operating and shuttling astronauts to and from the station. That's a decent chunk of the agency's $22.6 annual budget. What's more, the "major structural elements" of the ISS are certified only through 2028.</p><p>Meanwhile, NASA has been eyeing other projects, namely: putting humans back on the moon in 2024 and establishing a lunar presence. So, to save and redirect money, the agency has been starting to hand over the aging space station to the private sector, which could use it for commercial research and space tourism.</p><p>But some have questioned the move to privatize the ISS, including NASA's own inspector general, Paul K. Martin.</p><p>"An obvious alternative to privatization is to extend current ISS operations," Martin wrote in a <a href="https://oig.nasa.gov/docs/CT-18-001.pdf" target="_blank">2018 report</a>. "An extension to 2028 or beyond would enable NASA to continue critical on-orbit research into human health risks and to demonstrate the technologies that will be required for future missions to the Moon or Mars."</p>
Image: Axiom Space<p>Martin noted that "research into 2 other human health risks and 17 additional technology gaps is not scheduled to be completed until sometime in 2024," meaning that any slip-ups in the process would mean such research might go uncompleted. He also wrote that it's "questionable" whether the private sector could turn a profit on the ISS without "significant" government funding. The Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research and development center, <a href="https://docs.house.gov/meetings/SY/SY00/20180517/108302/HHRG-115-SY00-Wstate-LalB-20180517.pdf" target="_blank">also found</a> that it "is unlikely that a commercially owned and operated space station will be economically viable by 2025."</p><p>The implication is that, if the ISS is handed over to the private sector, taxpayers could end up indirectly supporting space tourism for the ultra-rich. Whether that's worth any of the research benefits that might come from the ISS post-2024 is anybody's guess.</p><p>As the ISS enters its final years, China <a href="http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-10/17/c_138479514.htm" target="_blank">plans</a> to complete construction of a manned space station in 2022.</p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
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Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
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