While the focus in space this week has been on Virgin Galactic, Elon still shared many notable pieces of information about SpaceX on Twitter.
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Starship and Raptor Design
Since the flight of SN15 in May, SpaceX has been focused on preparing for an orbital flight of Starship next month. We covered a Starship booster making its way to the launch site last week, but the focus this week has been mostly changes to Raptor configuration.
Over the past week the teams have determined a more final configuration of the engines for the Superheavy Booster, as well as finalizing the count for the boosters, at 33 raptors. Whether those changes are made to the Raptor Vacuum engines to increase thrust at the expense of specific impulse remains to be seen. I certainly enjoy having this look into the development process as decisions are made in design.
Perhaps the most intriguing tweet this week was this picture Elon shared just yesterday. There are at least 10 standard Raptor engines and a vacuum optimized Raptor engine in the photo.
On the right of the photo, and the most stripped down raptor, is number 27. This Raptor flew Starship SN5 to 150 meters in August of last year.
It is also nice to know that as Superheavy takes flight, we will have a nice view of the 33 Raptor powering it. We now know that in order to make all these Raptors, they are building a second Raptor factory out at McGregor.
SpaceX already uses McGregor for development and testing, but with the new facility they plan to produce two to four Raptor engines a day.
With eventual production of 800-1000 Raptor engines a year to create a fleet of Starships, Elon hopes a Martian city can be built by 2050. Whether this timeline is realistic remains to be seen, we all know Elon can be optimistic with his timelines.
Starship will have many variants once its in full production. Knowing that Elon may be open to using a Starship as a satellite telescope is great, especially with the aging troubles of Hubble with no way to physically service it.
In another tweet, Elon addressed dedicated deep space missions. With those, SpaceX could save weight by leaving off flaps, header tanks, and heat shields to maximize payload capacity.
A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship
This one has been a long time coming for us. A Shortfall of Gravitas left Port Fourchon on Friday to undergo initial sea trials. Elon shared this wonderful drone video of the now fully autonomous droneship in action. He also confirmed that the tugs will no longer be needed to bring the droneship to the landing zone. We were taken by surprise when, rather than returning to Port Fourchon as we expected, the droneship continued to head to Florida, with Finn Falgout by her side.
Lithium Battery Production
While Musk addressed this salt based extraction technique for improving lithium extraction while decreasing harmful waste products during Battery Day last year, not much was known about the process until now. Tesla filed a patent for the process, and replied simply to Electrek’s article on the patent saying “Just add salt”. Electrek goes into far more details on the extraction technique in their initial story.
Full Self Driving Beta
It seems like the “two weeks” has finally come. After spending the week addressing new features in the beta, he announced that Beta 9 would start rolling out at midnight on Friday.
He mentioned replied to many customer questions about features and improvements. These include better speed limit recognition for digital signs, an improved user interface, better traffic visualizations, and a generally smoother driving experience.
We have a more in depth look at the Full Self-Driving Beta v9 over on Electrek.