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SpaceX Crew Dragon aces third autonomous space station docking

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Update: A SpaceX Crew Dragon has successfully performed an autonomous rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station (ISS) for the third time in a row and the first time with four astronauts aboard.

Near-flawless space station arrival now behind it, Crew Dragon has effectively kicked off what could be the longest continuous spaceflight of a crewed US spacecraft in the history of American space exploration. Barring surprises, Crew Dragon capsule C207 (deemed “Resilience” by its first crew) and its expendable trunk section will spend roughly 180 days in orbit, crushing the previous US record of 84 days set by an Apollo Command and Service Module spacecraft in 1973.

Dragon’s view of the ISS. (SpaceX)
Crew Dragon Crew-1 captain Mike Hopkins (left) and pilot Victor Glover (right) monitor the spacecraft’s autonomous docking. (SpaceX/NASA)
The Crew-1 Crew Dragon docked almost exactly on schedule at 11:01 pm EST (04:01 UTC). (NASA)

Crew Dragon’s first successful operational space station arrival also marks the beginning of a small but significant new era for the ISS, enabling a crew of seven astronauts – up from six – to continuously live and work aboard the 20-year-old orbital outpost. Thanks to the station’s well-quantified needs for regular maintenance and operational expertise, that new seventh crew member will ultimately be able to dedicate almost every working moment to doing science in orbit.

Meanwhile, ISS NASA astronaut Kate Rubins hinted to SpaceX and NASA ground control that a range of photos she took of Crew Dragon’s third ISS arrival were likely to be spectacular. A ground controller took no time to respond with the quip that “[Crew Dragon] is known objectively to be a very good-looking vehicle.” Stay tuned for another update when those approach photos go live.

Four elated Crew-1 astronauts join three existing ISS crew members for the first time. (NASA)

Approximately two hours after Crew Dragon’s third successful docking, Rubins successfully completed an array of tasks and opened the spacecraft’s hatch, allowing NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi to officially depart Dragon and join the International Space Station’s existing crew of three.

A SpaceX Crew Dragon is set to rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station for the third time later tonight and its four-astronaut crew took some time during their 27-hour flight to give live viewers a tour of the brand new spacecraft.

Emphasizing just how much space Crew Dragon offers its astronaut passengers once in orbit, the tour also included a minor tradition for NASA astronaut Victor Glover’s first orbital spaceflight. Astronauts Soichi Noguchi, Mike Hopkins, and Shannon Walker – all spaceflight veterans – commemorated Glover’s milestone with the gift of a small, golden pin, continuing a decades-old tradition.

If Crew Dragon remains in good health, the four astronauts will officially kick off the first ISS docking attempt with a 90-second thruster burn shortly after 9 pm EST (02:00 UTC).

Quite similar to Crew Dragon’s flawless Demo-2 astronaut launch debut, the Crew-1 spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at what is known as the ISS keep-out sphere around half an hour after its final major course-change thruster burn. Dragon will pause approximately 400m (~1300 ft) from the space station and wait for ground and station teams to give it the go-ahead to continue to another stopped point 20m (65 ft) out.

Altogether, the Crew-1 Dragon docking process will take about 55 minutes after the spacecraft enters the keep-out sphere and will culminate with a ‘soft’ capture around 11pm EST (04:00 UTC) and a ‘hard’ capture – signified by the docking port firmly bolting Dragon to the ISS – a bit less than 15 minutes later.

Orbital sunset is expected roughly 10 minutes before docking, meaning that Crew Dragon’s Crew-1 docking should be sunlit from a distance of ~1000 to 20 meters (3300 to 65 ft) from the ISS. Tune in below to watch the historic docking live.

SpaceX Crew Dragon aces third autonomous space station docking

Source: https://www.teslarati.com/spacex-crew-dragon-space-station-arrival-capsule-tour/

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SpaceX’s most important Super Heavy booster part makes first appearance

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What is arguably the most complex and important part of SpaceX’s Super Heavy booster prototype has made its first appearance at the company’s South Texas Starship factory.

Following in the footsteps of Starship development, Super Heavy has been able to extensively borrow from the many lessons learned over the course of building, testing, flying, and building more Starship prototypes. SpaceX is able to use virtually identical materials, equipment, and techniques to build and assemble both Starship and Super Heavy propellant tank barrels and domes, while both stages will also share an extensive foundation of avionics, plumbing, propulsion, and ground systems, among other things.

In fact, lacking a conical nose, secondary (‘header’) propellant tanks, flaps, a reusable orbital-class heatshield, and vacuum-optimized Raptor engines, Super Heavy is actually substantially simpler than the Starships it will one day launch towards orbit. However, not everything is simpler. Super Heavy will ultimately be the largest and most powerful liquid-fueled rocket stage ever built or tested – power that demands as many as 28 Raptor engines and a thrust structure capable of feeding and withstanding them.

Designing, building, and testing such a thrust structure is arguably one of – if not the – most challenging engineering hurdle standing between SpaceX and its aspirational Super Heavy design. It’s the first of those Super Heavy-specific thrust structures – in the form of a tank dome – that was spotted at SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas Starship factory on January 25th, roughly six weeks after its main component was spotted.

Unlike Starship, which relies on a small central ‘thrust puck’ fit for three sea-level-optimized Raptor engines and plans for three larger vacuum-optimized engines that will attach to the side of its hull, Super Heavy’s current design iteration features as many as 28 sea-level Raptors. Aside from CEO Elon Musk revealing that Super Heavy would have a central cluster of eight engines, the precise configuration has been a mystery.

A look at Starship’s three-and-three thrust section configuration. (SpaceX)

The reality, as recently captured in photos above by NASASpaceflight photographers and contributors Mary (BocaChicaGal) and Jack Beyer, appears to be a much larger donut-shaped ring with space for eight gimballing Raptor engines. The remaining 20 Raptor engines would then be installed – possible mounted to the skirt, the thrust dome, or both – in the space left between the thrust donut and Super Heavy’s skirt.

Either way, the structures behind the two rings of engines will have to withstand at least 6600 metric tons (14.5 million lbf) of thrust at liftoff – approximately twice the thrust of Saturn V and Soviet N-1 rockets and more than three times the thrust of SpaceX’s own Falcon Heavy. Holding eight Raptors, the donut structure and dome recently pictured for the first time will also have to singlehandedly stand up to 1600 tons (3.5 million lbf; two Falcon 9s’ worth) of thrust while gravity, acceleration, and some 2500 tons of supercooled liquid oxygen push in the opposite direction.

Starship SN9’s standard thrust puck and dome. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)
While seemingly identical from the ‘waist’ down, the first Super Heavy thrust dome obviously features a far larger Raptor engine ‘puck’ (donut?) at its base. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)
Starship SN8 is slowly lowered onto Stand A, outfitted with a hydraulic ram used to simulate the mechanical stress of Raptor thrust. Super Heavy boosters will likely be tested in a similar manner, at first. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

In simpler terms, the business end of Super Heavy poses an extraordinarily difficult challenge and SpaceX has already built the first true-to-life prototype, with future iterations likely close on its heels. Much like Starship, if/when prototype booster number one (BN1) passes basic pressure and cryogenic proof tests, SpaceX will likely focus the rest of Super Heavy’s first test campaign on stressing the rocket’s unproven thrust structure to its design limits.

Like Starship, SpaceX will likely try to begin with nonexplosive methods, perhaps using a similar – but far larger – series of hydraulic rams to less riskily simulate the thrust of 8-28 Raptor engines. A steel structure spotted on a recent aerial overflight of SpaceX’s Starship factory might even fit the bill for such a structure, though only time will tell.

Based on an apparent acceleration of Super Heavy assembly work that may have started last week, as well as the crucial appearance of the last missing puzzle piece in the form of BN1’s thrust dome, the first booster could be completed and ready for testing sooner than later.

SpaceX’s most important Super Heavy booster part makes first appearance

Source: https://www.teslarati.com/spacex-super-heavy-booster-most-important-part/

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Tesla’s Elon Musk shares his optimism for new US administration

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk seems very optimistic about the new Biden administration’s environmental priorities, noting in a lengthy phone interview with Fortune last week that he is “fired up” about the country’s renewed focus on climate issues. During his interview, Musk talked about why he is excited about the Biden administration, his split with the Trump administration, and his hopes for the near future. 

Musk noted that he is extremely happy about the change in the White House, particularly President Joe Biden’s overt stance on combating climate change. This is a notable break from the stance of the Trump administration, which took a number of steps and passed initiatives that pushed the pro-climate agenda to the side. “I’m super fired up that the new administration is focused on climate,” Musk said, noting that he is closely watching the new president’s moves. 

“I think this is great. I feel very optimistic about the future of sustainable energy with the new administration. Not that we should get complacent or anything, but the wind is at our back for solving the climate crisis with the new administration,” Musk said. 

Apart from sharing his thoughts on the Biden administration, Musk also discussed his brief stint as part of former US President Donald Trump’s economic advisory board and on his manufacturing jobs initiative council. Musk ultimately left those boards after Trump announced that he was pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. This move, according to Musk, was the final straw for him, especially considering that he is at the head of the world’s leading EV company. 

“I said… it is very important that we address the climate crisis and everything. I took him pretty much at his word, that he would really mean it,” Musk said. 

The Tesla CEO stated that he is currently waiting to get involved again as the new US president rolls out and implements detailed environmental policies, including a focus on electric vehicles. This became a key focus recently as Biden announced his intentions to utilize all-electric cars as vehicles for the US government. In his announcement, Biden noted that the initiative would likely create about 1 million autoworker jobs in clean energy. 

Musk stated that he has “not wanted to” reach out to the new US president yet. However, the CEO did note that his aides are already in informal contact with the White House because Tesla knows a lot of pro-environment people that the Biden administration is bringing into its fold. “My team, being very pro-environment, they know a lot of people that Biden is bringing in,” Musk said, adding that “we will do our best to be helpful to the new administration with respect to climate.”

The Teslarati team would appreciate hearing from you. If you have any tips, email us at tips@teslarati.com or reach out to me at maria@teslarati.com. 

Tesla’s Elon Musk shares his optimism for new US administration

Source: https://www.teslarati.com/tesla-elon-musk-biden-administration-interview/

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Automotive

Tesla FSD Beta pushed to limits in real-world torture test

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Tesla’s Full Self-Driving beta was recently pushed to its limits in a real-world “torture test” conducted through some of the challenging roads in Berkeley, California. The test depicted some impressive behaviors from FSD beta, especially when it came to driving with caution. 

The FSD beta torture test was conducted by Tesla owner and YouTube host AI DRIVR, whose Model S was equipped with the 2020.48.35.6. The test was partly inspired by suggestions from one of the channel’s viewers, who noted that it would be a great idea to have Tesla’s Full Self-Driving beta handle some of Berkeley’s strangest and trickiest intersections and roads, including an intersection where about ten roads came together. 

The torture test showed that the Full Self-Driving beta is already capable of driving carefully within inner-city streets. Over the course of the drive, Full Self-Driving beta behaved like an overly-cautious driver, though there are numerous scenarios where the driver-assist system displayed more humanlike behavior. 

Similar to other FSD beta tests that have been done in the past, AI DRIVR’s torture test resulted in a number of scenarios when human intervention was needed. However, these incidents generally represented conditions that even experienced drivers would likely find challenging. Considering the FSD beta’s rapid improvement, it would likely be only a matter of time before even these unique scenarios are handled with little to no human assistance

The Full Self-Driving beta is bound to get even better soon. In a recent tweet, Tesla CEO Elon Musk noted that the electric car maker is steadily moving all neural networks to an eight-camera surround video setup, which should enable “superhuman self-driving.” This is an interesting update, considering that FSD beta’s capabilities today are being accomplished without surround video. 

The Teslarati team would appreciate hearing from you. If you have any tips, email us at tips@teslarati.com or reach out to me at maria@teslarati.com.

Watch AI DRIVR’s FSD beta torture test in the video below. 

Tesla FSD Beta pushed to limits in real-world torture test

Source: https://www.teslarati.com/tesla-fsd-beta-torture-test-video/

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Tesla Giga Berlin’s next-gen paint shop takes form with dipping pool deliveries

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Tesla’s next-generation paint shop in Gigafactory Berlin seems to be coming together pretty well, with recent images taken of the site showing that massive dipping pools have been moved from a storage area into the EV production plant’s paint facility. The dipping pools are key components of Giga Berlin’s paint shop, which Elon Musk expects will be one of the most advanced in the market.  

Pictures of the new developments at the Giga Berlin complex were shared recently on Twitter by Tesla supporter Albrecht Köhler, who has been closely following the progress and development of the electric vehicle plant since its early days. In his post, the electric vehicle supporter observed that each dipping pool was transported with care, as each one was accompanied by a police escort. 

Work on Giga Berlin’s pain shop has been ramping recently, especially after the facility was greenlit by the State Office last month. This meant that Tesla was allowed to start the installation and setup of the necessary machines for the operation of Giga Berlin’s paint shop

The Gigafactory Berlin site has been particularly busy as of late. Apart from the equipment in the paint shop, work is also underway to build and set up the facility’s Giga Press machines, which will be producing the Model Y’s single-piece casts. Reports have noted that Gigafactory Berlin would feature eight Giga Presses, allowing the EV production facility to produce large numbers of vehicles per year. 

Gigafactory Berlin is poised to become one of Tesla’s most advanced factories to date, and a good reason behind this would be its paint shop. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has noted that facility will have the “world’s most advanced paint shop, with more layers of stunning colors that subtly change with curvature.” This should allow Tesla to offer more compelling paint options for the vehicles produced in Giga Berlin, which should be a good departure from the conservative lineup of paint options available today in the cars produced in Fremont and Shanghai. 

Watch a recent video of the Giga Berlin complex in the video below. 

Do you have anything to share with the Teslarati Team? We’d love to hear from you, email us at tips@teslarati.com or reach out to me at maria@teslarati.com.

Tesla Giga Berlin’s next-gen paint shop takes form with dipping pool deliveries

Source: https://www.teslarati.com/tesla-giga-berlin-paint-shop-dipping-pool-update/

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