SpaceX Roundup: Mr Steven, Russian Dissing and BFR Component Spotted

Boats, space nukes and composite tanks.

These last few days have seen a whole bunch of SpaceX-related news stories. Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting ones.

Mr Steven

Musk sure loves his drone ships, almost as much as he hates throwing rocket parts away.

And so, SpaceX will be utilizing another two remotely-operated ships, one named “Mr Steven,” to catch those extra bits of rocket that aren’t landing on their original drone ship, and another called “A Shortfall of Gravitas,” which will accompany the original and assist with first-stage landings.

Mr Steven will feature a huge net, designed to catch the falling fairings and rocket nose cones to be reused again after retrieval.

The payload fairings are said to cost around $6 million per launch, so the old tugboat seems like a good investment.

You can see the net on Mr Steven in the image below.

Figure 1: Mr Steven and net. (Image courtesy of SpaceX.)

Figure 1: Mr Steven and net. (Image courtesy of SpaceX.)

“Our friends at SpaceX met with us a couple months ago,” said Port Canaveral CEO John Murray. “They’re bringing two more vessels to the port.”

Mr Steven is currently moored at the SpaceX facility at Port of Los Angeles and is expected to be sent to Florida in the next couple of weeks, where it could see action as soon as mid-December.

Keep an eye out on for the video footage when it happens.

First BFR Prototype Component Spotted

The SpaceX BFR program seems to be moving along quite nicely.

Two weeks ago, we took a look at the BFR testing facility in Texas, and now those Musk-spotters over at Teslarati are reporting the sighting of a composite propellant tank dome over at the temporary SpaceX facility at Port of Los Angeles.

Figure 2: Composite dome in tent. Worker for scale. (Image courtesy of Pauline Acalin/Teslarati.)

Figure 2: Composite dome in tent. Worker for scale. (Image courtesy of Pauline Acalin/Teslarati.)

You can see exactly where the dome will fit on the rocket in the image below—it’s the grey cap on the smaller white tanks in the propellant section of the drawing.

Figure 3: Cutaway of BFR. (Image courtesy of SpaceX.)

Figure 3: Cutaway of BFR. (Image courtesy of SpaceX.)


This week, scientists from Russia’s Keldysh Research Center have heaped (mild) scorn and mockery on SpaceX, calling their reusable rockets “old technology.”

The Keldysh Research Center has apparently been working on reusable rocket technology for the last decade, and is claiming that their version—when operational—will be fully reusable with a turnaround time of less than 48 hours after landing, and with less maintenance required than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 family.

“Reusability is the priority,” said Vladimir Koshlakov, head of the Keldysh Research Center. 

“We must develop engines that do not need to be fine-tuned or repaired more than once every ten flights. Also, 48 hours after the rocket returns from space, it must be ready to go again. This is what the market demands.”

In addition, the Russian rocket will be able to reach Mars within just seven months, and will do so with the aid of nuclear power.

Little is known of the exact details of the Russian nuclear system, but based on previous reports from the World Nuclear Association, the Russians may be using a gas-cooled fission reactor to power a turbine generator, which in turn will power a plasma thruster.

So presumably they will still need chemical rockets to put the spacecraft into space in the first place.

You can see details in the video released from Roscosmos below. You’ll need to be fairly fluent in Russian to understand it though. If not, there are still some nice renderings in the video to give you some idea of what it would look like.

Es’hail-2 Satellite Hamming it Up

One-nine a roger, one-nine a roger, can I get a roger? Roger.

Okay, that’s CB speak, not amateur radio speak… but close enough. Now watch us get crucified by ham radio users in the comments for daring to suggest the similarity…

In any case, amateur radio operators will very soon be able to communicate with other ham radio users (and also with astronauts on the ISS) within an area spanning 1/3 of the globe thanks to the Es’hail-2 satellite, which was launched from KSC in Florida on Thursday. The satellite is a general comms sat, but features a ham radio component jointly developed between Germany and Qatar.

Figure 4: Es'hail-2. (Image courtesy of Mitsubishi Electric.)

Figure 4: Es’hail-2. (Image courtesy of Mitsubishi Electric.)

Ham radio enthusiasts have always wanted a satellite in orbit to act as a repeater, but unfortunately satellites in LEO spend a very small timeframe over a particular location due to the nature of orbit mechanics.

However, Es’hail-2 will be put up in geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) where it will sit as a fixed point in the sky somewhere above Africa, allowing anyone under its swath to make use of it.

Es’hail-2 is owned and operated by Qatar, and will be the Gulf State’s second satellite. It is built by Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Corp.

That’s about it for now. So erm…

Roger roger, big buddies. Eyeball you all next week.

We’ll show ourselves out.