Space Sunday: Hops, glows, plans and Perseids

SpaceX SN5 rises from its launch stand at the SpaceX Boca Chica, Texas, centre. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX once again heads this week’s column after the Starship SN5 prototype became the first of the units to successfully make a “hop” into the air and back again, travelling some 150 metres up and several tens of metres sideways to navigate its way from launch platform to landing pad.

The flight of the “flying spray can” – the nickname derived from the vehicle’s cylindrical form topped by the nozzle-like 23 tonne ballast mass – only lasted around a minute once the Raptor engine fired, but the hop represented a huge leap forward for SpaceX in their development of the Starship vehicle.

As I noted in July, SN5’s unusual shape is due to it only comprising the section of the vehicle containing its fuel tanks, single raptor engine and landing legs. It lacks any upper sections (replacing by the ballast block) and the aerodynamic surfaces that will give Starship a lifting body capability during atmospheric operations. These will all be present in future prototypes, But for SN5, they are not currently required, as its initial flight(s) are purely about testing Starship’s ability to make a vertical descent and landing.

A starship cutaway showing the fuel tanks and engine bay (outlined in red) that form the prototype vehicle SN5, and the upper cargo / habitation space and aerodynamic surfaces that are not included on the current prototype. Credit: WAI (with additional annotation)

The successful test flight took place on Tuesday, August 4th – an attempt on Sunday, August 2nd was cancelled  due to unfavourable weather in the Boca Chica, Texas, area. Engine ignition came at 23:57 UTC (18:57 local time), the prototype rising vertically, but canted at a slight angle. This  was due to the initial prototypes being designed to operate with three Raptor motors, by SN5 is currently only fitting with one, offset from the vehicle’s vertical centreline, so the vehicle is canted (with the ad of the top ballast block) to compensate for the offset thrust from the motor, with small reaction control system (RCS) jets near the base and top of the vehicle occasionally firing to help maintain a stable flight angle.

As the craft rose, the Raptor motor was also gimballed (moved around like you move a joystick on a game controller, a common practice for rocket motors to allow them to use directed thrust to adjust a flight trajectory), vectoring its thrust so it could translate across to the landing pad for a successful landing.

Prototype nose cones being fabricated at Boca Chica. Credit: / BocaChicaGal

SpaceX released a video afterwards the flight showing the highlights. In it, SN5 can be seen lifting off, trailing a plume of vented cooling gas, the RCS jets visible as they fire to help maintain stability. The footage also clearly shows the Raptor’s offset exhaust plume moving as the motor in vectored, as well as the craft maintaining a brief hover at the apex of its flight before descending sideways and down towards the landing pad.

Cameras at the base of the vehicle show the landing legs being deployed, as well as a small, non-hazardous fire on the Raptor motor, likely the result of dust blown into the engine space at lift-off that subsequently ignited. This “inside” camera and one on the SN5 hull then captured the moment of landing and engine shut down.

Prototypes SN6, 7, and 8 are in development, and some of these will fly with the aforementioned forward / upper sections and flight surfaces in loftier (literally) and more complex flight tests. Currently, it not clear how many more flights SN5 will make. However, Musk has already indicated he would like to have Starship use a more “Falcon Like” set of landing legs to provide broader support when landing on uneven planetary surfaces, so SN5 might by used to test new landing leg configurations alongside testing of other prototypes.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: Hops, glows, plans and Perseids”

ARNICAR’S Chapel Imagination in Second Life

Chapel Imagination, August 2020

ARNICAR India has opened another region design for people to enjoy in the form of Chapel Imagination. It’s a stunning design that brings together art, architecture, water and one or two fantastical touches to present a region rich in detail, yet subtle on the eye; a place where one can wander and dream, ponder and relax – and simply be.

Simplicity of design appears to have been the watchword here, with the region sitting as a trio of islands tucked within a bay surrounded by high peaks. All three of the islands are relatively minimal in size, with the largest running east-to-west, a low finger of land marked by a shingle path looping around it to enclose the ruins of what was once a substantial structure – the chapel of the region’s title, perhaps.

Chapel Imagination, August 2020

This structure comprises the Looking Glass Chapel Ruins, created by Marcus Inkpen, and The Looking Glass Enchanted Ballroom Walls by Sharnee Azalee, facing each other along the island’s length, with a Gothic archway walk by Abel Dreamscape stretching part-way between them. This mix of designs works exceptionally well to present a place of ancient splendour and mystical calling, shaded by the broadly spread arms of three monkeypod trees, while the older boughs of Alex Bader’s Skye Twisted Tree intertwine with the archways of the Gothic walk.

The two smaller islands sit to the south and north of this main island – which also forms the landing point – and are reached via short causeways. One of these again uses wall sections from The Looking Glass Chapel Ruins to form  largely enclosed space marked by more of Alex Bader’s Twisted Tree, while the other again uses Abel Dreamscape’s Gothic archway, this time interspersed with Sourwood trees before giving way to more elements of TLG’s Chapel Ruins, together with some Lost Garden Columns.

Chapel Imagination, August 2020

It is this minimalist approach to choice of elements – The Looking Glass and Dreamscape – that gives Chapel Imagination part of its charm and appeal, offering as it does the sense of being within what was once an extensive building, which in turn gives the setting a wonderful sense of continuity as you explore.

But it is the details waiting to be found throughout that gives Chapel Imagination its unmistakable depth. Red-crowned cranes are waiting to greet arrivals at the landing point, the chapel behind them offering a fantasy garden / dressing room, a wedding dress waiting to be worn. Down through the Gothic arches are more suggestions of a wedding-in-waiting, whilst the circle at the end offers an entirely different surprise. Beyond it, a little pier extends over water rich with whimsy and fantasy as Bryn Oh’s Social Distancing canoe sits on the gentle waves.

Chapel Imagination, August 2020

To the north, the second chapel stands as a kind of music room, a grand piano sitting within it, together with pieces of art and more. All of this is watched over by a photographer who has found a most unusual perch – so much so, that he might easily be missed, thus adding a little twist of humour.

Despite the use of chapel parts throughout, it’s only the the south island that carries any real hints of religion within it, where pews, and a votive stand can be found, together with a curious gathering of nuns watched from a distance by a lone monk.

Chapel Imagination, August 2020

I’m being deliberately vague about all of this because Chapel Imagination deserves to be seen, not described – and seen directly rather than through the lens of a camera. A considerable amount of work has gone into presenting it as a place of retreat and peace, complete with a considered sound scape and a delightful sense of whimsy.

One of the most engaging region designs I’ve visited in a while, and a tour de force lesson that you don’t need to stuff a region full of bits in order to make it photogenic or worthy of people’s interest.

Chapel Imagination, August 2020

With thanks to Shawn Shakespeare.

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