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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#148 - Command Shift Alt Space

This week we talk about Trump's plans for Space Command, The Star-Hopper, ESTRACKNOW satellite geekery, Spy Satellites, A whole bunch of hot air and methane, Some final thoughts on Space Habitats and exploration.

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Albert Einstein

Space Command

Image credit: Chen Mengtong/China News Service/Getty

Back in 1985 America established a Space Command, the 11th unified combatant Command that oversaw the air force, army and navy space forces, yes each branch has a space force, in other words each military department all have assets in space or requiring space hardware.

What is a Unified Combatant Space command, it is what it sounds like. to provide effective command and control of U.S. military forces, regardless of branch of service, in peace and war. These UCC can be geographical, area of responsibility, like United States Africa Command, or functional like US Special operations Command. Space Command was a functional one, not a geographic one.

However after 9/11 in 2001 space was hugely de-emphasized and this Space command was merged with the Joint functional component command for Space and Global strike! and then Joint Functional Component Command for Space, and in 2017, be reorganized as the Joint Force Space Component Command all under USSRATCOM one of the 11 unified combatant commands,

Mike Pence announced in 2018 that Trump wanted to re-establish the Space Command, not as a full UCC, but as a subUCC like it was for a while under USSRATCOM, and this made it into the defence review. However by December Trump now wanted Space to get a full UCC again.

This new USSPACECOM was officially reestablished on August 29, 2019 during a ceremony at the White House

TRUMP "It's a big deal, As the newest combatant command, SPACECOM will defend America's vital interests in space the next warfighting domain. And I think that's pretty obvious to everybody. It's all about space."

"A fight for supremacy among major powers on Earth is likely to breach the planet's atmosphere", Dmitry Rogozin the head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos was

"Slowly but surely, we are heading towards this. Roscosmos has no illusions about this. Everyone is working on it."

Trump also announced that a new military unit was to be made called Space Force, but this isn't a reality yet. Lots of people support the idea, it isn't really that silly. The main problem I guess is that when the air force is spending budget it will spend them on their own planes rather than space stuff that the other branches may get to use too. Also perhaps the Space force could act as guardians against space debris for example and even asteroid defence?

Staying with a military bent here.

This appears to be Trump using highly classified satellite information to goad IRan, if this is a Satellite shot via twitter legends Christian Triebert and Ankit Panda this may have been a KH-11 sat called USA 224, we've talked about KH-11, a Hubble clone (or actually more accurately the other way round) This thing is so big it took a Delta IV heavy to launch. But the Iran Launch of a Safir SLV is also interesting, of the last 4 launches 3 have now been failures, which is not good for Iran especially as all 3 launch attempts this year have all ended in failures regardless of launcher.

Onto Happier Times


Tuesday evening - The SpaceX Starhopper was tested for the second time. much higher than last month, almost up to 150m. Then, under it's single Raptor engine, the vehicle smoothly crabed laterally for about 100m before a controlled descent and touchdown in the center of a landing pad, pretty perfect thrust and vector control of the totally new Raptor engine design. A large rocket engine of liquid-methane propellant being flown really for the first time anywhere, Is Bezos looking on in jealous rage?

  • The raptor engine is a Full flow staged Combustion design, basically meaning that due to lower temperature and pressure is will last longer Think reuse-ability, these things need to last.

  • The only Full Flow Engine ever flown is this very Raptor, first time last month. Which makes the fact it's in a new vehicle doing this sort of thing even more impressive.

  • Downside is that they are slightly more complicated than Single Shaft with more parts to go wrong.

  • BE-4 is a Single shaft staged combustion engine from Bezos with more thrust at 2400kN (compared to 2000 kN), and Prometheus by ESA which has half the thrust at less than 900 kN (more like a Merlin) Compare that to 9k of an F1 or 16K of the SLS solids!!

  • ESA also are developing the M10 MIRA Methane engine for the vega upperstage.

Why Methane

  • Methane is not a long chain of carbon atoms and this means there are less intermediate products, so you avoid having coke forming in your rockets' plumbing, this is a good advantage over RP-1 for reusable rockets.

  • methane has lighter exhausts so that translates into higher ISP than RP-1,

  • Less dense that RP-1 but more dense than Liquid Hydrogen, bit of a down side, but not that bad

  • Burns cooler so better for re-uusable engines

  • Can be made on Mars using the Sabatier PRocess (ship Hydrogen to mars and that can be converted to Methane and LOX using the planets CO2.

  • You can pressurise the tanks using the same gas you are using, just cycle it round the engine and heat it. AUTOGENOUS PRESSURISATION so you can get rid of a bit of complexity and not bother with helium pressure tanks for example!!!

  • It’s cryogenic so can cool engine parts etc.

The really exciting thing no though!!! - Starship orbital prototypes in both Texas and Florida later this year, internal competition to create a perfect machine of destiny.

Let's not get too excited.

McDonnell Douglas did an almost identical test in 1993 with their Delt Clipper DC-X ...worth seeing on Youtube.

NASA took this forward to the DC-XA But this is a suborbital prototype, and Nasa wanted a space plane type lander like the VentureStar from Lockheed so after a crash scrapped this, then after aVentureStar also got cancelled.

The Employees of DC-X went on to design New Shepard.

Could the DC-X become the Mars/Moon SSTO Lander? The Lockheed Martin Mars Lander does actually look a bit like the DC-X , I would be super impresses if Lockheed built a Mars Lander Hopper like Spacex cool.

Good Looking SSTOs


ESA's 35-metre radio antenna in Malargüe, Argentina, has had a major refurbishment

If you want to have a total geek out on ESA space missions go to

You can select a mission or a ground station and see what's taking to what.

For example I can see that Mars Express is taking to New Norcia dish in Australia, where it is raining, in 48 minutes and will be tracked for 5h36mins, the distance the signal will travel is 400million Km, And that Marlargue station in Argentina will be taking to both ExoMars and Gaia!!!

Thanks ESA and ESOC for this

JAMES WEBB TELESCOPE has been put together for the first time. both the Telescope and the sunsheild

The Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover has completed its construction activities in the UK and will now depart to France for testing under the conditions of the Red Planet’s environment.

Good Luck to everyone in Hurricane Dorian over on the space coast.

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