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  1. Europe says SpaceX “dominating” launch, vows to develop Falcon 9-like rocket "What is state-of-the-art in the USA is only in its beginnings in Europe." This month, the European Commission revealed a new three-year project to develop technologies needed for two proposed reusable launch vehicles. The commission provided €3 million to the German space agency, DLR, and five companies to, in the words of a news release about the project, "tackle the shortcoming of know-how in reusable rockets in Europe." This new RETALT project's goals are pretty explicit about copying the retro-propulsive engine firing technique used by SpaceX to land its Falcon 9 rocket first stages back on land and on autonomous drone ships. The Falcon 9 rocket's ability to land and fly again is "currently dominating the global market," the European project states. "We are convinced that it is absolutely necessary to investigate Retro Propulsion Assisted Landing Technologies to make re-usability state-of-the-art in Europe." SpaceX began testing supersonic retro-propulsion as far back as September 2013, when the company first flew its upgraded Falcon 9 rocket, v1.1. This involves relighting the rocket's Merlin engines as the Falcon thunders toward Earth through the atmosphere at supersonic speeds. Relighting a rocket's engines and controlling its descent with aerodynamic surfaces was a huge engineering challenge that the company has now mostly mastered. Initially, SpaceX's competitors looked askance at the concept of vertically landing rockets, but as the company has racked up dozens of successes—and began to fly the same first stage boosters two and even three times—those attitudes have begun to change. US-based United Launch Alliance has begun exploring how to reuse its rocket engines, China has dozens of new space companies exploring these kinds of reuse technologies, and now Europe also appears to have shifted its stance as well. While European space firms have acknowledged SpaceX's success, previously they have indicated that reuse is not a viable option for a continent that only launches five to 10 rockets a year. It would not be sustainable for a European factory to build just one rocket a year, officials have said. Instead, the European strategy has been to try to reduce the costs of its flagship Ariane and Vega launchers. But the attitude of the new RETALT project appears to have indicated European acceptance of the inevitability of reusable launch vehicles. Engineers will work toward two different concepts. The first will be a Falcon-9-like rocket that will make use of seven modified Vulcain 2 rocket engines and have the capacity to lift up to 30 tons to low-Earth orbit. The second will be a more revolutionary single-stage-to-orbit vehicle that looks like the Roton rocket developed by Rotary Rocket about two decades ago. "What is state-of-the-art in the USA is only in its beginnings in Europe," the press release acknowledges. "The consortium is determined to accept the challenge and to become important players in this game-changing technology." Listing image by RETALT Source: Europe says SpaceX “dominating” launch, vows to develop Falcon 9-like rocket (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  2. SpaceX pulls off dazzling Falcon 9 launch and landing in thick fog SpaceX launches three Tesla Roadster-size satellites and returns their rocket booster safely through the mist. SpaceX on Wednesday launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, containing the Canadian Space Agency's Radarsat trio of Earth observation satellites. The broadcast was telecast live on SpaceX's YouTube channel and it was a particularly interesting one -- the base was covered in fog. That provided a wonderful image of the Falcon 9 bursting through the layer of fog as it ascended to orbit (above). It also provided an interesting landing for the Falcon 9 booster as it returned to land at Vandenberg shortly after separation. If you missed it as it happened, you can watch a replay of the launch below. Canada's three Radarsat satellites, shaped like old rubber stamps, will gather data about the nation's coasts and waterways to help ships navigate the Arctic, provide agriculture solutions and help first responders save lives, according to the agency. The dimensions of the satellites are such that they're almost as big as a Tesla Roadster, but they're only half as heavy. Eventually the satellites will settle into an orbit around 600 kilometers (around 370 miles) above the Earth. For SpaceX, it's another flight for the Falcon 9 rocket, which delivered the Crew Dragon to the International Space Station in March. The first stage booster successfully returned to land at Vandenberg after separation. After the Radarsat mission, SpaceX will launch the Falcon Heavy for the third time on the STP-2 mission. That's scheduled to take place on June 24 (with a backup launch window on June 25). It's regarded as one of the most challenging launches in SpaceX history and will be attempting to deploy a suite of satellites into orbit for the Department of Defense. It'll also be carrying the Planetary Society's experimental solar sail, LightSail 2. Provided the Falcon Heavy core can be recovered in that mission, it'll be the first such success for SpaceX, which was unable to keep the core from toppling over in rough seas during the Arabsat mission. 13 PHOTOS Meet the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, the world's most powerful rocket Source
  3. Guess who's back, back again. Sooty's back, tell a friend. 11:40pm ET Update: The Falcon 9 rocket launched. Its first stage landed. And then the second stage coasted for the better part of an hour before making a final burn and deploying its payload of Starlink satellites. About 1 hour and 3 minutes after the launch, the entire stack of 60 satellites floated away from the Falcon 9's second stage. Slowly—very slowly, it appeared—the 60 satellites began to drift apart. The SpaceX webcast ended without saying whether this deployment went as anticipated, and it probably will take some time for the Air Force to begin identifying, and tracking the individual satellites. Enlarge / A stack of 60 Starlink satellites is released from the Falcon 9 rocket's upper stage. SpaceX webcast In any case, this all made for an interesting evening in space. Original post: After two launch attempts and a week of downtime, SpaceX has returned its Falcon 9 rocket to the launchpad for the Starlink mission. The 90-minute launch window opens at 10:30pm ET Thursday (02:30 UTC Friday), and the weather—including those pesky upper-level winds—appears likely to cooperate. With a mass of 18.5 tons, this will be SpaceX's heaviest launch to date for either the Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy rocket. The rocket will attempt to boost 60 Starlink satellites, each 227kg, to an altitude of 440km. This is the company's first block of Starlink satellites for what should eventually be a much larger constellation, and they will help SpaceX gauge its performance and conduct tests of several key systems. With six more launches, for a total of about 400 satellites, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the Starlink constellation will reach the point of being able to offer some initial Internet connectivity to ground-based users. A dozen launches would bring "significant" connectivity, he said, and 24 launches would bring near-worldwide service. Why is SpaceX getting into the space Internet business? Earlier this month, during a call with reporters, Musk said he anticipates Starlink will enable SpaceX's goal of building a self-sustaining city on Mars. Potential launch revenue tops out at about $3 billion a year for the company, he said, but capturing just 3 percent of the global Internet market could bring in about $30 billion. "We see this as a way for SpaceX to generate revenue that can be used to develop more and more advanced rockets," he said. Stay for satellite deploy The first part of Thursday night's launch will be familiar to those who have seen a Falcon 9 launch before. After the rocket's first stage sends its payload into space, it will separate and attempt to land on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship, which will be stationed downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. The real novelty will come about an hour after the launch, when the Starlink satellites begin to deploy from the Falcon's upper stage. In order to save mass, each of the 60 satellites will not have its own release mechanism, such as a spring. Instead, the Falcon rocket's upper stage will begin a very slow rotation, and each of the satellites will be released in turn with a different amount of rotational inertia. "It will almost seem like spreading a deck of cards on a table," Musk said. SpaceX is pretty sure this novel deployment method will work. A webcast for the Starlink launch should begin about 15 minutes before the launch window opens, and it will include coverage of the satellite deployment. Starlink Mission. Listing image by SpaceX webcast Source: SpaceX launches Starlink mission, deploys 60 satellites [Updated] (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  4. How to watch SpaceX launch its first 60 Starlink satellites After multiple delays, SpaceX are gearing up to send its first 60 Starlink satellites. Falcon 9 blasts off. SpaceX SpaceX is again gearing up to send the first 60 satellites in the Starlinkmegaconstellation to space. After multiple delays, the company announced Monday the new launch window will open May 23. Here's when and how to follow the historic mission live. Starlink is SpaceX's satellite broadband project and will eventually see a total of 12,000 satellites swinging around the Earth to deliver internet to basically every corner of the globe. The first 60 test satellites are currently crammed into the payload pay of a Falcon 9, waiting for departure. You can brush up on Musk's aspirations for Starlink in our handy guide. The launch window opens on May 23 at 7:30 p.m. PT and closes at midnight on May 24. Like last week, a backup launch window will open 24 hours later, on May 24 at 7:30 p.m. PT, should something go awry during the first launch window. If you want to follow along live, SpaceX are streaming a webcast of the launch. The broadcast will kick off 15 minutes before liftoff. You can watch that below: The first 60 satellites will be dropped off at an altitude of approximately 270 miles (440 kilometers) above the Earth, if everything runs smoothly, and then they will gently propel themselves out to an orbit of about 340 miles (550 kilometers). This will be the third time this particular Falcon 9 booster has ascended to space, according to SpaceX, with two previous flights coming in September 2018 and January 2019. Musk has tried to temper expectations of this first, historic deployment of satellites, saying that "much will likely go wrong" and these first 60 satellites are a test, providing a demonstration of Starlink's future capabilities. Another six launches will be required before even "minor" coverage is offered. 11 PHOTOS Elon Musk shows off the shiny SpaceX Starship Source
  5. SpaceX Is Building a 'Starship' Rocket Prototype in Florida, Too The company's South Texas site has some competition. The two sections of SpaceX's Starship "hopper" test vehicle at the company's South Texas site in December 2018. (Image: © Elon Musk/SpaceX via Twitter) SpaceX hopes a little friendly competition will improve the design of its Mars spaceship. The company has already built a scaled-down prototype of that 100-passenger "Starship" craft at its South Texas facility. And similar manufacturing and development work is being done on Florida's Space Coast, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Muskconfirmed this week. "SpaceX is doing simultaneous competing builds of Starship in Boca Chica, Texas, & Cape Canaveral, Florida," Musk said via Twitter Tuesday (May 14). Related: SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy Mars Rocket in Pictures "Both sites will make many Starships. This is a competition to see which location is most effective. Answer might be both," he said in another tweet that day. "Any insights gained by one team must be shared with the other, but other team not required to use them," he added in another tweet. The reusable Starship is designed to take people to and from the moon, Mars and other distant destinations. The vehicle will launch atop a powerful rocket called Super Heavy, which will also be reusable. Both Starship and Super Heavy will employ SpaceX's next-generation Raptor engine. Seven Raptors will power Starship, and the Super Heavy will incorporate 31 of them. SpaceX has finished building its fourth Raptor, and the fifth is under construction at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California, Musk said in Tuesday's tweet thread. SpaceX will likely hit the 100-Raptor mark by early 2020, he added. The Texas-built Starship prototype, which SpaceX calls Starhopper, uses one Raptor engine. The vehicle completed a brief test hop in Boca Chica last month, rising slightly off the pad while still connected to the ground via a tether. Starhopper testing may resume late this month, Ars Technica reported, citing highway-closure information reported by The Brownsville Herald. Source
  6. Watch SpaceX launch the first 60 Starlink internet satellites into orbit The first of many missions to establish a megaconstellation of satellites providing global broadband. Falcon 9 sits ready on the launchpad for the final Iridium NEXT mission. SpaceX Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, wants to bring speedy broadband to the world. Achieving that lofty goal relies on 60 satellites tucked neatly away inside a Falcon 9 payload bay. The Starlink mission is set to deliver those first 60 internet satellites to orbit later Wednesday, paving the way for a megaconstellation that will eventually contain over 12,000 of the miniature internet-providing beasts. The launch window is currently scheduled to open at 7:30 p.m. PT and will close at 9 p.m. PT on May 15. SpaceX has said the weather conditions are fine and we look good to go for launch. As is par for the course for SpaceX now, the company will attempt to land the Falcon 9 booster on a droneship known as "Of Course I Still Love You," floating along in the Atlantic Ocean. Around an hour into the mission, the satellites will be deployed. If you're the kind of person who loves a spaceship and wants to watch along, you can follow live at the link below. SpaceX generally starts streaming around 15 minutes prior to launch (7:15 p.m. PT in this case). The first 60 satellites will be dropped off at an altitude of approximately 270 miles (440 kilometers) above the Earth, if everything runs smoothly, and then they will gently propel themselves out to an orbit of about 340 miles (550 kilometers). This will be the third time this particular Falcon 9 booster has ascended to space, according to SpaceX, with two previous flights coming in September 2018 and January 2019. Musk has tried to temper expectations of this first, historic deployment of satellites, saying that "much will likely go wrong" and these first 60 satellites are a test, providing a demonstration of Starlink's future capabilities. Another six launches will be required before even "minor" coverage is offered. You can read all about the Starlink plan for space internet domination in CNET's handy explainer. 13 PHOTOS Meet the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, the world's most powerful rocket Source
  7. Elon Musk confirms SpaceX is building multiple Starships He tweets that the company is building them at different sites to see if one is better than the other. Elon Musk says that SpaceX is building Starships at two sites. Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images It turns out that SpaceX is working on not one, but two Starships at the same time. "SpaceX is doing simultaneous competing builds of Starship in Boca Chica Texas & Cape Canaveral Florida," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet Tuesday. Musk then answered a few questions on Twitter, saying that the competition will help SpaceX figure out which location is better for building -- and that the answer might be both. In November, Musk changed the name of its Big Falcon Rocket to Starship. Meanwhile, SpaceX is working on its Starlink mission to bring broadband to the world, starting with the launch of 60 satellites into orbit. The launch, which was rescheduled because of high winds Wednesday, is supposed to take place Thursday. Source
  8. "This is a competition to see which location is most effective." Enlarge / The Starship test vehicle, currently under assembly in South Texas, may look similar to this illustration when finished. Elon Musk/Twitter On Tuesday, photos began to emerge online of a new, Starship-like vehicle being built in an industrial park near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Later, SpaceX founder Elon Musk confirmed that the company will develop a Starship prototype in Florida to parallel work being done in South Texas. "Both sites will make many Starships," Musk shared on Twitter. "This is a competition to see which location is most effective. Answer might be both." This will not be a strict A/B test, a randomized experiment. Rather, Musk added, any insights gained by one team must be shared with the other, but the other team is not required to use them. This is a rather new way to develop an orbital spaceship, especially one as large and as complex as Starship, which is designed to land and take off from other worlds such as the Moon and Mars. However, it is far from unprecedented in the tech world. For example, Google has long had a strategy of making two of everything, with multiple, competing products that go after the same user base. Musk also provided an update on development of Raptor engines—which will power both the Starship vehicle and its companion rocket, Super Heavy. SpaceX, ultimately, will need dozens of the engines for the spaceship and rocket. But initially, the company will be testing its prototype Starship with one and three engines. SpaceX has now completed four of the engines, and it's building the fifth one in Hawthorne, California. The company should have built more than 100 of the methane-fueled engines by next year, Musk added. Meanwhile, after about five weeks of downtime, SpaceX appears ready to ramp up activity at its Boca Chica test site in South Texas. In early April, a series of tests culminated in a short, tethered hop of a Starship prototype. Now, the company may begin testing activity again later this month. The Brownsville Herald reports that a nearby highway, State Highway 4 from Oklahoma Avenue to Boca Chica Beach, will be closed on May 28 between 2pm and 10pm CT, or alternatively, on May 29 and May 30. SpaceX is working toward an orbital launch of the Starship vehicle in 2020, but as with all large aerospace projects, that date is likely to slip later into the 2020s. A flight any time soon, given the absence of government funding and overall ambition of the project, would be notable. Source: SpaceX plans to A/B test its Starship rocketship builds (Ars Technica)
  9. Demo satellites launch next week; "satellites for actual service" later in 2019. Enlarge / A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the hangar after a flight in April 2017. SpaceX SpaceX will launch dozens of demonstration broadband satellites next week as it ramps up testing for its planned Starlink service. The company says it will begin launching satellites for the actual service later this year. This week, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell confirmed that dozens of Starlink satellites will be aboard the Falcon 9 launch scheduled for May 15, according to several news reports. "This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together," Shotwell said on Tuesday at the Satellite 2019 conference in Washington, DC, according to SpaceNews. "We start launching satellites for actual service later this year." "Shotwell characterized this first wave as a demonstration set, with no satellite-to-satellite communication links," GeekWire wrote. "Depending on how the demonstrations proceed, from two to six Starlink launches could follow by the end of this year, she said." (As we've previously written, SpaceX says its satellites will essentially operate as a mesh network, and they communicate with user terminals at customer homes.) Commercial service in 2020—or later SpaceX hasn't revealed a specific commercial availability date. The latest details appear to put SpaceX on track to launch commercial service no earlier than 2020, consistent with the company's past statements. In October 2017, SpaceX told a Congressional committee that it would launch at least 800 satellites before offering commercial service and said the commercial service would likely become available in 2020 or 2021, as SpaceNews reported at the time. SpaceX launched its first two test Starlink satellites in February 2018, but it has changed the design since then. The changes were made in part so that satellites will burn up completely during atmospheric re-entry in order to prevent physical harm from falling objects. SpaceX has Federal Communications Commission approval to launch nearly 12,000 broadband satellites over nine years. On April 26, SpaceX received FCC approval to halve the orbital altitude of more than 1,500 of those planned broadband satellites in order to lower the risk of space debris and improve latency. After that latest approval, Shotwell said that "Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing." SpaceX has said that Starlink will offer gigabit-per-second speeds and latency of around 25ms, which would make it a lot more appealing than current satellite broadband services. Source: SpaceX broadband testing to ramp up with launch of dozens of satellites (Ars Technica)
  10. NASA explains why it was OK with scrubbing launch for a recovery issue. Enlarge / An infrared view of the Falcon 9 first stage landing on Saturday morning. SpaceX 3:30am ET Saturday Update: The Falcon 9 rocket launched on time early Saturday morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, streaking into the nighttime sky and depositing the Cargo Dragon spacecraft into a good orbit. About 12 minutes after the launch, Dragon deployed its solar panels and set course for the International Space Station. Dragon will be captured by the station on Sunday. Meanwhile, the rocket's first stage returned to the Of Course I Still Love You droneship, landing 28km downrange from the launch site. The nighttime landing sequence was visible through the use of an infrared camera, and looked pretty spectacular. During the post-launch news conference for SpaceX's 17th mission to the International Space Station, the lab's Operations Integration Manager, Kenny Todd, explained the thinking behind the scrub of the Falcon 9 launch 24 hours earlier. SpaceX had said the launch was scrubbed because of an electrical issue with the droneship, which returned to port Friday, and then immediately headed back out to sea for the first stage landing. "When we went through the countdown yesterday the SpaceX team was working hard, there was a lot going on, and I've got to applaud them because everything that was hitting the screen they were dealing with," Todd said early Saturday morning. "There was a lot of talk on the loops when you consider the weather, the wind, the issues with the drone ship, the helium leak," he said. The helium leak Todd referenced occurred with ground-based equipment. According to SpaceX, the company was monitoring the leak in the supply to helium on-board the rocket, but probably could have worked through the issue. Engineers wouldn't have known for sure until the last minutes of the countdown, however. Todd said knowing the agency had a back-up day Saturday for the launch made a big difference. "We knew we had today, we knew the weather was supposed to be much better today," he said. "In the end, SpaceX had to make the call. But I think one of our senior engineers whose watched an incredible number of these missions said, 'You know, sometimes the universe is talking to you, and sometimes you need to listen to it.' And the reality is, when we went through all of that yesterday it seemed like the universe was talking to us. So in the end, I thought it was an OK trade." The NASA official also revealed that the agency plans to use this booster again. "Flight proven" Falcon 9 rockets have launched missions to the space station before, but now NASA is considering using the same rocket a third time. "Quite frankly we have a vested interest in this booster," Todd said. "The intent is for us to use it for (CRS) 18, for sure, and potentially 19. From our standpoint it made a difference." And so that is why, for the first time in history, the launch of a rocket was scrubbed because of concerns about recovering its first stage. Original post: Early on Friday morning, within minutes of the opening—and closing—of an instantaneous launch window, SpaceX scrubbed the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket and Cargo Dragon supply mission to the International Space Station. Now it will try again early Saturday morning. The company said it made the decision to stand down due to an "electrical issue" on its Of Course I Still Love You droneship, positioned just offshore for the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage to land on. This is the first time SpaceX has stood down a launch attempt due to a problem related to recovering a first-stage booster. The company can probably thank NASA for being an understanding customer. After the scrub, SpaceX also said there was a ground-based helium leak it wanted to check out before the rocket's next launch attempt. This leak was located in a "quick-disconnect" interface on the rocket's second stage, where helium is used to pressurize fuel tanks. Weather had been a concern for Friday morning's launch attempt, but near the launch time at 3:11am ET (07:11 UTC), the rains had remained well offshore and SpaceX had proceeded with fueling the rocket. The instantaneous launch window opens at 2:48am ET (06:48 UTC) Saturday morning. Weather is forecast to be favorable, with a 70 percent chance of "go" conditions. If the Falcon 9 rocket cannot make this launch attempt for some reason, officials said at a news conference Thursday that the Cape Canaveral launch range would enter into a week of maintenance and stand down from launches during that time. SpaceX will use a new Falcon 9 rocket for this launch attempt, but the Cargo Dragon spacecraft previously flew to the International Space Station in August 2017. For this mission, it will ferry about 2.5 tons of supplies to the station, including more than 700kg of science experiments, as well as transporting NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 and Space Test Program-Houston 6 in its unpressurized trunk. As part of a contract for 20 missions in total, this will be SpaceX's 17th supply mission to the space station for NASA. Overall, this will be the company's fifth launch of 2019, and SpaceX's 70th launch of the Falcon 9 rocket. The webcast below should begin 15 minutes before the launch window opens. CRS-17 launch. Source: After Dragon launch, NASA will consider using the same Falcon 9 three times (Ars Technica)
  11. "There was an anomaly and the vehicle was destroyed." Enlarge / It is not clear when we will see crewed flights of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX During a news conference Thursday in advance of a SpaceX supply mission to the International Space Station, the company's vice president of mission assurance, Hans Koenigsmann, provided some additional details about a failure with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft 12 days ago. In the company's most expansive comments to date, Koenigsmann said the "anomaly" occurred during a series of tests with the spacecraft, approximately one-half second before the firing of the SuperDraco thrusters. At that point, he said, "There was an anomaly and the vehicle was destroyed." During the activation phase, the SuperDraco thruster system is pressurized, and valves are opened and closed. Since the accident there has been speculation that there may have been some issue with the composite overwrap pressure vessels, or COPVs, which store rocket fuels at extremely high pressures. The COPVs on Crew Dragon are different from those on the Falcon 9, and they would not have been overly stressed at that moment, Koenigsmann said. "I'm fairly confident that the COPVs are going to be fine," he said. Investigative teams from SpaceX and NASA are carefully reviewing telemetry data and high-speed imagery, Koenigsmann said, and soon they will begin analyzing pieces of the spacecraft recovered at the test site near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Because this was a ground test, there is ample data for engineers to consider. He admitted the failure did come as "a shock" to some of the company's engineers. It is too early to determine a probable, or root, cause, but Koenigsmann expressed confidence in the SuperDraco thruster system. He noted that SpaceX has tested these powerful thrusters more than 600 times at its test facilities in McGregor, Texas. Moreover, they have performed well in hover tests as well as a launch pad abort test in 2015. "We have no reason to believe there’s an issue with the SuperDracos themselves," he said. SuperDracos SpaceX has been developing SuperDraco thrusters for the better part of a decade to enable human flights on board Dragon. There are four "pods" of two engines each situated around the Crew Dragon capsule, and each SuperDraco engine has a thrust of 16,000 pounds. Testing of the SuperDracos began in early 2012 using various thrust cycles on a test stand at SpaceX's rocket development facility in McGregor. The lost spacecraft is the same one that successfully flew a demonstration mission to the International Space Station in March. (During that Demo-1 mission, the SuperDracos were not activated.) After the March flight, the Dragon spacecraft was being prepared for a launch abort test this summer. During this launch abort test, the Dragon would have launched from Florida on a Falcon 9 booster and then fired its powerful SuperDraco engines to show that the Dragon could pull itself safely away from the rocket in case of a problem with the booster before or during flight. It is not clear what vehicle SpaceX will now use for that launch abort test, which will be all the more scrutinized due to the accident on April 20. Before this accident, SpaceX and NASA had been targeting early October for the first crewed Dragon mission to the station. Now, that will almost certainly be delayed by at least several months into 2020. At Thursday's news briefing, Koenigsmann said the schedule impact will depend on what the investigation turns up. "I hope this is a relatively swift investigation at the end of the day," he said. "I don’t want to completely preclude the current schedule, but certainly this is not good news for the schedule." Although NASA has stood by SpaceX after the accident, there are hints of future political problems. One of the sharpest critics of SpaceX, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, said Wednesday that NASA should conduct an independent investigation of the accident. He appeared unhappy with NASA's decision to conduct a side-by-side investigation with SpaceX. "Can you be independent, and reach independent conclusions, if you're doing something jointly with somebody?" he asked during a Senate committee hearing. "That's not the norm, I think, and it's something we'll check out." Source: Dragon was destroyed just before the firing of its SuperDraco thrusters (Ars Technica) Poster's note: To view the image gallery in the original article, please visit the link above.
  12. SpaceX authorised to reduce number of satellites The FCC has allowed SpaceX to reduce its number of satellites for home broadband by 16 units, and to operate them at a lower orbit than first authorised. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has given authorisation to SpaceX to reduce the number of satellites in its home broadband constellation from 4,425 down to 4,409, as well as permitted it to operate at a lower orbital altitude than previously allowed. While originally slated to operate at an altitude of 1,150km, 1,584 of Elon Musk's SpaceX satellites will now operate at 550km, with related changes to their operations also granted. In addition, SpaceX has been authorised to use Ku-band gateway earth stations for less than 75 of the non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) lower-altitude satellites. "After review of the record, we conclude that grant of the SpaceX Modification Application will serve the public interest," the FCC decided [PDF]. "Grant of this modification will allow SpaceX to make efficient use of valuable spectrum resources more safely, quickly, and cost-effectively as it initiates a new generation of broadband services available to customers worldwide, including those in areas previously underserved or even totally unserved by other broadband solutions." After SpaceX made the request in November 2018, competing providers OneWeb and Kepler filed petitions against it, citing a greater opportunity for interference. However, the FCC pointed out that there will be a decrease in the number of SpaceX satellites. "We thus conclude that the number of spatial configurations that have the potential for generating interference between SpaceX and any other NGSO FSS system in the same processing round is expected to remain approximately unchanged," the commission said. "We consider this to be a fundamental element in assessing whether there would be significant interference problems." The gateways now using the 14-14.5GHz band will also use larger antennas with narrower beams, which the FCC pointed out will "be more capable of avoiding interference into satellites". With SpaceX also describing how it would avoid potential collisions -- via a propulsion system so it can manoeuvre satellites to avoid collisions -- the FCC additionally found this risk to be zero or near zero. The launch of the global home broadband satellites was originally announced in November 2016, with SpaceX saying each unit would weigh 386kg and measure 4x1.8x1.2m. "The system is designed to provide a wide range of broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental, and professional users worldwide," SpaceX said at the time. Read also: SpaceX Falcon Heavy rockets into history and nails the landing (CNET) The company has seen difficulties, however; back in February, the Pentagon said it was planning an investigation into the certificationgranted to SpaceX's Falcon launch vehicle family to examine whether the US Air Force followed the correct guidelines. SpaceX had been awarded the certification required to launch military satellites in 2015. "Our objective is to determine whether the US Air Force complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying the launch system design for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles," Deputy Inspector General for Intelligence and Special Program Assessments Michael Roark said. In January, SpaceX additionally announced what it called a "necessary cutback" while removing 10% of its workforce to meet "extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead." As reported by sister site CNET, SpaceX and NASA are currently also investigating the cause of an engine failure of the Crew Dragon capsule. Source
  13. The company undoubtedly had a busy Easter weekend. SpaceX's Crew Dragon Spacecraft completed a pad abort test in May, 2015. This image shows the vehicle's eight SuperDraco thrusters firing as intended. SpaceX During a series of engine tests of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft this past Saturday, the vehicle experienced what the company has characterized as an "anomaly." Based upon an unauthorized leaked video of the accident, the company was counting down toward a firing of the Dragon's SuperDraco thrusters when the vehicle exploded. SpaceX has not validated the video, but it is consistent with verbal accounts of the failure that have been shared with Ars. After the accident, large dramatic clouds of orange smoke billowed above "Landing Zone 1," where SpaceX conducted Saturday's engine tests. According to one source, the orange plumes were the result of between one and two tons of nitrogen tetroxide—the oxidizer used by Dragon's SuperDraco engines—burning at the location. After a dramatic weekend, what follows is a summary of what we know, what we don't know, and where SpaceX goes from here. What was destroyed? The Crew Dragon capsule in question is the same one that successfully flew a demonstration mission to the International Space Station in March. The spacecraft was being prepared for a launch abort test this summer. During this test, the Dragon would have launched from Florida on a Falcon 9 booster and then fired its powerful SuperDraco engines to show that the Dragon could pull itself safely away from the rocket in case of a problem with the booster before or during flight. Now that SpaceX has lost this capsule, it must find a substitute for this launch abort test. It is not clear whether it will fabricate a boilerplate vehicle with a SuperDraco system of eight thrusters, or re-purpose one of the Dragons it has built for crewed flights to the space station. Either way, this is a significant materiel loss for the company. How did it happen? We don't know. According to the leaked video, the anomaly occurred within the final 10 seconds of the countdown, and it is not entirely clear whether the SuperDraco engines had begun to fire. One source indicated that the company has a lot of data about the failure—this was a ground-based test, so the vehicle was heavily instrumented—so theoretically finding the root cause of the accident should be more straightforward than had a problem occurred during a real flight. The best case scenario, in terms of causing delays for SpaceX, would be that someone mishandled the ground systems equipment. The worst-case scenario is that there is some undiscovered but fundamental design problem in SuperDraco thrusters. During past accidents, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been fairly forthcoming about the cause of the failures, and we hope for similar transparency with this accident. I would argue that, since this vehicle will eventually carry humans and is funded largely by NASA, transparency is essential to ensuring public confidence in the vehicle and company's processes. Was anyone hurt? Thankfully no. The last time we saw this dramatic of a ground-based spacecraft failure was during the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, which cost three human lives. Fortunately, no one was harmed during Saturday's accident, which speaks well of SpaceX's safety practices during such dynamic tests. Had humans been injured or killed, it would have undoubtedly complicated the already complex road ahead for SpaceX. What does this mean for commercial crew flights? NASA provided multibillion dollar contracts to SpaceX and Boeing in 2014, with the intent of bringing their Dragon and Starliner vehicles into service for getting U.S. astronauts to the space station. Before this accident, SpaceX and NASA had been targeting early October for the first crewed Dragon mission to the station. Now, that will almost certainly be delayed by at least several months, into 2020. Before Saturday, Boeing's Starliner spacecraft was behind Dragon in terms of development, and is also unlikely to fly humans before early 2020. NASA recently signed a deal with Russia to purchase two additional Soyuz seats, for one crew member each, which will ensure a U.S. crew presence on the station through September 2020. The agency may well now be forced to return to the Russians yet again to procure more seats through the end of 2020. What does SpaceX do now? Undoubtedly, the company had a busy Easter weekend. The first step is to determine what happened and then work with NASA to fully understand the problem; they would then devise a fix to ensure the problem never happens again. Internally, the company's engineers may already know what occurred. I would also be hugging NASA were I in SpaceX management—leaning on the agency for its expertise in human spaceflight systems as well as seeking cover from political fire. After a Falcon 9 rocket launch failure in 2015, in which the CRS-7 supply mission to the International Space Station was lost, the agency stood by its commercial cargo partner. NASA human spaceflight chief William Gerstenmaier offered public support for the company, beat back Congressional doubters, and helped SpaceX get back to flying quickly. In recent years, some NASA critics have viewed the agency as "holding back" SpaceX during the development of the Crew Dragon vehicle with unnecessary paperwork and requirements. This may be partly true, but NASA is the customer, and clearly there are hazards yet to be found in the Dragon (and probably Starliner, too). The fact is that NASA needs SpaceX to succeed, and so the company and the space agency are presently in a position where it's best for everyone if they work together side by side, identify and fix the issue, and move on. There is a precedent for this. After the Apollo 1 fire revealed multiple problems with the first version of the spacecraft, NASA worked closely with the Apollo capsule's contractor, North America Aviation (now a part of Boeing) to accelerate design of a much safer updated capsule design. The fire occurred in January 1967, and the updated "Block II" Apollo capsule made its first spaceflight less than 21 months later. The design would go on to fly a historic succession of lunar missions. Don't discount SpaceX It would be easy to write off SpaceX as a reckless company. But the reality is that this is a company moving rapidly in a lot of different directions—building the world's largest operational rocket (Falcon Heavy), perfecting first stage re-use, launching more rockets than any other company, trying to recover payload fairings, and building an unprecedented, next-generation vehicle called Starship. This accident should offer a clarifying moment for SpaceX and Musk that it really must get commercial crew right—and that putting humans on a Falcon 9 rocket, inside a Dragon spacecraft, raises the stakes. This is not easy. It is very hard. There should be little doubt the company can come back from this. SpaceX has shown a propensity for responding to failures with speed and an ability to fix problems. After the CRS-7 failure in 2015, they were flying again six months later. Remarkably, the return to flight mission also was the first successful Falcon 9 landing. After the Amos-6 launch pad failure in 2016, the company was flying again 4.5 months later and has had its most successful run since then. The company can get beyond this accident, but now that humans are involved it will require focus, transparency, and closely working with NASA to move on. Source: Here’s what we know, and what we don’t, about the Crew Dragon accident (Ars Technica)
  14. No one was injured, fortunately. Following a successful demonstration mission of its Crew Dragon spacecraft in March, SpaceX has been preparing that vehicle for a critical launch abort test this summer. During this upcoming test flight, the Dragon will launch from Florida on a Falcon 9 booster before firing its powerful SuperDraco engines to show that the spacecraft can pull itself safely away from the rocket in case of a problem with the booster. On Saturday, as part of preparations for this abort test, the company experienced some sort of anomaly. According to a company spokesperson: "Earlier today, SpaceX conducted a series of engine tests on a Crew Dragon test vehicle on our test stand at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand. Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting anomalies like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test. Our teams are investigating and working closely with our NASA partners." It is not immediately clear how significantly this incident will affect SpaceX as it works toward Dragon's first crewed mission, which will carry astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station. Previously, sources have said that flight could occur by about October under ideal conditions. If the problems were serious, Saturday's accident may substantially delay this schedule—although in the past SpaceX has shown a propensity to rapidly diagnose failures and return to flight quickly, with just 4.5 months of downtime after a rocket failure in September 2016. SpaceX has been developing SuperDraco thrusters for the better part of a decade to enable human flights on board Dragon. There are four "pods" of two engines each situated around the Dragon capsule, and each SuperDraco engine has a thrust of 16,000 pounds. Testing of the SuperDracos began in early 2012, using various thrust cycles on a test stand at SpaceX's rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. The engines burn hypergolic propellants—monomethylhydrazine is the fuel while nitrogen tetroxide is the oxidizer. These are fairly toxic compounds, but unlike other "cleaner" rocket fuels, they are more easily storable both on the ground and in space. These escape systems are one of the most difficult aspects of spacecraft development, as they must function during the most dynamic moments of spaceflight. NASA will no doubt scrutinize this failure closely before it allows its astronauts to fly in Dragon. Escape systems have previously caused problems as part of NASA's Commercial Crew program, which has provided funds to private companies for access to low Earth orbit. In June 2018, as Boeing prepared its Starliner spacecraft for a test of its emergency escape system, a propellant leak occurred near the end of an engine test firing and seriously damaged the service module. Boeing had intended to complete the test of its abort system last summer but has yet to reschedule the flight 10 months later, apparently due to complications from this accident. Although such escape systems are rarely used, they are the last line of defense when an emergency occurs. In the event of a rocket failure, such as that which occurred last October with a Russian Soyuz vehicle during a crew launch to the International Space Station, they are truly the difference between life and death. Source: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft had an anomaly during tests Saturday (Ars Technica) Poster's note: To view the article's image slideshow, please visit the above link.
  15. NASA hires SpaceX to help it crash an asteroid NASA's DART mission will attempt to deflect a moonlet, and a SpaceX Falcon 9 will send it on its way. NASA's DART spacecraft will blast off to the Didymos to crash into its moon. NASA The potential for an asteroid apocalypse scenario has NASA concerned enough to create the DART mission, a project that sounds straight out of a sci-fi action movie. The space agency has now cast SpaceX as a key supporting player. NASA announced Thursday that it's awarded a launch services contract for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) to SpaceX. The launch is scheduled for June 2021 on a Falcon 9 rocket blasting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The total cost to launch DART is about $69 million (£53 million, AU$96 million). DART is designed to intercept a small moon of the asteroid Didymos in late 2022 when the rock comes within 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) of Earth. The spacecraft will crash into the moonlet, nicknamed "Didymoon," in an attempt to redirect its course. "The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent, enough to be measured using telescopes on Earth," NASA said. If DART is successful, then the same concept could potentially be used to nudge hazardous asteroids away from Earth before they can wreak havoc. The contract is another NASA win for SpaceX, which is already deep into development of a Crew Dragon capsule for ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station. As cool as that is, there's something extra-awesome about being involved in smashing a spacecraft into an asteroid. Source
  16. Wednesday's launch will mark the first commercial flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket. The Falcon Heavy made a rousing debut a little more than a year ago, launching from Florida and sending a cherry-red Tesla Roadster beyond the orbit of Mars. At the time, no one was quite sure how SpaceX would market the world's most powerful rocket, which did not seem to fit particularly well into any niche, especially after the company's own Falcon 9 rocket saw significant performance increases. But in the 14 months since the large rocket's inaugural flight, Falcon Heavy has had a remarkable effect on the nation's space policy. In three key areas—national defense, science, and human exploration—the Falcon Heavy rocket has to some extent changed the discussion. As it turns out, the demand was there for a low-cost, heavy-lift booster. Falcon Heavy's most immediate and tangible impact has been with national security missions. In June, only a little more than four months after the vehicle's debut flight, the US Air Force certified the rocket to fly its reconnaissance and communications satellites into orbit. The Air Force also announced that it had selected the Falcon Heavy to launch its classified Air Force Space Command-52 satellite later in 2020. The rocket offers the military access to all of the desired orbits for its spacecraft. With a base launch cost starting at just $90 million, Falcon Heavy has also emerged as a contender for future NASA science missions to the outer planets. After saying for years that the Europa Clipper spacecraft could only launch on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, for example, NASA began talking about the possibility of launching it on a Falcon Heavy due to ongoing concerns about delays with the larger SLS booster. Planetary scientists have also said the rocket's mere existence has put price pressure on other boosters typically used for deep space probes. More recently, the Falcon Heavy rocket has entered the conversation for human exploration. As the space agency considers all contingency plans to accelerate a human return to the Moon, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said there is a scenario in which a Falcon Heavy—albeit with a different upper stage—could launch the Orion spacecraft to the Moon. "There is nothing sacred here that is off the table," Bridenstine said. While the agency said it still prefers to use the larger but unfinished Space Launch System rocket, it has openly acknowledged that it now has a (much cheaper) back-up plan. The potential market should only increase as Falcon Heavy demonstrates more success. Wednesday's launch will mark the launch vehicle's first commercial mission—the Arabsat-6A telecommunications satellite. The launch window opens at 6:35pm ET on Wednesday (22:35 UTC) and closes at 8:32pm (00:32 UTC) on Thursday. The weather forecast is good, calling for an 80-percent chance of favorable conditions. After launch and first stage separation, Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters will attempt to land back at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, while the center core will attempt to land on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. During the rocket's first launch in 2018, the side boosters made it, but the center core missed its drone ship landing. SpaceX will provide a webcast of the launch, landing attempts, and satellite separation from the upper stage, beginning 20 minutes before the anticipated liftoff on Wednesday. Source: Falcon Heavy making only second flight, but it’s already changing the game (Ars Technica) Poster's Note: The article contains an image slideshow. To see it, please visit the above link.
  17. What lessons can the space agency learn as it considers a lunar return? Enlarge / SpaceX's Crew Dragon approaches the International Space Station in March, 2019. NASA Nearly five years ago, NASA faced a difficult decision. The agency had spent about $1.5 billion to help Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada Corporation design spacecraft that could carry US astronauts to the International Space Station. As it sought to build flight hardware, NASA prepared to select just two providers to move forward—both to generate a healthy competition and provide redundant access to space. NASA had a total of $7 billion to distribute to the winning companies to finalize development of their spacecraft, integrate their rockets, and each fly up to six missions after NASA certified the vehicles as space-worthy. Publicly, some Boeing officials were denigrating SpaceX, emphasizing their own blue-blooded legacy. Boeing has had a successful working relationship with NASA dating back to 1961 and the first stage of the Saturn V rocket. By contrast, Boeing would note, Elon Musk seemed more interested in flashy marketing and never met his launch targets. "We go for substance," John Elbon, head of Boeing's space division, said at the time. "Not pizzazz." Behind the scenes, Boeing was pushing hard to win all of the funding for NASA's commercial crew program, and the company was encouraging NASA to go with the safe choice over spaceflight newcomers SpaceX and Sierra Nevada. "We were fighting to keep two providers as many in Congress, lobbyists, and some in NASA were fighting to down-select to only Boeing," one government source familiar with the process told Ars. In the end, NASA's chief of human spaceflight, William Gerstenmaier, kept two providers, Boeing and SpaceX. This has proven a wise decision for reasons of both cost and schedule. It also offers a timely lesson as NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine considers new approaches to taking humans back to the Moon with a reasonable budget and schedule. Cost disparity In terms of cost, NASA is getting a better deal from SpaceX. Perhaps the best way to determine costs is by "seat prices," the amount of money NASA pays to get one of its astronauts to the International Space Station. In recent years, since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, NASA has paid Russia as much as $81.8 million per seat. NASA has rarely talked "seat price" for commercial crew. Really, it has only come up during Congressional hearings, when Gerstenmaier has quoted a figure of $58 million. "Assuming all 12 missions are purchased and flown at a rate of two per year, the average seat price is $58 million per seat for commercial crew," he testified in 2015. Enlarge / NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, right, and Boeing space chief John Elbon in front of a Starliner in 2012. NASA However, this number does not reflect what NASA is paying Boeing and SpaceX individually. According to the US Government Accountability Office, there are three main funding lines in the commercial crew agreement: line item 001 is for development and testing, line item 002 is for service missions, and line item 003 is for special tests, studies, and analyses. To determine the per-seat price, we need to know the value of line item 002 and then divide by the number of seats per flight (four) and flights (up to six). Neither the agency nor the companies have publicly disclosed the values for line item 001 or line item 002. But we can make a pretty good estimate. By subtracting line item 003 (up to $150 million for each company), knowing the total value of the contracts, and using NASA's own average value of $58 million "seat price," we can back into the total value of line item 002: $2.784 billion. This, then, is the total amount NASA is paying for 12 operational flights to the space station from 2020 to 2024, or a total of 48 seats from both companies. Now, for the final step: overall, NASA awarded Boeing $4.2 billion for its commercial crew contract and SpaceX $2.6 billion. If this proportion of funding holds for line item 002, which a NASA source indicated is more or less accurate, then the seat prices NASA is paying Boeing and SpaceX are substantially different. According to this analysis, NASA will pay Boeing about $71.6 million per Starliner seat and SpaceX $44.4 million per Dragon seat. Why is NASA paying Boeing so much more? Probably because the company asked for it. As part of this competition, SpaceX bid a low price because it believed the space agency would prioritize lower prices. “Knowing I could have bid more, after the fact, I sure wish I would have bid more,” Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, said about this price disparity in 2018. Essentially, competition drove SpaceX to offer a lower price. Schedule Despite receiving less money from NASA and having less spaceflight experience, it now seems likely SpaceX will deliver a crew capability sooner. The California-based company has already flown its demonstration mission for NASA a month ago, and it is now working toward final testing that would allow its first crewed mission later this year, probably no earlier than October. By contrast, Boeing will not fly its first uncrewed demonstration mission until at least August, and NASA has acknowledged that this date may well slip again. One troubling sign for Boeing is that the company still has not performed a launch-pad abort test—during which Starliner's emergency escape system is fired from the launch pad to ensure the capsule can rapidly get away from the rocket during a launch problem. This test was originally scheduled for June 2018, but it has been indefinitely delayed after an anomaly occurred that month during a hot-fire test of the launch-abort engines. After this accident, which Boeing did not publicly disclose until a report in Ars nearly a month later, the company said, "We are confident we found the cause and are moving forward with corrective action." However, 10 months after the incident, Boeing is only now "preparing to restart" a campaign that will culminate with the abort test at some point in the future. SpaceX has had its own technical challenges with the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon parachutes, but it now appears likely to deliver a finished product to NASA before Boeing by several months, for less money. It seems plausible that SpaceX will, in fact, fly crew into space before Boeing flies a Starliner demo mission. Had NASA issued a sole-source contract to Boeing for commercial crew, not only would the agency have had a single provider with a higher price, it probably would have had to wait longer for that product. The implication here for NASA, as it looks to extend human spaceflight from low-Earth orbit into deep space, seems clear. If the agency is serious about lunar landings by 2024, it has a lot of contracts to set soon: for Gateway modules, for lunar lander components, for spacesuits, and for rockets to get all of that material into lunar orbit. The lesson from commercial crew is that healthy competition among providers is good, commercial contracts can lead to lower prices, and just because a company has a long history of spaceflight success doesn't mean they'll necessarily perform better than the new kids on the block. Source: SpaceX likely to win NASA’s crew competition by months, for billions less (Ars Technica)
  18. "Starhopper completed tethered hop. All systems green." Starhopper test firing. For a couple of weeks, SpaceX engineers and technicians have been conducting a series of tests on its Starship prototype vehicle in South Texas. For example, they have loaded liquid oxygen and liquid methane fuels onto the vehicle, studied the cryogenic properties of the fuel tanks, and then removed the propellant. As expected, this was all a little dull for those eager to see Starhopper light its single Raptor engine—until Wednesday evening. Shortly after night fell over the southern Texas test facility, Starhopper roared to life for the first time, firing its Raptor engine and lifting briefly off the pad. The vehicle did not go far, because for now it remains solidly tethered to the ground. This test firing was apparently successful. "Starhopper completed tethered hop. All systems green," SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted shortly after the test. This represents the first phase of tests for the Starship vehicle. The prototype built in South Texas, near Brownsville, is not a particularly high-fidelity mock-up, but it is needed to test how a vehicle designed to land propulsively on other worlds, and take off, handles such conditions. These minute hops will progressively become larger as SpaceX adds two more Raptor engines to Starhopper in the coming months. It is not known how high Starhopper will eventually climb during these tests. Back in 2012 and 2013, when SpaceX was testing its Grasshopper vehicle to prove out technologies for landing its Falcon 9 rocket, the vehicle climbed as high as 744 meters during its flight campaign. The work on Starhopper continues as SpaceX prepares to test-fire another rocket—the Falcon Heavy booster. The window for a static fire test opens at 6pm ET Thursday, and closes at midnight. Provided this test firing of all of the vehicle's 27 engines is successful, the Arabsat-6A launch may occur as early as Sunday, April 7, at 6:36pm ET. This will be only the Falcon Heavy rocket's second flight. Listing image by SpaceX Source: SpaceX’s Starhopper vehicle test-fires its engine for the first time (Ars Technica)
  19. A new satellite network that was officially launched last week is meant to make it impossible for commercial airplanes to go missing, according to a new CBS report. A SpaceX rocket last week delivered 10 satellites into orbit, the final part of an effort by Iridium Communications Inc. to replace its 66 old communication satellites with a new generation of technology, CBS reported. The new Iridium Communications satellites will have improved airplane-tracking abilities, which could reduce the number of flights that vanish per year. The replacement satellites will be able to communicate with GPS transponders, which must be installed in all U.S. and European planes by 2020, according to CBS. "Seventy percent of the world's airspace has no surveillance," Don Thoma, the CEO of global air traffic surveillance company Aireon, told CBS. The Iridium satellites contain an Aireon system that was built to surveil all airplanes on the globe, according to ABC. "Aircraft fly over the oceans and report back their positions to air traffic control every 10 to 15 minutes at best and in between those periods, no one knows where they are," Thoma said. Iridium spent $3 billion on the project to replace their old satellites over eight launches in two years, according to ABC. There will now be 75 satellites orbiting. "It's kind of like changing a tire on a bus going 17,000 miles per hour," Walt Everetts, vice president of satellite operations for Iridium, told CBS. "With these new satellites that we're putting up, we have more capacity, more processing capability, more memory … so we are taking an old flip phone and upgrading it into a smartphone." The network of satellites, which is 485 miles above land, has already started tracking planes, CBS reported. The first set of Iridium satellites went up in the 1990s, offering communication services to customers with Iridium phones and pagers, according to ABC. Source
  20. SpaceX plans to lay off 10 percent of its 6,000-employee workforce, citing a need to be a "leaner company" to meet its ambitious goals. Elon Musk's company maintains it's financially strong but needs the staff reductions to ensure it can accomplish long-term goals of deploying satellite-based broadband service and transporting humans to other planets. "To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company," the company said in a statement Friday. "Either of these developments, even when attempted separately, have bankrupted other organizations. This means we must part ways with some talented and hardworking members of our team." "We are grateful for everything they have accomplished and their commitment to SpaceX's mission," the company continued. "This action is taken only due to the extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead and would not otherwise be necessary." The layoffs were reported earlier Friday by the Los Angeles Times. Musk, who also serves as CEO of Tesla and the Boring Company, founded SpaceX in 2002 "to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets." In 2014, it won a $2.6 billion contract from NASA to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. Central to Musk's vision is recycling rockets to make cheaper, more rapid launches to orbit. The goal of SpaceX missions is to push a payload into space and then return the rocket boosters to Earth each time so they can be reused on future missions. Many of SpaceX's recent launches have focused on getting a constellation of Iridium communications satellites into orbit. On Friday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying 10 satellites. Referred to by SpaceX as "one of the largest 'tech upgrades' in space history," the global communications system is expected to enable advanced satellite broadband services and aircraft surveillance and tracking. The Hawthorne, California-based company also plans to provide global broadband services through 4,425 low-Earth orbit satellites. The goal of the plan -- which won FCC approval last year -- is to provide low-latency broadband to rural and remote places with little or no internet access and to improve speeds and coverage in areas with so-so access. But perhaps Musk's most audacious ambitions lie in interplanetary space travel – namely putting humans and a city on Mars. A SpaceX plan teased in August calls for an unmanned, robotic mission to Mars as soon as 2022, followed by the first human flight to the red planet a few years later. SpaceX has also been talking up plans to shoot tourists around the moon since early 2017. In September, those plans appeared to take a giant leap forward when Musk named Yusaku Maezawa, a 42-year-old Japanese billionaire, as its first lunar tourist. Source
  21. The weather was favorable, all systems were go. After a week of delays, SpaceXon Sunday finally launched a satellite that will kick off a new era for GPS navigation technology. At just before 6 a.m. PT, SpaceX tweeted simply "Liftoff!" and the Falcon 9 rocket was on its way. The rocket was carrying the US Air Force's GPS III SV01 satellite, the first in series of new satellites that will update the Global Positioning System. Still used and maintained by the Air Force, the array of GPS satellites has become a part of the everyday fabric of life for just about everyone. It's in the palm of your hand, for instance, whenever you get directions to a store or restaurant on your smartphone. The GPS III system is designed to be more accurate than the existing technology while being better able to resist jamming. It's also likely to have a longer life span. Two hours after the launch, the satellite separated from the rocket and began its independent orbit. Shortly after that, Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor that built SV01, said that ground control was in communication with the satellite, though it's not operational just yet. First it has to reach an orbit of about 12,550 miles, at which point its solar arrays and antennas will be set in position and signals testing will begin. "This is the Air Force's first GPS III, so we are excited to begin on-orbit test and demonstrate its capabilities," Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin's vice president for navigation systems, said in a statement. "By this time next year, we expect to also have a second GPS III on orbit and users should be receiving signals from this first satellite." Launch dates for the mission had come and gone with some regularity. They'd been set for September and October and then again for this month. In just the last week, SpaceX had been ready to go on several occasions, only to face delaysbecause of technical issues (Tuesday and Wednesday) and uncooperative weather (Thursday and Saturday). In contrast with other recent Falcon 9 launches, SpaceX won't attempt to recover the first stage of the rocket. SV01 is the first of what could eventually be nearly two dozen GPS III satellites from Lockheed Martin. SpaceX didn't immediately respond to a request for further comment. source
  22. (Reuters) - A SpaceX rocket carrying a U.S. military navigation satellite blasted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on Sunday, marking the space transportation company’s first national security space mission for the United States. The Falcon 9 rocket carrying a roughly $500 million GPS satellite built by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 8:51 a.m. local time (1351 GMT). Four previous scheduled launches in the last week, including one on Saturday, were canceled due to weather and technical issues. The successful launch is a significant victory for billionaire Elon Musk’s privately held rocket company, which has spent years trying to break into the lucrative market for military space launches dominated by Lockheed and Boeing Co (BA.N). SpaceX sued the U.S. Air Force in 2014 over the military’s award of a multibillion-dollar, non-compete contract for 36 rocket launches to United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed. It dropped the lawsuit in 2015 after the Air Force agreed to open up competition. The next year, SpaceX won an $83 million Air Force contract to launch the GPS III satellite, which will have a lifespan of 15 years. The satellite is the first to launch out of 32 in production by Lockheed under contracts worth a combined $12.6 billion for the Air Force GPS III program, according to Lockheed spokesman Chip Eschenfelder. The launch was originally scheduled for 2014 but has been hobbled by production delays, the Air Force said. The next GPS III satellite is due to launch in mid-2019, Eschenfelder said, while subsequent satellites undergo testing in the company’s Colorado processing facility. Source
  23. SpaceX launched two new Earth science satellites for NASA and five Iridium Next communications satellites into orbit on May 22 The ride-share mission lifted off on a pre-flown Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 3:47 p.m. EDT (12:47 p.m. PDT, 1947 GMT). "Liftoff for GRACE Follow-On, continuing the legacy of the GRACE mission of tracking the movement of water across our planet," NASA TV's launch commentator Gay Yee Hill announced as the Falcon 9 rocket soared into the sky. "That's a beautiful launch," replied her fellow commentator Sammy Kayali, director for the Office of Mission Safety and Success at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and former deputy manager for GRACE-FO. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches NASA's twin GRACE-FO satellites and five Iridium Next communications satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 22, 2018. Credit: NASA TV For the launch, SpaceX used the same Falcon 9 rocket booster that launched the classified Zuma mission for the U.S. Air Force in January. Zuma ended up crashing into the ocean instead of reaching orbit, but investigators determined that the Falcon 9 rocket did not cause the accident. After launching Zuma, the booster returned to Cape Canaveral to stick a vertical landing, and SpaceX refurbished it before today's flight. SpaceX did not attempt to land the rocket this time, though. However, SpaceX did attempt to recover the valuable payload fairing, or nose cone, that covered the GRACE-FO and Iridium satellites during launch. The clamshell-like fairing halves were expected to glide back to Earth under a parafoil and be caught by Mr. Steven, a SpaceX recovery boat equipped with a huge net suspended between giant metal arms. But Mr. Steven didn't succeed at catching the payload fairing today. "We came very close. We're going to keep working on that," John Insprucker, a principal integration engineer at SpaceX, said during a live webcast of today's mission. About 12 minutes after liftoff, the rocket's second stage deployed twin satellites for NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission into a near-polar orbit. The second stage then ignited its engines once more and headed to a higher orbit to drop off the five Iridium Next satellites. NASA confirmed contact with both GRACE-FO satellites shortly after launch via the McMurdo tracking station in Antarctica. SpaceX confirmed that the five Iridium satellites also deployed successfully about an hour after liftoff. These satellites will join a constellation of 50 satellites owned by a company called Iridium Communications, bringing the total number of Iridium satellites to 55. By the time Iridium Communications completes the constellation, there will be 75 satellites in orbit. The other payload, GRACE-FO, is a follow-on to the original GRACE mission, which mapped Earth's water and ice by measuring changes in Earth's gravity field from 2002 to 2017. GRACE-FO will pick up where GRACE left off to continue studying rising sea levels, the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps and other changes in the distribution of water around the globe. NASA is spending $430 million on the GRACE-FO mission, which is a joint project with the German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ). The GFZ has invested another 77 million Euros (nearly $91 million) in the mission, said Frank Flechtner, GRACE-FO's project manager at GFZ in Potsdam, Germany, at a news conference Monday (May 21). "GRACE was really a revolutionary mission for understanding the water cycle, how the climate behaves and the trends taking place over the last 10 or 15 years, and it did this in a very unique way by making measurements of how the mass gets redistributed on the surface of the earth," said Frank Webb, GRACE-FO project scientist at JPL, at the news conference. "We're able to see how water has moved from different parts of the earth by actually measuring its mass, which is not something you see with your eyes. It's something you have to feel with the satellite system," Webb said. To measure Earth's gravity, the two spacecraft will orbit Earth together, with one trailing behind the other at a distance of 137 miles (220 kilometers). Because Earth isn't a perfect sphere and has different features, like mountains and oceans, across its surface, the gravitational pull exerted on the spacecraft is not consistent. When the gravity field changes, the separation between the two satellites changes slightly. The measurement of that change in separation can reveal information about what kinds of features the spacecraft are flying over. The spacecraft measure that change with a microwave tracking system, beaming signals back and forth between the two. GRACE-FO's instruments are so sensitive that they can detect changes "with a precision of about 1 micrometer. That is about one-tenth of a human hair over the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego," Flechtner said. The twin satellites that launched are almost identical to the two original GRACE satellites, with the exception of one new tool: the Laser Ranging Interferometer. This experimental device serves the same purpose as the microwave instrument, but it's designed to take measurements up to 10 times as precise as the microwave instrument. If the new instrument works out, NASA plans to use it on subsequent GRACE follow-on missions. GRACE-FO is expected to spend the next five years mapping Earth's water. Source
  24. SpaceX founder Elon Musk says that the Falcon Heavy, the launch vehicle being billed as the most powerful rocket in the world, will be ready for its first launch on February 6th. The Falcon Heavy is the rocket Musk says will eventually carry humans to Mars for SpaceX’s dubiously safe human habitation project. Per CNN Money, the only more powerful rocket developed by humans was NASA’s Saturn V model, which was retired in the 1970s and was capable of lifting roughly two and a half times as much mass as its new competitor—though the Falcon Heavy’s three first-stage boosters are designed to be reusable, which is arguably a much more impressive technical achievement. The first flight will carry a dummy payload, though Musk has joked about using the rocket to carry a Tesla Roadster into space. According to CNN, the Falcon Heavy is already contracted to carry telecommunications satellites for Arabsat, Inmarsat, and Viasat, as well as a payload named STP-2 for the U.S. Air Force and one space tourist run around the moon. Musk has previously conceded that the launch is not a sure shot, though, and if anything goes wrong all of those projects could be delayed. Per the Verge, the Falcon Heavy was originally supposed to be ready by 2013 or 2014, and SpaceX has a long history of experimental rockets exploding on the launch pad, mid-air, or touching back down—pretty much every stage of the process. Source: https://gizmodo.com/elon-musk-says-spacexs-falcon-heavy-will-be-ready-for-l-1822492430
  25. Musk first discussed the unnamed satellite constellation project back in January 2015, later filing for an FCC application to test basic technologies that would support it. According to a June 2015 story by Christian Davenport at The Washington Post, Musk said the project - estimated to cost some US $10 billion - "would be like rebuilding the Internet in space". Davenport also noted that Google and Fidelity invested US $1 billion into Musk’s company, in part to support the project, so it’s a good guess that if and when the network becomes functional, those companies would partly assume control of it. (Google parent company Alphabet is also working on its own effort to beam internet connectivity from the skies using satellites, balloons and drones). The filing comes just two months after a SpaceX rocket exploded during a routine launchpad test. It was carrying the US $200 million AMOS-6 satellite, which Facebook intended to licence to beam free internet to parts of Africa. Business Insider contacted SpaceX for more details on the project, including its projected timeline and how the satellites would be launched (presumably through Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets), but representatives did not immediately answer our questions. http://www.sciencealert.com/spacex-wants-to-cover-the-globe-with-an-internet-service-200-times-faster-than-average
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