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  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. (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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. The satellite attached to the rocket was intended to be used by Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg says he is "deeply disappointed" This is the moment SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket exploded and destroyed The explosion at 9.07AM Eastern Time on September 1 took place during a routine test firing of the unmanned rocket as its launch date drew close. While nobody was hurt in the incident, the blast saw the loss of the rocket and its expensive payload: the Amos-6 satellite, which was planned to be used by Mark Zuckerberg's social network. For Elon Musk, the boss of the private space company, the destruction of the rocket will be a loss – albeit one the company will learn from. At present, the cause of the fireball – the smoke from which could be seen for miles around the Kennedy Space Center – is unknown. SpaceX said the "anomaly" started "around the upper stage oxygen tank and occurred during propellant loading of the vehicle". It continued to say the data from the failed test will be studied in a bid to identify the exact problem. The blast occurred as the private space firm was preparing to launch its heaviest payload to date. The satellite built by Spacecom was due to launch on September 3 and act as a communications satellite. Notably, the Amos 6 was due, in part, to be used by Facebook. In October 2015 the social network's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, said the satellite would be used as the company's "first project to deliver internet from space". Zuckerberg, who is currently visiting Africa, intended to use the satellite to beam internet to the continent. "I'm deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX's launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent", he said on his Facebook Page. This firing test was a routine test ahead of the planned launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station this weekend. Article source
  9. On Wednesday, Elon Musk’s private company SpaceX announced on Twitter that it plans to send a spacecraft to Mars as soon as 2018. The mission will involve sending a spacecraft called the Red Dragon to Mars to retrieve samples collected by NASA’s Mars rover and then return them to Earth. Here’s SpaceX’s announcement: SpaceX has had big plans to usher in a new era of reusable rockets that could send the first humans to Mars and return them home for a while. In 2011, SpaceX released a video showing how they were going to re-land a rocket booster after launching it to space — something that had never been done before. On December 21, 2015, SpaceX successfully landed its first reusable rocket, a Falcon 9, on a launch pad. They followed that up on April 8, 2016 by successfully landing another Falcon 9 on a barge floating in the ocean. Musk has announced plans to relaunch this Falcon 9 as early as May. The Red Dragon will be launched into space with the Falcon Heavy rocket, which is kind of like the Falcon 9 on steroids. SpaceX has announced plans to launch the rocket into space as soon as November 2016. SpaceX has boasted that the Falcon Heavy is the world’s most powerful rocket, capable of carrying twice the payload of the Space Shuttle. Only the Saturn V, the rocket used to launch astronauts to the moon in the Apollo program, was capable of delivering more payload to orbit. The Falcon Heavy is a multistage rocket, which means it contains separate rockets, or stages, stacked on top of each other. Each stage contains its own engine and propellant. When a stage runs out of propellant, it is ejected from the spacecraft to decrease the remaining mass of the rocket. Musk confirmed on Twitter on Friday, April 29 that SpaceX will be attempting to land all three booster stages during the Falcon Heavy launch: So what’s cooler than landing a rocket on Earth? Landing on Mars, of course. Judging from the illustrations on their Flickr account, SpaceX plans to land on Mars using a simple approach that’s never been tried before. This is SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, which is not designed to carry humans, sitting on the Red Planet: This unmanned Dragon capsule has been making trips to the International Space Station since 2010. But to get to Mars, which is 560,000 times farther, the Dragon will need to ride a more powerful rocket than the Falcon 9, which it takes to the ISS. That rocket is SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, illustrated below, that is scheduled to launch out of Kennedy Space Center for the first time next year. However, this monster rocket will only take Dragon so far. Getting to Mars is easy compared to landing on it because the Martian atmosphere is a tricky beast to control. The Martian atmosphere is about 1,000 times thinner than Earth’s, so simple parachutes won’t slow a vehicle down enough to land safely. But that atmosphere is still thick enough to generate a great deal of heat from friction against a spacecraft.Therefore, to land on Mars you have to have a spacecraft with a heat shield that can withstand temperature of 1600 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, Dragon’s heat shield can protect it against temperatures of over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, so plummeting toward Mars, illustrated below, shouldn’t be a problem heat-wise. But there’s still the problem of slowing down. Although gravity on Mars is about 1/3 of what it is on Earth, the vehicle is still plummeting toward the ground at over 1,000 miles per hour after entering Mars’s atmosphere. If it were to hit the ground at those speeds, you’d have a disaster. The way that SpaceX aims to deal with this tricky problem is to use the thrusters on board the Dragon spacecraft to first redirect its momentum from downward to sideways, as illustrated below, thus reducing its speed: And then, as the spacecraft continues to plunge toward the surface, it will fire its thrusters one final time for a soft, vertical touch down: This sort of landing is unlike anything that anyone has ever tried before, but you have to admit that Dragon looks pretty great on Mars if it ever manages to get there: The last major Mars landing was NASA’s Curiosity rover in 2012. This landing was a huge success but extremely complicated that involved half a dozen steps that, if not completed perfectly, would end in disaster. NASA dubbed the landing process “7 minutes of terror” because that’s how long it took to enter the atmosphere and land. But the technology isn’t ready for human passengers just yet. Musk tweeted that the Dragon might not be the most comfortable environment for space explorers. This mission marks an important milestone in the partnership between NASA and SpaceX, bringing them one step closer to achieving their goal of sending humans to Mars in by the 2030s. source
  10. Last week, SpaceX made history when it successfully landed its CRS-8 first stage on a droneship in the ocean, ushering in a future of reusable -- and thusly more economical -- rockets. The company had previously launched a Flickr account where it shares public domain images of some of its takeoffs and landings, and this time is no exception. SpaceX has uploaded a batch of images of the historic event, several of which are stunning. There are 14 photographs in total, some showing the first stage as it neared the droneship, another just as it landed, and a couple more with the fire extinguished. The rest show the rocket from various heights with flames jutting out the bottom, painting the droneship with fire and smoke. All the photos are in the public domain, meaning you can use them for whatever you’d like, such as printing them out as a poster for your wall. If you missed the first stage landing, you can check it out in the video below — roaring cheers accompany the successful event, which happened smoothly after several failed attempts. This followed a resupply run for the International Space Station, something that had resulted in disaster the last time SpaceX attempted the launch, as its rocket had exploded in the sky. source
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