SpaceX will launch four private astronaut missions to the Space Station through 2023

SpaceX is going to be providing more rides to private astronauts to the International Space Station, on top of the previously announced mission set to take place as early as next January. All four of these flights will be for Axiom, a private commercial spaceflight and space station company, and they’re set to take place between early next year through 2023.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 spacecraft make up the first commercial launch system certified for transporting humans to the ISS, and they’ve already delivered three groups of NASA astronauts to the orbital lab, including one demo crew for its final qualification test, and two operational crews to live and work on the station. In May, Axiom and NASA revealed the details of their AX-1 mission, the first all-private launch to the ISS, which will carry four passengers to the station on a Crew Dragon to live and work in space for a duration of eight days in total.

NASA and SpaceX will be providing training to all four of the Axiom crews set to make the trip to the station. And while neither SpaceX or Axiom has shared more details yet  on what the other three missions will entail, or when they’re set to take place, four missions in two years technically absorbs all the existing capacity NASA has allocated for private astronaut missions, which is set at 2 per year, for 2022 and 2023.

One private astronaut flight to the ISS is already set for 2021: Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa booked a ride to the station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket for early December. Maezawa booked through Space Adventures, which has already provided a handful of trips for deep-pocketed private astronauts over the course of the past couple of decades.

Axiom meanwhile envisions a somewhat less niche, and more continually active future for commercial orbital space stations. The company is already working on a commercial module to be added to the existing ISS, and has designs on building a fully private successor to the station in future. Booking four trips with multiple crew members in two years goes a long way towards showing there’s more than just very sporadic demand from eccentric rich people for this kind of offering.

#axiom, #elon-musk, #falcon, #human-spaceflight, #international-space-station, #nasa, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #space, #space-adventures, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #yusaku-maezawa

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Max Q: Selling space

Max Q is a weekly newsletter from TechCrunch all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Mondays in your inbox.

This week actually includes two, since I was out last week for a Canadian national holiday (and back today for the U.S. one, ironically). There’s plenty to cover, including Blue Origin’s bidding process, lunar landers, spaceships launching at sea and the return of our very own space event.

Blue Origin’s big bid

Blue Origin is auctioning off one seat on its first ever human spaceflight, and the bidding got started at $1.4 million — or at least, the public bidding started there. Before last week, people had been submitting blind bids, but now Blue Origin is posting the top current bid to its website whenever it hits a new high. It’s currently set at $2.8 million, meaning it’s doubled since the bids opened up to public scrutiny, and presumably FOMO.

Everything’s building up to June 12, when the auction will conclude with a live, real-time online competitive bidding round. Seems likely it’ll at least cross the $3 million mark before all’s said and done, which is good news for Blue Origin, since run-of-the-mill tickets for the few minutes in suborbital space going forward will probably end up more in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range.

The winning bidder will be flying on July 20, if all goes to the current plan, and will be accompanied by other passengers selected by Blue Origin through some other mechanism. We don’t yet know who else will be on the ride. Bezos maybe?

SpaceX’s Deimos spaceport is under construction

ENSCO offshore oil rig like the one SpaceX is converting

ENSCO offshore oil rig like the one SpaceX is converting.

SpaceX is really flexing its sci-fi-made-real muscle with its latest move: The company is turning two offshore oil rig platforms into floating spaceports, and one of the two, codenamed ‘Deimos’ after one of Mars’ moons, is already being worked on. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared that the company is hoping to have it ready for operations next year, meaning it could host actual launches in 2022.

Eventually, Deimos and its twin, Phobos, will provide launch and landing services to SpaceX’s first fully reusable launch vehicle — Starship. Starship only just managed to land successfully after a high, but still very much atmospheric flight test, however, so it has a way to go before it’s making amphibious departures and arrivals using the converted oil platforms.

Putting these in the ocean presumably helps solve some key issues, not least of which is being mindful of the impact of launching absolutely massive rockets on land anywhere near people. Ditto the landings, which at least early on, are bound to be risky affairs better carried out with a buffer of surrounding ocean.

Landers; lunar ones

Lander Rover

Concept graphic depicting ispace’s HAKUTO-R lander and rover.

There’s quite a bit of lunar lander news this week, including Japan’s ispace revealing that it’ll provide commercial lunar lander service to both Canada and Japan, with a ride for both provided by SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket. These will be two separate missions, with the first one set for next year, and the second one set to take place in 2023.

Both will use ispace’s Hakuto-R lander, which it originally developed to take part in the Google-backed Lunar XPRIZE competition. That ended without a winner, but some companies, including ispace, continued to work on their landers with an eye to commercialization. The Hakuto-R being sent on behalf of JAXA will carry an adorable ball-shaped Moon robot which looks like a very novel take on a rover.

Meanwhile, GM announced this past week that it’s working with space industry veteran Lockheed Martin to develop a next-gen Moon rover that will provide future lunar astronauts with more speed and greater range. GM and Lockheed will still have to win a NASA contract in order to actually make the thing, but they’re clearly excited about the prospect.

TC Sessions: Space is back in December

Last year we held our first dedicated space event, and it went so well that we decided to host it again in 2021. This year, it’s happening December 14 and 15, and it’s once again going to be an entirely virtual conference, so people from all over the world will be able to join.

We had an amazing line-up of guests and speakers at last year’s event, including Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck, NASA’s Kathy Lueders and more, and we’re already working on a fantastic follow-up agenda that’s sure to thrill all kinds of space fans.

You can already get tickets, and if you get in early, you save $100.

#bezos, #blue-origin, #canada, #ceo, #elon-musk, #falcon, #google, #google-lunar-x-prize, #ispace, #japan, #kathy-lueders, #lockheed-martin, #max-q, #outer-space, #peter-beck, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-lab, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #techcrunch, #united-states

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SpaceX launches and lands a Falcon 9 rocket booster a record 10th time

SpaceX has launched another 60 Starlink satellites — making 180 delivered to orbit in under two weeks — but the launch early Sunday morning was more notable because it set a new, key record for Falcon 9 rocket reusability. This marked the 10th flight of the first-stage rocket booster used for the launch, which sets a record for re-use for SpaceX as the rocket booster with the most successful mission under its belt.

The launch took place at 2:42 AM EDT, flying from Cape Canaveral in Florida. SpaceX also successfully returned the booster to its drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean for a tenth successful landing for the rocket, too, making it a record-setter in that regard as well, and setting up the possibility that it could fly yet again. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said it could be “possible” for a Falcon 9 booster to fly “100+” times with servicing and component replacement.

This Falcon 9 has previously flown on missions including the original uncrewed demonstration mission of Crew Dragon, SpaceX’s astronaut spacecraft, and seven prior Starlink launches. SpaceX has shown just how reusable its rockets are with its aggressive Starlink launch schedule, most of which have employed rocket boosters that have flown a number of missions before, including other launches for the broadband internet megaconstellation.

Since SpaceX is both launch provider and customer on Starlink, it’s actually crucial for the company to realize as many cost savings as possible during its frequent flights building the network of low Earth orbit satellites. Re-use of the boosters is a key ingredient, and one where the cost savings definitely accrue over time. Musk has previously said that the economics are such that for its external customer flights, it’s at about “even” on the second use of a booster, and “ahead” in terms of costs by the third. During its Starlink launch program, SpaceX has repeatedly set and broken its own reusability records, indicating a key means of keeping the costs of building out its in-space satellite infrastructure is using flight-proven boosters as much as possible.

This is the 27th Starlink launch thus far, and SpaceX has another planned just six days from now on May 15, with at least one more likely in the works for later this month after that. The company hopes to have its broadband network built out to the point where it has global reach by the end of this year.

#broadband, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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Watch SpaceX launch its second crew of Space Station astronauts on a flight-proven Falcon 9 live

SpaceX is set to launch its second operational commercial crew mission to the International Space Station for NASA, with a liftoff time of 5:49 AM EDT (2:49 AM PDT) on Friday morning. The flight will carry four astronauts, including two from NASA, one from JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and one from the ESA (European Space Agency), to the station, where they will begin a regular tour of duty conducting science experiments, and maintaining and upgrading the orbital platform.

This is the second commercial crew mission for SpaceX, which officially qualified its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket for human flight last year. NASA then launched four astronauts using SpaceX’s human-certified launch system later that year in November, becoming the first private company to deliver people to the ISS, and the first American vehicle to do so since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011. Since the end of that program, NASA has relied on buying rides aboard Russian Soyuz rockets to keep up its representation on the ISS.

There’s already a SpaceX Crew Dragon at the Space Station from that Crew-1 launch last year, and it was relocated to another port on the station earlier this month in preparation for the arrival of the one flying for Crew-2. The Crew-1 Dragon capsule is set to return back to Earth with astronauts on board once they’re relieved by this flight’s crew, likely later this month on April 28.

One major notable change for this launch is the use of a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket booster. SpaceX has previously used new boosters fresh from the factory for its human launches, though it has a spotless track record when it comes to booster re-use for its cargo flights. It’s also the first re-use of a dragon spacecraft, and both components of this launch system actually previously supported human launches, with the first stage serving during Crew-1, and the Dragon capsule providing the ride for Demo-2, which flew astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

The astronauts on today’s flight are Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur from NASA, as well as Akihiko Hoshide from JAXA and Thomas Pesquet from the ESA. As mentioned, liftoff time is set for 5:49 AM EDT, but SpaceX will begin streaming live hours in advance at approximately 1:30 AM EDT on Friday (10:30 PM PDT on Thursday).

#aerospace, #commercial-crew-program, #esa, #european-space-agency, #falcon, #international-space-station, #japan-aerospace-exploration-agency, #jaxa, #nasa, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #shuttle, #space, #space-station, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

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SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket to deliver an Astrobotic lander and NASA water-hunting rover to the Moon in 2023

SpaceX is set to send a payload to the Moon in 2023, using its larger (and infrequently used) Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. The mission will fly a lander built by space startup Astrobotic, which itself will be carrying NASA’s VIPER, or Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (this is the agency that loves torturing language to come up with fun acronyms, after all).

The launch is currently set for later in the year, and this would be Falcon Heavy’s first Moon mission if all goes to plan. It would not, however, be SpaceX’s first lunar outing, since the company has booked missions to launch lunar landers as early as 2022 on behalf of both Masten and Intuitive Machines. Those would both employ Falcon 9 rockets, however, at least according to current mission specs. Also, all of the above timelines so far exist only on paper, and in the business of space, delays and schedule shifts are far from unusual.

This mission is an important one for all involved, however, so they’re likely to prioritize its execution. For NASA, it’s a key mission in its longer-term goals for Artemis, the program through which it seeks to return humans to the Moon, and eventually establish a more permanent scientific presence there both in orbit and on the surface. Part of establishing a surface station will rely on using in-situ resources, of which water would be a hugely important one.

Astrobotic's Griffin lunar lander in development.

Image Credits: Astrobotic

Astrobotic won the contract to deliver VIPER on behalf of NASA last year. The mission profile includes landing the payload on the lunar South Pole, which is the intended target landing area for NASA’s Artemis missions involving human astronauts. The lander Astrobotic is sending for this task is its Griffin model, which is a larger craft vs. its Peregrine lander, giving it the extra space required to carry the VIPER, and making it necessary to use SpaceX’s heavier lift Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.

NASA’s ambitious target of landing astronauts back on the Moon by 2024 is in flux as the new administration looks at timelines and budgets, but it still seems committed to making use of public-private partnerships to pave the way, whenever it does attain that goal. This first Griffin mission, along with an earlier planned Peregrine landing, are part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which sought private sector partners to build and deliver lunar landers with NASA as one customer.

#aerospace, #astrobotic, #astrobotic-technology, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #falcon, #griffin, #intuitive-machines, #lunar-lander, #moon-mission, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #viper

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SpaceX flies Falcon 9 rocket booster for a record 9th time, delivers 3rd batch of Starlink satellites in two weeks

SpaceX has delivered another 60 Starlink satellites to orbit — meaning it has sent 180 in total to join its 1,000+ strong constellation in the past two weeks alone. Today’s launch also set a record for SpaceX for its Falcon 9 rocket reusability program, since it was the ninth flight and ninth landing for this particular first-stage booster.

The booster was used previously on a variety of missions, including five prior Starlink launches, as well as the Demo-1 mission for the company’s Crew Dragon capsule, which was the uncrewed test flight that proved it would work as intended from launch all the way to docking with the International Space Station and then returning back to Earth.

SpaceX set its prior reusability record in January this year – another Starlink launch – using this very same refurbished first stage, which had just flown in December of last year before that. SpaceX not only wants to continue to show that it can re-fly these boosters more and more times, but also that it can turn them around quickly for their next mission, since both speed and volume will have a significant impact on launch costs.

Rocket reuse is of particular importance when it comes to these Starlink missions, which are happening with increasing frequency as SpaceX pushes to expand the availability of its Starlink broadband internet service globally. As mentioned, this is the third launch of 60 satellites for the constellation in just 10 days — the most recent launch happened just Thursday, and the first of this trio took place the Thursday before that.

From here, expect SpaceX to just continue to launch at roughly this pace for the next little while, since it has two more planned Starlink launches before March is over, including one tentatively set for next Sunday. As the company is its own customer for these missions, it’s eating the cost of the launches (at least until Starlink starts operating beyond its current beta and bringing in more revenue) so re-flying boosters is a good way to help mitigate the overall spend.

#aerospace, #broadband, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #hyperloop, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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SpaceX launches 60 new Starlink satellites just one week after the last batch

SpaceX now has 60 more Starlink satellites in orbit – it launched its latest full complement of the internet broadband spacecraft early this morning from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Just last Thursday, SpaceX launched its last batch of 60, and this past week it also confirmed that it’s expanding its beta of the Starlink internet service to additional markets around the world, including Germany and New Zealand.

This is the 21st Starlink launch overall, and the sixth this year, with as many as three more launches tentatively planned for later this month, weather and schedule permitting. The simple reason it’s pursuing such an aggressive launch pace is that the more satellites it adds to its constellation in low-Earth orbit, the more customers it can sign up and serve. Starlink is currently in beta, but it’s now open to anyone to sign up depending on geography, with SpaceX taking a deposit and offering a rough timeline on projected availability.

So far, Starlink service is open to people in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Germany and New Zealand, but the plan is to achieve “near global coverage of the populated world” by the end of this year. Adding satellites to the constellation not only helps expand geographic reach, but also improves network performance. SpaceX says that currently, the beta should provide speeds ranging from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, with latency falling between 20ms to 40ms, but that both of those metrics should improve over the coming months as more spacecraft join the network, and as SpaceX rolls out additional ground stations.

Already, there are anecdotal reports that Starlink’s service bests the competition in rural and hard-to-reach areas where ground infrastructure for alternative services like cellular internet, or legacy satellite from geosynchronous spacecraft-based networks have been disappointing.

This launch also included a successful controlled landing of the booster used to propel the Falcon 9 rocket that carried the Starlink satellites to orbit. SpaceX landed the first stage, which flew previously on five missions, including SpaceX’s first human spaceflight mission, back at its autonomous drone landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

#aerospace, #broadband, #canada, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #germany, #internet-service, #internet-service-providers, #new-zealand, #outer-space, #satellite, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states

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Satellite constellation operator Spire Global to go public via $1.6 billion SPAC

Monday brings with it not one, but two space SPACS – there’s Rocket Lab, and there’s Spire Global, a satellite operator that bills itself primarily as a SaaS company focused on delivering data and analytics made possible by its 100-plus spacecraft constellation. SPACs have essentially proven a pressure-release valve for the space startup market, which has been waiting on high-profile exits to basically prove out the math of its venture-backability.

Spire Global debuted in 2012, and has raised over $220 million to date. It will merge with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called NavSight Holdings, in order to make a debut on the NYSE under the ticker ‘SPIR.’ The combined company will have a pro forma enterprise value of $1.6 billion upon transaction close, which is targeted for this summer.

The deal will provide $475 in funds for the company, including via a PIPE that includes Tiger Global, BlackRock and Hedosophia. Existing Spire stockholders will wind up with around 67% of the company after the businesses combine.

Spire’s network of satellites is designed to provide customers with a ‘space-as-a-service’ model, allowing them to operate their own payloads, and access data collected via an API their developers can integrate into their own software. The model is subscription-based, and is designed to get customers up and running with their own space-based data feed in less than a year from deal designs and commitment.

Existing investors in Spire Global include RRE Ventures, Promus Ventures, Seraphim Capital, Mitsui Global Investment and more, with its most recent round being a raised of debt financing. The company has launched satellites via Rocket Lab, its companion in the Monday SPAC news rush. The satellites it operates are small cube satellites, and it has launches on a wide range of launch vehicles, including SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the Russian Soyuz, ISRO’s PSLV, Japan’s H-2B, ULA rockets, Northrop Grumman’s Antares and even the International Space Station.

Spire got its start from very humble origins indeed – tracing all the way back to a Kickstarter campaign that was successful with just over $100,000 raised from backers.

#aerospace, #api, #blackrock, #corporate-finance, #falcon, #international-space-station, #japan, #kickstarter, #mitsui, #northrop-grumman, #outer-space, #private-equity, #promus-ventures, #rocket-lab, #rre-ventures, #satellite, #seraphim-capital, #spac, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #spire-global, #tc, #tiger-global, #transport

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Rocket Lab debuts plans for a new, larger, reusable rocket for launching satellite constellations

Because news of its SPAC-fueled public market debut wasn’t enough, Rocket Lab also unveiled a new class of rocket it has in development on Monday. The launch vehicle, called Neutron, will be able to carry 8 metric tons (around 18,000 lbs) to orbit, far exceeding the cargo capacity of Rocket Lab’s current Electron vehicle, which can host only around 660 lbs. Neutron will also have a fully reusable first-stage, designed to launch on an ocean landing platform, not unlike SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster.

Rocket Lab says that Neutron will be designed to service increased demand from customers launching large multi-satellite constellations. The heavier lift will mean that it can take more small satellites up at one time to get those constellations in orbit more quickly. Its cargo rating also means it should be able to deliver up to 98% of all currently-forecasted spacecraft launching through 2029, according to Rocket Lab, and provide resupply services to the International Space Station. Rocket Lab also says it’ll be capable of human spaceflight missions, indicating an ambition to make it the company’s first human-rated spacecraft.

Neutron could significantly expand Rocket Lab’s customer base, and it’ll also improve costs and economics vs. what Electron can do now, thanks to a design focus don efficiency and reusability. The rocket will launch from Rocket Lab’s Wallops, Virginia facility, and since there’s already a launch pad in place for it, the company expects it’ll be able to fly Neutron for the first time by 2024. In addition to its LA-based HQ and the Wallops launch site, Rocket Lab anticipates it’ll be building a new Neutron production facility somewhere in the U.S. to build the new rocket at scale.

While it won’t have the launch capacity of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, it’s still intended to be a rocket that can also carry smaller payloads to the Moon and even deep space beyond. The medium-lift category in general is generating a lot of interest right now, given the projections in the amount and variety of constellations that both private and public organization are expected to put into orbit over the next decade. Constellations are offering advantages in terms of cost and coverage for everything from communications to Earth observation. Another rocket startup, Relativity Space, just unveiled similar plans for a larger launch vehicle to complement its first small rocket.

#aerospace, #electron, #exit, #falcon, #falcon-9, #international-space-station, #louisiana, #outer-space, #relativity-space, #rocket-lab, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spaceport, #spacex, #startups, #united-states, #virginia

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Relativity Space unveils plans for a new, much larger and fully reusable rocket

3D-printed rocket company Relativity Space has just revealed what comes after Terran 1, the small launch vehicle it hopes to begin flying later this year. It’s next rocket will be Terran R, a much larger orbital rocket with around 20x the cargo capacity of Terran 1, that will also be distinguished from its smaller, disposable sibling by being fully reusable – across both first and second-stages, unlike SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

I spoke to Relativity Space CEO and founder Tim Ellis about Terran R, and how long it’s been in the works for the space startup. Ellis said that in fact, the vision every since Relativity’s time at Y Combinator has included larger lift rockets – and much more.

“When I founded Relativity five years ago, it always was inspired by seeing SpaceX launching and landing rockets, docking with the International Space Station, and this idea that going to Mars was critically important for humanity’s future, and really expanding the possibilities for human experience, on Earth and beyond,” Ellis told me. “But that all of the animations faded to black right when people walked out [of spaceship landing on Mars], and I believed that 3D printing had to be this inevitable technology that was going to build humanity’s industrial base on Mars, and that we needed to really inspire dozens, or even hundreds of companies to work on making this future happen.”

The long-term goal for Relativity Space, Ellis said, has always been to become an “end-product 3D printing company,” with its original Terran 1 light payload rocket simply representing the first of those products it’s bringing to market.

“3D printing is our new tech stack for aerospace, and really is rewriting something that we don’t feel has fundamentally changed over the last 60 years,” he said. “It’s really bringing automation that replaces the factory fixed tooling, supply chains, hundreds of thousands of parts, manual labor and slow iteration speed, with something that I believe is needed for the future on Earth, too.”

Terran R, which will have a payload capacity of over 20,000 kg (more than 44,000 lbs) to low-Earth orbit, is simply “the next logical step” for Relativity in that long-term vision of producing a wide range of products, including aerospace equipment for use right here on Earth. Ellis says that a larger launch vehicle makes sense given current strong customer demand for Terran 1, which has a max payload capacity of 1,250 kg (around 2,755 lbs) to low-Earth orbit, combined with the average size of satellites being launched today. Despite the boon in so-called ‘small’ satellites, many of the constellations being build today have individual satellites that weigh in excess of 500 kilograms (1,100 lbs), Ellis points out, which means that Terran R will be able to delivery many more at once for these growing on-orbit spacecraft networks.

A test fire of the new engine that Terran R will use for higher thrust capabilities.

“It’s really the same rocket architecture, it’s the same propellant, same factory, it’s the same printers, the same avionics and the same team that developed Terran 1,” Ellis said about the forthcoming rocket. That means that it’s actually relatively easy for the company to spin up its new production line, despite Terran R actually being quite functionally different than the current, smaller rocket – particularly when it comes to its full reusability.

As mentioned, Terran R will have both a reusable first and second stage. SpaceX’s Falcon 9’s first stage (a liquid fuel rocket booster) is reusable, and detaches from the second stage before quickly re-orienting itself and re-entering Earth’s atmosphere for a propulsive landing just after entering space. The Falcon 9 second stage is expendable, which is the space term for essentially just junk that’s discarded and eventually de-orbits and burns up on re-entry.

SpaceX had planned to try to make the Falcon 9 second stage reusable, but it would’ve required too much additional mass via heat shielding for it to make sense with the economics it was targeting. Ellis was light on details about Terran R’s specifics, but he did hint that some unique use of fairly unusual materials made possible though 3D printing, along with some sparing use of generative design, will be at work in helping the Relativity rocket’s second stage reusable in a sustainable way.

“Because it’s still entirely 3D-printed, we’re actually going to use more exotic materials, and design geometries that wouldn’t be possible at all, traditionally, to manufacture,” Ellis said. “It’s just too complicated looking; it would be way too difficult to manufacture traditionally in the ways that that Terran R is designed. And that will actually make it a much more reusable rocket, and really helped build the best reusable rocket possible.”

Terran R will also use a new upper stage engine that Relativity Space is designing, which is also unique compared to the existing engines used on Terran 1. It’s 3D printed as well, but uses a copper thrust chamber that will allow it to have higher overall power and thrust capabilities, according to Ellis. When I spoke to Ellis on Thursday evening, Relativity had just completed its first full success duration test of the new engine, a key step towards full production.

Ellis said that the company will share more about Terran R over the course of this year, but did note that the existing large 3D printers in its production facilities are already sized correctly to start building the new rocket – “the only change is software,” he said. He also added that some of the test sites Relativity has contracted to use at NASA’s Stennis Space Center are able to support testing of a rocket at Terran R’s scale, too, so it sounds like he’s planning for rapid progress on this new launch vehicle.

#3d-printing, #aerospace, #ceo, #falcon, #falcon-9, #generative-manufacturing, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #relativity-space, #space, #space-sustainability, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #tim-ellis, #transportation, #y-combinator

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SpaceX’s new $850 million raise confirmed in SEC filing

SpaceX hasn’t issue any public statement about the $850 million in fresh funding CNBC reported it raised last week, but a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) published today confirms the round. SpaceX’s funding was said to value the company at around $74 billion, with a per-share value moon the round set at around $420.

Investment firm Sequoia led the considerable raise, and has now put over $600 million into the Elon Musk-led space company overall between this and a round it participated in in 2020, according to Bloomberg. CNBC’s report also said that a secondary sale of existing shares generated an additional $750 million in capital for the company, putting the total new money available for SpaceX’s use at $1.6 billion – not too far shy of the $2 billion it raised at a valuation of $46 billion last August.

That probably seems like a lot of money to raise in such less than a year. But few companies – private or otherwise – have the kind of capital needs of SpaceX. While it’s been able to build a thriving launch business on the money raised during the first part of its now nearly two-decade existence, that hasn’t slowed the rate at which it’s been undertaking big new projects with tremendous upfront costs.

Currently, SpaceX is rapidly building new prototypes of its Starship, a next-generation reusable rocket with multiple times the cargo capacity of its current Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 cargo nosecone. It has flown a number of prototypes – and lost two in the process due to missed landings. The company typically has at least two new prototypes under construction simultaneously, and had been operating at that pace for many months now, with a highly manual production process for both the rockets and the new engines that power them.

Meanwhile, it’s also building out Starlink – the global broadband internet satellite constellation that it wants to scale from its current 1,000+ size, to more than 12,000 for final, world-spanning coverage reach. To scale it quickly and get its service operational (which it now is, to select areas in North America), SpaceX has been launching its own dedicated Falcon 9 rockets with 60 Starlink satellites on each. Since the company is its own customer for the majority of those missions, they’re entirely operating expenditure. Musk has estimated that fully deploying Starlink will take around $10 billion.

Both of these projects – Starship and Starlink – carry massive upfront costs, but they also have a lot of potential long-term upside; hence the skyrocketing valuation as both efforts begin to produce positive results, between Starship’s high-altitude tests, and Starlink’s initial service availability.

#aerospace, #broadband, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #hyperloop, #north-america, #outer-space, #sequoia, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

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SpaceX is aiming to fly the first all-civilian human space mission by the end of 2021

SpaceX has announced its first all-civilian private spaceflight mission, a high-priced galactic tourism launch that it hopes to fly by the fourth quarter of 2021. The mission, which will use SpaceX’s Dragon crew spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket, will include Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman, who is CEO of Shift4 Payments, as well as three crew members to be selected and donated by Isaacman, his company and St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. That’s one way to drive product adoption.

The mission is bing called Inspiration4, and there’s already a significant digital presence for it, including a website with a countdown timer. Two of the of seats on the four person ride will be donated to St. Jude recipients, with one going to an ambassador for the children’s medical research center (a frontline healthcare worker, Isaacman specified), and another going to a member of the public that will be chosen from entrants to an online contest based on either making a donation to St. Jude. The final seat will go to an entrepreneur who builds a business on Shift4’s ecommerce platform for online stores.

Isaacman has committed $100 million to St. Jude’s as part of the Inspiration4 campaign, and will be looking to raise another $100 million or more from contributions made through the program. While he actually began Shift4 Payments when he was just 16, which now processes over $200 billion per year in transactions, Isaacman also created and led a private air force, which he later sold to Blackstone, the large global private military contractor. Isaacman’s business trained pilots for the U.S. Air Force, and he himself is a trained pilot certified on both commercial and military aircraft.

Shift4 Payments CEO and founder Jared Isaacman, the first named member of SpaceX’s first all-civilian human launch.

He’ll serve as the Dragon flight’s commander, which makes sense given that although the spacecraft flies in a fully automated fashion, there should still be someone with some kind of expertise on board in case of emergency. Isaacman’s history as a pilot, combined with the fact that he’s extremely rich, make him a great candidate for that role.

As to the nature of the mission, it’ll involve pre-launch commercial astronaut training, including instruction in orbital mechanics and zero gravity maneuvering. The flight itself will take off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and it’ll then circle the globe for multiple orbits (approximately one every 90 minutes, the company says), while the spacecraft remains aloft for multiple days – SpaceX founder Elon Musk said that it’s ultimately up to Jared, but that a range of two to four days is what the company suggests. It’ll then re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and make a water landing in the Atlantic Ocean, where it’ll be recovered by a SpaceX crew.

SpaceX previously revealed that it would be looking to host private missions with Dragon once it was rated for human flight by NASA. Now we know when the first dedicated private mission is looking to take off – and it might even beat other private space tourism efforts out the door, including Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spaceplane day tours.

Asked what orbit the flight will target, Musk quipped “I do want emphasize this is really up to, you know, you go where where you want to go – we’ll take you there,” with Isaacman noting that they’ll be determining and posting that in the coming days. In response to another question about what kinds of accoutrements passengers could bring up, Musk again deferred to the mission commander, who added “if we can get some creature comforts up there, that’s kind of cool.”

#aerospace, #ambassador, #astronaut, #blackstone, #ceo, #commercial-spaceflight, #entrepreneur, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #u-s-air-force, #virgin-galactic

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Prime Movers Lab raises $245 million for second fund to invest in early stage science startups

After revealing its first fund just last year, a $100 million pool of investment capital dedicated to early stage startups focusing on sustainable food development, clean energy, health innovation and new space technologies, Prime Movers Lab is back with a second fund. Prime Movers Lab Fund II is larger, with $245 million committed, but it will pursue the same investment strategy, albeit with a plan to place more bets on more companies, with an expanded investment team to help manage the funds and portfolio.

“There are a lot of VCs out there,” explained founder and general partner Dakin Sloss about the concept behind the fund. “But there aren’t many VCs that are focused exclusively on breakthrough science, or deep tech. Even though there are a couple, when you look at the proportion of capital, I think it’s something like less than 10% of capital is going to these types of companies. But if you look at what’s meaningful to the life of the average person over the next 30 years, these are all the companies that are important, whether it’s coronavirus vaccine,s or solar energy production, or feeding the planet through aquaponics. These are the things that are really meaningful to to making a better quality of life for most people.”

Sloss told me that he sees part of the issue around why the proportion of capital dedicated to solving these significant problems is that it requires a lot of deep category knowledge to invest in correctly.

“There’s not enough technical expertise in VC firms to choose winners intelligently, rather than ending up with the next Theranos or clean tech bubble,” he said. “So that’s the first thing I wanted to solve. I have a physics background, and I was able to bring together a team of partners that have really deeply technical backgrounds.”

As referenced, Sloss himself has a degree from Stanford in Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy. He was a serial entrepreneur before starting the fund, having founded Tachyus, OpenGov and nonprofit California Common Sense. Other Partners on the team include systems engineer Dan Slomski, who previously worked on machine vision, electro-mechanical systems and developing a new multi-phase flow fluid analyzer; Amy Kruse, who holds a PhD in neuroscience and has served as an executive in defence technology and applied neuroscience companies; and Carly Anderson, a chemical engineer who has worked in biomedicine and oil & gas, and who has a PhD in chemical and biomolecular engineering. In addition to core partners with that kind of expertise, Prime Movers Lab enlists the help of venture partners and specialist advisors like former astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Having individuals with deep field expertise on the core team, in addition to supplementing that with top-notch advisors, is definitely a competitive advantage, particularly when investing in the kinds of companies that Prime Movers Lab does early on in their development. There’s a perception that companies pursuing these kinds of hard tech problems aren’t necessarily as viable as a target for traditional venture funding, specifically because of the timelines for returns. Sloss says he believes that’s a misperception based on unfortunate past experience.

“I think there are three big myths about breakthrough science or hard tech or deep tech,” he said. “That it takes longer, that it’s more capital intensive, and that it’s higher risk. And I think the reason those myths are out there is people invested in things like Theranos, and the clean tech bubble. But I think that there were fundamental mistakes made in how they underwrote risk of doing that.”

Image Credits: Momentus

To avoid making those kinds of mistakes, Sloss says that Prime Movers Lab views prospective investments from the perspective of a “spectrum of risk,” which includes risk of the science itself (does the fundamental technology involve actually work), engineering risk (given the science works, can we make it something we can sell) and finally, commercialization or scaling risk (can we then make it and sell it at scale with economics that work). Sloss says that if you use this risk matrix to assess investments, and allocated funds to address primarily the engineering risk category, concerns around timeframes to return don’t really apply.

He cites Primer Movers Lab’s Fund I portfolio, which includes space propulsion company Momentus, heading for an exit to the public markets via SPAC (the company’s Russian CEO actually just resigned in order to smooth the path for that, in fact), and notes that of the 15 companies that Fund I invested in, four are totally on a path to going public. That would put them much faster to an exit than is typical for early stage investment targets, and Sloss credits the very different approach most hard science startups take to IP development and capital.

“The inflection points in these types of companies are actually I think faster to get to market, because they’ve spent years developing the IP, staying at relatively low or attractive valuations,” he said. “Then we can kind of come in, at that inflection point, and help them get ready to commercialize and scale up exponentially, to where other investors no longer have to underwrite the difference between science and engineering risk, they can just see it’s working and producing revenue.”

Companies that fit this mold often come directly from academia, and keep the team small and focused while they’re figuring out the core scientific discovery or innovation that enables the business. A prime example of this in recent memory is Wingcopter, a German drone startup that developed and patented a technology for a tilt-wing rotor that changes the economics of electric autonomous drone flight. The startup just took its first significant startup investment after bootstrapping for four years, and the funds will indeed be used to help it accelerate engineering on a path towards high-volume production.

While Wingcopter isn’t a Prime Movers Lab portfolio company, many of its investments fit the same mold. Boom Aerospace is currently working on building and flying its subscale demonstration aircraft to pave the way for a future supersonic airliner, while Axiom Space just announced the first crew of private tourists to the International Space Station who will fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 for $50 million a piece. As long as you can prove the fundamentals are sound, allocating money turning it into something marketable seems like a logical strategy.

For Prime Movers Lab’s Fund II, the plan is to invest in around 30 or so companies, roughly doubling the number of investments from Fund I. In addition to its partners with scientific expertise, the firm also includes Partners with skill sets including creative direction, industrial design, executive coaching and business acumen, and provides those services to its portfolio companies as value-add to help them supplement their technical innovations. Its Fund I portfolio includes Momentus and Axiom, as mentioned, as well as vertical farming startup Upward Farms, coronavirus vaccine startup Covaxx, and more.

#advisors, #articles, #astronaut, #business-incubators, #ceo, #chris-hadfield, #clean-energy, #corporate-finance, #deep-tech, #entrepreneurship, #executive, #falcon, #finance, #funding, #international-space-station, #machine-vision, #momentus, #money, #neuroscience, #oil, #prime-movers-lab, #private-equity, #serial-entrepreneur, #stanford, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #theranos, #venture-capital, #wingcopter

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SpaceX sets new record for most satellites on a single launch with latest Falcon 9 mission

SpaceX has set a new all-time record for the most satellites launched and deployed on a single mission, with its Transporter-1 flight on Sunday. The launch was the first of SpaceX’s dedicated rideshare missions, in which it splits up the payload capacity of its rocket among multiple customers, resulting in a reduced cost for each but still providing SpaceX with a full launch and all the revenue it requires to justify lauding one of its vehicles.

The launch today included 143 satellites, 133 of which were from other companies who booked rides. SpaceX also launched 10 of its own Starlink satellites, adding to the already more than 1,000 already sent to orbit to power SpaceX’s own broadband communication network. During a launch broadcast last week, SpaceX revealed that it has begun serving beta customers in Canada and is expanding to the UK with its private pre-launch test of that service.

Customers on today’s launch included Planet Labs, which sent up 48 SuperDove Earth imaging satellites; Swarm, which sent up 36 of its own tiny IoT communications satellites, and Kepler, which added to its constellation with eight more of its own communication spacecraft. The rideshare model that SpaceX now has in place should help smaller new space companies and startups like these build out their operational on-orbit constellations faster, complementing other small payload launchers like Rocket Lab, and new entrant Virgin Orbit, to name a few.

This SpaceX launch was also the first to deliver Starlink satellites to a polar orbit, which is a key part of the company’s continued expansion of its broadband service. The mission also included a successful landing and recovery of the Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage booster, the fifth for this particular booster, and a dual recovery of the fairing halves used to protect the cargo during launch, which were fished out of the Atlantic ocean using its recovery vessels and will be refurbished and reused.

#aerospace, #broadband, #canada, #communications-satellites, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #hyperloop, #imaging, #outer-space, #planet-labs, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #startups, #tc, #united-kingdom

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SpaceX delivers 60 more Starlink satellites in first launch of 2021, and sets new Falcon 9 rocket reusability record

SpaceX has launched its 17th batch of Starlink satellites during its first mission of 2021, using a Falcon 9 rocket that was flying for the eighth time, and that landed again, recording a record for its reusability program. This puts the total Starlink constellation size at almost 1,000, as the company has expanded its beta access program for the service to the UK and Canada, with a first deployment in the latter company serving a rural First Nations community in a remote part of the province of Ontario.

The launch took off from Florida at 8:02 AM EST (5:02 AM PST), with delivery of the satellites following as planned at around an hour after lift-off. The booster on this launch flew seven times previously, as mentioned – including just in December when it was used to delivery a SiriusXM satellite to orbit to support that company’s satellite radio network.

Today’s launch was also notable because it included a landing attempt in so-called “envelope expansion” conditions, which means that the winds in the landing zone where SpaceX’s drone recovery ship was stationed at sea actually exceeded the company’s previously-defined safety window for making a landing attempt.

As a result of today’s success, SpaceX will likely now have higher tolerances for wind speeds in order to attempt recovery, which should translate to fewer cancellations of launches based on weather conditions in the landing zone.

#aerospace, #canada, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #satellite-radio, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #united-kingdom

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SpaceX bought two oil rigs to convert into offshore launch pads for Starship

SpaceX’s next spacecraft is in development in Texas, and CEO Elon Musk previously revealed that the company was planning to build floating spaceports for Starship operations, after a job ad was posted looking for someone to oversee their development. Now, SpaceX has purchased two oil rigs to convert for this purpose, as first reported by spaceflight.com’s Michael Baylor, and confirmed by CNBC.

The rigs have been named Deimos and Phoibos by SpaceX, which are the names of the two moons of Mars (and the names of the gods of both dread and fear in Greek mythology before that). The rigs were originally designed for offshore deepwater drilling, up to a maximum depth of 8,500 feet. They’re currently located in Brownsville, a port city on the Gulf of Mexico near SpaceX’s Starship development site in Brownsville, Texas.

These vessels measure 240 feet by 255 feet and will in theory be repurposed to support launching of Starship (and perhaps return landing, given their reusable design). Thus far, SpaceX has been launching and landing its Starship prototypes on land at its Boca Chica site, though it’s only done lower altitude flights so far. The company also operates two drone ships, which are 300 feet long by around 170 feet wide, as autonomous floating landing pads for its current Falcon 9 rocket boosters.

SpaceX also posted another ad seeking a resort development manager to turn its south Texas facility into a “21st century spaceport,” specifically looking for someone with resort expertise. Meanwhile, Musk confirmed that he has moved to Texas last December, following a number of public suggestions that he would do so owing in part to California’s taxation and regulatory environment.

Musk’s other company Tesla also selected Austin as the site of its next gigafactory in the U.S., intended for assembly of its Cybertruck, Model Y and Tesla Semi, as well as Model 3 cars destined for customers on the east coast. SpaceX has maintained engine test facilities in McGreger, Texas, and set up Boca Chica as one of two Starship development sites alongside Florida, before making the south Texas location the sole focus for that spacecraft’s construction and testing after consolidating its efforts.

#aerospace, #austin, #california, #ceo, #east-coast, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #gulf-of-mexico, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-cybertruck, #texas, #united-states

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Watch SpaceX launch a U.S. spy satellite live and bring its booster back for a landing on terra firma

SpaceX is launching a Falcon 9 today from Kennedy Space Center, with a launch window that spans three hours and opens at 9 AM EST (6 AM PST). The mission will carry a spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and will include a recovery attempt for the first-stage booster used on the Falcon 9 vehicle.

This Falcon 9’s first stage has already flown four times previously, including during two of SpaceX’s commercial resupply missions to the International Space Station for NASA, and during a Starlink launch, as well as for SAOCOM 1B, a satellite launch operation for the Argentinian space agency in August.

SpaceX will be attempting a landing back at its landing pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, a rarer occurrence vs. its use of its two drone landing ships positioned out in the ocean. SpaceX’s at-sea launches were introduced to allow for recovery of rocket boosters that didn’t have enough fuel remaining on board to make it all the way back to land – meaning this NRO mission’s parameters allow for a ‘return to sender’ trip back home.

Typically, when there’s a longer launch window, SpaceX will aim to launch at the beginning, depending on weather conditions. If that’s the case today, the stream above should begin at around 8:45 AM EST (15 minutes prior to the opening of the window).

#aerospace, #falcon, #falcon-9, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spy, #starlink, #tc

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Watch SpaceX fly its Starship spacecraft during its first high-altitude test live

SpaceX is all set to conduct a high-altitude test of its Starship rocket – a first for the spacecraft prototype design. The test will see Starship serial number 8 (SN8) fly from SpaceX’s development site in Cameron County, Texas, climb to a max height of around 41,000 feet, and then return to Earth during a controlled landing using its Raptor engines, if all goes exactly to plan. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has noted that things likely won’t go exactly to plan with this test, saying he anticipates they’ll achieve maybe 1/3 of their goals with this attempt.

This is the first time that Starship will be flying with three Raptor engines on board – prior short hop tests of earlier prototypes used just one. It’ll also involve a key maneuver that the Starship will ultimately be required to get right in order to achieve its reusability goal and return safely through Earth’s atmosphere when landing – a mid-air belly flop of sorts to orient it correctly to avoid burning up during re-entry.

SpaceX has flown Starship prototypes to a height of just under 500 feet, and successfully landed both with a controlled descent. This attempt will also include an attempt to relight Starship’s engines and return it to Earth in a vertical orientation, but those are much less likely to be successful at this stage vs. the earlier stage goals just reaching that max altitude and then ideally completing that ‘belly flop’ maneuver. Conducting tests like this with low likelihood of successful outcomes is absolutely par for the course for rocket development programs, but SpaceX is one of the few companies that conducts these out in the open – and perhaps the only that does so with live-streamed access for all.

Ultimately, Starship will prove the central component of a new generation of launch vehicle that SpaceX hopes to use to reach Mars – and to replace all of its current launch activities with Falcon vehicles, as well as to provide high-altitude point-to-point flights between destinations on Earth for hyper-fast travel. The production Starship will be paired with a Super Heavy rocket for additional thrust for high mass cargo missions and long-duration deep space trips.

The test launch today could happen anytime between roughly 9 AM EST (6 AM PST) and 6 PM EST (3 PM PST), and SpaceX says that it will begin the livestream shortly before the actual launch attempt, so stay tuned to the video above and our Twitter account for updates.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #falcon, #outer-space, #raptor, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #texas

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SpaceX launches new cargo Dragon to Space Station for 100th successful Falcon 9 flight

SpaceX launched its 21st Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission for NASA to the International Space Station on Sunday, using a brand new variant of its Dragon capsule spacecraft. This new cargo Dragon has greater carrying capacity and can dock fully autonomously with the Space Station, both improvements over the last iteration.

This is the first launch for this redesigned cargo Dragon, and also the first mission for SpaceX’s new series of CRS missions under a renewed contract with NASA. It’s carrying 6,400 lbs of both supplies for the Space Station and its crew, as well as experimental supplies and equipments for the research being done on the Station. This version of Dragon can carry 20% more than the last cargo spacecraft from SpaceX, and it also has twice the number of powered lockers for climate controlled transportation of experimental material.

The new cargo Dragon is a modified version of the Crew Dragon that delivered astronauts to the ISS during May’s Demo-2 mission, and during last month’s Crew-1 flight. Its modifications include removal of the Super Draco engines that are equipped on the crew version, which provide propulsion to carry the capsule quickly away from the Falcon 9 in case of the need for an early abort to protect the astronauts on board. It can also be reused up to five times, vs. just three for the last cargo version.

This launch was SpaceX’s 100th successful Falcon 9 take-off, and the company has flown 43 of those on recovered and refurbished boosters. Today’s mission also included a recovery of the Falcon 9 first stage, which has now flown four times in total. This marks the 68th successful booster landing for SpaceX so far.

Next up for CRS-21 is a rendezvous between the cargo Dragon and the ISS, which is st to take place Monday evening. The capsule will autonomous dock with one of the Station’s new international docking adapters, which are designed specifically to make this automated docking procedure possible. It’ll be the second Dragon docked at the station when it arrives, since SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is still there from last month’s crew mission.

#aerospace, #dragon, #falcon, #falcon-9, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #space, #space-station, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

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Watch SpaceX launch its new and improved cargo Dragon spacecraft for the first time

SpaceX is launching a new spacecraft during its 21st Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission for the International Space Station this morning. The launch is set to take off at 11:17 AM EST (8:17 AM PST) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and will be the first ever flight of an updated version of SpaceX’s cargo-specific Dragon spacecraft, which can carry more supplies and experiment materials and which can dock all on its own with the Space Station . Prior Dragon cargo craft required docking assistance from the robotic Canadarm guided by astronauts on board the ISS.

This redesigned version of Dragon can carry 20 percent more than the one it replaces, and it has twice the amount of powered locker cargo storage, which are used for transferring science experiments that require specific transportation environment conditions. It can also stay at the Space Station for over twice the max duration of the original, and each capsule is made to be reused up to five times. This new cargo craft is a modified version of the Crew Dragon, which SpaceX created to transport astronauts to the ISS. One of those is already docked at the station, so when this cargo Dragon arrives on Monday, there will be two SpaceX spacecraft attached to the ISS at once.

SpaceX realizes a bunch of performance improvements by using the new cargo Dragon design, but it also should mean that its supply chain is simpler since it’s essentially building the same Dragon spacecraft with modifications required depending on whether it’s intended for human crew use, or for a pure cargo mission like this one.

Today’s launch also uses a Falcon 9 first stage which flew the Demo-2 crew mission for SpaceX back in May, as well as a Starlink launch and the ANANSIS-II mission. It will attempt a landing at sea on SpaceX’s drone landing ship following separation from the second stage, so that SpaceX can reuse it again in future.

#aerospace, #dragon, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #science, #space, #space-station, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #supply-chain, #tc

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SpaceX successfully launches a Falcon 9 booster for a record seventh time

SpaceX has launched yet another Starlink mission, adding 60 more Starlink satellites to its low-Earth orbit constellation. That’s good news for its efforts to blanket the globe in high-speed broadband, and today’s flight is even better news for its equally important ambition of developing more reusable rocket systems, since the first-stage booster that helped launch today’s Falcon 9 rocket made a record-breaking seventh trip.

SpaceX broke its own reusability records of six flights for a reused first-stage rocket component, and it also recovered the booster with a controlled landing using its drone flight in the Atlantic Ocean, which means it could potentially break this record with yet another future flight for this same booster.

Today’s launch took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, lifting off at 9:13 PM EST (6:13 PM PST). The flight also uses a fairing cover to protect the payload on its way to space that had flown previously, including one half that’s flown one prior mission, and another that’s been used twice before.

SpaceX aims for greater usability as a way to continue to reduce costs – every time it flies a component used in a previous mission, it realizes some degree of cost savings vs. using all new parts. Today’s mission represents likely its most cost-effective flight to date as a result.

This is SpaceX’s sixteenth Starlink mission thus far, and it has now launched nearly 1,000 total small satellites for its constellation. The service is currently operating in beta, and recently expanded from parts of the U.S. to areas in southern Canada .

 

#aerospace, #broadband, #canada, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #outer-space, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #united-states

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Watch live as SpaceX tests the limits of Falcon 9 reusability with sixteenth Starlink satellite launch

SpaceX is set to launch its sixteenth Starlink mission on Monday at 9:34 PM EST (6:34 PM PST). This launch will carry 60 of the company’s broadband internet satellites to low-Earth orbit, where they’ll join the existing constellation and contribute to its growing network of eventually global coverage. The launch is also significant because it will potentially set a new record for Falcon 9 rocket reusability – this marks the seventh flight for the first stage booster flying tonight.

The booster SpaceX is using for this mission previously flew in August, June and January of this year, as well as May 2019, January 2019 and also September 2018. And that’s no the only way that this is SpaceX’s most reusable flights ever – the fairing covering the payload of satellites on top of the rocket includes one half that flew on one mission previously, and another half that supported not one, but two prior missions before being recovered and refurbished.

Of course, it’ll also be furthering SpaceX’s mission with Starlink, which is ultimately to provide fast, low-latency and relatively low-cost broadband internet access to hard-to-reach areas around the world. SpaceX has launched nearly 900 satellites for Starlink to date, and began operating its ‘Better Than Nothing’ early beta in parts of Canada last week, in addition to the areas in the U.S. where it’s offering this early access service.

The launch livestream will begin above at around 15 minutes prior to liftoff, or at around 9:19 PM EST (6:19 PM PST).

#aerospace, #broadband, #canada, #falcon, #falcon-9, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #united-states

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Watch SpaceX launch a satellite that will monitor the world’s oceans

SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Saturday morning, with a target liftoff time of 9:17 AM PST (12:17 PM EST). This is the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Mission, which carries a satellite of the same name developed by the European Space Agency, NASA, and both U.S. and European meteorological monitoring bodies.

The Sentinel-6 is named for former NASA Earth Science Division Director Michael Freilich, who occupied the position between 2006 and 2019 and passed away in August. It’s one of two Sentinel-6-series satellites that will be launched for the program, with the Sentinel-6B set to join the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich sometime in 2025.

SpaceX will be looking to recover the Falcon 9 first stage booster with a powered landing back on Earth at Landing Zone 4 at Vandenberg. This is the first SpaceX launch from Vandenberg since June of last year, though it has flown plenty of missions from both Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The webcast above will go live approximately 15 minutes prior to the liftoff time, so at around 9:02 AM PST (12:02 PM EST). Should this mission have to be canceled today, there’s a backup opportunity set for Sunday at 9:04 AM PST (12:04 PM PST).

#aerospace, #california, #elon-musk, #european-space-agency, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-states

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SpaceX and NASA successfully launch four astronauts to space for first operational Dragon crew mission

SpaceX has become the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station, marking the culmination of years of work in partnership with NASA on developing human spaceflight capabilities. At 7:27 PM EST (4:27 PM PST), NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Michael Hopkins, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi left launch pad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS.

SpaceX’s human launch program was developed under the Commercial Crew program, which saw NASA select two private companies to build astronaut launch systems for carrying astronauts to the ISS from U.S. soil. SpaceX was chosen alongside Boeing by NASA in 2014 to create their respective systems, and SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket became the first to achieve actual human flight certification from NASA earlier this year with the successful completion of its final, Demo-2 test mission, which flew to the ISS with two U.S. astronauts on board.

To get to this point, SpaceX had to complete a number of milestones successfully, including a fully automated uncrewed ISS rendez-vous mission, and a demonstration of both a launch pad abort and post-launch abort emergency safety system for the protection of the crew. During the Demo-1 mission, while all actual launch, docking and landing was handled by SpaceX’s fully autonomous software and navigation, astronauts also took over manual control briefly to demonstrate that this human-piloted backup would operate as intended, if required.

So far, Crew-1 is proceeding as expected, with a picture-perfect takeoff from Florida, and a successful recovery of the first-stage booster used on the Falcon 9 rocket used to launch Dragon. Crew Dragon ‘Resilience’ also departed from the second-stage of the Falcon 9 as planned at just after 10 minutes after liftoff, and there will be a 27 hour trip in orbit before the Dragon meets up with the ISS for its docking, which is scheduled to take place at around 11 PM EST (8 PM PST) on Monday night. Once fully docked, the astronauts will disembark and go over to the station to begin their active duty stay, which is set to last until next June.

From left, the crew of Crew-1: NASA’s Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins; JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi Image Credits: SpaceX

Three of the four astronauts on this mission have been to space previously, but for pilot Victor Glover, it’s his first time. These four will join NASA’s Kate Rubins, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov on the station, bringing the total staff complement to seven (an increase from its usual six that NASA says will free up more time for the astronauts to perform experiments, as opposed to their tasks related to regular daily maintenance of the station).

This is the first time that astronauts have launched to space during a regular operational NASA mission since the end of the Shuttle program in 2011. It marks an official return of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities, and should hopefully become the first in many human flight missions undertaken by SpaceX and Dragon – across both NASA flights, and those organized by commercial customers.

#aerospace, #astronaut, #boeing, #commercial-crew-program, #dragon, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #pilot, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-states

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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are now officially certified for human spaceflight by NASA

SpaceX and NASA have completed the multi-year certification program for the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft launch system, the first ever human-rated commercial space system to be developed. The final stage in the certification process was the Demo-2 mission that SpaceX launched earlier this year, carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on May 30, 2020, and now all necessary review of the results of that successful mission is complete.

NASA announced the milestone via its official blog, noting that this certification included a Flight Readiness Review in preparation for the first ever official ISS crew mission of the Falcon 9 and Dragon, which is set for this Saturday, November 14 – weather permitting. That will carry four astronauts, including three from NASA and one from Japan’s space agency, to the ISS for an official full-length stay conducting experiments and maintaining the orbital station.

This is the final step in the multi-mission certification process, which included a number of previous launches including an uncrewed ISS docking mission, which ran fully automated, and a launch pad abort test to demonstrate how the launch vehicle’s safety system would work in the unlikely event of an accident following launch but prior to reaching orbit. SpaceX also developed and extensively tested a new parachute system for controlling the descent of the Dragon crew capsule upon it’s return from the station to Earth.

NASA says that it and SpaceX performed an “extensive analysis of the test flight data” following the Demo-2 mission, which concluded in August with a successful return to Earth carrying Behnken and Hurley back from the station.

#aerospace, #commercial-spaceflight, #falcon, #falcon-9, #international-space-station, #japan, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

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Rocket Lab will try to recover the booster of its Electron rocket for the first time on its next launch

Rocket Lab is set to complete a crucial test for its rocket reusability program during its next mission, which is currently set to take place sometime in mid-November, with a launch widow that opens on November 16. This is a bit of a surprise, because the launch company said that it would be doing this on its 17th flight, and the next launch is actually its 16th, but the company had a succinct answer for why it moved up the timetable.

This isn’t the first test Rocket Lab has performed in pursuit of reusability — after announcing in August 2019 its intent to recover and refly the Electron booster, something Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck originally said wasn’t in the cards for the company, Rocket Lab has tested reentry guidance and control systems, as well as the parachute to be used to slow the booster’s descent once it’s back in Earth’s atmosphere.

In a video released today, Beck explained the reasoning behind even attempting to recover the boosters (essentially to increase the company’s rate of production by eliminating the need to build a new booster for every flight) and also the reasons why it wasn’t in the original plan (the Electron is too small to allow for an engine-powered boost back like the ones Falcon 9 and Blue Origin’s New Shepard uses).

But Beck and team realized they could use an unconventional approach that involves flipping the rocket around and angling it such that it survives reentry, paired with a drogue parachute deployment and primary parachute combo that slows it enough that a helicopter can catch it midair as it drifts. This recovery attempt won’t include that midflight snag, but will instead hopefully see the booster land itself gently enough on the ocean’s surface, slowed by the chute, allowing a recovery team to pick it up.

Beck says that the helicopter catch part is actually not his biggest concern, since the company has previously demonstrated that part of its approach works in practice. Instead, it’s ensuring that they’re just able to actually get the stage after it deploys its orbital cargo to begin with.

If Rocket Lab can recover this first stage, that will put it well-within striking distance of putting an operational recovery system in place, hopefully leading to less time between launches and potentially lower operational costs down the line.

No matter how the launch works out, we’ll get the chance to go over the attempt and next steps with Beck at our inaugural TC Sessions: Space event in December, where he’s joining us on our virtual stage for a fireside chat.

#aerospace, #blue-origin, #ceo, #electron, #falcon, #falcon-9, #new-shepard, #outer-space, #peter-beck, #rocket-lab, #rocket-propulsion, #space, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc

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NASA and SpaceX set November 14 target date for first operational Crew Dragon launch

The first mission to officially carry astronauts to the International Space Station for a standard crew rotation is now tentatively set for November 14. NASA provided an updated date for the mission this week, after it shifted from an original planned timeframe of sometime in October. This is the first time that Crew Dragon, SpaceX’s human-rated capsule, will be flown in for an operational ‘shift-change’ mission at the ISS, after its historic Demo-2 mission earlier this year officially concluded its testing phase and certified it for NASA use.

This launch will carry three NASA astronauts, including Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, as well as JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi of Japan to the ISS, where they’ll join the crew and carry out regular station operations, including upkeep and upgrades, as well as conducting experiments in partnership with researchers on Earth.

They’ll join the existing ISS crew, including Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins. Once they arrive, the full crew size will be seven astronauts, which is up from the usual six, but this will help ensure that more time is spent on research and experimentation vs. the regular duties that the crew takes on just to ensure continued smooth operation of the station.

Crew-1 is set to launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, and is targeting a 7:49 PM EST liftoff. That’s subject to change, of course, but for now, mark your calendars.

#aerospace, #astronaut, #astronauts, #falcon, #international-space-station, #japan, #mike-hopkins, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

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SpaceX successfully launches another Starlink mission, with over 700 satellites launched to date

SpaceX has launched yet another flight of 60 of its Starlink broadband internet satellites. The launch took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7:29 AM EDT (4:29 AM PDT) this morning, after having been delayed three times earlier due to scrubs – twice because of weather, and one because of an unusual sensor reading. This is the 12 Starlink mission to date, and it means that over 700 of the SpaceX satellites have now been launched.

The mission included reuse of a Falcon 9 booster stage that had previously flown on two separate missions, including the Crew Dragon Demo-2 launch that carried SpaceX’s first human crew – NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. SpaceX successfully recovered the booster with a controlled landing on its ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ drone ship at sea for this mission, too. A recovery of the fairing halves using different recovery ships was also attempted – with one half caught by a ship as planned, while the second missed and fell into the Ocean, but SpaceX will also attempt to fish that part out.

SpaceX is currently in private beta testing of Starlink, optimizing for latency and connection. The company says that it has achieved downlink speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, with very low latency as well. It intends to broaden the beta to the public beginning later this year.

The deployment of these Starlink satellites also went as planned, around an hour following the rocket lift-off.

#aerospace, #broadband, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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Watch SpaceX launch 60 more Starlink satellites for its broadband internet service live

SpaceX is set to launch the latest batch of its Starlink satellites on Thursday, with a target lift-off time of 2:19 PM EDT (11:19 AM PDT). The mission will take off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and there’s a backup opportunity tomorrow at 1:57 PM EDT (10:57 AM PDT) in case weather or any other issues prevent a launch attempt today.

The launch today will add to SpaceX’s growing constellation of operational Starlink satellites on orbit. There are now over 500 of these circling the globe, as SpaceX conducts private beta testing of its high-speed, low-latency consumer internet service and prepares for an open beta launch later this year. The goal is to create a scalable, eventually globe-spanning service that can provide service where previously unavailable, or to customers who had to rely on shaky or slow connections in past.

The launch today includes use of a Falcon 9 first stage booster that has flow twice previously, including first during SpaceX’s landmark Demo-2 Crew Dragon mission, the first ever for the company to carry human astronauts. SpaceX will also be attempting to recover the booster yet again for another future launch. One of the two fairing halves that protect the cargo atop the Falcon 9 was also used previously, on two separate occasions, for other Starlink satellite launches.

The livestream above will begin roughly 15 minutes before the target liftoff time, so at around 2:04 PM EDT (11:04 AM PDT).

#aerospace, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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SpaceX successfully launches 60 more of its Starlink high-speed broadband internet satellites

SpaceX has launched its latest batch of Starlink internet satellites, a full complement of 60 spacecraft that will join those already on orbit to add to the constellation. These will form the backbone of SpaceX’s broadband internet service, which will aim to provide low-latency, high-speed connections to customers and regions where quality, consistent service hasn’t been available.

The launch took place at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, from SpaceX’s launch facility at 8:46 AM EDT (5:46 AM PDT). The Falcon 9 rocket used on the launch included a first-stage booster that flew once previously – just a few months ago in June. SpaceX also successfully recovered the Falcon 9 booster once again with a controlled landing at sea on its ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ drone landing ship.

The company will also be attempting to recover the fairing used to protect the satellites during launch for this mission, which includes two halves that have a combined value of around $6 million per launch.

Lately, SpaceX has been flying Starlink missions with shared payloads, dedicated a small amount of the available cargo space to clients including Planet and others for their own satellites. Today’s launch was a return to form of earlier Starlink missions, carrying only SpaceX’s own satellites. This was the 12th total Starlink mission, and the 10th this year alone.

SpaceX also confirmed that its Starlink service is currently in private beta testing, and that a public beta test is planned for later this year. The company hopes to begin to offer paid service more broadly next year.

#aerospace, #broadband, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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Watch SpaceX launch its 12th Starlink satellite internet mission live

SpaceX is about to hit an even dozen for its Starlink launches, which carry the company’s own broadband internet satellites to low Earth orbit. This flight carries a full 60-satellite complement of the Starlink spacecraft, after the last couple of these have reserved a little space for client payloads. The launch is set to take off at 8:46 AM EDT (5:46 AM PDT) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and there’s a backup opportunity tomorrow morning should it need to be scrubbed for any reason.

This mission will use a Falcon 9 booster that has flown once previously, just a few months ago in June for a mission that delivered a GPS III satellite on behalf of the U.S. Space Force. SpaceX will also try to recover the booster with a landing at sea on its ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ drone landing ship.

Starlink has been by far the most frequent launch focus for SpaceX this year, as the company ramps the size of its active constellation in preparation for the deployment of its service in the U.S. According to some internet speed testing websites, the service is already being used by some individuals, and a leak from SpaceX’s dedicated Starlink website indicates a broader public beta test is imminent. The company has said service should be available in parts of the U.S. and Canada by later this year, with a planned expansion to follow in 2021.

The webcast above should go live about 15 minutes prior to the liftoff time, so at around 8:31 AM EDT (5:31 AM PDT).

#aerospace, #broadband, #canada, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #florida, #gps, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #u-s-space-force, #united-states

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Chinese commercial launch startup iSpace raises $172 million

The private launch industry isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, and a new $172 million Series B round of funding for China commercial launch startup iSpace indicates it could be heating up internationally. The new funding was led by Beijing Financial Street Capital Operation Center, CICC Alpha, Taizhonghe Capital and includes participation from existing shareholders.

The funding will primarily go towards development of iSpace’s planned ‘Hyperbola’ space launch vehicle. The first of these sent satellites into space last July, making iSpace the first private Chinese launch company to mark that achievement. A larger rocket, called Hyperbola-2, is currently in development, and iSpace intends for the first-stage booster of that vehicle to be fully reusable, with vertical landing capabilities similar to those of SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

iSpace is developing reusable rocket engine technology to match, which is another use of the new injection of funding – as well as technical talent hiring to support all of the above. The goal is to perform a first test flight just to the Kalman line that defines the edge of space sometime early next year, using the first-stage booster of the Hyperbola-2 and including a powered landing. After that, it hopes to fly its first fully orbital mission before the end of next year.

Founded in 2016, iSpace previously raised $104.5 million, bringing its total funding to date to $276.5 million.

#aerospace, #alpha, #china, #falcon, #falcon-9, #google-lunar-x-prize, #ispace, #outer-space, #recent-funding, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #startups, #tc

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