SpaceX launches Dragon cargo spacecraft to the Space Station with new Falcon 9

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is once again heading to the International Space Station.

The company launched its 22nd Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission for NASA on Thursday. This is the fifth capsule SpaceX has sent to ISS in the last twelve months, SpaceX director of Dragon mission management Sarah Walker noted in a media briefing Tuesday. It’s also the first launch of the year on a new Falcon 9 rocket booster.

The rocket took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 1:29 PM eastern time, right on schedule despite the threat of storm clouds from the south and east. The first stage separated as planned and touched down on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship in the Atlantic Ocean eight minutes after launch. The second stage, which takes the capsule to orbit, separated 12 minutes after launch, also right on schedule.

Image Credits: SpaceX

The Falcon 9 Rocket launch vehicle is sending more than 7,300 pounds of research materials, supplies, and hardware, including new solar arrays, to the ISS crew. It’s the second mission under SpaceX’s new CRS contract with NASA; the first took place last December.

Dragon is carrying a number of research experiments to be conducted on the ISS, including oral bacteria to test germ growth with Colgate toothpaste; a number of tardigrades (also affectionately called water bears), primordial organisms that will attempt to fare and reproduce in space environments; and an investigation that will study the effects of microgravity on the formation of kidney stones – an ailment that many crew members display an increased susceptibility to during spaceflight.

The capsule is also delivering fresh food, including apples, navel oranges, lemons, and avocados.

Of the over 7,300 pounds of cargo, around 3,000 pounds will be taken up by a new roll-out, “flex blanket” solar array developed by space infrastructure company Redwire. As opposed to more traditional rigid paneled solar arrays, flex blanket technology provides more mass and performance benefits, Redwire technical director Matt LaPointe told TechCrunch.

The arrays were placed in the Dragon’s unpressurized trunk. It’s the first of three missions to send iROSA solar arrays to the station, with each mission carrying two arrays, LaPointe said. Once installed, the six iROSA arrays will collectively produce over 120KW of power. Redwire, which announced in March that it would go public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company, says the new iROSA arrays will improve the ISS’s power generation by 20-30%.

The Dragon capsule is set to arrive at the space station at around 5 AM on June 5, where it will autonomously dock on a port of the Harmony module of the ISS. It will spend more than a month with the station before splashing down in the Atlantic with research and return cargo.

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

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Is SpaceX reliable? Company goes for 100th successful flight in a row today

Photo of the Starlink payload on top of a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida this week.

Enlarge / Photo of the Starlink payload on top of a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida this week. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX will attempt to launch another batch of 60 Starlink satellites today at 2:59 pm ET (18:59 UTC) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. This marks the 28th overall launch of operational Starlink satellites.

The most notable aspect of today’s mission is that it would be the 100th consecutive successful flight for the company. This record dates back to June 2015, when the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage failed during the launch of a cargo supply mission to the International Space Station. The Dragon capsule was lost after the second stage broke apart and sank into the Atlantic Ocean.

Since that time, the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets have had an unblemished run of 99 successful launches, many of which have resulted in landings as well. SpaceX has lost one additional mission, but this didn’t occur during a launch. Rather, the Amos-6 payload blew apart in September 2016 during a propellant loading that preceded a static fire test. The company has safely launched 90 rockets since the Amos-6 mishap.

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#falcon-9, #science, #spacex

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SpaceX launched 52 more Starlink satellites to orbit on Saturday

SpaceX successfully launched another 52 Starlink internet broadband satellites into orbit on Saturday, less than one week after it sent up the last batch. A small satellite from startup Capella Space and a Tyvak observation satellite also hitched a ride on the launch, which took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday evening.

The launch used a veteran Falcon 9 booster that’s seen seven previous launch and landings, including during three Starlink missions. It departed from its launch pad at 6:56 PM ET (3:56 PM PT) and returned to Earth approximately nine minutes later. The rocket landed vertically on SpaceX’s autonomous drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean.

The launch company has now sent over 530 Starlink satellites to space since March, and all of them on reused rockets. Reusability is a key factor toward making the launches as cost-effective as possible, a factor that is especially important as SpaceX is both the launch provider and customer of the Starlink service. As a consequence, SpaceX has been able to rapidly accelerate its Starlink launch program, with 28 launches under its belt so far. At least one additional launch is likely in the works for later this month.

The company said earlier this month that it had received “over half a million” pre-order reservations for Starlink broadband service so far. Starlink is available in beta to customers in six countries: Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Mexico and Canada. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said the company aims to have its low Earth orbit broadband internet network operational across nearly the entire globe as early as the end of 2021.

#aerospace, #falcon-9, #space, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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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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SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites, claims over 500,000 service pre-orders so far

SpaceX has launched 60 more of its Starlink internet broadband satellites — on ‘Star Wars Day,’ no less, and only five days after it launched the last batch. The company has now delivered 420 Starlink satellites since the beginning of March, a sum that SpaceX CEO and founder must not be aware of because he definitely would’ve tweeted about it by now if he was.

This launch took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 3:01 PM ET (12:01 PM PT), and used a re-used Falcon 9 booster that had flown 8 times previously. That booster also landed back on SpaceX’s floating drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, tying the record for SpaceX’s reusable flight program in terms of flying resumed boosters, which it just set in March. This is the company’s 115th Falcon 9 launch so far.

SpaceX also shared updated figures around its Starlink consumer hardware, which is used to transmit and receive signal from the constellation for broadband service. The company has received “over half a million” pre-order reservations for its service so far, which includes advance deposits on the hardware.

That strong demand helps explain why there appears to be such a significant backlog in terms of fulfilling orders for Starlink. Customers looking to user the service can sign up via SpaceX’s website, and place a pre-order for the kit, which induces the Starlink receiver, a router, power supplies and mounting hardware for your home.

The service is available to beta customers in six countries thus far, including Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the U.S. and Canada, but the goal is to continue to expand coverage to achieve near-global reach by the end of 2021 in terms of service availability, with a number of additional launches planned throughout the rest of the year.

#broadband, #falcon-9, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites

SpaceX has launched another batch of Starlink satellites, adding 60 more to the constellation on orbit. This is the 24th Starlink launch in total, and means SpaceX has now sent up over 1,500 Starlink spacecraft, with around 1,438 of those still in operation. This is the first Starlink launch since April 7 — which, surprisingly, is the biggest gap between these launches in quite a while.

This year, SpaceX’s overall launch calendar has been dominated by Starlink launches, as the company seeks to expand the availability, quality and coverage of its low Earth orbit broadband internet network. SpaceX also opened up availability of Starlink service this year, and now seems to be mostly supply-constrained on the consumer receiver terminal side, rather than necessarily on network capacity or regional ability.

Regarding that few week gap in the Starlink launch pace, it’s not like SpaceX was slacking in the meantime; the launcher sent up its second crew of astronauts destined for the International Space Station in a flight just last week. Plus, it has two three additional Starlink launches tentatively scheduled to happen in May.

This latest launch took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 11:44 PM EDT (8:44 PM PDT) on Wednesday, and it used a flight-proven Falcon 9 first stage booster, which was used on six prior missions, including four Starlink launches.

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

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China’s state rocket company unveils rendering of a Starship look-alike

Screenshot of a presentation from China's main state-owned rocket manufacturer, CALT.

Enlarge / Screenshot of a presentation from China’s main state-owned rocket manufacturer, CALT. (credit: Weibo/CALT)

This weekend, China celebrated its sixth “National Space Day” in Nanjing, a capital city in one of the country’s eastern provinces. As part of the festivities, Chinese space officials highlighted the Chang’e-5 mission’s recent return of lunar samples, some of which were on display, and announced the name of China’s first Mars rover, Zhurong, which is scheduled to land on the red planet in May.

A booth operated by China’s main state-owned rocket manufacturer, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, also spotlighted the potential for suborbital point-to-point transportation. This is a concept in which a vehicle launches from Earth, flies into suborbital space, and touches down halfway around the world in less than an hour.

The promotional video, captured and shared on the Chinese social network Weibo, shows two different concepts for achieving suborbital passenger flights about two decades from now. What is interesting about the video (which I’ve mirrored on YouTube) is that the first concept looks strikingly like SpaceX’s Starship vehicle. It shows a large vehicle capable of vertical takeoff and vertical landing.

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#china, #falcon-9, #science, #spacex, #starship

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NASA gets what it wanted: Independent, reliable access to space

In three months, NASA will come upon the 10th anniversary of the final space shuttle flight, a period that was surely melancholy for the space agency.

When the big, white, winged vehicles touched down for the final time in July 2011, NASA surrendered its ability to get humans into space. It had to rely on Russia for access to the International Space Station. And the space agency had to fight the public perception that NASA was somehow a fading force, heading into the sunset.

Now we know that will not be the case, and the future appears bright for the space agency and its international partners. On Friday morning, NASA and SpaceX launched the third mission of Crew Dragon that has carried astronauts into space. After nearly a decade with no human orbital launches from the United States, there have been three in less than 11 months. Another successful mission further confirmed that the combination of Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft is a reliable means of getting crews to the International Space Station.

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#falcon-9, #nasa, #science, #spacex

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SpaceX successfully launches astronauts with a re-used Dragon spacecraft for the first time

SpaceX has another successful human space launch to its credit, after a good takeoff and orbital delivery of its Crew Dragon spacecraft on Friday morning. The Dragon took off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 5:49 AM EDT (2:49 AM EDT). On board were four astronauts, including NASA’s Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, as well as JAXA’s Akihiko Hoshide and the ESA’s Thomas Pesquet.

This was Spacex’s second official astronaut delivery mission for NASA, after its Crew-1 operation last year. Unlike Crew-1, Crew-2 included use of two re-flown components in the spacecraft system, including the first stage booster, which was used during the Crew-1 launch, and the Dragon capsule, which was used for SpaceX’s first ever human spaceflight, the final demonstration mission of its spacecraft certification program for NASA, which flew Bob Behnken (side note: this mission’s pilot, McArthur, is Behnken’s wife) and Doug Hurley to the ISS. SpaceX has characterized the use of re-flown elements as arguably even safer than using new ones, with CEO Elon Musk noting that you wouldn’t want to be on the “first flight of an airplane when it comes out of the factory” during a conversation with XPRIZE’s Peter Diamandis on Thursday evening.

Now that the Crew Dragon is in its target transfer orbit, it’ll be making its way to rendezvous with the Space Station, which will take just under 24 hours. It’ll be docking with the station early tomorrow morning, attaching to a docking port that was just cleared earlier this month when SpaceX’s other Crew Dragon relocated to another port on the ISS earlier this month.

This launch also included a recovery attempt for the booster, with a landing at sea using SpaceX’s drone landing pad. That went as planned, meaning this booster which has already flown two different sets of human astronauts, could be used to fly yet another after refurbishment.

SpaceX’s Commercial Crew program with NASA continues to be the key success story in the agency’s move to partner with more private companies for its research and space exploration missions. NASA also recently tapped SpaceX to develop the human landing system for its Artemis program, which will return humans to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo program, and which will use SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft. For SpaceX’s human spaceflight program, the next big milestone will be its first flight of a mission made up entirely of paying private citizens, which is currently set to take place this fall.

#astronaut, #commercial-crew, #elon-musk, #esa, #falcon-9, #human-spaceflight, #jaxa, #nasa, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #space, #space-station, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-states

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SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites, making 240 launched this month alone

SpaceX has added yet more Starlink satellites to its existing constellation on orbit, with a successful delivery of 60 spacecraft this morning from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The mission used a Falcon 9 with a flight-prove booster that served on five previous launches, and a cargo fairing cover made up of two re-used halves from past flights.

This is the fourth Starlink launch in under a month, with prior batches of 60 sent up on March 14, March 11 and March 4, respectively. In total, that means it’s sent up 240 satellites in about three weeks, which is actually around on par with the number satellites than the second-largest commercial constellation operator, Planet, has in space in total.

The stated goal for SpaceX is to have launched 1,500 Starlink satellites in 2020, and given its progress, it looks on track to make that target at the current launch pace. Starlink should eventually grow to include as many as 10,000 or more active satellites in low-Earth orbit, but the near-term goal is to continue expanding geographic coverage of its broadband internet service to additional countries and customers.

Right now, it seems like the beta service rollout is more hardware-constrained on the ground component side, since SpaceX opened up pre-orders to anyone in a geography it services earlier this year. Customers signing up now for the Starlink antenna and modem kit are getting delivery times that extend out to the end of this year, even in areas where service is known to be available and performing well for existing beta users.

Starlink could become a massive revenue driver for SpaceX once it’s fully operational, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said the plan is to eventually spin the company out once it’s past the initial infrastructure investment phase and revenues have stabilized. So far, customer seem to be having a positive experience with the network in terms of speed and reliability relative to other rural broadband solutions, but the next big test will come once the network is experience heavy load in terms of customer volume.

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

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NASA and SpaceX sign a special info sharing agreement to help avoid Starlink collisions

NASA doesn’t just let anyone launch whatever they want to space without checking in with the agency about potential impacts to its own assets on orbit, including the International Space Station (ISS). The agency has a standard set of guidelines around so-called “Conjunction Assessment,” which is basically determine the risk that a close approach between in-space objects might occur, which in turn could potentially result in a collision. This assessment determines when and where something flies, as you might expect.

Today, NASA published a new agreement between itself and SpaceX that goes above and beyond its standard Conjunction Assessment practices. The special agreement, which exists under the mandate of the Space Act that allows NASA to work with any company in order to fulfill its mandate, is defined as a ‘nonreimbursable’ one, or just one in which no money changes hands, which is designed to benefit both parties involved.

It effectively lays out that because SpaceX operates Starlink, which is the largest existing on-orbit constellation of spacecraft, and which is growing at a rapid pace, and because each of these is equipped with the ability to maneuver itself autonomously in response to mission parameters, there needs to exist a deeper ongoing partnership between NASA and SpaceX for conjunction avoidance.

Accordingly, the agreement outlines the ways in which communication and information sharing between NASA and SpaceX will exceed what has been typically been expected. For NASA’s part, it’ll be providing detailed and accurate info about its planned missions in advance to SpaceX so that they can use that to properly program Starlink’s automated avoidance measures whenever a mission is happening where NASA assets might cross paths with the constellation. It’ll also be working directly with SpaceX on improving its its ability to assess and avoid any incidents, and will be providing technical support on how SpaceX might better mitigate “photometric brightness,” or the reflectivity of its Starlink spacecraft.

Meanwhile, SpaceX will be responsible for ensuring its Starlink satellites take ‘evasive action’ to ‘mitigate close approaches and avoid collisions with all NASA assets.” It’ll also be required to provide time frame ‘cut-outs’ for periods when Starlink satellites aren’t able to employ their collision avoidance, which mostly occurs during the phase right after they’re launch when they’re still being activated and put into their target orbits.

Another key point in the agreement is that SpaceX plan Starlink launches so the they’re at minimum either 5km above or below the highest and lowest points of the International Space Station’s orbit as it makes its way around the Earth. Finally, SpaceX is also expected to share its own analysis of the effectiveness of its satellite dimming techniques, so the agency can adjust its own guidance on the subject accordingly.

The full agreement is embedded below, but the main takeaway is that NASA clearly wants SpaceX to be a better low-Earth partner and citizen as the size of its constellation pushes past the 1,200 mark, on track to grow to around 1,500 or more by year’s end. Also, NASA’s putting a lot of trust and responsibility in SpaceX’s hands – basically it’s laying out that Starlink’s built-in autonomous capabilities can avoid any really danger that might arise. The way NASA has structured this document also leaves open the possibility that it could repurpose it for other constellation operators – a growing need given the number of companies working on networks of low-Earth orbit spacecraft.

#aerospace, #collision-avoidance, #falcon-9, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #policy, #satellite, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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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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SpaceX launches 60 new Starlink satellites, while Starship moves closer to being able to launch up to 400 at a time

SpaceX has launched another batch of its Starlink satellites – the usual complement of 60 of the low Earth orbit spacecraft, which will join the more than 1,000 already making up the existing constellation. This is the fifth launch of Starlink satellites for SpaceX this year, and the 20th overall.

Earlier this year, SpaceX opened up Starlink access to anyone in a current or planned service area via a pre-order reservation system with a refundable up-front deposit. The company aims to continue launches like this one apace throughout 2021 in order to get the constellation to the point where it can serve customers over a much larger portion of the globe. SpaceX COO and President Gwynne Shotwell has previously said that the company expects it should have coverage over much of the globe at a constellation size of around 1,200 satellites, but the company has plans to launch more than 30,000 to fully build out its network capacity and speed.

While SpaceX is making good progress on Starlink with its Falcon 9 launcher, it’s also looking ahead to Starship as a key driver of the constellation’s growth. Starship, SpaceX’s next-generation launch vehicle currently under development in South Texas, will be able to deliver 400 Starlink satellites at a time to orbit, and it’s also being designed with full reusability and fast turnaround in mind.

The ability to launch more than six times as many satellites per mission would help SpaceX a lot in terms of the speed with which they can deploy the Starlink network, as well as the overall cost of the endeavor – assuming their cost projections about Starlink’s general affordability are even close to accurate once it becomes a high-volume production rocket. That’s definitely still at least a few years off, but SpaceX did mark a milestone on Wednesday that bodes well for its chances of making that happen.

The company’s latest Starship prototype performed its most successful test launch to date on Wednesday, taking off from SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas development site and flying to around 32,000 feet before executing a ‘flop’ maneuver and then reorienting itself for a soft vertical landing. The test rocket also blew up after sitting on the pad for just under 10 minutes, but despite that spectacular ending, the test proved out a lot of the basic engineering work that SpaceX needs to make Starship a reality.

Starlink is a huge, multi-year effort, so even if Starship is still a few years away from high-volume production and flight, it should still have a significant impact on the project overall. And Starlink, once operational and fully deployed, will require regular maintenance – individual satellites in the network are only really designed to be operational for ups to five years max, with regular replacements required to keep things running smoothly.


Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.

#aerospace, #driver, #early-stage, #falcon-9, #gwynne-shotwell, #outer-space, #premier, #satellite, #satellite-broadband, #satellite-constellations, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #starship, #tc, #texas

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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 reportedly raises $850M in new funding

SpaceX has raised a fresh round of funding, totalling $850 million, per a new report by CNBC, citing sources “familiar” with the matter. The new capital brings the total valuation of the company, which is still privately-held, to around $74 billion according to the report.

This is a massive round, by most standards – but not by SpaceX’s own. The space launch company, which was founded in 2002, has raised a total of over $6 billion to date including this latest injection, with a $2 billion venture round raised last August. That funding was invested at a valuation of $46 billion, meaning the company’s value, at least in the eyes of private investors, leapt considerably in the six months separating the two raises.

SpaceX has accomplished a lot between now and then, including building its Starlink broadband constellation to more than 1,000 active satellites; launching its first operational NASA crew to the International Space Station aboard a Dragon spacecraft; launching not one, but two high-altitude flight tests of its Starship spacecraft with relatively good results; and launched its first dedicated rideshare mission, demonstrating the viability of a big potential new group of launch customers.

While the company has achieved a lot on the back of its existing capital, its recent successes no doubt provided a good base to go out and get more. That’s likely going to go to good use, since it has plenty of work yet to do, like continued develop of Starship to prove out its space-worthiness, and the capital-intensive activity of building Starlink into a true, globe-spanning network.

#aerospace, #broadband, #falcon-9, #funding, #hyperloop, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #starship, #tc

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Just as a Falcon 9 rocket was due to land, the horizon began to glow

At left, a glow can be seen on the horizon just as a Falcon 9 rocket was due to land.

Enlarge / At left, a glow can be seen on the horizon just as a Falcon 9 rocket was due to land. (credit: SpaceX webcast)

A Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Monday night carrying its payload of 60 Starlink satellites. After dropping off the second stage in a parking orbit, the first stage reentered Earth’s atmosphere for a rendezvous with a drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Alas, the rocket never made it to the boat. The company’s launch webcast included a video from the drone ship, Of Course I Still Love You, and a distant glow could be seen on the horizon when the rocket was due to land.

“We did get a little bright glow… no longer see a flame there… it does look like we did not land our booster,” said launch commentator Jessica Anderson, a manufacturing engineer at SpaceX. “It is unfortunate that we did not recover this booster, but our second stage is still on a nominal trajectory.”

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#falcon-9, #science, #spacex, #starlink

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SpaceX launches 60 more satellites for its Starlink service on the heels of opening up access

SpaceX has launched yet another batch of Starlink satellites – a full complement of 60, the standard size for its current Falcon 9-based Starlink missions. This brings SpaceX’s total to just around 1,000 in active on orbit, taking into account the handful that were experimental or have been de-orbited to date. This follows SpaceX’s opening of orders for Starlink to anyone in a current or planned coverage zone.

Starlink is a global satellite-based data network powered by small, low-Earth orbit satellites. Historically, broadband satellites have been large, expensive spacecraft positioned much further out from Earth in a fixed orbit, providing service to a single coverage area. Because of their distance from Earth and the way they connect to base stations, coverage has been very high-latency and relatively inconsistent (which you’ll recognize if you’ve ever tried to use Wifi on a flight, for instance). SpaceX’s constellation-based approach sees the satellites positioned much closer to Earth, which improves latency, and also has the satellites orbiting Earth and handing off connections between one another, which in theory provides more consistent coverage – particularly as the size of the constellation grows.

Eventually, SpaceX intends to provide coverage globally from Starlink, with an emphasis on offering service to areas. where coverage has been weak due to ground infrastructure challenges in past. For now, however, coverage is limited, though SpaceX recently expanded its closed beta to an open one, with anyone able to sign up via the Starlink website after an address check, and place an order, including a deposit with the full amount for the hardware kit to be charged once it ships.

Starlink’s hardware includes a small satellite receiver dish for installation by the customer at their service address. The service itself costs $99 per month, while the equipment is $499 (one-time fee). This does seem steep, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter recently that the plan is to have the costs come down over time, once the significant initial investment is recouped. He also noted that the plan is still to spin off Starlink and have it IPO eventually, once the company “can predict cash flow reasonably well.”

#aerospace, #broadband, #ceo, #elon-musk, #falcon-9, #hyperloop, #internet-service-providers, #outer-space, #satellite, #small-satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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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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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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Watch SpaceX’s first dedicated rideshare rocket launch live, carrying a record-breaking payload of satellites

 

SpaceX is set to launch the very first of its dedicated rideshare missions – an offering it introduced in 2019 that allows small satellite operators to book a portion of a payload on a Falcon 9 launch. SpaceX’s rocket has a relatively high payload capacity compared to the size of many of the small satellites produced today, so a rideshare mission like this offers smaller companies and startups a chance to get their spacecraft in orbit without breaking the bank. Today’s attempt is scheduled for 10 AM EST (7 AM PST) after a first try yesterday was cancelled due to weather. So far, weather looks much better for today.

The cargo capsule atop the Falcon 9 flying today holds a total of 133 satellites according to SpaceX, which is a new record for the highest number of satellites being launched on a single rocket – beating out a payload of 104 spacecraft delivered by Indian Space Research Organization’s PSLV-C37 launch back in February 2017. It’ll be a key demonstration not only of SpaceX’s rideshare capabilities, but also of the complex coordination involved in a launch that includes deployment of multiple payloads into different target orbits in relatively quick succession.

This launch will be closely watched in particular for its handling of orbital traffic management, since it definitely heralds what the future of private space launches could look like in terms of volume of activity. Some of the satellites flying on this mission are not much larger than an iPad, so industry experts will be paying close attention to how they’re deployed and tracked to avoid any potential conflicts.

Some of the payloads being launched today include significant volumes of startup spacecraft, including 36 of Swarm’s tiny IoT network satellites, and eight of Kepler’s GEN-1 communications satellites. There are also 10 of SpaceX’s own Starlink satellites on board, and 48 of Planet Labs’ Earth-imaging spacecraft.

The launch stream above should begin around 15 minutes prior to the mission start, which is set for 10 AM EST (7 AM PST) today.

#aerospace, #bank, #communications-satellites, #falcon-9, #imaging, #indian-space-research-organization, #ipad, #outer-space, #planet-labs, #satellite, #small-satellite, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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Watch SpaceX launch its first dedicated rideshare mission live, carrying a record-breaking number of satellites

[UPDATE: Today’s attempt was scrubbed due to weather conditions. Another launch window is available tomorrow at 10 AM ET]

SpaceX is set to launch the very first of its dedicated rideshare missions – an offering it introduced in 2019 that allows small satellite operators to book a portion of a payload on a Falcon 9 launch. SpaceX’s rocket has a relatively high payload capacity compared to the size of many of the small satellites produced today, so a rideshare mission like this offers smaller companies and startups a chance to get their spacecraft in orbit without breaking the bank.

The cargo capsule atop the Falcon 9 flying today holds a total of 133 satellites according to SpaceX, which is a new record for the highest number of satellites being launched on a single rocket – beating out a payload of 104 spacecraft delivered by Indian Space Research Organization’s PSLV-C37 launch back in February 2017. It’ll be a key demonstration not only of SpaceX’s rideshare capabilities, but also of the complex coordination involved in a launch that includes deployment of multiple payloads into different target orbits in relatively quick succession.

This launch will be closely watched in particular for its handling of orbital traffic management, since it definitely heralds what the future of private space launches could look like in terms of volume of activity. Some of the satellites flying on this mission are not much larger than an iPad, so industry experts will be paying close attention to how they’re deployed and tracked to avoid any potential conflicts.

Some of the payloads being launched today include significant volumes of startup spacecraft, including 36 of Swarm’s tiny IoT network satellites, and eight of Kepler’s GEN-1 communications satellites. There are also 10 of SpaceX’s own Starlink satellites on board, and 48 of Planet Labs’ Earth-imaging spacecraft.

The launch stream above should begin around 15 minutes prior to the mission start, which is set for 9:40 AM EST (6:40 AM PST) today.

#aerospace, #bank, #communications-satellites, #falcon-9, #imaging, #indian-space-research-organization, #ipad, #outer-space, #planet-labs, #satellite, #small-satellite, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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SpaceX to set record for most satellites launched on a single mission

As early as Saturday morning, SpaceX will launch the first dedicated mission of a rideshare program it announced in late 2019. As part of this plan, the company sought to bundle dozens of small satellites together for regular launches on its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket.

There seems to have been a fair amount of interest in the program, which offered a very low price of $15,000 per kilogram delivered to a Sun-synchronous orbit. For its first “Transporter-1 mission,” SpaceX said it will launch 133 commercial and government spacecraft as well as 10 of its own Starlink satellites. SpaceX had to obtain permission to deploy these Starlink satellites into a polar orbit.

With this launch of 143 total satellites, SpaceX will surpass the previous recordholder for most satellites launched in a single mission, set by an Indian launch vehicle in 2017. In February of that year, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle successfully delivered 104 satellites into a handful of different Sun-synchronous orbits.

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#falcon-9, #rideshare, #science, #spacex

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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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SpaceX to begin its 2021 launch campaign Thursday evening

A space rocket is pointed toward a cloud-filled sky.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket stands ready to launch the Turksat 5A mission. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX will seek to kick off what promises to be a busy year of launches on Thursday evening, when a Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch the Turksat 5A communications satellite. The 3.4-ton satellite will be deployed into a geostationary transfer orbit.

The launch will take place from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The mission has a four-hour launch window that opens at 8:28pm ET (01:28 UTC Friday), with a backup opportunity a day later. The weather forecast is generally favorable, with a 70 percent chance of “go” conditions on Thursday.

The mission will use previously flown hardware for both the rocket’s first stage, as well as the payload fairing. This will be the fourth flight of this booster core, which previously launched a GPS III satellite for the US Space Force in June 2020 as well as two Starlink missions for SpaceX, most recently on October 24. Each half of this mission’s payload fairings has also flown one earlier mission.

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#falcon-9, #science, #spacex

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Elon Musk says SpaceX will attempt to recover Super Heavy rocket by catching it with launch tower

SpaceX will try a significantly different approach to landing its future reusable rocket boosters, according to CEO and founder Elon Musk. It will attempt to ‘catch’ the heavy booster, which is currently in development, using the launch tower arm used to stabilize the vehicle during its pre-takeoff preparations. Current Falcon 9 boosters return to Earth and land propulsively on their own built-in legs – but the goal with Super Heavy is for the larger rocket not to have legs at all, says Musk.

The Super Heavy launch process will still involve use of its engines to control the velocity of its descent, but it will involve using the grid fins that are included on its main body to help control its orientation during flight to ‘catch’ the booster – essentially hooking it using the launch tower arm before it touches the ground at all. The main benefits of this method, which will obviously involve a lot of precision maneuvering, is that it means SpaceX can save both cost and weight by omitting landing legs from the Super Heavy design altogether.

Another potential benefit raised by Musk is that it could allow SpaceX to essentially recycle the Super Heavy booster immediately back on the launch mount it returns to – possibly enabling it to be ready to fly again with a new payload and upper stage (consisting of Starship, the other spacecraft SpaceX is currently developing and testing) in “under an hour.”

The goal for Starship and Super Heavy is to create a launch vehicle that’s even more reusable than SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 (and Falcon Heavy) system. Eventually, the goal for Musk is to have Starship making regular and frequent flights – for point-to-point flight on Earth, for orbital missions closer to home, and for long-distance runs to the Moon and Mars. The pace at which he envisions these happening in order to make it possible to colonize Mars with a continuous human population requires the kind of rapid recycling and reflying of Super Heavy he described today with this proposed new landing method.

Starship prototypes are currently being constructed and tested in Boca Chica, Texas, where SpaceX has been flying the pre-production spaceship during the past year. The company is also working on elements of the Super Heavy booster, and Musk said recently that it intends to begin actively flight-testing that component of the launch system in a few months’ time.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #falcon-9, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

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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 launch a SiriusXM broadcasting satellite live during its 25th flight of 2020

SpaceX is already having a banner year, with major accomplishments including its first human spaceflight, and it’s aiming to pad its current record-breaking launch year with a 25th flight today. The launch will carry SiriusXM-7, a broadcasting satellite for satellite radio service SiriusXM, delivering it to a geostationary transfer orbit from Space Launch Complex-40 in Florida.

This is actually the second launch that SpaceX has conducted just this week, after flying its 21st commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA on December 6. SpaceX has a nearly two hour window for today’s launch, beginning at 11:21 AM EST (8:21 AM PST), and weather is currently looking good.

The booster used on this launch flew during Demo-1, the first crewed flight for SpaceX ever, which brought astronauts to the ISS in May, as well as during a RADARSAT launch, and four separate Starlink launches during 2020. This will be its seventh flight, tying a record for SpaceX’s flight-proven first-stage boosters. It’ll attempt to land aboard the company’s drone landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean after deploying its second stage and cargo.

The broadcast above should begin around 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window, so long as everything is tracking on time.

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

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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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Watch Rocket Lab launch 30 satellites and attempt to recover a rocket for the first time live

Launch provider Rocket Lab has a mission today – codenamed ‘Return to Sender,’ it’s the company’s 16th launch, and it will carry, among other things, a payload that will demonstrate a technology to help safely deorbit satellites. It has a secondary mission that’s potentially more important for Rocket Lab and the launch business in general, however: An attempted recovery of the first stage booster used during the flight. The launch is currently set for 8:44 PM EST (5:44 PM PST), and the webcast above will begin 30 minutes prior.

This is the first time that Rocket Lab will attempt to recover one of its launch vehicle first stages, and it’s significant in part because the company never intended to do this in the first place. Rocket Lab’s Electron was designed as a fully expendable launch vehicle, an intentionally different approach from other launch providers like SpaceX that focused on creating a smaller launch craft that could be constructed more quickly and launched more cheaply, but that sacrificed reusability as a trade-off.

All that changed with the surprise announcement last year that Rocket Lab would be aiming to introduce partial reusability into its existing system. Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck explained during his presentation describing the reusability system that it would not involve a propulsive landing, like the kind used by SpaceX, but would instead use a navigation and guidance system to reorient the booster such that it would survive re-entry through an angled descent back into Earth’s atmosphere, and then deploy a parachute to slow it to the point where it could be caught by a helicopter and transported back to land.

Today’s recovery attempt won’t be a full test of that system as described; instead, it’ll see the first stage try to survive re-entry and then deploy its parachute, at which point it will hopefully float down to the ocean, from which Rocket Lab will then attempt to fish it out. The helicopter catch component, which Rocket Lab has demonstrated in a prior partial test, won’t be part of today’s activities.

The recovery attempt will be what most watchers are focused on today, but this mission has 30 total satellite payloads, and will carry a 3D-printed gnome from Valve’s Gabe Newell, which is a tech demo for new manufacturing techniques with potential space-based applications.

As a bonus, Rocket Lab is also donating $1 for every viewer of their livestream feed above to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at New Zealand’s Starship Foundation, so just by watching a really cool rocket launch, you’ll also be doing good in the world. That’s at 8:44 PM EST (5:44 PM PST) via the embedded YouTube stream at the top of this post, and they’ll kick off live coverage at around 8:14 PM EST (5:14 PM PST).

#aerospace, #booster, #ceo, #electron, #falcon-9, #gabe-newell, #outer-space, #peter-beck, #rocket-lab, #rocket-propulsion, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

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