A committee’s Democrats say two fatal crashes were a “horrific culmination” of engineering flaws, mismanagement and oversight lapses.
Walmart now has two tests for drone delivery running in the US.
Early Monday morning the company announced a new drone delivery program with Zipline, a startup that made its name delivering medical supplies across Africa.
The partnership with Zipline comes on the heels of another newly announced drone partnership with Flytrex, which started delivering packages to Walmart customers in North Carolina last week.
Zipline’s work with Walmart in Arkansas compliments a pilot delivery program that the company began in North Carolina earlier this year. Working with Novant Health, Zipline has been delivering medical equipment and personal protective gear via drone to regions of North Carolina since May.
The drone operation with Walmart will deliver health and wellness products initially, with the potential to expand to general merchandise.
A movement into the delivery of general goods would be something of a pivot for Zipline, which has touted its ability to handle medical supplies and equipment since the launch of its services across Africa in 2016.
Trial deliveries for the new service will begin in Northwest Arkansas and cover a 50-mile radius, according to a statement from Walmart.
Walmart’s forays into drone delivery come as its largest competitor, Amazon, also picks up activity in the drone aviation industry.
In late August, Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery fleet received approval from the FAA to begin trialing commercial deliveries. It’s similar to the certification that logistics companies like UPS received to test their own drone delivery networks.
Rather than operate its own drone fleet, Walmart seems content to partner with existing companies working in the space — for now.
The company said it was stepping up inspections, citing new manufacturing problems. Federal regulators are also looking into production flaws.
Two commercial pilots approaching the city’s main airport reported a man out for a high-altitude spin. The F.B.I. is looking into it.
The agency said it had issued a certificate clearing the way for the company to use drones to fly packages to its customers’ doorsteps.
Amazon has been granted an approval by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that will allow it to start trialling commercial deliveries via drone, Bloomberg reports. This certification is the same one granted to UPS and a handful of other companies, and while it doesn’t mean that Amazon can immediately start operating a consumer drone delivery service for everyone, it does allow them to make progress towards that goal.
Amazon has said it’ll kick off its own delivery tests, though it hasn’t shared any details on when and where exactly those will begin. The FAA clearance for these trials is adapted from the safety rules and regulations it imposes for companies operating a commercial airline service, with special exceptions allowing for companies to bypass the requirements that specifically deal with onboard crew and staff working the aircraft, since the drones don’t have any.
These guidelines are at best a patchwork solution designed by the agency and its commercial partners to help provide a way for them to get underway with crucial systems development and safety testing and design, but the FAA is working towards a more fit-for-purpose set of regulations to govern drone airline operation for later this year. That will mostly be related to authorizing flights over crowds – but any drone flights will still require constant human observation.
Ultimately, any actual viable and practical system of drone delivery will require fully autonomous operation, without direct line-of-sight observation. Amazon has plans for its MK27 drones, which have a maximum 5 lb carrying capacity, to do just that, but it’ll still likely be many years before the regulatory and air traffic control infrastructure is updated to the point where that can happen regularly.
Rocket Lab has made a remarkable recovery after losing a payload during a mission failure on July 4 – just eight weeks later, the company has set a launch window for its next dedicated commercial mission that spans 12 days beginning August 27 at 3:05 PM local New Zealand time.
At the end of July, Rocket Lab revealed that it had received crucial FAA clearance to resume its launch activities, following an internal investigation that lasted a month and identified the root cause – a component that had performed fine previously, but that somehow hadn’t undergone rigorous and thorough testing. Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck noted that they’d be able to mitigate the problem with a relatively simple change to their production process, and even remedy the component on existing, already-produced Electron launch vehicles.
Rocket Lab’s quick turnaround on this resolution and return to active launch status also has to do with the nature of the problem – the error actually resulted in an early, but safe shutdown of the Electron’s engines, which meant that it didn’t reach its target orbit. The rocket didn’t explode, however, or cause any kind of safety risk. That also meant Rocket Lab was able to easily pull data about the issue that caused the failure after the engines cut off.
Other companies have endured much longer shutdown times following launch vehicle failures: SpaceX took four months to return to active flights after its 2016 pre-flight loss of a Falcon 9 with a Facebook internet satellite on board. That was a very different kind of failure, however, for all the reasons mentioned above.
Still, it’s a sign of the resilience and flexibility of Rocket Lab’s model that it’s already set to begin serving paying customers again the month following its own ordeal. This launch won’t further its efforts to develop a partly reusable launch system with a booster recovery process, however.
The plane has been grounded since March 2019 after two deadly crashes, but could fly again by the end of the year. Answers to questions about the process.
Boeing has completed a series of test flights, but a return to the skies will depend on more safety milestones.
The flights, which could begin as soon as Monday, are a major step in getting the plane flying again.
SpaceX had just conducted yet another static fire test of the Raptor engine in its Starship SN4 prototype launch vehicle on Friday when the test vehicle exploded on the test stand in Boca Chica, Texas. This was the fourth static fire test of this engine on this prototype, so it’s unclear what went wrong versus other static fire attempts.
This was a test in the development of Starship, a new spacecraft that SpaceX has been developing in Boca Chica. Eventually, the company hopes to use it to replace its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket, but Starship is still very early in its development phase, whereas those vehicles are flight-proven, multiple times over.
SpaceX had just secured FAA approval to fly its Starship prototype for short, suborbital test flights. The goal was to fly this SN4 prototype for short distances following static fire testing, but that clearly won’t be possible now, as the vehicle appears to have been completely destroyed in the explosion following Friday’s test, as you can see below in the stream from NASASpaceflight.com.
The explosion occurred around 1:49 PM local time in Texas, roughly two minutes after it had completed its engine test fire. We’ve reached out to SpaceX to find out more about the cause of today’s incident, and whether anyone was hurt in the explosion. SpaceX typically takes plenty of safety precautions when running these tests, including ensuring the area is well clear of any personnel or other individuals.
This isn’t the first time one of SpaceX’s Starship prototypes has met a catastrophic end; a couple of previous test vehicles succumbed to pressure testing while being put through their paces. This is why space companies test frequently and stress test vehicles during development — to ensure that the final operational vehicles are incredibly safe and reliable when they need to be.
SpaceX is already working on additional prototypes, including assembling SN5 nearby in Boca Chica, so it’s likely to resume its testing program quickly once it can clear the test stand and move in the newest prototype. This is a completely separate endeavor from SpaceX’s work on the Commercial Crew program, so that historic first test launch with astronauts on board should proceed either Saturday or Sunday as planned, depending on weather.
SpaceX has received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly suborbital missions with its Starship prototype spacecraft, paving the way for test flights at its Boca Chica, Texas site. SpaceX has been hard at work readying its latest Starship prototype for low-altitude, short duration controlled flight tests, and conducted another static engine fire test of the fourth iteration of its in-development spacecraft earlier today.
Officially, the FAA has granted SpaceX permission to conduct what it terms “reusable launch vehicle” missions, which essentially means that the Starship prototype is now cleared to take-off from, and land back at, the launch site SpaceX operates in Boca Chica. The Elon Musk-led space company has already conducted similar tests, but previously used its ‘Starhopper’ early prototype, which was smaller than the planned production Starship, and much more rudimentary in design. It was basically used to prove out the capabilities of the Raptor engine that SpaceX will use to propel Starship, and only for a short hop test using one of those engines.
Since that flight last year, SpaceX has developed multiple iterations of a full-scale prototype of Starship, but thus far they haven’t gotten back to the point where they’re actively flying any of those. In fact, multiple iterations of the Starship prototype have succumbed during pressure testing – though SN4, the version currently being prepared for a test flight, has passed not only pressure tests, but also static test fires of its lone Raptor engine.
The plan now is to fly this one for a short ‘hop’ flight similar to the one conducted by Starhopper, with a maximum altitude of around 500 feet. Should that prove successful, the next version will be loaded with more Raptor engines, and attempt a high altitude test launch. SpaceX is quickly building newer version of Starship in succession even as it proceeds with testing the completed prototypes, in order to hopefully shorten the total timespan of its development.
There’s something of a clock that SpaceX is working against: It was one of three companies that received a contract award from NASA to develop and build a human lander for the agency’s Artemis program to return to the Moon. NASA aims to make that return trip happen by 2024, and while the contract doesn’t necessarily require that each provided have a lander ready in that timeframe, it’s definitely a goal, if only for bragging rights among the three contract awardees.
Autonomous aviation startup Xwing locked in a $10 million funding round before COVID-19 hit. Now the San Francisco-based startup is using the capital to hire talent and scale the development of its software stack as it aims for commercial operations later this year — pending FAA approvals.
The company announced Wednesday its Series A funding round, which was led by R7 Partners, with participation from early-stage VC Alven, Eniac Ventures and Thales Corporate Ventures. Xwing has already hired several key executives with that fresh injection of capital, including Terrafugia’s former co-founder and COO Anna Dietrich and Ed Lim, a Lockheed Martin and Aurora Flight Sciences veteran who more recently led guidance navigation and control for Uber’s autonomous car division as well as Zipline’s AV delivery drone.
Xwing is different from some of the other autonomous aviations startups that have popped up in recent years. The startup isn’t building autonomous helicopters and planes. Instead, it’s focused on the software stack that will enable pilotless flight of small passenger aircraft.
Xwing is also aircraft agnostic. The company’s engineers are focused on the key functions of autonomous flight, such as sensing, reasoning and control. The software stack, which is designed to work across different kinds of aircraft, is integrated into existing aerospace systems. That strategy of retrofitting existing aircraft will speed up deployment, while maintaining safety and keeping costs in check, according to founder and CEO Marc Piette. It also is a straighter path towards regulatory approval.
“It’s more effective for us to not constrain ourselves to a given vehicle and to develop technology that is considered more of an enabler— from a marketing perspective — than going full stack, Piette said when asked if Xwing would ever try to build an autonomous aircraft from the groundup.
Since Xwing’s last funding round — $4 million in summer 2018 — the company has been developing its tech and working with the FAA to receive flight certification for pilotless aircraft. Once approved, the company will seek to commercialize pilotless flights.
The startup hasn’t named any commercial partners yet. And Piette hasn’t provided details about its commercial strategy either, although he said to expect more announcements this year.
Xwing is already working with Bell for NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS in the NAS) program, an initiative meant to mature the key remaining technologies that are needed to integrate unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace. The program plans to hold demonstration flights this summer.
Flight 1392 landed at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Thursday night and tried to avoid the collision, the airline said. Medical teams said the person died at the scene.
The episode was being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which ordered the actor to complete awareness training in 2017.
Cargo capacity has been expanding at some airports, disturbing the peace and routines of people who live nearby. Official channels offer scant recourse.