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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Co-founded by a leader of SpaceX’s missions operations, Epsilon3 wants to be the OS for space launches

Laura Crabtree spent a good chunk of her childhood watching rocket launches on television and her entire professional career launching rockets, first at Northrup Grumman and then at SpaceX.

Now, the former senior missions operations engineer at SpaceX is the co-founder and chief executive of a new LA-based space startup called Epsilon3, which says it has developed the operating system for launch operations.

“The tools I had wanted did not exist,” said Crabtree. So when she left SpaceX to pursue her next opportunity, it was a no-brainer to try and develop the toolkit she never had, the first-time entrepreneur said. “I started looking at ways in which I could help the space industry become more efficient and reduce errors.”

Joining Crabtree in the new business is Max Mednik, a serial entrepreneur whose last company, Epirus, raised at least $144.7 million from investors including 8VC, Bedrock Capital and L3 Harris Technologies, and Aaron Sullivan, a former Googler who serves as the chief software engineer. Mednik worked at Google too before turning his attention to entrepreneurship. His previous businesses ranged from financial services software to legal services software, Mednik too had an interest in aerospace. His first job offers out of school were with SpaceX, JPL, and Google. And Aaron Sullivan another former

Part of a growing network of SpaceX alumni launching businesses, Epsilon3, like its fellow travelers First Resonance and Prewitt Ridge, is creating a product around an aspect of the design, manufacturing mission management and operations of rockets that had previously been handled manually or with bespoke tools.

“They make mission management software for the launchers and for the satellite companies that are going to be the payload of the rocket companies,” said Alex Rubacalva, the founder and managing partner of Stage Venture Partners, an investor in the company’s recent seed round. “It’s not just the design and spec but for when they’re actually working what are they doing; when you’re uplinking and downlinking data and changing software.”

Rubacalva acknowledged that the market for Epsilon3 is entirely new, but it’s growing rapidly.

“This was an analysis based on the fact that access to space used to be really expensive and used to be the provenance of governments and ten or 20 commercial satellite operators in the world. And it was limited by the fact that there were only a handful of companies that could launch,” Rubacalva said. “Now all of a sudden there’s going to be thirty different space flights. Thirty different companies that have rockets… access to space used to scarce, expensive, and highly restricted and it’s no longer any of those things now.” 

Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket, artist's rendering

Image Credits: Relativity Space

The demand for space services is exploding with some analysts estimating that the launch services industry could reach over $18 billion by 2026.

“It’s a very similar story and we all come from different places within SpaceX,” said Crabtree. First Resonance, provides software that moves from prototyping to production; Prewitt Ridge, provides engineering and management tools; and Epsilon3 has developed an operating system for launch operations.

“You’ve got design development, manufacturing, integration tests and operations. We’re trying to support that integration of tests and operations,” said Crabtree. 

While First Resonance and Prewitt Ridge have applications in aerospace and manufacturing broadly, Crabtree’s eyes, and her company’s mission, remain fixed on the stars.

“We’re laser focused on space and proving out that the software works in the highest stakes and most complex environments,” said Mednik. There are applications in other areas that require complex workflows for industries as diverse as nuclear plant construction and operations, energy, mining, and aviation broadly, but for now and the foreseeable future, it’s all about the space business.

Mednik described the software as an electronic toolkit for controlling and editing workflows and procedures. “You can think of it as Asana project management meets Github version control,” he said. “It should be for integration of subsystems or systems and operations of the systems.”

Named for the planet in Babylon Five, Epsilon3 could become an integral part of the rocket missions that eventually do explore other worlds. At least, that’s the bet that firms like Stage Venture Partners and MaC Ventures are making on the business with their early $1.8 million investment into the business.

Right now, the Epislon3’s early customers are coming from early stage space companies that are using the platform for live launches. These would be companies like Stoke Space and other new rocket entrants. 

“For us, space and deeptech is hot,” said MaC Ventures co-founder and managing partner, Adrian Fenty. The former mayor of Washington noted that the combination of Mednik’s serial entrepreneur status and Crabtree’s deep, deep expertise in the field.

“We had been looking at operating systems in general and thinking that there would be some good ones coming along,” Fenty said. In Epsilon3 the company found the combination of deep space, deep tech, and a thesis around developing verticalized operating systems that ticked all the boxes. 

“In doing diligence for the company… you just see how big space is and will become as a business,” said Michael Palank, a co-founder and managing partner at MaC Ventures predecessor, M Ventures alongside Fenty. “A lot of the challenges here on earth will and only can be solved in space. And you need better operating systems to manage getting to and from space.”

The view from Astra’s Rocket 3.2 second stage from space.

#adrian-fenty, #aerospace, #asana, #bedrock-capital, #elon-musk, #energy, #engineer, #entrepreneur, #github, #google, #hyperloop, #l3, #laser, #louisiana, #m-ventures, #mac-ventures, #managing-partner, #manufacturing, #mayor, #mining, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #outer-space, #project-management, #satellite, #serial-entrepreneur, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #washington

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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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Max Q: Starship’s good landing (and less good post-landing)

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

Sometimes even the biggest successes look like failures on video. That’s the theme of this week, because the biggest news by far was SpaceX’s test launch of its latest Starship prototype in South Texas.

It looked fake – but the fireball proved it wasn’t

SpaceX’s test flight was a launch of the 10th Starship prototype to a height of around 32,000 feet, at which point it used its Raptor engines to flip into a flop maneuver and then fall back to Earth in a roughly horizontal orientation, before re-lighting its engines very near the ground and flipping back vertical for a soft landing. All of which actually happened as described, for the first time, causing many TC readers to suggest it was an elaborate CG fake.

It wasn’t – after SpaceX cameras cut away, but while others were luckily still filming, the SN10 prototype met the same fiery end as the last two SpaceX rockets to do the high-flying act. The explosion that totally destroyed the rocket happened a few minutes after it sat stationary post-landing, and while it maybe didn’t provide the best optics, the real takeaway is that SpaceX proved the crazy landing maneuver Starship will use for reusability actually works in real-world conditions.

Starlink’s UT antenna for residential customers.

SpaceX kinda needs the Starship to start working more and more often, because the big new rocket has a lot of work to do. As the space company continues to launch its Starlink satellites, including 60 more this past week, it really wants to be launching up to 400 at a time using Starship’s generous cargo compartment. And there are humans waiting in the wings for a Starship ride, too: Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who bought out an entire Starship mission for a trip around the Moon and back in 2023 has opened applications for 8 other passengers who will join him – at his expense.

The SPAC man closes out his personal stake

Chamath Palihapitiya, the Chairman of Virgin Galactic, has sold his entire personal stake in the company after ushering it into the public markets last year via a SPAC merger with his Social Capital Hedosophia. Palihapitiya still retains a 6.2% ownership stake via that vehicle, in partnership with Ian Osborne, but his own independent holdings are now at zero.

Chamath Palihapitiya

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Palihapitiya says he “remains as dedicated as ever to Virgin Galactic’s team, mission and prospects,” and that the only reason he liquidated his position was to provide funds for a climate-focused investment he’ll be taking the lid off soon. Public market investors seem not to have retained the same confidence, however, with price down consistently since news of the Chairman’s sale came out last week.

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#aerospace, #chairman, #chamath-palihapitiya, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #premier, #raptor, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #virgin-galactic, #yusaku-maezawa

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SpaceX’s Starship prototype flies to 32,000 feet and sticks the landing in third flight test

SpaceX has launched SN10 – the tenth iteration of its current prototype series of Starship, the heavy-lift reusable spacecraft it’s developing. Starship SN10 took off from Boca Chica, Texas, where SpaceX is developing the vehicle. It flew to a height of roughly 10 km or 32,000 feet, before performing a maneuver to re-orient itself for a friction-assisted landing descent.

Unlike the last two Starship prototypes to fly this high, however, the roughly 6 minute flight did not end in a fireball [UPDATE: Well, not immediately. The rocket did blow up while stationary on the landing pad a few minutes after landing, potentially due to a leak]. Instead, it completed its landing flip maneuver as intended and slowed itself for a soft touchdown, with the rocket remaining vertical and intact afterwards.

This was a fantastic outcome, and a nominal one in all regards according to SpaceX’s live stream. But why the prior explosions to get to this point? That’s partly down to the way in which it’s being doing its development of this vehicle. All rocket development includes unexpected events and sub-optimal outcomes, but SpaceX has a couple of things at work that mean is efforts are subject to unusual scrutiny vs. your average spaceship manufacturer.

First, it’s doing this out in the open – the Boca Chica facility is basically just a couple small buildings, some concrete pads, some storage tanks and some scaffolding. It’s extremely close to a public roadway (which is closed during testing, while the surrounding area is evacuated), and people can and do just drive up and set up cameras to film what’s going on. That’s not at all how legacy rocket makers have typically done things.

Second, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has been adamant that SpaceX pursue a development strategy of rapid iteration and prototyping with Starship’s development. That has meant it’s manufacturing and assembling Starship prototypes simultaneously, making small changes as it goes, rather than stepping back after each test and doing a prolonged, multi-month analysis before proceeding with building and flying another version.

A launch attempt earlier in the day was cut short after a brief engine fire, when instrument readings from the rocket showed a slightly high thrust value that violated what Musk termed “conservative.” The fix that SpaceX instituted was actually adjusting the limit higher in order to avoid the abort initiation.

No doubt the company will do an investigation into the cause of the explosion that followed the successful flight and landing maneuver, but the test was still successful in all the ways that matter most for SpaceX at this stage of development. Next up for Starship is likely increasing the height of these test flights. Eventually, the goal is to reach orbit of course, but SpaceX is likely to try a few launches that remain atmospheric but far exceed this one before it attempts making that trip.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #rocket, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #texas

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SpaceX’s floating oil rig spaceship launch pad could be operating later this year according to Elon Musk

SpaceX’s grand vision for Starship, the next-generation spacecraft it’s currently in the process of developing, includes not only trips to Mars, but also regular point-to-point flights right here on Earth. These would skim the Earth’s outer atmosphere, reducing travel times for regular international flights from many hours to around 30 minutes. They’ll need to take off from somewhere, however, and rockets are a bit more disturbing to their local environs than traditional aircraft, so part of SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s plan for their regular use is covering oil rig platforms into floating spaceports.

Musk has talked about these plans before, and SpaceX recently went so far as to purchase two rigs – which it nicknamed Phoibos and Deimos after the moons of Mars. These are currently in the process of being retrofitted for use with Starship, and they’ll be stationed in the Gulf of Mexico near SpaceX’s Brownsville, Texas development site.

On Wednesday, Musk said on Twitter that one of the two platforms could be at least partially operational by the end of 2021. The SpaceX CEO is known for his optimistic timelines, but a lot of them have actually been relatively accurate lately – or at least not quite as unrealistic as in years past.

What he means by “in limited operation” isn’t necessarily clear. That could mean that they’re floating where they’re supposed to be, and technically capable of playing host to a Starship prototype, but not that SpaceX will be actively launching Starships from one by end of year. He did add that the plan is to put floating launchpads for Starship not only in the Gulf, but also at various points around the world – which is in keeping with the bold plan he shared via CG concept videos when Starship debuted, which depicted launch and landing facilities stationed in bodies of water near urban destinations.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #gulf-of-mexico, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starship, #tc, #texas

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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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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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LyteLoop raises $40 million to launch satellites that use light to store data

Soon, your cloud photo backups could reside on beams of light transmitted between satellites instead of in huge, power-hungry server farms here on Earth. Startup LyteLoop has spent the past five years doing tackling the physics challenges that can make that possible, and now it’s raised $40 million to help it leapfrog the remaining engineering hurdles to make its bold vision a reality.

LyteLoop’s new funding will provide it with enough runway to achieve its next major milestone: putting three prototype satellites equipped with its novel data storage technology into orbit within the next three years. The company intends to build and launch six of these, which will demonstrate how its laser-based storage medium operates on orbit.

I spoke to LyteLoop CEO Ohad Harlev about the company’s progress, technology and plans. Harlev said five years into its founding, the company is very confident in the science that underlies its data storage methods – and thrilled about the advantages it could offer over traditional data warehousing technology used today. Security, for instance, gets a big boost from LyteLoop’s storage paradigm.

“Everybody on every single data center has the same same possible maximum level of data security,” he said. “We can provide an extra four layers of cyber security, and they’re all physics-based. Anything that can be applied on Earth, we can apply in our data center, but for example, the fact that we’re storing data on photons, we could put in quantum encryption, which others can’t. Plus, there are big security benefits because the data is in motion, in space, and moving at the speed of light.”

On top of security, LyteLoop’s model also offers benefits when it comes to privacy, because the data it’s storing is technically always in transit between satellites, which means it’ll be subject to an entirely different set of regulations vs. those that come into play when you’re talking about data which is warehoused on drives in storage facilities. LyteLoop also claims advantages in terms of access, because the storage and the network are one in the same, with the satellites able to provide their information to ground stations anywhere on Earth. Finally, Harlev points out that it’s incredibly power efficient, and also ecologically sound in terms of not requiring million of gallons of water for cooling, both significant downsides of our current data center storage practices.

On top of all of that, Harlev says that LyteLoop’s storage will not only be cost-competitive with current cloud-based storage solutions, but will in fact be more affordable – even without factoring in likely decreases to come in launch costs as SpaceX iterates on its own technology and more small satellite launch providers, including Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab, come online and expand their capacity.

“Although it’s more expensive to build and launch the satellite, it is still a lot cheaper to maintain them in the space,” he said. “So when we do a total cost of ownership calculation, we are cheaper, considerably cheaper, on a total cost of ownership basis. However […] when we compare what the actual users can do, you know, we can definitely go to completely different pricing model.”

Harlev is referring to the possibility of bundled pricing for combining storage and delivery – other providers would require that you supply the network, for instance, in order to move the data you’re storing. LyteLoop’s technology could also offset existing spend on reducing a company’s carbon footprint, because of its much-reduced ecological impact.

The company is focused squarely on getting its satellites to market, with a plan to take its proof of concept and expand that to a full production satellite roughly five years form now, with an initial service offering made available at that time. But LyteLoop’s tech could have equally exciting applications here on Earth. Harlev says that if you created a LyteLoop data center roughly the size of a football field, it would be roughly 500 times as efficient at storing data vs. traditional data warehousing.

The startup’s technology, which essentially stores data on photons instead of physical media, just requires far less matter than do our current ways of doing things, which not only helps its environmental impact, but which also makes it a much more sensible course for in-space storage when compared to physical media. The launch business is all about optimizing mass to orbit in order to reduce costs, and as Harlev notes, photons are massless.

#aerospace, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #computing, #data-management, #elon-musk, #funding, #hyperloop, #laser, #physical-media, #quantum-encryption, #recent-funding, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #small-satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #startup, #startups, #tc, #technology, #virgin-orbit

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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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Elon Musk says Tesla Semi is ready for production, but limited by battery cell output

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on the company’s 2020 Q4 earnings call that all engineering work is now complete on the Tesla Semi, the freight-hauling semi truck that the company is building with an all-electric powertrain. The company expects to begin deliveries of Tesla Semi this year, the company said in its Q4 earnings release, and Musk said the only thing limiting their ability to produce them now is the availability of battery cells.

“The main reason we have not accelerated new products – like for example Tesla Semi – is that we simply don’t have enough cells for it,” Musk said. “If we were to make the Semi right now, and we could easily go into production with the Semi right now, but we would not have enough cells for it.”

Musk added that the company does expect to have sufficient cell volume to meet its needs once it goes into production on its 4680 battery pack, which is a new custom cell design it created with a so-called ‘tables’ design that allows for greater energy density and therefore range.

“A Semi would use typically five times the number of cells that a car would use, but it would not sell for five times what a car would sell for, so it kind of would not make sense for us to do the Semi right now,” Musk said. “But it will absolutely make sense for us to do it as soon as we can address the cell production constraint.”

That constraint points to the same conclusion for the possibility of Tesla developing a van, Musk added, and the lifting of the constraint will likewise make it possible for Tesla to pursue the development of that category of vehicle, he said.

Tesla has big plans for “exponentially” ramping cell production, with a goal of having production capacity infrastructure in place for a Toal of 200 gigawatt hours per year by 2022, and a target of being able to actually produce around 40% of that by that year (with future process improvements generating additional gigawatt hours of cell capacity  in gradual improvements thereafter).

#automotive, #cars, #ceo, #elon-musk, #hyperloop, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-model-s, #tesla-model-y, #tesla-semi, #transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elon Musk dunks on Facebook and recommends Signal in wake of U.S. Capitol insurrection attempt

Elon Musk, the tech billionaire set to likely soon become the world’s richest man, and one of the most influential voices in the world of tech entrepreneurship, continued his recent trend of criticizing Facebook with a Twitter post late Wednesday night, following the attempted insurrection by pro-Trump rioters at the U.S. Capitol building. Musk shared a meme suggesting the founding of Facebook ultimately led to the day’s disastrous and shameful events.

Musk, who has himself used his massive reach (he has around 42.5 million followers on Twitter) to spread misinformation to his many followers, specifically around COVID-19 and its severity, also followed that up on Thursday morning with a reply expressing a lack of surprise at WhatsApp’s new Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which will make sharing data from WhatsApp users back to Facebook mandatory for all on the platform.

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO also recommended that people instead use Signal, an encrypted messaging client which uses encryption by default and which is based on open-source standards. Side-note: If you do end up following Musk’s advice, you should also enable the app’s “disappearing messages” feature for an added layer of protection on both ends of the conversation.

Musk has a long history of opposing the use of Facebook, including the deletion of not just his own personal page, but also those of both Tesla and SpaceX, in 2018 during the original #deletefacebook campaign following the revelation of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

#elon-musk, #encryption, #facebook, #hyperloop, #musk, #social, #social-media, #software, #spacex, #tc, #technology, #whatsapp

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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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Elon Musk says SpaceX to double launch pad usage for Starship tests, Super Heavy flights coming in a ‘few months’

SpaceX is set to significantly ramp up its Starship development program in the new year, in more ways than one. SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk noted on Twitter on Thursday that the company will seek to make use of both of its two launch pads at its development facility in Boca Chica, Texas with prototype rockets set up on each, and that it will begin flight testing its Super Heavy booster (starting with low-altitude ‘hops’) in as few as “a few months” from now.

Recently, SpaceX has set up its SN9 prototype of Starship (the ninth in the current series) at Pad B at its Texas testing facility, which is on the Gulf of Mexico. SN9 will be next to undergo active testing, after SpaceX successfully flew its predecessor SN8 to an altitude of around 40,000 feet, and then executed a crucial belly flop maneuver that will be used to help control the powered landing of the production version. SN8 was destroyed when it touched down harder than expected, but SpaceX still achieved all its testing goals with the flight – and more.

SN9 will now undergo ground tests before hopefully doing its own flight test later on. That’ll provide the team with even more valuable data to carry on to further tests – with the ultimate goal of eventually achieving orbit with a Starship prototype vehicle. Musk’s tweet that two prototypes will be stood up next to each other on both Pad A and Pad B at the Boca Chica site could indicate the pace of these test flights might speed up, to match the fast clip at which SpaceX is constructing new rocket iterations.

Meanwhile, news that Super Heavy could be undergoing testing soon is also reason to get excited about 2021 for SpaceX and Starship. Super Heavy is the booster that SpaceX will eventually use to fly Starship for orbital launches, and to eventually help propel it to deep space – for destinations including Mars. Super Heavy will be around 240-feet tall, and will include 28 Raptor engines to provide it with the lift capacity needed to break Earth’s gravity well when it’s stacked with a Starship loaded down with cargo.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #gulf-of-mexico, #hyperloop, #new-years-day, #outer-space, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #starship, #tc, #texas

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Elon Musk claims he tried selling Tesla to Apple but Tim Cook wasn’t interested

Tesla stock’s miraculously bizarre 2020 might have a gone different way had Apple’s Tim Cook agreed to a meeting in recent years, or so says Elon Musk.

Reacting to Reuters’ recent news that Apple has not abandoned its electric car program and is still pursuing plans to build a physical vehicle, Musk tweeted that in “the darkest days” of scaling Model 3 production, he reached out to Apple CEO Tim Cook and raised the possibility of the Cupertino company acquiring Tesla. Musk says that Cook refused to take the meeting.

TechCrunch has reached out to Apple for comment.

Musk’s short tweet did not clarify exactly when this timeline was, though given public information about Tesla’s Model 3 production, it was likely between 2017 and 2019. In regards to Musk’s proposed sales price, 1/10th of Tesla’s current market capitalization is about $60 billion, which isn’t too far from the stock’s public value last year before it reached stratospheric heights in recent months.

Though Tesla is now worth more than $600 billion on the public markets after joining the S&P 500 this week, most Wall Street analysts seem perplexed by the stock’s recent growth which has been owed to young and first-time investors rallying behind Tesla’s products and its CEO.

#apple, #apple-inc, #automotive, #cars, #ceo, #cupertino, #elon-musk, #hyperloop, #tesla, #tesla-model-3, #tesla-model-s, #tim-cook

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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 flies its Starship rocket to 40,000 feet, just misses the landing in explosive finale

SpaceX is one step closer to replacing its Falcon line of active duty spacecraft: Its Starship prototype ‘SN8’ achieved a major milestone in the ongoing spacecraft’s development program, flying to a height of around 40,000 feet at SpaceX’s development facility in southern Texas.

One of the Starship’s three Raptor engines cut off around 2 minutes into flight, but the prototype rocket continued its ascent. Then at around three minutes, another extinguished, leaving just one lit and firing. The rocket continued to climb, oriented upward, but it was hard to tell from the feed exactly how high it reached. The third flared out at around 4:30 into the mission, and the Starship oriented into a horizontal position, angling back towards Earth but effectively flat on its belly, gliding.

The Starship’s engines re-ignited as the rocket approached the ground, flipping the rocket into a vertical orientation once again and slowing its descent. It landed a bit harder than expected, however, resulting in an explosion that engulfed the rocket. That’s still a successful test, and went better than SpaceX or most observers likely expected it would. SpaceX’s flight controller could be heard on the stream congratulating the team on a job well done.

While a flight that ends with an explosion and total loss of the spacecraft may not seem like a win, when you’re designing and testing an entirely new spaceship it most definitely is. SpaceX expected that this test flight likely wouldn’t achieve all of its objectives, and CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter earlier this week that he likely anticipated it might achieve its target flight height but not do much else. It seems to have done that, and managed its ‘belly flop’ maneuver, as well as correctly re-oriented itself for landing, but with a bit too much speed coming in for the touchdown.

The team has no doubt gathered a ton of valuable data from this test, and will now be taking those lessons back to help improve its next attempts. SpaceX already has two more prototypes, SN9 and SN10, effectively ready to go for follow-up tests. Those already carry improvements compared to SN8 which flew today, and the team will be quick to implement additional tweaks based on this flight and the data they obtained during the test.

#aerospace, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #rocket, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starship, #tc, #texas

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Watch live as SpaceX tries again to fly its Starship to great heights for the first time

SpaceX’s Starship prototype is set to take it’s first high-altitude flight – to around 40,000 feet or so – sometime this afternoon. This is the second time that it’s been poised to make this giant leap, after a try yesterday was aborted in the final seconds due to one of the Raptor engines automatically shutting down to potentially prevent an even worse ending to the test.

The spacecraft is one of the latest prototypes of Starship that SpaceX has built, and the first that will try for this high-flying demonstration. Other prototypes have climbed to a maximum of around 500 feet, after which they completed a controlled landing, too. This one will try that as well, provided it gets that far, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that it’s very likely something will go wrong with this test – which is fully within expectations at this stage in the spacecraft’s development.

The rocket is launching from SpaceX’s development facility in Texas, and will fly to its apogee height of 40,000 feet before executing (again, hopefully) what is essentially a belly flop maneuver to turn around and then fall back to Earth, before ultimately performing a controlled landing to come to rest vertically. All theoretical, but that’s how it would go if everything went perfectly.

We could get a spectacularly different result, which would still help SpaceX immensely in their development of Starship by providing valuable data. The exact timing of the test flight isn’t yet known, so stay tuned above – the window officially closes at 6 PM EST today, so it’ll have to happen before that it if it’s going to happen.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #texas

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Space manufacturing startup Varda, incubated at Founders Fund, emerges with $9 million in funding

From a young age, Will Bruey, the co-founder and chief executive of Varda Space Industries, was fascinated with space and running his own business.

So when the former SpaceX engineer was tapped by Delian Asparouhov and Trae Stephens of Founders Fund to work on Varda he didn’t think twice.

Bruey spent six years at SpaceX. First working on the Falcon and Dragon video systems and then the bulk of the systems actuators and controllers used in the avionics for the crewed Dragon capsule (which recently docked at the International Space Station). `

According to Asparouhov, that background, and the time that Bruey spent running his own angel syndicate and working at Bank of America getting a grounding in finance and startups, made him an ideal candidate to run the next startup to be spun out of Founders Fund .

Like other Founders Fund companies, Palantir and Anduril, Varda takes its name from the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. Named for the Elf queen who created constellations, the company has set itself no less lofty a task than bringing manufacturing to space.

News of the funding was first reported by Axios.

While companies like Space Tango and Made In Space already are attempting to make a viable business out of space manufacturing, they focus on small scale pilots and experimental projects. Varda separates itself by its loftier ambition — to manufacture commercially viable products at scale in space.

To be economically viable, these products have to be very very high value, and according to the IEEE there are already some goods that fit the bill. Things like carbon nanotubes and fiber optic cables, organs, and novel materials are all potential targets for a space manufacturing company, because they can conceivably justify the high cost of material transportation.

Image Credit: Getty Images/AbelCreativeStudio

“Manufacturing is the next step for commercialization in space,” said Bruey. “The primary driver that makes us economical is success in the launch business.”

With now-established companies like SpaceX, Rocket Lab and Blue Origin, and upstarts like Relativity Space, Spinlaunch, and the newly launched Aevum Space all driving down the cost of launching objects into space, the next wave of commercialization is coming.

Varda’s backers, which put $9 million into the company, were led by Founders Fund and Lux Capital . Additional participation came from Fifty Years, Also Capital, Raymond Tonsing, Justin Mateen, and Naval Ravikant.

These investors are all placing a bet that the biggest returns could be in manufacturing. As a result of their investments, Founders Fund partner Trae Stephens and Lux Capital co-founder Josh Wolfe are both taking seats on the company’s board.

“The first things we will manufacture are things with high dollar per-unit-mass value,” said Bruey. “As we establish our manufacturing platform that will ramp into the longer term vision of offloading manufacturing for all space operations.”

There are two categories of space manufacturing in the industry to come, according to Bruey and Asparouhov and those are additive manufacturing for making products to be used in space, and manufacturing in space for terrestrial applications. It’s the second of these that Varda focuses on. “Nothing we will be doing will be 3D printing,” said Asparouhov. “We will be focused on making things in space that we can bring back to earth.

The company may not be working on 3D printing, but its manufacturing facilities won’t look like anything on Earth. Initially, they’ll be unmanned, according to a blog post published by Fifty Years. Then they’ll manufacture things in space that benefit from low gravity. Finally, the company intends to build the first inrastructure that can harvest source materials for new products in-space via asteroid mining.

“Varda can make manufacturing sustainable by eliminating the need to destructively extract earth’s resources, help cure chronic diseases, deepen our understanding of biology, help connect more people to the Internet, and usher in higher-throughput and lower energy methods of computation,” Fifty Years co-founder Seth Bannon wrote in a direct message. “Bringing human industry into the stars — this is entrepreneurship at its boldest! Varda is the sort of big swing ambition venture capital was invented for.”

 

#3d-printing, #additive-manufacturing, #anduril, #asteroid-mining, #bank-of-america, #blue-origin, #california, #delian-asparouhov, #driver, #emerging-technologies, #engineer, #fiber-optic, #finance, #founders-fund, #hyperloop, #industrial-design, #international-space-station, #justin-mateen, #lux-capital, #manufacturing, #palantir, #private-spaceflight, #relativity-space, #rocket-lab, #seth-bannon, #space-tango, #spacex, #tc

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Space startup Aevum debuts world’s first fully autonomous orbital rocket launching drone

Launching things to space doesn’t have to mean firing a large rocket vertically using massive amounts of rocket-fuel powered thrust – startup Aevum breaks the mould in multiple ways, with an innovative launch vehicle design that combines uncrewed aircraft with horizontal take-off and landing capabilities, with a secondary stage that deploys at high altitude and can take small payloads the rest of the way to space.

Aevum’s model actually isn’t breaking much new ground in terms of its foundational technology, according to founder and CEO Jay Skylus, who I spoke to prior to today’s official unveiling of the startup’s Ravn X launch vehicle. Skylus, who previously worked for a range of space industry household names and startups including NASA, Boeing, Moon Express and Firefly, told me that the startup has focused primarily on making the most of existing available technologies to create a mostly reusable, fully automated small payload orbital delivery system.

To his point, Ravn X doesn’t look too dissimilar from existing jet aircraft, and bears obvious resemblance to the Predator line of UAVs already in use for terrestrial uncrewed flight. The vehicle is 80 feet long, and has a 60-foot wingspan, with a total max weight of 55,000 lbs including payload. 70% of the system is fully reusable today, and Skylus says that the goal is to iterate on that to the point where 95% of the launch system will be reusable in the relatively near future.

Image Credits: Aevum

Ravn X’s delivery system is design for rapid response delivery, and is able to get small satellites to orbit in as little as 180 minutes – with the capability of having it ready to fly and deliver another again fairly shortly after that. It uses traditional jet fuel, the same kind used on commercial airliners, and it can take off and land in “virtually any weather,” according to Skylus. It also takes off and lands on any 1-mile stretch of traditional aircraft runway, meaning it can theoretically use just about any active airport in the world as a launch and landing site.

One of they key defining differences of Aevum relative to other space launch startups is that what they’re presenting isn’t theoretical, or in development – the Ravn X already has paying customers, including over $1 billion in U.S. government contracts. It’s first mission is with the U.S. Space Force, the ASLON-45 small satellite launch mission (set for late 2021), and it also has a contract for 20 missions spanning 9 years with the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.  Deliveries of Aevum’s production launch vehicles to its customers have already begun, in fact, Skylus says.

The U.S. Department of Defense has been actively pursuing space launch options that provide it with responsive, short turnaround launch capabilities for quite some time now. That’s the same goal that companies like Astra, which was originally looking to win the DARPA challenge for such systems (since expired) with its Rocket small launcher. Aevum’s system has the added advantage of being essentially fully compatible with existing airfield infrastructure – and also of not requiring that human pilots be involved or at risk at all, as they are with the superficially similar launch model espoused by Virgin Orbit.

Aevum isn’t just providing the Ravn X launcher, either; its goal is to handle end-to-end logistics for launch services, including payload transportation and integration, which are parts of the process that Skylus says are often overlooked or underserved by existing launch providers, and that many companies creating payloads also don’t realize are costly, complicated and time-consuming parts of actually delivering a working small satellite to orbit. The startup also isn’t “re-inventing the wheel” when it comes to its integration services – Skylus says they’re working with a range of existing partners who all already have proven experience doing this work but who haven’t previously had the motivation or the need to provide these kinds of services to the customers that Skylum sees coming online, both in the public and private sector.

The need isn’t for another SpaceX, Skylus says; rather, thanks to SpaceX, there’s a wealth of aerospace companies who previously worked almost exclusively with large government contracts and the one or two massive legacy rocket companies to put missions together. They’re now open to working with the greatly expanded market for orbital payloads, including small satellites that aim to provide cost-effective solutions in communications, environmental monitor, shipping and defense.

Aevum’s solution definitely sounds like it addresses a clear and present need, in a way that offers benefits in terms of risk profile, reusability, cost and flexibility. The company’s first active missions will obviously be watched closely, by potential customers and competitors alike.

#aerospace, #artificial-intelligence, #boeing, #ceo, #elon-musk, #hyperloop, #jay, #launch-services, #launch-vehicle, #moon-express, #outer-space, #robotics, #small-satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #transportation, #u-s-government, #u-s-space-force, #united-states

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Elon Musk says SpaceX will attempt uncrewed Mars flight in two years, human landing in four to six

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk was given an award from media giant Axel Springer on Tuesday, and he sat down to provide a wide-ranging interview that covered topics including space, Tesla, AI and even underpopulation. Musk addressed SpaceX’s Mars ambitions first, providing current timelines he’s working towards for reaching the red planet with SpaceX’s Starship, the next-generation spacecraft it hopes to fly in a new high-altitude test sometime later this week.

Musk said that he expects humans will land on Mars in around six years, and that he’s “fairly confident” in that timeline. That’s based on the fact that Earth and Mars are in sync in terms of their relative orbits around the Sun around every 26 months, and plans to do an uncrewed launch and landing on Mars hopefully at the next opportunity in about two years from now. He added that with luck, a first human landing could happen during the next Mars-Earth synchronization after that, so in four years instead of six.

Asked when Musk’s own first trip to orbit would happen, he answered possibly two or three years,” though he qualified that his primary focus is to ensure the technology is in place to enable “a lot of people to go to Mars and make life interplanetary, and to have a base on the Moon,” downplaying his own personal spaceflight goals.

He also reiterated his ambition to eventually be buried on Mars (though not due to accidental death on impact in a spacecraft crash) and talked about how while he believes that becoming a spacefaring society is existential in his opinion, and will ultimately be necessary for human survival, he also hopes to make it fun, exciting and attractive rather than a necessary risk.

Starship is gearing up for its first big high-altitude flight test, as mentioned. It’ll be flying at SpaceX’s Texas development facility, and that test launch could happen as early as later this week, though the company still has to conduct a key static engine test fire of its prototype ahead of an actual flight.

#artificial-intelligence, #axel-springer, #ceo, #elon-musk, #hyperloop, #mars, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #tesla, #texas

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SpaceX targeting next week for Starship’s first high-altitude test flight

SpaceX looks ready to proceed to the next crucial phase of its Starship spacecraft development program: A 15km (50,000 feet) test flight. This would far exceed the max height that any prior Starship prototype has achieved so far, since the current record-setting hop test maxed out at around 500 feet. Elon Musk says that SpaceX will look to make its first high-altitude attempt sometime next week.

This tentative date (these are always subject to change) follows a successful static test fire of the current SN8 generation prototype – essentially just firing the test spacecraft’s Raptor engines while it remains stationary o the pad. That’s a crucial step that paves the way for any actual flight, since it proves that the spacecraft can essentially hold together and withstand the pressures of active engines before it leaves the ground.

SpaceX’s SN8 prototype is different from prior versions in a number of ways, most obviously because it has an actual nosecone, along with nose fins. The prototypes that did the short test hops, including SN6, had what’s known as a mass simulator up top, which weighs as much as an actual Starship nose section but looks very different.

Musk added that the chances of an SN8 high-altitude flight going to plan aren’t great, estimating that there’s “maybe a 1/3 chance” given how many things have to work correctly. He then noted that that’s the reason SpaceX has SN9 and SN10 ready to follow fast, which is a theme of Starship’s development program to date: building successive generations of prototypes rapidly in parallel in order to test and iterate quickly.

We’ll likely get a better idea of when the launch will take place due to alerts field with local regulators, so watch this space next week as we await this major leap forward in SpaceX’s Starship program.

#aerospace, #elon-musk, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc

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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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A Step Forward in the Promise of Ultrafast ‘Hyperloops’

Two employees of Virgin Hyperloop traveled on a small system the company has built near Las Vegas, the first such manned test.

#freight-cargo, #giegel-josh, #high-speed-rail-projects, #hyperloop, #hyperloop-technologies-inc, #transit-systems, #transportation, #virgin-group, #virgin-hyperloop-one-inc

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SpaceX successfully launches GPS III space vehicle for the US Space Force

Tesla has launched a GPS III satellite on behalf of customer the U.S. Space Force, the second GPS III generation satellite it has launched for the U.S. military this year. The first took off in June, and was the third overall GPS III put in orbit by SpaceX . This is the fourth, and will provide improved GPS navigation capabilities to the U.S., including improved jamming technology to protect against interference.

SpaceX used a brand new Falcon 9 first-stage on this launch, and successfully recovered that rocket booster using a controlled landing on its drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The company also confirmed that its payload achieved good orbit, and it’s now in the process of making its way to the deployment point where it can release the GPS spacecraft for its final orbital insertion.

This mission flew from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and was the second attempt at delivering this payload, after an attempt at the beginning of September was scrubbed due to an early startup of two engines that caused an auto-shutdown of the launch sequence two seconds prior to liftoff. SpaceX investigated the issue and found that it was due to some trace amounts of a masking material used to protect engine components making their way into fuel lines. That triggered a change in its engine manufacturing and inspection process.

SpaceX also delayed its forthcoming Crew-1 launch for NASA to resolve the issue, so today’s launch should be another reassurance that that key, history-making flight of an operational ISS crew made up of three NASA and one JAXA astronaut will go ahead as planned on November 14, barring any other delays.

#aerospace, #elon-musk, #falcon-9, #florida, #global-positioning-system, #hyperloop, #space, #spacex, #tc, #u-s-space-force, #united-states

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Watch SpaceX launch a GPS satellite for the US Space Force live

SpaceX is set to launch the U.S. Space Force’s GPS III Space Vehicle 04 today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This launch was all set to take off back at the beginning of October, but was scrubbed in the final seconds. Today’s launch window spans 15 minutes, and opens at 6:24 PM EST (3:24 PM PST), with a backup opportunity tomorrow, Friday November 6 at 6:20 PM EST (3:20 PM PST).

The launch today will use a Falcon 9 first-stage that hasn’t flown previously, and SpaceX will be attempting to recover it with a landing on its drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean. Because of the terms of its agreement with the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC, which was previously housed under the Air Force), SpaceX has had to use new boosters for all missions that fall under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) umbrella, including this one.

That changed in September of this year, when SpaceX and the SMC agreed that Elon Musk’s launch company could use re-flown booster stages — which is what SpaceX does for just about every other launch it flies these days. Given SpaceX’s track record with refurbished first stages, it makes sense that SMC would change their position on use of the recovered rockets.

SpaceX already launched one GPS III spacecraft for the Space Force this year — the third such satellite in the constellation, which was delivered to orbit in June.

The launch webcast will begin above at around 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window, so at around 6:09 PM EST (3:09 PM PST).

#aerospace, #air-force, #falcon-9, #florida, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #u-s-space-force

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Tesla has increased the price of its “Full Self-Driving” option to $10,000

Tesla has made good on founder and CEO Elon Musk’s promise to boost the price of its “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) software upgrade option, increasing it to $10,000 following the start of the staged rollout of a beta version of the software update last week. This boosts the price of the package $2,000 from its price before today, and it has steadily increased since last May.

The FSD option has been available as an optional add-on to complement Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance technology, even though the features themselves haven’t been available to Tesla owners before the launch of the beta this month. Even still, it’s only in limited beta, but this is the closest Musk and Tesla have come to actually launching something under the FSD moniker – after having teased a fully autonomous mode in production Teslas for years now.

Despite its name, FSD isn’t what most in the industry would define as full, Level 4 or Level 5 autonomy per the standards defined by SAE International and accepted by most working on self-driving. Musk has designed it as vehicles having the ability “to be autonomous but requiring supervision and intervention at times,” whereas Levels 4 and 5 (often considered ‘true self-driving’) under SAE standards require no driver intervention.

Still, the technology does appear impressive in some ways according to early user feedback – though testing any kind of self-driving software unsupervised via the general public does seem an incredibly risky move. Musk has said that we should see a wide rollout of the FSD tech beyond the beta before year’s end, so he definitely seems confident in its performance.

The price increase might be another sign of his and the company’s confidence. Musk has always maintained that users were getting a discount by handing money over early to Tesla in order to help it develop technology that would come later, so in many ways it makes sense that the price increase comes now. This also obviously helps Tesla boost margins, though it’s already riding high on earning that beat both revenue and profit expectations from analysts.

#automation, #automotive, #ceo, #driver, #elon-musk, #emerging-technologies, #hyperloop, #mobility, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-autopilot, #transport, #transportation

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