A guide to living at a black hole

Even with today's real estate boom, a supermassive black hole in the neighborhood has to drive the asking price down a bit, right?

Enlarge / Even with today’s real estate boom, a supermassive black hole in the neighborhood has to drive the asking price down a bit, right? (credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC) / Redfin / Nathan Mattise)

Black holes flood the Universe. The nearest one is a mere 1,500 lightyears away. A giant one, Sagittarius A*, sits in the center of the Milky Way about 25,000 lightyears away. While your typical space traveler might look for a home around a calm G-type star, some celestial citizens are brave enough to take up refuge around one of these monsters. It’s not an easy life, that’s for sure, but being neighbors with a black hole does mean you’ll almost certainly learn more about the fundamental nature of reality than anybody else.

Interested? What follows is a guide of what to expect should you make your home around a black hole. Good luck.

Black hole basics

Upon first arriving at a black hole, you will most likely be struck by how utterly, completely…boring it is. The black hole itself is simply a fathomless black orb hanging out somewhere in the distance. Black holes don’t really do anything except sit there and gravitate. In fact, they’re famously easy to miss: Unless they’re actively feeding on material or coincidentally bending/blocking the view to a star in the background, you simply can’t see them. Once you know one is there, though, you can start to have some fun.

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#black-holes, #features, #science, #space, #universe


SkyWatch raises $17.2M for its Earth observation data platform

Waterloo-based SkyWatch was among the first startups to recognize that the key to unlocking the real benefits of the space economy lay in making Earth observation data accessible and portable, and now the company has raised a $17.2 million Series B to help it further that goal. Fresh on the heals of a partnership with Poland-based satellite operator SatRevolution, SkyWatch is now set to bridge the gulf between satellite startups and customers in a bigger way as it lowers the barriers to entry for new companies focused on high-tech spacecraft payloads.

The new round of funding was led by new investor Drive Capital, and included participation from existing investors including Bullpen Capital, Space Capital, Golden Ventures and BDC Ventures. SkyWatch CEO and co-founder James Slifierz told me that bringing Drive on was a major win for the Series B.

“Drive is a firm that has actually been researching the space industry for a few years now, and looking for an opportunity that would be their first space technology investment,” he said. “Not their first in the [GTA-Waterloo] area  they’re based out of Columbus, Ohio, made up of Silicon Valley veterans. They were a little early to the trend of believing that a majority of the really interesting and large opportunities would eventually evolve outside of the Bay Area and outside of New York City.”

SkyWatch definitely fits the bill, having built strong revenue pipeline for an Earth observation data platform that makes the information collected by the many observation satellites on orbit accessible to private industry, in a way that doesn’t require re-architecting existing systems or handling huge amounts of data in unfamiliar formats.

This fresh funding will help SkyWatch accelerate the rollout of its TerraStream product, a nw platform that the company developed to provide full-service data management, ordering, processing and delivery for satellite companies. This allows SkyWatch to not only make data collected by Earth observation satellites like those operated by SatRevolution accessible to customers — but also to source customers for those companies, too, effectively handling both sales and delivery, which many satellite startups born from a technical or academic background don’t start out equipped to tackle.

“My favorite analogy for TerraStream is it’s Shopify for space companies,” Slifierz said. “It takes away a lot of the complexity of going to market. So if you want to build an amazing shoe brand today, Shopify enables you to not have to worry about the logistics, and shipping, and the inventory management, the website, storefront and all that; it allows you to focus on the things that will build value in your company, which is the quality of your product, and your brand.”

He added that just like Shopify depends on the existence of a rich third-party ecosystem to support its platform, so does SkyWatch, and that ecosystem is only now reaching maturity after years of infrastructure development, including things like the proliferation of launch startups, ground station build out, data warehousing and more.

Ultimately, what SkyWatch provides is the ability to go to market “faster and more profitably,” Slifierz says, which is a major shift for hard tech satellite startups working on new and improved sensor capabilities, often spinning out of research labs at academic institutions.

“The strongest value proposition is that we give you instant access to hundreds of customers, which we’re growing at a very fast pace on the EarthCache [SkyWatch’s commercial satellite imagery marketplace] side. So in that way, we sort of joke, it’s like Shopify for space, but also integrated with the AWS marketplace.”

SkyWatch can also actually help identify demand, by providing satellite-side customers with real data to back up signals of what the market is actually looking for. Slifierz says that’s helped them advised partners on how to tweak their offering to meet a real need, which is beneficial in an industry where research and tech development often lead payload design, with actual demand as a somewhat secondary consideration.

#aws, #bullpen-capital, #business, #companies, #data-management, #drive-capital, #economy, #golden-ventures, #inventory-management, #new-york-city, #satellite, #satrevolution, #space, #space-capital, #startup-company, #tc, #waterloo


Rocket Lab to design two orbital spacecraft for NASA to study Mars

Rocket Lab is developing two spacecraft based on its Photon platform to orbit Mars, studying the planet’s magnetosphere in order to gain a better understanding of the ways in which Mars’ climate has changed over time. The science mission was awarded through NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) program, and will fly to Mars in 2024, aboard a yet-to-be-identified commercial lunch vehicle contracted by NASA as a rideshare rocket.

This is a noteworthy development for a few reasons, including that Rocket Lab will realize its earlier announced vision of using Photon as a platform for satellites that travel beyond Earth’s orbit. It’s also interesting because it will ostensibly mark the first decoupling of Rocket Lab’s launch and spacecraft services businesses.

Rocket Lab’s Photon is a satellite platform that includes the company’s Curie in-space propulsion system, and they’ll also be outfitted for this mission with star trackers and reaction wheels to make up a situational control system, as well as a deep space navigation system or way finding. The appeal of Photon is meant to be deep space exploration capability in a small, affordable and relatively low mass for launch package that could broaden access to interplanetary science for more organizations and institutions.

Next up for the Rocket Lab-supported Escapate mission that will use these two Mars-bound Photos is a design review in June, which will be followed up by a final confirmation review in July as a last check before the Photons are built, equipped and readied for their eventual flight.

#outer-space, #photon, #rocket-lab, #space, #space-exploration, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #tc


SpaceX Starlink Mega Constellation Faces Fresh Legal Challenge

The company’s ongoing launches of thousands of satellites for global high-speed Internet service may clash with preexisting environmental regulations

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts Come in Two Distinct Flavors

A trove of new detections suggests that the bursts could be the result of at least two separate astrophysical phenomena

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#physics, #space, #the-sciences


What does Uber and birth control have in common?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our morning coffee chat with you that is all about the weekend, what to expect this week, and some funding rounds you may have missed. I’m subbing in for Alex Wilhelm today, who is deservedly out on vacation. You can find me on Twitter @nmasc_, and Equity on Twitter (turn on those notifications!) @equitypod. 

Biden and world leaders are congregating at the NATO summit, which kicks off this week. Also, the Dublin Tech Summit is happening on Thursday with yours truly, other TC folks, and many entrepreneurs making a virtual appearance.

Now, onto the news!

  •  The weekend: The seat next to Jeff Bezos as he launches into space just got filled for $28 million. Also, Elon Musk tweeted about how Tesla might start accepting Bitcoin as a payment once at least half of it can be mined using clean energy. The comment sent Bitcoin up more than a few percentage points, hovering at $39,173 at the time of the recording.
  • This morning: The FT reports that Flagship Pioneering, which is responsible for incubating and launching Moderna, has raised a new venture capital fund at $3.4 billion. Flagship isn’t your traditional VC. It forms teams around problem areas and brainstorms solutions, incubates the most promising ones, and then eventually spins out and finances those companies.
  •  Funding rounds: Byju’s got a check from UBS and Zoom founder Eric Yuan, making it the most valuable startup in India. The company is now valued at $16.5 billion post-money. Plus, The Pill Club has raised an extension Series B round with former Uber exec Liz Meyerdirk newly at the helm of the company.
  • Finally, please take the Equity Listener Survey. We want to make the show better for you, so spending a few seconds filling out our survey and we will be very grateful.

And that’s all. Be kind with yourself this week, and take more than a 5-minute lunch because true glamour is being present and chewing slowly.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#bitcoin, #byjus, #edtech, #elon-musk, #equity, #equity-pod, #eric-yuan, #flagship-pioneering, #health-tech, #jeff-bezos, #moderna, #space, #tc, #tesla, #the-pill-club, #truepill, #uber, #zoom


Metals from space descend on Boulder, Colorado, at dusk and dawn

Morning sun against the foothills of Boulder, Colorado, business area and campus.

Enlarge / Morning sun against the foothills of Boulder, Colorado, business area and campus. (credit: Fred Langer Photography | Getty Images)

Every day, the Sun rises and sets on Boulder, Colorado. And, like clockwork, a layer of sodium and other elements trickle down through the sky and hit the ground, a team of researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder found. These elements hail originally from space and, in various forms, hit the atmosphere before making their trek to the Earth’s surface.

The team published this discovery in Geophysical Research Letters. A decade ago, Xinzhao Chu, the lead author of the research, discovered these metal layers at the McMurdo research station in Antarctica. However, near the Earth’s polar south, these elements appear sporadically, rather than daily. This is the first time researchers have discovered a case where the layers drop at regular intervals.

These layers are not visible to the human eye. So, at the Table Mountain Observatory near Boulder, the team made use of a lidar system—which operates similarly to radar but use lasers instead of radio waves—to detect the minuscule sodium particles. While the lidar data from the region was taken a few years back, the team analyzed them last December and discovered our atmosphere’s metal cycle.

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#atmosphere, #cosmic-dust, #lidar, #metal, #science, #space


How Human Space Launches Have Diversified

A plethora of new countries and private companies are getting in on the quest to send people to orbit

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#graphic-science, #space, #the-sciences


Searching for City Lights on Other Planets

There’s a detectable difference between a planet shining with reflected light and a planet glowing with its own artificial illumination

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin auctions off seat on first human spaceflight for $28M

Blue Origin has its winning bidder for its first ever human spaceflight, and the winner will pay $28 million for the privilege of flying aboard the company’s debut private astronaut mission. The winning bid came in today during a live auction, which saw 7,600 registered bidders, from 159 countries compete for the spot.

This was the culmination of Blue Origin’s three part bidding process for the ticket, which included a blind auction first, followed by an open, asynchronous auction with the highest bid posted to the company’s website whenever it changed. This last live auction greatly ramped up the value of the winning bid, which was at just under $5 million prior to the event.

This first seat up for sale went for a lot more than what an actual, commercial spot is likely to cost on Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule, which flies to suborbital space and only spends a few minutes there before returning to Earth. Estimates put the cost of a typical launch at someone under $1 million, likely closer to $500,000 or so. But this is the first, which is obviously a special distinction, and it’s also a trip that will allow the winning bidder to pretty much literally rub elbows with Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, who is going to be on the flight as well, along with his brother Mark, and a fourth passenger that Blue Origin says it will be announcing sometime in the coming “weeks,” ahead of the July 20 target flight date.

As for who won the auction, we’ll also have to wait to find that out, since the winner’s identity is also going to be “released in the weeks following” the end of today’s live bidding. And in case you thought that $28 million might represent a big revenue windfall for Blue Origin, which has spent years developing its human spaceflight capability, think again: The company is donating it to its Club for the Future non-profit foundation, which is focused on encouraging kids to pursue careers in STEM in a long-term bid to help Bezos’ larger goals of making humanity a spacefaring civilization.

You can re-watch the entire live bidding portion of the auction via the stream below.

#bidding, #blue-origin, #jeff-bezos, #marketing, #space, #space-tourism, #tc


Venus Wins Stunning Third New Mission, This Time from Europe

EnVision will follow NASA’s DAVINCI+ and VERITAS

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


NASA seeking proposals for two new private astronaut missions to ISS

NASA said Friday it was seeking proposals from commercial companies for two new private crewed missions to the International Space Station. The first mission would likely take place between fall of 2022 and mid-2023. The second one would follow sometime between mid-2023 and the end of 2023.

Private astronaut missions are a relatively recent initiative from NASA, part of its Commercial low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Development program. For most of humanity’s history in space, trips to the ISS were reserved for astronauts from countries’ respective space agencies.

Houston-based startup Axiom Space was awarded the first private astronaut mission, to take place in January 2022. That mission will carry four private astronauts for an eight-day mission from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA will pay Axiom $1.69 million for services associated with the mission.

Each of the new missions can be up to 14 days and proposals are due by July 9. The agency specified that the missions must be brokered by a U.S. company and use approved U.S. transportation spacecraft. (Axiom’s private mission will use a SpaceX Crew Dragon.)

NASA said that enabling private manned missions such as this one may help “develop a robust low-Earth orbit economy where NASA is one of many customers, and the private sector leads the way.” Thanks to the significantly decreased launch costs – due in large part to innovations in rocket reusability, led by SpaceX – as well as a whole new ecosystem of ‘new space’ companies that have sprung up over the last five years, space has become busier than ever.

The agency also said LEO could eventually be used as a “training and proving ground” for the planned Artemis program – humanity’s long-awaited return to the moon – and missions even deeper into the solar system.

#artemis, #artemis-program, #commercial-spaceflight, #international-space-station, #low-earth-orbit, #nasa, #private-spaceflight, #space, #spaceflight, #transportation


Virgin Orbit’s next launch at the end of June will be streamed live on YouTube

Virgin Orbit is getting great to launch its next mission to space, with a target window at the end of this month. This will be the first time Virgin Orbit is flying after its first successful orbital launch in January, and it’s carrying seven small satellites on behalf of clients including the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force. It’s also going to be the first time everyone can watch along live as Virgin Galactic makes the trip to space, since the company is streaming the mission via YouTube.

Previously, Virgin Orbit has opted not to provide live video of its flights, choosing instead to provide a feed of text updates via its social media channels. The YouTube stream should provide unprecedented views of the Virgin launch process, which includes transporting its small Launcher One rocket on to a high altitude for a mid-air launch from the wing of a modified Boeing 747 carrier aircraft.

Live streaming launches is pretty much de rigueur in the space industry at this point, especially among the crop of so-called ‘new space’ companies that includes SpaceX, Rocket Lab and Blue Origin. SpaceX has even been doing it throughout its Starship development process, which is unusual because it’s broadcast a number of failures on top of its successes.

Virgin Orbit’s novel aircraft-assisted launch process should mean its streams provide some unique perspective vs. the vertical take-off group, so it’s probably worth keeping an eye on this one.

#space, #tc


Ganymede Looks Glorious in New Images from NASA’s Juno Mission

The spacecraft captured the first close-up views of the solar system’s largest moon in more than twenty years

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


Jeff Bezos Will Go to Space on Blue Origin’s First Crewed Flight

The multibillionaire—along with his brother and at least one other passenger—could reach suborbital heights as soon as July 20

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


Extra Crunch roundup: Security data lakes, China vs. Starlink, ExtraHop’s $900M exit

News broke this morning that Bain Capital Private Equity and Crosspoint Capital Partners are purchasing Seattle-based network security startup ExtraHop.

Part of the Network Detection and Response (NDR) market, ExtraHop’s security solutions are for companies that manage assets in the cloud and on-site, “something that could be useful as more companies find themselves in that in-between state,” report Ron Miller and Alex Wilhelm.

Just one year ago, ExtraHop was closing in on $100 million in ARR and was considering an IPO, so Ron and Alex spoke to ExtraHop CTO and co-founder Jesse Rothstein to learn more about how (and why) the deal came together.

Have a great week, and thanks for reading!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch

Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.

Xometry is taking its excess manufacturing capacity business public

Image Credits: Prasit photo (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Xometry, a Maryland-based service that connects companies with manufacturers with excess production capacity around the world, filed an S-1 form with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last week announcing its intent to become a public company.

As the global supply chain tightened during the pandemic in 2020, a company that helped find excess manufacturing capacity was likely in high demand.

But growth aside, it’s clear that Xometry is no modern software business, at least from a revenue-quality profile.

It’s time for security teams to embrace security data lakes

Image of a man jumping from a floating dock into a lake.

Image Credits: Malorny (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The average corporate security organization spends $18 million annually but is largely ineffective at preventing breaches, IP theft and data loss. Why?

The fragmented approach we’re currently using in the security operations center (SOC) does not work. It’s time to replace the security information and event management (SIEM) approach with security data lakes.

The reduced reliance on the SIEM is well underway, along with many other changes. The SIEM is not going away overnight, but its role is changing rapidly, and it has a new partner in the SOC — the security data lake.


China’s drive to compete against Starlink for the future of orbital internet

There has been a wave of businesses over the past several years hoping to offer broadband internet delivered from thousands of satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO), providing coverage of most of the earth’s surface.

In tandem with the accelerated deployment of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation in 2020, China has rapidly responded in terms of policy, financing and technology. While still in early development, a “Chinese answer to Starlink,” SatNet, and the associated GuoWang are likely to compete in certain markets with Starlink and others while also fulfilling a strategic purpose from a government perspective.

With considerable backing from very high-level actors, we are likely to see the rollout of a Red Star(link) over China (and the rest of the world) over the coming years.

This SPAC is betting that a British healthcare company can shake up the US market

Babylon Health, a British health tech company, is pursuing a U.S. listing via a blank-check company, or SPAC.

While we wait for Robinhood’s IPO, The Exchange dove into its fundraising history, its product, its numbers and, bracing ourselves for impact, its projections.

The hidden benefits of adding a CTO to your board

A CTO brings a strategic advantage

Image Credits: Westend61 / Getty Images

Conventional wisdom says your board should include a few CEOs who can offer informed advice from an entrepreneur’s perspective, but adding a technical leader to the mix creates real upside, according to Abby Kearns, chief technology officer at Puppet.

Beyond their engineering experience, CTOs can help founders set realistic timelines, help identify pain points and bring what Kearns calls “pragmatic empathy” to high-pressure situations.

They can also be an effective advocate for founder teams who need help explaining why a launch is delayed or new engineering hires are badly needed.

“A CTO understands the nuts and bolts,” says Kearns.

6 career options for ex-founders seeking their next adventure

6 options for ex-founders looking for their next venture

Image Credits: Marie LaFauci / Getty Images

As someone with “founder” on your resume, you face a greater challenge when trying to get a traditional salaried job.

You’ve already shown that you really want to lead a company, not just rise up the ladder, which means some employers are less likely to hire you.

So what should you do? Especially if your life partner and/or bank account are burnt out on the income volatility of startups?

Here are six options for ex-founders planning their next move.

How bottom-up sales helped Expensify blaze the path for SaaS

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

In the fifth and final part of Expensify’s EC-1, Anna Heim explores how the company built its business, true to form, in an unexpected way.

“You’d expect an expense management company to have a large sales department and advertise through all kinds of channels to maximize customer acquisition, Anna writes. But “Expensify just doesn’t do what you think it should.

“Keeping in mind this company’s propensity to just stick to its guts, it’s not much of a surprise that it got to more than $100 million in annual recurring revenue and millions of users with a staff of 130, some contractors, and an almost non-existent sales team.”

How is that much growth possible without a sales team? Word of mouth.

#china, #extra-crunch-roundup, #health, #space, #spacex, #starlink, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital


Relativity Space launches its valuation to $4.2B with $650M in new funding

3D-printed rocket startup Relativity Space has raised a $650 million Series E, bringing its total raised to over $1.2 billion. Relativity’s post-money valuation now stands at $4.2 billion, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The round was led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, with participation from new investors with funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Centricus, Coatue, and Soroban Capital, and participation from existing investors Baillie Gifford, K5 Global, Tiger Global, Tribe Capital, XN, Brad Buss, Mark Cuban, Jared Leto, and Spencer Rascoff.

The funds from the Series E will go toward accelerating the production of Terran R, the company’s heavy-lift, fully reusable two-stage rocket. Terran R joins Terran 1, Relativity’s debut rocket, which will conduct its first orbital flight at the end of 2021.

The company has been pretty tight-lipped about Terran R, but are now releasing further details alongside the funding announcement. As expected, Terran 1 and Terran R differ in pretty significant ways: the former is expendable, the latter reusable; the former is designed for small payloads, the latter for large. Even the Terran R’s payload fairing is reusable, and Relativity has devised a system that makes it easier to recover and recycle as it stays attached to the second stage.

The larger rocket will clock in at 216 feet tall with a maximum payload capacity of 20,000 pounds to low Earth orbit. (For comparison, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket stands at around 230 feet with a maximum payload to LEO of 22,800 pounds.)

Relativity’s Terran 1 on the left, and Terran R on the right. Image Credits: Relativity

Terran R will use seven of its new Aeon R engines on the first stage, each capable of 302,000 pounds of thrust. The same 3D printers that will produce Terran R’s engines and rockets also currently make the nine Aeon 1 engines that power the Terran 1, which means Relativity doesn’t have to drastically reconfigure its production line to build the new launch vehicle.

A single Terran R should take around 60 days to build, Ellis estimated. That’s an incredible pace for a rocket with this kind of payload capacity.

Even though Terran 1 has not seen a launch yet, Relativity shows no signs of slowing down Terran R’s development: Ellis said the company will also launch Terran R from its launch site at Cape Canaveral as early as 2024 and that it signed its first anchor customer, “a well-known blue-chip company,” for the new rocket.

Relativity has printed around 85% of the rocket that will perform the company’s first orbital flight at the end of this year. The Terran 1 that will perform that mission will not be carrying any payload. Terran 1’s second launch is scheduled to take place in June ’22, and will carry cubesats to LEO as part of NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 (VCLS Demo 2) contract.

Relativity CEO Tim Ellis in an interview with TechCrunch likened 3D printing to a paradigm shift in manufacturing. “I think really the thing people haven’t gotten about our approach, or 3D printing in general, is it’s actually more like transitioning from gas internal combustion engines to electric, or on-premise service to cloud,” Ellis said. “3D printing is a cool technology but more than that, it’s actually software and data-driven manufacturing and automation technology.”

Because the core of 3D printing is a technology stack, the company can produce algorithmically generated structures with “geometries that couldn’t be possible” with traditional manufacturing, Ellis said. And the design can be easily adjusted to fit market demand.

Ellis, who started the metal 3D printing division at Blue Origin before founding Relativity, said that the strategy from day one was to design and build Terran 1 and a heavy-lift counterpart.

The actual mechanisms involved in 3D printing can technically occur in environments even when gravity is much lower – like the gravity on Mars, which is only about 38% of the gravity on Earth. But more importantly, Ellis said it’s an approach that’s “inevitably required” in an uncertain off-planet environment.

“When we founded Relativity, the inspiration was watching SpaceX land rockets and dock with the space station. They were 13 years old and they were, despite all of that pretty inspiring success, the only company that wanted to make humanity a multi-planetary and go to Mars,” Ellis said. “And I thought that 3D printing tech was inevitable to actually build an industrial base on another planet. No one else had actually even tried to go to Mars or said that was their core mission. And that’s still true today, actually, even five years later, it’s still just us and SpaceX. And I really do hope to inspire dozens to hundreds of companies to go after that mission.”

#3d-printing, #additive-manufacturing, #commercial-spaceflight, #funding, #recent-funding, #relativity-space, #rocket, #space, #startups, #tc, #tim-ellis, #transportation


Experts Weigh In on Pentagon UFO Report

The vast majority of examined incidents were not caused by U.S. advanced technology programs, the forthcoming report concludes. So what’s going on?

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


NASA’s Juno Set for Close Encounter with Jupiter’s Moon Ganymede

The flyby will be the closest a spacecraft has come to the gas giant’s largest moon in 20 years

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


Equity Monday: Jeff’s going to space, and everyone wants a piece of Flipkart

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

It’s WWDC week, so expect a deluge of Apple news to overtake your Twitter feed here and there over the next few days. But there’s a lot more going on, so let’s dig in:

And that’s your start to the week. More to come from your friends here on Wednesday, and Friday. Chat soon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#amazon, #china, #ecommerce, #elon-musk, #equity, #equity-podcast, #flipkart, #fundings-exits, #jeff-bezos, #kanzhun, #nigeria, #social-media, #space, #startups, #tesla, #trulioo, #twitter, #wwdc


Astra to acquire electric in-space propulsion company Apollo Fusion

Astra, the space launch startup with plans to go public via a SPAC merger, will acquire electric propulsion maker Apollo Fusion, the company said Monday. Electric propulsion systems are effective at moving spacecraft from lower to higher orbits, even to the moon, Astra Chief Engineer Benjamin Lyon said in a blog post Monday, pointing to Astra’s plans beyond missions to Earth’s orbit.

Under the terms of the deal, Astra will buy Apollo for $30 million in stock and $20 million in cash, for a total purchase price of $50 million. There is also the potential for an additional earn-out of up to $95 million if Apollo hits certain performance benchmarks. PJT Partners is acting as financial advisor to Astra with regard to the transaction, the Alameda-based launch startup said Monday.

Astra CEO Chris Kemp has been forthright about his goal of making the company a vertically integrated launch and space services provider, and Apollo’s thruster technology is a major piece of that puzzle. Astra successfully launched its first test rocket from Kodiak, Alaska last December, but in public statements Kemp has indicated plans for monthly commercial launches.

Apollo produces two EP thruster systems, the Apollo Constellation Engine (ACE) and the ACE Max. Both are compatible with krypton or xenon propellants. The company said it had been selected by York Space Systems as the propulsion system provider for a LEO satellite constellation program that will be launched in 2022.

The transaction between Astra and Apollo will close after Astra’s merger with special purpose acquisition company Holicity is completed later this year.

#apollo-fusion, #astra, #holicity, #spac, #space, #spaceflight, #startups, #transportation


Jeff Bezos and his brother will fly on Blue Origin’s first human spaceflight with auction winner

Jeff Bezos is going to be one of the passengers on his spaceflight company Blue Origin’s first ever human space launch on July 20. The Amazon founder announced the news via his Instagram on Monday morning, revealing that his brother Mark will also be coming along for the ride. Bezos and his brother will join the winner of an online auction Blue Origin is currently hosting, which currently stands at $2.8 million as the highest bid for that seat.

The Blue Origin launch of its suborbital, reusable New Shepard rocket on July 20 will be the first time it has ever flown with people on board. It’s unusual for a company to make its first ever human spaceflight a mission with a paying passenger, and now we know that it’s also going to be carrying one of the world’s richest people, another bold choice for a first human flight. Virgin Galactic, by contrast, has flown to space multiple times with test pilots and astronauts before its forthcoming trip with Sir Richard Branson. Elon Musk has also never flown on a SpaceX launch, though he has suggested in the past that he will fly on one of his company’s vehicles at some point.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard has flown plenty of times without people, however, and save for the first flight where the reusable booster was lost, has had a complete success for each of those 15 missions, including landing of the booster (except that first time) and recovery of the capsule (for all of the launches). The New Shepard rocket doesn’t go all the way to orbit, but instead flies to the edge of space, where passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness and an unbeatable view of Earth through the capsules many windows, before returning to a parachute-assisted landing on the ground in Texas near Blue Origin’s launch site.

The auction for Blue Origin’s first paying customer seat currently sits at $2.8 million, and it’s been there for a while now after the price raised from $1.4 million when Blue Origin opened unsealed bidding on May 19. The final phase of the auction, set for June 12, will include live online bidding from remaining participants who bump their existing bid to match the high offer.

#amazon, #blue-origin, #human-spaceflight, #jeff-bezos, #mark, #new-shepard, #online-auction, #outer-space, #richard-branson, #space, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #tc, #texas, #virgin-galactic


‘Antistars’ Made of Antimatter Get a Particle’s Worth of Evidence

Circumstantial evidence could point to a mind-blowing solution to an antimatter mystery—or to the need for better space-based particle physics experiments

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


Stars Made of Antimatter Might Be Lurking in the Universe

Circumstantial evidence could point to a mind-blowing solution to an antimatter mystery—or to the need for better space-based particle physics experiments

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


Woman in Motion tells story of how Star Trek’s Uhura changed NASA forever

Actress Nichelle Nichols’ role as a NASA ambassador to bring diversity to the space program is the subject of the documentary Woman in Motion, now streaming on Paramount+.

Actress Nichelle Nichols will forever be remembered for playing Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series—one of the first Black women to play a prominent role on television—as well as engaging in the first interracial kiss on scripted television in the US. Less known is her equally seminal role as an ambassador for NASA  in the 1970s, working tirelessly to bring more diversity to the agency’s recruitment efforts. That work is highlighted in Woman in Motion, a new documentary directed by Todd Thompson that is now streaming on Paramount+.

Thompson himself was not a hardcore Star Trek fan growing up, although he had seen most of the movies and was certainly familiar with Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura. His producing partners were fans, however, and when they told him about Nichol’s contributions to NASA, he decided it was a story that had to be told. Over the course of production, he interviewed dozens of people about how Nichols inspired them, and also spent a considerable amount of time with the actress herself, now 88.

“She’s the definition of Hollywood royalty for me,” Thompson told Ars. “How she carries herself, how she treats others, how she engages with you—she’s so incredibly magnetic. What she did was so paramount to giving us a blueprint of where we need to go, how we need to be, if we’re going to make any sort of progress here on Earth and beyond the stars. I was very humbled by the responsibility to tell her story and tell it the right way.”

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#documentary, #film, #gaming-culture, #nasa, #nichelle-nichols, #paramount-plus, #science, #space, #star-trek-tos, #uhura


Death by Primordial Black Hole

If such an object a mere thousand times bigger than an atom passed through your body, the result would not be pretty

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


China’s drive to compete against Starlink for the future of orbital internet

There has been a wave of businesses over the past several years hoping to offer broadband internet delivered from thousands of satellites in low-earth orbit (LEO), providing coverage of most of the earth’s surface.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen excitement in the category. Companies and people that you have heard of — Bill Gates and Motorola, to name a few — invested billions of dollars into this business model two decades ago in an adventure that ended in many bankruptcies and very few people connected to the internet from low-earth orbit. Yet, here we are 20 years later, witnessing billionaires from Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos and entities from SoftBank to the United Kingdom investing billions into broadband from space in a gold rush that began around 2015, and has only accelerated since the beginning of 2020.

During that same period, we have seen a parallel ascendance of China’s space capabilities. In tandem with the accelerated deployment of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation in 2020, China has rapidly responded in terms of policy, financing, and technology, including most notably the creation of a “Chinese answer to Starlink”, namely constellation operating company China SatNet, and the associated GuoWang (国网, or National Net(work)) constellation.

While still in early development, SatNet and GuoWang are likely to compete in certain markets with Starlink and others, while also fulfilling what may be a similar strategic purpose from a government perspective. With considerable backing from very high-level actors, we are likely to see the rollout of a Red Star(link) over China (and the rest of the world) over the coming several years.

The rapid rise of Starlink

China’s LEO constellation plans cannot be understood in a vacuum. Like many other areas of high-tech investment, China’s actions here are partially reactive to developments in the West. The acceleration and expansion of Western LEO constellations in recent years — most notably Starlink — has been an accelerant to China’s own plans.

#asia, #china, #government, #satellites, #space, #spacex, #starlink, #tc


NASA Picks Two Missions to Explore Venus, the First in Decades

The space agency’s DAVINCI+ and VERITAS missions could spark a sea change in planetary science when they launch later this decade

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


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

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

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

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

Image Credits: SpaceX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LeoLabs raises $65M Series B for its satellite monitoring and collision detection service

Low Earth orbit is full of stuff: not only bits of debris and junk, but also satellites — the number of which is growing rapidly alongside the decreasing cost of launch. This can occasionally pose a problem for satellite providers, whose valuable spacecraft run the risk of colliding with other satellites, or with the many thousands of other objects in orbit.

For most of the space age, debris tracking was performed by a smattering of military outfits and other governmental organizations, but that hardly paints a complete and broadly accessible picture. LeoLabs has been aiming to fill what it calls this “data deficit” in orbital object tracking since the company’s founding in 2016. Now it will be scaling its operations with a $65 million Series B financing round, jointly led by Insight Partners and Velvet Sea Ventures. This latest round brings the company’s total funding to over $100 million.

LeoLabs uses ground-based phased array radars – one in Alaska, one in Texas, two in New Zealand and two in Costa Rica – to monitor low Earth orbit, and to track and measure any object that flies through its observational area. One main advantage of LeoLabs’ tracking system is the size of the objects it can detect: as small as 2 centimeters across, as opposed to the much larger 10 centimeter objects tracked by legacy detection systems.

The difference in scale is huge: there are around 17,000 objects in orbit 10 centimeters or larger, but that number jumps to 250,000 when monitoring from 2 centimeters. That’s a lot of opportunity for collision, and though 2 centimeters sounds small (that’s less than an inch), they can do catastrophic damage traveling at orbital velocity. Customers can access this information using a subscription service, which will automatically alert them about collision risks.

“There just isn’t much information about what’s going on,” Dan Ceperley told TechCrunch. “So we’re rolling out this global radar network to generate a lot of data, and then all that software infrastructure to make it useful.”

LeoLabs sees around three to five close approaches involving larger objects, Ceperley said per year. Those are noteworthy because a collision could potentially produce thousands of smaller fragments – even more space junk. When tracking smaller objects, the company sees up to 20 times more collision risks. Fortunately, many satellites have electric thrusters that can be activated to avoid collisions or maintain orbit. With sufficient advance, companies can maneuver a few days prior to the anticipated collision.

With this new injection of funds, Ceperley said the company is looking to expand the number of radar sites around the world and scale its software-as-a-service business. While LeoLabs already has complete orbital coverage, more radars will increase the frequency with which objects are tracked, he explained. LeoLabs will also be scaling its software and data science teams (already the largest in the company), setting up locations outside the U.S., and adding new products and services.

“There’s a once in a lifetime revolution going on in the space industry, all this new investment has driven down the costs of launching satellites, building satellites and operating satellites, so there’s a lot of satellites going into low Earth orbit,” Ceperley said. “There’s a need for a new generation of services to actually track all these things [. . .] And so we’re building out that next generation tracking service, mapping service, for that new era.”

#aerospace, #leolabs, #orbital-debris, #radar, #space, #space-debris, #startups, #tc


Virgin Galactic to fly Kellie Gerardi to space on a dedicated research mission

Virgin Galactic has a new customer: The International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), which will be flying researcher, citizen scientist and STEM influencer Kellie Gerardi on an upcoming dedicated Virgin Galactic launch. Gerardi will be conducing a range of experiments on her flight, focused on researching healthcare technologies including a new biomonitor system to study the effects of spaceflights on astronauts in real time.

Gerardi has flown on multiple previous parabolic research flights, which are high-altitude aircraft flights that simulate the reduced gravity environment of space. This will be her first trip to space proper, however, and that transition exemplifies the benefits Virgin Galactic hopes to be able to offer to researchers who previously conducted their work in simulated zero-G conditions.

Kellie Gerardi

Image Credits: Kellie Gerardi

The biomonitor system that Gerardi will be testing was developed by Canadian startup Hexoskin along with the Canadian Space Agency, and is a wearable array of sensors dubbed ‘Astroskin’ that’s intended to provide monitoring of the impact of launch, reduced gravity, re-entry and landing for those making trips to space. Another experiment Gerardi will perform will test fluid dynamics to inform the design of humidifiers and syringes designed for use in space.

Virgin Galactic has booked similar missions previously, including a dedicated flight for scientist Alan Stern, who will be performing experiments on behalf of NASA and the Southwest Research Institute. Much of the attention on the company has focused on its space tourism flights for paying private astronauts, but the potential for commercial research is another key ingredient in its overall business mix.

#aerospace, #alan-stern, #nasa, #outer-space, #space, #space-tourism, #tc, #virgin-galactic


OroraTech’s space-based early wildfire warnings spark $7M investment

With wildfires becoming an ever more devastating annual phenomenon, it is in the whole planet’s interest to spot them and respond as early as possible — and the best vantage point for that is space. OroraTech is a German startup building a constellation of small satellites to power a global wildfire warning system, and will be using a freshly raised €5.8M (~$7M) A round to kick things off.

Wildfires destroy tens of millions of acres of forest every year, causing immense harm to people and the planet in countless ways. Once they’ve grown to a certain size, they’re near impossible to stop, so the earlier they can be located and worked against, the better.

But these fires can start just about anywhere in a dried out forest hundreds of miles wide, and literally every minute and hour counts — watch towers, helicopter flights, and other frequently used methods may not be fast or exact enough to effectively counteract this increasingly serious threat. Not to mention they’re expensive and often dangerous jobs for those who perform them.

OroraTech’s plan is to use a constellation of about 100 satellites equipped with custom infrared cameras to watch the entire globe (or at least the parts most likely to burst into flame) at once, reporting any fire bigger than ten meters across within half an hour.

Screenshot of OroraTech wildfire monitoring software showing heat detection in a forest.

Image Credits: OroraTech

To start out with, the Bavarian company has used data from over a dozen satellites already in space, in order to prove out the service on the ground. But with this funding round they are set to put their own bird in the air, a shoebox-sized satellite with a custom infrared sensor that will be launched by Spire later this year. Onboard machine learning processing of this imagery simplifies the downstream process.

14 more satellites are planned for launch by 2023, presumably once they’ve kicked the proverbial tires on the first one and come up with the inevitable improvements.

“In order to cover even more regions in the future and to be able to give warning earlier, we aim to launch our own specialized satellite constellation into orbit,” said CEO and co-founder Thomas Grübler in a press release. “We are therefore delighted to have renowned investors on board to support us with capital and technological know-how in implementing our plans.”

Mockup of an OroraTech Earth imaging satellite in space.

Those renowned investors consist of Findus Venture and Ananda Impact Ventures, which led the round, followed by APEX Ventures, BayernKapital, Clemens Kaiser, SpaceTec Capital and Ingo Baumann. The company was spun out of research done by the founders at TUM, which maintains an interest.

“It is absolutely remarkable what they have built up and achieved so far despite limited financial resources and we feel very proud that we are allowed to be part of this inspiring and ambitious NewSpace project,” APEX’s Wolfgang Neubert said, and indeed it’s impressive to have a leading space-based data service with little cash (it raised an undisclosed seed about a year ago) and no satellites.

It’s not the only company doing infrared imagery of the Earth’s surface; SatelliteVu recently raised money to launch its own, much smaller constellation, though it’s focused on monitoring cities and other high-interest areas, not the vast expanse of forests. And ConstellR is aimed (literally) at the farming world, monitoring fields for precision crop management.

With money in its pocket Orora can expand and start providing its improved detection services, though sadly, it likely won’t be upgrading before wildfire season hits the northern hemisphere this year.

#aerospace, #ananda-impact-ventures, #artificial-intelligence, #earth-imaging, #findus-venture, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greentech, #ororatech, #recent-funding, #satellite-imagery, #satellites, #science, #space, #startups, #wildfire-detection, #wildfires


NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Is Delayed–Again

A Halloween launch for the space agency’s long-awaited flagship observatory is all but certain to slip into mid-November or later

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Is NASA about to Lift the ‘Venus Curse?’

Despite the best efforts of scientists eager to study Earth’s sister world, U.S. efforts to send a dedicated spacecraft to Venus have languished. An imminent announcement could decide whether…

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


NASA Just Broke The Venus Curse. Here’s What It Took

Despite the best efforts of scientists eager to study Earth’s sister world, U.S. efforts to send a dedicated spacecraft to Venus have languished. An imminent announcement could decide whether…

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


Rocket Lab cleared by the FAA to resume launches after mission failure last month

Rocket Lab has already received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to resume its launch activities, following a failure during the second stage burn of its 20th Electron rocket mission that resulted in the loss of the payload. That’s a testament to Rocket Lab’s safety systems design, and everything working as intended when it encountered an anomaly, meaning that while the mission failed, it did so safely and without any risk to ground crew, the general population or other orbital objects.

This doesn’t mean Rocket Lab will actually resume launches immediately; while the FAA has determined that its existing launch license is still in good standing after the incident, the company itself will continue its investigation into the cause of the problem. Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck called the ongoing effort to determine the cause of the second stage engine shutdown “an intricate and layered fault analysis,” but also noted that they have already replicated the error in testing.

Now, the focus will be on working out exactly the sequence of events and figuring out what exactly caused what that led to the automatic safety shut-off. That process is expected to be done sometime “in the coming weeks,” and then at that point the company will proceed with resuming active flight activities.

Rocket Lab didn’t reference an earlier mission failure from last July in this update. It ultimately concluded that anomaly was the result of a bad electrical connection, but which had similar results with a second stage engine safety shutdown.

The company did note that the information collected from the first stage of the Electron rocket that it recovered after the launch indicates that everything went as planned with that part of the mission. Rocket Lab is in the process of adding reusability to its Electron first stage booster, and had implemented a new atmospheric re-entry and splashdown process test in this one, which went smoothly. The company added that the new heat shield it used for this flight worked as intended, and that it now plans to do hot fire testing on the engines from the recovered first stage to see how they perform.

#commercial-spaceflight, #rocket-lab, #rocket-launch, #rockets, #space, #tc


Max Q: Selling space

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

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

Blue Origin’s big bid

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

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

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

SpaceX’s Deimos spaceport is under construction

ENSCO offshore oil rig like the one SpaceX is converting

ENSCO offshore oil rig like the one SpaceX is converting.

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

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

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

Landers; lunar ones

Lander Rover

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

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

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

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

TC Sessions: Space is back in December

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

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

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

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


SpaceX’s first ocean spaceport is being built and will host launches next year

SpaceX is already underway on building its first floating spaceport platform, and the plan is for it to start hosting launches as early as next year. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared those details on the progress of its build for Deimos, one of two converted oil rigs that SpaceX purchased earlier this year in order to transform them into floating launch and landing sites for its forthcoming Starship reusable rocket.

SpaceX’s purchase of the two rigs at the beginning of this year was for the creation of Deimos and Phobos, two floating spaceports named after the moons of Mars. They’ll act as offshore staging grounds for Starship launch activities, and the name is appropriate because the eventual plan is to have Starship provide transport for both people and goods to and from the red planet.

Musk and SpaceX have previously shared their vision for a future in which spaceports like Deimos are positioned within convenient reach of major hubs around the world, making it possible for SpaceX to operate a globe-spanning network of hypersonic point-to-point travel using Starships ferrying people from destinations as far flung as Beijing to New York in around 30 minutes. Before that, however, SpaceX will be looking to conduct orbital flight testing of the still in-development Starship, and its accompany booster, the Super Heavy.

Musk said earlier this year that it could begin flying rockets from its offshore platforms as early as the end of 2021. This new timeline indicates that rosy estimate has been pushed, which is pretty standard for the multi-CEO. The company has recently made good progress in its Starship program, however, with a successful high-altitude launch and landing test at its Texas ‘Starbase’ development site.

SpaceX is now in the process of getting ready for its first orbital flight test, which will include flying Starship atop Super Heavy for the first time, and a recovery of the Starship following the test after it splashes down off the coast of Hawaii. It’s now doing longer fire Raptor engine ground tests to get ready for that next big milestone.

#commercial-spaceflight, #reusable-rocket, #space, #spacex, #starbase, #starship, #super-heavy, #tc


Maybe Dark Matter Is More Than One Thing

If so, it could explain some inconsistencies in our observations

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#space, #the-sciences


Zero-G space fridge could keep astronaut food fresh for years

Regular supply launches keep astronauts aboard the ISS supplied with relatively fresh food, but a flight to Mars won’t get deliveries. If we’re going to visit other planets, we’ll need a fridge that doesn’t break down in space — and Purdue University researchers are hard at work testing one.

You may think there’s nothing to prevent a regular refrigerator from working in space. It sucks heat out and puts cold air in. Simple, right? But refrigerators rely on gravity to distribute oil through the compressor system that regulates temperature, so in space these systems don’t work or break down quickly.

The solution being pursued by Purdue team and partner manufacturer Air Squared is an oil-free version of the traditional fridge that will work regardless of gravity’s direction or magnitude. It was funded by NASA’s SBIR program, which awards money to promising small businesses and experiments in order to inch them towards mission readiness. (The program is currently on its Phase II extended period award.)

In development for two years, the team at last assembled a flight-ready prototype, and last month was finally able to test it in microgravity simulated in a parabolic plane flight.

Initial results are promising: the fridge worked.

“The fact that the refrigeration cycles operated continuously in microgravity during the tests without any apparent problems indicates that our design is a very good start,” said Leon Brendel, a Ph.D student on the team. “Our first impression is that microgravity does not alter the cycle in ways that we were not aware of.”

Short term microgravity (the prototype was only weightless for 20 seconds at a time) is just a limited test, of course, and it already helped shake out an issue with the device that they’re working on. But the next test might be a longer-term installation aboard the ISS, the denizens of which would no doubt like to have a working fridge.

While the prospect of cold drinks and frozen (but not freeze-dried) meals is tantalizing, a normal refrigerator could be used for all kinds of scientific work as well. Experiments that need cold environments currently either use complicated, small scale cooling mechanisms or utilize the near-absolute-zero conditions of space. So it’s no surprise NASA got them aboard the microgravity simulator as part of the Flight Opportunities program.

Analysis of the data collected on the flights is ongoing, but the success of this first big test validates both the approach and execution of the space fridge. Next up is figuring out how it might work in the limited space and continuous microgravity of the ISS.

#nasa, #purdue-university, #sbir, #science, #space, #tc


Japanese space company ispace aims to send landers to the moon

Tokyo-based ispace has been selected to deliver rovers from Canada and Japan to the lunar surface after they launch aboard SpaceX rockets. The company will use its recently revealed Hakuto-R lander for both missions, currently scheduled for 2022 and 2023.

The Canadian Space Agency selected three private Canadian companies, each with separate scientific missions, to ride the lander. Mission Control Space Services, Canadensys and NGC are the first companies to receive awards under the CSA’s Capability Demonstration program, part of the agency’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program. LEAP, unveiled by the Canadian government in February 2020, earmarks $150 million over five years to support in-space demonstrations and science missions from Canadian private industry.

As part of the mission, the ispace lander will deliver the United Arab Emirates’ The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC)’s 22 pound rover, “Rashid.” The rover will be equipped with an artificial intelligence flight computer from space robotics company Mission Control Space Services. Mission Control’s AI will use deep-learning algorithms to recognize lunar geology as the Rashid rover traverses the surface.

ispace will carry cameras “to capture key events during the mission” for Canadensys. The Japanese company will also collect lunar imagery data for demonstration of NGC’s autonomous navigation system.

“We are honored that all three of the companies awarded by CSA have each entrusted ispace’s services to carry out their operations on the lunar surface,” ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement. “We see this as a show of the trust that ispace has developed with CSA over the past years, as well as a recognition of ispace’s positive position in the North American market.”

ispace will also be transporting a transformable lunar robot payload to the moon for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), in addition to conducting operations and providing lunar data. The data collected on this mission, Mission 2, will be used to aid the design of a future crewed pressurized rover.

JAXA’s lunar robot will be only around 80mm in diameter before it transforms to its surface form, and will weigh only around 250 grams. That mission is scheduled to take place in 2023. ispace did not disclosed the financial terms of the deals.

“While the robot travels on the lunar surface, images on behavior of the regolith, and images of lunar surface taken by the robot and the camera on the lunar lander will be sent to the mission control center via the lunar lander,” JAXA said in a news release. “The acquired data will be used for evaluation of the localization algorithm and the impact of the regolith on driving performance of the crewed pressurized rover.”

ispace unveiled their Hakuto-R lander design in July 2020. The Hakuto project was born out of the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, in which teams competed to be the first to send a lunar rover to the moon, have it travel 500 meters and send back to Earth photos and video. None of the five finalists, including Hakuto, were able to complete a launch, and the competition subsequently ended in 2018 without a winner.

The MBRSC and JAXA rovers will have different deployment mechanisms from the landers, though Hakamada did not provide further details during a media briefing Wednesday.

The landers are being assembled in Germany and the assembly phase has just started, Hakamada said. “So we’re very confident we will meet this schedule,” he added.

Using water on the lunar surface is one of ispace’s long-term objectives. The company hopes to have more capability in the future to sustain resource utilization activites, Hakamada said.

This is only one of several lunar missions launching on SpaceX rockets. NASA announced in April that the space startup was selected to send humans to the lunar surface as part of its Artemis project, at a total award value of $2.89 billion. SpaceX will also be taking payloads from Firefly Aerosapce to take up its lunar lander in 2023.

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General Motors, Lockheed Martin to develop new lunar rover for NASA Artemis missions to the moon

The last time humans visited the moon in 1972, they got around on a relatively simple battery-powered vehicle. As NASA prepares for the next crewed mission to the moon, it’s looking to give the lunar rover an upgrade.

Lockheed Martin and General Motors said Wednesday they’re working together to develop a next-generation lunar vehicle designed to be faster and capable of traveling farther distances than its predecessor. If the project is selected by NASA, the rover would be used on the upcoming Artemis missions. The first mission, which will be an uncrewed test flight, is scheduled for November. The request for proposals will likely be published in the third or fourth quarter of this year, executives said at a media briefing Wednesday. NASA will award the contract after evaluating the submitted proposals.

The previous rover was only capable of traveling less than five miles from the Apollo landing site, limiting the astronauts’ ability to collect important data on far-flung lunar locales, like the north and south poles. The Moon’s circumference is nearly 7,000 miles. The two companies are aiming to improve the specs, Lockheed’s VP for lunar exploration Kirk Shireman said, noting that the exact materials used for the new rover, its range and other capabilities have yet to be determined.

GM will also be developing an autonomous driving system for the rover, which executives said Wednesday will improve safety and the ability for astronauts to collect samples and conduct other scientific research. GM is investing more than $27 billion through 2025 in electric and autonomous vehicle technologies and it aims to bring that research to the lunar rover project, Jeffrey Ryder, VP of growth and strategy at GM Defense, said. “We’re heads-down right now in investigating how we would take those capabilities and apply them to specific missions and operation associated with the Artemis program.”

GM also said it will be using its earth-bound research into battery and propulsion systems in developing the rover. Ryder anticipates that the rover program will lead to other market opportunities.

Both companies have supplied technology for NASA missions before, including its lunar missions. Auto manufacturer GM helped develop the previous lunar rover that was used during the Apollo era, including its chassis and wheels. It also manufactured and integrated guidance and navigational systems for the program. Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin’s experience extends to building spacecraft and power systems that have been included on every NASA mission to Mars.

The companies said this was “one of several initiatives” they’re working on together, with further announcements regarding other projects expected in the future.

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Phantom Space acquires StratSpace in pursuit of becoming a turnkey space service

Even as 2021 shapes up to see a record number of launches, demand is growing fast. Companies like Phantom Space Corporation aim to fill it with mass manufacturing techniques never yet seen in the space industry. Now the company has acquired StratSpace, a satellite program designer and manager, Phantom Space announced Tuesday. It’s a critical step towards building out a turnkey space transportation and manufacturing service, Phantom Space co-founder Michal Prywata told TechCrunch.

“[StratSpace] has all the know-how, all the tools, the satellite structures, communication systems that can make a spacecraft operate,” he explained. “Which is very critical for us, because we want to be one of the first companies that covers gives that full spectrum of service from start to finish.” The company declined to disclose the terms of the acquisition.

Phantom Space’s bet is that combining a mass rocket manufacturing strategy with acquisitions that position it as a ‘one-stop-shop’ will help bring down the cost of space access. Prywata said the company’s aiming to charge $4 million for a dedicated launch that would bring up to 450 kilograms to low Earth orbit.

“We’re talking about hundreds to potentially thousands a year,” Prywata said, referring to the number of launches the company eventually hopes to achieve. “As of right now, the market certainly supports hundreds of launches a year.”

They’re big aspirations for a company that has not yet begun even flight testing a rocket model. Phantom Space said it is outsourcing many components, like the engine and avionics system, that can take years to develop, to get it there. For other components and services, it’s looking to use an acquisition strategy.

“That’s why we’re looking at acquisitions pretty aggressively because we feel there’s an opportunity now to start integrating these types of technologies and companies within one umbrella and create this overall infrastructure of a company that can take ideas and bring them to space,” he said. That includes building satellites, integration, launch, and data communication. “We’re trying to cover that full spectrum, where we can help other companies that have some application that they want to launch into space, we can help them get there, because we have all these specific pieces that can make it all happen.”

Phantom Space is aiming to launch its two-stage Daytona rocket for the first time in the first quarter of 2023, with stage-level testing commencing in early 2022. Daytona, the company’s “workhorse” launch vehicle, comes in at 61 feet in height and can carry 450 kilograms to LEO on eight engines. While the Daytona is totally expendable, the company has plans to reuse its larger Laguna rocket model.

The company has signed a right of entry for Space Launch Complex 5 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, which will likely be the location of its first launches. It also just signed an agreement with the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska, where Astra (another company looking toward mass rocket manufacturing) completes its launches, and it’s planning on eventually having launch agreements with Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida.

But even if flight testing goes smoothly, reaching hundreds or even thousands of launches per year is still currently impossible given the small number of spaceports in the country.

“That said, having launch capability just in the US isn’t enough, because you won’t be able to get to hundreds a year, just out of those three sites,” Prywata said. So, the company is also looking at a site in northern Sweden, northern Australia, and Brazil. It’s also in talks with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to license spaceports that are restricted to horizontal launches only to allow for vertical launch.

Phantom Space’s acquisition of StratSpace it’s only going to be the first of many, Prywata said. “We’re still small so we’re trying to grow aggressively,” he said. “So we’re starting with these smaller acquisitions but very key acquisitions to enable our overall strategy.”

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