Max Q: Selling space

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

Blue Origin’s big bid

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

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

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

SpaceX’s Deimos spaceport is under construction

ENSCO offshore oil rig like the one SpaceX is converting

ENSCO offshore oil rig like the one SpaceX is converting.

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

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

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

Landers; lunar ones

Lander Rover

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

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

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

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

TC Sessions: Space is back in December

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

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

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

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

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Google Cloud teams up with SpaceX’s Starlink for enterprise connectivity at network’s edge

SpaceX’s bourgeoning Starlink satellite-based broadband internet service just got a big boost from a significant new partner: Google Cloud. Thanks to a new partnership between the two, SpaceX will now be locating Starlink ground stations right within Google’s existing data centers, providing the Starlink network with direct access to ground-based network infrastructure to help facilitate network connections for customers who are on the edges of the footprint of existing network access.

Starlink’s entire aim is to provide reliable, broadband-quality connections to areas that have typically be hard or impossible to reach with legacy ground-based network infrastructure, including cellular networks. The tie-up with Google means that not only will business and public sector customers taking advantage of that new network reach have access to internet connections, but also to cloud-based infrastructure and applications, including AI and machine learning capabilities, analytics and more.

This should not only bolster Starlink’s reliability in terms of its consumer clients, but also provide key capabilities for serving enterprise customers — another key target demographic for the growing Starlink business, though much of the public focus thus far for Starlink’s roll-out has been on residential access across its expanding beta.

Google and Starlink expect to begin to become available to enterprise customers soon — sometime pin the “second half of 2021” according to a press release issued by the companies.

SpaceX has been very aggressive in building out the Starlink network in the past few months, launching 480 in just around there months. All that in-space infrastructure build out could well have been pre-amble to this collaboration and enterprise-focused service launch, in addition to helping SpaceX expand Starlink consumer service quality and availability.

#artificial-intelligence, #broadband, #google, #google-cloud, #internet-access, #machine-learning, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #telecommunications

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SpaceX might try to fly the first Starship prototype to successfully land a second time

SpaceX is fresh off a high for its Starship spacecraft development program, but according to CEO Elon Musk, it’s already looking ahead to potentially repeating its latest success with an unplanned early reusability experiment. Earlier this week, SpaceX flew the SN15 (i.e., 15th prototype) of its Starship from its development site near Brownsville, Texas, and succeeded in landing it upright for the first time. Now, Musk says they could fly the same prototype a second time, a first for the Starship test and development effort.

The successful launch and landing on Wednesday included an ascent to around 30,000 feet, where the 150-foot tall spacecraft flipped onto its ‘belly’ and then descended back to Earth, returning vertical and firing its engines to slow its descent and touch down softly standing upright. This atmospheric testing is a key step meant to help prove out the technologies and systems that will later help Starship return to Earth after its orbital launches. The full Starship launch system is intended to be completely reusable, including this vehicle (which will eventually serve as the upper stage) and the Super Heavy booster that the company is also in the process of developing.

A second test flight of SN15 is an interesting possibility among the options for the prototype. SpaceX will obviously be conducting a number of other check-outs and gathering as much data as it can from the vehicle, in addition to whatever it collected from onboard sensors, but the options for the craft after that basically amounted to stress testing it to failure, or dismantling it and studying the pieces. A second flight attempt is an interesting additional option that could provide SpaceX with a lot of invaluable data about its planned re-use of the production version of Starship.

Whether or not SpaceX actually does re-fly SN15 is still up in the air, but if it does end up being technically possible, it seems like a great learning opportunity for SpaceX that could help fast-track the overall development program.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Amazon taps ULA as first launch provider for Project Kuiper satellite constellation

Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite constellation is one step closer to actually making it to space: The company announced it has secured an agreement with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to fly its satellites on nine Atlas V rocket launches. Amazon intends to use multiple launch providers and spacecraft to ultimately get the full complement of 3,236 Kuiper satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO), but ULA is the first launch provider that Amazon has signed or announced.

ULA’s Atlas V is a proven workhorse in the space launch industry, having flown 85 prior missions with a perfect track record. The spacecraft was used to launch NASA’s Perseverance rover, for example, as well as Lockheed Martin’s OSIRIS-REx robotic asteroid exploration craft. While Amazon and ULA detailed to total number of launch vehicles that the contract covers, they didn’t share a timeline about when we can expect the launches to take place.

Late last year, I spoke to Amazon SVP of Devices & Services Dave Limp at our TC Sessions: Space events, and I asked him about timelines for launches. Limp said at the time that Amazon was about at the “middle of [its] design phase” for the Project Kuiper satellites, which indicates there’s still work to be done before they enter mass production, which would obviously precede launch.

Limp also pointed out that the clock is ticking for Amazon in terms of its FCC license to operate the constellation, so it essentially has to “have half [its] constellation up in about six years.” That will mean an aggressive launch schedule once the design phase is complete and its actually in the process of building its satellites.

Amazon has invested a lot of capital and time into Project Kuiper, with a commitment to back it with an initial $10 billion investment, and a dedicated staff on the project that now includes 500 people, as well as a dedicated office and research & development facility in Redmond near its global HQ.

#aerospace, #amazon, #atlas, #federal-communications-commission, #lockheed-martin, #osiris-rex, #outer-space, #satellite-constellation, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #svp, #tc, #united, #united-launch-alliance

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NASA makes history by flying a helicopter on Mars for the first time

NASA has marked a major milestone in its extraterrestrial exploration program, with the first powered flight of an aircraft on Mars. The flight occurred very early this morning, and NASA received telemetry confirming that the ‘Ingenuity’ helicopter it sent to Mars with its Perseverance rover. This is a major achievement, in no small part because the atmosphere is so thin on Mars that creating a rotor-powered craft like Ingenuity that can actually use it to produce lift is a huge challenge.

This first flight of Ingenuity was an autonomous remote flight, with crews on Earth controlling it just by sending commands through at the appropriate times to signal when it should begin and end its 40-second trip through the Martian ‘air.’ While that might seem like a really short trip, it provides immense value in terms of the data collected by the helicopter during the flight. Ingenuity actually has a much more powerful processor on board than even the Perseverance rover itself, and that’s because it intends to gather massive amounts of data about what happens during its flight test so that it can transmit that to the rover, which then leapfrogs the information back to Earth.

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter in flight on Mars.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter in flight on Mars.

As mentioned, this is the first ever flight of a powered vehicle on Mars, so while there’s been lots of modelling and simulation work predicting how it would go, no one knew for sure what would happen before this live test. Ingenuity has to rotate its rotor at a super-fast 2,500 RPM, for instance, compared to around 400 to 500 RPM for a helicopter on Earth, because of how thin the atmosphere is on Mars, which produced significant technical challenges.

What’s the point of even flying a helicopter on Mars? There are a few important potential applications, but the first is that it sets up future exploration missions, making it possible for NASA to use aerial vehicles for future science on the red planet. It can explore things like caves and peaks that rovers can’t reach, for instance. Eventually, NASA is also hoping to see if there’s potential for use of aerial vehicles in future human exploration of Mars, too — martian explorers would benefit significantly from being able to use aircraft as well as ground vehicles when we eventually get there.

Now, NASA will work on unpacking the data to glean more insights from the flight, and get back more photos and video of the helicopter during its ascent, hover and landing. Following this flight, it’ll plan additional flight testing attempts based on remaining power and other parameters now that it knows Ingenuity can fly and did as intended.

#aerospace, #ingenuity, #mars, #nasa, #outer-space, #perseverance, #rover, #science, #simulation, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #tc, #united-states

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SpaceX wins NASA contract to develop human landing system for returning to the Moon

The winner of NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) contract award is SpaceX, which bid $2.9 billion for the privilege of developing the means by which NASA astronauts will return to the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo program. SpaceX was in the running alongside Blue Origin and Dynetics, but reportedly undercut both those prospective suppliers considerably with its bid, according to The Washington Post.

SpaceX proposed using its Starship spacecraft, currently under development, as the landing vehicle for astronauts once they arrive at their lunar destination. The HLS is a key part of NASA’s Artemis program, which will begin with uncrewed flights, followed by a Moon fly-by with a human crew, and eventually a human lunar landing at the South Pole of the Moon, during a mission which had been targeting 2024 as its fly date.

NASA announced that SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics made up the entirety of its field of approved vendors for bidding on the HLS contracts back in April last year. Since then, both Blue Origin (which bid alongside a “national team” that included Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper) and Dynetics have built full-scale models of their system and submitted proposals detailing their plans for the functional versions to NASA for consideration. Meanwhile, SpaceX has been actively testing functional prototypes of its Starship spacecraft in Texas, and is also in the process of developing the Super Heavy booster that will propel it to the Moon once it’s ready.

The plan here was for NASA to have chosen all three companies to build out initial versions in order to satisfy the early requirements of the contract, and then ultimately, it was generally thought that the agency would select a couple from the list of three to build human landers, in order to provide it with some flexibility when it comes to means of getting to the lunar surface. That’s essentially how NASA operated with its Commercial Crew program for the International Space Station, which saw awards for both SpaceX and Boeing to build astronaut transport spacecraft. SpaceX has already qualified and begun to operate its vehicle, and Boeing hopes to bring its option online either late this year or early next.

SpaceX has won a lot of trust at NASA by delivering on the Commercial Crew program with a reliable, reusable human-rated spacecraft in the Crew Dragon. The Post also says that in addition to its attractive pricing, NASA wasn’t drawn to Starship’s flexibility and cargo capacity, since it’s aiming to be able to fly not just humans, but also large quantities of supplies and materials to the Moon, and eventually, beyond.

Starship is a long way off from that goal at the moment, however; SpaceX has been quickly developing new iterations in a rapid prototyping approach to its test phase, but the most recent Starship high-altitude flight ended poorly with an explosion prior to landing. Other elements of the test program, however, including showing that Starship can successfully reorient itself in mid-air and slow its decent for landing, have been more successful on past tests. None of the tests so far have left Earth’s atmosphere, however, nor have they involved any human flight testing, both of which will require a lot more development before the spacecraft is deemed mission-ready.

SpaceX was also the launch provider chosen to deliver components of the Lunar Gateway satellite in 2024, working with Maxar, which will produce the actual Power and Propulsion Element and Habitation and Logistics Outpost. These, however, will be delivered via Falcon Heavy, which has already had multiple successful launches.

#aerospace, #artemis-program, #astronaut, #blue-origin, #boeing, #commercial-crew-program, #commercial-spaceflight, #dynetics, #international-space-station, #lockheed-martin, #northrop-grumman, #outer-space, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starship, #tc, #texas, #the-washington-post

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SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites, now at 300 launched in just over one month

SpaceX has launched another batch of Starlink satellites, keeping up its rapid pace of launches for the broadband constellation it’s deploying in low Earth orbit. This now makes 300 Starlink satellites launched since March 4, with 60 on each of five flights between then and now.

The most recent launch before this one happened on March 24, with prior flights on March 14, March 11 and March 4 , respectively. That pace is intentionally fast, since SpaceX has said it aims to launch a total of 1,500 Starlink satellites over the course of this calendar year. Before that especially busy month, SpaceX also flew four other Starlink missions, including a shared ride on SpaceX’s first dedicated rideshare mission that also carried satellites for other customers.

In total, SpaceX has now launched 1,443 satellites for its Starlink constellation. That doesn’t reflect the total number of satellites on orbit, however, as a handful of those earlier satellites have been deorbited as planned. In total, the eventual planned sizer fo the constellation is expected to include up to 42,000 spacecraft based on current FCC frequency spectrum filings.

SpaceX recently signed a new agreement with NASA that outlines how the two organizations will avoid close approach or collision events between their respective spacecraft. NASA has measures it requires all launchers to follow in order to avoid these kinds of incidents, but the scale and frequency of SpaceX’s Starlink missions necessitated an additional, more extensive agreement.

This launch also included a landing of the Falcon 9 booster used, its seventh so far. The booster touched down as intended on SpaceX’s floating landing pad in the Atlantic Ocean, and will be refurbished for another potential reuse. SpaceX is also going to be looking to recover its fairing halves at sea, which are the two cargo covering shields that encase the satellites during take-off. The company actually just decommissioned two ships it had used to try to catch these out of mid-air as they fell slowed by parachutes, but it’s still looking to retrieve them from the ocean after splashdown for re-use.

Image Credits: SpaceX

#aerospace, #broadband, #federal-communications-commission, #outer-space, #satellite, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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SpaceX is outfitting it Dragon spacecraft with an observation down for space tourists

SpaceX is set to make a change to its Crew Dragon spacecraft for its forthcoming history-making all-civilian launch, currently set for September 15. That Dragon will replace its International Space Station docking mechanism with a transparent dome, through which passengers will be able to take in an awe-inspiring surround panorama of space and the Earth from an orbital perspective.

The glass dome will be at the ‘nose’ of the Dragon capsule, or its topmost point when it’s loaded upright on top of a Falcon 9 rocket readying for launch. There should be space for one passenger to use it at a time, and it’ll be opened up once the spacecraft is safely out of Earth’s atmosphere, exposed by a protective cover that can be flipped back down to protect the observation deck when the spacecraft re-enters on its return trip.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called it “the most ‘in space’ you could possibly feel” in a tweet sharing a concept render of the new modification in use. During a press briefing for the upcoming tourist flight, which is called ‘Inspiration4’ and led by billionaire Jared Isaacman, it was described as being similar to the exiting cupola on the International Space Station in terms of the views it affords.

The ISS cupola is an observatory module built by the European Space Agency (ESA) and installed in 2010. Based on these renders from SpaceX, the Dragon version will be a continuous unbroken transparent surface, whereas the ISS cupola is made up of segmented panes separated by support structure, so that could mean Dragon provides a better view.

International Space Station cupola exterior.

International Space Station cupola exterior.

This modification could pave the way for a more permanent alternate configuration of Dragon, one best-suited for SpaceX’s planned commercial passenger missions, most of which will likely aim to do orbital tours without any actual docking at the ISS. It’s possible the company will make further cabin modifications when the vehicle isn’t configured for crew delivery to the orbital science station.

SpaceX also revealed new details about the Inspiration4 mission today, including its planned launch date of September 15, and a three-day mission flight duration. The remaining two passengers on board the four-person crew were also revealed this morning.

#aerospace, #ceo, #commercial-spaceflight, #elon-musk, #esa, #european-space-agency, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

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Virgin Galactic debuts its first third-generation spaceship, ‘VSS Imagine’

Commercial human spaceflight company Virgin Galactic has unveiled the first ever Spaceship III, the third major iteration of its spacecraft design. The first in this new series is called ‘VSS (Virgin SpaceShip) Imagine,’ and will start ground testing now with the aim of beginning its first glide flights starting this summer. VSS Imagine has a snazzy new external look, including a mirrored wraparound finish that’s designed to reflect the spacecraft’s changing environment as it makes its way from the ground to space — but more importantly, it moves Virgin Galactic closer to achieving the engineering goals it requires to produce a fleet of spacecraft at scale.

I spoke to Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier about VSS Imagine, and what it represents for the company.

“We can build these at a faster pace,” he explained. “These are still relatively slow, versus what we want in our next class of spaceships. But what we do expect to have here is, we’ve taken all the learnings from [VSS] Unity, and built-in what we need to do so that we can turn these ships at a faster pace, because obviously, the number of flights we can do is the product of how many ships you have, and how quickly you can turn them.”

Unlike Unity, which is the spacecraft that Virgin Galactic first flew in September 2016, and that it ‘s still using in New Mexico now for its testing and commercial launch preparation program, Imagine has a “modular design” that makes it much easier to maintain, and increases the rate at which it can fly subsequent missions. As Colglazier mentioned, there’s still more work to be done in that regard to get the Spaceship design to the point where it’s able to support the company’s target of around 400 flights per year, per individual spaceport, but it’s a big upgrade, and the company is already beginning manufacturing work on a second Spaceship III-class vehicle, ‘VSS Inspire.’

Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

Imagine and Inspire are technical achievements, to be sure, but Colglazier, who came to Virgin Galactic from Disney Parks International in July 2020, also emphasized the importance of this spacecraft debut in terms of the company’s consumer brand.

“What you’re seeing in the images, the choice of the livery, the film that we’ve put out, is a very clear step, as a consumer brand launch, and as we’re stepping in and building that, that will build over the course of the summer as we build up towards Richard [Branson]’s flight,” he said. “Very purposefully, we’ve used these lofty words of ‘democratizing space’ — but space is meant for everyone. It may take a while, just for everyone to get there, but it’s coming. And so this was leading with a very consumer facing, ‘Why are we doing this?’”

In fact, that focus on the consumer side of the business has been a lot of Colglazier’s work over the past eight months since joining the company. He said that the Virgin Galactic he joined had a “world-class team” that had the aerospace pieces completely locked in, but that his particular contribution has been in building up the commercial side of the business to match.

“We’re now bringing some talent in that is used to scaling this kind of a business, so Swami Iyer actually started Monday of last week,” he said. “And when you see a guy like Joe Rohde, who came in on the experience side, there’s no replacement — that’s additive to building out now the shoulders around this experience.”

Iyer joined as President of Aerospace Systems, and brings years of experience in the commercial space and defense industry, across GKN Advanced Defernce Systems, Honeywell Aerospace and more. Rohde, on the other hand, boasts a very different background, as a longtime Disney Imagineer, who joins the company as its first ‘Experience Architect,’ focused squarely on defining what the Virgin Galactic experience is for its astronaut customers, their friends and family, and the broader public, too.

Colglazier said that their vision for what the experience will look like will also be different depending on what part of the world you’re flying from, noting that weather you fly from a spaceport in Europe, Asia, India or Australia should result in something “dramatically different,” even if the spacecraft themselves are all used in the same way as they are in New Mexico. That definitely seems like a logical approach from an executive whose prior experience includes leading Disney’s parks in Burbank, Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

In the end, Colglazier said that the core philosophy Virgin Galactic will pursue in terms of consumer brand will be one focused on inclusion, even if the actual ‘going to space’ part of its offering remains out of reach for most in the short term.

“This is for everyone, it has to be for everyone,” he said. That aspiration may take some number of years to actually be realized, but in the meantime, we have to find a way that our brand and our company can be accessed, that what we do can be accessed by all sorts of people at all different layers of engagement, so we’re going to be very purposeful about that. You’re going to hear us talking mostly about, effectively the apex experience — actually taking the new ships to space. But the ability to tier down out of that is really, really important, and the ability for us to be a brand that’s reaching out to everyone is incredibly important.”

That begins with the approach to this spacecraft debut today, Colglazier says, and is apparent in the tone of the video the company debuted (embedded above) to mark the reveal. And Virgin Galactic also still has 600 passengers booked and waiting for their own flights, so that’s obviously a key focus after Branson’s flight targeted for later this year.

Finally, I asked Colglazier when he himself intends to go up, since he said he definitely plans to when joining the company. Mostly, he said, he doesn’t want to cut in front of any paying customers.

“Okay, there are 600 or so people that are going to be a little ticked at me, if I jumped the line, so I’m going to keep focused at the consumer level,” he said. “But nobody else is in line yet, so I’m gonna get in before anybody else comes in line.”

#aerospace, #asia, #astronaut, #australia, #ceo, #europe, #executive, #india, #michael-colglazier, #new-mexico, #outer-space, #paris, #president, #richard-branson, #shanghai, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #tc, #tokyo, #virgin-galactic

0

SpaceX nears final assembly of its first massive testing rocket booster for Starship

SpaceX has completed what’s known as the ‘stacking’ of its first Super Heavy prototype, the extremely large next-generation first-stage rocket booster that it will eventually use to propel its Starship spacecraft to orbit and beyond. The Super Heavy Booster is about 220 feet tall – which is roughly the wingspan of a Boeing 747, or a bit taller than the Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World in Florida.

That’s without Starship on top, which will add around another 160 feet. Super Heavy will undergo its own testing prior to flying with Starship, however, and a lot of that will be focused on assuring its fuel tanks can handle the pressurization and extreme temperatures required for keeping all that ignitable material stable prior to when the engines actually fire.

Super Heavy uses the same engines as Starship — Raptor engines, to be specific, which SpaceX created new for this generation of launch vehicle. The final version will have a total of 28 Raptor engines, but this first prototype will likely be outfitted with far fewer, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that it’ll also remain grounded, as it’s intended to be use only for testing things like build and transportation mechanics.

He did say the next prototype will fly, and while he isn’t always accurate about timelines, the Starship upper stage (i.e., the one that looks like a big grain silo with fins) is progressing quickly in its development, including with a recent test flight that ended with a near-perfect landing — minus the subsequent explosion that took out the prototype rocket entirely a few minutes after it had touched down successfully.

Musk clearly wants to move fast with Starship and Super Heavy, in part because of ambitious goals it has of serving as a provider to NASA for future human lunar landing missions as part of the Artemis program, and also because it’s still planning to fly the first commercial tourist flight of a Starship in just two short years in 2023.

#aerospace, #ceo, #elon-musk, #florida, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #starship, #super-heavy, #tc, #transportation, #walt-disney-world

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0

Ibex Medical Analytics raises $38M for its AI-powered cancer diagnostic platform

Israel-based Ibex Medical Analytics, which has an AI-driven imaging technology to detect cancer cells in biopsies more efficiently, has raised a $38 million Series B financing round led by Octopus Ventures and 83North. Also participating in the round was aMoon, Planven Entrepreneur Ventures and Dell Technologies Capital, the corporate venture arm of Dell Technologies. The company has now raised a total of $52 million since its launch in 2016. Ibex plans to use the investment to further sell into diagnostic labs in North America and Europe.

Originally incubated out of the Kamet Ventures incubator, Ibex’s “Galen” platform mimics the work of a pathologist, allowing them to diagnose cancer more accurately and faster and derive new insights from a biopsy specimen.

Because rates of cancer are on the rise and the medical procedures have become more complex, pathologists have a higher workload. Plus, says Ibex, there is a global shortage of pathologists, which can mean delays to the whole diagnostic process. The company claims pathologists can be 40% more productive using its solution.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Joseph Mossel, Ibex CEO and Co-founder said: “You can think of it as a pathologist’s assistant, so it kind of prepares the case in advance, marks the regions of interest, and allows the pathologist to achieve the efficiency gains.”

He said the company has secured the largest pathology network in France, and LD path, which is five pathology labs that service 24 NHS trusts in the UK, among others.

Michael Niddam, of Kamet Ventures said Ibex was an “excellent example of how Kamet works with founders very early on.” Ibex founders Joseph Mossel and Dr. Chaim Linhart had previously joined Kamet as Entrepreneurs in Residence before developing their idea.

#assistant, #cancer, #dell-technologies-capital, #europe, #france, #imaging, #kamet-ventures, #nhs, #north-america, #octopus-ventures, #outer-space, #pathology, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #tc, #united-kingdom

0

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.

Early Stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

0

Astra awarded NASA launch contract for storm observation satellites

Astra, the Alameda-based space launch startup that recently announced its intent to go public via a SPAC merger, has secured a contract to deliver six cube satellites to space on behalf of NASA. Astra stands to be paid $7.95 million by the agency for fulfilment of the contract. This will be a key test of Astra’s responsive rocket capabilities, with a planned three-launch mission profile spanning up to four months, currently targeting sometime between January 8 and July 31 of 2022.

The satellites are for NASA’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of SmallSats (TROPICS) mission, which is a science mission that will collect data about hurricanes and their formation, including temperature, pressure and humidity readings. Like the extremely long, tortured-for-an-acronym name of the mission suggests, the data will be collected using a small constellation of satellites, each roughly the size of a shoebox.\

Astra completed its second of three planned launches designed to ultimately achieve orbit late last year, and exceeded its own expectations by reaching space and nearly achieving orbit. The company said that based on the data it collected from that mission, the final remaining barriers to actually making orbit are all fixable via changes to its software. Based on that, Astra CEO and founder Chris Kemp said that it believes it’s now ready to begin flying commercial payloads.

Kemp was formerly CTO of NASA, and has co-founded a number of technology companies over the years as well. This latest NASA mission isn’t its first contracted launch – far from it, in fact, since the company has said it currently has more than 50 total missions on its slate from both private and government customers, with a total value of over $150 million in revenue.

#aerospace, #astra, #ceo, #chris-kemp, #cto, #nasa, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #science, #small-satellite, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #tc, #technology, #telecommunications

0

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

0

Second crew member of first all-civilian SpaceX mission revealed

SpaceX is now in the business of flying people to space, and if all goes to plan, it’ll be the first to provide a trip for a crew made up entirely of private space tourists later this year. Now, we know who will join billionaire and Shift4Payments founder Jason Isaacman on that trip – St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital employee, and former patient Hayley Arceneaux.

Arceneaux was already selected by Isaacman to be one of the four members of the crew for the mission aboard a SpaceX Dragon, which will include a flight to an unspecified orbit for a trip likely spanning a few days when it launches. The billionaire tipped that he “already knew” who he’d picked to represent St. Jude during a press call when the trip was originally announced earlier this year, but noted that he was saving the reveal.

Isaacman is running a months-long campaign around ‘Inspiration4,’ which is what he has named the flight. The remaining two seats will be given to winners chosen from two separate ongoing competitions: One pool includes anyone who makes a donation to St. Jude during the course of a fundraising campaign attached to the launch, and the other will be selected from entrepreneurs who build an online store on Shift4’s newly launched e-commerce platform.

As AP reports, Arceneaux is a bone cancer survivor who joined St. Jude last year as a physician assistant. She’s record a number of firsts and records when she gets to space on the upcoming flight, including becoming the youngest American ever in space at just 29, and also becoming the first to enter space with a prosthetic in place – she has an artificial knee and a rod in her thighs bone due to the bone cancer she was treated for at St. Jude when she was 10.

Isaacman is footing the entire bill for the SpaceX launch – including covering the tax obligations of the other winners selected for the St. Jude seats on the mission. He has also committed to donating $100 million to the hospital from his own funds, in addition to whatever is raised through the public donation drive that will be used to select one of the other crew members.

#aerospace, #e-commerce, #outer-space, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

0

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

0

Isotropic Systems raises $40 million for a satellite antenna that could make the most of new constellations

UK-based Isotropic Systems has raised a $40 million funding in an “oversubscribed” round that the startup says will help it get its next-generation broadband terminal to the production phase by its 2022 target. The funding, a Series B that brings the company’s total raised to $60 million, was led by SES and included participation form Boeing HorizonX, Space Angels, Orbital Ventures on the venture side, and that includes UK government grant support as well.

Isotropic’s business is centred around a new type of broadband terminal it’s developing that can communicate across multiple frequencies, making it possible for it to connect to more than one satellite network at the same time without any loss in signal quality or network speed for any individual connection. The final product would then offer ground connectivity to customers that could potentially maintain connections with more than one of the emerging satellite broadband networks in development, including those being set up by OneWeb, SpaceX, Intelsat, SES, Amazon and more.

The startup will be stand-in cup a 20,000 square-foot testing and prediction facility near Reading in the UK, and expects to have the first operational version of its ground terminal in production by 2022. If its final product works as advertised, it could be a major boon both for satellite network connectivity providers and for clients, since it would mean that customers who can afford the service don’t have to either select from among the available options, and can instead use one hardware solution to connect to multiple in order to take advantage of potential speed benefits, as well as network redundancy.

The benefits are obvious, provided the financials make sense. Imagine, for instance, using onboard wifi on an international flight. Typically, these networks have been unreliable to say the least. Coverage and quality drop-outs are common, and speeds tend to be weak in even the best of cases. Networks like Starlink aim to correct a lot of these legacy problems, but even better would be a solution that offers connection to multiple satellite networks simultaneously, switching between each connection as necessary to maintain the best possible network quality – and potentially combining available bandwidth when possible to boost speeds.

Isotropic’s potential customer list for such an offering spans military, government, and civilian markets, across both broadband and low-data IoT networks. This latest funding should help it prove its groundbreaking technology can attain the production scale and efficacy required to live up to its promise.

#aerospace, #amazon, #boeing, #broadband, #europe, #funding, #intelsat, #internet-service-providers, #national-broadband-plan, #oneweb, #reading, #recent-funding, #satellite-broadband, #satellites, #ses, #space, #spacecraft, #spacex, #starlink, #startups, #tc, #telecommunications, #uk-government, #united-kingdom

0

SpaceX’s Starship prototype once again flies to great heights, and again explodes on landing

SpaceX has once again flown its Starship spacecraft, a still-in-development space launch vehicle it’s building in south Florida. This test was a flight of SN9, the ninth in its current series of prototype rockets. The test involved flying SN9 to an altitude of around 10 km (just over 6 miles or nearly 33,000 feet). After reaching that apogee, the SN9 spacecraft altered its attitude to angle for re-entry (simulated, since it didn’t actually leave Earth”s atmosphere) and then descended for a controlled landing.

This is the second test along these lines, with the first happening in December using its SN8 prototype, the one before this in the current series. Today’s test saw SN9 reach its target altitude as intended, and saw a successful ‘belly flop’ maneuver, as well as the required propellant hand-off. This was also a successful test of the flaps on Starship, which control its angle as it moves through the air, and which alter their angle via on-board motors to do so. The landing portion didn’t go as smoothly – the spacecraft attempted to re-orient itself to go vertical for landing, but didn’t make it quite straight up-and-down, and also had too much speed going into the touchdown, so it exploded rather spectacularly when it hit ground.

Image Credits: SpaceX

SpaceX had a very similar test the first time around, with things going mostly smoothly up until the landing portion of the mission. During SN8’s flight, the Starship prototype appeared to be better-oriented for landing before touching down too hard, but it’s difficult to say too much about which was more or less successful without access to the data and the testing parameters.

Starship is designed to perform this crucial maneuver as part of its approach to reusability – the spacecraft is intended to be fully reusable, and will accomplish this with a powered-landing that includes, obviously, not the exploding component. As the company noted, however, the rest of this test looks pretty much like what they wanted to happen.

This kind of early testing isn’t expected to go exactly to plan, and the point is primarily to collect data that will help improve further attempts and spacecraft development. Of course, you’d hope to get things exactly right upon your first attempts, but it never actually works that way in rocketry. What is unusual is how public SpaceX is with its development program at this stage of testing.

The company will be back at it with another try soon. It already has its SN10 prototype set up on its launch site at its Texas facility, which is the other spaceship you see in the early part of the animation above.

#aerospace, #animation, #florida, #outer-space, #south-florida, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #texas

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SpaceX 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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UK tests ‘Space Tug’ capable of refiring its engine several times in orbit, and collecting space junk

UK SpaceTech startup Skyrora is currently the only private company capable of launching rockets from UK soil. On Christmas Eve at its testing facility in Fife, Scotland, the team performed a third-stage static fire engine test onboard a new vehicle that will ultimately carry satellites to their final destination. But what’s more interesting is that the vehicle can refire it’s engine several times in orbit and conduct multiple missions in a single trip. This makes it “Space Tug” able to perform a number of maneuvers in space including the extraction of space junk or maintenance if are satellites already in orbit.

Skyrora went rough one of the early Space Camp accelerator programme from Seraphim Capital.

The Space Tug is the first “mission ready” vehicle of its kind to be developed in the UK and once in orbit it can navigate to any location under its own power, with the ability to make multiple stops etc.

The Space Tug is powered by a 3D-printed 3.5kN engine and the first stage of is launch is fueled using an eco-friendly fuel (Ecosene) made in part from waste plastics

Volodymyr Levykin, CEO Skyrora commented: “We have been deliberately quiet about this aspect of our Skyrora XL launch vehicle as we had huge technical challenges to get it to this stage and we wanted to ensure all tests had a satisfactory outcome, which they now have. With the current climate and a real shortage of good news, we feel it is the right time to share this with the world… We aim not only to conduct efficient launches from UK soil in the most environmentally friendly way, but then also to ensure that each single launch mission has the possibility of conducting the level of work that would have historically taken multiple launches.”

Sir Tim Peake, Astronaut, commented: “It’s fantastic that companies such as Skyrora are persisting in their ambition to make the UK a “launch state”. By driving forward and constantly investing into their engineering capabilities, the UK continues to benefit from these impressive milestones achieved. In undertaking a full fire test of their third stage, which fulfils the function of an Orbital Manoeuvring Vehicle capable of delivering satellites into precision orbits, Skyrora is one step closer to launch readiness. This vehicle will also be able to perform vital services such as satellite removal, refuelling and replacement and debris removal from orbit.”

#astronaut, #ceo, #europe, #flight, #launch-vehicle, #outer-space, #satellite, #scotland, #seraphim-capital, #skyrora, #space-debris, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #tc, #uk-space-agency, #united-kingdom

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‘Gas stations in space’ startup Orbit Fab extends seed round to $6M with strategic investor Munich Re

On-orbit servicing startup Orbit Fab, which bills itself as the company focused on creating “gas stations in space,” has added an additional investor to its seed funding round. The add-on investment comes from Munich Re Ventures (the corporate VC arm of Munich Re Group, one of the largest insurance companies in the world). Munich Re is a key provider of insurance for satellite operators in particular, offering policies that cover pre-launch, launch and on-orbit operations.

Orbit Fab, which was a finalist in our TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in 2019, has designed a system that consists of what are essentially in-space tugs that can guide spacecraft on-orbit to refueling depots, to which they connect with the company’s custom fueling interface. It’s designed to be relatively easy to incorporate into new satellite designs, providing a way to easily refuel in space without requiring any special robotic systems for capture and docking.

The goal of the startup is to help create a more sustainable orbital commercial operating environment, extending the life of spacecraft, reducing debris and saving companies money. Bringing on Munich Re Ventures should provide it with significant advantages in terms of being able to build more sustainable, long-lived operational spacecraft into launch and operation risk models for satellite operators.

“When we look at standing up a propellant supply chain, so much of it is the financial model,” Orbit Fab co-founder and CEO Daniel Faber told me in an interview. How do we use this to move our customers’ risk, to make sure that we’re moving capital expenditure to operational expenditure, and yet not introducing additional risk? [Munich Re] is all over it in terms of financial products and insurance and risk assessment, so that’s a great partnership.”

Faber went on to explain that Munich Re Ventures Timur Davis began to show up at more and more space conferences, and Faber began to chat with him at these events. It turned out that the venture firm was putting together an investment thesis around in-space servicing and infrastructure, and Orbit Fab eventually became the first investment on the back of that new thesis.

The new investment brings Orbit Fab’s total seed raise to $6 million, including between $2 to $3 million in government funding on top of VC funds. The company has also now conceived and researched a “self-driving satellite” kit for docking that it has received National Science Foundation funding to do preliminary requirements development, and it’s now at the point where it can begin designing and building that out. 2021 looks to be a big year for many new companies in the space industry, and Orbit Fab with its new approach to sustainable, scalable satellites operations is definitely among them.

#aerospace, #daniel-faber, #insurance, #national-science-foundation, #orbit-fab, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #recent-funding, #satellite, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #tc-sessions-space-2020

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Magdrive secures Seed funding for new propulsion system which could take us to the stars

A startup with a new type of spacecraft propulsion system could make the interplanetary travel seen in Star Trek a reality. Magdrive has just closed a £1.4M seed round led by Founders Fund, an early investor in SpaceX, backed by Luminous Ventures, 7percent Ventures, and Entrepreneur First.

Magdrive is developing a next generation of spacecraft propulsion for small satellites. The startup says its engine’s thrust and efficiency are a “generational leap” ahead of any other electrical thrusters, opening up the space industry to completely new types of missions that were not possible before, without resorting to much larger, expensive and heavier chemical thrusters. It says its engine would make fast and affordable interplanetary space travel possible, as well as operations in Very Low Earth orbit. The engine would also make orbital manufacturing far more possible than previously.

Existing electrical solutions are very efficient but have very low thrust. Chemical thrusters have high thrust but lack efficiency and are hazardous and expensive to handle. Magdrive says its engine can deliver both high thrust and high efficiency in one system.

Magdrive prototype render

Magdrive prototype render

If it works, the Magdrive engine could make spacecraft go faster for longer. This could open up the industry to new space missions, such as a satellite (or X-wing fighter?) that can make multiple, fast maneuvers, without worrying about conserving fuel. In order to do this right now, satellites require a chemical thruster, which requires a significant payload in fuel for launch. A 200kg satellite would require 50kg of hydrazine fuel, which would cost £1,350,000 in launch mass alone.

Co-founder (and Star Trek fan) Dr Thomas Clayson did a PhD in plasma physics, working on advanced electromagnetic fields. He realized this could be a cornerstone for developing a plasma thruster that could achieve the accelerations required for interplanetary space travel. After meeting Mark Stokes, a mechanical engineer at Imperial College London with similar dreams of space travel, they decided to build a small scale thruster for satellites.

But Magdrive is not alone. Other companies are developing so-called ‘Hall Effect Thrusters’, which is a technology that has existed since the 1960’s. Much of the development is towards miniaturization and mass reduction, but thrust and efficiency remain the same. These companies include Busek, Exotrail, Apollo Fusion, Enpusion, Nanoavionics. Meanwhile, large international companies with huge technology portfolios are working on improving chemical propulsion and making it non-toxic to handle, such as Aerojet Rocketdyne and Moog ISP.

They plan to scale up our technology to power larger manned spacecraft (once in orbit) to long-distance destinations such as the Moon and Mars. Our system would present a much more affordable than a chemical or nuclear solution, due to the huge reduction in fuel costs, and because it is reusable.

Andrew J Scott, Founding Partner, 7percent Ventures: “At 7percent we seek founding teams with ‘moonshot’ ambitions. With Magdrive this is not just a metaphor: their revolutionary plasma thruster will soon be powering satellites, but in the future could take us to deep space. While the UK’s expertise in constructing satellites is world-renowned, there has been far less focus on propulsion. In fact, Great Britain is the only country to have successfully developed and then, in the 1970’s abandoned, an indigenous satellite launch capability, which undoubtedly curbed the UK’s space sector. So we’re excited to be backing Magdrive, one of a new generation of British space startups, which has the vision and ambition to become a world-beating company in this burgeoning sector.”

The satellite industry is worth $5 Billion in 2020, predicted to grow to USD$30Billion by 2030, due to the rise in mega-constellations. Some 5,000 satellites are due to be launched in the next two years and 75% of all the companies launching these satellites have already flown something in space.

Magdrive is at the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre in Harwell, Oxford.

#aerojet-rocketdyne, #apollo-fusion, #busek, #co-founder, #emerging-technologies, #entrepreneur, #europe, #founders-fund, #imperial-college-london, #ion-engines, #isp, #luminous-ventures, #moog, #outer-space, #oxford, #space-travel, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-kingdom

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Amazon’s Project Kuiper will seek multiple launch providers to carry its satellites to space

Amazon SVP of Devices & Services David Limp joined us at TC Sessions: Space today, and he shared some new details about the company’s Project Kuiper broadband satellite constellation. Limp shared more details on the technical design challenges that the Kuiper team solved with its revolutionary customer terminal, but he also shared more info on the company’s plans around launching its constellation, which will number 3,236 per the current plan approved by the FCC.

“We’re launch agnostic” Limp said. “If you know somebody who has a rocket out there, give us a call. “One of the reasons we thought the time was right to do a constellation now is because of some of the dynamics happening in the launch industry. Every day, we see a new demonstration of reusability every day, we see new demonstration of breakthroughs in better engines, whether that’s Raptor [SpaceX’s engine] or BE-4 [Blue Origin’s].”

Part of the FCC’s approval for Amazon’s constellation requires it to send up around half of its planned total constellation within the next six years, which is a significant volume and will require an aggressive launch pace to achieve. SpaceX’s Starlink, for context, has launched 16 batches of 60 satellites each for its network, with 14 of those happening in 2020 alone. In order to achieve that pace, Limp said that while he hopes Blue Origin (the Jeff Bezos-owned private rocket launch company) can provide some of its launch capacity, they will be look