FCC lets Starlink offer Internet service on moving vehicles throughout US

A Starlink satellite dish pictured on the ground, near an RV.

Enlarge / A Starlink satellite dish. (credit: Starlink)

SpaceX has secured US approval to provide Starlink satellite Internet service on moving vehicles, ships, and airplanes. In an order released Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission granted SpaceX’s application to operate consumer and enterprise Earth stations in motion (ESIM) throughout the US.

The FCC also approved a request from Kepler Communications to operate ESIMs on ships. Starlink and Kepler will be allowed to provide service on vessels in US territorial waters and international waters.

Starlink offers a service for RVs but says it isn’t designed to be used while the vehicles are moving. A version for moving RVs will presumably be offered at some point now that SpaceX has received the FCC approval, which says “SpaceX is authorized to operate Earth Stations In Motion on vehicles throughout the United States.” SpaceX is also planning to provide Starlink Internet on flights.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#policy, #spacex, #starlink

Starlink tells customers that a Dish 5G plan would make Starlink “unusable”

A Starlink satellite dish on the roof of a house.

Enlarge / A Starlink satellite dish. (credit: Starlink)

SpaceX is asking Starlink customers to help the company win a regulatory battle against Dish Network. In an email urging users to contact the Federal Communications Commission and members of Congress, SpaceX yesterday said a Dish plan to use the 12 GHz spectrum band for mobile service will cause “harmful interference [to Starlink users] more than 77 percent of the time and total outage of service 74 percent of the time, rendering Starlink unusable for most Americans.”

Those percentages come from a study SpaceX submitted to the FCC last week, which claims mobile service in the 12 GHz band would interfere with Starlink user terminals that use the same spectrum for downloads. Tuesday’s email from SpaceX was posted on the Starlink subreddit and covered by The Verge. It says:

Today we ask for your support in ending a lobbying campaign that threatens to make Starlink unusable for you and the vast majority of our American customers… Dish has been attempting to claim new rights to the 12 GHz band, which is the spectrum you currently use to download content with Starlink. Despite technical studies dating back as far as 2016 that refute the basis of their claims, Dish has employed paid lobbyists who are attempting to mislead the FCC with faulty analysis in hopes of obscuring the truth.

SpaceX: FCC and Congress “need to hear from you”

The email directs Starlink users to a webpage where they can submit a pre-written comment to the FCC and send a pre-written letter to US House and Senate members. The page is titled, “Don’t let Dish disable your Internet.”

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#dish, #policy, #spacex, #starlink

SpaceX moves a massive rocket with 33 engines to its launch pad for tests

A fully stacked Starship and Super Heavy rocket are seen in February, 2022, during fit checks on the orbital launch tower.

Enlarge / A fully stacked Starship and Super Heavy rocket are seen in February, 2022, during fit checks on the orbital launch tower. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

It has been a long time since SpaceX launched a rocket from South Texas. After a flurry of seven Starship prototype test flights from August 2020 through May 2021, the company has not flown from its launch pads near Boca Chica Beach.

There are good reasons for this hiatus and good reasons to believe it may soon change as SpaceX makes progress toward an orbital launch attempt from South Texas later this year.

The seven launches of a full-scale Starship prototype gradually pushed the envelope, beginning with two 150-meter hops before moving to flights as high as 12.5 km to demonstrate a belly-flop maneuver that will be needed during the vehicle’s return through Earth’s atmosphere. The flight test program culminated with a successful soft-landing of Starship after a 10 km flight.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#science, #space, #spacex, #starship

SpaceX fires employees who wrote letter slamming Musk’s “embarrassing” behavior

A SpaceX logo seen on the outside of its headquarters building.

Enlarge / SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, on April 19, 2022. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

SpaceX has reportedly fired at least five employees who circulated a letter that urged company executives to condemn CEO Elon Musk’s public behavior.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell explained the firings in an email to staff, according to a New York Times article. “The letter, solicitations and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views,” Shotwell wrote, according to the NYT. “We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism.”

Shotwell’s email to staff also said, “Blanketing thousands of people across the company with repeated unsolicited emails and asking them to sign letters and fill out unsponsored surveys during the work day is not acceptable.” Shotwell urged employees to “stay focused on the SpaceX mission, and use your time to do your best work. This is how we will get to Mars.”

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#elon-musk, #policy, #spacex

SpaceX employee letter: Musk’s behavior is “frequent source of embarrassment”

Elon Musk wearing a tuxedo as he arrives at the 2022 Met Gala.

Enlarge / Elon Musk arrives for the 2022 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2022, in New York. (credit: Getty Images | Angela Weiss)

SpaceX employees are circulating a letter that urges company executives to condemn CEO Elon Musk’s public behavior. The letter was reported today and published in full by The Verge, which said it was shared Wednesday “in an internal SpaceX Microsoft Teams channel with more than 2,600 employees.”

The letter says executives should “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior.”

“SpaceX must swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand,” the letter says. The letter is the result of a collaboration between “employees across the spectra of gender, ethnicity, seniority, and technical roles,” it says. The letter also asks for an in-person meeting with executives to discuss the employees’ requests.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#elon-musk, #policy, #spacex

SpaceX’s Starship launch plan gets an environmental OK from the feds

SpaceX's next rocket on site at Boca Chica.

Enlarge / SpaceX’s next rocket on site at Boca Chica. (credit: Getty Images / Washington Post)

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave SpaceX one of several approvals that will be needed before the company can launch its Starship from the Boca Chica site in South Texas. The environmental approval comes in part because technology developments have allowed the company to eliminate some of the facilities initially planned for the location, greatly reducing its footprint and impacts.

Still, the company will face restrictions within the site and timing of the launches; it will also be expected to support some environmental and historical interests. The company will still need the FAA’s approval regarding safety and risks before it can begin operations.

Less is more

SpaceX has been pursuing atmospheric testing of its hardware at Boca Chica. Ultimately, it plans to turn this into the main launch site for the Falcon Super Heavy vehicles that will loft its Starship vehicle into orbit, along with potential commercial cargo. The booster would also potentially return to the site or land offshore and be ferried back.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#boca-chica, #environmental-review, #faa, #nepa, #science, #space, #spacex

NASA just bought the rest of the space station crew flights from SpaceX

A Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft are ready to launch NASA's Crew-4 mission.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft are ready to launch NASA’s Crew-4 mission. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

NASA said this week that it plans to purchase five additional Crew Dragon missions from SpaceX to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.

Although the space agency’s news release does not specifically say so, these may be the final flights NASA needs to keep the space station fully occupied into the year 2030. As of now, there is no signed international agreement to keep the station flying until then, but this new procurement sends a strong signal that the space agency expects the orbital outpost to keep flying that long.

The announcement also suggests that SpaceX will fly more than twice as many crews to the space station than the other partner in NASA’s commercial crew program, Boeing. Under the new agreement, SpaceX would fly 14 crewed missions to the station on Crew Dragon, and Boeing would fly six during the lifetime of the station.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#crew-dragon, #nasa-boeing, #science, #space, #spacex

SpaceX caps an incredibly busy month with a NASA crew landing Friday morning

Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft is seen reentering Earth's atmosphere on Friday morning.

Enlarge / Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft is seen reentering Earth’s atmosphere on Friday morning. (credit: NASA)

After a 177-day spaceflight four astronauts returned to Earth early Friday morning aboard Crew Dragon Endurance.

NASA astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, and Tom Marshburn, as well as European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, undocked from the International Space Station on Thursday before lining up Endurance for a return that brought it back to Earth across the Bay of Campeche, Yucatan Peninsula, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Seas were fair when Endurance splashed down at 12:43 am ET on Friday (04:43 UTC), with a glassy surface on the ocean. The spacecraft was brought on board the recovery ship, named Shannon, and the crew clambered out less than an hour after landing. From there they boarded a helicopter, and subsequently will take a plane ride to Houston for reunions with family members.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#crew-dragon, #crew-3, #nasa, #science, #space, #spacex

After flying 150th Falcon 9, SpaceX continues to make efficiency gains

The number of days between the first 50 Falcon 9 launches, the second 50, and the last 50.

Enlarge / The number of days between the first 50 Falcon 9 launches, the second 50, and the last 50. (credit: Eric Berger)

SpaceX launched its first Falcon 9 rocket on June 4, 2010, nearly a dozen years ago. During those first years, the company grappled with a whole host of challenges, from things as seemingly simple as trying to transport the rocket over land instead of by sea or air to more demanding tasks such as producing enough Merlin engines.

The company’s first 50 flights took nearly eight years to complete, and in that time SpaceX engineers and technicians learned much about building large rockets, testing and transporting them, and then flying them. From 2010 to early 2018 SpaceX would make three major “block” upgrades to the rocket, as well as debuting the Falcon Heavy variant of the booster.

During this learning period of activity, SpaceX managed to launch a Falcon 9 rocket only every 56.6 days. As it started to experiment with reusing the first stage, of its first 50 launches, seven of those were on reused rockets. Also during this learning period, SpaceX had one launch failure, CRS-7 in 2015, and one failure during pre-launch activities, the Amos-6 accident in 2016.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#falcon-9, #science, #space, #spacex

SpaceX rapidly pivots from Dragon landing to another launch in 39 hours

SpaceX's Crew Dragon vehicle is ready to launch four astronauts for NASA.

Enlarge / SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle is ready to launch four astronauts for NASA. (credit: NASA)

On Monday afternoon, a Crew Dragon spacecraft named Endeavour splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. Now, less than two days later, SpaceX and NASA are preparing another Crew Dragon for launch.

Monday’s landing returned a crew of four private astronauts, whose 17-day spaceflight was sponsored by the private company Axiom Space. Since that vehicle’s return, the manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Steve Stich, said space agency and SpaceX engineers have been “poring over the data” on Dragon’s performance during its return through the atmosphere.

“It was a very clean flight overall, with really no major issues,” Stich said Tuesday morning during a press call with reporters. “The team has looked through a lot of the data, and they’ve had a chance to review everything. They’ve looked at the thermal protection system. They have looked at a lot of the GNC (guidance, navigation, and control) data from the flight. Obviously, the parachutes were very clean this flight. The mains all deployed and went to full open, almost in unison, with no indication of any laggard this time, which was great.”

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#crew-dragon, #crew-4, #nasa, #science, #spacex

First all-private mission to the space station will finally come home

On April 15, Crew Dragon Endeavour is pictured docked to the Harmony module's space-facing international docking adapter.

Enlarge / On April 15, Crew Dragon Endeavour is pictured docked to the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. (credit: NASA)

The Crew Dragon spacecraft named Endeavour undocked from the International Space Station on Sunday evening, setting the stage to bring four private astronauts back to Earth.

After slowly backing away from the orbiting laboratory, Endeavour is now positioned to conduct a de-orbit burn on Monday, nudging it into Earth’s atmosphere. After a brief, fiery trip through the atmosphere, the spacecraft will splash down off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, at 1:06 pm ET (17:06 UTC).

Upon landing back on Earth, Ax-1 mission Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor, and Mission Specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy will have spent 17 days in space following their launch on April 8. The crew was originally scheduled to spend eight days docked to the space station, but the mission was eventually extended a week by poor weather in Dragon’s landing zones around Florida.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#axiom, #nasa, #science, #space, #spacex

The Axiom-1 crew launches today—are these guys tourists, astronauts, or what?

The Axiom-1 mission will fly on the fifth mission of this Falcon 9 rocket first stage.

Enlarge / The Axiom-1 mission will fly on the fifth mission of this Falcon 9 rocket first stage. (credit: NASA)

A crew of four private citizens is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station today on a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center.

This is the Axiom-1 mission, named after the private company, Axiom Space, that organized the flight. This mission will make history, as it is the first completely private mission to the International Space Station. The orbiting laboratory was created decades ago to foster international cooperation in space at a time when spaceflight was almost solely the province of large, powerful nations.

But the laboratory, at least for the United States, has become an important beachhead in low Earth orbit for commercial activity. NASA astronauts have for years conducted private research experiments, deployed CubeSats, and performed other government-sanctioned activities to foster commercial spaceflight.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#axiom, #science, #space, #spacex

OneWeb turns to a competitor—SpaceX—to complete its constellation

A stack of OneWeb satellites is shown before a launch at Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

Enlarge / A stack of OneWeb satellites is shown before a launch at Baikonur in Kazakhstan. (credit: OneWeb)

OneWeb announced on Monday that it has reached an agreement with SpaceX to complete its constellation of low Earth orbit broadband satellites.

This decision was necessitated after the United Kingdom-based company decided it could no longer launch on Russia’s Soyuz rocket following the war against Ukraine. The Russian invasion occurred just days before 34 OneWeb satellites were due to launch on a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan. In response to Western sanctions, Russia placed extraordinary demands on OneWeb in return for conducting the launch scheduled for March 4, and it ultimately did not take place. Those satellites remain in Kazakhstan for now.

Effectively, this ended OneWeb’s agreement with Russia for satellite launches. The Soyuz had launched nearly all 428 of the company’s satellites that are presently in orbit. The company had planned to use the Soyuz rocket to complete its first-generation constellation of 648 satellites by the end of 2022. Using Arianespace as an intermediary, OneWeb had already paid for those six launches. Russia has vowed not to return the money.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#oneweb, #science, #space, #spacex

Ukraine asks Musk for Starlink terminals as Russian invasion disrupts broadband

A Starlink satellite dish mounted on a roof.

Enlarge / The new version of Dishy McFlatface. (credit: Starlink)

SpaceX is sending Starlink user terminals to Ukraine after a request from a government official. Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice prime minister and minister of digital transformation, used Twitter to make a direct plea to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Saturday, writing:

@elonmusk, while you try to colonize Mars—Russia try to occupy Ukraine! While your rockets successfully land from space—Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civil people! We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations and to address sane Russians to stand.

About 10 hours later, Musk responded, “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.” A bit later, Fedorov sent a tweet thanking Musk and another tweet thanking Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, “for swift decisions related to authorization and certification that allowed us to activate the Starlink in Ukraine.”

We asked SpaceX for details on how many Starlink user terminals are being sent to Ukraine and how they’re being distributed and will update this article if we get any information. Starlink was recently used to provide broadband in parts of Tonga that were cut off from Internet access by the tsunami.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #policy, #spacex, #starlink, #ukraine

Maybe—just maybe—sending billionaires into space isn’t such a bad thing

Artist's rendering of spacewalk in Earth orbit.

Enlarge / A rendering of a spacewalk happening outside of a Crew Dragon spacecraft. (credit: SpaceX)

One of the most visually appealing Super Bowl advertisements on Sunday night starred Matthew McConaughey dressed as an astronaut. The advertisement begins with suggestive images of McConaughey in space only to find him in a hot air balloon.

“It’s not time to escape, it’s time to engage,” McConaughey says as his balloon traverses green countryside, cityscapes, and a wedding. “So while the others look to the Metaverse and Mars, let’s stay here and restore ours. The new frontier, it ain’t rocket science. It’s right here.”

The ad ends with a hashtag, #TeamEarth, and was evidently bought by Salesforce to burnish its image as a company working for the good of humanity and our planet. Consultants apparently convinced Salesforce the best way to do this was by shaming billionaires who are interested in and investing in space. Which is interesting, given that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is an investor in SpaceX and has said, “Space is a huge category that we should invest in.”

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #spacex

NASA says Starlink Gen2 may cause problems for Hubble and asteroid detection

Illustration of many satellites orbiting the Earth.

Enlarge / Artist’s impression of low Earth-orbit satellites like those launched by SpaceX and OneWeb. (credit: NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / P. Marenfeld)

NASA has warned that SpaceX’s plan for 30,000 more Starlink satellites could cause problems for science missions, human spaceflight, the Hubble telescope, and ground-based telescopes that look for asteroids that might hit the Earth.

NASA outlined its concerns in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on Monday. “With the increase in large constellation proposals to the FCC, NASA has concerns with the potential for a significant increase in the frequency of conjunction events and possible impacts to NASA’s science and human spaceflight missions,” the agency said. “Consequently, NASA submits this letter for the purpose of providing a better understanding of NASA’s concerns with respect to its assets on-orbit and to further mitigate the risk of collisions for the benefit of all involved.”

NASA didn’t urge the FCC to reject SpaceX’s application, but it said it wants deployment to be “conducted prudently, in a manner that supports spaceflight safety and the long-term sustainability of the space environment.” NASA also said the large number of additional satellites “will require expanded coordination and communication between the two parties to ensure the continued safety of both SpaceX and NASA assets.”

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#nasa, #policy, #science, #spacex, #starlink

SpaceX loses up to 40 satellites to geomagnetic storm after Starlink launch

Illustration of Earth being hit by a coronal mass ejection from the Sun.

Enlarge / Illustration of a coronal mass ejection impacting the Earth’s atmosphere. These events can cause geomagnetic storms. (credit: Getty Images | Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library)

SpaceX had to ditch most of its latest batch of Starlink satellites because they were disrupted by a geomagnetic storm after being launched from the Falcon 9 rocket. Up to 40 of the 49 satellites will re-enter the atmosphere or have already done so because they were unable to reach their intended orbits.

In an update posted yesterday, SpaceX said that on February 3, the Falcon 9’s second stage deployed 49 “satellites into their intended orbit, with a perigee of approximately 210 kilometers above Earth, and each satellite achieved controlled flight.” SpaceX initially deploys satellites into lower altitudes than they ultimately orbit in “so that in the very rare case any satellite does not pass initial system checkouts, it will quickly be deorbited by atmospheric drag,” the company said. SpaceX has licenses for altitudes of 540 km to 570 km and 335 km to 346 km.

Last week’s geomagnetic storm hit a day after launch, SpaceX explained:

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #satellites, #spacex, #starlink

NASA and SpaceX studying parachute issue but don’t see major safety concern

NASA Television of the Crew-2 landing shows three main parachutes deployed, with a fourth one lagging behind.

Enlarge / NASA Television of the Crew-2 landing shows three main parachutes deployed, with a fourth one lagging behind. (credit: NASA TV)

Officials from NASA and SpaceX say that they are paying attention to a parachute issue with the Dragon spacecraft, but they do not believe significant actions will be needed to address it.

Upon returning to Earth from orbit, both the Crew and the latest Cargo versions of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft use four main parachutes to slow the capsule before it impacts the water. If one parachute fails, the spacecraft can still land safely.

During the first two crewed flights of the Dragon spacecraft in 2020 and 2021, all four parachutes inflated nominally. However, when the Crew-2 mission carrying four astronauts returned to Earth in November 2021, one of the four parachutes was delayed by 75 seconds before it fully inflated. This had no effect on the spacecraft’s planned descent rate because the extended parachute still offered some drag.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#crew-dragon, #science, #space, #spacex

Starlink preps rugged user terminal that may avoid “thermal shutdown” problem

A Starlink satellite dish mounted on a roof.

Enlarge / The current Starlink user terminal. Images of the planned ruggedized terminal aren’t available yet. (credit: Starlink)

SpaceX’s Starlink division is planning a new ruggedized satellite dish that can operate in hotter and colder temperatures. This is the second ruggedized Starlink dish the company has revealed—the first is designed for vehicles, ships, and aircraft, while the newer one is a fixed earth station that would provide broadband to buildings.

SpaceX asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to deploy the “high-performance fixed earth stations” (or “HP terminals”) in an application filed Friday. PCMag wrote an article about the application yesterday.

“Compared to other user terminals SpaceX Services has been authorized to deploy, the HP model has been ruggedized to handle harsher environments so that, for example, it will be able to continue to operate at greater extremes of heat and cold, will have improved snow/ice melt capabilities, and will withstand a greater number of thermal cycles,” SpaceX told the FCC. SpaceX said its application should be approved because the terminals will extend the Starlink network to “a range of much more challenging environments.”

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #spacex, #starlink

Astronomers find growing number of Starlink satellite tracks

A Starlink track running across the Andromeda galaxy.

Enlarge / A Starlink track running across the Andromeda galaxy. (credit: Caltech Optical Observatories/IPAC)

SpaceX’s Starlink Internet service will require a dense constellation of satellites to provide consistent, low-latency connectivity. The system already has over 1,500 satellites in orbit and has received approval to operate 12,000 of them. And that has astronomers worried. Although SpaceX has taken steps to reduce the impact of its hardware, there’s no way to completely eliminate the tracks the satellites leave across ground-based observations.

How bad is the problem? A team of astronomers has used archival images from a survey telescope to look for Starlink tracks over the past two years. Over that time, the number of images affected rose by a factor of 35, and the researchers estimate that by the time the planned Starlink constellation is complete, pretty much every image from their hardware will have at least one track in it.

Looking widely

The hardware used for the analysis is called the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) at the Palomar Observatory. The ZTF is designed to pick up rare events, such as supernovae. It does so by scanning the entire sky repeatedly, with software monitoring the resulting images to look for objects that were absent in early images but which appeared in later ones. The ZTF’s high sensitivity makes it good for picking out dim objects, like asteroids, in our own Solar System.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #satellites, #science, #space, #spacex, #starlink

SpaceX abandons Starlink plan that Amazon objected to, but fight isn’t over

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk appears on a giant video screen while he discusses Starlink.

Enlarge / SpaceX CEO Elon Musk discusses Starlink at Mobile World Congress Barcelona on June 29, 2021 . (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

SpaceX has abandoned a Starlink plan that Amazon objected to during a high-profile battle at the Federal Communications Commission last year and wants to launch its second-generation broadband satellites starting in March. But the dispute isn’t over, as Amazon says that SpaceX’s latest filing “raises a number of issues that call for analysis and a potential response” and asked the FCC for a month-long delay before comments are due.

In August 2021, Amazon satellite-broadband subsidiary Kuiper Systems objected to Starlink proposing “two different configurations for the nearly 30,000 satellites of its Gen2 System, each of which arranges these satellites along very different orbital parameters.” Amazon said that proposing “two mutually exclusive configurations” violates an FCC rule and would force competitors to do double the work to evaluate the potential for interference.

SpaceX said it pitched two possible configurations in case its preferred setup doesn’t work out. The FCC rule doesn’t specifically prohibit SpaceX’s approach but says that an application will be rejected if it “is defective with respect to completeness of answers to questions, informational showings, internal inconsistencies, execution, or other matters of a formal character.”

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#amazon, #kuiper, #policy, #satellite, #spacex, #starlink

With Thursday’s launch, SpaceX continues to increase cadence of booster reuse

The Transporter 3 mission is on the launch pad and ready to go.

Enlarge / The Transporter 3 mission is on the launch pad and ready to go. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

SpaceX will seek to launch its “Transporter-3” mission into low Earth orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Thursday morning.

The rocket has a 29-minute launch window, which opens at 10:25 am ET (15:25 UTC), and weather conditions are forecast to be fair. This will be the company’s third rideshare mission in which it uses its Falcon 9 rocket to compete with small satellite launch companies.

For this mission, the rocket will launch 105 different spacecraft. Among them are 44 “SuperDove” satellites for Planet, which the company said will replenish its current constellation, which images every landmass on Earth every day. The varied manifest includes CubeSats, microsats, PocketQubes, and orbital transfer vehicles for a mix of government and commercial customers. The satellites will be deployed over about a 90-minute period.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#falcon-9, #science, #spacex

Elon Musk rejects claims his satellites are squeezing out rivals in space

Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad.

Enlarge / A SpaceX rocket ready for launch. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Elon Musk has hit back at criticism that his company’s Starlink satellites are hogging too much room in space, and has instead argued there could be room for “tens of billions” of spacecraft in orbits close to Earth.

“Space is just extremely enormous, and satellites are very tiny,” Musk said. “This is not some situation where we’re effectively blocking others in any way. We’ve not blocked anyone from doing anything, nor do we expect to.”

His comments, made in an interview with the Financial Times, came in response to a claim from Josef Aschbacher, head of the European Space Agency, that Musk was “making the rules” for the new commercial space economy. Speaking to the FT earlier this month, Aschbacher warned that Musk’s rush to launch thousands of communications satellites would leave fewer radio frequencies and orbital slots available for everyone else.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#elon-musk, #fcc, #satellites, #science, #space-junk, #spacex, #starlink

China upset about needing to dodge SpaceX Starlink satellites

Image of a rocket launch.

Enlarge / A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in May 2021 carrying the 29th batch of approximately 60 satellites as part of SpaceX’s Starlink broadband Internet network. (credit: SOPA Images / Getty Images)

Earlier in December, the Chinese government filed a document with the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space at the United Nations. The body helps manage the terms of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, more commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty. In the document, China alleges that it had to move its space station twice this year due to potential collisions with Starlink satellites operated by SpaceX.

The document pointedly notes that signatories of the treaty, which include the US, are responsible for the actions of any nongovernmental activities based within their borders.

The document was filed back on December 6, but it only came to light recently when Chinese Internet users became aware of it and started flaming Elon Musk, head of SpaceX.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#china, #policy, #science, #space, #spacex, #starlink

This may finally be the year we see some new chunky rockets take flight

The Falcon Heavy rocket is the most recent heavy-lift booster to debut, and that was more than three years ago.

Enlarge / The Falcon Heavy rocket is the most recent heavy-lift booster to debut, and that was more than three years ago. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann / Ars Technica)

A little more than three years ago, Ars published an article assessing the potential for four large rockets to make their debut in 2020. Spoiler alert: none of them made it. None even made it in 2021. So will next year finally be the year for some of them?

Probably. Maybe. We sure hope so.

At the time of the older article’s publication, July 2018, four heavy-lift rockets still had scheduled launch dates for 2020—the European Space Agency’s Ariane 6, NASA’s Space Launch System, Blue Origin’s New Glenn, and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket. The article estimated the actual launch dates, predicting that Europe’s Ariane 6 would be the only rocket to make a launch attempt in 2020. All four of the predicted launch dates proved overly optimistic, alas.

Read 43 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#arianespace, #blue-origin, #rocket, #science, #sls, #space, #spacex, #united-launch-alliance

Concerns about sexism in the aerospace industry land at SpaceX

The front of the SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

The front of the SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California. (credit: Megan Geuss)

In late September, a former communications executive at Blue Origin and 20 other current and former employees raised concerns about the culture at the company, highlighting issues such as sexism in the workplace. Writing on the Lioness website, Alexandra Abrams and the unnamed employees wrote that Blue Origin “turns a blind eye toward sexism.”

The essay ignited a wildfire of criticism about the working environment of Blue Origin, even extending to concerns about the safety of the company’s vehicles. In the wake of the essay’s publication, the Federal Aviation Administration launched an investigation of these safety allegations.

Now the conflagration has spread to SpaceX. On Tuesday, Lioness published another essay by Ashley Kosak, a former mission integration engineer at SpaceX. This essay has fewer anonymous co-signers (only two) and is more tightly focused on sexism rather than the company’s broader culture. But in regard to harassment, its allegations are no less worrisome. Kosak writes about multiple occasions of feeling sexually harassed and her belief that SpaceX’s management did not do enough to intervene.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#harassment, #science, #sexism, #space, #spacex

After a “thorough review,” NASA awards additional astronaut flights to SpaceX

The Crew-2 mission is seen departing the International Space Station in November 2021.

Enlarge / The Crew-2 mission is seen departing the International Space Station in November 2021. (credit: SpaceX)

NASA has announced that it will purchase three additional flights for its astronauts to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle.

The announcement, posted on the space agency’s website late on Friday afternoon, follows a “request for information” issued by NASA in October seeking the additional transportation to keep “uninterrupted” US access to the space station.

The blog post contained the following somewhat stilted rationale for selecting SpaceX to provide these three crewed flights while not selecting the other potential provider, Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#boeing, #commercial-crew, #science, #spacex

ESA head says Europe needs to stop facilitating Elon Musk’s ambitions in space

Elon Musk being allowed to “make the rules” in space, ESA chief warns

Enlarge (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

The head of the European Space Agency has urged the continent’s leaders to stop facilitating Elon Musk’s ambition to dominate the new space economy, warning that the lack of co-ordinated action meant the US billionaire was “making the rules” himself.

Josef Aschbacher, the new director-general of ESA, said that Europe’s readiness to help the rapid expansion of Musk’s Starlink satellite internet service risked hindering the region’s own companies from realising the potential of commercial space.

“Space will be much more restrictive [in terms of] frequencies and orbital slots,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “The governments of Europe collectively should have an interest to… give European providers equal opportunities to play on a fair market.”

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#elon-musk, #esa, #nasa, #satellites, #science, #space-junk, #spacex, #starlink

Here’s why Elon Musk asked his SpaceX employees to work Thanksgiving

The first test firing of a flight version of SpaceX's Raptor rocket engine.

Enlarge / The first test firing of a flight version of SpaceX’s Raptor rocket engine. (credit: Elon Musk/Twitter)

Last Friday, as most Americans slept off their tryptophan hangovers, headed to the mall for Black Friday shopping, or tried in vain to avoid political discussions with visiting family members, SpaceX founder Elon Musk was instead at work. Not finding things to his liking, Musk dashed off an email to the company’s employees. A full copy of the email, obtained by Ars, appears at the end of this story.

Musk told his employees that SpaceX faces a “Raptor production crisis,” which means the company is having difficulty producing enough of the high-tech rocket engines to support plans to test the Starship and Super Heavy vehicles in 2022.

“I was going to take this weekend off, as my first weekend off in a long time, but instead I will be on the Raptor line all night and through the weekend,” Musk wrote. “Unless you have critical family matters or cannot physically return to Hawthorne, we need all hands on deck to recover from what is, quite frankly, a disaster.”

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#science, #spacex, #starlink, #starship

A routine Starlink launch turned into something otherworldly this weekend

SpaceX launches its 25th mission on Saturday, lifting above the fog.

Enlarge / SpaceX launches its 25th mission on Saturday, lifting above the fog. (credit: SpaceX)

By most measures, the Saturday morning launch of a previously flown Falcon 9 rocket seemed fairly pedestrian. After all, SpaceX had already launched 24 rockets this year, so adding one more Starlink satellite mission on top was no big deal. This has all become pretty routine.

Moreover, the company had already worked through a hectic week, safely landing the Crew-2 mission for NASA in the Gulf of Mexico on Monday night and turning around and launching the Crew-3 mission less than 48 hours later on Wednesday.

To top it off, the company oversaw a successful docking of the Crew-3 mission and its four astronauts with the International Space Station on Thursday evening.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#science, #spacex, #starlink

Starlink’s new Dishy McFlatface is smaller and lighter, still costs $499

A Starlink satellite dish mounted on a roof.

Enlarge / The new version of Dishy McFlatface. (credit: Starlink)

Starlink has replaced its user terminal with a new model that’s smaller and cheaper to produce, and the company updated the Wi-Fi router that ships in hardware kits sent to new subscribers. The $499 price that new Starlink users must pay for hardware is unchanged.

The rectangular satellite dish that will be sent to new users is 19 inches x 12 inches, compared to the original circular dish’s diameter of 23.2 inches. The dish’s weight is 9.2 pounds, down from the original’s 16 pounds. The operating temperature range of -22°F to +122°F (-30°C to +50°C) is unchanged, so the thermal shutdowns that have affected some users of the original “Dishy McFlatface” satellite dish could continue to be a problem.

The Federal Communications Commission approved Starlink’s new user terminals on Wednesday. The main differences between the old and new equipment are described in the specifications section of a support FAQ.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #dishy-mcflatface, #spacex, #starlink

After a rapid turnaround from a Crew Dragon landing, another one is set to fly

NASA and SpaceX had originally hoped to fly the next bunch of astronauts to the International Space Station in late October, but the Crew-3 mission has been subject to a handful of delays due to weather and health issues. But now, the mission managers say Crew-3 is ready to fly on a Falcon 9 rocket, with a liftoff set for 9:03 pm ET on Wednesday (02:03 UTC Thursday).

Four astronauts will launch inside Crew Dragon Endurance for this mission—NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, as well as European astronaut Matthias Maurer. After docking with the space station on Thursday, the astronauts will spend about six months in orbit performing a variety of science and maintenance operations.

Weather concerns

Poor weather precluded an initial launch attempt on Halloween. Conditions at the launch site weren’t bad, but flight controllers were concerned about high seas and strong winds offshore, where an extra-tropical system raged across the northern Atlantic Ocean. Had there been an emergency during the Falcon 9 rocket launch, the Crew Dragon spacecraft would have had to escape into unacceptably poor surface conditions.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#commercial-crew, #crew-3, #nasa, #science, #spacex

Double Dragon: NASA plans a SpaceX splashdown on Monday, launch Wednesday

The launch of the Crew-3 mission spacecraft, shown here, has been on hold since before Halloween.

Enlarge / The launch of the Crew-3 mission spacecraft, shown here, has been on hold since before Halloween. (credit: NASA)

NASA and SpaceX plan to return one Crew Dragon spacecraft from orbit on Monday evening and launch another two days later, on Wednesday night.

The agency’s crew flight plans have been in flux since just before Halloween, when weather concerns and then a “minor medical issue” with one of the four astronauts on the Crew-3 mission delayed the rocket’s launch from October 31 into November.

Since that time, NASA and SpaceX, which provides the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch system, have been evaluating a host of issues in order to determine how best to launch the Crew-3 mission and return the four Crew-2 astronauts from the International Space Station.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#commercial-crew, #nasa, #science, #spacex

Starlink gives mixed signals on whether some preorders are delayed until 2023

A Starlink satellite dish.

Enlarge (credit: Starlink)

Starlink has provided an encouraging update for preorderers who unexpectedly had their estimated delivery dates delayed to 2022 or 2023, but the Starlink website is still displaying delayed delivery dates to people who were previously told to expect service in 2021.

As we reported Tuesday, some people who preordered Starlink broadband made tiny changes to their service locations on the Starlink website and immediately had their estimated delivery dates delayed by a year or more. There was a spurt of people making these small changes because SpaceX’s satellite division urged them to use a mapping tool to ensure the accuracy of their location. But people said that even changes of a few feet delayed their orders from 2021 to 2022 or 2023, apparently sending them to the “back of the line.”

Starlink’s public relations division and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk did not respond to requests for comment, but a Starlink support FAQ was subsequently updated with this sentence:

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #spacex, #starlink

Blue Origin suffers grave setback as judge dismisses lawsuit against NASA

A man on a stage stands in front of full-size model of a spaceship.

Enlarge / Jeff Bezos had hoped to build a lunar lander for NASA. (credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

For Blue Origin, the honeymoon is over.

This summer, the company filed a lawsuit against NASA, claiming that the agency ignored its own requirements when it awarded the contract for the Human Landing System, intended to take astronauts to the Moon, to SpaceX. Today, the Court of Federal Claims dismissed the case in a one-page ruling, ending a tumultuous chapter in the relationship between the Jeff Bezos-backed space launch startup and the federal government.

The ruling was brief, simply granting the federal government’s motion to dismiss without going into detail. Judge Richard A. Hertling is giving Blue Origin and the government until November 18 to redact the full opinion before it’s released to the public.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#blue-origin, #human-landing-system, #jeff-bezos, #moon, #nasa, #science, #spacex

FCC approves Boeing satellites, rejecting SpaceX’s interference claims

A Boeing logo on the exterior of the company's headquarters.

Enlarge / Boeing office building in Arlington, Virginia. (credit: Getty Images | Olivier Douliery)

The Federal Communications Commission today gave Boeing permission to launch 147 broadband satellites. While that’s a fraction of the number of satellites approved for other low Earth orbit (LEO) constellations, the decision allows Boeing to compete in the emerging LEO satellite broadband market.

“As detailed in its FCC application, Boeing plans to provide broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental, and professional users in the United States and globally,” the FCC said in its announcement approving the license.

The 147 planned satellites include 132 low-Earth satellites orbiting at an altitude of 1,056 km and 15 “highly inclined satellites” that would orbit at altitudes between 27,355 and 44,221 km. The FCC authorized Boeing to conduct space-to-Earth transmissions in the 37.5–42.0 GHz frequency bands and Earth-to-space operations in the 47.2–50.2 GHz and 50.4–51.4 GHz bands.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #boeing, #spacex

Starlink nightmare: Moving service location a few feet delays orders until 2023

A Starlink satellite dish mounted on a roof.

Enlarge / Starlink satellite dish. (credit: Starlink)

Some people who preordered Starlink broadband say they made tiny changes to their service locations on the Starlink website and immediately had their delivery dates delayed by a year or more.

This isn’t a case of changing an address from one city to another; people say that using a newly prominent map tool to more accurately pinpoint their house essentially sends a person who preordered to the back of the line. One Reddit user wrote, “I moved it from the end of my driveway to my house this morning and just looked back and [the availability date] had changed to 2022-2023.” This person made the change because “it said to check your service address, and it didn’t tell me it would affect my pre-order! My driveway is about 1/4+ mile long, so it made sense to put the cursor at my house.”

“I fell victim to the shiny new map on the Starlink website,” wrote one person whose delivery date changed from late 2021 to late 2022 or early 2023. Another person wrote that moving the map pin “a few feet” made the delivery date go from mid-to-late 2021 to late 2022:

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #spacex, #starlink

Starlink exits beta, but SpaceX says orders are delayed due to chip shortage

A large circuit board that has been removed from a Starlink satellite dish.

Enlarge / A Starlink satellite dish’s printed circuit board. (credit: Ken Keiter)

If you ordered Starlink broadband service and don’t receive your “Dishy McFlatface” satellite dish any time soon, the global chip shortage may be one reason why.

“Silicon shortages have delayed production which has impacted our ability to fulfill orders. Please visit your Account page for the most recent estimate on when you can expect your order to be fulfilled,” SpaceX said in an FAQ on the Starlink support website. The language was added to the Starlink website on Thursday night, according to a PCMag article.

Starlink has apparently just exited its beta status. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in September that it would emerge from beta in October, and the word “beta” was deleted from descriptions on the Starlink homepage late last week. The website was also updated to advertise “download speeds between 100Mbps and 200Mbps and latency as low as 20ms in most locations,” an improvement over the previously stated “50Mbps to 150Mbps and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations.”

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #spacex, #starlink

How SpaceX ignited a new Raptor engine on Starship without an explosion

SpaceX ignites a vacuum-optimized Raptor engine attached to Starship on Thursday, October 21.

Enlarge / SpaceX ignites a vacuum-optimized Raptor engine attached to Starship on Thursday, October 21. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX took another step on Thursday evening toward validating the rocket engine technology that will power its Starship rocket. For the first time, engineers at the company ignited a vacuum version of a Raptor rocket engine that had been attached to the Starship upper stage.

The test-firing at sunset in South Texas lasted only a few seconds. But it appears to have been successful, and it checks another box in a series of technical tests SpaceX must complete before launching Starship on a Super Heavy rocket for an orbital test flight. This may happen sometime in early 2022.

SpaceX has test-fired its Starship vehicle with Raptor engines before, of course. In some prototype test flights, the vehicle has ascended up to about 10 km under the power of up to three Raptor “sea level” engines. But it is quite another thing to test a rocket with a version of Raptor optimized to operate in the vacuum of space.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#science, #spacex, #starship

Supporters and opponents of SpaceX launch site air their concerns

Rendering of SpaceX's Boca Chica launch site with FAA annotations.

Enlarge / Rendering of SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site with FAA annotations. (credit: FAA)

The Federal Aviation Administration convened the first of two virtual public hearings on Monday evening to solicit public comments on SpaceX’s plan to launch its Starship rocket from South Texas.

The hearing, which lasted nearly four hours, drew both passionate support for SpaceX’s plans to expand its Starbase facility as well as heated opposition. Limited to comments of three minutes or less, nearly five dozen people spoke during the hearing over Zoom.

By my informal counting, the comments tallied 39 in favor of the project and 18 against. The comments in favor of SpaceX were more likely to come from out of state, from people generally appreciative of the company’s efforts to make humanity a “multiplanetary species.” However, there were plenty of local supporters as well.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#boca-chica, #faa, #science, #spacex

Revealed: The secret notes of Blue Origin leaders trying to catch SpaceX

Revealed: The secret notes of Blue Origin leaders trying to catch SpaceX

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

About three years ago, Blue Origin officials knew they were behind, failing to deliver on their founder’s grandiose vision.

With Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos had long talked about building a world-class space transportation company and had even gone so far as to trademark “Build a Road to Space.” But despite being nearly two decades old, Blue Origin had not built a road to space, nor even launched an orbital rocket.

Meanwhile, the rocket company founded by Bezos’ rival, Elon Musk, had establishing itself as the most dominant launch company in the world. By the fall of 2018, SpaceX was well on its way to launching a record 21 rockets in a single year, had debuted the Falcon Heavy, and was starting to seriously reuse first stage boosters.

Read 49 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#blue-origin, #features, #science, #spacex

Researchers use Starlink satellites to pinpoint location, similar to GPS

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soaring upward just after being launched.

Enlarge / SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 60 Starlink satellites launches from the Kennedy Space Center on October 6, 2020, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto)

Signals from SpaceX Starlink broadband satellites can be used to pinpoint locations on Earth to within eight meters of accuracy, engineering researchers reported in a new peer-reviewed paper. Their report is part of a growing body of research into using signals from low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites for navigation, similar to how GPS works.

This technology won’t replace your smartphone’s map application any time soon, and this initial experiment apparently required 13 minutes of tracking six Starlink satellites to pinpoint a location on Earth. But researchers were able to achieve the locational feat without any help from SpaceX, and they say the test proves the method could be used for navigation.

“The researchers did not need assistance from SpaceX to use the satellite signals, and they emphasized that they had no access to the actual data being sent through the satellites—only to information related to the satellite’s location and movement,” an Ohio State News article said.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #gps, #spacex, #starlink

Inspiration4’s successful splashdown is just the beginning of private spaceflight for SpaceX

Just like that, they came back.

The Inspiration4 crew made a triumphant splashdown on Saturday evening off the east coast of Florida, marking the close of the first completely private, all-civilian space mission. SpaceX’s Go Searcher recovery ship hauled the Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, a little less than an hour after splashdown. The crew was then ferried via helicopter to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where they received standard medical checks.

The successful completion of the mission is a major triumph for Elon Musk and SpaceX (and, more peripherally, NASA, which funded the development of the tech), who conducted the entirety of the mission. It’s also perhaps our clearest signal that a new dawn of space travel is officially here.

Benji Reed, SpaceX’s senior director for human-spaceflight programs, told reporters that the company is seeing an increased number of inquiries from potential customers for private missions. The company could fly “three, four, five, six times a year at least,” he said.

Of course, mission commander Jared Isaacman is not the first billionaire to go to space. This summer, both Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos conducted their own orbital joy-rides in vehicles developed by their respective companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. But those trips were significantly shorter – Bezos and his three crewmates went to space and back in under fifteen minutes, essentially traveling in a long parabolic arc.

In contrast, the Inspiration4 crew spent three days orbiting Earth at an altitude that went as high as 590 kilometers – that’s higher than the International Space Station, meaning they were the most ‘outer’ of all the people in space. Over the course of their mission, they travelled around the Earth an average of fifteen times per day.

While in orbit, the crew conducted a handful of science experiments, mostly capturing data on themselves with the aim of furthering our understanding of the effects of spaceflight on the human body. The crew also spent some time in the large glass domed window, which SpaceX calls the “cupola,” snapping pictures of space.

Other than Isaacman, who made his fortune from his payment processing company Shift4 payments, the crew included physician assistant and childhood cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux; geoscientist Sian Proctor; and Lockheed Martin engineer Chris Sembroski. Among the other firsts for the crew, Arceneaux is the youngest American to go to space and the first person with a prosthesis to go to space; Proctor is the first Black woman to pilot a space mission.

The historic mission was paid for entirely by Isaacman, though both he and SpaceX are staying mum on how much it cost in total. Instead, the mission was being framed as a $200 million fundraiser for St. Jude Research Hospital, to which Isaacman donated $100 million and Musk donated $50 million. The fundraiser received an additional $60.2 million in public donations.

This is the second time the Resilience spacecraft has safely carried humans to and from space. The first mission, Crew-1, carried four astronauts (three from NASA, one from the Japanese space agency) to the ISS and returned them back to Earth in May. SpaceX will be conducting another handful of crewed missions over the next six months, including another mission to the ISS on behalf of NASA and the European Space Agency, as well as the private AX-1 mission on behalf of Axiom Space.

“Thanks so much SpaceX, that was a heck of a ride for us,” Isaacman said moments after the capsule landed. “We’re just getting started.”

Watch a full stream of the splashdown here:

#aerospace, #crew-dragon, #elon-musk, #inspiration4, #private-spaceflight, #space, #spacex

After Inspiration4, SpaceX sees high demand for free-flyer missions

Dr. Sian Proctor seems to have enjoyed three days in orbit.

Enlarge / Dr. Sian Proctor seems to have enjoyed three days in orbit. (credit: SpaceX)

Four amateur astronauts returned from a three-day private spaceflight this weekend overflowing with enthusiasm about the experience. “Best ride of my life,” said Dr. Sian Proctor, shortly after emerging from the Crew Dragon capsule.

Future customers for such a free-flying orbital experience, however, weren’t waiting for the initial reviews to express their interest in going to space. Even before the Crew Dragon spacecraft splashed down on Saturday night the Inspiration4 mission had already ignited a firestorm of interest.

“The amount of people who are approaching us through our sales and marketing portals has actually increased significantly,” said Benji Reed, Senior Director of Human Spaceflight Programs for SpaceX, during a call with reporters after the space tourism mission landed. “There’s tons of interest rolling in now.”

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#crew-dragon, #inspiration4, #science, #spacex

The FAA releases initial report on Boca Chica launches, and it’s not terrible

Photograph from beneath a giant rocket component.

Enlarge / SpaceX’s Booster 4 is lifted onto its orbital launch mount in South Texas. (credit: Elon Musk/Twitter)

The Federal Aviation Administration released a draft environmental review of SpaceX’s plans for orbital launches from South Texas on Friday, kicking off a 30-day public comment period.

The long-awaited procedural step is the first of several regulatory hurdles that SpaceX must clear before obtaining final permission to launch its Super Heavy booster and Starship upper stage from a site near Boca Chica, Texas. Such a launch likely remains months away, but it now appears that the feds will ultimately greenlight South Texas for orbital launches. That seemed far from assured before today.

The document, formally called a Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment, evaluates the potential environmental impacts of SpaceX’s Starship program, including launch and reentry. It also reviews debris recovery, the integration tower and other launch-related construction, and local road closures between Brownsville and Boca Chica beach.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#science, #spacex, #starship

Watch SpaceX launch the first all-civilian Inspiration4 mission to space live

After months of publicity, an NFT auction, and even a Netflix docu-series, it’s finally here: the four-person crew of Inspiration4 will be heading to space.

What makes this launch different from any that came before it? None of the four people onboard are astronauts. The mission marks the first time that an all-civilian crew will fly to space. Let’s meet them:

  • Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire whose fortune comes from the payment processing company Shift4 Payments, which went public in the summer of last year. He is the mission commander.
  • Sian Procter, a community college professor with a PhD in science education. Procter was among 47 finalists chosen by NASA for a 2009 astronaut class, though she was not one of the nine eventually chosen to join the agency. She will be Inspiration4’s pilot, the first Black woman to pilot a spacecraft. She’s 51.
  • Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old physician assistant at St. Jude’s Research Hospital and a survivor of childhood cancer. She’ll be the crew’s health officer.
  • Christopher Sembroski, a data engineer for Lockheed Martin, also a former camp counselor at none other than Space Camp. The 42-year-old will be acting as mission specialist.

The crew will be cruising to orbit inside a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, which will launch from a Falcon 9 rocket. They’ll spend three days flying around the Earth before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

SpaceX’s Youtube channel is hosting a live launch webcast starting from 3:45 PM EST, with the five-hour launch window opening at 8:02 PM EST. As of Sunday, Inspiration4 said weather conditions at Kennedy Space Center looked 70% favorable. There’s also a back-up launch window opening at the same time the following day.

#aerospace, #crew-dragon, #falcon-9, #inspiration4, #space, #spacex

SpaceX, Blue Origin awarded NASA contracts to develop moon lander concepts for future Artemis missions

NASA has awarded a combined $146 million in contracts to five companies, including SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics, to develop lander concepts as part of the agency’s Artemis program.

The awards include $26.5 million to Blue Origin; $40.8 million to Dynetics; $35.2 million to Lockheed Martin; $34.8 million to Northrop Grumman; and $9.4 million to SpaceX. Only two companies that submitted proposals, Blue Ridge Nebula Starlines and Cook & Chevalier Enterprises, did not receive contracts.

The contracts were awarded under NextSTEP-2 (Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships) Appendix N: Sustainable Human Landing System Studies and Risk Reduction. The solicitation, released at the beginning of July, says the objective of the contract is “to engage with potential commercial partners for concept studies, sustaining HLS concept of operations (ground and flight) development, and risk reduction activities.”

What that means in practice is that the selected companies will develop lander design concepts, including conducting component tests, and evaluate them for things like performance and safety.

These awards are separate from the Human Landing System contract that was given to SpaceX earlier this year – the one that both Blue Origin and Dynetics disputed to a government watchdog, and that Blue Origin later opposed in a lawsuit against NASA that’s still ongoing.

However, the outcome of this batch of awards will likely inform future lander development contracts through the rest of the decade.  “The work from these companies will ultimately help shape the strategy and requirements for a future NASA’s solicitation to provide regular astronaut transportation from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon,” the agency said in a statement.

The Artemis program was established in 2020 with a number of objectives, not only to return humans to the moon for the first time since the days of Apollo but to make such travel routine by the late 2020s. NASA isn’t just stopping at the moon; the agency also wants to expand into inter-planetary exploration, including human missions to Mars.

#aerospace, #artemis, #blue-origin, #dynetics, #human-landing-system-program, #lockheed-martin, #nasa, #northrop-grumman, #space, #spacex

SpaceX launches its first batch of Starlink satellites aimed at new coverage areas from California

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 51 of its Starlink satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Monday night at 8:55 PM PDT (11:55 PM EDT). This was the first launch for the Starlink satellite internet constellation from the west coast, and also the first batch of a second stage of Starlink satellite deployment, targeting a new orbital trajectory that will help the network provide service to new regions including Northern Canada and parts of Northern Europe.

The launch used a reflown Falcon 9 that had previously supported nine other missions, including seven prior Starlink flights. In total, SpaceX has now launched around 1,800 Starlink satellites, and it has been providing coverage to customers during its beta program for over a year now. The company said in August that it has now shipped around 100,000 terminals to customers, with over 90,000 active users on the service at the moment and a full order volume of around 500,000 kits in total.

SpaceX plans to expand the constellation considerably in order to continue to grow the footprint of where Starlink service is available globally. It ultimately aims to build out the constellation to where it consists of nearly 30,000 satellites, which should provide reliable worldwide broadband coverage for customers.

You can watch a full recap of Monday night’s launch below.

#space, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

Tesla should say something

Last weekend, a reader wrote to this editor, politely asking why tech companies should speak up about the abortion law that Texas passed last week.

“What does American Airlines have to do with abortion?” said the reader, suggesting that companies can’t possibly cater to both pro-abortion and anti-abortion advocates and that asking them to take a stand on an issue unrelated to their business would only contribute to the politicization of America.

It’s a widely held point of view, and the decision yesterday by the U.S. Department of Justice to challenge the law, which U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has called “clearly unconstitutional,” may well reinforce it. After all, if anyone should be pushing back against what happened in the Lone Star State, it should be other legislators, not companies, right?

Still, there are more reasons than not for technology companies – and particularly Tesla – to step out of the shadows and bat down this law.

It’s a fact that abortion restrictions lead to higher healthcare costs for employers, but one consequence of the Texas law that could hit tech companies especially hard is its impact on hiring. According to a study by the social enterprise Rhia Ventures, 60% of women say they would be discouraged from taking a job in a state that has tried to restrict access to abortion, and the same is true for a slight majority of men, the study found.

Texas’s abortion law also creates an extra-judicial enforcement mechanism that should alarm tech companies. The new law allows private citizens to sue not just abortion providers but anyone who wittingly or unwittingly helps a woman obtain an abortion, whether they have a connection to the case or not. More, there are significant financial awards should a plaintiff win: each defendant is subject to paying $10,000, as well as subject to covering the costs and plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.

Just imagine if this precedent were applied to an issue that involves technology companies, such as consumer privacy. As Seth Chandler, a law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, observed to ABC this week. “[the] recipe that SB 8 has developed is not restricted to abortion. It can be used for any constitutional rights that people don’t like.”

Tech companies might very well say that taking asides on the Texas abortion debate would be the political equivalent of jumping on a live wire, and it’s easy to sympathize with this viewpoint. Even though Pew Research reports that about 6 in 10 Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, passions are heated on both sides.

Still, corporations have safely stood up for their values on controversial issues before — and they’ve shown that corporate pressure works. In a 2016, a group of roughly 70 major corporations, including Apple, Cisco, and even, yes, American Airlines, joined a legal effort to block a North Carolina law that banned transgender people from using public bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Their ‘friend of the court’ brief argued that the law condoned “invidious discrimination” and would damage their ability to recruit and retain a diverse workforce.

By 2017, having already experienced severe economic consequences a lot of these same companies stopped doing business with North Carolina, the ban was rescinded.

The handful of CEOs, including from Lyft, Uber, Yelp, and Bumble have already taken very public positions against the next Texas law.  A company like Tesla could have an even bigger impact on the state’s politics. Elon Musk’s move to Texas ignited a firestorm of interest in the Texas tech scene, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott was so cognizant of Musk’s influence that he said Musk supported his state’s “social policies” the day after the new law was passed.

Musk — whose many financial interests in Texas include plans to build a new city called Starbase and to become a local electricity provider — has so far refused to take a stand on the law. When asked about the issue, he responded, “In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness.”

He also added that he would “prefer to stay out of politics.”

That could prove a mistake as lawmakers and executives in at least seven states, including Florida and South Dakota, have said they’re closing reviewing Texas’s new law and considering similar statutes.

In May 2019, nearly 200 CEOs, including Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Peter Grauer of Bloomberg a signed a full-page New York Times ad declaring that abortion bans are bad for business: “Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion,” the ad read, “threatens the health, independence and economic stability of our employees and customers.”

If Musk truly believes government should “rarely impose its will upon the people,” he should take a similar, public stand in Texas while the federal government fights what’s anticipated to be a long, uphill battle. He has little to lose in doing so — and much to gain.

#elon-musk, #spacex, #starbase, #tc, #tesla, #texas, #womens-rights

SpaceX calls Amazon’s protest of Starlink plan an irrelevant “diatribe”

Outside view of a warehouse with a large Amazon logo on the side of the building.

Enlarge / Amazon UK warehouse at Leeds Distribution Park on May 27, 2021, in Leeds, England. (credit: Getty Images | Nathan Stirk )

On Thursday, SpaceX called Amazon’s latest protest against Starlink plans an irrelevant “diatribe” that should be ignored by the Federal Communications Commission.

“Another week, another objection from Amazon against a competitor, yet still no sign of progress on Amazon’s own long-rumored satellite system,” SpaceX told the FCC in a filing. “In its latest diatribe, Amazon spends over six of eight pages on matters wholly irrelevant to the current proceeding or even matters currently before the commission.”

As we’ve reported, Amazon last month urged the FCC to reject SpaceX’s proposal for a next-generation version of Starlink that could include up to 30,000 broadband satellites. Amazon claims that SpaceX violated a rule against incomplete and inconsistent applications by submitting plans for “two mutually exclusive configurations” with “very different orbital parameters.”

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#amazon, #kuiper-systems, #policy, #spacex, #starlink