Archive for the ‘spacex’ Category

Relativity has a bold plan to take on SpaceX, and investors are buying it

June 8th, 2021
A rendering of the Terran R rocket in flight.

Enlarge / A rendering of the Terran R rocket in flight. (credit: Relativity Space)

Relativity Space announced Tuesday morning that it has raised an additional $650 million in private capital and that this money will fuel an ambitious agenda of 3D printing large, reusable rockets.

The new funding will accelerate development of the “Terran-R” launch vehicle, Relativity Chief Executive Tim Ellis said in an interview. This large orbital rocket will be about the same size as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. However, Ellis said, the entire vehicle will be reusable—the first and second stages, as well as the payload fairing. And it will have the capacity to lift 20 tons to low Earth orbit in reusable mode, about 20 percent more than a Falcon 9 booster that lands on a drone ship.

With the Terran-R vehicle, therefore, Ellis said Relativity Space aspires to not just match the remarkably capable Falcon 9 rocket but to exceed its performance.

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Falcon 9 completes its 100th successful flight in a row [Updated]

May 26th, 2021
Photo of the Starlink payload on top of a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida this week.

Enlarge / Photo of the Starlink payload on top of a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida this week. (credit: SpaceX)

Update, 3:30 pm EDT: Under bright blue skies, the Falcon 9 rocket took off from Florida on Wednesday afternoon and promptly delivered its Starlink payload into orbit. This booster has truly become the workhorse of the global launch industry:

Original post, 1:31 pm EDT: SpaceX will attempt to launch another batch of 60 Starlink satellites today at 2:59 pm ET (18:59 UTC) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. This marks the 28th overall launch of operational Starlink satellites.

The most notable aspect of today’s mission is that it would be the 100th consecutive successful flight for the Falcon 9 rocket. This record dates back to June 2015, when the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage failed during the launch of a cargo supply mission to the International Space Station. The Dragon capsule was lost after the second stage broke apart and sank into the Atlantic Ocean.

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Congress fires warning shot at NASA after SpaceX Moon lander award

May 13th, 2021
Committee Chair Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., listens to former US Sen. Bill Nelson, President Biden’s nominee to be the next administrator of NASA, on April 21, 2021.

Enlarge / Committee Chair Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., listens to former US Sen. Bill Nelson, President Biden’s nominee to be the next administrator of NASA, on April 21, 2021. (credit: NASA)

On Wednesday, a US senator added an amendment to unrelated science legislation that would impose significant restrictions on NASA and its plans to return to the Moon.

The amendment (see document) was spurred by NASA’s decision in April to select SpaceX as its sole provider of a human landing system for the Artemis Program. Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from the state of Washington, where Blue Origin is based, authored the legislation. Owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin led a lunar lander bid that was rejected by NASA.

The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed the amendment without any debate, adding the NASA changes to the Endless Frontier Act, a bill to keep US scientific and technology innovation competitive with China and other countries.

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FCC lets SpaceX cut satellite altitude to improve Starlink speed and latency

April 27th, 2021
A SpaceX Starlink user terminal, also known as a satellite dish, seen against a city's skyline.

Enlarge / A SpaceX Starlink user terminal/satellite dish. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX today was granted permission to use a lower orbit for Starlink satellites, as regulators agreed with SpaceX that the change will improve broadband speed and latency while making it easier to minimize orbital debris. In granting SpaceX’s request, the Federal Communications Commission dismissed opposition from Viasat, Hughes, Dish Network, OneWeb, the Amazon subsidiary known as Kuiper, and other satellite companies that claimed the change would cause too much interference with other systems.

In 2018, SpaceX received FCC approval to launch 4,425 broadband satellites at orbits of 1,110 km to 1,325 km. Today’s FCC order granting SpaceX’s license-change request lowers the altitude for 2,814 of the satellites, letting them orbit in the 540-570 km range. Today’s FCC order will also let SpaceX use a lower elevation angle for antennas on user terminals and gateway Earth stations.

“Based on our review, we agree with SpaceX that the modification will improve the experience for users of the SpaceX service, including in often-underserved polar regions,” the FCC order said. “We conclude that the lower elevation angle of its earth station antennas and lower altitude of its satellites enables a better user experience by improving speeds and latency.”

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China’s state rocket company unveils rendering of a Starship look-alike

April 26th, 2021
Screenshot of a presentation from China's main state-owned rocket manufacturer, CALT.

Enlarge / Screenshot of a presentation from China’s main state-owned rocket manufacturer, CALT. (credit: Weibo/CALT)

This weekend, China celebrated its sixth “National Space Day” in Nanjing, a capital city in one of the country’s eastern provinces. As part of the festivities, Chinese space officials highlighted the Chang’e-5 mission’s recent return of lunar samples, some of which were on display, and announced the name of China’s first Mars rover, Zhurong, which is scheduled to land on the red planet in May.

A booth operated by China’s main state-owned rocket manufacturer, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, also spotlighted the potential for suborbital point-to-point transportation. This is a concept in which a vehicle launches from Earth, flies into suborbital space, and touches down halfway around the world in less than an hour.

The promotional video, captured and shared on the Chinese social network Weibo, shows two different concepts for achieving suborbital passenger flights about two decades from now. What is interesting about the video (which I’ve mirrored on YouTube) is that the first concept looks strikingly like SpaceX’s Starship vehicle. It shows a large vehicle capable of vertical takeoff and vertical landing.

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NASA gets what it wanted: Independent, reliable access to space

April 23rd, 2021

In three months, NASA will come upon the 10th anniversary of the final space shuttle flight, a period that was surely melancholy for the space agency.

When the big, white, winged vehicles touched down for the final time in July 2011, NASA surrendered its ability to get humans into space. It had to rely on Russia for access to the International Space Station. And the space agency had to fight the public perception that NASA was somehow a fading force, heading into the sunset.

Now we know that will not be the case, and the future appears bright for the space agency and its international partners. On Friday morning, NASA and SpaceX launched the third mission of Crew Dragon that has carried astronauts into space. After nearly a decade with no human orbital launches from the United States, there have been three in less than 11 months. Another successful mission further confirmed that the combination of Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft is a reliable means of getting crews to the International Space Station.

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NASA’s bold bet on Starship for the Moon may change spaceflight forever

April 23rd, 2021
In the future, what might lunar exploration look like if NASA can send multiple Starships there each year? This SpaceX rendering offers a vision of one such future.

Enlarge / In the future, what might lunar exploration look like if NASA can send multiple Starships there each year? This SpaceX rendering offers a vision of one such future. (credit: SpaceX)

When NASA astronauts return to the Moon in a few years, they will do so inside a lander that dwarfs that of the Apollo era. SpaceX’s Starship vehicle measures 50 meters from its nose cone to landing legs. By contrast, the cramped Lunar Module that carried Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin down to the Moon in 1969 stood just 7 meters tall.

This is but one of many genuinely shocking aspects of NASA’s decision a week ago to award SpaceX—and only SpaceX—a contract to develop, test, and fly two missions to the lunar surface. The second flight, which will carry astronauts to the Moon, could launch as early as 2024.

NASA awarded SpaceX $2.89 billion for these two missions. But this contract would balloon in amount should NASA select SpaceX to fly recurring lunar missions later in the 2020s. And it has value to SpaceX and NASA in myriad other ways. Perhaps most significantly, with this contract NASA has bet on a bold future of exploration. Until now, the plans NASA had contemplated for human exploration in deep space all had echoes of the Apollo program. NASA talked about “sustainable” missions and plans in terms of cost, but they were sustainable in name only.

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Rocket Report: Amazon bypasses New Glenn, SLS ready for Florida shipment

April 23rd, 2021
NASA and Boeing work to remove the SLS rocket core stage from its test stand in Mississippi.

Enlarge / NASA and Boeing work to remove the SLS rocket core stage from its test stand in Mississippi. (credit: NASA)

Welcome to Edition 3.42 of the Rocket Report! This week we have an update on Virgin Orbit, which has signed a multilaunch deal for its LauncherOne vehicle. Additionally, NASA has provided a couple of news items on the Space Launch System rocket, suggesting progress on not just the first core stage, but on cores for future Artemis launches.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Virgin Orbit to launch six satellites for QinetiQ. The California-based satellite-launch company said on Wednesday it has been selected by defense and security company QinetiQ and geospatial analytics company HyperSat to launch a series of six hyperspectral satellites to low Earth orbit. The first satellite will launch no earlier than 2023 on Virgin’s LauncherOne rocket.

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SpaceX says OneWeb spread false story of “near-miss” satellite collision

April 21st, 2021
A stack of 60 Starlink satellites being launched into space, with Earth in the background.

Enlarge / A stack of 60 Starlink satellites launched in 2019. (credit: SpaceX / Flickr)

SpaceX has accused satellite-broadband rival OneWeb of spreading a false story claiming that the companies’ satellites nearly crashed into each other.

In reality, “[t]he probability of collision never exceeded the threshold for a [collision-avoidance] maneuver, and the satellites would not have collided even if no maneuver had been conducted,” SpaceX told the Federal Communications Commission in an ex parte filing. The filing describes a meeting that SpaceX and OneWeb representatives had with FCC staff yesterday in which SpaceX said it “corrected the record regarding recent press reports regarding physical coordination between SpaceX and OneWeb.”

The meeting came one day after The Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Elon Musk’s Satellite Internet Project Is Too Risky, Rivals Say.” The Journal article described OneWeb’s allegations as follows:

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Dishy McFlatface to become “fully mobile,” allowing Starlink use away from home

April 19th, 2021
A Starlink satellite dish sits on the ground in a clearing in the middle of a forest.

Enlarge / A Starlink satellite dish in the Idaho panhandle’s Coeur d’Alene National Forest. (credit: Wandering-coder)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk expects the Starlink satellite broadband service to be “fully mobile” later in 2021, allowing customers to use the satellite dishes away from home.

“Yeah, should be fully mobile later this year, so you can move it anywhere or use it on an RV or truck in motion. We need a few more satellite launches to achieve comp[l]ete coverage & some key software upgrades,” Musk wrote on Twitter Thursday.

SpaceX revealed a portion of its mobile plans last month when it asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to deploy a modified version of its user terminal to moving vehicles. But while that application is for a not-yet-released version of the terminal with “mountings that allow them to be installed on vehicles, vessels, and aircraft,” Musk’s comment about Starlink being “fully mobile” later this year was in reference to the standard terminal that has been deployed to beta customers the past few months.

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