Blue Origin to auction the first seat on the first New Shepard tourist flight

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin announced today that it going to auction to the highest bidder the first tourist seat on the first New Shepard tourist flight, now scheduled for July 20, 2021, a little over two months from now. From the company^s website, where you can bid:

On July 20th, New Shepard will fly its first astronaut crew to space. We are offering one seat on this first flight to the winning bidder of an online auction.

There are three phases of the auction:

  • MAY 5-19: Sealed online bidding – you can bid any amount you want on the auction website (no bids are visible)
  • MAY 19: Unsealed online bidding – the bids become visible and participants must exceed the highest bid to continue in the auction
  • JUNE 12: Live auction – the bidding concludes with a live online auction.

The winning bid amount will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and help invent the future of life in space.

This is a very smart move, as it will generate some excitement and interest. It also schedules this private suborbital flight ahead of SpaceX’s first private orbital flight in September, allowing Blue Origin to upstage its rival somewhat.

It also is designed to help Blue Origin gauge the true interest in suborbital tourism. The final price will give them a good idea the right price to charge future passengers in order to sell the most tickets.

Finally, the timing of everything shows a nice historic touch. The announcement today took place on the 60th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight. The flight itself will take place on the 52rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.

Sierra Nevada gets clearance to land Dream Chaser in Florida

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada today announced that it has now gotten clearance to land its Dream Chaser-class Tenacity spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center, with a hoped-for first flight in ’22.

The Use Agreement makes SNC the first commercial user of Space Florida’s FAA Re-entry Site Operator License and provides the runway and support facilities needed during testing and landing. It also takes SNC one step further in applying for its own FAA re-entry license, something needed ahead of the first Dream Chaser mission next year.

Because Tenacity is a cargo freighter only, they do not plan a significant test program prior to that first launch to ISS.

Long March 5B crash window narrows, aims for U.S.

Long March 5B final orbits

Zoom into Long March 5B's track over the U.S.

The reentry window of the 21-ton core stage for China’s Long March 5B rocket, launched on April 29th, has now narrowed to only 28 hours, with the centerpoint of that window on May 9th over the Pacific, only about 20 minutes before reaching Mexico and the continental U.S.

The update by the Aerospace Corporation is shown in the maps above and to the right. With the right map I have zoomed into the section over the U.S. to show the potential path of this core stage should it come down a bit later than presently predicted.

The circled point is centerpoint of the reentry window. The yellow orbital tracks are after that point, with the blue tracks previous. The tick marks indicate 15-minute intervals.

As you can see, the centerpoint is only about 20 minutes before the stage crosses Mexico and begins a half hour traverse above the continental United States from Texas to Maryland. If the stage should manage to stay up for another full orbit it will once again traverse the continental U.S., this crossing from San Diego to Cape Cod.

If the stage comes down early instead it could land anywhere from southern Europe to Australia, with the Middle East and India in between.

As I have noted already, China designed and launched this rocket knowing it was creating a giant piece of space junk that was going to fall on someone’s head. Just as that communist government has not cared that it has been dumping first stages on its own people for decades, it apparently does not care that it is dumping even bigger first stages on everyone else. The Long March 5B is the rocket they are using to launch the modules to their space station, as well as many of the future planetary missions to the Moon and Mars. And every time they launch it they will be dumping a core stage on someone, a direct violation of the Outer Space Treaty that China has signed.

The world’s governments should be outraged, and teaming up to demand that either China change this situation or delay future Long March 5B launches, or face serious financial consequences. Sadly, I do not expect this, as our present political class is either incompetent or corrupt and in the deep financial pockets of the Chinese.

Fresh washes on Mars?

Meandering fresh wash on Mars?
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on January 29, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what the science team labels as “Fresh Shallow Valleys”. The section I have focused on shows a particularly interesting meander next to a small crater. The full image shows additional similar channels to the north, with one draining into a larger 3.7 mile wide crater.

The location is in the southern cratered highlands, at about 41 degrees south latitude, where much evidence of buried glacial features are found. That certainly is what we appear to see here. In fact, the wider view afforded by MRO’s context camera reveals many more such channels. That wider view also shows a much larger 18-mile-wide crater just to the north that appears filled with buried ice.

That the scientists label these fresh suggests they think they are relatively young, probably dating from when the most recent cycle of glacial growth probably ended. This would make them about 6 million years ago, based on this paper [pdf] and the second figure from that paper below.
» Read more

SpaceX successfully launches another 60 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, using its Falcon 9 rocket.

This raises the number of Starlink satellites to more than 1,600. The first stage also landed safely, completing its ninth flight.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

13 SpaceX
11 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 18 to 11 in the national rankings.

Today’s blacklisted American: Any conservative on Twitter

Twitter's idea of debate
Show trials: Debate as Twitter sees it.

Blacklists are back and Twitter’s got ’em: Rather than write today about a single specific individual being blacklisted and destroyed by today’s intolerant left, let’s take a look at one of that left’s most intolerant and oppressive blacklister, Twitter.

Like all the big tech social media companies such as Google and Facebook, Twitter is essentially run like a leftwing fiefdom. Though it allows conservative writers to post there, it makes it very clear that they are always under a probation that can be withdrawn immediately if someone in company’s workforce finds itself offended or disagreeing with something that conservative posted.

For example, in January religious radio host Michael Brown got banned from Twitter for twelve hours for simply posting a tweet where he asked this simple question: “Will I get punished by Twitter for saying that, in God’s sight, ‘Rachel’ Levine (nominated by Biden to be his assistant secretary for HHS) is a man?”
» Read more

Firefly raises $75 million in investment capital

Capitalism in space: Firefly announced today that it has raised an $75 million in investment capital, with plans for a future fund-raising round aimed at bringing in another $300 million following the inaugural launch of its Alpha rocket.

The launch itself has been delayed several times, from December and March. It now appears they are targeting mid-June.

The company claims the delays were caused by two factors, the failure of a subcontractor to deliver on time the flight termination system, and the company taking longer than expected to prepare its launchpad at Vandenberg.

On a positive note, the company received its FCC launch license a few weeks ago, which had been held up due to security concerns over the company’s former main investor, Ukrainian billionaire Max Polykov. It appears that when Polykov sold off much of his stock so that he no longer controls the company, this eliminated the security concerns.

Rocket engine startup Ursa Major Technologies

Capitalism in space: While there appear to presently be about 100+ new rocket company startups competing to garner market share in the growing satellite launch industry, it appears there is only one startup, Ursa Major Technologies, focused solely on building rocket engines for those rockets.

The company’s business model is based on the idea that while many launch providers make their own propulsion systems, others will choose outsourcing so they don’t have to invest money and time in risky engine development.

It presently has a small engine, dubbed Hadley, that is set to launch on another company’s rocket in ’22, and a larger engine, dubbed Ripley, that is being developed and has a contract for use by the new rocket startup Phantom Space.

In a sense this company is conceivable in competition with Momentus, which builds and sells a space tug, essentially an upper stage engine, for moving smallsats from one orbit to another. Both are aiming for a niche within the new smallsat industry by providing rockets and satellites engines.

If the industry grows as big as hoped, both will likely have plenty of business.

SLS core stage arrives in Florida

The core stage of NASA’s SLS rocket has arrived in Florida and has now begun the processing to get it ready for launch anywhere from six to ten months from now.

Approximately six months of work is anticipated to finish assembly and complete a long series of tests and checkouts of SLS and the Orion spacecraft it will send to the Moon, but current forecasts of this first-time integration work estimate closer to ten months to complete the necessary operations. After the vehicle is put together, weeks and weeks of testing to make sure SLS and Orion are properly talking to each other, as well as the EGS ground infrastructure, will follow.

…Recent schedules showed the remainder of work to reach launch readiness extending for ten months once the core stage arrived. That time includes six months of operations to the “work to” launch readiness and four months of “risk factor”. The “work to” launch readiness date, which would still have to synchronize to a lunar launch window, is currently early-November 2021. With risk factored in, a date of early-March 2022 is derived.

NASA has not yet changed that November ’21 target for launch, though all reports strongly suggest it cannot be met.

Regardless, even if they can get this thing launched by November, the long prep time shows once again how cumbersome and inefficient this rocket would be if anyone tried to use it to explore space. NASA says that after this first launch the prep time will be shorter, but even if it is trimmed to three months (the best estimate I’ve seen) it simply isn’t good enough. SpaceX has already demonstrated that is can fly two different Starship prototypes in less than thirty days (with #10 flying March 3rd and #11 flying March 30th). The company’s goal is many flights frequently, and it so far is proving that this goal will be achievable. And it will do it placing more payload in orbit for pennies (compared to the cost of SLS).

I still predict that there is a better than 50% chance that the first orbital launch of Starship/Superheavy will occur before SLS, even though the former began actual hardware development only two years ago.

I also think that we are now in the final stages of the entire SLS program. As with all similar big NASA-led rocket projects started since the mid-1980s, it will die stillborn. The previous projects never even got built after spending billions on blueprints and powerpoint presentations. SLS will likely get at least two flights (assuming nothing goes wrong with the first). After that NASA and the federal government will shut it down because by that time there will be far better and cheaper options available.

Today’s blacklisted American: controversial Nick Fuentes

Banned by the Biden administration
Banned by the Biden administration

Blacklists are back and the Dems’ have got ’em: Routinely called a racist, bigot, white supremacist, and (of course) an alt-right conservative by the mainstream press, controversial Nick Fuentes’ track record is far from that straight-forward. Though it appears he has often taken some ugly positions and made some even more ugly statements, he apparently has never done anything illegal or outright bigoted.

No matter to the Biden administration and the TSA. They have blacklisted him, banning him from flying on any American airline.

Moreover, the federal government is not the only one blacklisting Fuentes because they don’t like his opinions. As Fuentes himself noted in a April 27th tweet:

Since attending President Trump’s rally on the Ellipse on January 6th I’ve been:

-Banned from AirBnB, Facebook, Instagram, DLive, and Coinbase
-Banned from every payment processor
-Had a bank account frozen
-Put on the no-fly list

And I haven’t even done anything wrong!

The most important line in his tweet is the last one. What he has said might be wrong-headed, bigoted, or stupid, but in a free country that defends its first amendment, he would be within his rights to say it, and would have broken no laws by doing so.

We no longer live in that long gone free nation. Now we live in a place that routinely uses power to squash radical positions, except when those opinions happen to be leftist radical positions. Those Marxist opinions are always blessed with immunity, no matter how bigoted or vile. In fact, if you dare to criticize the dominant Marxist and bigoted culture in any way at all, you are guaranteed to be called a bigot and are likely to be blacklisted, like Fuentes, for doing so.

A river of lava on Mars as long as the Columbia

Lava flow in Kasei Valles
Click for full image.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Mars is strange, Mars is wonderful, but above all, Mars is alien. Today’s cool image illustrates this saying quite nicely.

The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on February 1, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and was simply labeled “Sacra Sulci Lava”. Sacra Sulci is a section of the Kasei Valles canyon that runs from the north rim of Valles Marineris north about 1,000 miles where it turns east for about 600 miles to drain out into the northern lowlands plains of Mars. Sacra Sulci is the region where that valley narrows and then turns east.

Apparently the flat smoother areas on the east and south on this image that rise about 60 feet above the surrounding terrain and that also seem to flow around mesas and into canyons are believed to be the edge of a massive lava flow that occurred about 150 to 200 million years ago and drained through Kasei Valles, just like water.

What makes this puzzling, however, is that everything I had read previously about Kasei Valles said that it was thought to have been formed from catastrophic floods of water on early Mars, when the planet was warmer and wetter. In fact, I had posted previously about this theory, and included the map below, taken from figure 8 of this paper [pdf], showing part of the process that some scientists believe occurred.
» Read more

Long March 5B crash estimate as of today

May 3rd prediction of Long March 5B crash
Click for full image.

According to estimates this morning by the Aerospace Corporation, the 21-ton core stage of China’s Long March 5B rocket will come crashing down to Earth sometime on May 10th, plus or minus 41 hours.

Their map to the right illustrates all the orbits that will take place during that time period, which in turn shows all the possible places that core stage might land. For example, though the center point in that time period puts the stage down in the Pacific west of South America, should it go down just a little more than two orbits later it will then be crossing over the entire continental United States, with even a very slim chance it could land on my own house in Arizona! If it should come down a little early instead it could land on Europe, the Middle East, India, or Australia.

This estimate is very very uncertain, and will be refined in the days ahead, though because of the chaotic nature of decaying orbits it will be impossible to refine it to less than half an orbit, even on the day of its return.

Nor can anyone do anything about it. Large sections of this big piece of hardware is going to hit the ground in an uncontrolled manner. And China, a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty which forbids exactly this sort of uncontrolled reentry, launched it anyway.

Virgin Galactic delays quarterly earnings report

Waiting for Godot: Even as Blue Origin is finally about to announce the start of commercial ticket sales for its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft, Virgin Galactic has delayed release of its first quarter earnings report so that it will be released after, not before, that Blue Origin announcement.

Virgin Galactic claims the six day delay is in order to adjust numbers due to a new SEC requirement announced in mid-April. However, placing it after Blue Origin’s announcement instead of just the day before minimizes what would have been a very ugly-looking public relations disaster.

Whatever the actual reason for the delay, the prospect of delivering yet another dismal earnings report only hours before Blue Origin’s announcement could not have been an attractive one for Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier and new CFO Doug Ahrens. The quarterly earnings call is a major opportunity to influence Wall Street analysts who make recommendations on whether to buy or sell the company’s stock.

Virgin Galactic is expected to report a significant loss with minimal or no revenues as it struggles to complete the flight test program for its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, VSS Unity. Virgin Galactic’s net lost was $273 million for 2020, including a $74 million net loss for the fourth quarter.

Virgin Galactic’s stock has been taking a pounding lately. After opening at $10.75 on the first day of trading on Oct. 28, 2019, the stock soared to a high of $62.80. It is now trading at $22.15, having lost all of its gains for the year.

That both Richard Branson, the company’s founder, and Chamath Palihapitiya, the big investor when the company went public, have both sold off large portions of their stock in the past few months has also contributed to the bad press. Both took advantage of the high stock prices and apparently got out when the getting was good.

I fully expect this company to fail in the next year or two. If it doesn’t it surely will never achieve any of the many grandiose promises put forth by Branson for almost two decades.

Sunspot update: Sunspot activity continues to exceed predictions

The uncertainty of science: On May 1st NOAA updated its monthly graph to show the Sun’s sunspot activity through the end of April 2021. As I do every month, I have annotated it to show the previous solar cycle predictions and posted it below.

In my sunspot update last month I reviewed in detail the range of predictions by solar scientist for the upcoming solar maximum, noting that based on the higher than expected sunspot activity that has been occurring since the ramp up to solar maximum began in 2020, it appeared that all of their predictions might be wrong. The continuing high activity that occurred in April continued that trend.

» Read more

Resilience successfully splashes down in Gulf of Mexico

Resilience May 1, 2021 returning to Earth

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Resilience capsule successfully splashed down tonight in Gulf of Mexico, returning four astronauts from a six month mission on ISS.

The infrared image to the right was taken from an airplane, just after the main parachutes deployed.

They are presently in the process of recovering the capsule and crew, which will take another hour or so. You can watch SpaceX’s live stream here.

Resilience’s next flight will be the first entirely commercial manned orbital flight, presently scheduled for September 15, 2021. Dubbed Inspiration4, it will carry four private passengers for a flight of two to four days. They will not dock with ISS, but instead orbit the Earth freely. SpaceX will also replace the docking port on Resilience with a domed cupola to provide the passengers more room and a great view during their flight.

SpaceX to attempt first night splashdown since Apollo 8 in 1968

Capitalism in space: Because of weather delays, SpaceX will now attempt the splashdown of Resilience carrying four astronauts from ISS in the predawn hours tomorrow, the first nighttime splashdown in more than a half century, since Apollo 8 in 1968.

Resilience will undock from ISS tonight at 8:35 pm (Eastern), and splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:57 am (Eastern).

This will also be only the third nighttime landing ever. Besides Apollo 8, which was planned, in 1976 Soyuz 23 failed to dock with the Soviet Union’s Salyut 5 station and came home after only two days in space. That unplanned landing also turned out to be the first and only manned splashdown ever in Russian history, as the capsule landed on frozen Lake Tengiz in Kazakhstan, breaking through the ice, during a blizzard. The two astronauts were safely recovered, though their return to Earth was far from pleasant.

China’s Long March 4C rocket successfully launches Earth observation satellite

China yesterday successfully launched an Earth observation satellite using its Long March 4C rocket from its interior Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in inner Mongolia. Its first stage, using toxic fuels, will fall on land somewhere in China.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

12 SpaceX
11 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 17 to 11 in the national rankings.

China’s 21-ton Long March 5B core stage to make uncontrolled re-entry

For the second time in two launches, the 21-ton core stage of China’s Long March 5B rocket is about to make uncontrolled re-entry, with a mass large enough that some part of it is certain to hit the ground.

Where and when the new Long March 5B stage will land is impossible to predict. The decay of its orbit will increase as atmospheric drag brings it down into more denser. The speed of this process depends on the size and density of the object and variables include atmospheric variations and fluctuations, which are themselves influenced by solar activity and other factors.

The high speed of the rocket body means it orbits the Earth roughly every 90 minutes and so a change of just a few minutes in reentry time results in reentry point thousands of kilometers away.

The Long March 5B core stage’s orbital inclination of 41.5 degrees means the rocket body passes a little farther north than New York, Madrid and Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, and could make its reentry at any point within this area.

The previous core stage hit the Atlantic Ocean six days after launch in May 2020. Had it come down fifteen to thirty minutes earlier it would have come down on U.S. soil, possibly even on top of the New York metropolitan area.

China’s design for this rocket means that every single launch will result in similar potential disasters. They cannot restart the core stage’s engines after cut-off, so that once it has delivered its payload it is nothing more than a very big and uncontrolled brick that has to hit the ground somewhere.

This is a direct violation of the Outer Space Treaty, which China is a signatory. The treaty makes signatories liable for any damage from an uncontrolled re-entry, and requires them to take action to prevent such events from occurring.

China it appears doesn’t care much about the treaties it signs. The first time could be rung up to a mistake. The second time is intentional and tells us that this country will not honor any of its obligations anywhere else, if it decides it can get away with it.

NASA suspends Starship lunar lander contract award due to protests

Because of the protests filed by both Blue Origin and Dynetics, NASA has temporarily suspended the contract with SpaceX for using its Starship spaceship for manned lunar landings.

NASA now has told SpaceX to stop work until GAO determines the outcome. A NASA spokesperson provided this statement to this afternoon. “Pursuant to the GAO protests, NASA instructed SpaceX that progress on the HLS contract has been suspended until GAO resolves all outstanding litigation related to this procurement.” The issuance of the stop work order was first reported by Space News.

GAO has 100 days — until August 4, 2021 — to make a decision.

The odds are very likely that the GAO will reject both protests, but not certain. Meanwhile expect SpaceX to continue development of Starship regardless, as they already have about $6 billion in private investment capital in the bank for this project.

I also will predict that should GAO accept the protests and force NASA to reopen the bids, neither Blue Origin nor Dynetics will be able to make an offer that matches SpaceX anyway. And if they do win a contract, I predict that SpaceX will still launch and land on the Moon before them, based on their track records versus SpaceX’s.

Ingenuity’s fourth flight today a success

Ingenuity's 4th flight
For original images, go here, here, here, and here.

As planned, Ingenuity took off early today on Mars at 12:33:20 pm (local Mars time). Data from the full flight has now arrived on Earth, with images that show the helicopter rising, moving about, and then landing. The montage above captures the part of the flight visible from one of Perservance’s cameras.

Apparently Ingenuity was in the air for about two minutes, and landed a bit to the right of its take-off point. We will have to wait for an update from the engineering team to find out exactly what happened.

UPDATE: Mimi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager, posted a report later today:

The helicopter took off at 10:49 a.m. EDT (7:49 a.m. PDT, or 12:33 local Mars time), climbing to an altitude of 16 feet (5 meters) before flying south approximately 436 feet (133 meters) and then back, for an 872-foot (266-meter) round trip. In total, we were in the air for 117 seconds.

The helicopter also took a lot of images, which they are presently in the process of downloading and reviewing.

Today’s blacklisted Americans: Any conservative trying to get published by Simon & Schuster

Cancelled Bill of Rights
No longer valid for too many employees
at Simon & Schuster.

Blacklists are back and book publishers want ’em: A petition of about 14% of the workforce at the book publisher Simon & Schuster is demanding that all former Trump administration officials be blacklisted from publication.

The petition demanding the New York publishing conglomerate to stop treating “the Trump administration as a ‘normal’ chapter in American history” collected 216 internal signatures, representing approximately 14% of the company’s workforce, and support from several thousand nonemployees, according to the Wall Street Journal. The petition singled out a planned two-part autobiography to be authored by former Vice President Mike Pence, which the publisher’s employees alleged amounted to support for “racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, misogyny, ableism, islamophobia, antisemitism, and violence” in the online petition.

While the publisher has rejected the call to cancel Pence’s autobiography, it still has a track record of blacklisting conservatives. » Read more

Fourth flight of Ingenuity set for today; shifting to operational phase

Ingenuity close-up taken by Perseverance April 28th
Ingenuity close-up taken by Perseverance April 28th

Even as the Ingenuity engineering team will attempt a fourth flight of Ingenuity, JPL announced today that they and NASA have decided to now shift to operational flights, attempting to duplicate the kind of scouting missions that such helicopters will do on future rovers.

The second link takes you to the live stream of the press conference. The press release is here.

Essentially, they will send Ingenuity on a series of scouting missions after this fourth flight, extending its 30 day test program another 30 days. Its engineers will be working with the Perseverance science team to go where those scientists want to send it. After the fourth and fifth test flights they will fly Ingenuity only periodically, separated by weeks, and send it to scout places Perseverance can’t reach, and have it land at new sites that Perseverance scouted out as it travels.

They have decided to do this because they want to spend more time in this area on the floor of Jezero Crater, for several reasons. First, they are still testing the rover to get it to full working operations. Second, they want to obtain some samples for future pickup at this location. Third, they want to spend an extensive amount of time exploring the floor up to a mile south of their present location.

Finally, the relatively flat terrain is perfect for testing and actually using the helicopter as a scout.

Though the extension is for 30 days, and though the helicopter was not built for long term survival, there is no reason it cannot continue indefinitely until something finally breaks.

Right now they are awaiting the data from the fourth flight, which will arrive at 1:39 pm (Eastern) and will be used to determine what the fifth flight will do, probably a week from now.

Blue Origin ticket sales on New Shepard begin next week

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin announced yesterday that it will begin selling ticket for tourist flights on its suborbital New Shepard spacecraft on May 5th, which is also the 60th anniversary of the suborbital flight of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space.

At that time the company will likely reveal its ticket price, and when the first commercial flights will actually take place. As of now New Shepard has not yet flown any humans on any spacecraft, including the one now undergoing tests. That capsule has flown twice, and is likely the capsule that will be used for the first manned flights.

Nelson confirmed as NASA administrator

The Senate unanimously confirmed former senator Bill Nelson as NASA administrator yesterday.

Not much to say that hasn’t been said previously. Nelson, a Democrat, is 78 years old, and has shown signs of his age. His testimony during confirmation hearings suggested that he, like his boss Biden, is essentially going to rubberstamp the policies told to him by his bureaucracy, which in the case of NASA means a continuation of Artemis under a pro-capitalism framework.

FAA approves next three Starship test flights with prototype #15

Capitalism in space: In a statement today the FAA announced that it has approved next three test flights of SpaceX’s Starship prototype #15.

From the statement:

The FAA has authorized the next three launches or the SpaceX Starship prototype. The agency approved multiple launches because SpaceX is making few changes on the launch vehicle and relied on the FAA’s approved methodology to calculate the risk to the public. The FAA authorized the launches on Wednesday, April 28.

This likely means that SpaceX will try a flight tomorrow.

Stratolaunch’s Roc, biggest plane ever, makes 2nd flight

Stratolaunch today successfully completed the second test flight of its gigantic airplane Roc, biggest plane ever flown, and the first flight in two years.

Today’s takeoff from California’s Mojave Air and Space Port at 7:28 a.m. PT marked the first time the plane, nicknamed Roc after the giant bird of Arabian and Persian mythology, got off the ground since Stratolaunch’s acquisition by Cerberus Capital Management in October 2019.

Roc rose as high as 14,000 feet and traveled at a top speed of 199 mph during a flight that lasted three hours and 14 minutes — which is close to an hour longer than the first flight on April 13, 2019. During that earlier flight, the airplane reached a maximum speed of 189 mph and maximum altitude of 17,000 feet.

Since the death of Paul Allen, the original owner, Cererus has re-purposed Roc from a platform for orbital rockets to a testbed platform for launching the three hypersonic test planes that the company is building. These planes will allow for regular and frequent flight tests of this technology, something that has been lacking since the days of the X-15 in the 1950s.

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