Tag Archives: capitalism

SpaceX bans use of Zoom by employees

For security reasons, SpaceX has banned its employees from using Zoom for video conferencing or communications.

Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX has banned its employees from using video conferencing app Zoom, citing “significant privacy and security concerns,” according to a memo seen by Reuters, days after U.S. law enforcement warned users about the security of the popular app.

…The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Boston office on Monday issued a warning about Zoom, telling users not to make meetings on the site public or share links widely after it received two reports of unidentified individuals invading school sessions, a phenomenon known as “zoombombing.”

Investigative news site The Intercept on Tuesday reported that Zoom video is not end-to-end encrypted between meeting participants, and that the company could view sessions.

It appears that Musk’s concern is that someone might use Zoom’s security weaknesses to do some industrial spying. Based on what I have read about Zoom, it seems to me that Musk’s concern is valid.

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Momentus wins contract with Taiwan university

Capitalism in space: Momentus, a company that sells a small upper stage designed to provide orbital transportation for cubesats, has won a new contract with Taiwan university.

Under the agreement, Momentus will provide in-space transportation for a satellite mission called Intelligent Remote-Sensing and Internet Satellite (IRIS)-A. Odysseus is providing pre-launch testing and arranging launch services for the IRIS-A mission developed by Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University. IRIS-A is designed to test technology to improve the quality of downlink signals.

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, Momentus executives say they are continuing to sign up customers interested in traveling on Vigoride, a vehicle to move small satellites from their drop-off point in orbit to their final destination.

The article does not say what rocket will launch the cubesat plus Vigoride, but Momentus has a contract with SpaceX to launch five cubesats as secondary payloads, so this is probably how the payload will reach orbit.

Normally cubesats launched as secondary payloads on big rockets like the Falcon 9 have very limited options on the orbits they can reach. The primary payload’s requirements are what rules. The idea here is Vigoride takes over once deployed and moves the satellite to the exact orbit needed. If Momentus is successful in doing this it will give cubesat makers many more launch options. It will also put more competitive pressure on the smallsat rockets like Rocket Lab’s Electron, since its main selling point is how it can put cubesats where they want to go, something that bigger rockets have not been able to do, up until now.

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NASA selects full crew for first operational Dragon mission

Even though SpaceX’s first demonstration manned mission to ISS has not yet occurred, NASA yesterday announced the selection of the full four person crew for the second flight, set for later this year and intended as the first operational mission to ISS, lasting six months.

This announcement tells us several things, all good. First, it appears NASA has now definitely decided that the demo mission, presently scheduled for mid-May, will be a short-term mission. They had considered making it a six-month mission, but it now appears they have concluded doing so will delay the demo launch too much.

Second, that NASA is solidifying its plans for that operational flight, the second for Dragon, including a tentative launch date later in 2020, is further evidence that they intend to go through with the demo mission in mid-May.

Finally, it appears that NASA has decided that it will not buy more seats on Russian Soyuz capsules, something that they had previously hinted they needed to do because the agency was worried the American capsules would not be ready this year. The article describes the negotiations on-going with the Russians about the use of Dragon, as well as the future use by Americans of Soyuz. NASA wishes to have astronauts from both countries fly on both spacecraft (Starliner too, once operational), but Russia is as yet reluctant to fly its astronauts on Dragon. They want to see that spacecraft complete more missions successfully.

Regardless, future flights of Americans on Soyuz will cost NASA nothing, as the agency wishes to trade the seats on the U.S. capsules one-for-one for the seats on Soyuz. It also means that NASA has decided it doesn’t need to buy Soyuz flights anymore, as it now expects Dragon to become operational this year.

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2019 was a boom year for the commercial space industry

Capitalism in space: According to a new industry report, 2019 was one of the strongest in years for the entire commercial space industry.

More than 183,000 workers were employed in the U.S. space workforce at the end of 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Core employment, those jobs most closely aligned with the space industry and not the larger aerospace industry, rose to 141,520 jobs in 2019. This represents a 4.1% increase from the 135,930 private sector workers in 2018 and marks the third year in a row of increasing employment in this workforce and the highest level since 2012.

Some sectors saw significant gains in employment over the last five years. Together, the workforce supporting manufacturing of space vehicles, space vehicle propulsion units, and other space vehicle parts grew by nearly 20% over the past five years, adding more than 14,000 new employees. Other sectors experienced decline. Broadcast and wireless communications equipment manufacturing employment decreased 9.8% over the past five years, shedding more than 5,000 workers.

The report also noted that the COVID-19 panic will likely cause a major negative impact to the industry in 2020, hurting the smaller companies the most.

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SpaceX prepares next Starship prototype; releases Starship user manual

From SpaceX's first user manual for Starship

Capitalism in space: Even as SpaceX has begun preparing its third Starship prototype for new testing, it has also released a first user manual for the rocket, outlining its proposed capabilities and potential uses by customers.

From the first link:

The next round of testing is anticipated to begin this week with cryogenic proof testing. These tests will see the vehicle filled with liquid nitrogen at cryogenic temperatures and flight pressures. Prior Starship test vehicles have had their campaigns cut short by failed cryogenic testing, including the last flight vehicle SpaceX rolled to the Boca Chica launch pad, Starship SN1.

If all goes right, they hope to begin short flight tests with this prototype, moving to longer and higher flights with the next.

The user manual [pdf] is mostly a short description of what they hope they will be able to accomplish with Starship. It notes that they will build both a cargo and manned variety, and that both will be available for point-to-point transportation on Earth. It also notes:

Starship has the capability to transport satellites, payloads, crew, and cargo to a variety of orbits and
Earth, Lunar, or Martian landing sites. Potential Starship customers can use this guide as a resource for preliminary payload accommodations information.This is the initial release of the Starship Users Guide and it will be updated frequently in response to customer feedback.

I guarantee that much of what is written and drawn here, such as the illustration above, will change significantly as development proceeds.

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Stratolaunch now wants to build a reuseable hypersonic vehicle

Capitalsm in space: Stratolaunch announced today that they are now planning to build a reusable hypersonic test vehicle to launch from their giant Roc airplane.

That vehicle, powered by a liquid-propellant rocket engine, will launch from the company’s aircraft and fly to speeds of Mach 5 to Mach 7 before gliding back to a runway landing. It will also be able to take off on its own from a runway under rocket power.

“The Stratolaunch Talon-A is a flexible, high-speed testbed built for offensive hypersonics, hypersonic defense and hypersonic R&D,” the company said in a fact sheet about the program. That document emphasizes the vehicle’s ability to provide “here-to-fore unobtainable measurement access to the hypersonic flight environment on a recurring basis.”

Forgive me if I remain skeptical. From memory I think this is about the fifth different design or concept for launch from Roc, with the previous proposals differing from this hypersonic test vehicle in that they were all intended to go to orbit. All were the same however in that they were trying to find a design that could be launched from Roc and also make engineering and economic sense. So far none has done so.

This new proposal is clearly aimed at garnering government research dollars. It also probably wants those dollars to pay for Talon-A’s development. In a sane world, the military would tell Stratolaunch to build and prove Talon-A’s capabilities first, before signing on.

When it comes to government spending, however, we however are no longer in a sane world.

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OneWeb files for bankruptcy

Capitalism in space: OneWeb yesterday made official the rumors from the past week by filing for bankruptcy in the United States.

It appears that those rumors were essentially true, that one of the company’s biggest investors, Softbank, was having financial trouble due to the stock market crash caused by the Wuhan flu panic, and was not able to continue its investment in OneWeb. The result was that OneWeb could not pay its creditors, the biggest of which was Arianespace, which was managing the launch of most of the company’s satellites, using Russian Soyuz rockets from either French Guiana or Kazakhstan.

With about 18% of its constellation already in orbit and the rest pretty much ready for launch this year, the company has valuable assets that in bankruptcy will have value. It will likely be sold and continue operations under new management.

In the meantime this filing will hurt the bottom line of Arianespace and Russia.

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NASA awards SpaceX deal to provide cargo to Gateway

Capitalism in space: Should NASA ever decide to build its proposed Gateway space station in orbit around the Moon (the odds of which have gone down recently), it announced today that it has signed a deal with SpaceX to use its Falcon Heavy rocket and an upgraded larger version of its Dragon capsule to ship cargo to that station.

The deal calls for at least two missions, and is SpaceX’s first deal in NASA’s Artemis program.

This deal is a major blow to SLS and Boeing, which up to now had a monopoly on all launches to supply and launch Gateway. In fact, Gateway was invented by Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and NASA (not Congress) in order to justify SLS’s existence. That NASA has now decided it is better off using the much cheaper and already operational Falcon Heavy for some Gateway missions suggests that SLS is increasingly vulnerable to cancellation. NASA is making it obvious that other commercial options exist. No need to wait years and spend billions for SLS, when they can go now, for much less.

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ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket successfully launches military satellite

Capitalism in space: United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket today successfully placed into orbit the first military satellite officially under the U.S. Space Force’s command.

The satellite is the fifth of a constellation designed to provide communications for all military operations.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

6 China
5 SpaceX
4 Russia
2 Europe (Arianespace)
2 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 9 to 6 in the national rankings.

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SpaceX commercial launch for Argentina postponed because of COVID-19

Because of travel restrictions imposed by the worldwide panic over the COVID-19 virus, Argentina’s space agency has postponed the planned March 30, 2020 launch by SpaceX of an Earth observation radar satellite.

“This decision (to postpone the launch) has been made considering the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and that could affect the availability of own resources and foreign third-party resources, necessary not only for a safe insertion into orbit, but also for further operation of the satellite,” CONAE said in a statement.

CONAE said the decision to postpone the launch, which was made in consultation with SpaceX, is the “best decision in these moments of uncertainty … that the whole world suffers because of COVID-19.”

Argentina has halted all flights to and from the United States, impacting the ability of Argentine personnel needed to support the planned launch to travel to the Florida spaceport.

The more I research the Wuhan flu, the more I am convinced that the world’s governments have gone crazy. More on this later today.

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Dragon parachute test aborted

Because of the failure of the equipment unrelated to the parachutes, the helicopter pilot for a drop test of SpaceX’s crew Dragon parachutes on March 24, 2020 was forced to release the dummy capsule early, causing its loss.

“During a planned parachute drop test today, the test article suspended underneath the helicopter became unstable,” SpaceX said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “Out of an abundance of caution and to keep the helicopter crew safe, the pilot pulled the emergency release,” the statement added. “As the helicopter was not yet at target conditions, the test article was not armed, and as such, the parachute system did not initiate the parachute deployment sequence. While the test article was lost, this was not a failure of the parachute system, and most importantly, no one was injured. NASA and SpaceX are working together to determine the testing plan going forward in advance of Crew Dragon’s second demonstration mission.”

This issue, combined with the loss of a Falcon 9 first stage (on its fifth flight) during re-entry, because one engine failed to function properly, is making some news sources suggest that NASA will delay the planned May launch of Dragon’s first manned mission to ISS.

If NASA demands a delay of that May manned mission because of these two issues, it will demonstrate how truly insane our society has become. While the issue prevented the drop test, it involved the equipment that suspended the dummy capsule below the helicopter, not the parachute system. Furthermore, this test was one of the very last tests of the parachute system, following a test campaign during the past few months that has worked repeatedly on numerous tests.

As for the first stage loss, do I have to repeat again that it occurred on the stage’s fifth reuse, and after it had successfully launched its payload into orbit? SpaceX will be using a new first stage for the manned mission, and they have experienced no failures on a new first stage like this for literally years.

In a sane society, NASA would look at the overall context, and put aside these issues as irrelevant to their launch schedule. They, and SpaceX, will want to figure out what happened, but they should insist on proceeding on schedule for the May launch.

We are no longer sane however. I will not be surprised if they announce a further launch delay.

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NASA to use private enterprise for space communications

Capitalism in space: NASA is now in the process of shifting from building its own communications satellites to communicate with ISS as well as many other Earth-orbiting NASA satellites to buying those services from the private sector, much as the agency has done with is cargo and crew ferrying service to the station.

This involves ground stations as well as upgrading its fleet of geosynchronous NASA-built TDRS satellites.

In addition, NASA is seeking industry assistance in replacing the Space Network, which provides communications for more than 40 missions including the International Space Station through government-owned Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) and associated ground stations. “While the TDRS System is a fine investment that the government has made, for the future we are looking at commercial alternatives,” said Ted Sobchak, NASA Space Network project manager.

NASA plans a multistep campaign to encourage development of commercial space-based relay networks before the current TDRS spacecraft reach the end of their lives. “Based on past spacecraft performance, the newest generation of TDRS will remain operational well into the 2030s,” Younes said.

The original TDRS constellation of satellites, launched from 1983 to 1995, were actually built for a reasonable cost. At the time NASA did not try to put every bell and whistle on them, but focused instead on their basic mission and getting it launched for a reasonable cost. The management at NASA today almost certainly could not do this. Getting new satellites from competitive private companies will therefore save NASA money, and get the job done faster.

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Astra Space suffers failure during launch dress rehearsal

Capitalsm in space: Astra Space, attempting again to complete its first orbital launch, suffered what they call “an anomaly” during a launch dress rehearsal countdown yesterday.

The “anomaly,” of which we presently have no description other than it has cancelled their launch attempt later this week and that no one was hurt, apparently was serious enough that they noted that the launch site is “still hazardous and should be avoided.”

The company has said that it expected it would take three launches before they succeeded in getting into orbit, so this failure probably does not worry them overally. At the same time, I suspect that expectation was for actual launches, not explosions during the countdown.

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Bigelow lays off everyone

Bigelow Aerospace, builder of commercial space stations, has laid off its entire workforce, stating this was due to the lockdown by Nevada’s state government due to the Wuhan flu.

According to sources familiar with the company’s activities, Bigelow Aerospace’s 68 employees were informed that they were being laid off, effective immediately. An additional 20 employees were laid off the previous week.

Those sources said that the company, based in North Las Vegas, Nevada, was halting operations because of what one person described as a “perfect storm of problems” that included the coronavirus pandemic. On March 20, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed an emergency directive ordering all “nonessential” businesses to close.

A company spokesperson confirmed March 23 that the company laid off all its employees because of the governor’s order, and that it faced “fines, penalties and threats of having our business license revoked” if it remained open. The spokesperson added that the company planned to hire workers back once the emergency directive was lifted, although other sources interpreted the layoffs as a permanent measure.

Considering how Bigelow has allowed other commercial space station companies, such as Axiom, to move ahead of it, this decision is not surprising. The panic over COVID-19 only pushed it along.

Whether Bigelow as a company returns once the coronavirus panic subsides however remains an open question.

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Astra to try its first orbital launch again this week

Capitalsm in space: After aborting its first orbital launch attempt at T-53 seconds, Astra has announced that it will to try its first orbital launch again this week.

They have not revealed the payload. They also admit that they will not be surprised if they fail to reach orbit, as they already assume it will take about three launches to iron out their rocket and systems.

Regardless, if they succeed, they will become the second company, after Rocket Lab, to successfully enter the smallsat market.

No word on whether they will live-stream the launch.

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OneWeb faces bankruptcy, even as it is about to launch more satellites

According to reports today, OneWeb, one of two companies presently building a constellation of satellites for providing worldwide internet access, is facing a serious cash crunch and might have to file for bankruptcy.

The main investor, Softbank, apparently is short of cash due to bad investments, worsened further by the stock market crash due to the Wuhan virus panic this week. Furthermore, the panic has caused Arianespace, which is launching many of OneWeb’s satellites, to suspend all launches from its French Guiana spaceport.

OneWeb has already launched 74 satellites, with a Soyuz launch of 34 more from Russia tomorrow. While fewer than the 360 that its main competitor SpaceX has launched of its Starlink constellation, OneWeb doesn’t need as many based on constellation’s design to become operational. After tomorrow’s launch, OneWeb will have launched about 18% needed, compared to SpaceX’s 24%.

If OneWeb goes out of business, it will do great harm to both Russia’s launch industry as well as Europe’s Arianespace, both of which have contracts for launching most of OneWeb’s satellites. In fact, for Russia, OneWeb is pretty much the only commercial customer they have. If they lose that it will be a serious financial blow.

Similarly, Arianespace’s next generation rocket, Ariane 6, has had problems garnering contracts. Losing the OneWeb launches will also hurt their bottom line.

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More Boca Chica residents move out, accepting SpaceX offers

More Boca Chica residents have accepted SpaceX purchase offers, and are finding other places to live.

While not all are thrilled with the circumstances, the article suggests that there is far more good will then unhappiness. It appears the excitement of what SpaceX is doing, and its willingness to give these residents special viewing privileges in the future, has done wonders to ease the pain for many of them for having to sell their homes.

It has also produced youtube channels providing 24 hour live streams of SpaceX operations.

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SpaceX recovers both fairing halves from Starlink launch

Capitalism in space: The two reused fairing halves that SpaceX used in yesterday’s Falcon 9 Starlink launch were both successfully recovered.

Starlink V1 L5 is now the second time ever that SpaceX – or anyone, for that matter – has successfully reused an orbital-class launch vehicle payload fairing, while the mission also marked the first time that SpaceX managed to recover a reused Falcon fairing. The burn from booster issues certainly isn’t fully salved, as twin fairing catchers Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief both missed their fairing catch attempts, but both twice-flown fairing halves were still successfully scooped out of the Atlantic Ocean before they were torn apart.

The first reused fairing however was not recovered, making this recovery the first of used fairings. The company now has the ability to study them in order to better design future reusable fairings.

The article provides a lot of information about the difficulties of catching the fairings before they hit the water. It also notes that the reused fairings have all been fished out of the ocean, suggesting that in the end catching them in the ship’s nets will be unnecessary.

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NASA confirms May target date for first manned Dragon flight

Capitalism in space: In announcing today it is beginning media accreditation for SpaceX’s first manned Dragon flight to ISS, the agency confirmed earlier reports from SpaceX that they are now aiming for a mid-to-late May launch.

Much can change before then. COVID-19 could get worse, shutting down all launches. The engine failure on yesterday’s successful Falcon 9 launch could require delays.

However, right now, things look good for May, which will be the first time since 2011 that Americans will launch from American soil on an American-built rocket, an almost ten year gap that has been downright disgraceful. Thank you Congress and presidents Bush and Obama! It was how you planned it, and is also another reason we got Trump.

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Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden passes at 88

Their numbers slowly shrink: Al Worden, who orbited the Moon as commander of the Apollo 15 command module, has passed away at the age of 88.

For three days in 1971, Worden circled the moon as Dave Scott and Jim Irwin worked on the lunar surface — including driving a rover for the first time. Being a command module pilot has been called the loneliest job in humanity. In the spacecraft alone, not able to talk to anyone when the capsule was on the back side of the moon. But Worden told NPR in a 2016 interview, “I was pretty comfortable with being by myself.”

After Scott and Irwin returned from the lunar surface and the crew was on its way back home, Worden conducted a spacewalk, the first ever in deep-space. He ventured outside the capsule to retrieve film from the scientific cameras.

The link is to an NPR obituary, so of course it makes a big deal about the effort by the astronauts to make some extra money by selling postage stamp covers that they bought with them post-flight.

Worden remembers it this way, “Jim and I were told that this was something that happened on every flight. No big deal. Well, it turned out to be a huge deal.” Even though previous crews had profited off lunar souvenirs, it became a public relations nightmare for NASA. The three astronauts never flew again. Worden said he regretted what happened: “I think the flight speaks for itself. I think the science that we did on the flight speaks for itself.”

I always thought it was quite offensive that the American government, the press, NASA, and the public took offense then about this. These guys were not paid that much, slightly above an ordinary middle class salary, for doing something totally unique and incredibly dangerous. If they had a chance to make some extra cash on the side, all power to them.

This was just after the 1960s, however, and private enterprise and commercial profit was steadily going out of fashion. We as a culture had bought into the Soviet model of top-down government programs that were centrally controlled. For any of the individuals involved to make some independent cash for themselves was considered crass and corrupt.

Regardless, God speed, Al Worden.

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SpaceX launches another sixty Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched another sixty Starlink satellites into orbit, using a reused first stage for the fifth time, the first time they have done this. They also for the first time reused the fairing, for the second time. All told, the cost for this launch was reduced by approximately 70% by these reuses.

However, during launch one 1st stage Merlin engine shut down prematurely, the first time since 2012. You can see the consequence of this during the re-entry burn. After the burn, the rocket seems far more unstable then normal. Soon after the video cut out, and they must have missed the drone ship upon landing, making it a failure. They intend to do a full investigation before their next launch.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

5 China
5 SpaceX
3 Russia
2 Arianespace (Europe)

The U.S. now leads China 8 to 5 in the national rankings.

One additional detail: At the beginning of their live stream, they touted Starship/Super Heavy, and put out a call for engineers to apply to work for SpaceX.

The launch is embedded below the fold.
» Read more

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Falcon 9 aborts automatically at T minus 0

A SpaceX launch attempt today to put sixty more Starlink satellites into orbit aborted at T minus Zero when the rocket’s computer software shut things down just after the engines began firing.

I have embedded the video below the fold. According to the broadcast, they had “a condition regarding engine power,” suggesting that one or more of the Merlin engines did not power up as expected and the computers reacted to shut the launch down because of this.

Not surprisingly, they have not yet announced a new launch date.
» Read more

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First launch of ULA’s Vulcan on schedule for 2021

Capitalism in space: According to ULA’s CEO, Tory Bruno, the company is on track to transition as planned from its Atlas 5 and Delta rockets to its new Vulcan rocket.

Just five Delta IV Heavy launches remain on the manifest, all NRO launches procured under the block buy Phase 1 methodology. Bruno expects the final Delta launch to occur in 2023 or 2024.

The workhorse of the ULA fleet, Atlas V, is expected to retire on a similar timeframe. Bruno says the launcher could be “done as early as 2022, or as late as 2024.” Atlas V will have to continue operations until its replacement, Vulcan, can be human-rated to launch the Boeing Starliner spacecraft.

…The first flight of Vulcan Centaur is on track for early 2021, with the first flight vehicle under construction, and more vehicles in flow, in ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama. Vulcan’s debut launch will carry the Astrobotic Peregrine lander to the moon for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. A second launch is currently planned for later that year, which will satisfy the Air Force certification requirement for Vulcan to launch military missions.

Bruno’s report is also good news for Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, since both will use Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine in their first stage. If ULA is on schedule, than Blue Origin also likely to be on schedule, meaning that come 2021 or so the U.S. will have at least three companies (including SpaceX) capable of putting large payloads into orbit. Moreover, Northrop Grumman is developing its OmegA rocket, which will compete for the same business.

The article also talks about the military’s launch procurement program, which supposedly will pick two of these launch companies to provide all military launches through the 2020s. That program however is certain to fail, as it will blacklist all other viable companies from bidding on military launches. I expect those companies will successfully sue and force the Space Force to accept bids from more than two companies.

And that is as it should be. Why the military wishes to limit bidding makes no sense, and is probably illegal anyway. As long as a company has a qualified rocket, its bids should be welcome.

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Manned Dragon mission targeted for May

Capitalism in space: According to one SpaceX official, they are now aiming for a May target date for their first manned Dragon mission to ISS, even as they will maintain a launch pace of one to two launches per month.

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell [said] that she expects at least one to two launches per month in the near future, whether they be for customers or for SpaceX’s own internet-satellite constellation, Starlink. “And we are looking at a May timeframe to launch crew for the first time,” Shotwell continued. That launch, called Demo-2, will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to and from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.

At that pace SpaceX will complete between 12 to 24 launches for the year. They had predicted they would complete 21, so this is in line with that prediction.

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The last cargo Dragon to berth with ISS using robot arm

Astronauts yesterday used the robot arm on ISS to berth SpaceX’s cargo Dragon freighter, the last time a Dragon capsule will be berthed to the station in this manner.

The successful supply deliver marked the 20th time a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule has arrived at the space station since May 2012. The mission, known as CRS-20 or SpaceX-20, also the final flight of SpaceX’s first-generation Dragon spacecraft, which the company is retiring in favor of a new Dragon capsule designed to dock directly with the space station without needing to be captured by the robotic arm.

I could put this another way that is more embarrassing to NASA. After twenty flights, the agency has finally admitted that SpaceX can design a spacecraft that can do automatic dockings, and is now willing to allow it.

That of course is a gross simplification. Nonetheless, the successful unmanned demo flight last year of SpaceX’s crew Dragon, docking directly with ISS, has proven SpaceX can do it. And since that crew Dragon is essentially the same design for SpaceX’s future cargo Dragons, it makes sense to shift from robot-arm-berthing to direct docking for all future Dragon flights.

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SpaceX raises $500 million for Starship, twice the amount planned

Capitalism in space: In a just completed fund-raising round, SpaceX raised twice the investment capital proposed, $500 million instead of $250 million.

These funds are in addition to the $1.33 billion raised previously. And according to the SpaceX official in charge of their Starlink satellite constellation, most of this money is not for Starlink:

While SpaceX expects it will cost about $10 billion or more to build the Starlink network, [vice president Jonathan] Hofeller said the company’s fundraising so far has largely not been directed to the Starlink division, as “we’ve been able to fund the development of Starlink primarily from our internal businesses.” He declared the company is in a “different position” in how it raises funds compared to other companies that are building satellite networks. “That’s why, in general, we’ve been very quiet about what we’re doing because we don’t need to go out and raise money for this particular venture,” Hofeller said.

This means the $1.83 billion raised is almost certainly all for developing Starship/Super Heavy.

Can SpaceX build this new heavy lift completely reusable rocket for that price? Considering that it cost them $500 million to develop Falcon Heavy, and that much of the engineering work from that will be applicable for the new rocket, I am willing to bet that they can.

My prediction is further reinforced by the company’s recent activities testing Starship’s tanks at Boca Chica, Texas. Only two weeks after a test to failure (resulting in some spectacular fireworks), the company has apparently successfully completed new tank tests on the next prototype.

In other words, they blew up a prototype, were able to clean up the mess, redesign what failed, and test it successfully, in only two weeks. To say such a pace would be impossible for NASA and its big space contractors like Boeing is probably the biggest understatement I’ve ever made.

This success should not make anyone think that the challenge of building Starship/Super Heavy will be easy or fast. This effort will be cutting edge engineering that in many ways will be beyond that edge. SpaceX is guaranteed to have further test failures along the way. Their pace, management approach, and track record however shows that the company knows how to deal with such issues, and will thus be able to proceed to completion.

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SpaceX successfully launches cargo Dragon to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched a cargo Dragon freighter to ISS.

This is the third flight for this Dragon capsule. It was also the last flight of the company’s first generation Dragon capsules. The company also successfully landed the first stage, which was on its second flight. This was the fiftieth time they have successfully done this. I have embedded the launch video below the fold.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

4 China
4 SpaceX
2 Arianespace (Europe)
2 Russia

The U.S. now leads China 7 to 4 in the national rankings.
» Read more

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Axiom and SpaceX sign deal for flying commercial tourists to ISS

Capitalism in space: Axiom, the commercial company that already has an agreement with NASA to build its own commercial modules for ISS, has signed an agreement with SpaceX to use its crew Dragon capsule to ferry one professional and three tourists to ISS, as soon as the second half of 2021.

The private crew members will spend at least eight days on the orbiting research platform, allowing them to enjoy “microgravity and views of Earth that can only be fully appreciated in the large, venerable station,” Axiom said in a statement.

Axiom said Thursday it has signed a contract with SpaceX to transport a commander “professionally trained” by Axiom and three private astronauts to the space station on a Crew Dragon spacecraft. The mission could take off as soon as the second half of 2021, Axiom said.

This is SpaceX’s second commercial customer for its Dragon capsule. Two weeks ago it signed a deal with Space Adventures to fly four tourists on a crew Dragon for up to five days.

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DARPA finally picks Northrop Grumman for satellite servicing

Capitalism in space: Following the successful docking of Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV) to a decommissioned commercial communications satellite on February 27, 2020, DARPA has finally selected that company as its partner in its government-funded satellite servicing program.

For reasons that have been puzzling, DARPA previously rejected the MEV and chose in 2017 as its partner what was then a mostly Canadian company, causing legal protests. That company however backed out of the program in January, and with the success of MEV, DARPA could no longer justify its strange aversion to Northrop Grumman.

Northrop Grumman had planned to market MEV to commercial companies. The infusion of support from DARPA will accelerate that process.

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Florida to reconfigure Cape Canaveral roads to accommodate New Glenn

Capitalism in space: Because the first stages of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket will be so large and heavy, Florida is instituting a project to widen roads and move light and utility poles in order to accommodate the transport from the factory to the launchpad.

The road widening will make room for the stage, which must follow a route not usually used. The more direct route however requires the stage to cross a bridge that cannot take its weight. If New Glenn does begin to fly regularly, however, I would expect money will eventually be found to rebuild that bridge.

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