SpaceX launches another 23 Starlink satellites; but with streaming issues

SpaceX today succeeded in launching another 23 Starlink satellites, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral. However, after stage separation and the ignition of the upper stage, with the rocket operating normally, the live stream from X suddenly went down. The problem was not with the rocket, as all feeds from both stages disappeared, with the entire live stream going blank.

The first stage was on its twelfth launch. SpaceX has now confirmed that it landed successfully on a drone ship in the Atlantic. The company has also confirmed as successful orbital insertion.

This was SpaceX’s 40th launch so far in 2024, all successful. To get some perspective on the company’s continuing and spectacular success, the entire United States could not achieve that many launches in any year from 1969 through 2019, and in 2020 it merely matched this number (because SpaceX that year launched 25 times). And SpaceX has done it this in only three and a half months. Based on this pace, its goal of 150 launches in 2024 appears increasingly possible.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

40 SpaceX
15 China
6 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the rest of the world combined 46 to 27, while SpaceX by itself now leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 40 to 33.

Sweden signs Artemis Accords

Sweden yesterday became the 38th nation to sign the Artemis Accords, one day after Switzerland had officially signed.

The alliance now includes the following nations: Angola, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Columbia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, the Ukraine, the United States and Uruguay.

The press release once again focuses on “reinforcing” the Outer Space Treaty, rather than using the accords to get around that treaty’s limitations of private property. More and more it appears the Biden administration and the global community wants to use this alliance not to encourage the establishment of a legal framework for private ownership, but to retain that power within the governments involved.

As I said last week, “Under these circumstances, I wonder why China and Russia haven’t signed on as well.”

SpaceX launches 23 more Starlink satellites with 1st stage on record-setting 20th flight

The bunny flies again! SpaceX tonight successfully launched 23 more Starlink satellites, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral.

The first stage completed its 20th flight, a new record for a Falcon 9 first stage, landing successfully on a droneship in the Atlantic. At this moment SpaceX is beginning to collect a fleet of Falcon 9 first stage boosters that have flown almost as much as NASA’s space shuttle fleet, which flew as follows:

Discovery 39 flights
Atlantis 33 flights
Columbia: 28 flights
Endeavour 25 flights
Challenger: 10 flights

At present SpaceX has one booster with 20 flights, and two with 19, and I think one with 18. It will take a lot more launches to catch up, but it certainly appears possible for at least a few of these Falcon 9 stages to exceed the shuttle numbers.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

39 SpaceX
14 China
6 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the rest of the world combined 45 to 26, while SpaceX by itself now leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 39 to 32.

Amazon: First operational launch of Kuiper satellites delayed

Though Amazon’s CEO Andy Jassy, in his annual letter to shareholders yesterday, touted the Kuiper internet constellation’s profit potential, he also implied that the planned first launch of operational satellites has been delayed.

When Project Kuiper’s first two prototype satellites were launched last October for testing, Amazon said that its first production-grade satellites were on track for launch in the first half of 2024, and that it expected broadband service to be in beta testing with selected customers by the end of the year.

Today, Jassy put a slightly different spin on that schedule. “We’re on track to launch our first production satellites in 2024,” he wrote in his letter. “We’ve still got a long way to go, but are encouraged by our progress.”

Later in a television interview Jassy was more blunt, stating that the first operational satellites will not be ready until “the second half of ’24”, with the service becoming available “in the next year or so.”

The company’s incredibly slow roll-out of this constellation puts it at a significant disadvantage. Both it and Starlink were announced at about the same time, but Starlink already has several thousand satellites in orbit, has been operational for several years, and has almost three million customers signed on. It has gotten all the low-hanging fruit. Amazon will either have to convince those customers to switch — generally a difficult thing to do — or find new customers that have so far been less inclined to buy such satellite services.

Swiss company tests three-legged hopper for asteroid exploration on zero-G airplane

SpaceHopper in flight
SpaceHopper in flight

A Swiss company, ETH Zurich, has successfully tested the ability of an unmanned three-legged hopper, designed to explore asteroids by hoping in the light gravity, to orient itself using its legs by flying on a zero-G airplane.

The picture to the right is a screen capture from the video embedded below.

All nine leg motors [three per leg] work together to launch the SpaceHopper high off the asteroid’s surface when jumping. As the robot is subsequently in flight, it maintains its upright orientation by selectively extending or withdrawing its legs to shift its center of mass as needed. Upon landing, its legs flex to absorb impact and to keep the bot from falling over.

During zero-G on the airplane flights the hopper successfully jumped, then used its legs to correctly orient itself afterward.

Developing this hopper was initially a student project, and its success has gotten it upgraded, still led by those students.
» Read more

Rocket startup Relativity foregoes bidding on present round of military launch contracts

The rocket startup Relativity has decided not to bid on the present round of National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 3 contracts, saying the first launch of its new Terran-R rocket will not occur until 2026, well after those contracts are going to be awarded and flown.

Relativity was initially aiming to compete for the first round of NSSL Phase 3 contracts expected to be awarded later this year. However, the California-based company’s new Terran R rocket won’t fly until 2026 at the earliest, which falls outside the timeframe for this year’s NSSL Phase 3 awards. “We’ve been fairly transparent with our schedule over the last year and have continued to hit our milestones,” Joshua Brost, chief revenue officer at Relativity Space, told SpaceNews. “We’re very comfortable about on-ramping to NSSL in the future, likely next year as we approach that 12 months from initial launch.”

Relativity, after completing one partly successful launch of its smaller Terran-1 rocket in 2023, abandoned further development on that rocket in order to focus on its larger Terran-R. That decision however put it out of the launch market for years. I have always wondered if that decision was partly influenced by the increased launch regulation of the FAA in the past two years, which has caused the launches of new American rockets to almost cease. It might have realized getting Terran-1 launched again would be difficult and waste valuable company time and resources. Better to take a break on the hope that by 2026, the regulatory atmosphere might have improved.

Furthermore, Relativity uses very sophisticated 3D technology to build its rockets, an asset whose value on the market is maybe much greater than its rockets. It could be that Relativity is exploring this avenue at the moment, and we might find it never resumes launches.

Russia and SpaceX complete launches

Early today both Russia and SpaceX completed rocket launches.

First, Russia after several scrubs for technical reasons successfully completed a test launch of the largest configuration of its Angara rocket, the Angara-A5. It was the first launch of Angara-A5 from its far east spaceport Vostochny, and the first test launch of this rocket confiruration since 2014. Development had stalled for many years due to a major design issue revealed in 2019.

This launch establishes several important benchmarks for Russia’s space program. This rocket is essential for its goal of building a new space station, and the launch from Vostochny gives Russia as stronger backup to Baikonur in Kazakhstan, where long-term access is becoming problematic.

SpaceX then followed, with a launch of a military weather satellite, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Vandenberg in California. The first stage completed its third flight, landing successfully back at Vandenberg.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

38 SpaceX
14 China
6 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads the rest of the world combined 44 to 26, while SpaceX by itself still leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 38 to 32.

Rocket Lab to refly a recovered first stage

Electron 1st stage floating in the water

Rocket Lab today announced that a first stage used on a launch in January and recovered successfully from the ocean, as shown to the right, has now been moved into its normal production line for preparation for a reflight on an upcoming launch.

The stage was successfully launched and recovered as part of the ‘Four of a Kind’ mission on 31 January 2024 and has already passed more acceptance tests than any other recovered Electron stage, including:

  • Tank pressurization test – a process that filled the carbon composite tank with inert gas and held it in excess of maximum operating pressure for more than 20x longer than the standard Electron flight duration
  • Helium leak check – a stringent process that determines there are no leaks in the tank
  • Carbon fiber structural testing – including ultrasonic assessment and other non-destructive tests to confirm no delamination of the carbon composite tank fibers.

The stage will now undergo final fit out and rigorous qualification and acceptance testing to the same standard as a brand-new Electron tank to determine the recovered stage’s suitability for reflight.

No actual launch date has been set. The company first wants to complete its final testing. If successful and the stage flies again, Rocket Lab will join a very elite club, becoming only the second entity anywhere — after SpaceX capable of reusing a significant part of its rockets. That capability will allow it to drop prices, and better compete.

This success also underlines the lack of creativity from more than a half century of managers and rocket engineers, who repeatedly insisted such reuse was impractical, or impossible. The idea of recovering a stage from the ocean and reusing it was considered crazy, so no one ever tried it. Rocket Lab is about to prove more than a half century of managers and rocket engineers wrong.

Hat tip to BtB’s stringer Jay.

SpaceX launches more Starlink satellites

The bunny never stops! SpaceX tonight successfully launched 23 Starlink satellites, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral.

The first stage completed its second flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

37 SpaceX
14 China
5 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the rest of the world combined 43 to 25, while SpaceX by itself leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 37 to 31.

ULA completes last Delta-4 Heavy launch

Delta-4 Heavy on its last launch
Delta-4 Heavy on its last launch

ULA today successfully completed the last Delta-4 launch, the Delta-4 Heavy version — the most powerful — lifting off from Cape Canaveral and placing a National Reconnaissance Office surveillance satellite into orbit.

From this point on ULA will rely on its new Vulcan-Centaur and Atlas-5 rockets, though production of the Atlas-5 has ceased. When the remaining Atlas-5s are flown, the Vulcan-Centaur in its many iterations will become the company’s mainstay rocket. All this might change depending on who buys ULA. If Blue Origin buys the company, the mix will be more complex, as that company is developing its own New Glenn rocket.

This was ULA’s second launch in 2024, so there is no change to the leader board in the 2024 launch race:

36 SpaceX
14 China
5 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the rest of the world combined 42 to 25, while SpaceX by itself leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 36 to 31.

Turkey to join China’s lunar base program

Turkey yesterday announced that it is applying to join China’s program to build a lunar base on the Moon, dubbed the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), becoming the ninth nation in that partnership.

Those nations are Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela. In addition, another nine academic organizations of one kind or another have signed on.

Interestingly, Turkey’s government apparently decided to partner with China after it flew its own astronaut on Axiom’s AX-3 mission to ISS in January, flying in a SpaceX Dragon capsule launched by SpaceX’s Falcon 9. Previously it had also signed a deal with Sierra Space to participate in both its Dream Chaser and Orbital Reef station.

This new agreement suggests the present instability of international politics has forced it to go to its very powerful neighbors. Or maybe Turkey is signing on with everyone, attempting to burn the candle at both ends.

New startup to launch a new design for inflatable modules

A new startup, dubbed Max Space, is presently building a test inflatable module it hopes to fly on a SpaceX launch in 2025, testing its new design for inflatable modules that it says is safer and more easily scalable.

Max Space is taking a different technical approach to earlier systems that used a bi-directional “basket weave” fabric structure. “When you start making fibers go in two different directions, 90 degrees apart, the result is you don’t know how much load is going in one direction or the other,” said Maxim de Jong, co-founder and chief technology officer of Max Space, whose past work included development of [Bigelow’s private] Genesis 1 and 2 [orbital modules]. That requires additional material to ensure sufficient margins of safety and also makes it difficult to scale up designs to larger volumes. “Every scale-up is a point design and has to be revalidated,” he said.

Max Space is pursuing a technology called an ultra-high-performance vessel created by de Jong that distributes loads in one direction, a design that he credited to a “totally accidental discovery” while working on other concepts. That reduces the uncertainty in safety margins, which has been demonstrated in tests where modules burst at pressures within 10% of predicted levels. “The predictability is great and the scalability is great,” he said.

According to the company, this design will allow it to quickly build modules with as much as a thousand cubic meters volume, matching ISS in a single module, and able to launch on a single Falcon 9.

The company is not planning its own station. Instead, it simply wishes to be a provider of modules to the other American space stations, four of which are presently being built. It also is offering its modules as potential fuel depots as well as in-orbit storage faciliites.

SpaceX launches 11 commercial payloads

SpaceX today successfully launched 11 commercial payloads into orbit, as the first of what it calls its Bandwagon series, designed to provide launch ssatellites to medium inclination Earth orbits. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral, its first stage completing its fourteenth flight, landing back at Cape Canaveral.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

36 SpaceX
14 China
5 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the rest of the world combined 41 to 25, while SpaceX by itself leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 36 to 30.

Musk provides update to his Boca Chica crew

The candidate landing zone on Mars for Starship
The candidate landing zone on Mars for Starship

Elon Musk yesterday gave a 44-minute update on Starship/Superheavy to his team in Boca Chica, outlining what he now expects in the next two years as well as in the next two decades.

You can watch his presentation here. Musk began by once again describing his fundamental goal behind the company, to make the human race multi-planetary, for its own survival, and that Mars is at this time the best choice for doing so. He then provided some details about the on-going development of Starship/Superheavy:

  • SpaceX will be ready to launch 4th test flight in early May
  • There is an 80-90% chance they will attempt a tower landing of Superheavy, caught by its chopstick arms, by the end of this year
  • Starship will require at least two precision ocean landings before they attempt a tower landing
  • To provide tower redundancy for these test landings, by next year they will have 2 towers at Boca Chica, 2 at Cape Canaveral, with Cape Canaveral operational by next year
  • In 2024 they hope to build 6 Superheavys and Starships for test flights
  • By 2025 they plan to test full refueling of Starship in orbit
  • The third iteration of Starship/Superheavy will be capable of placing 200 tons in orbit
  • That third iteration will cost less to launch than Falcon 1, $2-3 million
  • To make a base on Mars self-sufficient quickly, he anticipates sending large fleets of Starships every two years, everytime the flight window to Mars opens.
  • The preferred landing sites will be in the low mid-latitudes, 30-40 degrees, with elevations two kilometers below the Martian “sea level”, to take advantage of a thick atmosphere.
  • If all goes as planned, Musk expects SpaceX to establish a Mars colony in about two decades

That next-to-last bullet point fits perfectly with the region north of Amazonis Planitia, as shown on the map above, where SpaceX has requested numerous images from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It is two kilometers below the “sea level” of Mars. It is at a latitude either on or close to 40 degrees north latitude. It is a region that orbital data says has lots of very near-surface ice. And it is flat, making those first landings relatively safe.

SpaceX launches 22 Starlink satellites, with 6 capable of direct-to-cell service

The beat goes on: SpaceX tonight launched another 22 Starlink satellites, six of which were capable of direct-to-cell service. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg, with its first stage completing its sixth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Pacific.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

35 SpaceX
14 China
5 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the rest of the world combined 40 to 25, while SpaceX by itself leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 35 to 30.

Varda quickly raises $90 million after completing its first orbital manufacturing mission

As expect, Varda announced yesterday that it raised $90 million in investment capital following the publication of the results of its first orbital manufacturing mission, where its returnable capsule was used to produce test pharmaceuticals in space that cannot be made on Earth.

Varda announced April 5 it raised a Series B round led by venture firm Caffeinated Capital, with participation from Lux Capital, General Catalyst, Founders Fund and Khosla Ventures. The company has raised $145 million to date. The funding round comes on the heels of the successful conclusion of its first demonstration mission, W-1, on Feb. 21 when the company’s capsule landed at the Utah Test and Training Range. The capsule had been part of a spacecraft launched in June 2023 to test the ability to produce pharmaceuticals in microgravity.

The new funding will allow Varda to scale up production of spacecraft that take advantage of microgravity to produce pharmaceuticals that are not possible or cost-effective to make on the ground.

The company already has a second returnable capsule scheduled for launch this summer on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket.

Mitsubishi joins private consortium building the Starlab commercial space station

The Japanese big space company Mitsubishi has now joined the private consortium building the Starlab commercial space station for NASA, teaming up with Voyager Space and Airbus.

At this moment it appears that Voyager, the lead company in this station, is attempting to capture the international market that up to now has been part of ISS. Airbus gets it direct access to European companies and the Europeans Space Agency (ESA). Mitsubishi now gets it direct access to Japanese government financing.

The other stations being built with NASA financing, Axiom and Orbital Reef, so far seem more focused on getting American business, as is Vast’s Haven-1 station, being built entirely from private funds.

SpaceX launches another 23 Starlink satellites

Like an Energizer bunny: SpaceX last night successfully placed 23 Starlink satellites into orbit, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral.

The first stage successfully completed its 14th flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

34 SpaceX
14 China
5 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the rest of the world combined 39 to 25, while SpaceX by itself leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 34 to 30. SpaceX also has another launch scheduled for tonight.

Gilmour’s Eris rocket now assembled and ready for launch from Bowen spaceport in Australia

Australian commercial spaceports
Click for original map.

The Austrialia rocket starup Gilmour has now assembled its first Eris rocket in anticipation of its first orbital test launch from that company’s Bowen spaceport on the east coast of Australia.

According to the report at the link, the launch could happen “in the coming weeks,” though no date has been set. Gilmour has already received its spaceport license from the Australian government, but has not yet gotten its launch license from the Australian Space Agency, despite putting in its application two years ago.

It appears there is now a race between this spaceport and the one on the south coast run by Southern Launch to launch first. Both are saying they will launch in mere weeks, but both are also awaiting launch approvals from the Australian Space Agency, which appears to be having difficulties making these first approvals. Either it is dragging its feet, or doesn’t know how to do this yet. Hopefully the bureaucrats will figure out how to say yes to freedom and let these spaceports and companies finally launch, before they run out of cash.

NASA picks three commercial companies to build manned lunar rovers

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday announced that it has picked three commercial companies, Astrolab, Intuitive Machines, and Lunar Outpost, to begin feasibility design work on its new manned lunar rovers, dubbed a Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV), for its planned Artemis missions to the Moon.

NASA will acquire the LTV as a service from industry. The indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, milestone-based Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services contract with firm-fixed-price task orders has a combined maximum potential value of $4.6 billion for all awards.

The three companies are actually each a partnership of several American companies, as follows:

  • Astrolab is building its FLEX rover in partnership with Axiom Space, Inc., and Odyssey Space. Its contract is worth up to $1.9 billion.
  • Intuitive Machines is building its RACER rover in partership with AVL, Boeing, Michelin, and Northrop Grumman. This initial award is worth $30 million, but future buys from NASA could exceed $1 billion.
  • Lunar Outpost is building its Lunar Dawn rover in partnership with Lockheed Martin, General Motors, Goodyear, and MDA Space.

All three lead companies are essentially startups that have partnered with older established players, a likely requirement imposed by NASA to give their effort some experienced help. Though this system of dividing up the work between all the players follows the old scheme used by NASA and the established big space companies for decades in order to guarantee every company gets steady work and a continuing cash flow from the government, the difference is that the product will be designed, built, and owned by each partnership, not NASA, allowing each to sell that product to others outside the agency.

If this goes as planned, eventually the government money will become somewhat irrelevant, once a real commercial industry starts functioning in space and on the Moon. That’s what happened in the airplane industry in the 1920s to the 1950s.

First manned Starliner mission now targeting a May 6, 2024 launch

In order to work around scheduling issues at ISS, NASA and Boeing have now scheduled the first manned Starliner mission to launch no earlier than May 6, 2024.

Following a review of the International Space Station operations, NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test now is targeting no earlier than Monday, May 6, for Starliner’s first launch with astronauts to the orbital complex. The date adjustment optimizes space station schedule of activities planned toward the end of April, including a cargo spacecraft undocking and a crew spacecraft port relocation required for Starliner docking. NASA and Boeing also are performing prelaunch closeout work and completing final certification for flight.

Two astronauts will fly the capsule to ISS for a two week stay, testing its systems in order to determine if it is ready for regular operations.

This launch is years behind schedule due to numerous technical problems that have cost Boeing billions in extra costs as well as lost income. In order to convince other customers besides NASA to buy seats on Starliner will likely require the capsule to fly many times without issues. Until then, I suspect anyone wishing to do a tourist flight in space will pick SpaceX instead, because of its now proven safety and reliability record.

Video shows Astra rocket exploding on launchpad during early 2020 launch attempt

In March 2020 the rocket startup Astra was attempting to complete its first orbital test launch. After one attempt that was scrubbed, the next ended with what the company called “an anomaly” when a fire destroyed the rocket on the launchpad.

Immediately after that failure the company furloughed one fifth of its workforce, and did not succeed in getting a rocket to orbit until November 2021, after another two failures.

Video obtained by Tech Chrunch now shows what happened on that March 2020 failure. The Astra rocket simply exploded on launchpad, destroying everything.

The company has been an example of the risks of freedom and private enterprise. It appeared to be one of the big successes, getting rockets built and launched, during which it also went public. Instead, after a few launch successes it abandoned its rocket, ran out of cash, and then the stock was purchased for pennies by the company’s two founders — taking it private once again. At the moment it is not clear if the company will ever rise from the ashes.

In other words, buyer beware. The claims of any new company is not to be trusted blindly. Sometimes their claims are filled with hubris.

SpaceX launches 22 Starlink satellites

SpaceX tonight successfully placed another 22 Starlink satellites into orbit, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Vandenberg in California.

The first stage completed its fifteenth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Pacific.

The leaders in the 2024 space race:

33 SpaceX
13 China
5 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the entire world combined in successful launches 38 to 24, and SpaceX by itself remains ahead everyone one else combined 33 to 29.

Boeing’s problems are only the tip of the iceberg

Most of all beware this boy.’
As noted by the Spirit of Christmas Present in Dickens’ The Christmas
, ‘This boy is ignorance, this girl is want. Beware them both,
but most of all beware this boy.’

Since the beginning of this year, following the near disaster when a door of a Boeing 737-Max airline blew off during the Alaska Airlines flight, the media has been obsessed with reporting every single subsequent Boeing airplane incident as attributed to bad management and quality control at Boeing.

The problem with this shallow reporting is that it fails entirely in recognizing the real depth of the problem.

First, in most of the incidents reported, the planes involved were not recent purchases from Boeing, but had been owned by the airlines for years, sometimes decades. Thus, any maintenance issues, such as a wheel falling off after take-off or a landing gear collapsing on landing or the sudden failure of an Airbus plane’s hydraulic system, are not Boeing’s fault, but the fault of the airline the plane belongs to. In the case of these particular incidents, that airline was United, and in every case, the failure was with its maintenance department, not Boeing’s bad management and poor quality control.

A similar string of incidents has also occurred at American Airlines, involving both Boeing and Airbus airplanes. With both United and American, evidence suggests that the quality of its maintenance staff has likely declined significantly since 2020, when both companies decided to abopt Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) hiring practices, which made skin color and sex the most important qualification in hiring, rather than talent, skill, experience, or knowledge.

It is important for readers to recognize this fact when they see new stories about a Boeing plane forced to make an emergency landing, such as the story today about a United Airlines’ Boeing 787. It apparently had a cracked windshield, requiring an unscheduled landing in Chicago. The article at the link focuses a great deal on Boeing, but the focus should instead be on United Airlines, not the airplane maker, since it is United’s responsibility to keep its fleet flightworthy. When an airline fails to do so, future customers should take note, and consider other options when they need to fly.

In other words, you shouldn’t avoid flying on a Boeing plane, you should avoid flying on airlines that maintain their airplanes badly.

Having said this, I don’t want my readers to think I am trying to let Boeing off the hook. Far from it. » Read more

Australian spaceport on sourthern coast prepares for launch

Australian commercial spaceports
Click for original map.

According to a report today, the first suborbital launch from a new commercial spaceport on the sourthern coast of Australia is now expected by the end of April or early May.

New launch facilities at the Koonibba Test Range, South Australia’s first permanent spaceport, are almost complete ahead of the impending inaugural launch. Located northwest of Ceduna, the range is a partnership between Southern Launch and the Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation. It is the largest commercial testing range in the Southern Hemisphere.

Space Industries Minister Susan Close is today visiting the site ahead of the sub-orbital test launch of German manufacturer HyImpulse’s SR75 rocket, which, subject to final regulatory approval, will go ahead at the end of April or early May. The rocket will reach an altitude of 50 kilometres before parachuting back to Earth where it will be recovered for testing.

Southern Launch, marked on the map to the right, is on south coast of Australia. Two other Australian commercial spaceports also under development are noted on the northern and eastern coasts.

We shall see if this suborbital launch occurs as planned. Recently the evidence has suggested that Australia’s regulatory state is as bad as the United Kingdom, taking forever to issue licenses for private launches.

SpaceX completes two launches in three and a half hours; third launch scrubbed

And the beat goes on: Today SpaceX set a new marker for future launch companies, successfully launching twice from two different launchpads in Florida only three and a half hours apart, and then scrubbing a third launch due to weather on the opposite coast of the U.S. only a few hours after that.

First SpaceX launched a Eutelsat geosynchronous communications satellite, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral at 5:52 pm (Eastern). Its first stage completed its twelth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

A little more than three and a half hours later, at 9:30 pm (Eastern), SpaceX launched 23 Starlink satellites, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from its second launchpad at Cape Canaveral. The first stage completed its eighteenth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

Finally, the third launch planned for the day, of another 22 Starlink satelites, was scrubbed at Vandenberg in California at about 10:30 pm (Pacific), or 1:30 am (Eastern) due to weather, despite multiple launch attempts during its two hour launch window. The flight will likely be rescheduled for sometime in the next few days.

No private company has ever attempted such a thing before, and only the Soviet Union might have done it during the height of its launch industry from 1970 to 1988, when it routinely launched between 80 and 100 times per year. Whether it ever did three launches in under nine hours however is not likely.

Even though only two of the three launches took off, what SpaceX tried to do today provides a further illustration of the company’s effort to make rocket launches as routine as airplane travel. It now launches at a pace and reliability that is unprecedented since the dawn of the space age, and was for decades considered by experts impossible. So much for experts. It always pays to ignore them when they tell you something is impossible.

The leaders in the 2024 space race:

32 SpaceX
13 China
4 Rocket Lab
4 Russia

American private enterprise now leads the entire world combined in successful launches 37 to 23, and SpaceX by itself leads everyone one else combined 32 to 28.

Varda releases results of its in-orbit test for producing pharmaceuticals in weightlessness

On March 20, 2024 Varda released the results from its seven-month-long flight of its unmanned capsule, claiming that the technology worked to produce pharmaceuticals in weightlessness that will be better at treating some difficult illnesses such as HIV.

From the abstract of the preprint paper [pdf]:

Despite notable progress in realizing the benefits of microgravity, the physical stability of therapeutics processed in space has not been sufficiently investigated. Environmental factors including vibration, acceleration, radiation, and temperature, if not addressed could impact the feasibility of in-space drug processing. The presented work demonstrates the successful recovery of the metastable Form III of ritonavir generated in orbit. The test samples and passive controls containing each of the anhydrous forms of ritonavir; Form I, Form II, Form III, and amorphous exhibit excellent stability. By providing a detailed experimental dataset centered on survivability, we pave the way for the future of in-space processing of medicines that enable the development of novel drug products on Earth and benefit long-duration human exploration initiatives.

More research is likely required, but I suspect Varda will be able to raise investment capital from this success, since there is a lot of money to be made from pharmaceuticals that can only be produced in weightlessness.

Ispace, which built the lunar lander Hakuto-R1, has raised $53 million in investment capital

The lunar lander company Ispace, which built Hakuto-R1, the lunar lander that crashed on the Moon last year, announced yesterday that it has raised $53 million in investment capital from a sale of its publicly traded stock.

The Tokyo-based company, which went public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange nearly a year ago, announced March 28 that it completed a sale of 10.25 million shares of stock, raising approximately 8.1 billion yen ($53.5 million). The shares were sold to institutional investors outside of Japan.

Most of the funding — about 7.1 billion yen — will go towards various elements of what the company calls Mission 3, a lander being developed by its American subsidiary, ispace U.S., for Draper. That APEX 1.0 lander will fly a mission in 2026 for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, going to the far side of the moon.

Before APEX flies the company has a second Hakuto-R-type mission planned, dubbed Resilience and targeting a launch late this year.

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