Tag Archives: capitalism

Falcon Heavy dress rehearsal countdown and static fire today

Capitalism in space: SpaceX hopes to complete today its standard prelaunch dress rehearsal countdown for the second Falcon Heavy launch, now likely scheduled for April 9.

The launch had previously been set for April 7.

The article provides a nice overview of the Falcon Heavy. It also included this tidbit:

Unlike most past missions, the two side boosters are already booked for a second launch. They – in addition to the brand new center core B1057 – will help launch the Air Force’s STP-2 mission, currently No Earlier Than (NET) June.

That they have already scheduled reuse of the side boosters for the next Falcon Heavy launch indicates just how confident they have become about recovering those boosters.

UPDATE: Dress rehearsal countdown and static fire have been completed. According to an Elon Musk tweet, the data looks good, but he cautioned that as this will be the first Falcon Heavy launch using Block 5 boosters, the launch date might change as they review the data.

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Arianespace successfully launches four commercial communications satellites

Capitalism in space: Using a Russian-built Soyuz rocket Arianespace today successfully placed four O3b communications in orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

4 China
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 SpaceX
3 Russia

The U.S. now leads China and Europe 6 to 4 in the national rankings.

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Telescope store sues Asian telescope manufacturers for fixing prices

A San Francisco store that sells telescopes to the public is suing two Asian telescope manufacturers — who make almost all recreational telescopes sold in the U.S. — for conspiring together to fix prices and create that monopoly.

Orion Telescopes and Binoculars, which is headquartered in Watsonville and has stores there and in Cupertino, is seeking more than $180 million in damages in a lawsuit. A federal court in Northern California said the complaint against telescope maker Ningbo Sunny, filed in 2016, can go to trial. A subsidiary of Ningbo Sunny, a Chinese company, bought Irvine telescope maker Meade Instruments in 2013.

In the complaint, Orion alleges that Ningbo Sunny and a Taiwanese telescope manufacturer, Synta Technology, shared confidential information that competitors normally would not share, including product pricing, order forecasts and credit arrangements.

My question is this: Why are no American telescope manufacturers competing in this market? Are our labor costs too high? Our government regulations too restrictive? A little bit of competition could easily end this collusion by these Asian manufacturers, assuming it is happening.

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Amazon to build its own giant satellite constellation

Capitalism in space: Amazon has officially joined the race to build own giant satellite constellations for providing internet access worldwide.

[They] plan to put 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit — including 784 satellites at an altitude of 367 miles (590 kilometers); 1,296 satellites at a height of 379 miles (610 kilometers); and 1,156 satellites in 391-mile (630-kilometer) orbits.

In response to GeekWire’s inquiries, Amazon confirmed that Kuiper Systems is actually one of its projects. “Project Kuiper is a new initiative to launch a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The competition now includes Amazon, SpaceX, OneWeb, and others, each of which will provide a lot of business for the launch industry. All told, more than 15,000 satellites will need to be launched by these companies before the middle of the next decade.

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Air Force confirms more Rocket Lab launches

Capitalism in space:: With the successful launch of a DARPA satellite by Rocket Lab last week, the Air Force yesterday confirmed the purchase of several more launches on the company’s Electron Rocket.

Three satellites will be launched to low Earth orbit later this month from Mahia, New Zealand, using Rocket Lab USA’s Electron rocket.

…The upcoming Rocket Lab launch is one of five planned in 2019. … Five small launches will send 21 experimental satellites to space by the end of December, said Lt. Col. Andrew Anderson, chief of the DoD Space Test Program Branch.

One of the five will be by Vox Space later this year. The company will use Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket that is air launched from a Boeing 747 mothership.

Anderson said there is possibly another vendor in the mix but only Rocket Lab and Vox Space so far can be identified.

I suspect that the unnamed vendor is Vector, but the Air Force is likely not going commit to this until Vector gets farther along in its test program.

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Starhopper completes first tethered hop

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s prototype vehicle for testing vertical takeoff and landing for its Starship spacecraft, now dubbed Starhopper, successfully completed its first tethered hop yesterday.

The company and Elon Musk have revealed few details, other than it was tethered, lasted only a very short time, and involved only one Raptor engine. More tests are certain to follow.

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Beresheet enters lunar orbit

The privately-built lunar lander Beresheet today successfully entered lunar orbit.

They achieved this by completing an engine burn that changed their Earth orbit to an elliptical lunar one.

At 5:18 p.m. Israel time on April 4, the spacecraft’s engine activated for six minutes and reduced its speed by 1,000 km/hour, from 8,500 km/hour to 7,500 km/hour, relative to the moon’s velocity. The maneuver was conducted with full communication between Beresheet’s control room in Israel and the spacecraft, and signals in real time match the correct course. In the coming week, with expected intense engineering activities, many more maneuvers will take Beresheet from an elliptical to a round orbit, at a height of 200 km. from the moon. The maneuvers will aim to reduce the spacecraft’s distance from the moon and reach the optimal point to conduct an autonomic landing in the Sea of Serenity in the evening Israel time, April 11.

You can see a video of their mission control at the completion of this burn here.

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Boeing confirms delay till August for first unmanned Starliner launch

No surprise here: Boeing today confirmed that it is delaying until August for first unmanned Starliner test launch.

A statement issued by Boeing on Tuesday confirmed previous reports that the company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, designed and built under a $4.2 billion contract from NASA, would miss its previous target launch date for an unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station in April. NASA and industry sources have said for months that an April launch date was not feasible, but NASA and Boeing had not officially published a revised schedule since early February.

The first Starliner test flight with astronauts on-board was previously scheduled for August. In Boeing’s schedule update released Tuesday, the company only said it expects the Crew Flight Test to occur “later this year,” but sources said the Starliner could fly with astronauts in November, at the earliest.

It appears that the fuel leak during a thruster test in June of last year has been the main cause of the delay.

None of this should effect SpaceX, which is primed to fly its mission during the summer. It does however cause more problems for Boeing, which is now also faced with pressure to finish NASA’s SLS rocket, bogged by years of delays and cost overruns.

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Beresheet makes course adjustment just prior to entering lunar orbit

Earth as seen by Beresheet

The Israeli privately-funded lunar lander Beresheet yesterday completed a one-minute engine burn to adjust its course slightly in preparation for entering lunar orbit on April 4.

This morning’s 72-second-long burn helped make some “final adjustments” ahead of capture into lunar orbit, mission team members said in an update this morning. It’s unclear if any further such tweaks will be needed. “The teams are assessing the results to determine if another alignment will be required before Beresheet enters the lunar orbit this Thursday,” project team members said.

The image to the right was taken by Beresheet of the Earth during its last close approach on March 31. It appropriately shows the Middle East, with the Arabian peninsula visible just below center.

The landing is still scheduled for April 11.

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Vector delays next test launch until June

Capitalism in space: Vector Launch has now delayed its next suborbital test launch three months to June.

Previously they had hoped to get this suborbital test launched in March/April. The company has not set any firm date in June, and cautions that further delays should not be unexpected. Assuming this suborbital launch happens this summer, they then hope to get their first orbital rocket launched by the end of the year.

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NASA head says that Falcon Heavy remains a future option for Orion

At an agency meeting for employees NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine reiterated that NASA is still seriously considering the use of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy for future Orion lunar missions instead of SLS.

Bridenstine then laid out one scenario that has huge implications, not for a 2020 launch, but one later on. Until now, it was thought that only NASA’s Space Launch System could directly inject the Orion spacecraft into a lunar orbit, which made it the preferred option for getting astronauts to the Moon for any potential landing by 2024. However, Bridenstine said there was another option: a Falcon Heavy rocket with an Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage built by United Launch Alliance. “Talk about strange bedfellows,” he mused about the two rocket rivals.

This plan has the ability to put humans on the Moon by 2024, Bridenstine said. He then emphasized—twice—that NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, William Gerstenmaier, has yet to bless this approach due to a number of technical details. His reservations include the challenge of integrating the Falcon Heavy rocket in a horizontal position and then loading Orion with fuel in a vertical configuration on the launchpad. The Falcon Heavy would also require a larger payload fairing than it normally flies with. This would place uncertain stress on the rocket’s side-mounted boosters.

All the problems outlined in the second paragraph are the result of bad past management at NASA. Just as you design your rocket based the rocket engines you have — in order to save time and money — you design your capsule and manned vehicles based on the rockets that are available. NASA did not do this. It built Orion in a fantasy la-la land, without addressing the real world rocket options available. Now it has to either reconfigure, or get SpaceX to rethink the Falcon Heavy. Neither option will be cheap.

Regardless, Bridenstine’s statement is another shot across the bow to the porkmeisters in Congress. SLS is on shaky financial ground. It cannot compete in price with the commercial options. More significantly, it cannot come close to matching the launch rates of the private rockets. In the time NASA could put together one SLS launch, SpaceX could likely fly five to ten Falcon Heavies, and still do it for less money overall.

SLS is now tasked with a December 2020 deadline for launching that first unmanned test flight. Should it fail to meet that date, the political battle lines are now being laid for replacing it.

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India launches military satellite plus 28 smallsats

Capitalism in space: India today successfully used its PSLV rocket to launch one Indian military satellite plus 28 smallsats.

The rocket’s fourth stage demonstrated an additional capability.

Monday’s launch, the second of the year for India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), was tasked with a series of maneuvers for the rocket’s upper stage to insert twenty-nine deployable payloads into their pre-planned orbits over the first two hours of its flight.

Following separation of the last payload, the upper stage will maneuver to a final orbit where it will operate as a research platform, hosting three attached payloads to demonstrate this capability for future missions. The launch also tests out a new configuration for the PSLV, a further intermediate between the lightest and heaviest versions of the rocket.

UPDATE: Yesterday China also launched a communications satellite designed to facilitate in-space communications, using its Long March 3B rocket.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

4 China
3 SpaceX
3 Europe (Arianespace)
2 Russia
2 India

The U.S. continues to lead China in the national rankings 6 to 4.

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Beresheet to win $1 million if it succeeds in lunar landing

Capitalism in space: The X-Prize Foundation today announced that it will award the Israeli company SpaceIL a million dollar award should its privately-funded spacecraft Beresheet successfully soft land on the Moon on April 11.

The foundation also stated that it is considering offering other similar awards for similar private achievements. In that context, this article in Science today gives a nice summary of the private companies now working to buiild and launch private planetary probes.

Two companies, Moon Express and TeamIndus, appear ready to fly their lunar landers in 2020. Four others have announced plans, but their schedules and status are less firm. In all cases, these companies are establishing themselves as commercial alternatives to the expensive, government-built planetary probes of the past. Rather than build their own spacecraft, scientists in the future will hire these companies, and attach their instruments to their spacecrafts. And get things build faster and for less money.

Moreover, NASA itself has been encouraging this transition.

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Rocket Lab launch a success

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully placed a DARPA technology satellite in orbit using its smallsat Electron rocket.

Expect there to be an increase in the pace of launches from this company in the coming months.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race remain the same however:

3 SpaceX
3 China
3 Europe (Arianespace)
2 Russia

The U.S. however now leads in the national rankings, 6 to 3, over China and Europe. I list Rocket Lab as an American company because that’s what the company calls itself, even though it launches from New Zealand and right now builds the bulk of its rockets there.

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Live feed of today’s Rocket Lab Electron launch

The countdown to Rocket Lab’s first launch in 2019, to place a DARPA technology demo satellite in orbit, is proceeding without problems, with the four hour launch window beginning at 6:30 pm (Eastern) today. The launch itself is presently set for 7:27 pm (Eastern).

The link will include the company’s live stream of the launch, when it begins about fifteen minutes before launch.

Should this launch succeed, Rocket Lab has said it would begin more regular launches, aiming for monthly and even bi-monthly launches before the end of the year.

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Update on the upcoming second Falcon Heavy launch

Link here. The rocket’s three first stages will be Block 5 versions. A static fire dress rehearsal countdown is set for April 1, with the launch scheduled for April 7.

Though the article does not say so, it hints at a number of serious engineering issues discovered during the first Falcon Heavy launch, suggesting to me once again that the success of that launch was somewhat fortuitous. SpaceX has spent the last year correcting those issues in preparation for this launch. Based on the company’s track record, the odds are very high the April 7 launch will be successful.

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Pence reiterates Trump administration’s willingness to abandon SLS

Turf war! At today’s National Space Council meeting, vice-president Mike Pence reiterated the Trump administration’s willingness to replace SLS with commercial rockets, if that is what it will take to get Americans back to the Moon by 2024.

Pence said the schedule for completing SLS must be accelerated, but also opened the door to using rockets built by a commercial spaceflight company for the lunar mission. “We’re not committed to any one contractor. If our current contractors can’t meet this objective, then we’ll find ones that will,” he said. “And if commercial rockets are the only way to get American astronauts to the moon in the next five years, then commercial rockets it will be.”

It is very clear now that the Trump administration is beginning the political war necessary for shutting down the SLS boondoggle, something that cannot happen easily considering how its large workforce is scattered in so many states and congressional districts. To make it happen, they need to publicly illustrate its failure, repeatedly, but do so in a manner that does not overly antagonize SLS’s supporters. This is why both Pence and NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine have been careful to express support for SLS, even as they hint at its replacement.

The battle is joined, however, and that could be a very good thing for the American space industry, in the coming years.

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Russia cuts Proton price to match SpaceX

Capitalism in space: Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, yesterday said that Russia will cut costs so that the price they charge for a Proton launch will match SpaceX.

Russia is struggling to regain its Proton customer base after the launch failures of the past few years. I don’t think matching SpaceX’s prices will do it. Right now satellite companies view them as offering a less reliable product, and until they can prove this impression false they need to offer their rocket for even less that SpaceX.

This is in fact what SpaceX did at the beginning. Its rockets were untested and thus risky to use. To compensate they offered a cheaper way to space. Now Russia has to do the same, or the business will continue to go to others. I wonder if Rogozin understands this.

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Update of Starhopper testing in Texas

Link here. Nothing spectacular yet, just steady and relatively quick developments.

I did find one aspect of these events a little disturbing:

In quick order, residents of Boca Chica Village were notified via mail of imminent tests and road closures that would occur as early as this week, the week of 18 March.

The notice to residents revealed that a security checkpoint would be set up on the road leading to Boca Chica Village and that residents would have to show proof of residence in order to gain access to their homes; any passengers in those vehicles would also have to show proof of residence.

This indicates that no guests will be allowed past the security checkpoint during the coming flight test operations of Starhopper.

A hard checkpoint beyond which no access to Boca Chica Beach will be granted will be further down the road.

By what right do the authorities have the power to prevent American citizens from bringing guests to their homes? None. If I lived in this development I would fight this, hard.

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Russia offers to take over ISS if US exits

How kind of them! Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, told journalists today that Russia has formulated a proposal to take over ISS operations completely should the U.S. withdraw from the station.

“This is Roscosmos’ proposal. We believe that we can keep the station in case the Americans decide to withdraw from this project, through other countries and partners. We have technological and technical capabilities to keep the station on the orbit and fully provide both electric energy and water there,” Rogozin said.

Roscosmos’ director general explained that the Russian section may add new modules on the basis of the Science-Power Module (SPM), the first version of which will be launched to the station in 2022. “Here the Russian Federation has a unique opportunity. We can duplicate the SPM. Its design makes it possible to turn into home for other states – there can be the SPM-2, SPM-3, SPM-4, they may grow further, extending the international part of the station. We formulated this proposal, and we suggest our new partners doing it,” Rogozin said. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text reveals Russia’s real goal. They take over station operations, and then sell to other nations modules for the station. Does the UAE want its own space station manned program? Buy a Russian-built module of your own, get it attached to ISS, and “Voila!” you have a very sophisticated and relatively permanent in-space facility all your own. And Russia will provide you the manned ferrying services!

This idea makes great sense. The Russians could even do it should the U.S. stick with ISS. It allows them to offer something far superior to the private, small, and short-lived separate station modules that a variety of private American companies are developing and offering for purchase or rent.

Of course, NASA could do the same, by allowing our private companies to attach modules of their own to ISS, for their own purposes. Historically, however, NASA’s management has been hostile to private enterprise, and in the past has frequently acted to oppose independent commercial activities on ISS. For example, when Russians wanted to fly Dennis Tito to ISS NASA strongly opposed this, and tried to stop it.

NASA has been changing in the past decades, however, so it could be that if the Russians push this hard, the competition could help the factions in NASA who are favor of private and free competition gain control of station management.

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Electron launch scrubbed, rescheduled for March 26

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab’s launch today of a DARPA satellite was scrubbed when a video transmitter did not work as expected.

“The team has identified a video transmitter 13dB down with low performance,” Rocket Lab tweeted. “It’s not an issue for flight, but we want to understand why, so we’re waiving off for the day.”

Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and CEO, added that the rocket was “technically good to fly, as we have redundant links, but we don’t know why the performance dropped and that makes me uncomfortable.”

In an update a few hours later, Rocket Lab said crews aim to replace the suspect video transmitter in time for a second launch attempt Tuesday (U.S. time). The four-hour launch window Tuesday will open at 6:30 p.m. EDT (2230 GMT).

Rocket Lab had hoped to move to monthly launches beginning in February. While they will probably do so before the year is out, it seems it might take most of the year to get to that pace.

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Arianespace’s Vega rocket launches Italian earth observation satellite

Capitalism in space: Arianespace today successfully used its Vega rocket to place an Italian earth observation satellite into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

3 SpaceX
3 China
3 Europe (Arianespace)
2 Russia
2 ULA

The U.S. still leads in the national rankings 5 to 3 over China and Europe.

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Air Force’s launch contracting plans under scrutiny

It appears the Air Force wants to decide now which two rocket companies it will use for its launch needs in the 2022 to 2026 time period, and this desire is raising hackles among those companies.

[T]he Air Force will choose only two companies to meet its launch needs from 2022 to 2026, with one provider winning 60 percent of the contracts and the other taking 40 percent. There is no provision to on-ramp other companies during the time frame.

This sets up a rather frantic competition between the incumbents, ULA and SpaceX, and newcomers Blue Origin (with its New Glenn booster) and Northrop Grumman (with its Omega rocket). Moreover, the timing appears to prejudice the competition in favor of the incumbents, which already have existing launch systems the government can assess.

Something is really fishy here. Why does the Air Force need to limit its services to only two companies? And why do they have to make this decision now, three to seven years before the launches will occur? Common sense says you instead issue specific contract bids, for each launch, as they are needed, thus allowing as many companies as possible to compete for the business.

In fact, this policy seems to directly contradict the Air Force’s stated goal, repeated many times in the past few years, to widen competition in the launch industry, both to lower cost and to give the military strategic redundancy in its needed launch services.

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Ariane 6 gets OneWeb launch contract

Capitalism in space: Arianespace announced this week that it has signed a three-launch contract with OneWeb that will use its new Ariane 6 rocket, including the rocket’s maiden flight.

The launch service agreement specifies the use of the qualification launch of the Ariane 62 version, scheduled for the second half of 2020; the two Ariane 6 options (either in its 62 version, accommodating up to 36 OneWeb satellites, or in the 64 version, up to 78 OneWeb satellites) will be utilized starting in 2023.

The OneWeb satellites will be launched by the first Ariane 62 into a near-polar orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers before raising themselves to their operational orbit.

Because OneWeb is in direct competition with SpaceX for building the first space-based internet satellite constellation, it has looked for other launch companies to put its satellites in orbit. Thus, the business to launch the company’s planned 650-plus satellite constellation has gone to Arianespace, Russia, Virgin Orbit, and others. This in turn appears to have saved Ariane 6, which is going to be more expensive than SpaceX’s rockets and was therefore having trouble getting launch contracts.

Isn’t competition wonderful? It looks like it is going to take us to the stars.

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Boeing delays unmanned test flight of manned capsule

According to this story today, Boeing has delayed from April to August its first unmanned test flight of its Starliner manned capsule. It has also delayed the first manned flight from August to November.

NASA refused to comment other to say it would announce new schedules next week. The article also stated this:

The initial April launch was ahead of a United Launch Alliance mission for the Department of Defense in June from the Cape Canaveral launch pad in Florida, so Boeing would have needed to clear the launch pad by the first week in May, one of the sources said, describing the pressure not just on technical issues but also launch schedules at Cape Canaveral.

I suspect the technical issues are related to Boeing’s need to do more tests of the attitude thrusters on Starliner following the leak that occurred in a test last summer.

I also hope that next week’s announcement will reveal a firming up of SpaceX’s schedule. By now they should have a good idea of when they can do their launch abort test reusing the Dragon capsule used during their successful first unmanned test flight in March. That will in turn allow them to firm up the launch date for the first manned flight.

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A review of the Trump administrations’s SLS/Orion reprogramming options

Link here. This is a nice summary of the technical and political options being considered for the first unmanned Orion test flight, presently scheduled for June 2020, including replacing SLS with commercial launch rockets.

The article also noted that NASA is also looking at simplifying that test flight, because both SLS and Orion are behind schedule and this would make using a commercial rocket easier.

The currently baselined EM-1 [the test] mission would launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a trans-lunar injection (TLI) trajectory; once released from the launch vehicle, it will fly solo for the first time. The Orion would then make two large engine burns to insert itself into a Distant Retrograde Orbit (DRO) around the Moon. Depending on the time of year, Orion would stay in the DRO for a half or one and a half orbits before making two more large engine burns to return to Earth. Preliminary analysis indicates a June, 2020, launch of the full-up mission would fall into the “long-class” category, with Orion staying in a DRO with a twelve-day long period for one and a half laps and flying a five-week long flight.

Prior to Administrator Bridenstine’s announcement of the alternate launch study for EM-1, notes passed to [this website] indicated that NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier had sent out a memo in early March indicating that studies to look at ways to keep the EM-1 launch in 2020 could not compromise any of the mission objectives; besides that, everything else was on the table.

The highest priority objective of the EM-1 mission is a lunar-velocity reentry test of the redesigned Orion heatshield, along with a full end-to-end test of the re-entry sequence and an in-space demonstration of Orion systems, many of which are flying for the first time.

Although Bridenstine’s public comments stressed flying EM-1 as a lunar orbit mission, there has been speculation that launching Orion out to near lunar distance without attempting either a lunar orbit or a lunar flyby could meet the highest priority objectives. Dropping the lunar orbit requirement or lunar flyby options would also relax launch opportunity constraints created by flying to the Moon and could perhaps reduce launch vehicle performance requirements enough to drop the [Earth orbit rendezvous] proposal and [docking] development work. [emphasis mine]

To use commercial rockets and still go into lunar orbit would require at least two commercial launches to get the required material up to orbit. It would also require developing Orion’s docking software now, something NASA had not planned to do until prior to Orion’s third flight several years hence. Avoiding lunar orbit means they can use a single Falcon Heavy launch and avoid these issues.

The highlighted phrase above indicates the most important priority of the test flight. This does not require lunar orbit. In fact, the Apollo mission tested its heat shield without leaving Earth orbit, and Orion can do the same.

It is still bothersome to read how haphazard NASA’s SLS/Orion program remains. They aren’t doing enough testing, their future flights are always in flux for political, schedule, and budgetary reasons, and they always seem to be in too much of a hurry to fly humans on very unproven vehicles. If NASA’s corrupt safety panel applied the same standards to SLS/Orion as it does to SpaceX and Boeing, the whole program would be shut down. It does not, because safety isn’t really its purpose. That panel’s goal is to serve NASA’s bureaucracy, and to protect its biggest projects (SLS/Orion) from any competition.

As for replacing SLS for that first Orion test flight, we shall see. The political forces opposing such a move are vast, and wield a lot of power.

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DARPA’s satellite servicing mission adrift

Capitalism in space? DARPA’s program to test a satellite servicing mission appears in serious and complex trouble with the termination by Maxar (previously called SSL) of its contract to build the structure, or “bus”, of the robot.

What makes this more complicated is that the company building the actual servicing payload is continuing its work.

While Maxar will no longer be providing the satellite bus, work on the servicing payload continues. Among the companies involved in that effort is Praxis, a company handling planning for mission operations of the RSGS servicing system, such as how the system will safely grapple the target satellite. “For our day-to-day operations, that hasn’t really affected us. We’re pretty far along on the payload development,” said Tony Marzi, general manager of Praxis, during a presentation at the MIT New Space Age Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology here March 15.

DARPA is thus calling for proposals to launch this payload.

The irony here is that this DARPA project was under criticism from the start, even to the point that a competing satellite servicing company, Orbital ATK, sued the agency. That company, now part of Northrop Grumman, was building its own privately funded servicing robot, and considered DARPA’s effort to be unfair in that it provided direct government subsidies to its competitors.

While Orbital ATK lost its suit, it now appears it has won the competition — assuming it eventually launches its own mission.

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OneWeb raises $1.25 billion

Capitalism in space: Following the launch of the first six satellites for its 650 satellite constellation to provide worldwide internet services, OneWeb today announced that it has successfully raised $1.25 billion in new investment capital.

…it has secured its largest fundraising round to date with the successful raise of $1.25 billion in new capital. This brings the total funds raised to $3.4 billion. This round was led by SoftBank Group Corp., Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm Technologies Inc., and the Government of Rwanda.

The new funds, following the successful first launch of OneWeb’s satellites, enable the company to accelerate the development of the first truly global communications network by 2021.

…OneWeb’s satellites, produced through its joint venture with Airbus doing business as “OneWeb Satellites”, will ramp-up production this spring at its new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Exploration Park, Florida. Following the company’s successful launch of satellites on February 27th, OneWeb will embark on the largest satellite launch campaign in history. Starting in Q4, OneWeb will begin monthly launches of more than 30 satellites at a time, creating an initial constellation of 650 satellites to enable full global coverage. After this first phase, OneWeb will add more satellites to its constellation to meet growing demands.

This puts OneWeb significantly ahead of everyone else, including SpaceX, in the race to launch the first space-based system for providing internet services. Their planned launch pace also illustrates why there is a flood of new smallsat rocket companies. They, and others, have a clear need for launch services, which presently cannot be provided by the existing launch companies.

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First SpaceX Starship Hopper tests this week?

Capitalism in space: According to this news story on Sunday, SpaceX could attempt its first Starship Hopper tests this week.

A sheriff hand-delivered road closure notices to residents on Friday, according to a local resident. The document warned locals that SpaceX will “conduct testing” as soon as Monday, March 18.

The article also cites a flurry of tweets about the hopper that Elon Musk made on Sunday. Unfortunately, Musk’s tweets do not say anything about tests this week.

Regardless, it appears that SpaceX might actually be close to beating the schedule it announced for these tests back in November, when Musk said they were aiming for tests in June. If so, this would be a remarkable achievement, one that is almost unheard of in the aerospace launch industry.

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