American freedom sets a new yearly record for rocketry

Liberty enlightens the world
Liberty has now also enlightened the exploration of space

Capitalism in space: In 1966, more than a half century ago, the United States government was in a desperate space race to catch up with the communist Soviet Union, which for the previous decade had been first in almost every major achievement in space, from launching the first orbital satellite, the first manned mission, the first two- and three- manned missions, and the first spacewalk.

In 1966, the NASA and the U.S. military successfully launched 70 times in their effort to catch up, a number that has remained the record for more that five decades as the most American launches in a single year.

All but one of those seventy launches were either for NASA or the military, paid for and built not for profit but for achieving the political ends of the federal government. Many of those seventy launches were also short duration technology test satellites, whose purpose once achieved ended those programs.

By the end of the 1960s, this aggressive effort had paid off, with the U.S. being the first to land humans on the Moon while matching or exceeding the Soviets in almost every major technical space challenge. The need for such an aggressive government launch program vanished.

Thus, for the next half century, the United States rarely exceeded thirty launches in a single year. This low number was further reduced by the decision in the 1970s by the federal government to shut down the entire private launch industry and require all American manned and satellite payloads to be launched on NASA’s space shuttle.

Come 2011 and the retirement of the space shuttle, all this finally changed. The federal government began a slow and painful transition in the next decade from building and launching its own rockets to buying that service from the private sector. It took awhile, but that transition finally allowed the rebirth of a new American private launch industry, led by SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket.

Tonight, that SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completed the 71st launch in 2022, breaking that 1966 record by placing in orbit a commercial communications satellite. And it did it with almost two months left in the year, guaranteeing that the record has not only be broken, it will be shattered.
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Freefall: an antenna company for space

Freefall: Antennas for Space!

Last week I had the opportunity to tour the offices space-based antenna startup Freefall, another one of Tucson’s many space-related companies.

Not surprisingly (and probably to the company’s credit), the offices and facility were themselves not that impressive. Essentially it was an open space with some areas reserved for desks and workers, and other areas where engineers could do some antenna construction and testing. In one corner was what the company’s CEO, Doug Stetson, labeled “their antenna graveyard,” past antenna experiments that were no longer needed or in use.

However, like all of these new independently-owned small aerospace companies popping up worldwide now that western governments have given up control of their space programs, what makes this company stand out is the creative innovations — both in design and manufacturing — that it brings to its products. In the case of Freefall, those products are all kinds of antennas, designed for all kinds of space-related uses.

First, there is design. The key to Freefall’s business model is its spherical dish antenna design.
» Read more

Two Saudi passengers to fly on Axiom’s second commercial flight to ISS

According to one NASA official, Axiom now plans on launching two as yet unnamed Saudi passengers on AX-2, its second commercial flight to ISS scheduled to launch in May 2023 on a Dragon capsule.

The names of the two Saudis on the flight have not been released, she said, but that “we are working very hard with them on training already.” A slide for her presentation noted the two would be named after formal approval by the ISS program’s Multilateral Crew Operations Panel. That slide also stated that crew training for the mission started Oct. 17.

The Saudi Space Commission and Axiom Space separately announced Sept. 22 plans to fly two Saudi citizens on a future Axiom Space mission. However, while it was widely rumored the two would fly on Ax-2, neither announcement stated a specific mission. The Saudi statement said that one of the two people would be a woman but did not disclose how the astronauts would be selected.

Neither Axiom nor the Saudis have revealed the ticket price, though it probably runs somewhere in the range of $20 to $50 million per ticket, based on past known purchase prices by NASA and others.

Rocket Lab to attempt 1st stage recovery on November 4th launch

Rocket Lab announced yesterday that it will make its second attempt to catch the first stage of its Electron rocket using a helicopter during its next launch on November 4, 2022.

Using a modified Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to catch and secure the rocket by its parachute line, Rocket Lab will bring the captured stage back to its Auckland Production Complex to be processed and assessed by engineers and technicians for possible re-use.

This Electron recovery effort follows the catch of an Electron first stage during Rocket Lab’s first helicopter recovery attempt on the “There And Back Again” launch in May, and the recovery attempt for this mission will follow the same concept of operations as the previous launch.

In the May recovery attempt, the helicopter caught the stage, but then released it almost immediately because of unexpected stresses on the helicopter. If Rocket Lab is successful this time, it will be only the second private rocket company to recover a first stage capable of reuse, after SpaceX.

The launch itself will take place at 10:15 am (Pacific). When the live stream is available I will embed it on Behind the Black.

Japanese private lunar lander HAKUTO-R now scheduled for launch on November 22nd

The private lunar lander HAKUTO-R, built by the Japanese company Ispace, has now been scheduled for a November 22, 2022 launch on a Falcon 9 rocket.

The launch of the first commercial lunar lander mission to attempt a landing on the Moon was originally scheduled between November 9 -15. However, ispace stated that after consulting with SpaceX, the new tentative launch date would be moved to November 22 because it “allows for best preparation for the mission when considering the fuel-loading schedule for the lander and launch date availability.” SpaceX has a busy schedule at the Cape and NASA still has the Artemis 1 launch scheduled for November 14.

HAKUTO-R’s primary mission is to test the lander. However, it also includes several customer payloads, the most significant of which is the Rashid rover from the United Arab Emirates. Rashid, which is about the size of a Radio Flyer red wagon, will operate for one lunar day, about two weeks. While its main mission is to test the engineering and to train the engineers who built it, it will have two cameras for taking pictures. In addition, on its wheels are test adhesive patches of different materials, designed to see how each material interacts with the Moon’s abrasive dust.

Lockheed Martin invests $100 million in startup satellite maker Terran Orbital

Lockheed Martin has now invested $100 million in the startup smallsat-maker Terran Orbital, which has already been building satellites of a wide variety for customers.

Under the deal, which runs through 2035, the smaller Florida-based firm will build SAR and other advanced payloads, as well as satellite sub-assemblies, for the aerospace behemoth, Terran said in a press release today. These include electro-optical, hyperspectral, infrared and secure communication payloads, as well as things like star trackers and flight computers.

With this deal, Terran has also decided that it will no longer launch its own radar constellation, as that constellation would have competed directly with its radar satellite customers. Instead, it will make its radar satellite for others, including Lockheed Martin.

As an example of the variety of smallsats Terran Orbital has been building, it manufactured the smallsat lunar orbiter CAPSTONE for NASA, now on its way to the Moon but being operated for NASA by a different private company, Advanced Space.

Orbex signs 50-year lease at Sutherland spaceport

The British startup rocket company Orbex has signed a 50-year lease to operate its own launchpad at the Space Hub Sutherland spaceport in Scotland.

The company will lease Space Hub Sutherland from a local development agency for an initial period of 50 years with an option to extend for a further 25 years. Orbex will soon commence construction at the 10-acre launch site on the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland. The bulk of the construction work will be contracted out to technology solutions company Jacobs, which also does a lot of work for NASA.

The company hopes to launch its Prime rocket in ’23. At present it is testing launch operations of a prototype on its launchpad. All told, Orbex has raised a little over $100 million in private investment capital.

Falcon Heavy launches successfully for 1st time since 2019

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully put a military reconnaissance satellite using its Falcon Heavy rocket, its first launch since 2019.

The two side boosters and core stage all made their first flight. The core stage was intentionally not recovered, as it needed to use all its fuel for getting the satellite to its orbit. The two side boosters successfully landed at SpaceX’s two landing sites at Cape Canaveral.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

50 SpaceX
47 China
18 Russia
8 Rocket Lab
7 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 70 to 47, though it still trails the rest of the world combined 74 to 70.

This year’s 70 successful launches ties the previous high for the United States in a single year, set in 1966. With two months still left in the year, it looks like that record will be broken, by a lot.

October 31, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s string Jay, who has been sending them to me for the past week. Unfortunately, my isp decided to only send me about half my emails during that time, and I only discovered this today. Ugh, modern big corporations. They operate like badly run feudal plantations.

Thus, tonight’s quick links will catch up on some stories we missed from late last week.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Blue Origin delivers second BE-4 flightworthy engine to ULA
  • ULA can now install the engines in the first Vulcan rocket and begin testing. Whether it will be ready for its first flight early next year remains unknown. It is even more uncertain whether Blue Origin can ramp up its BE-4 assembly line so as to produce enough of these engines for all of the planned launches of the Vulcan as well as Blue Origin’s own as-yet-unflown New Glenn rocket.

CAPSTONE makes course correction, now on target for lunar orbital insertion on November 13th

Engineers have successfully overcome the valve issue that had caused the CAPSTONE lunar probe to tumble, and have made a subsequent mid-course correction that has put the spacecraft on target for entering lunar orbit on November 13, 2022, as planned.

The CAPSTONE spacecraft successfully completed a trajectory correction maneuver on Thursday, Oct. 27, teeing up the spacecraft’s arrival to lunar orbit on Nov. 13.

CAPSTONE is no longer in safe mode following an issue in early September that caused the spacecraft to spin. The team identified the most likely cause as a valve-related issue in one of the spacecraft’s eight thrusters. The mission team will design future maneuvers to work around the affected valve, including the two remaining trajectory correction maneuvers scheduled before CAPSTONE’s arrival to orbit at the Moon.

Though it appears the CAPSTONE team has figured out how to deal with that malfuncting valve, it is unclear what the long-term ramifications of that valve will be. If it is still leaking it likely means the mission will be shortened because of loss of fuel, as well as the need to use more to compensate.

Stratolaunch’s giant Roc airplane flies for 1st time with Talon engineering vehicle attached

Test engineering vehicle attached below Roc
Test engineering vehicle attached on Roc

Stratolaunch yesterday successfully flew its giant Roc airplane with a Talon hypersonic engineering vehicle attached for the first time to its central fuselage.

The flight lasted just over five hours, reached an altitude of 23,000 feet, and was “focused on measuring the aerodynamic loads on the Talon-A vehicle while mated to Roc. The loads captured in flight will validate aerodynamic predictions to ensure the release mechanism will function as designed.”

The company will complete a series of captive carry flights in the coming months, culminating in a separation test of the TA-0 vehicle out over the Pacific Ocean in late 2022.

Even as these flight tests proceed, the company is building the actual Talon flight vehicles, designed as testbeds for doing hypersonic flight tests quickly and relatively cheaply. The plan is to have these flight vehicles ready for both military and commercial customers to fly them by ’23.

ULA breaks ground on new facility in Alabama

ULA yesterday broke ground on the construction of a new facility in Alabama, where it will store its Vulcan rockets and build the fairings for that rocket.

The factory is scheduled to begin operations in 2024. According to ULA’S CEO, Tori Bruno, the facility will double the production rate for making Vulcan rockets, necessary to provide the launches that Amazon wants for its Kuiper internet constellation.

SpaceX successfully launches another 53 Starlink satellites

SpaceX tonight successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch another 53 Starlink satellites into orbit, lifting off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The first stage completed its eighth flight, landing successfully on a drone ship in the Pacific. As of this writing, the satellites have not yet deployed, though they are in their planned orbit.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

49 SpaceX
45 China
18 Russia
8 Rocket Lab
7 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 69 to 45 in the national rankings, though it trails the rest of the world combined 72 to 69. At 69 successful launches, the U.S. is now just one launch behind its national record of 70 set in 1966.

European nations struggle with the new private commercial space station concept

The European partners that have been doing research and work on ISS are now struggling to figure out their future on the multiple new private commercial space stations American private enterprise is now building to replace ISS.

The ISS today relies extensively on barter arrangements among participating agencies, providing services to cover their share of operations of the station. Such arrangements are unlikely to work for commercial stations, however. “We need to find a new way of cooperating,” said Nicolas Maubert, space counselor at the French Embassy in the U.S. and representative of the French space agency CNES in the U.S., citing the challenges of extending current barter arrangements to commercial stations. “We need to put on the table every option.”

The simplest approach — direct payments from space agencies to the companies operating commercial stations — could face political obstacles. “The taxpayers in Europe don’t want to pay directly to private American companies,” he said. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words illustrate the fundamental problem. Europe on ISS has been for decades like a welfare queen. It has gotten access to space mostly free, since what it has offered in exchange for that access has never come close to matching what its work on ISS cost American taxpayers. Now that it will have to pay for that access in real dollars, some of its member nations are balking.

France for example still wants a free ride. Maubert suggested that Europe build its own space station, which means France wants its other ESA partners to help pay for the station that France wants to use.

I say, too bad. The costs on the private stations — built for profit and efficiency — will be far less that ISS. That cost will also be far far less than anything Europe might spend trying to build its own government station. Europe should bite the bullet and pay up. It won’t regret it.

Boeing’s write-off due to Starliner delays goes up to nearly $900 million

Capitalism in space: In a SEC filing on October 26, 2022, Boeing revealed that it has been required to spend another $195 million to cover the additional costs due to the further delays in getting Starliner launched, bringing the company’s total expense now to $883 million.

Boeing acknowledged today that it is taking a further $195 million charge against earnings for the CST-100 Starliner commercial crew program. Developed through a fixed-price contract with NASA, Starliner has encoutered a number of delays and Boeing must cover those costs. Added to $688 million already taken, the company now is spending $883 million of its own money on the program.

Boeing’s original fixed-price contract was for $4.2 billion, and included the test flights as well as six operational flights to ISS. However, numerous problems caused repeated delays and the need to fly a second unmanned test flight. Originally planned for the spring of 2020, the first manned Starliner flight is now targeting February 2023, three years behind schedule. Due to that delay, SpaceX’s Dragon ended up getting new contracts that included many of the later operational flights that Boeing would have earned. Right now, even if the capsule begins flying in ’23, NASA’s already purchased six flights will cover its needs through around ’26.

After that, NASA will still need to buy manned flights, if only to get to the new commercial space stations being built, and Starliner will then be an option. This just means however that it will take Boeing a long time to recover its Starliner losses. And that assumes customers begin to line up to buy flights.

Orbit Fab, the company building gas stations in space, gets new investor

Though the amount invested has not been revealed, Orbit Fab announced yesterday that it has obtained a new investor to fuel its effort to build the first gas stations in space.

Orbit Fab said that 8090 Industries was a “new major investor” in the company, but did not disclose the size of the investment. The company had previously raised a total of $17 million, including more than $10 million in a September 2021 round that included Lockheed Martin Ventures and Northrop Grumman.

Orbit Fab’s goal is to provide satellite makers a way to more easily and cheaply refuel their satellites, thus allowing them to not only launch for less cost but to last longer once in orbit. In August it announced it is aiming to launch a hydrazine refueling depot for geosynchronous satellites by 2025.

Relativity edges closer to first launch

Relativity has begun stacking its Terran-1 rocket with a goal of soon rolling it out to the launchpad for static fire tests.

The launch date itself remains uncertain. Though the company hopes to lift-off before the end of the year, it also has not committed to that goal.

“We are confident in our tech readiness to launch this year, and we’re still marching toward that,” Ellis said. “But there are a few external factors as we’re getting close to the end of the year that could impact the timeline for us. It’s not a guarantee, but it could.”

Those external factors include other spaceport users in Florida, including uncertainty around the mid-November launch of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, and blackout periods as part of the military’s Holiday Airspace Release Plan. This effectively precludes launches around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day due to the high volume of airline flights.

Ellis said the company is progressing well toward securing a launch license for “Good Luck Have Fun,” and noted that the Federal Aviation Administration accepted its methodology for debris mitigation as well as its trajectory analysis software.

The article at the link adds some additional details about the company’s plans. This Terran-1 rocket appears to be its equivalent of SpaceX’s Falcon-1. The company plans to quickly replace it with its much larger Terran-R rocket, comparable to the Falcon-9 in power and price. And it already has won $1.2 billion in launch contracts, and hopes to launch within two years.

I wonder if Terran-R will launch before Blue Origin’s much touted but repeatedly delayed New Glenn rocket. The article itself appears to think so, since it focuses entirely on the competition between SpaceX and Relativity, as if Blue Origin and New Glenn do not even exist.

Researchers figure out how to make the Starlink constellation a GPS-type constellation

Researchers working independent from SpaceX and without any of the company’s proprietary data, have found a way to turn the Starlink internet constellation — now about 3,000 satellites strong — into a method of pinpointing one’s location, thus making it an alternative to GPS-type satellites.

To be clear, no one is accessing Starlink user data here. The sync sequences are just strings of timings and other data that the machines use to stay in touch — the payload data is entirely separate.

In the paper, due to the fact that the signal was being targeted at an actual Starlink user terminal, the location had to be for that terminal too, and they were able to get it within 30 meters. Not better than GPS, obviously, but it could be quicker and eventually more accurate if SpaceX were to give the project its blessing.

A software update that slightly adjusts how the satellites send their signals and a bit of data on correcting for variance between their clocks, and Humphreys suggests Starlink transmissions could be used to locate oneself to within a meter.

You can read the paper here [pdf].

It seems a no-brainer that at some point SpaceX management will recognize the money they can make from this extra capability, and will figure out the best way to produce and sell handheld units. It also appears that there will be profit in allowing others to also tag on.

Virgin Orbit gets UK marine license for its Cornwall launch

Virgin Orbit has been issued its marine license from the United Kingdom for its planned October 29, 2022 launch from Cornwall, the first such orbital launch from the British Isles.

Virgin Orbit proposes to conduct a maximum of one launch in 2022 and approximately two launches per year over the next 8 years (January 2023-December 2030).

The licence issued by MMO covers the 2022 launch, the first of its kind in the UK. As there is material to be deposited into the sea that will be loaded in the UK, the activity requires a marine licence from MMO, as required by The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

The ever-growing reach of government bureaucracy is worldwide. Though Virgin Orbit’s airplane, carrying the LauncherOne rocket and its seven smallsats, is taking off from Cornwall, the release of that rocket will not occur until it is over the Atlantic, with the expendable first stage falling into the ocean west of Portugal. Yet somehow the company must get permission of these UK bureaucrats — as well as American ones — to fly.

Spanish high altitude tourist balloon company prepares for first test flight

The Spanish high altitude tourist balloon company HALO is preparing to do the first test flight in December from India, with the second test flight planned for the first quarter of 2023 from Spain.

The Madrid-based company will take tourists to the edge of space in a capsule attached to a balloon – with prices from £87,000 to £174,000 (100,000 to 200,000 Euros).

The final capsule design will have capacity for 8 passengers and a pilot and feature panoramic windows which allow 360-degree views of the Earth at an altitude of up to 25 miles.

…The first commercial flights are expected to start in 2025 and the company plans to operate in four continents, making a total of 400 commercial trips with 3,000 passengers per year from 2029.

This market now appears to have three companies vying for customers, the American companies World View and Space Perspectives, and this Spanish company.

OneWeb paid ISRO about $130 million for two GSLV launches

It appears that OneWeb agreed to pay India’s space agency ISRO about $130 million for two GSLV launches, putting up 36 satellites on each launch.

When asked how much his business would spend to have 72 satellites launched, OneWeb Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal told reporters in India that it would be more than Rs 1,000 crore.

Rs 1,000 crore translates to about $130 million, which means OneWeb paid about $65 million per launch, which is comparable to SpaceX’s standard Falcon 9 price, before discounts for using previously launched boosters.

It also appears that at present this deal is the only one between ISRO and OneWeb, and that the remaining 576 satellites that OneWeb needs to launch to complete its constellation are still open for others. At present, SpaceX and Relativity have contracts, though it is unclear how many each will launch. I suspect SpaceX will be the majority, since Relativity has not even completed its first test launch. It is also possible that ISRO will get more contracts based on its first launch success.

India’s GSLV-Mark3 rocket launches 36 OneWeb satellites

India’s GSLV-Mark3 rocket, its most powerful, has successfully placed 36 OneWeb satellites into orbit. As of this writing, the first 16 of the 36 satellites had successfully deployed.

This was the first international commercial launch for the GSLV rocket, previously used exclusively for Indian launches. It was also the first launch of OneWeb satellites since its deal with Russia was broken off due to the Ukraine war. Though the company had also quickly signed SpaceX to resume launches, I suspect that since half of OneWeb is owned by a major Indian investment company, India was given favored treatment in determining who would launch first.

This was the third successful launch in 2022 for India, the most since that country shut down in 2020 due to its panic over the Wuhan flu.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race remains unchanged:

48 SpaceX
45 China
16 Russia
8 Rocket Lab
7 ULA

American private enterprise still leads China 68 to 45, though it now trails the world combined 70 to 68.

NASA buys 3 Orion capsules from Lockheed Martin for $2 billion

Nice work if you can get it! Earlier this week NASA awarded Lockheed Martin a new contract worth $1.99 billion to build three more Orion capsules for its Artemis program.

This order marks the second three missions under the agency’s Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC), an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract for up to 12 vehicles. A breakout of these orders includes:

  • 2019: NASA initiates OPOC IDIQ and orders three Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions III-V.
  • 2022: NASA orders three additional Orion spacecraft missions for Artemis VI-VIII for $1.99 billion.
  • In the future: NASA can order an additional six Orion missions.

Under OPOC, Lockheed Martin and NASA have reduced the costs on Orion by 50% per vehicle on Artemis III through Artemis V, compared to vehicles built during the design and development phase. The vehicles built for Artemis VI, VII and VIII will see an additional 30% cost reduction.

Lawdy me! They’ve reduced the price! Lockheed Martin is only charging NASA three-quarters of a billion dollars per capsule on this new contract (after NASA spent about $18 billion for the development of the first six capsules– that’s $3 billion each). And Lockheed Martin will only charge about a half billion per capsule for future capsules! My heart be still.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is designing, testing, building, and will likely launch its reusable Starship manned spacecraft, which could launch about 10 Orion capsules on each launch, for about $10 billion total. Once flying the expected cost per launch will likely be much less than $100 million, with SpaceX claiming it could be as low as $2 million. Even if you add the development cost for these launches, Starship will cost less than Orion by many magnitudes, on its first launch.

I wonder, which is the better bargain? NASA clearly can’t figure it out, and NASA has the smartest, most brilliant people in the universe working for it.

NASA approves use of American spacesuits for spacewalks after investigation

NASA this week gave approval to the resumption of spacewalks on ISS, using its American spacesuits, following its investigation into a March incident where one astronaut’s spacesuit became somewhat water-logged.

The agency has now completed a review of the incident, finding that it was not a leak caused by hardware issues. Instead, the water was condensation caused by high levels of astronaut exertion and the cooling setting on Maurer’s extravehicular mobility unit (EMU) spacesuit, NASA officials said.

Though NASA was somewhat vague about the solution, it appears it has simply told astronauts to adjust the cooling setting of their suits to prevent condensation within the suits.

These American suits are very complicated to use, and very expensive. The agency has contracted out for new suits from private companies, but it will be very instructive to see what SpaceX comes up with for the spacewalk suits it is making for the private commercial manned Polaris Dawn mission in the spring of 2023.

ESA delays first Ariane-6 launch to late in 2023

The European Space Agency has once again delayed the first Ariane-6 launch, shifting it to the fourth quarter of 2023.

Even so, officials warned that this is merely “a planned date,” and that static fire tests of both the first stage and second stage must first be completed before the launch can go forward.

Ariane-6 was initially supposed to begin launching in 2020, putting it three years behind schedule. Furthermore, it has struggled to obtain customers, as it is entirely expendable and thus expensive and not competitive with SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

Since Ariane-6 is delayed and the Ariane-5 rocket’s has only a few launches left before retirement, ESA officials also noted that it has now been forced to buy two launches from SpaceX.

The launches include the Euclid space telescope and the Hera probe, a follow-up mission to NASA’s DART spacecraft which last month succeeded in altering the path of a moonlet in the first test of a future planetary defence system. “The member states have decided that Euclid and Hera are proposed to be launched on Falcon 9,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher told reporters after a meeting of the 22-nation agency’s ministerial council.

The launches will take place in 2023 and 2024 respectively.

The irony is that ESA is probably going to save a lot of money launching with the Falcon 9, rather than its own Ariane-6. In fact, I would not be surprised if the total SpaceX price for both launches equals one Ariane-6 launch. Furthermore, SpaceX gets this business because its own American competitors, ULA and Blue Origin, have also failed to get their new rockets flying on time.

SpaceX launches 54 Starlink satellites

SpaceX today successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch 54 Starlink satellites.

The first stage completed its 10th flight, landing on its drone ship in the Atlantic.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

48 SpaceX
45 China
15 Russia
8 Rocket Lab
7 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 68 to 45, and is tied with the entire world combined 68 each. Note that SpaceX’s 48 launches so far this year matches the entire total for the U.S. last year.

SpaceX simplifies smallsat rideshare program, effectively slashing prices

SpaceX has reworked its smallsat rideshare program to allow smaller satellite customers to book directly with the company, effectively slashing the prices they are charged.

While it technically hasn’t reduced its prices, SpaceX will now allow satellites as small as 50 kilograms to book directly through the company at its virtually unbeatable rate of $5500 per kilogram. Before this change, customers with small satellites would either have to pay for all the extra capacity they weren’t using, boosting their relative cost per kilogram, or arrange their launch services with a third-party aggregator like Spaceflight or Exolaunch.

Part of the reason for this change is the shift by SpaceX to a new satellite deployment platform that allows for a wider variety of satellites of all sizes. Some tiny satellites will no longer have to rely on an aggregator’s own deployment platform.

Isaacman’s next private mission to space now scheduled for March ’23

Jared Isaacman’s next private mission on a Dragon capsule, dubbed Polaris Dawn, has now been scheduled for March ’23, during which the first spacewalk by a private citizen will occur.

The mission is planned to last five days, will have a crew of four led by Isaacman, and will also attempt the highest Earth orbit flown by any manned mission. From the mission’s webpage:

At approximately 700 kilometers above the Earth (434 miles), the crew will attempt the first-ever commercial extravehicular activity (EVA) with SpaceX-designed extravehicular activity (EVA) spacesuits, upgraded from the current intravehicular (IVA) suit.

It is not clear if one or all four of the crew members will participate in that spacewalk. At a minimum, all four must be in suits that can work during a spacewalk, since their Dragon capsule does not have an airlock.

The mission will also be used as to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, as was done during Isaacman’s first flight, Inspiration4, in the fall of 2021.

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