Tag Archives: commercial

SpaceX declines to shift Starlink satellite to avoid collision

When European Space Agency (ESA) engineers realized there was a greater than normal chance that a new SpaceX Starlink satellite could collide with ESA’s already orbiting Aeolus satellite, they asked SpaceX to shift its orbit, only to have SpaceX decline.

According to Holger Krag, head of the Space Debris Office at ESA, the risk of collision between the two satellites was 1 in 1,000 – ten times higher than the threshold that requires a collision avoidance maneuver. However, despite Aeolus occupying this region of space nine months before Starlink 44, SpaceX declined to move their satellite after the two were alerted to the impact risk by the U.S. military, who monitor space traffic. “Based on this we informed SpaceX, who replied and said that they do not plan to take action,” says Krag, who said SpaceX informed them via email – the first contact that had been made with SpaceX, despite repeated attempts by Krag and his team to get in touch since Starlink launched. “It was at least clear who had to react. So we decided to react because the collision was close to 1 in 1,000, which was ten times higher than our threshold.”

As to why SpaceX refused to move their satellite, that is not entirely clear (the company did not respond to a request for comment). Krag suspected it could be something to do with SpaceX’s electric propulsion system, which “maybe is not reacting so fast” as the chemical propulsion on board Aeolus.

The article is clearly spun to make SpaceX look bad, though based on the stated facts the company shot itself in the foot quite ably. If their propulsion system could not have done the job as well as the other satellite, they should have simply said so and worked with ESA to get the issue fixed, rather than simply saying they would do nothing.

Share

FAA required SpaceX to up its insurance for Starhopper test

The FAA’s office that regulates commercial space required SpaceX to increase its insurance coverage for this week’s Starhopper test to $100 million, thirty three times higher than their coverage for the previous Starhopper hops.

Lots of information at the link, though in summary it all makes perfect sense.

There are a number of likely reasons the federal regulator required SpaceX to boost its insurance coverage, says George Nield, a former FAA associate administrator who led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (OCST) for more than a decade.

One is that Tuesday’s launch took Starhopper hundreds of feet higher than in July; during the prior flight, SpaceX’s vehicle only went about 60 feet (18 meters) up before landing. “The higher you want to go, the more propellant you’re going to have to load, and the more propellant you load, the bigger the boom if it were to explode,” Nield told Business Insider prior to Tuesday’s launch.

More importantly, their Boca Chica launch site is only a mile and a half from a small village of about twenty people, much closer than any other launchpad in the world. How SpaceX will manage this issue should they wish to test fly their fullscale Starship prototype from this site I really do not know. It could be that they won’t, and will confine all test flights to Kennedy, where they are also building a second Starship prototype.

Share

Dick Cavett interviewing Orson Welles about famous people

An evening pause: Wells made one of the greatest films ever, Citizen Kane (1941), and then spent the rest of his life failing at finishing almost anything. Along the way he met some interesting people, and in this short clip during an interview on the Dick Cavett Show from July 27, 1970, he tells some of those stories.

His story about Churchill fits the gracious and humorous personality of that man to a “T”.

Hat tip Cotour.

Share

SpaceX begins hunt for Starship landing sites on Mars

Candidate landing sites for SpaceX's Starship

In the August image release from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) were five images whose title immediately caught my interest:

The overview map on the right shows the location on Mars for these five photographs. The second and third images are of the same location, taken to produce a stereo pair.

To put it mildly, it is most intriguing to discover that SpaceX is beginning to research a place where it can land Starship on Mars. I immediately emailed Nathan Williams, the JPL scientist who requested these images from SpaceX, but he was bound by a non-disclosure agreement with SpaceX and could not comment. I have since tried to get some information directly from SpaceX but so far the company has not responded. A 2017 news story had indicated the company’s interest in this Mars’ location, but gave no details either.

Based on what we now know of Mars, however, it is possible to figure out why they favor this location, on the border between the two large northern lowland plains Arcadia and Amazonis Planitia.
» Read more

Share

What Starhopper achieved

Starhopper in flight
Click for full image.

Captalism in space: While most news reports (including mine yesterday) have focused on the spectacular 150-meter flight of Starhopper, the real story here is the Raptor engine. As one of my readers said most succinctly in a comment:

As impressive as the flight was, there is so much more going on here. This is the most efficient rocket engine ever, with all fuel and LOX running through the combustion chamber – including exhaust from the turbopumps. The Russians tried it, and NASA tried it, but this is the first time such a design has flown. It’s also the first major engine using methane, so SpaceX is learning all the ground support processes for storing, fueling, and detanking methane (mostly) safely. (Still causing grass fires at launch…) They’re aiming for production cost below $2M per Raptor, and they’re about ready to go full production on the engines, around 500 engines per year.

In fact, Musk himself reveals the truth of Diane Wilson’s comment in a tweet, found in this news story about yesterday’s flight:

Starhopper’s flying days may be done, but the stubby prototype will be retasked rather than put out to pasture.

“Yes, last flight for Hopper. If all goes well, it will become a vertical test stand for Raptor,” Musk said via Twitter on Saturday.

In a sense, yesterday’s flight was no different. Starhopper was essentially a flying test stand for Raptor, which is in itself an incredible concept, when you think about it. Now it will continue to be used as a test stand, but will no longer fly.

I have been told by rocket engineers more than once that you need to build and test your engine before you can really start your rocket design. Once you know its capabilities you can then design and construct the rocket.

This is why Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo has generally been a failure. They built the ship before the engine, and when the engine had issues they had to improvise redesigns that have limited the ship’s capability and seriously delayed its launch.

SpaceX now has its engine ready. Construction on its two prototype Starships, in Boca Chica and Florida, will now proceed quickly. Based on how quickly it took SpaceX to do the first Starhopper test flights (announced in late 2018 and flying in about eight months), expect test flights within six to eight months. (Note that in this last link I expressed doubt they could get those Starhopper flights off in 2019. SpaceX proved me wrong.)

Finally, a minor news note: SpaceX today successfully brought a Dragon cargo capsule back to Earth after a month at ISS, completing its third flight in space. That this multi-use flight is hardly mentioned in the news illustrates how far SpaceX has reshaped space engineering in only a few years.

Share

Starhopper: Success!

Starhopper in flight
Click for full image.

It appears today’s 150 meter hop (about 500 feet) of SpaceX’s Starhopper prototype was a complete success. To the right, and also below, are screen captures grabbed by me from one private live stream as well as from SpaceX’s own live stream.

In fact, this quick hop appears to have gone amazingly smoothly. It launched almost exactly at the target time, and landed quite softly on the launchpad, as intended. You can see the nozzle of the Raptor engine shifting and adjusting throughout the flight, also another indication that their engineering here is working perfectly. Congratulations SpaceX!

I have embedded SpaceX’s video below the fold. The flight begins around 30 minutes in.

Starhopper near the top of its flight

Starhopper beginning its descent

Starhopper on the ground
» Read more

Share

Starhopper test flight scrubbed

The planned 150-meter-high test flight of SpaceX’s Starhopper test prototype was aborted at T-0 seconds last night when the Raptor engine did not ignite as expected.

A live video feed provided by SpaceX showed the squat, 30-foot-wide (9-meter) Starhopper vehicle counting down to a planned liftoff shortly after 6 p.m. CDT (7 p.m. EDT; 2300 GMT) Monday from the company’s facility in South Texas. The vehicle’s single methane-fueled Raptor engine could be seen swiveling side-to-side in a preflight steering check, as the Starhopper pad’s sound suppression system dumped water under the vehicle.

But the Raptor engine did not ignite as the countdown clock reached zero.

“Test aborted just after T-0,” read a text banner on SpaceX’s webcast. “Teams evaluating next test opportunity.”

They say they will try again today. If you want to watch this link provides some suggestions.

These test flights are testing the Raptor engine more than they are testing vehicle take-off and landing. This engine is a significant advancement from not only SpaceX’s Merlin engine but from almost every rocket engine previously built. It has the potential to set the record for the most efficient and powerful engine. It is therefore not unexpected that there will be issues during these test flights.

Share

Planned Starhopper test shuts down Boca Chica

SpaceX’s planned next hop of its Starhopper test vehicle is apparently forcing local residents from their homes, as well as threatening damage to buildings as much as two miles away.

Those residents live in tiny Boca Chica Village, Texas, which sits less than 2 miles (3 km) from a SpaceX-operated launch site near the US-Mexico border along the Gulf Coast. SpaceX’s test of the so-called “Starhopper”—a prototype of a reusable shuttle meant for human transit—may well create an “overpressure event” capable of breaking glass in buildings nearby. The police-delivered warnings advise residents to, at a minimum, exit their homes when they hear police sirens around the 4pm launch window.

Comments posted under the Brownsville Herald article include, “Doesn’t sound good to me that they have to evacuate their homes all because Space X is testing” and “I think spacex should be prepared to pay for the window replacements.”

The test is also forcing the closure of roads required by residents to access or leave their neighborhoods.

It seems that SpaceX’s decision to conduct their Starhopper tests in Boca Chica rather than at their McGregor, Texas, engine test facility might have been a mistake. Unlike Boca Chica, McGregor is a much larger facility, which means tests are farther away from local residences. While Boca Chica gives SpaceX great visibility (hence some great publicity) for Starhopper, it appears to also be causing some bad press because of these negative impacts on the local community.

Either way, expect news of Starhopper’s biggest hop in the next day or so.

Share

Satellite company switches from Falcon Heavy to Ariane 5

Capitalism in space: The communications satellite company Ovzon has switched from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to Arianespace’s Ariane 5 for the launch of its first wholly owned satellite in 2021.

In an interview Aug. 24, Ovzon CEO Magnus René told SpaceNews the company received a more appealing launch offer from Arianespace. “It’s nothing political or anything like that, it’s not that we don’t trust SpaceX — it’s just that we could get a better deal in cost and time and so on from Ariane at this time,” René said.

SpaceX charges $100 million for a Falcon Heavy launch, about the same as Arianespace charges for one of the two berths on its Ariane 5. Arianespace must have therefore cut its standard price to make it more attractive, and win the deal.

Ain’t competition wonderful? Governments have been trying (and failing) to get us into space for half a century, using the model of international cooperation. Introduce some competition and suddenly it becomes both easier and cheaper to do it. Who woulda thunk it?

Share

Sierra Nevada unveils full scale Gateway habitat module prototype

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada yesterday unveiled a full scale prototype of a habitable module that it developed under a NASA contract for the agency’s proposed Lunar Gateway space station.

[The module] measures more than 8 meters long, and with a diameter of 8 meters has an internal volume of 300 cubic meters, which is about one-third the size of the International Space Station.

Sierra Nevada developed this full-scale prototype under a NASA program that funded several companies to develop habitats that could be used for a space station in orbit around the Moon, as well as potentially serving as living quarters for a long-duration transit to and from Mars. As part of the program, NASA astronauts have, or will, spend three days living in and evaluating the prototypes built by Sierra Nevada, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Bigelow Aerospace.

The selling point for Sierra Nevada’s habitat is its size, which is possible because the multi-layered fabric material can be compressed for launch, then expanded and outfitted as a habitat once in space. It can fit within a standard payload fairing used for launch vehicles such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan booster, or NASA’s Space Launch System. It is light enough for any of those rockets to launch to the Moon.

What we are seeing here is the unfolding of the Washington lobbying game to guarantee Gateway gets funded and built. NASA is spreading its available Gateway cash around to multiple companies, who will now have a vested interest in lobbying Congress to get this lunar space station funded and built.

The one very good component of this lobbying process is that NASA is not doing the building or the designing. It is hiring private companies, which means the project will act to stimulate the American aerospace industry. Moreover, it is leaving the ownership of the spacecraft and the decision on what launch vehicle to use to the companies, which means this cannot be used as a lever to fund the SLS boondoggle. Under this arrangement more will get done faster for less.

Even so, Lunar Gateway will mostly act to slow the United States’ effort to colonize the solar system. We will be spending our government space dollars on an orbiting lunar space station, thus generally trapping us in orbit, as we watch China, India, Russia and others land and explore the surface.

There is only one way Gateway could possibly be beneficial to the United States. NASA gets it built fast and cheaply, so that it then can be used as a jumping off point for further exploration. This would give the U.S. capabilities in space that far exceed other countries.

My fear is that NASA has a terrible track record in the past half century of doing anything fast or cheaply. Instead, NASA projects like Gateway end up taking forever and costing many times their initial proposed budget. SLS is a perfect poster child for this. Its goal is not so much to launch as to provide Congress endless pork.

Share

Russia and ULA successfully complete rocket launches

Russia and ULA both successfully placed spacecraft into Earth orbit today.

Russia sent an unmanned upgrded Soyuz capsule to ISS, filled with cargo, in a test flight that also tested a new upgraded version of the Soyuz rocket.

According to Navias, this Soyuz launch is a critical shakedown flight to test the performance of the upgraded Soyuz capsule and the Soyuz 2.1a booster before the first crewed flight on the rocket in March 2020.

“The Soyuz 2.1a booster, equipped with a new digital flight control system and upgraded engines, is replacing the Soyuz FG booster that has been used for decades to launch crews into space,” NASA officials wrote in a statement. “The Soyuz spacecraft will have an upgraded motion control and navigation system, as well as a revamped descent control system,” they added.

The mission will also help Roscosmos develop a cargo version of the Soyuz capsule capable uncrewed reentry to return experiments and other gear to Earth, Navias said. Russia’s Progress cargo ships can currently only deliver supplies, and are filled with trash and discarded at the end of their missions.

ULA in turn launched an Air Force GPS satellite in the last launch of the Delta-4 Medium version of its Delta rocket family.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

13 China
13 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India
4 Rocket Lab
4 ULA

The U.S. leads Russia and China 19 to 13 in the national standings.

Share

2018 Hot Rod Wild Rides

An evening pause: A breath-taking collection of crashes and failures during the 2018 National Hot Rod Association race season One could call this a collection of engineering failures, but I don’t see it that way. For one, absolutely no one was seriously hurt, proving the design of their safety features. For another, the engine failures show how they are pushing the engineering to the max to win.

Hat tip Cotour.

Share

SpaceX’s Tesla has completed its first solar orbit

Capitalism in space: The first privately launched car, a Tesla placed in solar orbit on SpaceX’s first launch of its Falcon Heavy, has now completed its first orbit around the sun.

Its future?

Car and driver will probably make many more laps around our star. Last year, an orbit-modeling study calculated that the Roadster will eventually slam into either Venus or Earth, likely within the next few tens of millions of years. But there’s just a 6 percent chance of an Earth impact, and a 2.5 percent chance of a Venus impact, within the next million years, the study’s authors found.

Share

ULA wins private lunar launch contract

Capitalism in space: Astrobotic, the private company building a lunar lander for NASA, has chosen ULA’s Vulcan rocket for its launch vehicle.

Astrobotic announced today that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket in a competitive commercial procurement to launch its Peregrine lunar lander to the Moon in 2021.

“We are so excited to sign with ULA and fly Peregrine on Vulcan Centaur. This contract with ULA was the result of a highly competitive commercial process, and we are grateful to everyone involved in helping us make low-cost lunar transportation possible. When we launch the first lunar lander from American soil since Apollo, onboard the first Vulcan Centaur rocket, it will be a historic day for the country and commercial enterprise,” said Astrobotic CEO, John Thornton.

This is the second contract announcement for ULA’s Vulcan rocket, with the first being Sierra Nevada’s announcement that it would use Vulcan for Dream Chaser’s first six flights.

Isn’t competition wonderful? It appears to me that ULA must be offering very cut-rate deals to get these contracts, since the rocket has not yet flown while SpaceX’s already operational Falcon Heavy (with three successful launches) could easily do the job and is a very inexpensive rocket to fly. These lower prices, instigated by competition and freedom, will mean that funding missions to the Moon will continue to become more likely, even if NASA and the federal government fail to get their act together.

Share

Rocket Lab & China launch satellites

Both Rocket Lab and China today launched rockets to put satellites into orbit, though it is as yet still unclear whether the Chinese launch was successful.

Rocket Lab successfully placed four smallsats into orbit. It was the company’s eightth consecutive successful launch, continuing its perfect launch record.

More important, the company now has completed four launches in 2019. Their goal, announced early this year, was to achieve a monthly pace by summer, then ramp up to twice a month by the end of the year. So far they are not quite meeting that goal, averaging one launch every 1.5 months (March, May, June, August). Still, this record is quite impressive, considering they are a very new and very small private company that it now is beginning to match or exceed the launch pace of other nations (India) as well as well-established companies (ULA).

China’s Long March 3B launched a civilian communications satellite, but according to the story at the link, “the usual announcement of a successful separation has yet to published by Chinese State media.” For the purposes of the launch standings, I will assume at the moment that this was a successful launch, but will revise this post should we learn the satellite did not reach orbit. Update: It appears the launch was successful, but the satellite is having problems. This would mean the launch counts below.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

13 China
12 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India
4 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 18 to 13 in the national rankings.

Share

Protest filed against NASA contract awards for unmanned lunar landers

Deep Space Systems, one of the private companies that bid for a NASA contract to build a private lunar lander to carry NASA instruments to the moon, and did not get the contract, has filed a protest against that decision.

I found out about this through my industry sources. I have no further information about the protest itself.

The timeline however is intriguing. The contracts were awarded to three different companies on May 31, 2019. Deep Space Systems’ protest was filed on June 24, 2019.

On July 30, 2019 one of contract winners, Orbit Beyond, backed out of the deal. Whether the protest or Orbit Beyond’s exit are related is at present unknown, though I wonder if they might be connected.

Either way, the question now arises: Who will replace Orbit Beyond? I also wonder if this protest gives Deep Space Systems an advantage for getting that replacement contract. This last thought is pure speculation and very unlikely. There are several other companies that are more well known and might be better qualified, and it would be inappropriate for NASA to allow its decision-making process to be pressured because of this protest.

Regardless, stay tuned for more information. This story is going to get more interesting.

Share

A review of Glenn Reynolds’ The Social Media Upheaval:
A Modern Call for Freedom

We have a free speech problem in America, and it isn’t because our government is trying to restrict our speech.

The problem exists because almost all our speech today is fed through a tiny handful of giant social media outlets, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter, all of whom seem dominated by leftists and partisan Democratic Party ideaology.

Only last week we saw a perfect example of this problem. A mob of protesters had gathered outside the private home of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) because he refused to acquiesce meekly to draconian new gun control laws.

Several protesters shouted threatening obscenities against McConnell and his wife, with the leader of the local Kentucky chapter of Black Lives Matter, Chanelle Helm, screaming for someone to “just stab the mother-%#$&!&/!”

McConnell’s campaign office then followed the next day with the following tweet:

Last night, an angry left-wing mob of Amy McGrath supporters stormed Senator McConnell’s Louisville home screaming obscenities and hoping someone would “just stab the mother****** in the heart.”

The tweet then linked to a video showing this mob’s violent chants and death threats.

Twitter’s response? It suspended McConnell’s account, even though he threatened no one and merely wanted to highlight the vicious ugliness of his opponents. Meanwhile the tech giant continued to allow direct statements of violence against the right by many leftists, including one thread dubbed “#MassacreMitch,” with no consequences.

Only after the Republican Party threatened to pull all of its advertising from Twitter did that social media giant finally back down and reinstate the McConnell account, though it added a warning tag to the video.

Twitter, like Google and Facebook, has decided to take sides in the political battles that this country is now undergoing. And with their almost godlike total power over internet access, these tech giants are in a position to very effectively censor any opposition to their political goals.

So what do we do? In an effort to make an intelligent stab at this issue, Glenn Reynolds, law professor at the University of Tennessee and the manager of the internet site Instapundit, has recently written a book on the subject, The Social Media Upheaval (Encounter Books 2019). As the book’s Amazon page notes,
» Read more

Share

Whistleblower of Google anti-right bias goes public after being threatened by Google

Reason #3,427,934 for not using Google: The whistleblower who has given more than 900 Google documents to both Project Veritas and the Justice Department demonstrating the tech giant’s anti-right bias and its attempt to influence future elections has gone public after being threatened by Google.

Project Veritas has released hundreds of internal Google documents leaked by Vorhies. Among those documents is a file called “news black list site for google now.” The document, according to Vorhies, is a “black list,” which restricts certain websites from appearing on news feeds for an Android Google product. The list includes conservative and progressive websites, such as newsbusters.org and mediamatters.org. The document says that some sites are listed with or because of a “high user block rate.”

One document shows how Google is ranking various established news sites, routinely favoring left-leaning news sites — including the Russian government’s RT news site — over more conservative media.

Meanwhile, once Google found out what the whistleblower was doing it called the police on him, claiming he was “unwell.”

After having been identified by an anonymous account (which Vorhies believes belongs to a Google employee,) on social media as a “leaker,” Vorhies was approached by law enforcement at his residence in California. According to Vorhies, San Francisco police received a call from Google which prompted a “wellness check.”

Vorhies described the incident to Project Veritas: “They got inside the gate, the police, and they started banging on my door… And so the police decided that they were going to call in additional forces. They called in the FBI, they called in the SWAT team. And they called in a bomb squad. … T]his is a large way in which [Google tries to] intimidate their employees that go rogue on the company…”

There are other search engines, such as DuckDuckGo and Yippy. Use them. There are other email services. Get off of gmail. The more the market supports Google competitors the more likely the company will reform its ways. At a minimum its power will be reduced.

Share
1 2 3 4 165