Watching Boeing’s Starliner launch tonight

At 6:54 pm (Eastern) tonight a ULA Atlas-5 rocket will launch Boeing’s manned Starliner capsule on its second attempt to complete an unmanned demo mission to ISS.

NASA’s live coverage will begin at 6 pm on NASA-TV. I have embedded the youtube channel of this live stream below the fold. At the moment the station is broadcasting its regular NASA propaganda (some of which is actually informative). The launch’s actual coverage will begin at 6 pm (Eastern), and continue until the spacecraft is successfully inserted into orbit. Further coverage of the flight, including docking with ISS, will be as follows:

9 pm (Eastern) – Post launch press conference (time subject to change).

May 20
3:30 pm (Eastern) – Coverage begins of the rendezvous and docking to ISS, with the actual docking scheduled for 7:10 pm (Eastern).

May 21
11:30 am (Eastern) – Coverage of the opening of Starliner’s hatch, scheduled for 11:45 am (Eastern).

Boeing’s first attempt to complete this mission in December 2019 was forced to return to Earth before docking with ISS because of numerous software issues. Then, an attempt to launch again in August 2021 was scrubbed because numerous valves in the capsule’s service module failed to operate properly during the countdown. The company had to return the capsule to the factory to replace that service module as well as make some changes to the valves to make today’s launch possible.

For Boeing, these delays and fixes have cost the company a lot of money, since its contract with NASA is fixed price. This second demo mission will cost Boeing about $400 million, but even worse, the delays meant that SpaceX got some of the business with NASA and other private customers that it might have gotten had Starliner been operational.

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Technical issue on New Shepard delays fifth passenger flight

Capitalism in space: Because of an as yet unexplained technical issue discovered on its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft, Blue Origin has scrubbed tomorrow’s planned fifth passenger flight.

The only information the company released was in a tweet yesterday:

During our final vehicle check-outs, we observed one of New Shepard’s back-up systems was not meeting our expectations for performance.

No other information has so far been released, nor has the company indicated when the flight might be rescheduled. It is intended to carry six passengers on a short suborbital flight, including one making his second flight on New Shepard.

ABL completes and ships new upper stage only 4 months after test explosion

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket startup ABL has successfully completed construction and testing of a new upper stage for the first launch of its RS1 rocket, shipping it to the launch site in Alaska only four months after an explosion during testing destroyed an earlier stage.

Before the January accident, the company had planned a first launch of the RS1 rocket, capable of placing up to 1,350 kilograms into low Earth orbit for a list price of $12 million, early in the year. Shortly after the accident, the company estimated a three-month delay in its plans. Piemont said after the recent acceptance tests that the company was now targeting “early summer” for its first launch, pending completion of acceptance tests of the first stage.

Though the company’s goal had been to lose only three months and the actual delay was four months, the overall speed in which it recovered is impressive. Right now ABL is one of four smallsat rocket companies (ABL, Firefly, Aevum, and Relativity) attempting to complete its first launch this year. This success suggests ABL has a good chance of succeeding.

Below is a video of a successful static fire test of this new stage, released by the company. It is a pleasant change from most such PR videos, in that the company simply shows us the test, with some minor editing, but includes no dramatic but fake background music. Life isn’t a movie.
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Aerojet Rocketdyne reprimands its executive chairman for trying to oust CEO

During the failed effort of Lockheed Martin to buy Aerojet Rocketdyne late last year, it appears Aerojet’s executive chairman, Warren Lichtenstein, made improper public and private attempts to enlist others to replace the company’s CEO, Eileen Drake, even though the board had not authorized a search for a new CEO and had in fact issued a memo telling Lichtenstein not to look for one.

Yesterday a formal investigation [pdf] came to that conclusion, and reprimanded Lichtenstein for those actions.

Mr. Lichtenstein acted improperly in taking those actions, including by failing to follow the directives given to him in the Guidance Memo. This memorandum is a formal reprimand for that conduct, and a
mandate to Mr. Lichtenstein that he comply with the Company’s Code of Conduct and make no statements or communications to persons external to the Company concerning the Company’s CEO, any search for a new CEO, management tenure or succession generally, or the strategic direction of the Company, unless (i) specifically pre-approved by the Board, (ii) the statements or communications are made to stockholders as part of his efforts concerning the election of directors at the next annual meeting, or (iii) the statements or communications are made as part of his efforts seeking suitable persons to serve as CEO of the Company in the event his nominees are elected.

While most of this is typical corporate office politics, it does reflect badly on the management at Aerojet Rocketdyne. It appears the board is not working together well. For example, Lichtenstein claimed he had these discussions because he was concerned the merger — which he supported — would fail, and wanted to take actions to address those concerns. Apparently the board did not. Another example is the fight with Boeing over the valve problems in Starliner.

Since the merger failed, this rocket engine company is now on its own again. Though for awhile it seemed to be struggling, the recent deal with ULA for 116 engines appears to have put it on its feet again.

Launcher fills customer list for first flight of its space tug

Capitalism in space: The startup space tug company Launcher announced yesterday that it has signed deals with ten customers, filling its manifest, for the first test flight of its Orbiter tug.

The tug and its payloads will be launched in October on a Falcon 9. Six of those customers, all cubesats, will be deployed into their preferred orbit by the tug, while four others are payloads that will simply ride on the tug.

The company is now selling planned future missions scheduled in ’23 on other Falcon 9 launches. It is also developing its own smallsat rocket, Launcher Light, with a planned first launch in ’24.

Elon Musk gives another tour of Starbase

Tim Dodd of Everyday Astronaut has posted another 44 minute long interview with Elon Musk that took place as Musk gave him a recent tour at Boca Chica, walking around the base of the Starship and Superheavy boosters being prepared for that first orbital launch.

I have embedded the interview below. It has the following interesting take-aways:

  • In describing their decision to eliminate completely a separate attitude thrust system for Starship and instead use the fuels in the main tanks using controllable vents, Musk once again demonstrated his engineering philosophy that “the best part is no part.”
  • The company is definitely planning to test the deployment of some Starlink satellites on that first orbital test flight.
  • Musk once again emphasized that there is a high expectation that this first orbital flight will fail, but they are unbothered by this because this first ship is considered a prototype anyway that must be redesigned. Whether it completes its flight or not, the flight will tell them what needs to be done for future iterations.
  • They are aiming with Starship to reduce to cost to bring a ton to the surface of Mars from $1 billion to $100K. Musk called this improvement “insane” but entirely possible.
  • Musk also noted how the design of Starship is not like a plane, which wants to develop lift. Starship instead is designed to fall, but do so as “draggy” as possible. The goal is to shed as much velocity as possible, as soon as possible.

Dodd also notes this video is the first of a new series.
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ISRO successfully tests human-rated solid rocket booster

India’s space agency ISRO announced on May 13, 2022 that it had successfully tested the man-rated version of the solid rocket strap-on booster used on its GSLV Mark 3 rocket that will launch its first manned mission into space.

The 20 m long and 3.2 m diameter booster is the world’s second-largest operational booster with solid propellant. During this test, about 700 parameters were monitored and the performance of all the systems was normal.

Launch of the Gaganyaan manned mission is now targeting ’23.

FAA approves Huntsville airport as landing site for Dream Chaser

Capitalism in space: The FAA announced on May 13, 2022 that it has approved use of Huntsville International airport for landing Sierra Space’s reusable Dream Chaser cargo mini-shuttle, once it begins flying.

The approval covers “up to eight reentry operations at the airport from 2023 to 2027.” Though Sierra Space will still need to get its launch license from the FAA before those flights can happen, it looks like the company is finally getting close to the first flight of Tenacity, its first Dream Chaser ship.

SpaceX launches 53 Starlink satellites on a new Falcon 9 rocket

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched another 53 Starlink satellites, the company’s second launch in less than 24 hours.

The most newsworthy component of this launch is that for first time since February 2, 2022, and only the fourth time since the beginning of 2020, the Falcon 9 rocket used a new first stage, which successfully landed on its drone ship in the Atlantic. It appears that SpaceX is adding about two new boosters per year to its first stage fleet, based on the evidence from these launches.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

20 SpaceX
15 China
6 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 28 to 15 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 28 to 24.

SpaceX successfully launches another 53 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched another 53 Starlink satellites, using a Falcon 9 first stage for the fifth time.

The first stage landed successfully on a drone ship.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

19 SpaceX
15 China
6 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 27 to 15 in the national rankings, as well as the entire world combined 27 to 24, leads that should widen in the next week with two more SpaceX launches as well as Boeing’s Starliner unmanned demo mission launch on ULA’s Atlas-5.

Astra reveals vague details about its next larger rocket

Capitalism in space: In a public event in California yesterday Chris Kemp, CEO of the rocket startup Astra, revealed some vague details about the company’s new larger rocket, dubbed Rocket 4.0.

The vehicle will be able to place up to 300 kilograms into low Earth orbit and 200 kilograms into sun-synchronous orbit at a “base price” of $3.95 million. By contrast, Astra’s current Rocket 3.3 vehicle can accommodate a small fraction of that payload, having to date launched only a few cubesats at a time.

…The biggest change in the rocket is its first stage propulsion. While Rocket 3.3 uses five of Astra’s Delphin engines, generating a combined 35,000 pounds-force of thrust, Rocket 4.0 will use two larger engines that produce a combined 70,000 pounds-force of thrust.

Kemp’s presentation however did not reveal whether Astra is building it or whether the company is buying it from someone else. He did say the company does not plan to attempt ot reuse any portion of Rocket 4.0, saying that the economics did not work for Astra.

His presentation also suggested a first launch for late this year, using a mission control made up of only two people, what he called “a pilot and a co-pilot.”

Chinese pseudo company Ispace experiences another launch failure

The Chinese pseudo company Ispace today had another launch failure of its Hyperbola rocket, the third in four launch attempts.

It appears the cause was a failure of the rocket’s second stage to ignite after stage separation.

Ispace’s first launch of Hyperbola 2019 successfully reached orbit, making it the first and still only Chinese pseudo-company to reach orbit. Since then however the rocket has failed three consecutive times, each for what appears to be different reasons.

The rocket itself has four-stages, all using solid fuel motors, which means the rocket is derived from military missile technology. This also illustrates why Ispace is a pseudo company. It might be financed by private capital, and be attempting to make profits on commercial and government contracts, but everything about it only exists because it has government permission and supervision.

Furthermore, while it is entirely possible for a startup to survive such a string of failures, the possibility is small. In most cases a purely private company would lose customers and investment capital. Ispace’s survival up to now suggests the Chinese government wants it to succeed, and in that sense is acting as its owner.

SpaceX CEO: Starship could launch as early as June

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s CEO and president Gwynne Shotwell revealed today that Starship could be ready for its orbital test flight from Boca Chica as early as June, though government regulatory obstacles make that launch more likely three to six months from now.

It appears that the delays in getting FAA approval for launch have not been the only issues that have delayed that first launch attempt. Though SpaceX would have likely tried a launch months ago with earlier prototypes had the approval arrived as originally promised, that launch would have likely failed based on ground tests the company has been doing during the delay.

When Musk tweeted his “hopefully May” estimate, SpaceX was nowhere close to finishing the Starship – Ship 24 – that is believed to have been assigned to the orbital launch debut. However, SpaceX finally accelerated Ship 24 assembly within the last few weeks and ultimately finished stacking the upgraded Starship on May 8th. A great deal of work remains to truly complete Ship 24, but SpaceX should be ready to send it to a test stand within a week or two. Even though the testing Ship 24 will need to complete has been done before by Ship 20, making its path forward less risky than Booster 7’s, Ship 24 will debut a number of major design changes and likely needs at least two months of testing to reach a basic level of flight readiness.

A more likely launch date is probably late July at the earliest, though of course that will also depend on the government’s approval, something that presently appears difficult to get.

Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne fight over cause of Starliner valve problem

In a Reuters story today, it was revealed that Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne are in a fight over the cause of Starliner valve problem, where thirteen valves failed to work and caused the scrub of a launch attempt last summer, delaying almost a year to next week.

A team of Boeing and NASA engineers is in general agreement that the cause of the stuck valves involves a chemical reaction between propellant, aluminum materials and the intrusion of moisture from Starliner’s humid Florida launch site.

Aerojet engineers and lawyers see it differently, blaming a cleaning chemical that Boeing has used in ground tests, two of the sources said.

It appears that Aerojet is attempting to put the blame on Boeing because it might be liable for the cost of redesigning the valves, as well as other costs associated with the delays since last year.

The article also reveals that the valves being used in the Starliner capsule to be launched next week have only a temporary fix for the problem, and that Boeing intends to redesign them to prevent the problem in the future.

All in all, this whole fiasco does not speak well for either Boeing or Aerojet. It remains completely inexplicable for any spacecraft to be built with this kind of valve problem, now, after six decades of launches from wet and humid Florida. The problem reeks of bad design or poor quality control procedures by both companies.

The article further confirms these quality control problems by this tidbit in its last paragraph:

In 2017, Starliner had an accident during a ground test that forced the president of a different subcontractor to have his leg medically amputated. The subcontractor sued, and Boeing subsequently settled the case.

That this accident has been kept out of the news is somewhat shocking. For it to happen at all reveals a lot about the sloppy way Boeing operates these days.

Virgin Orbit to expand its fleet of 747s used with its LauncherOne rocket

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit has signed a deal with L3 Harris Technologies to buy two more 747s airplanes to airlift its LauncherOne rocket during launches.

L3Harris will modify one of the newly acquired aircrafts to serve as an additional airborne launch pad for Virgin Orbit’s small satellite launch service, with delivery expected in 2023. L3Harris will also overhaul the platform with a new cargo configuration, which is expected to allow Virgin Orbit to deliver its rockets and ground support equipment in the same aircraft that will launch from foreign spaceports.

The companies previously collaborated to produce Virgin Orbit’s flagship aircraft “Cosmic Girl,” the first customized 747-400 aircraft to carry and deploy payloads to Low Earth Orbit under Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne program.

This deal once completed will give Virgin Orbit a fleet of three 747s for launching its rocket. The deal also suggests the company now has enough launch business to justify this expansion.

Orbex unveils a full-scale prototype of its Prime smallsat rocket

Prime rocket prototype on launchpad

Capitalism in space: Orbex today unveiled a full-scale prototype of its Prime smallsat rocket, positioned on its own launchpad at the Sutherland Space Hub spaceport in Scotland, now under construction.

The photo to the right shows that prototype, held vertical with its own strongback. From the press release:

With the first full integration of the Orbex rocket on a launch pad now complete, the company is able to enter a period of integrated testing, allowing dress rehearsals of rocket launches and the development and optimisation of launch procedures. Orbex recently revealed their first test launch platform at a new test facility in Kinloss, a few miles from the company’s headquarters at Forres in Moray, Scotland.

Note that Sutherland Space Hub is not the SaxaVord Shetland Island spaceport also being developed in Scotland. The two are competing with each other to successfully complete the first launch from the United Kingdom in history. Also competing for this honor is an airport in Cornwall, which has a deal with Virgin Orbit to do its own launch later this year. And regardless who wins this race, the three sites will likely give the UK the first European-based spaceports in history.

The United Kingdom’s decision in 2016 to shift from a single government-run spaceport to competition and capitalism appears to be now finally paying off.

The future factions in space become clearer

Based on two stories yesterday, it appears that the future alliances between nations in space are now beginning to sort themselves out.

First there was the signing ceremony announcement of Columbia becoming the nineteenth nation to sign the Artemis Accords with the U.S. and the third Latin American country to do so.

The Artemis Accords were created by the Trump administration as an international treaty to bypass the restrictions on private property imposed by the Outer Space Treaty. By signing bilateral agreements with as many nations as possible, the U.S. thus creates a strong alliance able to protect those rights in space.

The full list of signatories so far: Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, the Ukraine, and the United States.

In the second story, France and India — both of whom have so far resisted signing the Artemis Accords — announced their own bilateral agreement intended to strengthen their partnership across many fronts, from security to economic development to the Ukraine war. The agreement also included this paragraph on the subject of space:
» Read more

CAPSTONE Moon satellite shipped to New Zealand by Terran Orbital

Capitalism in space: Terran Orbital has completed construction of the CAPSTONE Moon smallsat and has now had it shipped to New Zealand for its launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket no earlier than May 27th.

Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, a Terran Orbital Corporation, built the spacecraft for the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, otherwise known as CAPSTONE. The 12U CubeSat includes a radio tower on top that extends its size from a traditional 12U form factor.

CAPSTONE will not go directly to the Moon but instead, follow a “ballistic lunar transfer” that will take it out as far as 1.5 million kilometers before returning into lunar orbit. That transfer, which will take about four months to complete, is designed to save propellant, making the mission feasible for such a small spacecraft. The CAPSTONE payload and its software are owned and operated by Advanced Space for NASA.

CAPSTONE will use Rocket Lab’s Proton upper stage to get it to the Moon. It will then test maneuvering as well as communicating in the lunar halo orbit that NASA wants to use with its Lunar Gateway space station. It will also be proving out the use of this kind of smallsat for future interplanetary missions.

Blue Origin announces passengers on next suborbital New Shepard flight

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin yesterday announced the six people who will fly on its next suborbital New Shepard flight.

The company did not reveal the flight date. Nor did it say who is paying for their ticket and how much. In fact, Blue Origin has still not revealed what it is charging per ticket. It is appears however that at least one or more passengers are not paying, and were chosen instead for their PR value, including the apparent “woke” desire of Jeff Bezos to achieve as many ethnic “firsts” as possible.

It is nice that Blue Origin appears to be making money from its suborbital division. It would be much much better however if the company was be making orbital launches with its New Glenn rocket, which were originally supposed to begin in ’20 and now likely won’t start happening until ’23, at the very earliest.

Momentus gets final launch permits for its space tug

Capitalism in space: After a year delay due to government security concerns, Momentus has finally gotten all the launch permits required for a launch later this month on a Falcon 9 of its space tug, Vigoride, on its first orbital test flight.

In late April Momentus had gotten FCC approval. Now it has gotten clearance from the FAA. The FAA had blocked last year’s launch because of security concerns related to the foreign connections of several of the company’s founders/investors. Those individuals have now left the company, clearing the way for license approval.

The delay however caused Momentus to lose several customers while allowing another space tug competitor, Launcher, to catch up.

South Korea’s new president wants bigger space effort closely tied to U.S.

The new president of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol, has made it clear that when he takes office today his policy will be to expand that nation’s space effort while tying that effort more closely with NASA and the U.S. military.

[His goals] include establishing an independent aerospace agency offering integrated management of civil and military space programs in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, home to nearly 100 aerospace companies, and developing a high-power rocket for independent satellite launches in the near term and lunar and Mars exploration in the long-run.

…Yoon has also promised to facilitate the public-to-private transfer of space technologies, reform regulations and launch a space industry cluster to grow the country’s nascent domestic space industry. In line with this, the science ministry recently selected five universities that will be subsidized $4 million each over the next five years in return for running education programs designed to nurture skilled space engineers.

“Countries jockey for position in the space industry to secure a competitive edge in national security and future competitiveness,” Yoon wrote in his election manifesto, pledging to make South Korea “one of seven most advanced space powers in the world by 2035.”

However, the first space-related task of Yoon’s adminstration, which merely accelerates what the previous South Korean government had been doing, will likely be to replace the Russian rockets that South Korea presently has contracts with to launch several satellites.

Astra signs deal to launch from SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland

Capitalism in space: Astra today announced an agreement with the SaxaVord Spaceport in the Shetland Islands to begin launches from that United Kingdom location, beginning in 2023.

These launches will be the first by Astra outside the U.S. It is the second American company to sign on with SaxaVord, with Lockheed Martin’s ABL rocket company smallsat startup planning its own first launch there later this year. SavaVord also has a launch deal with a French company, Venture Orbital Systems, which hopes to launch later this decade.

None of these however could be the first launch from the United Kingdom since the 1960s. Virgin Orbit has a deal to launch from a runway from a Cornwall airport later this year. Furthermore, the rocket company Orbex is planning to launch its Prime rocket from a differenct spaceport in Sutherland, Scotland.

China launches Tianzhou freighter to space station

The new colonial movement: China today successfully used its Long March 7 rocket to launch a new Tianzhou unmanned cargo freighter to its Tiangong space station.

The cargo is for the station’s next crew, scheduled to launch in June for a six month mission, during which two new large modules will be added to the station.

The launch took place at China’s sea coast Wenchang spaceport, so its expendable lower stages all fell harmlessly in the ocean.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

18 SpaceX
15 China
6 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

U.S. private enterprise still leads China 26 to 15 in the national rankings, as well as the entire world combined 26 to 24.

The payload’s view during a Spinlaunch test

Spinlaunch prototype suborbital launcher
Spinlaunch’s prototype launcher

Capitalism in space: Spinlaunch has released a video showing what a Spinlaunch test launch looked like from the payload’s perspective.

I have embedded that video below. This was the company’s eighth test launch, all of which appear to have only gotten to about 30,000 feet or so. The payload camera does not turn on until the payload has been released and is ascending upward. Try to ignore the dramatic music, which of course is nothing but fake PR.

Three things are revealed. One, the acceleration at launch quickly drops as the payload ascends. Second, the payload’s wild spin appears intended, to help stabilize its flight. Third, its descent is slow, suggesting the release of parachutes.
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Chinese pseudo company Linkspace to try suborbital vertical rocket test this year

The Chinese pseudo-company Linkspace announced in a press release May 5th that it will attempt to vertically launch and land a first stage booster to suborbital space before the end of the year.

The rocket will later be transported to Lenghu in the northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai, the site of LinkSpace’s earlier tests. The team aims to launch the 47.5-foot-tall (14.5 meters) RLV-T6 to an altitude of around 62 miles (100 kilometers) and land it safely using landing legs and grid fins, similar to the way that the first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket touches down.

The rocket to be tested is almost exactly the same height as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first stage, so apparently this test will be a test of a full scale prototype of Linkspace’s own first stage. If successful, the company will be able to soon followup with reusable launches.

Linkspace had performed small scale vertical rocket tests three years ago, and then disappeared for unknown reasons. Its reappearance now suggests the Chinese government has approved its effort and will thus allow it to go forward.

Note: I call all the so-called private companies coming out of China “pseudo” because none function like an independent company privately owned. They might raise Chinese investment capital and work to earn profit, but anything they design or build is closely determined by the communist Chinese government. None builds anything without that supervision, and should the government change its mind the company will quickly be shut down.

Virgin Galactic delays commercial suborbital flights again

See update below.

Capitalism in space: In releasing its quarterly report, Virgin Galactic revealed that it is once again delaying the beginning of commercial suborbital flights, pushing back those first flights until the first quarter of 2023.

The net loss for Q1 2022 was $93 million, which was higher than Q4 2021 net loss of $81 million but less than the $130 million loss for the first quarter of 2021.

Flight tests of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity suborbital space plane that were supposed to take place this summer have been pushed back to the fourth quarter. And the start of commercial service has been delayed from the fourth quarter to 2023. The company said the delays were due to supply chain and labor constraints.

You can read the full quarterly report here.

The company also says it still has 800 reservations for those commercial flights, which suggests that once flights begin it will have plenty of business for at least a period of time, depending on how frequently it can launch and how many passengers can fly each time.

UPDATE: The overhype of all of Richard Branson’s hi-tech projects, such as Virgin Galactic, was further illustrated by this other story from February about Branson’s well publicized project to build a hyper-loop transportation system in West Virgina.

Hyperloop was over-hyped. As the Financial Times first reported, Virgin Hyperloop laid off about half of its staff, as it makes a major shift it its goals. “The U.S. company said 111 people were laid off on Friday as it refocuses on delivering a cargo version of the experimental transportation system.”

Hat tip John Harman.

SpaceX launches another 53 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: Early this morning SpaceX successfully launched 53 Starlink satellites, using and landing the Falcon 9’s first stage for the twelfth time.

The fairings halves were flying for their third and sixth times. This was also SpaceX’s sixth launch in less than a month.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

18 SpaceX
14 China
6 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 26 to 14 in the national rankings, as well as all the entire world combined 26 to 23.

Endurance successfully splashes down, returning 4 astronauts after a 6 month mission

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Endurance spacecraft successfully splashed down tonight off the coast of Florida, bringing home four astronauts after a six month mission on ISS.

This event capped a remarkable month for SpaceX. It launched two manned missions to ISS (one of which was entirely private) while returning two (including that private mission after seventeen days). In between the company also launched three Falcon 9 rockets putting satellites into orbit. All told, in the four weeks since the April 8th launch of the Axiom private manned mission to ISS, SpaceX completed five launches, all of which successfully landed the first stages for later reuse.

More important, everything on every one of those launches and splashdowns went like clockwork, with no problems, delays, or glitches. The only thing that delayed anything was the weather, something no one can do anything about.

Rocket engineering is hard, maybe the hardest technical challenge facing humans. The high quality of SpaceX’s work however is beginning to make it seem routine.

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