SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy wins launch contract for VIPER lunar rover

Capitalism in space: Astrobotic, the company building the lander to place NASA’s VIPER lunar rover on the Moon, has picked SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy as the rocket to launch the package.

This mission is part of a fleet of landers being sent to the Moon in the next two years, as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program to hire private companies to do this rather than NASA.

Intuitive Machines, which won CLPS task orders for two lander missions, will launch each on Falcon 9 vehicles late this year and in 2022. Masten Space Systems selected SpaceX to provide launch services for its XL-1 lander mission, which won a CLPS award for a late 2022 mission.

Astrobotic will launch its first CLPS mission, a smaller lunar lander called Peregrine, on the inaugural launch of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur currently scheduled for late this year. Firefly Aerospace, which won the most recent CLPS award in January, has not selected a launch provider yet for its Blue Ghost lander, but noted the lander is too large to launch on the company’s own Alpha rocket.

That’s five American lunar missions, all built and owned by private companies. Nor will these be the only unmanned lunar missions, when you include the UAE rover targeted for a ’22 launch, along with additional planned Indian, Chinese, and Russian missions. Almost all are aimed at the Moon’s south polar regions.

It is going to get both crowded and busy on the Moon in the next few years.

UAE hires Japanese company as partner for its ’22 lunar rover mission

Capitalism in space: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has chosen the private Japanese company Ispace to provide the lander bringing its Rashid rover to the Moon in 2022.

ispace’s 240 kg lander is 2.3 meters tall and 2.6 meters wide. It will be launched by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company, on a Falcon 9 rocket. Once the iSpace lander is placed in the Earth’s orbit, it will travel to the moon on its own, land and unload the rover.

The lander will use solar panels for power, which will also allow the rover to communicate with Earth. It will also carry a solid-state battery made by NGK Spark Plug, which intends to examine its battery’s lunar performance.

This UAE project is similar but a step up from its Al-Amal Mars orbiter. In that case UAE used its money to have the orbiter mostly built by U.S. universities as they taught UAE’s students how to do it. In this case, UAE engineers appear to be building the rover itself, with the purchased help of others to provide the lander..

SpaceX successfully launches another sixty Starlink satellites

Falcon 9 today, with booster on 7th flight

SpaceX this morning successfully launched another 60 Starlink satellites, bringing the total number in orbit to more than 1,500.

The first stage, on its seventh flight, successfully landed on the drone ship. During SpaceX’s live stream they noted that every launch by the company this year has used a previously flown first stage. Both fairings on this flight were also reused.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

10 SpaceX
7 China
5 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 14 to 7 in the national rankings.

I have embedded SpaceX’s live stream below the fold. Because of the clear weather this was a particularly beautiful launch. The video during the landing of the first stage was especially spectacular, with the camera on the booster showing the entire landing.
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Falcon 9 upper stage debris lands on Washington farm

Falcon 9 helium pressure tank
Click for full image.

When a Falcon 9 upper stage broke up over the Pacific northwest last week apparently one of its interior helium pressure tanks, used to help push the fuel or oxidizer from the larger tank during launch, fell on a Washington farm and has since been recovered.

The image to the right is that tank, in what appears to be remarkable shape. From the article:

Composite-overwrapped pressure vessels, or COPVs, are standard components in Falcon 9 rockets. They’re designed to hold the helium gas that’s used to pressurize propellant tanks. COPVs are likely candidates to survive re-entry because they’re relatively lightweight and heat-resistant.

The tank has been returned to SpaceX, which I am sure is going to be very interested in studying its condition very thoroughly.

Last two passengers on 1st entirely private manned spaceflight revealed

Capitalism in space: The last two passengers for the first entirely private commercial manned spaceflight, dubbed Inspiration4 and paid for by businessman Jared Isaacman, were announced yesterday, along with a launch date no earlier than September 15, 2021.

Isaacman bought the mission partly to fly in space, but also to raise money for St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital. Both Isaacman and Haley Arceneaux, a former St. Judes cancer patient, will fly. Their two new crew members are both experienced in aviation or spaceflight operations, though neither is a professional astronaut with any training in that field.

[Sian] Proctor describes herself as a scientist turned artist and an “analog astronaut” where people live in environments to simulate long-duration spaceflight. She has done four analog missions including NASA’s Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) Habitat to simulate a trip to Mars. She is a pilot, scuba diver, “and loves geoexploring our world.” Born in Guam while her father was working at a NASA tracking station there during the Apollo program, she has a B.S. in environmental science, an M.S. in geology, and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction: Science Education. She was a finalist in NASA’s 2009 astronaut selection.

While a U.S. Space Camp counselor, [Chris] Sembroski conducted simulated space shuttle missions and supported STEM-based education. He served in the Air Force maintaining a fleet of Minuteman III ICBMs and served in Iraq. After leaving the Air Force in 2007, he earned a B.S. in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He now works for the aerospace industry in Seattle, although he did not specify what company.

Their spacecraft will be Resilience, the Dragon capsule that flew the first operational manned commercial crew to ISS, and is presently docked to the station. For the Inspiration4 flight however SpaceX is going to install a large domed window at the capsule’s nose, replacing the docking port that will not be needed.

SpaceX successfully launches another 60 Starlink satellites

SpaceX early today successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to place another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, bringing that constellation to over 1,300 satellites.

The first stage landed successfully, for the sixth time. Both fairing halves were also reused, and their recovery method has now been simplified:

SpaceX has recently appeared to adjust its fairing recovery strategy. The ships previously dedicated to fairing catch attempts, GO Ms. Chief and GO Ms. Tree, have been stripped of their nets and arms, a possible sign that dry fairing recoveries will no longer be attempted. Post-splashdown recovery has proven to be fairly successful, as recent missions frequently use fairing halves that have flown once if not multiple times before.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

9 SpaceX
6 China
4 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

Counting all launches, the U.S. now leads China 13 to 6 in the national rankings.

SpaceX launches another 60 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX early this morning successfully launched another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The company also successfully used a first stage for a record ninth time, landing it on its drone ship in the Atlantic. The booster did all nine flights in just over two years.

The 2021 launch race:

8 SpaceX
6 China
3 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Virgin Orbit
1 Northrop Grumman
1 India

The U.S. now leads China 11 to 6 in the national rankings.

SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX last night successfully launched another sixty Starlink satellites, raising the total launched to 1,265, with more than a thousand operating.

The company also landed the Falcon 9’s first stage for the sixth time while reusing both fairings.

The 2021 launch race:

7 SpaceX
4 China
3 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Virgin Orbit
1 Northrop Grumman
1 India

The U.S. now leads China 10 to 4 in the national rankings. In fact, SpaceX alone has as many launches as China and Russia combined.

SpaceX requests FCC permission to expand Starlink service to trucks, ships, & planes

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has submitted a request to the FCC to expand its Starlink customer base by providing the service not only to rural areas but to large moving vehicles, such as trucks, ships, & planes.

In its application to the FCC, filed on Friday, SpaceX said expanding Starlink availability to moving vehicles throughout the U.S. and to moving vessels and aircraft worldwide would serve the public interest. “The urgency to provide broadband service to unserved and underserved areas has never been clearer,” David Goldman, SpaceX’s director of satellite policy, said in the filing.

Goldman said SpaceX’s “Earth Stations in Motion,” or ESIMs, would be “electrically identical” versions of the $499 antenna systems that are already being sold to beta customers. He suggested that they’d be counted among the million end-user stations that have already been authorized by the FCC.

…SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet that Starlink’s ESIM terminals would be “much too big” to mount on cars — such as the electric cars that are made by Tesla, the other company that Musk heads — but would be suitable for large trucks and RVs.

The article at the link notes in detail how this request poses a serious competitive threat to two of SpaceX’s biggest rivals, Klymeta and Amazon’s Kuiper constellation. This is true, but it is so mostly because SpaceX has already launched more than a thousand satellites in its constellation, and is simply taking advantage of its advanced position to undercut its rivals.

For example, though Klymeta might be using already orbiting satellites put up by different companies, it is also charging twice what SpaceX wants to charge for its antenna system, making Starlink a more attractive product. Amazon meanwhile appears years away from launching its first satellite. It might have a better design, but such things are worthless if they aren’t built and operational.

These companies have no one to blame but themselves if Starlink grabs their hope-for market share. And the FCC should not block SpaceX just to protect them.

SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX last night successfully launched sixty more Starlink satellites, while also recovering the first stage during its eighth flight.

This is the second booster that has successfully completed eight flights. Its flight back to the drone ship appeared entirely routine, though SpaceX provided no footage of that return.

The 2021 launch race:

6 SpaceX
4 China
3 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Virgin Orbit
1 Northrop Grumman
1 India

The U.S. now leads China 9 to 4 in the national rankings.

Booster landing failure on Feb 15 Falcon 9 launch began with engine issue during lift-off

SpaceX revealed today that the failure on February 15th of the 1st stage of the Falcon 9 rocket to land successfully first appeared during liftoff.

During a NASA press conference March 1 about the upcoming Crew-2 commercial crew flight, Benji Reed, senior director for human spaceflight programs at SpaceX, said that while the booster used on that Feb. 15 launch was making its sixth flight, some components on it were “life leaders” that had flown more often than any other in the Falcon 9 fleet. That included “boots,” or covers around parts of the Merlin engines in the first stage. “This was the highest count number of flights that this particular boot design had seen,” he said.

However, one of those boots had a “little bit of a hole” that allowed hot gas to get into parts of the engine during flight, he said. “A little bit of hot gas got to where it’s not supposed to be, and it caused that engine to shut down,” he said. Reed didn’t mention at what point in the launch the engine shut down, but he suggested it took place during ascent.

…The shutdown of the engine, though, kept the first stage from landing. “When that booster came to return home, because of the problem with that particular engine, we didn’t have enough thrust to get back to where we needed to be, and didn’t land where we wanted to be,” he said.

These facts help explain why SpaceX paused all its subsequent flights. An issue during liftoff is more serious than one that occurs during the return to Earth, as it suggests a problem that could impact future launches and the ability of the rocket to deliver its payload, its primary task.

SpaceX: No 1st stage footage on tonight’s Starlink launch

During last night’s short broadcast leading to the abort at T-1:24 seconds of a launch of another 60 Starlink satellites, the company announced that it would not show the video feed from the reused first stage booster as it returned to Earth.

[A] SpaceX engineer revealed that the company would not be broadcasting live feeds from Falcon 9 B1049’s onboard cameras during the launch. The ambiguity of the comment made it impossible to determine if SpaceX was simply choosing to not show those views or if something was wrong with the camera downlink system, while the same engineer-turned-host did go on to state that “all systems are green” moments later.

No explanation for the sudden change – possibly the first webcast in years without live views from booster cameras – was given. Starlink-17 serves as a return-to-flight mission for SpaceX after Starlink-19’s failed landing, during which the rocket’s onboard cameras streamed what appeared to be clearly unusual and possibly off-nominal behavior early on in the landing process.

The article at the link then speculates that maybe SpaceX was worried about that booster’s ability to land (it will be flying its eighth time, same as the booster that failed on the earlier flight).

I am very skeptical of that theory, especially because SpaceX has never shown a reluctance to show the public its failures. Instead, I think SpaceX has decided to do an engineering test of that booster during its return, and for propriety reasons wants to keep this from public eyes. If so, the test itself might also mean they are willing to lose this booster during that test.

During the early days of their program to reuse boosters, they sometimes had the returning 1st stage do some very stressful maneuvers, producing very spectacular light shows when launched from Vandenberg on the California coast. It could be they want to test this older booster on its eighth flight in a similar manner, in order to reassess their engineering and thus make it possible to upgrade and extend the re-usability of later boosters.

SpaceX delays all launches while it investigates failed booster landing

Capitalism in space: In order to investigate the failure of the first stage to land successfully during the last Starlink satellite launch on February 15th, SpaceX has paused all further launches, with an expected delay overall of one to two weeks before launches resume.

Analysis by Scott Manley suggests during the re-entry burn (as the 1st stage re-entered the atmosphere) one of the engines had issues, causing the booster to break-up shortly before it hit the ocean.

When SpaceX was first attempting to land its first stages, the boosters would routinely crash, and the company would not slow its launch schedule because the boosters had still functioned as expected during launch. Nor was anyone disturbed by those failures nor did anyone expect SpaceX to pause further launches.

Things are different now. We have a high expectation that a Falcon 9 engine will relight and work every time, all the way back to its landing pad. Any failure later in the flight, even if the rocket got the payload into orbit, raises questions that must be answered. Hence the delay in further launches.

Overall, this higher expectation of success is a good thing. It says that we now expect rockets to be able to land successfully. And getting this problem fixed will only increase the chances that they will do so more reliably in the future.

Second passenger chosen for private manned SpaceX mission

Capitalism in space: Jared Isaacman, who has purchased an entire Dragon/Falcon 9 flight for the first private commercial manned mission scheduled for later this year, has picked the flight’s second passenger.

The second member of a four-person crew for what’s likely to be the first privately funded orbital space tour has been identified: She’s Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old physician assistant who works at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. — and was successfully treated for bone cancer at St. Jude almost two decades ago.

Arceneaux was invited to be part of the Inspiration4 mission weeks ago by its commander and principal funder, Shift4 Payments CEO and founder Jared Isaacman — but her identity was kept secret until today.

This choice fits Isaacman’s main goal, which is to use the publicity of the flight in raise money for St. Jude’s. So far almost $10 million has been raised.

Two more passengers need to be chosen. One will be picked from a lottery of people who donate to St. Jude’s, with the second being an entrepreneur picked by a panel of judges. The deadline to enter both slots closes on February 28th.

As for the flight itself, it will spend two to four days in orbit.

SpaceX in Starlink negotiations with the Philippines

Capitalism in space: SpaceX and a major internet company based in the Philippines have been in negotiations about offering Starlink to its citizens.

US tech billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) is in talks to bring broadband satellite services to the Philippines through a partnership with fibre internet tycoon Dennis Anthony H Uy of Pampanga.

Representatives from SpaceX and Uy’s Converge ICT Solutions Inc met on multiple occasions to discuss a potential venture, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Philippine Daily Inquirer.

SpaceX apparently can’t just set up business to compete with this company, probably because it has deep ties in the government that can block it. Converge probably wants a cut, along with I suspect a number of Philippine politicians.

No deal has so far been made, but Starlink would be ideal in the more rural locations of the Philippines.

SpaceX launches sixty more Starlink satellites; plus an installation report from one customer

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched another 60 Starlink satellites, using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The first stage on its sixth flight however failed to land successfully. It is amazing that we now expect these landings to succeed, proving how reliable we now expect SpaceX’s rocket to be.

The 2021 launch race:

5 SpaceX
3 China
2 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Virgin Orbit

The U.S. now leads China 7 to 3 in the national rankings. Another SpaceX launch is scheduled for tomorrow, followed by a Rocket Lab launch a little more than 24 hours later.

A report from one Starlink customer on his installation experience

The sixty new Starlink satellites bring the constellation to more than 1,100 satellites, allowing SpaceX to continue expanding regions where it is offering the service. Below the fold is an update from reader Steve Golson on his experience installing his own Starlink dish and service in Maine, now running for several days. Rather than cut and past sections, I think it best to quote his email to me in its entirety, including some of the images he sent. The opinions expressed are Steve’s alone, but they are coming from a customer who appears very satisfied with the product, up to now.
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SpaceX competitors lobbying to kill FCC subsidy for Starlink

A lobbying effort instigated by some of SpaceX competitors in the rural internet service business is now working to kill the $886 million subsidy the FCC had awarded the company for developing its Starlink internet constellation.

The losers in the awards process apparently are teaming up with the Democrats to challenge all the awards, with SpaceX their main target.

The [award to SpaceX was] made when Trump administration appointees still controlled the FCC and now the agency is led by Biden appointees who could cut off applicants it considers dubious. Last month, 160 House and Senate members urged the FCC to scrutinize recipients, in part because network construction takes time. “We fear that we will not know whether funds were improperly spent for years to come,” said the lawmakers.

There is a “a need for proper upfront assessment,” Representative Jim Clyburn, of South Carolina, the No. 3 House Democrat, said in an email. He said many applicants claim to be able to deliver faster service to new customers than they are delivering to current subscribers.

This is a fight for government hand-outs, period. The losers are now using political pressure to change the decision. And since the Democrats generally hate SpaceX (and Elon Musk) because it is so successful at actually achieving what it sets out to do, they are glad to help them. Not only will it bring these politicians campaign donations (called bribes if you are honest), it will destroy the one space company that is proving that capitalism and freedom works.

From my perspective, no one, including SpaceX, should get these funds. SpaceX is proving they aren’t necessary to get the job done (bringing fast internet service to rural communities). Moreover, the federal government really doesn’t have the cash, deep in debt as it is.

But then, my perspective is now considered quaint, even “raaaaaaacist”, in our modern corrupt Marxist society.

SpaceX launches another 60 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched another 60 Starlink satellites using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The first stage completed its fifth flight, landing successfully on the drone ship in the Atlantic. Both fairings were also used.

The 2021 launch race:

4 SpaceX
2 China
1 Rocket Lab
1 Virgin Orbit
1 Russia

The U.S. now leads China 6 to 2 in the national rankings. SpaceX had planned another launch later this morning, but they have delayed that launch one day until tomorrow.

Billionaire buys of entire SpaceX launch for tourist flight and charity

Capitalism in space: An American billionaire has purchased an entire SpaceX Dragon flight and Falcon 9 launch, set for sometime in October ’21, with the goal of using the publicity of the flight to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Besides fulfilling his dream of flying in space, Jared Isaacman announced Monday that he aims to use the private trip to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, half coming from his own pockets.

A health care worker for St. Jude already has been selected for the mission. Anyone donating to St. Jude in February will be entered into a random drawing for seat No. 3. The fourth seat will go to a business owner who uses Shift4 Payments, Isaacman’s credit card processing company in Allentown, Pennsylvania

This flight means that SpaceX is likely going to have at about five commercial manned flights in the next year, three by NASA, one by Axiom to ISS, and Isaacman’s above. Moreover, none include the flights by various entertainers and reality show producers who have been rumored as being interesting in buying tickets. Nor does this include the tourism flights the Russians are planning in the next year.

All told, these flights strongly suggest that there is a very healthy market for commercial manned spaceflight, a market that can only grow once Boeing finally enters the market with its Starliner capsule.

I must also add that we have been waiting for commercial space tourism flights for almost sixteen years, since Richard Branson began promising them on his suborbital SpaceShipTwo back in 2004. Never happened, and now seems very second class in comparison to the pending orbital flights. As the article at the link says disparagingly about Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin’s suborbital craft, they “will just briefly skim the surface of space.”

Both Branson and Bezos had a window to make suborbital space tourism pay off. Neither stepped through it.

Axiom’s first passengers to ISS paying $55 million each

Capitalism in space: The three non-Axiom employees who will fly as part of the crew for the company’s first private manned mission to ISS are paying $55 million each for the privilege.

The first private space station crew was introduced Tuesday: Three men who are each paying $55 million to fly on a SpaceX rocket. They’ll be led by a former NASA astronaut now working for Axiom Space, the Houston company that arranged the trip for next January.

“This is the first private flight to the International Space Station. It’s never been done before,” said Axiom’s chief executive and president Mike Suffredini, a former space station program manager for NASA. While mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria is well known in space circles, “the other three guys are just people who want to be able to go to space, and we’re providing that opportunity,” Suffredini told The Associated Press.

The first crew will spend eight days at the space station, and will take one or two days to get there aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule following liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

The initial press release made it appear that all four men were crew members and not passengers. And though Axiom and these passengers are both continuing to de-emphasize the tourist nature of their flight, claiming they will each be tasked with science research and that it “is 100% not a vacation for these guys,” the simple fact remains that they are paying customers, flying in space for the fun of it.

Why Axiom and these passengers feel obliged to misconstrue the tourist nature of their flight puzzles me. There is no reason for them to be ashamed of their desire to fly in space. Nor should they feel any guilt about having the money that allows them to pay for the privilege. This is what freedom is all about. They earned their wealth, and it now allows them the chance to do something grand. All power to them.

The actual ticket-price is also intriguing. At $55 million it is far more than the $35 million paid by the last tourist flown on a Russian Soyuz to ISS, though less than the $75 to $90 million the Russians were charging NASA. Overall it appears the price per ticket for an orbital flight has gone up, though the emerging competition is likely stabilizing the price at a lower plateau.

The announcement is also interesting in that so little is mentioned of SpaceX. Though the flight has been sold as an Axiom one, this particular tourist flight will depend entirely on SpaceX hardware to get to and from ISS. Axiom has merely acted as the broker for the flight.

Eventually Axiom will have its own in-space habitable space, first attached to ISS as new modules and later flying free as its own space station after ISS is retired. Right now however the real achievement is coming from SpaceX. This detail must be recognized.

Axiom names crew for its first private manned mission to ISS

Capitalism in space: The private company Axiom today revealed the names of the four-person crew that will fly a SpaceX Dragon capsule to ISS on the first wholly private manned spaceflight.

The four members of the Axiom Space Ax-1 crew: Michael Lopez-Alegria, former NASA astronaut, Axiom Space vice president and Ax-1 commander; Larry Connor, U.S. real estate entrepreneur and Ax-1 pilot; Mark Pathy, Canadian investor and philanthropist; and Eytan Stibbe, Israeli businessman and fighter pilot.

The crew of the first entirely-private orbital space mission will include the second oldest person to launch into space, the second Israeli in space, the 11th Canadian to fly into space and the first former NASA astronaut to return to the International Space Station, the company organizing the history-making flight has announced.

The launch date has also been delayed from the fall to early ’22.

It is unclear if these four men are the entire passenger list. Dragon can carry up to seven passagers, and earlier rumors had hinted that Tom Cruise and a movie director were buying two seats on this private mission in order to film scenes for a movie.

It is also unclear why the flight was delayed, other than a suggestion that it was due to scheduling conflicts with getting to ISS.

Falcon 9 successfully places 143 satellites into orbit

Capitalism in space: SpaceX this morning successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying a record 143 smallsats into orbit.

As I write this they are in the process of deploying the satellites, which will take time as the upper stage circles the Earth. This launch of 143 satellites beats the former record of the most satellites deployed on a single launch, 104, set by India in 2017.

The first stage landed successfully, completing its fifth flight. They also recovered both fairing halves.

The standings in the 2021 launch race:

3 SpaceX
1 Rocket Lab
1 Virgin Orbit
1 China

The U.S. now leads China 5 to 1 in the national rankings.

SpaceX and Rocket Lab complete launches

Capitalism in space: Two successfully launches this morning.

First Rocket Lab used its Electron rocket to launch a German cubesat thought to be a prototype for a Chinese communications constellation, though no information has been publicly released. No recovery attempts were made on the rocket’s first stage.

Then SpaceX successfully completed its 17th Starlink launch and second launch in 2021. This puts about 950 Starlink satellites in orbit. The booster for this flight landed on the drone ship, completing its record eighth flight.

The 2021 launch race:

2 SpaceX
1 Virgin Orbit
1 China
1 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 4 to 1 in the national rankings.

DARPA cubesats damaged in mishap at SpaceX facility

Though no details have been released, DARPA revealed yesterday that two experimental cubesats being prepared for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 were damaged when the payload separation system was accidently activated.

As these were military satellites not much information was revealed by DARPA, and SpaceX made no comment.

Such things do happen rarely, but for SpaceX it is still an embarrassment and a problem. They will certainly have to figure out how this could have happened by accident, and make sure it does not happen again.

Who pays the cost for repair or replacement (more likely) is a tangled question, and will be buried in the launch contracts between DARPA and SpaceX.

SpaceX completes 25th orbital launch in 2020

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully completed its 25th orbital launch in 2020, using its Falcon 9 rocket to put an American spy satellite into orbit.

The first stage successfully landed at Cape Canaveral, completing its fifth flight.

Not only is 25 launches in a single year a new record for SpaceX, it is also four more launches than the company predicted it would achieve in 2020.

This was also the 40th successful American orbital launch in 2020, the first time since 1968 that the U.S. has had that many launches. In 1968 the launches were almost all dictated by the government, on rockets controlled by the government. Today, the rockets are all privately designed and owned, with the small number of government launches occurring with the government merely the customer buying a product.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

33 China
25 SpaceX
15 Russia
6 ULA
6 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 40 to 33 in the national rankings. The rankings also should not change significantly in the last two weeks of the year, as the U.S. has no more scheduled launches and China and Russia only one.

SpaceX successfully launches commercial radio satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a new commercial radio satellite for Siruis.

The first stage was making its seventh flight, the fifth in 2020. It successfully landed on the drone ship. The fairings were also both previously flown.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

33 China
24 SpaceX
13 Russia
6 ULA
5 Rocket Lab
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. now leads China 38 to 33 in the national rankings. The U.S. has also completed the most launches in a single year since 1968. Unlike 1968, all the launches this year were flown by private companies, either for commercial customers or for the government, with rockets owned by the companies. In 1968 almost all the launches were for the government, and the rockets were controlled by the government, even if built by private companies.

Note that this very successful year occurred during a year when many businesses were forced to shutdown due to the Wuhan panic. It appears many rocket companies decided this was not a reason to cease operations.

SpaceX’s Starlink constellation wins $885 million in federal subsidies

Capitalism in space: In awarding $9.2 billion in subsidies to providers of rural high-speed internet to rural customers, the FCC gave $885 million of this allocation to SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.

SpaceX was not the biggest beneficiary, however.

Most of the RDOF Phase I subsidies are going to terrestrial broadband service providers, led by LTD Broadband with an award of $1.32 billion. CCO Holdings, a subsidiary of Charter Communications, is due to serve 1.05 million sites around the country, leading the list for that metric.

The FCC said 85% of the 5.2 million sites to be served would get gigabit-speed broadband. SpaceX is due to serve nearly 643,000 sites with download speeds of 100 megabits per second or more.

Regardless of its good intentions, this distribution of federal cash sickens me. These companies don’t need it to do what they are doing, and are all sure to make plenty of profit without it. The federal government meanwhile is trillions in debt. It has to print money to give this away, something that is not going to go well in the long run.

SpaceX successfully launches Dragon freighter to ISS

Falcon 9 launches Dragon freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched for the first time its upgraded Dragon freighter to ISS.

The first stage was flying its fourth flight, and successfully landed on the drone ship in the ocean. This was also SpaceX’s 100th successful launch of its Falcon 9 rocket, with about two-thirds of those flights using a used first stage.

In the cargo was also the first privately built equipment airlock, built by Nanoracks for its use in launching private payloads. This will supplement the Japanese equipment airlock on its Kibo module, both used to move equipment (not people) in and out ISS. Dragon will dock with ISS tomorrow.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

32 China
23 SpaceX
13 Russia
5 ULA
5 Rocket Lab
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. now leads China 36 to 32 in the national rankings.

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