SpaceX unveils third drone ship for landing Falcon 9 boosters

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk yesterday unveiled the completion of its third drone ship for landing Falcon 9 boosters in the ocean and returning them to port.

The new ship will be put in place in Florida to support Atlantic launches of Falcon Heavy and the flagship rocket of SpaceX, the Falcon 9, that regularly sends Starlink broadband satellites to orbit and NASA astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, among other customer requests.

This will give the company two drone ships in Florida and one in California, allowing them to do launches at an even faster pace than the one launch every 2 weeks or so since the beginning of the year. The ship also is designed to be more efficient than the older ships, no longer requiring a tug to take it out into the Atlantic.

Problems with Blue Origin’s engine force more delays of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket

In a detailed and very informative review of the partnership between ULA and Blue Origin yesterday, Eric Berger at Ars Technica noted these unfolding facts:

For years, United Launch Alliance chief executive Tory Bruno had been saying the new Vulcan rocket, powered by two [Blue Origin] BE-4 engines, would launch in 2021. However, he recently told Aviation Week the first launch would slip into 2022. Bruno said this was due primarily to the mission’s customer, Astrobotic, whose Moon lander was not ready. Technically, Bruno said, Vulcan still had a chance to be ready for a 2021 launch.

This seems highly unlikely because it is already July, and United Launch Alliance (ULA) still does not have a pair of flight engines. After receiving the flight engines from Blue Origin, ULA needs to attach them to the Vulcan rocket, roll it to the launch pad, and conduct a lengthy series of tests before a hot-fire ignition. After this hot-fire test, the rocket will be rolled back to the hangar and prepared for an actual launch attempt. As of January, Bruno was saying this hot fire test with the flight engines would take place this summer. That will no longer happen.

In December both companies promised delivery of those flight engines by this summer, but so far nothing has arrived. Moreover, both companies have remained very tight-lipped about the cause of the most recent delays. In October 2020 Bruno said that an issue with the engine’s turbopumps had been identified and fixed, but if so why has the engine not arrived as promised?

A GAO report released last month had described issues with the engine’s “igniter and booster capabilities,” but Bruno himself has denied the igniter was a problem.

Regardless, Blue Origin’s inability to deliver this engine is causing problems at both companies. Both have been forced to delay the launch of their new orbital rockets. Both rockets were initially scheduled to launch in 2020, were delayed to 2021 about two years ago, and now are likely not to launch until 2022.

While ULA can still switch to its Atlas 5 rocket for some planned Vulcan launches (and has already done so), that rocket is more expensive and thus eats into the company’s profit margin. Using the more expensive Atlas 5 in bidding also makes it more difficult for ULA to compete with SpaceX in any head-to-head competition.

Blue Origin does not even have this option. Its proposed New Glenn rocket is grounded until it gets its engine operational.

All told, the failure of Blue Origin to deliver here is essentially grounding all of SpaceX’s potential American competition, a situation that is not healthy for the American rocket industry.

SpaceX drone ship arrives in California

Capitalism in space: One of SpaceX’s two drone ships used by its Falcon 9 first stages for ocean landings has arrived in California in preparation for frequent Starlink launches from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

The journey began on the East Coast two weeks ago and included passage through the Panama Canal. Once the drone ship gets offloaded, it will be based at Pier T, where it be part of recovery operations for the Starlink landings that potentially could occur in late July or early August.

These California launches will allow SpaceX to increase the global coverage of its Starlink constellation. It will also allow the company to begin frequent launches from both coasts.

Progress docks with ISS

As expected a Russian Progress freighter docked with ISS yesterday, on schedule and with no mishaps.

I report this non-news story simply because of the Russian claim yesterday that a SpaceX Starlink satellite and Falcon 9 upper stage threatened a collision with that freighter as it maneuvered in orbit prior to docking.

Not surprisingly, there was no collision. The Russians knew this, or they would never have launched as they did. They made a stink about it as a ploy to stain SpaceX, a company that has taken almost all their commercial launch business by offering cheaper and more reliable rockets.

Russia: Progress freighter and SpaceX rocket/satellite to have near miss

According to a Russia news outlet, their just launched Progress freighter will have a near miss today prior to its docking with ISS with two SpaceX objects, a Falcon 9 upper stage and a decommissioned Starlink satellite.

The Progress spacecraft, which carries about 3,600 lbs. (1,633 kilograms) of cargo including food, fuel and other supplies to the orbital outpost, launched from Roscomos’ Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 7:27 p.m. EDT (2327 GMT) on Tuesday (June 29). Progress 78 will approach the two objects about three and a half hours before its docking at the International Space Station, which is scheduled for 9:02 p.m. EDT on July 1 (0102 July 2 GMT).

The close approach, which triggered a potential collision alert, was detected by the Roscosmos TsNIIMash Main Information and Analytical Center of the Automated System for Warning of Hazardous Situations in Near-Earth Space (ASPOS OKP), Roscosmos said in the statement issued on the space agency’s website Wednesday (June 30) at 7:47 a.m. EDT (1147 GMT).

Based on preliminary calculations, the Starlink 1691 satellite will be just 0.9 miles (1.5 kilometers) away from Progress 78 on Thursday (July 1) at 5:32 p.m. EDT (2132 GMT). Three minutes later, a fragment of a Falcon 9 rocket booster left in orbit in 2020 is expected to approach the spaceship within 0.3 miles (500 meters).

Based on that timetable, the near miss has already occurred. No word yet on whether there were any issues.

What is interesting is that Russia should have known this prior to launch. It is routine procedure to consider known orbital objects in scheduling liftoffs. Either they knew and decided to purposely fly this close for political reasons (it allows them to slam SpaceX while also touting the dangers of space junk) or had not done their due diligence before launch.

SpaceX successfully launches 88 smallsats, marking a renaissance in rocketry in 2021

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First stage landing at Cape Canaveral today

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to place 88 smallsats into orbit, the third rocket launch today.

While Transporter-2 won’t beat the unprecedented number of satellites launched on on Transporter-1 [the first such smallsat launch by SpaceX earlier this year], SpaceX says it will still “launch 88 spacecraft to orbit” and – more importantly – carry more customer mass. In other words, Transporter-2 will carry roughly 50% fewer satellites, each of which will weigh substantially more on average.

Ordering directly through SpaceX, [the price] begins at $1 million for up to 200 kg (~440 lb). … A majority of small satellites weigh significantly less than 200 kilograms but if a customer manages to use all of their allotment, the total cost of a SpaceX rideshare launch could be as low as $5000 per kilogram – incredibly cheap relative to almost any other option. For a [comparable] launch … on a Rocket Lab Electron or Astra Rocket 3.0 rocket using every last gram of available performance, the same customer would end up paying a minimum of $25,000 to $37,500 per kilogram to orbit.

The launch also included a handful of Starlink satellites, adding to SpaceX’s constellation. I have embedded SpaceX’s live stream below the fold. As I write this the satellites have not yet been deployed from the second stage, but that should happen shortly.

The first stage landed successfully, the eighth time this booster has done so. The fairings were also reused, completing their third flight. All told, this was SpaceX’s 20th launch in 2021, 18 of which used reused boosters.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:
» Read more

SpaceX launch scrubbed because airplane strayed into what Musk calls “an unreasonably gigantic” launch zone.

Capitalism in space: Yesterday a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch was scrubbed mere seconds before launch because an airplane had been detected inside the government’s keep-out zone.

The scrub was called by the range officer at T-11 seconds. SpaceX will attempt the launch again today.

Musk immediately blasted the size of that keep-out zone, which was established decades ago at the very beginnings of the space race and has not been adjusted as launch technology has improved.

“Unfortunately, launch is called off for today, as an aircraft entered the ‘keep out zone,’ which is unreasonably gigantic,” Musk tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “There is simply no way that humanity can become a spacefaring civilization without major regulatory reform. The current regulatory system is broken.”

Musk has successfully forced the range to accept new technology that simplifies launches, makes it possible for them to occur faster with less time in-between, and requires fewer range officials monitoring the launch. He is now pushing them to rethink the size of the range, which is likely much larger than now necessary, as Musk claims, because not only are rockets more reliable, their programming is more precise.

The article at the link also notes as an aside at the end another Musk tweet, that SpaceX’s Starlink network now has 70,000 customers and hopes to have 500,000 within a year. More on that story here.

SpaceX successfully launches GPS satellite for Space Force

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a new GPS satellite for the Space Force.

As I post this the second stage has not yet deployed the satellite, though it is in orbit. UPDATE: As expected the satellite has been successfully deployed into its proper orbit.

This was the first Space Force launch using a reused Falcon 9 first stage. The stage, making its second flight, successfully landed on the drone ship, broadcasting the absolutely best video ever of such a landing, with the cameras on both the stage and the drone ship working without distortion throughout the landing to touchdown. The live stream is embedded below the fold, with that landing at 8:34 minutes after launch.

The two fairing halves are new but their pick up method for reuse has been streamlined:

For this mission, a new vessel has joined SpaceX’s oceangoing recovery fleet. HOS Briarwood will attempt to recover Falcon 9’s payload fairing halves after they splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. Similar in size to Shelia Bordelon, the previous temporary fairing recovery vessel, HOS Briarwood can be booked as a “flotel” and features an enormous crane, along with seemingly just enough deck space to support two recovered fairing halves.

Apparently, allowing the halves to land directly on the ocean surface and act as floating boat hulls until the ship can pick them up on a single ship, using a crane, is now the recovery method. There is also the hint that SpaceX might also be planning to sell tickets on this ship for people who wish a vacation watching that fairing recovery operation.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

19 SpaceX
17 China
8 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. now leads China 27 to 17 in the national rankings. Note: The average number of American launches per year during the 21st century (from 2000 to 2020) was 22. The U.S. has now topped that average by five launches, and the year is not even half over.
» Read more

Another smallsat startup announces plans to build its own orbital space tug

Capitalism in space: The smallsat launch startup Launcher announced yesterday that it in addition to developing its own rocket, it plans to build an orbital space tug that can be used both by it and on other smallsat satellites.

Launcher, which announced a $11.7 million funding round June 2, said its Orbiter tug will be able to carry up to 150 kilograms of payload, either in the form of 90 units worth of cubesat deployers or larger satellites using standard smallsat separation systems. Orbiter can also accommodate hosted payloads with power, communications, and other capabilities. Orbiter is equipped with a chemical propulsion system using ethylene and nitrous oxide propellants. The vehicle will initially provide 500 meters per second of delta-v, or change in velocity, but that can be increased by adding more propellant tanks.

Orbiter is intended for use on Launcher Light, the small launch vehicle the company is developing, with a first launch projected in 2024. However, Orbiter is also capable of flying on other launch vehicles using an ESPA Grande adapter ring. Orbiter’s first mission is scheduled for October 2022, when it will fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission.

That makes about four companies, Launcher, Momentus, Spaceflight, and D-Orbit, building space tugs for use on smallsats. Some will be on board a Falcon 9 launch set for later this month.

Bezos to fly on first manned New Shepard suborbital flight in July

Capitalism in space: Jeff Bezos announced today that he and his brother Mark will be passengers on the first manned commercial New Shepard suborbital flight, now scheduled to launch on July 20th.

“I want to go on this flight because it’s a thing I wanted to do all my life. It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me,” Bezos says in the brief video.

In that video, Bezos asks his younger brother Mark, to accompany him on the flight. “I think it would be meaning to have my brother there,” he said.

Mark Bezos accepted. “I wasn’t even expecting him to say that he was going to be on the first flight,” he said in the video. “And when he asked me to go along, I was just awe-struck.”

Right now the high bid in the auction for the other passenger seat remains stuck at $2.4 million. The bidding ends on June 12 with a live auction instead of an online one, but it appears that whoever bid that amount has no competitors and will be the passenger.

As for Bezos’ flight, his announcement means he will beat out Richard Branson for this honor. Bezos’ victory is especially embarrassing to Branson, who had been promising everyone that he would be the first suborbital passenger on his Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo suborbital spacecraft for almost twenty years. Those promises were bunkum. Bezos meanwhile made no such promises, and will deliver.

If you had to choose between these two car salesmen, who would you pick?

I however would choose neither. These suborbital car salesmen are fighting over the honors to launch what is equivalent to a rowboat. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is meanwhile building the equivalent of an ocean liner (Starshp) even as it is about to launch the equivalent of the first passenger steam ship (Falcon 9 with paying civilian passengers). I pick Musk.

SpaceX launches commercial radio satellite with reused Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched a Sirius-XM commercial radio satellite using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The first stage, making its third flight, successfully landed on the drone ship in the Atlantic. Note too that this launch took place only three days after SpaceX’s previous launch. Watching it take place, I was struck by how completely routine everything seemed. While rocketry will never be easy, SpaceX now makes it look so, and they do so because, unlike all other rocket companies, they did not stop upgrading and improving their rocket once it became somewhat reliable. Instead, they focused on making it more reliable than any rocket ever by making it reusable. That effort has now paid off, giving them a rocket that works like clockwork, practically every time.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

18 SpaceX
15 China
8 Russia
2 Rocket Lab
2 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 24 to 15 in the national rankings.

SpaceX successfully launches cargo Dragon to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a cargo Dragon to ISS.

The first stage booster successfully landed on its drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

This Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule were entirely new, making their first flights. This was the first new Falcon 9 to fly since November 2020, with sixteen launches during that period using reused boosters exclusively.

In fact, since November 2020 SpaceX has completed a total of 21 launches, all done in less than seven months. Moreover, the company has scheduled 34 (!) more launches through the rest of the year. If they achieve this ambitious schedule, they will complete 51 launches in ’21, more than doubling their previous annual record of 25 set last year. With all other American companies added in, there will be a good chance the United States launch total could exceed 70, breaking the country’s own annual launch record set in 1966 at the height of the first space race.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

17 SpaceX
15 China
8 Russia
2 Rocket Lab
2 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 23 to 15 in the national rankings.

Axiom strikes tourist deal with SpaceX for three more flights

Capitalism in space: Axiom today announced that it had signed a deal with SpaceX to use its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket to launch three more manned tourist missions following the first now scheduled for January.

Ax-1, Axiom’s historic first private ISS mission, has already been approved by NASA and targeted for launch to the ISS no earlier than Jan. 2022, also aboard Dragon as a result of a deal the companies signed in March 2020. Axiom last week revealed legendary astronaut Peggy Whitson and champion GT racer John Shoffner would serve as commander and pilot on its proposed Ax-2 mission – now confirmed to be a Dragon flight.

So, too, are Ax-3 and Ax-4.

Other than Whitson and Shoffner, the company has not revealed who will fly on those three additional flights. That it made this deal however strongly suggests that it has ample demand for seats and will fill those capsules with no problem.

The press release also reiterates the company’s space station plans. They will begin attaching their own modules to ISS in ’24, with the goal of detaching from the station in ’28 and operating as an independent entirely private station thereafter.

SpaceX successfully launches another 60 Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to place another sixty Starlink satellites in orbit, bringing that constellation to over 1,700 in orbit.

The first stage was making its second flight, and landed successfully on the drone ship in the Atlantic. Both fairings were reused, with one making a record fifth flight. Though the rocket has not yet deployed the satellites as I write this, it is expected in about a half hour and based on past history, should proceed with no problems. If there is an issue I will report it immediately.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

16 SpaceX
13 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab
2 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 22 to 13 in the national rankings.

Axiom announces astronaut to command its second commercial manned flight

Capitalism in space: Axiom has announced that retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will command its second commercial manned flight.

Whitson was the first woman to command the International Space Station and the oldest woman to fly in space (57, in 2017). She holds the U.S. record for most cumulative time in space (665 days) as well as the world record for most spacewalks by a woman (10).

Joining her will be 65-year-old John Shoffner, an airplane pilot and a champion car racer.

No word yet on when this flight will take place, but expect them to aim for next year, as soon as possible after Axiom’s first ISS commercial flight in January. Scheduling will also depend on NASA, which is presently working out an ISS scheduling policy to manage the increasing number of private missions being offered.

The flight will likely use a SpaceX Dragon capsule, which means there is room for two more passengers. It is possible that those seats will be filled with the winners of Discovery Channel’s proposed reality show, but they also might be filled by actor Tom Cruise and a movie director, both of whom have expressed interest in filming scenes of a movie on ISS.

SpaceX grabbing 90% of the launch contracts to the Moon

Capitalism in space: The announcement yesterday by Firefly that it has awarded SpaceX the launch contract for its Blue Ghost lunar lander mission (scheduled for launch in ’23) is significant because it continues a remarkable pattern of dominance by SpaceX of the lunar launch market.

Right now, of the seven scheduled robot missions to the Moon, SpaceX will launch all but one. The full list, in no particular order:

In addition, SpaceX launched Israel’s Beresheet lander in 2019 on a Falcon 9.

Furthermore, SpaceX has won the contract from NASA for the agency’s first manned lunar lander, using Starship. It has also won the contract to launch the initial components of NASA’s Lunar Gateway space station on a Falcon Heavy.

There are other lunar missions in the works (by Russia, China, and others), but these are all the launches awarded as commercial contracts to private rocket companies in recent years. Thus, of these ten lunar missions, SpaceX has launched or is launching nine. That’s a 90% market share!
» Read more

Flash! SpaceX to use a NEW Falcon 9 1st stage!

Both side boosters landing during the 1st Falcon Heavy launch
Both side boosters landing during
the 1st Falcon Heavy launch

Capitalism in space: For the first time in since September 2020, SpaceX has delivered a new Falcon 9 1st stage to its Florida launch site in preparation for launch.

This new stage will be used on the June 3rd launch of a cargo Dragon freighter to ISS.

What is remarkable about this story is that it is news that SpaceX is using a new first stage. Not only have all of their fifteen launches in 2021 lifted off with used boosters, since November 2020 they have completed nineteen launches using only used boosters.

That’s 19 launches in only six months, all with previously flown boosters!

During that time the company’s Falcon rocket division has apparently dedicated its time in upgrading and building new Falcon Heavy 1st stage boosters, in preparation for the first Falcon Heavy launches since June 2019, set for July and October later this year. I suspect the focus has been an effort to upgrade the core booster so that it will be successfully recovered this time, something that did not occur on two of the first three Falcon Heavy launches in 2018 and 2019..
» Read more

SpaceX launches 52 Starlink + 2 customer satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched another 52 Starlink satellites along with two smallsat satellites.

They have put just under 1,700 Starlink satellites into orbit. The first stage completed its 8th launch, and the fourth in 2021, according to the SpaceX announcer. Let me repeat that: That’s four launches of the first stage in less than five months. The fairing halves were also flying on their second flight.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

15 SpaceX
12 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 20 to 12 in the national rankings.

Roscosmos announces two commercial tourist flights to ISS

Capitalism in space: Roscosmos, the government corporation that controls of all of Russia’s space industry, announced today that it will be flying two different commercial tourist flights to ISS, both occurring before the end of this year.

The first will take place in October.

Roscosmos [is] sending an actress and a director to the ISS in October with the aim of making the first feature film in space. The film, whose working title is “Challenge,” is being co-produced by the flamboyant head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, and state-run network Channel One.

The second will take place in December, and will fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa (the man who has already purchased a Moon mission on SpaceX’s Starship) and his assistant Yozo Hirano in a Soyuz capsule to ISS for twelve days.

Let’s review the upcoming tourist flights now scheduled:
» Read more

NASA and Axiom finalize contract for private tourism flight to ISS

Capitalism in space: NASA today announced that it has signed the order detailing the first commercial tourism flight to ISS by Axiom, set for no earlier than January ’22.

The spaceflight, designated as Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and travel to the International Space Station. Once docked, the Axiom astronauts are scheduled to spend eight days aboard the orbiting laboratory. NASA and Axiom mission planners will coordinate in-orbit activities for the private astronauts to conduct in coordination with space station crew members and flight controllers on the ground.

Axiom will purchase services for the mission from NASA, such as crew supplies, cargo delivery to space, storage, and other in-orbit resources for daily use. NASA will purchase from Axiom the capability to return scientific samples that must be kept cold in transit back to Earth.

SpaceX will transport the four Axiom astronauts to and from ISS in a Dragon capsule, as yet undetermined.

According to yesterday’s Space News article, the contract for this flight had been signed prior to NASA establishing its new much higher prices for the use of ISS.

SpaceX launches and lands 1st stage for record 10th time

During a launch yesterday of another sixty Starlink satellites, the first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully completed its tenth flight, a new record for such boosters.

The turnaround time for this booster is noted at the link, and shows that they have been steadily shortening that time to less than two months.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

14 SpaceX
12 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 19 to 12 in the national rankings.

SpaceX successfully launches another 60 Starlink satellites

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

This raises the number of Starlink satellites to more than 1,600. The first stage also landed safely, completing its ninth flight.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

13 SpaceX
11 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 18 to 11 in the national rankings.

Launch of Intuitive Machine’s first lunar lander delayed

Capitalism in space: The first mission of Intuitive Machine’s lunar lander has now been delayed from late this year to early next year.

Intuitive Machines spokesman Josh Marshall said April 26 that the slip was caused by its launch provider. “SpaceX informed Intuitive Machines that due to unique mission requirements the earliest available flight opportunity is in the first quarter of 2022,” he told SpaceNews.

Marshall referred questions about the “unique mission requirements” that caused the delay to SpaceX. That company did not respond to questions from SpaceNews on the topic.

Though it is entirely possible that SpaceX needed to delay the launch, we should be skeptical of this reason. More likely Intuitive has had issues that caused a delay, and is using SpaceX as a cover.

There is a race to become the first privately-built commercial lunar lander. Astrobotics Peregrine lander is still scheduled to launch by the end of the year. We shall see.

SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites; China launches Tianhe station module

Twas a busy evening. SpaceX successfully put 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket, with the first stage successfully completing its seventh flight, landing safely on the drone ship in the Atlantic.

China in turn successfully used its Long March 5B rocket to place in orbit the core module, dubbed Tianhe, of its planned space station. This is the first of eleven launches in the next two years to assemble the station’s initial configuration, including cargo and manned missions along the way.

The SpaceX live stream is at the link. I have embedded China’s English language live stream of the Tianhe launch below the fold. The launch is about 52 minutes in.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

12 SpaceX
10 China
7 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 17 to 10 in the national rankings.
» Read more

SpaceX leases bigger space at LA port for processing Falcon 9 boosters after launch

Capitalism in space: According to the mayor of Los Angeles, SpaceX has signed a new lease for more space at the city’s port, taking over the facilities no longer used by Sea Launch’s floating launch platform that is now in Russia.

News of the port lease broke on April 26th with a tweet from the mayor of Long Beach, California after the Port of Long Beach (POLB) Commission voted to approve SpaceX’s 24-month sublease with an effective start date of May 1st, 2021. From 2014 to 2020, a massive floating rocket launch complex and associated service ships once used by SeaLaunch called POLB’s Pier 16 home while mothballed and the company left behind a decent amount of infrastructure when it vacated the facility last year.

That includes a ~5600 square meter (~65,000 sq ft) warehouse and office space formerly used to process SeaLaunch payloads and Ukrainian Zenit rockets, as well as a pier and dock space generally optimized for loading and unloading large rockets from rocket transport ships. In other words, Pier 16 is a perfect fit for SpaceX’s needs.

SpaceX has twice before signed similar leases and then canceled them. Now it appears the deal is more firm, as the company appears to be gearing up for regular Starlink satellite launches from Vandenberg, requiring a bigger need in LA for processing Falcon 9 first stage boosters after launch.

I wonder too if this deal might be in connection with Starship and the two used floating oil rigs that SpaceX now owns and is refitting as Superheavy/Starship launch and landing pads. This LA facility would be ideal for these ocean platforms before and after launch.

Endeavour successfully launches four astronauts to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule early this morning successfully launched four astronauts to ISS,

Both Endeavour and the Falcon 9 first stage had flown once previously. The first stage landed successfully on the drone ship in the Atlantic.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

11 SpaceX
8 China
6 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 15 to 8 in the national rankings.

Weather delays next manned flight on Endeavour capsule one day

NASA and SpaceX have chosen to delay tomorrow’s second manned flight on SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule one day because of “unfavorable weather conditions forecast along the flight path for Thursday.”

The launch is now scheduled for 5:49 am (Eastern) on April 23rd. NASA of course will live stream it, though you will have to listen to a lot of pro-NASA propaganda, even though this flight is almost entirely run by SpaceX using a SpaceX rocket, a SpaceX capsule, and SpaceX launch and landing crews. NASA’s real involvement is as a very interested and involved customer during launch and recovery, and then in charge while the crew is docking or is on board ISS.

This will be the first time astronauts will fly on a reused SpaceX capsule. Endeavour was used for the first manned test flight last spring. That earlier flight also creates an interesting human interest side story on this flight. Of the four person crew, pilot Megan McArthur also happens to be the wife of Bob Behnken, who flew on Endeavour last year.

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..

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