Tag Archives: SpaceX

Arianespace slashes launch price for Ariane 5

Capitalism in space: Arianespace has announced that it is once again dropping the launch price for an Ariane 5 launch, in order to increase the chances it will win several contracts this year.

Arianespace is competing for two major launch contracts in the Asia-Pacific region that should be awarded this year and expects there could be tenders for another three, said [Arianespace Managing Director and Head of Sales for Asia-Pacific Vivian Quenet].

The article does not mention the actual price, but Arianespace had been charging about $100 million per launch satellite, while SpaceX had been charging $62 million (for a new Falcon 9) and about $50 million (for a reused one).

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SpaceX shifts some Starship/Super Heavy construction to Texas

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has decided to shift some of the construction of its new Starship/Super Heavy rocket from Los Angeles to its Boca Chica facility in Texas.

In tweets later Jan. 16, Elon Musk, the founder and chief executive of SpaceX, said that development of the vehicle itself, including the Raptor engines that power it, would continue in Hawthorne, while at least the prototype versions of Starship are built in Texas. “We are building the Starship prototypes locally at our launch site in Texas, as their size makes them very difficult to transport,” he said.

A shift to South Texas, industry sources said, could be a way to reduce expenses, given the lower cost of living there versus the Los Angeles area. However, that region of Texas has a much smaller workforce, particularly in aerospace, compared to Southern California.

Meanwhile, I keep hearing from my sources in the industry that SpaceX is facing more serious problems because of the coming decline in the manufacture of large geosynchronous satellites. The smallsat revolution appears to be the cause, and SpaceX’s larger rockets are not ideal for launching these tiny satellites. I am not entirely convinced of this pessimistic conclusion, but if SpaceX is in trouble it will likely be a tragedy for manned spaceflight. The smallsat rockets cannot put people in space. Neither can the gigantic government rockets like SLS. Without innovative companies like SpaceX building and launching large rockets for profit, the development of the large inexpensive rockets needed for human travel will be significantly hampered.

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A detailed look at the layoffs at SpaceX

Capitalism in space: Link here. Because of California’s complex employee protection laws, SpaceX has provided the government there a detailed list describing the 577 layoffs taking place in California.

Technicians — a critical role at any rocket company — make up the lion’s share of laid-off employees, with 174 positions eliminated (30.2% of all layoffs in Hawthorne). Engineers come next with 97 jobs let go, or nearly 17% of the locally terminated workforce.

Managers and supervisors together make up about 7% of the layoffs in Hawthorne. Positions listed under “Other” include baristas, dishwashers, drivers, recruiters, writers, and an investigator.

The article really doesn’t tell us much, other than the large majority of the 10% reduction are occurring in California, which makes me wonder if SpaceX is acting to reduce its presence in that high-tax, high-regulation state.

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More updates from SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site

Link here. The article reviews what has been done for the past few months, as well as what has been done most recently. All of this new work appears focused on preparing for test flights of Starship and Super Heavy.

I should note however that I am beginning to sense a little bit of Barnum in this work. The steel-clad Starship Hopper that SpaceX has assembled here is clearly not even close to doing any hopper tests, as it doesn’t appear to have fuel tanks and its engines appear to be mere “placeholders for fit checks.” It looks really really cool, however, and is impossible to hide to the public, so it thus has garnered the company a lot of attention.

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SpaceX to trim workforce by 10%

Capitalism in space: SpaceX announced yesterday that it plans to trim its workforce by 10% in an effort to reduce costs.

It might seem strange for the company to be doing this at this moment, when they are embarking on the construction of the very ambitious Super Heavy and Starship rockets. One would think they would need to expand (not shrink) their workforce to make that happen.

What I see is that they have recognized a need to reconfigure their workforce. This article today about their growing fleet of Falcon 9 first stage boosters, provides the clue.

SpaceX’s reusable Falcon fleet could feature as many as 12-15 boosters capable of something like 5-10 additional launches each by the second half of fourth quarter of 2019. At that point, SpaceX might have enough experience with Block 5 and enough flight-proven boosters to plausibly begin a revolutionary shift in how commercial launches are done. With far more boosters available than SpaceX has payloads to launch, multiple flight-ready Block 5 rockets will inevitably stack up at or around the company’s three launch pads and surrounding integration and refurbishment facilities.

In other words, they no longer need as many people employed building expendable first stages. Moreover, they might have found that many of the employees used to build new Falcon 9 first stages are not the kind they need to design and build the new rocket. This trimming allows them to cut some fat with the opportunity to add muscle later. It would not surprise me if their workforce once again starts to grow, but with new employees with new skills.

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SpaceX reveals picture of fully assembled suborbital Starship hopper

Starship Hopper

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has released pictures of the fully assembled suborbital Starship hopper, planned for its first test flights in the coming months. The image on the right is not a simulation, but the real thing.

In tweets by Elon Musk, he also revealed that they hope to have an orbital prototype of Starship built by June, with the Super Heavy booster beginning construction in the spring. More information here.

This is unquestionably an ambitious schedule, but the contrast with the development of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule, slowed absurdly by the government shutdown and NASA’s bureaucracy, highlights clearly the fundamental reason why SpaceX refused government money for the development of Super Heavy/Starship. By using private funds, SpaceX is free to proceed at its own pace, which is fast, rather than waiting for permission from the bean-counters sitting in NASA offices who have no real idea how to build anything.

It is likely they will not meet this schedule. It is also likely that they will also get this done in a time frame far faster than anyone expects.

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SpaceX completes fit test of two sections of Starship hopper

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has completed a fit test whereby they put the two main sections of their Starship hopper prototype together.

In a burst of activity that should probably be expected at this point but still feels like a complete surprise, SpaceX technicians took a major step towards completing the first Starship hopper prototype by combining the last two remaining sections (aft and nose) scarcely six weeks after assembly began.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also took to Twitter late last week to offer additional details and post what appears to be the first official render of Starship’s hopper prototype, which is now closer than ever before to looking like the real deal thanks to the incredible drive of the company’s southernmost employees. With the massive rocket’s rough aeroshell and structure now more or less finalized, Musk’s targeted February/March hop test debut remains ambitious to the extreme but is now arguably far from impossible.

More details about the status of both the Super Heavy and Starship here. As noted in the first link above, SpaceX is moving very quickly, at a pace unheard of in the rocket industry, to get these hopper prototypes ready for test flights. For example, this new effort at Boca Chica in Texas went from a barren spot to a full facility with a giant spacecraft in less than eight weeks.

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Video of SpaceX fairing drop test

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today released footage of a drop test of a fairing and the near miss catch by their ship Mr. Steven.

I have embedded the footage below the fold. After they drop the fairing from a helicopter, the ship comes within mere feet of catching the fairing in its giant net. Quite spectacular.
» Read more

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SpaceX rolls manned Dragon/Falcon 9 to launchpad

Capitalism in space: This week SpaceX rolled to the launchpad the stacked manned Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket that will fly the first unmanned test flight no early than January 17, 2019.

it is understood that the rollout is a dry simulation and thus will not include any propellant. However, a static fire test including propellant load and a short burn of the first stage’s nine Merlin engines will occur at a later date.

While this week’s rollout and subsequent fit checks do not seem to have been impacted by the ongoing U.S. government shutdown, other aspects of the launch campaign will be delayed.

The launch is expected to slip past the latest official no-earlier than launch date of January 17th. Many aspects of the launch campaign require NASA oversight and thus cannot proceed without NASA’s approval. It is understood that each additional day of the government shutdown translates into about a one day delay with the launch.

The irony here is that there are really no NASA employees required for SpaceX to do the launch. It is occurring on their leased property using their equipment and their launch team. Only when the capsule arrives at ISS will NASA employees be required, and those slots have been deemed “essential” in this government shutdown and are still operating on ISS and at mission control in Houston.

If Trump ordered it, this flight could happen. SpaceX is clearly ready. It is only NASA and its bureaucracy that stands in the way.

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Musk tweets peek at Starship hopper

Starship test hopper

Capitalism in space: Elon Musk this week tweeted an image of the Starship test hopper, adding that they hope to begin test flights by March.

“This test hopper is at full body diameter of 9m / 30 ft, just not full height. Super Heavy will be full height & diameter,” Musk tweeted, indicating that the company will go directly to building a full-scale version of the rocket booster, rather than a truncated test version.

It seems to me that Musk continues to embarrass all other rocket companies, both private and governmental, with his effective use of current technology to innovate and produce new designs. While everyone else seems locked into building the same old things, his company is using what it knows to try to build something smarter and more efficient.

SpaceX’s track record suggests that it will do exactly what it is trying to do, even if it likely takes longer than they predict. Others should take heed, or they will all get left behind.

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SpaceX successfully launches GPS satellite

Capitalism in space: In launching an Air Force GPS satellite today, SpaceX successfully completed its 21st launch of 2018, the most ever achieved in a single year by a private company, ever, beating the record the company set last year by three.

The company has been so successful that many will take this achievement for granted. They should not.Ten years ago SpaceX barely existed. In that short time it has revolutionized the rocket industry, and recaptured for the U.S. the commercial market share that was lost by the older American rocket companies to Russia and Europe, because they were fearful and lazy and refused to compete.

The result however has not been zero sum. Launches in total have increased, and the potential for a revitalization of space exploration for everyone has not been as good since the 1960s. I know this will make some groan, but the sky now is literally the limit.

You can watch a replay of today’s SpaceX launch here.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

36 China
21 SpaceX
14 Russia
11 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

China leads in the national rankings 36 to 34 over the U.S. At the moment only one more U.S. launch is scheduled, so it appears China will hold that lead. Stay tuned for my annual assessment of the launch industry, coming the first week in January.

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SpaceX raises a half billion for its Starlink satellite constellation

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has raised $500 million in investment capital to help fund its planned Starlink internet constellation expected to have just under 12,000 satellites in orbit.

I wonder if SpaceX will also be using this money for the development of Super Heavy/Starship. The article implies no, but the article also does not have access to the specific terms of the deal.

I also notice the interesting timing of this story today and yesterday’s story about how the Starlink satellites pose a threat of hitting people when they get de-orbited. Timing like this is rarely an accident. There are a lot of competitors to SpaceX who do not want it to succeed, and it would not surprise me if they are trying to throw a wrench in the operation to stop Starlink. A bad report like yesterday’s might cause big investors to back out.

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Dark dunes, wedding cake mesas, and dust-filled gullies

Dark dunes, wedding cake mesas, and dust-filled gullies

Cool image time! The photo on the right, reduced, rotated, and cropped slightly to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and issued by the spacecraft science team in its December image release.

They didn’t give this image a caption. The release title, “Arabia Terra with Stair-Stepped Hills and Dark Dunes,” significantly understates the wild variety of strange features throughout this terrain. Normally I crop out one section of the photographs I highlight to focus on the most interesting feature, but I couldn’t do it this time. Click on the image to see the full resolution version. Take a look at the complex wedding cake mesas in the lower left. Look also at the streaks of dust that I think are filling the gullies between these hills. In the image’s upper left are those dark dunes, scattered between dust ripples and small indistinct rises and what appears to be a drainage pattern descending to the north. Interspersed with these dunes near the center of the image are several perched crater floors, indicating that the crater impacts happened so long ago that the surrounding terrain had time to erode away, leaving the crater floor hanging like a small plateau.

On the right the two largest mesas rise in even stair-stepped layers that would do the mesas in the Grand Canyon proud.

This could very well be the coolest image I have ever posted. Everywhere you look you see something different, intriguing, and entirely baffling.

Arabia Terra covers the largest section of the transition zone between Mars’s high cratered south and its low flat northern plains, where some scientists believe an intermittent ocean might have once existed. It lies to the east of Valles Marineris, and is crater-filled with numerous intriguing geology, as this image most decidedly illustrates. In this particular case it shows the floor of one of the region’s mid-sized craters.

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FCC: SpaceX’s Starlink satellites can kill

The sky is falling! The FCC has calculated that fragments from SpaceX’s planned Starlink constellation of almost 12,000 satellites pose a risk of landing on humans on Earth.

SpaceX estimates that several kilograms of each 386-kilogram Starlink could reach the Earth’s surface with sufficient energy to harm or kill someone. NASA has fixed this figure at 15 joules—about the same wallop as a baseball traveling at 51 kilometers per hour. Depending on the satellite’s configuration, iron thruster components, stainless steel reaction wheels, or silicon carbide mirrors could survive the journey from orbit to your head.

…In March and June 2017, the FCC calculated the aggregate risk to humans from the entire constellation. Assuming the 11,927 satellites are launched on a regular basis, they will fail in the same way. Starting around six years from the first launch, an average of five satellites a day will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, each with a tiny chance of failing to completely burn up, resulting in a part that could hit someone.

But with more than a thousand satellites falling a year, those tiny risks add up. The FCC figured out that, over their lifetime, satellites in the LEO shells posed a 1 in 5 risk of hurting or killing someone, and the VLEO satellites carried a 1 in 4 risk. IEEE Spectrum’s calculations using SpaceX’s most up-to-date information suggests that the overall risk of debris from the constellation causing an injury or death will be 45 percent.

Rather than demanding that we restrict or change what SpaceX does, I see this as an opportunity for someone designing robot satellites designed to clean up space junk. Offer your services to SpaceX. They get their problem solved easily, and you make some money.

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Three launches scrubbed

Capitalism in space: Both SpaceX and Blue Origin scrubbed planned launches today due to what appear to be minor technical issues.

SpaceX was launching a GPS satellite for the military, while Blue Origin was going to fly its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft on its third flight. SpaceX will try again tomorrow, while Blue Origin has not yet announced a new launch date.

Meanwhile, ULA’s attempt to launch a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spy satellite tonight with its most powerful rocket, the Delta 4 Heavy, faces bad weather, with only a 20% chance of launch.

UPDATE: I missed a third launch scrub today, Arianespace’s attempt to launch a trio of French military satellites using a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana. They will try again tomorrow.

This means there will be three launch attempts tomorrow, since India plans a launch of its GSLV rocket as well.

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NASA’s warped measure of safety

In posting an invitation to social media users to attend the launch of the first unmanned test flight of SpaceX’s man-rated Dragon capsule on January 17, 2019, NASA’s public relations department added the following warning:

NASA has a series of reviews before the uncrewed test flight, and the outcome of these reviews, including the Flight Readiness Review, will ultimately determine the Demo-1 launch date.

For months I have reported numerous examples of NASA’s safety panel acting to create fake problems that will force a delay in this launch. First it was the fueling method. Then it was the insulation on the helium tanks. Then there was the need for SpaceX to fill out all the paperwork. Now it is the parachute system and worries about the safety culture at SpaceX.

I might take these concerns seriously, except that NASA’s safety panel seems to be so sanguine about far more serious safety issues with NASA’s SLS rocket and Orion capsule. This double standard is starkly illustrated once again in this NASASpaceflight.com article about NASA’s plans for the very first manned Orion/SLS mission.

On that manned mission, NASA will fly a host of new equipment for the first time. For example, the capsule’s “Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS), crew displays, and other crew systems will be making their debut in Orion.” Anything else that has flown previously will essentially have done so only once, during the first unmanned test flight of SLS/Orion.

It gets worse. While NASA has demanded SpaceX fly the final manned version of its Falcon 9 rocket seven times before it will allow its astronauts on board, the agency plans to launch humans on SLS on only its second launch. More astonishing, that second launch will include a mission taking those astronauts on a loop around the Moon.

During the Apollo missions in the 1960s, NASA had a policy that no mission would head to the Moon without carrying a lunar module (LM). The logic was that the LM would act as a lifeboat should something go wrong with the Apollo capsule, a logic that was actually proven during Apollo 13.

NASA did send Apollo 8 to the Moon without the LM, but it did so in the context of a Cold War space race and an end-of-the-decade commitment by an assassinated president. The agency then knew the risks were high, but it decided the situation justified those risks.

NASA is not faced with a Cold War space race today. Instead, it has a grossly over-budget and long delayed boondoggle called SLS/Orion, increasingly embarrassed by the quick and efficient achievements of private space companies. In a desperate effort to keep that boondoggle alive, the agency is apparently pushing it to fly it too soon and with inadequate development. In fact, it appears to me that the safety culture at NASA that caused both shuttle accidents (a desire to favor frequent launches while ignoring safety analysis) has returned at NASA, and it has done so with a vengeance.

Meanwhile, the contrast with how the agency’s safety panel treats SpaceX versus SLS/Orion demonstrates how corrupt and unreliable that safety panel has become. They no longer really work to reduce risk. Their goal appears to promote government-built rocket systems over those manufactured by the private sector.

Hat tip to Kirk Hilliard for pointing out the language in the NASA pr invite to the SpaceX launch.

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First test flight of Dragon manned capsule delayed ten days

In order to avoid a conflict at ISS with the Dragon cargo freighter that just docked there, SpaceX has now delayed the unmanned test launch of its first Dragon manned capsule by ten days, to no earlier than January 17, 2019.

The article at the link is mostly focused on describing the experiments and cargo that the cargo freighter just brought to ISS, but it includes these scheduling details involving the unmanned test flight:

The cargo Dragon is the only vehicle currently capable of returning experiments from the International Space Station and is in relatively high demand. Thus, the worms will either return aboard this CRS-16 Dragon or wait until spring when the CRS-17 Dragon departs the orbital outpost. Regardless, once the newly delivered science experiments and cargo are removed from Dragon, the International Space Station crew will pack the craft full of return cargo before closing Dragon’s hatch and releasing it from the Station in mid-January 2019 for return to Earth.

Presently, CRS-16’s unberth and landing date is set for 13 January 2019, which at the time of the mission’s launch set up a potential overlap between CRS-16 and SpaceX’s Demonstration Mission -1 (DM-1) for the Commercial Crew Program.

At the time of CRS-16’s launch, the uncrewed DM-1 test flight had been targeting a No Earlier Than (NET) launch date of 7 January 2019 from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center, with a docking to the International Space Station to follow on 10 January. That NET 7 January launch date officially slipped on Friday to NET 17 January.

I once again want to emphasize that the only thing that I see that might delay this launch is NASA’s effort to slow it down.

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SpaceX sees no schedule impact from first stage landing failure

Capitalism in space: SpaceX officials expect the first stage landing failure during yesterday’s launch to have little impact on the schedule of upcoming launches.

They also indicated that the cause of the landing failure had something to do with a malfunction in the stage’s grid fins. More important however was this tidbit about the second stage:

Koenigsmann also revealed at the briefing that the rocket’s upper stage, which successfully placed the Dragon cargo spacecraft in orbit, used redesigned composite-overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) used to store helium to pressurize the stage’s propellant tanks. SpaceX redesigned those COPVs after a September 2016 pad explosion in order to meet NASA safety requirements for future commercial crew missions.

NASA requires SpaceX to perform at least seven launches with the redesigned COPVs before the agency will allow its astronauts to fly on the vehicle. Koenigsmann said he believed this was the second launch to use the redesigned COPVs, after the launch of the Es’hail-2 communications satellite Nov. 15.

SpaceX appears very unconcerned about getting those remaining five flights, which illustrates their expectation that 2019 will have a substantial number of launches in the first half of the year, prior to the tentative June launch date for the first manned Dragon mission.

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Falcon 9 launches Dragon; 1st stage return fails

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket today successfully launched a Dragon cargo capsule to ISS.

Unfortunately, a problem with the first stage had it fail to land on its target landing pad, instead landing in the ocean. This failure is the first in quite some time for a SpaceX first stage. It was the first failure however of their Block 5 first stages, which might impact the manned Dragon launch schedule set for this coming year.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
20 SpaceX
13 Russia
10 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

This SpaceX launch was the 100th successful rocket launch for 2018, the first time the global rocket industry has reached the century figure since 1991, before the fall of the Soviet Union. As SpaceX’s 20th launch this year it sets a new record for launches by a private company. In fact, this total exceeds the average number of launches for the entire U.S. from 2001 to 2016, and clearly demonstrates how SpaceX has not only become the world’s dominate launch company, its effort to foster competition into the launch industry has served to energize it, for everyone.

In the national rankings, China continues to lead the U.S. 33 to 32.

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SpaceX recovers fairings from ocean

Capitalism in space: In its launch on December 3, SpaceX was unable to catch either half of the Falcon 9’s fairings as they floated down by parachute. However, both halves were recovered, and the company plans to try to dry them out and reuse them.

The recovery ship, Mr. Steven, failed to catch either in its giant net. Since both fairings however landed gently in the ocean, and were quickly recovered, the article notes that SpaceX is now considering a change in its method of recover. The method of landing appears to have the fairing halves almost act like small boats, thus protecting the delicate equipment on their interiors. It appears they have increased their waterproofing, and may now only need to get them out of the water quickly to make then reusable.

Posted from the West Bank city of Modi’in Ilit.

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Falcon 9 first stage successfully flies for the third time

Capitalism in space: During a successful launch today of 64 smallsats, SpaceX successfully landed for the third time the rocket’s first stage.

This first stage flew twice before, in May and August. With this flight it is primed for a fourth flight, I will bet sometime in the next two months.

SpaceX was also going to try to recover half of the fairing, but as I write this there is no word yet on that effort. Also, the deployment of the 64 smallsats will start momentarily and take more than an hour. During the live stream, which you can watch as a replay at the link, it was very clear that one of SpaceX’s commercial goals with this launch was to promote the Falcon 9 as an affordable and viable vehicle for launching smallsats. SpaceX is anticipating the growth of that business, and wants to encourage smallsat manufacturers to buy their services. As I like to say, the competition is heating up.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
19 SpaceX
13 Russia
9 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

China remains ahead of the U.S. in the national rankings, 33 to 31.

Update: What I neglected to mention, partly because I was writing this post while traveling, is that with SpaceX launch the company set a new annual record for the most launches in a year, which is also the record for the most launches in a year by any private company, ever.

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Weather delays SpaceX launch

Capitalism in space: Weather has delayed a SpaceX launch from Vandenberg.

This launch is significant because once launched the first stage will become the first to have flown three times. It also will be the first to have launched from all three of SpaceX’s operating launchpads and to have landed on both of the company’s drone ships. And it will have done all this in less than seven months.

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Groundwork and licensing begins for first test flights of SpaceX’s Starship

Capitalism in space: Even as SpaceX has apparently begun the licensing process with the FAA for its planned hopper tests for its Super Heavy and Starship heavy lift reusable rockets, it is also accelerating work for those flights at its Boca Chica spaceport in Texas.

The applications apparently describe a two-stage testing program divided into low then high altitude flights, “running approximately three times per week.” Meanwhile, at Boca Chica SpaceX has begin building a giant tent as well as other work.

While I doubt they will be able to begin test flights in 2019 as they have announced, it is clear those test flights will happen in the near future.

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Date set for first unmanned launch of manned Dragon

Capitalism in space: NASA announced today that SpaceX has set January 7, 2019 as the launch date for its first unmanned test flight of its manned Dragon capsule.

SpaceX is targeting Jan. 7 for launch of its first Crew Dragon commercial ferry ship on an unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station, NASA announced Wednesday, a major milestone in the agency’s drive to end its sole reliance on Russian Soyuz crew ships for carrying astronauts to orbit.

If the shakedown flight goes smoothly — and if a NASA safety probe unveiled Tuesday doesn’t turn up any show stoppers — SpaceX could be ready to launch the first piloted Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket in the June timeframe, carrying veteran NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the space station. [emphasis mine]

As I said during a taping today for my appearance on WCCO radio tomorrow at 11:10 am (Central), the only thing standing in the way of SpaceX getting its manned capsule off the ground is NASA. June is a long time from now, and the agency, egged on by corrupt politicians, could easily find ways to delay that first manned launch in that time. Nor would I put it past the corrupt Washington in-crowd, led by Senator Richard Shelby (R- Alabama), having no interest in the national interest, to do what they can to sabotage that flight. What they care about is diverting tax dollars to either their own pockets or to the pockets of their allies (which also helps bring them pay-offs campaign contributions as well).

Still, it is encouraging that SpaceX is pushing forward, and that there appear to be strong elements in NASA supporting them. Keep your fingers crossed.

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NASA opens safety review of Boeing and SpaceX

Turf war! Prompted by Elon Musk’s single hit of marijuana during a podcast interview, NASA has begun a detailed safety review of both SpaceX and Boeing.

[William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration,] said the review would focus not on the technical details of developing rockets and spacecraft but rather the companies’ safety culture — encompassing the number of hours employees work, drug policies, leadership and management styles, whether employees’ safety concerns are taken seriously, and more.

“Is the culture reflective of an environment that builds quality spacecraft,” Gerstenmaier said. The review would be led by NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, which has conducted similar probes inside NASA. Gerstenmaier said the process would be “pretty invasive,” involving hundreds of interviews with employees at every level of the companies and at multiple work locations.

This is a power-play, pure and simple. NASA might claim it cares about safety, but its track record suggests instead that its real motive is to prove to SpaceX that it is in charge, not SpaceX. It rankles NASA’s bureaucracy that they cannot call the shots at SpaceX, and have found themselves embarrassed by its success, compared to the agency’s continuing failures with SLS. Moreover, considering the space shuttle’s unsafe history, NASA’s safety track record and the workplace culture that produced that history is nothing to brag about.

These “invasive” interviews are guaranteed to find workplace issues that NASA will then use as a hammer to take further control SpaceX’s operations, making it less innovative, more expensive, and more bureaucratic. And I see no one in the Trump administration, including Trump, very interested in reining NASA in on these matters.

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SpaceX now seeking a $250 million loan, not $500 million

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has reduced the private loan it is seeking from $500 to $750 million down to $250 million.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was initially canvassing investors for a $500 million deal for SpaceX. During marketing of the loan, Musk changed advisers and chose Bank of America to officially launch the deal to investors at $750 million.

The switch surprised bankers and investors, as Goldman is widely viewed as the Wall Street firm closest to Musk. It helped take Tesla Inc. public in 2010, led its $1.8 billion bond sale last year and advised Musk on his short-lived attempt to take the electric carmaker private for $420 a share Goldman balked when SpaceX, a first-time issuer, wanted wide latitude to raise additional debt in the future, people with knowledge of the matter said earlier this month.

The loan isn’t the only way Musk has been trying to raise cash with SpaceX, which was founded in 2002 and last valued at about $28 billion. He also recently inquired with at least one bank about a personal loan tied to his stake in the rocket company, a person with knowledge of the matter said earlier this month.

It seems to me that Musk is acting here in a manner that will allow him to maintain as much independence as possible, a very wise approach.

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Musk renames BFR

He must be reading BtB! Elon Musk today revealed new names for the two stages of his Big Falcon Rocket rocket, Super Heavy for the reusable first stage and Starship for the reusable orbiting second stage.

These are much more inspiring and saleable names. They also do not preclude SpaceX from giving each individual Super Heavy and Starship their own names as well, since these names apply to the class of rocket, not the ships themselves.

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SpaceX delays today’s Falcon 9 launch using booster for 3rd time

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has delayed today’s Falcon 9 launch that would have been the first time a first stage had launched for the third time.

“Standing down from Monday’s launch attempt of Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express to conduct additional pre-flight inspections. Once complete, we will confirm a new launch date,” SpaceX representatives said via Twitter on Saturday (Nov. 17).

They did not offer further details, so it’s unclear what issue prompted the call for further inspection.

The delay is expected to be about a week. I suspect that they decided, after their standard prelaunch static fire last week, to review the data more carefully. The Block 5 first stage has already flown twice this year, in May and August. A launch in November means they are averaging a relaunch every three months, a pace that is far faster than NASA ever achieved in reusing its space shuttle.

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SpaceX will not use Falcon 9 for BFR tests

In a series of tweets, Elon Musk revealed yesterday that SpaceX has decided it will no longer use its Falcon 9 to test Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) designs and has instead redesigned the BFR’s upper stage, dubbed the Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS), and will do those tests with that.

I suspect that the company got pushback from NASA and the Air Force about making any big changes to the Falcon 9 upper stage, and decided it was better to leave well enough alone. They have more flexibility making these changes and tests with BFS.

However, the main conclusion that I draw from writing up this post is that SpaceX has got to come up with better names for BFR and BFS. What they have now is boring and unwieldy. I am sure that Musk can think of two more exciting and easier to use names for the new rocket’s reusable first and second stages. And he should do it, now!

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SpaceX successfully launches Qatar communications satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a communications satellite for Qatar.

The first stage, previously flown in July, successfully landed on their drone ship. They intend to fly it for an unprecedented third time in the very near future. With this launch SpaceX has tied its record for most launches in a year, 18, which is also the most ever in a single year by a private company.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

31 China
18 SpaceX
10 Russia
8 ULA
8 Europe (Arianespace)

China continues to lead the U.S. in the national rankings, 31 to 29.

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