NASA awards SpaceX new $1.4 billion contract to launch its astronauts

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday awarded SpaceX a new $1.4 billion contract to buy five more passenger flights to ISS, using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon manned capsules.

This follows a similar contract extension in February that awarded SpaceX three more NASA passenger flights.

For Boeing, this contract award must hurt. If its Starliner manned capsule wasn’t years behind schedule, with numerous engineering errors slowing development, some of the cash from these two new SpaceX contracts would have certainly gone to Boeing. Instead, the company has had to spend more than $400 million of its own money trying to get Starliner fixed and operational.

Starlink experiences major outage lasting hours

For what appears to be the first time, SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation yesterday experienced a major outage, covering users across the entire world and lasting hours.

Apparently, users in the U.S., New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Mexico reported issues.

The global outage lasted for a few hours for most users, but connectivity returned with a “Degraded Service” message that meant it wasn’t fully operational. Some users on Reddit also reported that their connection kept going from degraded to offline. “Our team is investigating and will resolve as soon as possible,” the Starlink service message read. However, the company hasn’t released a public message acknowledging the outage.

Based on how this system is designed, it seems that only a software issue could cause an outage that affected so many users in so many different places. Even then, such an issue would have to impact multiple independent orbiting satellites, or multiple independent terminals, and do so all at once, an event which seems difficult if not impossible.

This all suggests that someone hacked the system and sabotaged it. Recently a professional hacker demonstrated that it was possible to hack into a single Starlink terminal. From there, it may be possible to access the software on board the satellites and sabotage that.

If so, SpaceX has a very serious problem.

SpaceX signs deal with Royal Caribbean to use Starlink on its cruise ships

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has won a contract with the Royal Caribbean cruise line to provide broadband internet service to its passengers using SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.

Deployment of the Starlink technology across the fleet will begin immediately, leveraging the insights obtained from the trial onboard Freedom of the Seas, which has received tremendous positive feedback from guests and crew. The installation is slated to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2023.

The apparent success of Starlink on Royal Caribbean’s ships suggests it will quickly start appearing on other cruise lines shortly.

SpaceX launches another 46 Starlink satellites into orbit

Capitalism in space: Using its Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX tonight successfully placed another 46 Starlink satellites into orbit, launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

The first stage successfully completed its seventh flight, landing on a drone ship in the Pacific. The two fairings also completed their third flight.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

39 SpaceX
33 China
11 Russia
6 Rocket Lab
5 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 54 to 33 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 54 to 51.

SpaceX launches 54 Starlink satellites into orbit

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight used its Falcon 9 rocket to put another 54 Starlink satellites into orbit.

The flight’s fairings completed their third flight. The first stage successfully completed its second flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic. That stage however had an interesting first flight:

Known as B1069, the booster was damaged during recovery on a drone ship Dec. 21 after launching its first mission, sending a Dragon cargo ship toward the International Space Station. The rough recovery damaged the rocket’s engines and landing legs, causing the rocket to return aboard the drone ship to Port Canaveral on a tilt. The damage forced SpaceX and NASA to switch to a backup Falcon 9 booster for the launch of four astronauts to the space station in April. That launch was originally supposed to use B1069, which has been refurbished with new engines and other components.

In the past, rocket companies and NASA would have automatically thrown out this stage after being damaged. SpaceX however now treats these first stages like airplanes, repairable for reflight, even if damaged. Tonight’s flight proved the robustness of this strategy, and it did it carrying the most mass of any previous Falcon 9 launch.

The leaders in 2022 launch race:

38 SpaceX
33 China
11 Russia
6 Rocket Lab
5 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 53 to 33, and the entire world combined 53 to 51.

Federal court rejects lawsuit by Dish/Viasat against Starlink

A U.S. appeals court has rejected a lawsuit by Starlink competitors Dish and Viasat that had claimed a plan by SpaceX to deploy some satellites in a lower orbit would have “potential environmental harms when satellites are taken out of orbit; light pollution that alters the night sky; orbital debris; collision risks that may affect Viasat; and because ‘Viasat will suffer unwarranted competitive injury.'”

This decision was the second time the courts have rejected this lawsuit, which by Viasat’s own words above is expressly designed mostly to block a competitor, not protect the environment or reduce space junk.

FCC commissioner questions legality of FCC cancellation of SpaceX’s $900 million subsidy

On August 24th one of the four FCC commissioners, Brendan Carr, questioned the legality of FCC’s decision on August 10th to cancel the $900 million subsidy it had awarded SpaceX for providing internet capability to rural communities using Starlink.

The Federal Communications Commission denied Starlink nearly $900 million in rural broadband subsidies “without legal justification,” one of the regulator’s four commissioners said Aug. 24.

While the FCC was obligated to review subsidies provisionally awarded for SpaceX’s broadband service in December 2020, Commissioner Brendan Carr said the agency exceeded “the scope of that authority” when it rejected them nearly two years later.

…Carr said he was surprised to learn about the decision from a press release while he was on a work trip to Alaska, adding that it was made without a vote or authorization from the FCC’s Commissioners. [emphasis mine]

Carr also noted that the reasoning used by the FCC in its cancellation notice made no sense. For example, the FCC had referenced the cost SpaceX charges customers for buying the Starlink terminal, $599, in justifying the cancellation. Carr noted that “the FCC is not authorized to deny winning RDOF bids based on the price of equipment, ‘let alone based on an arbitrary one selectively applied to one winner.'”

When the cancellation was announced, I wrote that my first instinct was that it was solely political in nature, and that it stemmed from the growing animus in the federal bureaucracy and in the Biden administration to Elon Musk, combined with a lobbying effort by SpaceX’s competitors against Starlink. I think Carr’s statements this week confirm my instincts entirely. The cancellation was purely political.

Nonetheless, I think it a good thing the FCC cancelled this subsidy, which is really nothing more than welfare for big corporations. SpaceX doesn’t need it. The federal government doesn’t have the money. And the program itself is now clearly corrupt. The taxpayer would be better off if the entire subsidy program was shut down.

T-Mobile and Starlink to team up

SpaceX and T-Mobile today announced that sometime next year T-Mobile cell phones will use the Starlink satellite constellation to fill in any dead zones in its cell coverage.

T-Mobile says it’s getting rid of mobile dead zones thanks to a new partnership with SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet, at an event hosted by T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and Elon Musk. With their “Coverage Above and Beyond” setup, mobile phones could connect to satellites and use a slice of a connection providing around 2 to 4 Megabits per second connection (total) across a given coverage area.

That connection should be enough to let you text, send MMS messages, and even use “select messaging apps” whenever you have a clear view of the sky, even if there’s no traditional service available. According to a press release from T-Mobile, the “satellite-to-cellular service” will be available “everywhere in the continental US, Hawaii, parts of Alaska, Puerto Rico and territorial waters.” The service is scheduled to launch in beta by the end of next year in “select areas,” and Sievert says he hopes it will someday include data.

The system will require Starlink’s second generation satellites, which right now also require SpaceX’s big Starship for launch. Once operational however it will work on the cell phones customers already own.

SpaceX remounts Superheavy prototype #7 on launchpad

Superheavy #7 lifted onto launchpad

Capitalism in space: Using its giant launch tower crane that Elon Musk has dubbed Mechazilla, SpaceX engineers yesterday remounted the seventh Superheavy prototype onto the orbital launchpad in preparation for more engine tests leading to its first flight.

Booster 7 has been atop this launch mount before. Earlier this month, SpaceX conducted two “static fire” tests with Booster 7, firing the vehicle up while it remained attached to the mount.

Both of those tests — which occurred on Aug. 9 and Aug. 11, respectively — lit up just a single Raptor engine (apparently, a different one each time). And Booster 7 wasn’t fully outfitted at the time, sporting just 20 of its 33 engines (opens in new tab) (the vast majority of which stayed dormant during the tests).

After the Aug. 11 test, SpaceX lifted the Super Heavy prototype off the mount and hauled it back to a processing bay at Starbase. Technicians installed the remaining 13 Raptors and got it ready for Tuesday’s move back to the pad.

The picture above was sent out by Musk on his Twitter feed. Note the number of engines at the base. The tower itself, acting as a crane, has also simplified and speeded up operations. SpaceX can now quickly move the rocket back and forth from the assembly building, without the need of separate cranes.

The company is still targeting early September for the first orbital launch, though it also still needs to stack Starship prototype #24 (seen in the background) on top of Superheavy, and then do more tests.

NASA describes Starship’s first unmanned test lunar landing

In a briefing focused on the science that could be placed on the mission, a NASA official yesterday provided a status update of SpaceX’s first unmanned test flight by Starship to the Moon.

First, the official revealed that NASA is only requiring SpaceX to demonstrate a successful landing. Take-off will not be required. Also,

Starship is not designed to fly directly to the Moon like NASA’s Space Launch System, however. Instead, the first stage puts it only in Earth orbit. To go further, it must fill up with propellant at a yet-to-be-built orbiting fuel depot. Other Starships are needed to deliver propellant to the depot.

Watson-Morgan described the Concept of Operations for Starship’s Artemis III mission, starting with launch of the fuel depot, then a number of “propellant aggregation” launches to fill up the depot, then launch of the Starship that will go to Moon.

Previously SpaceX suggested that the ship would be directly refueled by subsequent Starships, with no middle-man fueling depot. It could be either engineering had made the depot necessary, or NASA politics have insisted upon it.

Finally, the talk outlined the elevator SpaceX is developing to lower the astronauts and equipment to the ground from Starship’s top.

SpaceX to use both Falcon 9 and Starship to launch 2nd gen Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: In a letter sent to the FCC, SpaceX has revealed that it has revised its plans for launching the second generation of Starlink satellites, and has decided to launch them with both Falcon 9 and Starship rockets.

SpaceX has decided to use a mix of Falcon 9 and Starship rockets to launch the 30,000 satellites in its proposed second-generation Starlink broadband constellation. Launching some of the satellites with SpaceX’s “tested and dependable Falcon 9” will accelerate the constellation’s deployment to improve Starlink services. SpaceX director of satellite policy David Goldman wrote in an Aug. 19 letter to the Federal Communications Commission. Goldman did not say when SpaceX could start launching the second-generation constellation, which remains subject to FCC approval.

Previously the company’s plan had been to use Starship only, essentially retiring Falcon 9 once Starship was flying. This change could be for two fundamental reasons. First, the company has been launching Starlinks on Falcon 9 like clockwork this year, at a pace that could launch as many as 2,500 Starlink satellites in 2022 alone. With about 70% of that rocket reusable, it might now seem cost effective to continue to use it, even after Starship is flying.

The second reason is more worrisome, and has to do with Starship itself. SpaceX officials might now realize that the delays being imposed by the federal regulatory leviathan on Starship development might be significant enough that it won’t be ready when they need it for the full deployment of Starlink’s second generation constellation. If the FCC approves that deployment (an approval that is presently pending), SpaceX will have to launch at least half the full constellation of 30,000 satellites by around 2024 (thought that date might have been revised slightly).

It now might be necessary to use Falcon 9, because the federal government under Biden is standing in the way of Starship development.

Of course, it is possible that the engineering challenge of building Starship might be another reason. SpaceX might have realized that the rocket will be delayed anyway, and thus needs Falcon 9 to meet its timetable as promised to the FCC.

NASA lists 13 candidate landing sites for Artemis-3 manned mission

Candidate landing sites for Artemis-3
Click for original image.

NASA yesterday revealed its first preliminary list of thirteen candidate landing sites for the Artemis-3 manned mission, the first manned mission the agency wants to send to the Moon in 2026.

The image to the right, reduced, enhanced, and annotated by me to post here, shows these thirteen zones in blue. I have added the red dot to mark what I understand to be the planned landing zone of Viper, an unmanned rover that NASA hopes to launch by ’23 at the latest. From the press release:

The team identified regions that can fulfill the moonwalk objective by ensuring proximity to permanently shadowed regions, and also factored in other lighting conditions. All 13 regions contain sites that provide continuous access to sunlight throughout a 6.5-day period – the planned duration of the Artemis III surface mission. Access to sunlight is critical for a long-term stay at the Moon because it provides a power source and minimizes temperature variations.

Note that this mission will land a Starship with crew at this South Pole region. That spacecraft’s large payload capacity likely means that it could conceivably leave behind supplementary supplies for a follow-up next mission, and thus speed up development of the first lunar base.

SpaceX and China complete launches

Two launches have just occurred in the 2022 launch race. First, SpaceX today successfully launched another 53 Starlink satellites, using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The first stage successfully landed on its drone ship in the Atlantic, completing its ninth flight.

China in turn used its Long March 2D rocket to launch three military reconnaissance satellites, at what was the early morning hours of August 20, 2022, China time. The launch path took the rocket over China’s interior as well as Taiwan, with the first stage crashing somewhere in China.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

37 SpaceX
31 China
11 Russia
6 Rocket Lab
5 ULA

American private enterprise still leads China 52 to 31 in the national rankings, and the entire world 52 to 49. The 52 launches so far this year is now the fifth best total for the U.S. since the launch of Sputnik in 1957.

Starship gets its first communications satellite customer

Capitalism in space: Sky Perfect JSAT, a Japanese satellite communications company, today awarded SpaceX a launch contract using its giant Starship/Superheavy rocket to put its Superbird-9 communications satellite into orbit in 2024.

Superbird-9 will be launched by SpaceX’s Starship launch vehicle in 2024 to geosynchronous transfer orbit. SpaceX’s Starship is a fully reusable transportation system that will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle. SKY Perfect JSAT and SpaceX will continue to work together ahead of the launch of Superbird-9 Satellite.

Sky Perfect is the first communications satellite company to choose Starship for a satellite launch. It is however the rocket’s fourth signed customer. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa made a deal in 2018 for a flight around the Moon, while NASA chose Starship in 2021 as the manned lunar lander in its Artemis program. UPDATE: SpaceX also has a second private manned customer, Jared Isaacman, whose present deal with SpaceX calls for two Dragon flights followed by a Starship flight.

Sky Perfect is not a new company, with sixteen satellites already in orbit providing communications, broadband, and entertainment to Japan and the Far East. It likely made this deal because it got a very good launch price, with options to back out if the rocket’s on-going development gets delayed by too much. It also made the deal because it helps to solidify Starship’s future, something Sky Perfect probably sees as a win considering the significant reduction of launch costs expected from Starship/Superheavy.

August 16, 2022 Quick space links

Tiangong-3 in orbit
Click to see full image.

Some quickie stories worth noting, most provided by stringer Jay:

August 14, 2022 Quick space links

Some weekend news from BtB’s top stringer, Jay.

Professional software hacker demonstrates how to hack Starlink terminals

A professional software hacker not only recently succeeded in hacking the terminals SpaceX sells customers to use its Starlink satellite internet service, he first got a bounty from SpaceX for doing so, then made his technique freely available on the web for everyone else.

[Lennert] Wouters is now making his hacking tool open source on GitHub, including some of the details needed to launch the attack. “As an attacker, let’s say you wanted to attack the satellite itself,” Wouters explains, “You could try to build your own system that allows you to talk to the satellite, but that’s quite difficult. So if you want to attack the satellites, you would like to go through the user terminal as that likely makes your life easier.”

The researcher notified Starlink of the flaws last year and the company paid Wouters through its bug bounty scheme for identifying the vulnerabilities. Wouters says that while SpaceX has issued an update to make the attack harder (he changed the modchip in response), the underlying issue can’t be fixed unless the company creates a new version of the main chip. All existing user terminals are vulnerable, Wouters says.

Starlink says it plans to release a “public update” following Wouters’ presentation at Black Hat this afternoon, but declined to share any details about that update with WIRED prior to publication.

Wouters is a researcher at the Belgian university KU Leuven.

While it can certainly help SpaceX to figure this out, by publishing the hack to the world Wouters looks like a blackmailer unsatisfied with his payoff who is now following through with his blackmail threat. One also wonders why SpaceX, as part of its bounty payment, did not require Wouters to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

SpaceX launches 46 more Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch another 46 Starlink satellites into orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The first stage completed its 10th flight, landing on a drone ship in the Pacific. It was also the fourth flight for both fairing halves. During the live stream the announcer also mentioned that because SpaceX has recently switched to using Starlink for transmitting its launch video feeds, the loss of picture signal that use to occur during the landing of the first stage on the drone ship has almost completely vanished.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

36 SpaceX
30 China
11 Russia
6 Rocket Lab
5 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 51 to 30 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 51 to 48.

I should also add that the United States has now matched the number of launches achieved in 1962, the nation’s fifth highest total of successful launches in a single year.

Another and this time longer static fire tests for Superheavy prototype #7

Capitalism in space: SpaceX engineers yesterday conducted a second static fire engine test of the 7th prototype of its Superheavy first stage booster, firing a different engine for 20 seconds.

The action ramped up on Thursday (Aug. 11) for Booster 7, which conducted a much longer static fire on Starbase’s orbital launch mount. The burn, which occurred at 3:48 p.m. EDT (1948 GMT), lasted for 20 seconds, SpaceX said via Twitter (opens in new tab).

The long-duration burn aimed to “test autogenous pressurization,” according to a tweet posted by Musk (opens in new tab) shortly before Booster 7 fired up.

Expect these engine tests to occur on a regular basis over the next few weeks, as engineers ramp up their operations in preparation for the first orbital flight of both prototype #7 with Starship prototype #24 stacked on top.

FCC cancels $900 million award to Starlink

The FCC today canceled a $900 million subsidy it had awarded to SpaceX in December 2020 as part of a federal program to help establish broadband service in rural communities.

The reasoning for canceling the award given at the link is very unclear. However, since the award a lobbying effort by Starlink’s competitors — teamed up with Democrats in Congress — to cancel the award has been on going. It now seems to have succeeded.

Another clue to explaining this cancellation is timing. The award was announced at the end of the Trump administration, when his appointees controlled the FCC. The cancellation took place during the Biden administration, with the FCC now controlled by Democrats who are increasing revealing themselves to be very hostile to private commercial space in general and Musk and SpaceX in particular.

Nonetheless, it seems absurd to give SpaceX any such subsidy, regardless of the politics. As I said in February 2021:

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.

Sadly, just because the FCC cancelled its award to SpaceX we should not expect as modern taxpayers that the money won’t be spent. Expect the Biden administration to instead dole it out to its preferred vendors.

Superheavy prototype #7 and Starship prototype #24 undergo static fire tests

Superheavy #7's first launchpad engine test
Click for original photo.

Capitalism in space: SpaceX engineers yesterday performed static fire tests of both its Superheavy prototype #7 and its Starship prototype #24.

The Superheavy prototype fired one engine, and did so only a few weeks after that prototype experienced an explosive event the launchpad during earlier fueling/engine tests. Yesterday’s engine test was the first time any Superheavy prototype had fired its engines on the launchpad.

The Starship prototype meanwhile fired two engines on a nearby vertical test stand.

SpaceX’s plan is to stack #24 on top of #7 and attempt an orbital launch test that will have the Superheavy prototype land in the Gulf of Mexico while the Starship prototype reaches orbit and then returns to Earth in the Pacific northeast of Hawaii. Based on the company’s normal pace of operations, that flight is probably only weeks away. However, before that flight engineers will have to do a full static fire test of all 33 of #7 engines, and then like do it again with Starship #24 stacked on top.

SpaceX successfully launches 52 more Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch another 52 Starlink satellites into orbit.

The first stage completed its third flight, landing successfully on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The fairings also completed their third flight.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

35 SpaceX
29 China
11 Russia
6 Rocket Lab
5 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 50 to 29 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 50 to 37.

Debris from Russian anti-sat test causing numerous near Starlink collisions

According to an official of a company that helps track space junk, the scattered debris from the satellite destroyed by Russia in an anti-satellite test in 2021 has had numerous near collisions with multiple Starlink satellites.

In the Aug. 6 event, Oltrogge said there were more than 6,000 close approaches, defined as being within 10 kilometers, involving 841 Starlink satellites, about 30% of the constellation. It’s unclear how many, if any, of the satellites had to maneuver to avoid collisions.

This conjunction squall was exacerbated by a new group of Starlink satellites. SpaceX launched the first set of “Group 3” Starlink satellites July 10 from Vandenberg Space Force Base into polar orbit, followed by a second set July 22. A third batch of Group 3 satellites is scheduled to launch Aug. 12.

The problem is only going to get worse, as this junk will be in orbit for quite some time.

Northrop Grumman partners with Firefly to make Antares entirely U.S. made

Capitalism in space: Because the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, Northrop Grumman yesterday announced that it has signed a deal with the rocket startup Firefly to replace the Russian engines and Ukrainian-built first stages on its Antares rocket.

Firefly’s propulsion technology utilizes the same propellants as the current Antares rocket, which minimizes launch site upgrades. The Antares 330 will utilize seven of Firefly’s Miranda engines and leverage its composites technology for the first stage structures and tanks, while Northrop Grumman provides its proven avionics and software, upper-stage structures and Castor 30XL motor, as well as proven vehicle integration and launch pad operations. This new stage will also significantly increase Antares mass to orbit capability.

The press release made no mention of launch dates. However, according to Reuters Northrop Grumman has purchased three SpaceX Falcon 9 launches in ’23 and ’24 to get its Cygnus cargo freighter into orbit in the interim and thus fulfill its ISS resupply contract with NASA.

After an earlier Antares failure the company (then Orbital ATK) had hired ULA’s Atlas-5 to launch Cygnus. ULA however is retiring the Atlas-5 after it completes its present full manifest, so this rocket was no longer available. ULA is replacing it with the Vulcan rocket, but that rocket is not yet operational due to delays in the delivery of its Blue Origin first stage engines. Thus, SpaceX was Northrop Grumman’s only viable option.

There is also a certain irony in the hiring of Firefly to replace the Ukrainian first stage. Firefly was saved from bankruptcy by a Ukrainian billionaire, Max Polykov. Though he has been forced to sell off his ownership in the company by the State Department, Firefly would not now exist to take this business from a Ukrainian company had Polykov not provided his financial help.

SpaceX raises another $250 million in investment capital

Capitalism in space: SpaceX in July raised $250 million in investment capital from five unnamed investors, bringing the total raised in 2022 to $2 billion.

Added to the amount brought in before this year, SpaceX has raised about $9 billion in private capital, most of which is focused on financing the development of Starship/Superheavy. When you add the $2.9 billion contract it won from NASA to develop Starship as a manned lunar lander, the company has raised about $12 billion to build this heavy lift rocket.

The numbers demonstrate several things. First, Wall Street is apparently very confident SpaceX will succeed in building the rocket, and then make a lot of money from it. Second, the numbers prove it shouldn’t cost $60 billion and two decades to design and build a heavy lift rocket, as NASA has done with its SLS rocket. SpaceX is doing it for less than a fifth of the cost, in a third of the time.

SpaceX launches South Korea’s Danuri lunar orbiter

SpaceX today successfully launched South Korea’s Danuri lunar orbiter, also called the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter.

The first stage completed its sixth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic. The fairings completed their fourth flight.

Danuri is now on its way to the Moon, with a planned arrival in lunar orbit on December 16, 2022. It carries six instruments, one of which was developed by NASA. The spacecraft, while designed to study the Moon, is primarily a technology test mission laying the groundwork for more sophisticated interplanetary South Korean missions. More information about the mission can be found here.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

34 SpaceX
28 China
10 Russia
6 Rocket Lab
5 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 49 to 28 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 49 to 45. With this launch American private enterprise has now surpassed the entire launch total for all of 2021, and has the most launches for the U.S. since 1967, when it completed successfully 57 launches.

Environmentalists opposed to Starship at Boca Chica appeal dismissal of their lawsuit

Environmentalists from the Sierra Club and one Texas Indian tribe have now appealed the dismissal of their lawsuit aimed at blocking further tests or launches of Starship and Superheavy by SpaceX at its Boca Chica facility.

The Sierra Club and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of South Texas jointly appealed the 445th District Court’s decision July 7 to dismiss a lawsuit concerning SpaceX testing of its next-generation Starship vehicle closing nearby Boca Chica Beach, the coalition said July 28. In the dismissal, Judge Gloria Rincones argued there is “no private right of enforcement” concerning the beach access, according to KRGV.com (opens in new tab). The dismissal took place over the appellants’ protests that closing the beach violates the Texas state constitution, along with access rights by traditional groups.

The Sierra Club’s Brownsville organizer, Emma Guevara, stated the appeal is taking place because the beach is closed weekly to allow “a billionaire [to] launch deadly rockets near homes and wildlife.”

Citing a fireball that briefly and unexpectedly engulfed Starship during testing July 12, Guevera said her family was “forced” to hear the noise, which “launched without any warning for the public.” [emphasis mine]

My my, what a horror! I suppose everyone must stop what they are doing because Guevera and his family might be inconvenienced. And who cares if the lawsuit prevents thousands of south Texas citizens from having jobs and a thriving economy? It is more important Guevera doesn’t have to hear loud noises.

The lawsuit claims that allowing SpaceX to periodically close access to the nearest beach violates the state’s constitution, despite laws passed by both the local and state legislatures allowing for these closures.

Next private SpaceX manned targeting December launch

Capitalism in space: SpaceX is now planning to launch in December the next private manned Dragon orbital mission, dubbed Polaris Dawn, and led by billionaire Jared Isaacman, who led the previous private Inspiration4 mission in September 2021.

Polaris Dawn is the first of three separate crewed launches, all of them funded by Isaacman. This first effort will see Isaacman flying a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft alongside Sarah Gillis, Anna Menon and Scott Poteet. (Both Gillis and Menon work at SpaceX.) The second launch aims to use a Dragon while the third is scheduled as the first crewed mission for Starship, SpaceX’s next-generation spacecraft.

…Among the mission’s aims is the first spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA), of a private astronaut. The crew will use SpaceX-developed EVA suits for the effort. Crew Dragon will be depressurized for the spacewalk in a similar way that NASA’s Gemini capsules were in the 1960s, requiring all crew members to wear suits designed for a vacuum environment.

By not flying to ISS, Isaacman and SpaceX avoid the high fees NASA charges as well as its extensive requirements.

By remaining in orbit however the length of the mission will be limited to only a few days, rather than weeks. Thus, it underlines the growing need for private commercial space stations, not controlled by the government.

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