Space

First CubeSats to travel the solar system snap ‘Pale Blue Dot’ homage

Posted by | cubesat, Gadgets, Insight, jpl, NASA, science, Space, TC | No Comments

The InSight launch earlier this month had a couple of stowaways: a pair of tiny CubeSats that are already the farthest such tiny satellites have ever been from Earth — by a long shot. And one of them got a chance to snap a picture of their home planet as an homage to the Voyager mission’s famous “Pale Blue Dot.” It’s hardly as amazing a shot as the original, but it’s still cool.

The CubeSats, named MarCO-A and B, are an experiment to test the suitability of pint-size craft for exploration of the solar system; previously they have only ever been deployed into orbit.

That changed on May 5, when the InSight mission took off, with the MarCO twins detaching on a similar trajectory to the geology-focused Mars lander. It wasn’t long before they went farther than any CubeSat has gone before.

A few days after launch MarCO-A and B were about a million kilometers (621,371 miles) from Earth, and it was time to unfold its high-gain antenna. A fisheye camera attached to the chassis had an eye on the process and took a picture to send back home to inform mission control that all was well.

But as a bonus (though not by accident — very few accidents happen on missions like this), Earth and the moon were in full view as MarCO-B took its antenna selfie. Here’s an annotated version of the one above:

“Consider it our homage to Voyager,” said JPL’s Andy Klesh in a news release. “CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it’s a big milestone. Both our CubeSats are healthy and functioning properly. We’re looking forward to seeing them travel even farther.”

So far it’s only good news and validation of the idea that cheap CubeSats could potentially be launched by the dozen to undertake minor science missions at a fraction of the cost of something like InSight.

Don’t expect any more snapshots from these guys, though. A JPL representative told me the cameras were really only included to make sure the antenna deployed properly. Really any pictures of Mars or other planets probably wouldn’t be worth looking at twice — these are utility cameras with fisheye lenses, not the special instruments that orbiters use to get those great planetary shots.

The MarCOs will pass by Mars at the same time that InSight is making its landing, and depending on how things go, they may even be able to pass on a little useful info to mission control while it happens. Tune in on November 26 for that!

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First launch of SpaceX’s revamped Falcon 9 carries Bangladesh’s space ambitions

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Today brings historic firsts for both SpaceX and Bangladesh: the former is sending up the final, highly updated revision of its Falcon 9 rocket for the first time, and the latter is launching its first satellite. It’s a preview of the democratized space economy to come this century.

Update: Success! The Falcon 9 first stage, after delivering the second stage to the border of space, has successfully landed on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, and Bangabandhu has been delivered to its target orbit.

You can watch the launch below:

Although Bangabandhu-1 is definitely important, especially to the nation launching it, it is not necessarily in itself a highly notable satellite. It’s to be a geostationary communications hub that serves the whole country and region with standard C-band and Ku-band connectivity for all kinds of purposes.

Currently the country spends some $14 million per year renting satellite time from other countries, something they determined to stop doing as a matter of national pride and independence.

“A sovereign country, in a pursuit of sustainable development, needs its own satellite in order to reduce its dependency on other nations,” reads the project description at the country’s Telecommunications Regulation Commission, which has been pursuing the idea for nearly a decade.

It contracted with Thales Alenia Space to produce and test the satellite, which cost about $250 million and is expected to last at least 15 years. In addition to letting the country avoid paying satellite rent, it could generate revenue by selling its services to private companies and nearby nations.

Bangabandhu-1 in a Thales test chamber.

“This satellite, which carries the symbolic name of the father of the nation, Bangabandhu, is a major step forward for telecommunications in Bangladesh, and a fantastic driver of economic development and heightened recognition across Asia,” said the company’s CEO, Jean-Loïc Galle, in a recent blog post about the project.

Bangabandhu-1 will be launching atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but this one is different from all the others that have flown in the past. Designed with crewed missions in mind, it could be thought of as the production version of the rocket, endowed with all the refinements of years of real-world tests.

Most often referred to as Block 5, this is (supposedly) the final revision of the Falcon 9 hardware, safer and more reusable than previous versions. The goal is for a Block 5 first stage to launch a hundred times before being retired, far more than the handful of times existing Falcon 9s have been reused.

There are lots of improvements over the previous rockets, though many are small or highly technical in nature. The most important, however, are easy to enumerate.

The engines themselves have been improved and strengthened to allow not only greater thrust (reportedly about a 7-8 percent improvement) but improved control and efficiency, especially during landing. They also have a new dedicated heat shield for descent. They’re rated to fly 10 times without being substantially refurbished, but are also bolted on rather than welded, further reducing turnaround time.

The legs on which the rocket lands are also fully retractable, meaning they don’t have to be removed before transport. If you want to launch the same rocket within days, every minute counts.

Instead of white paint, the first stage will have a thermal coating (also white) that helps keep it relatively cool during descent.

To further reduce heat damage, the rocket’s “grid fins,” the waffle-iron-like flaps that pop out to control its descent, are now made of a single piece of titanium. They won’t catch fire or melt during reentry like the previous aluminum ones sometimes did, and as such are now permanently attached features of the rocket.

(SpaceX founder Elon Musk is particularly proud of these fins, which flew on the Falcon Heavy side boosters; in the briefing afterwards, he said: “I’m actually glad we got the side boosters back, because they had the titanium fins. If I had to pick something to get back, it’d be those.”)

Lastly (for our purposes anyway) the fuel tank has been reinforced out of concerns some had about the loading of supercooled fuel while the payload — soon to be humans, if all goes well — is attached to the rocket. This system failed before, causing a catastrophic explosion in 2016, but the fault has been addressed and the reinforcement should help further mitigate risk. (The emergency abort rockets should also keep astronauts safe should something go wrong during launch.)

The changes, though they contribute directly to reuse and cost reductions, are also aimed at satisfying the requirements of NASA’s commercial crew missions. SpaceX is in competition to provide both launch and crew capsule services for missions to the ISS, scheduled for as early as late 2018. The company needs to launch the Block 5 version of Falcon 9 (not necessarily the same exact rocket) at least 7 times before any astronauts can climb aboard.

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NASA’s InSight Mars lander will gaze (and drill) into the depths of the Red Planet

Posted by | Gadgets, hardware, Insight, jpl, mars lander, NASA, robotics, science, Space, TC | No Comments

NASA’s latest mission to Mars, InSight, is set to launch early Saturday morning in pursuit of a number of historic firsts in space travel and planetology. The lander’s instruments will probe the surface of the planet and monitor its seismic activity with unprecedented precision, while a pair of diminutive CubeSats riding shotgun will test the viability of tiny spacecraft for interplanetary travel.

Saturday at 4:05 AM Pacific is the first launch opportunity, but if weather forbids it, they’ll just try again soon after — the chances of clouds sticking around all the way until June 8, when the launch window closes, are slim to none.

InSight isn’t just a pretty name they chose; it stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, at least after massaging the acronym a bit. Its array of instruments will teach us about the Martian interior, granting us insight (see what they did there?) into the past and present of Mars and the other rocky planets in the solar system, including Earth.

Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator for the mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has been pushing for this mission for more than two decades, after practically a lifetime working at the place.

“This is the only job I’ve ever had in my life other than working in the tire shop during the summertime,” he said in a recent NASA podcast. He’s worked on plenty of other missions, of course, but his dedication to this one has clearly paid off. It was actually originally scheduled to launch in 2016, but some trouble with an instrument meant they had to wait until the next launch window — now.

InSight is a lander in the style of Phoenix, about the size of a small car, and shot towards Mars faster than a speeding bullet. The launch is a first in itself: NASA has never launched an interplanetary mission from the West coast, but conditions aligned in this case, making California’s Vandenberg air base the best option. It doesn’t even require a gravity assist to get where it’s going.

Did you know? I’ll be the 1st spacecraft to travel from the West Coast of the U.S. to another planet. My rocket can do that—we’ve got the power. 🚀
More on launch: https://t.co/DZ8GsDTfGc pic.twitter.com/VOWiMPek5x

— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) May 2, 2018

“Instead of having to go to Florida and using the Earth’s rotation to help slingshot us into orbit… We can blast our way straight out,” Banerdt said in the same podcast. “Plus we get to launch in a way that is gonna be visible to maybe 10 million people in Southern California because this rocket’s gonna go right by LA, right by San Diego. And if people are willing to get up at four o’clock in the morning, they should see a pretty cool light show that day.”

The Atlas V will take it up to orbit and the Centaur will give it its push towards Mars, after which it will cruise for six months or so, arriving late in the Martian afternoon on November 26 (Earth calendar).

Its landing will be as exciting (and terrifying) as Phoenix’s and many others. When it hits the Martian atmosphere, InSight will be going more than 13,000 MPH. It’ll slow down first using the atmosphere itself, losing 90 percent of its velocity as friction against a new, reinforced heat shield. A parachute takes off another 90 percent, but it’ll still be going more than 100 MPH, which would make for an uncomfortable landing. So a couple thousand feet up it will transition to landing jets that will let it touch down at a stately 5.4 MPH at the desired location and orientation.

After the dust has settled (literally) and the lander has confirmed everything is in working order, it will deploy its circular, fanlike solar arrays and get to work.

Robot arms and self-hammering robomoles

InSight’s mission is to get into the geology of Mars with more detail and depth than ever before. To that end it is packing gear for three major experiments.

SEIS is a collection of six seismic sensors (making the name a tidy bilingual, bidirectional pun) that will sit on the ground under what looks like a tiny Kingdome and monitor the slightest movement of the ground underneath. Tiny high-frequency vibrations or longer-period oscillations, they should all be detected.

“Seismology is the method that we’ve used to gain almost everything we know, all the basic information about the interior of the Earth, and we also used it back during the Apollo era to understand and to measure sort of the properties of the inside of the moon,” Banerdt said. “And so, we want to apply the same techniques but use the waves that are generated by Mars quakes, by meteorite impacts to probe deep into the interior of Mars all the way down to its core.”

The heat flow and physical properties probe is an interesting one. It will monitor the temperature of the planet below the surface continually for the duration of the mission — but in order to do so, of course, it has to dig its way down. For that purpose it’s installed with what the team calls a “self-hammering mechanical mole.” Pretty self-explanatory, right?

The “mole” is sort of like a hollow, inch-thick, 16-inch-long nail that will use a spring-loaded tungsten block inside itself to drive itself into the rock. It’s estimated that it will take somewhere between 5,000 and 20,000 strikes to get deep enough to escape the daily and seasonal temperature changes at the surface.

Lastly there’s the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment, which actually doesn’t need a giant nail, a tiny Kingdome or anything like that. The experiment involves tracking the position of InSight with extreme precision as Mars rotates, using its radio connection with Earth. It can be located to within about four inches, which when you think about it is pretty unbelievable to begin with. The way that position varies may indicate a wobble in the planet’s rotation and consequently shed light on its internal composition. Combined with data from similar experiments in the ’70s and ’90s, it should let planetologists determine how molten the core is.

“In some ways, InSight is like a scientific time machine that will bring back information about the earliest stages of Mars’ formation 4.5 billion years ago,” said Banerdt in an earlier news release. “It will help us learn how rocky bodies form, including Earth, its moon, and even planets in other solar systems.”

In another space first, Insight has a robotic arm that will not just do things like grab rocks to look at, but will grab items from its own inventory and deploy them into its workspace. Its little fingers will grab handles on top of each deployable instrument and grab it just like a human might. Well, maybe a little differently, but the principle is the same. At nearly 8 feet long, it has a bit more reach than the average astronaut.

Cubes riding shotgun

One of the MarCO cubesats.

Insight is definitely the main payload, but it’s not the only one. Launching on the same rocket are two CubeSats, known collectively as Mars Cube One, or MarCO. These “briefcase-size” guys will separate from the rocket around the same time as InSight, but take slightly different trajectories. They don’t have the control to adjust their motion and enter an orbit, so they’ll just zoom by Mars right as Insight is landing.

CubeSats launch all the time, though, right? Sure — into Earth orbit. This will be the first attempt to send CubeSats to another planet. If successful there’s no limit to what could be accomplished — assuming you don’t need to pack anything bigger than a breadbox.

The spacecraft aren’t carrying any super-important experiments; there are two in case one fails, and both are only equipped with UHF antennas to send and receive data, and a couple of low-resolution visible-light cameras. The experiment here is really the CubeSats themselves and this launch technique. If they make it to Mars, they might be able to help send InSight’s signal home, and if they keep operating beyond that, it’s just icing on the cake.

You can follow along with InSight’s launch here; there’s also the traditional anthropomorphized Twitter account. We’ll post a link to the live stream as soon as it goes up.

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Watch SpaceX launch NASA’s new planet-hunting satellite here

Posted by | Gadgets, hardware, NASA, science, Space, SpaceX, TESS | No Comments

It’s almost time for SpaceX to launch NASA’s TESS, a space telescope that will search for exoplants across nearly the entire night sky. The launch has been delayed more than once already: originally scheduled for March 20, it slipped to April 16 (Monday), then some minor issues pushed it to today — at 3:51 PM Pacific time, to be precise. You can watch the launch live below.

TESS, which stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is basically a giant wide-angle camera (four of them, actually) that will snap pictures of the night sky from a wide, eccentric and never before tried orbit.

The technique it will use is fundamentally the same as that employed by NASA’s long-running and highly successful Kepler mission. When distant plants pass between us and their star, it causes a momentary decrease in that star’s brightness. TESS will monitor thousands of stars simultaneously for such “transits,” watching a single section of sky for a month straight before moving on to another.

By two years, it will have imaged 85 percent of the sky — hundreds of times the area Kepler observed, and on completely different stars: brighter ones that should yield more data.

TESS, which is about the size of a small car, will launch on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX will attempt to recover the first stage of the rocket by having it land on a drone ship, and the nose cone will, hopefully, get a gentle parachute-assisted splashdown in the Atlantic, where it too can be retrieved.

The feed below should go live 15 minutes before launch, or at about 3:35.

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EarthNow promises real-time views of the whole planet from a new satellite constellation

Posted by | accelerator, earthnow, Gadgets, Intellectual Ventures, OneWeb, Satellites, Space, Startups | No Comments

A new space imaging startup called EarthNow aims to provide not just pictures of the planet on demand, but real-time video anywhere a client desires. Its ambition is matched only by its pedigree: Bill Gates, Intellectual Ventures, Airbus, SoftBank and OneWeb founder Greg Wyler are all backing the play.

Its promise is a constellation of satellites that will provide video of anywhere on Earth with latency of about a second. You won’t have to wait for a satellite to come into range, or worry about leaving range; at least one will be able to view any area at any given time, so they can pass off the monitoring task to the next satellite over if necessary.

Initially aimed at “high value enterprise and government customers,” EarthNow lists things like storm monitoring, illegal fishing vessels (or even pirates), forest fires, whale tracking, watching conflicts in real time and more. Space imaging is turning into quite a crowded field — if all these constellations actually launch, anyway.

The company is in the earliest stages right now, having just been spun out from years of work by founder and CEO Russell Hannigan at Intellectual Ventures under the Invention Science Fund. Early enough, in fact, that there’s no real timeline for prototyping or testing. But it’s not just pie in the sky.

Wyler’s OneWeb connection means EarthNow will be built on a massively upgraded version of that company’s satellite platform. Details are few and far between, but the press release promises that “Each satellite is equipped with an unprecedented amount of onboard processing power, including more CPU cores than all other commercial satellites combined.”

Presumably a large portion of that will be video processing and compression hardware, since they’ll want to minimize bandwidth and latency but don’t want to skimp on quality. Efficiency is important, too; satellites have extremely limited power, so running multiple off-the-shelf GPUs with standard compression methods probably isn’t a good idea. Real-time, continuous video from orbit (as opposed to near-real-time stills or clips) is as much a software problem as it is hardware.

Machine learning also figures in, of course: the company plans to do onboard analysis of the imagery, though to what extent isn’t clear. It really makes more sense to me to do this on the ground, but perhaps a first pass by the satellite’s hardware will help move things along.

Airbus will do its part by actually producing the satellites, in Toulouse and Florida. The release doesn’t say how many will be built, but full (and presumably redundant) Earth coverage means dozens at the least. But if they’re mass-manufactured standard goods, that should keep the price down, relatively speaking anyway.

No word on the actual amount raised by the company in January, but with the stature of the investors and the high costs involved in the industry, I can’t imagine it’s less than a few tens of millions.

Hannigan himself calls EarthNow “ambitious and unprecedented,” which could be taken as an admission of great risk, but it’s clear that the company has powerful partners and plenty of expertise; Intellectual Ventures doesn’t tend to spin something off unless it’s got something special going. Expect more specifics as the company grows, but I doubt we’ll see anything more than renders for a year or so.

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Watch SpaceX launch NASA’s latest exoplanet-hunting satellite

Posted by | Elon Musk, Falcon 9, Gadgets, hyperloop, outer space, Space, spaceflight, SpaceX | No Comments

Update: SpaceX has delayed the launch to address a last-minute issue with the guidance, navigation and control (GNC) systems:

Standing down today to conduct additional GNC analysis, and teams are now working towards a targeted launch of @NASA_TESS on Wednesday, April 18.

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 16, 2018

SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket today during a 30-second window at 6:32pm EDT. On board is NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), designed to find exoplanets. SpaceX said this morning there’s an 80 percent chance of launching today. Following the launch, SpaceX will attempt to recover the Falcon 9 rocket and nose cone by landing the rocket on a drone ship and using parachutes to slow down fairings before they hit the Atlantic. SpaceX’s high-speed net boat Mr. Stevens is still in the Pacific.

The live stream is set to begin at 6:00pm EDT.

The satellite on board uses four cameras to hunt for exoplanets around stars. They measure tiny dips in a star’s brightness that could indicate a planetary body passing in front of the camera’s line of sight. This is called a transit. Mission officials have said that this satellite will likely find thousands of worlds during its two-year mission.

The Falcon 9 used in today’s mission has never been launched before, though, if it lands successfully, it reportedly will be used in a future mission. This rocket is also the final block 4 version before SpaceX starts using block 5 versions with upgraded engines and improvements to increase the reusability of the rocket.

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Elon Musk’s latest SpaceX idea involves a party balloon and bounce house

Posted by | business, Elon Musk, Gadgets, hyperloop, john carmack, New Mexico, Space, spaceflight, SpaceX | No Comments

Elon Musk took to Twitter Sunday night to announce a new recovery method for an upper-stage SpaceX rocket. A balloon — a “giant party balloon” to quote him directly — will ferry part of a rocket to a bounce house. Seriously.

If anyone else proposed this idea they would be ignored, but Elon Musk lately has a way of turning crazy ideas into reality.

It was just in 2012 that SpaceX launched and landed its first rocket, and now the company is doing it with rockets significantly larger. And then early this year SpaceX made a surprise announcement that it would attempt to use a high-speed boat and large net to catch part of a rocket — though it has yet to work.

SpaceX will try to bring rocket upper stage back from orbital velocity using a giant party balloon

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 15, 2018

And then land on a bouncy house

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 16, 2018

This isn’t the first time a balloon has been used to return a rocket. Legendary programmer John Carmack’s rocket company attempted to use a ballute in 2012 to return a rocket body and nose cone. It didn’t work as planned and, according to officials at the time, the rocket made a “hard landing” around the Spaceport America property in New Mexico.

Just like SpaceX’s self-landing rockets and its giant net boat, the goal is to reduce the cost of launching rockets by reusing parts. It’s unclear when this latest plan will be implemented, but chances are SpaceX will at least attempt it in the coming future.

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From fungal architecture to shape-shifting robo-swarms, here are NASA’s latest moonshots

Posted by | Gadgets, Government, hardware, NASA, robotics, science, Space | No Comments

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program is perhaps the best place to get federal funding for an idea that sounds crazy — because the program managers think it might be just crazy enough to work.

Researchers making the “Phase I” cut are awarded about $125,000 over 9 months to develop their idea, be it mind-boggling or merely technically difficult. If significant progress is made or the concept is otherwise found to be promising, a second “Phase II” investment of up to $500,000 can be made at NASA’s option.

This year, according to NIAC program executive Jason Derleth, was “especially fierce, with over 230 proposals and only 25 winners.” A significant amount of Phase II awards were also made (you may remember some from last year’s selections).

I’ve collected most of them here with explanations in the plainest language I could summon — click on to see what NASA thinks the future of space exploration might look like.

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SpaceX launch will bring science and supplies to ISS and return with a glitchy Robonaut

Posted by | Gadgets, international space station, ISS, NASA, science, Space, SpaceX | No Comments

Update: Launch and deployment successful!

SpaceX is set to launch its 14th resupply mission to the International Space Station, sending up a lightly used Dragon capsule filled with goodies at 1:30 PST. In addition to the delivery, this Dragon will also take back some cargo: the malfunctioning Robonaut 2, which apparently bricked itself sometime during the last few months.

This will be the second flight for this Dragon capsule, which last visited the station two years ago on CRS-8; the Falcon 9 rocket it’s launching atop of is also being reused today for CRS-14. This will be the latter’s final flight, though: it’s not being recovered.

You can watch the launch live right here:

Inside are the usual food and other necessities, along with some interesting experiments. The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor will watch thunderstorms for interesting electric phenomena like sprites and elves, gigantic jets and blue glimpses. Yes, those are real electric phenomena.

“Elve”

In-space fabrication will be getting an update with a brand new HP 3D printer made for microgravity, but also an experiment in sintering-based additive manufacturing.

The challenge of microgravity also extends to biology, and a metabolic tracking project will look into how it affects various medicines. Another experiment looks at ways of delivering nutrients to plants that are used to having gravity help out.

The Dragon capsule will stay attached to the ISS for about a month while things are loaded and unloaded, including the ailing Robonaut 2. This experimental robot platform has been up there for years, but recently developed some kind of fault — perhaps an electrical short, speculated a NASA scientist at a press conference Sunday.

The team in space doesn’t seem to have the tools or time to figure it out, so Robonaut 2 is heading home to be fixed by its terrestrial maintenance workers. It should fly back up in a year or so; in the meantime, the denizens of the station will enjoy a little extra space.

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FCC approves SpaceX plan for 4,425-satellite broadband network

Posted by | Gadgets, Government, hardware, Space | No Comments

SpaceX has a green light from the FCC to launch a network of thousands of satellites blanketing the globe with broadband. And you won’t have too long to wait — on a cosmic scale, anyway. Part of the agreement is that SpaceX launch half of its proposed satellites within six years.

The approval of SpaceX’s application was not seriously in doubt after last month’s memo from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was excited at the prospect of the first U.S.-based company being authorized to launch a constellation like this.

“I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application and moving to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans,” he wrote at the time. He really is pushing that “digital divide” thing. Not that Elon Musk disagrees:

Today’s Falcon launch carries 2 SpaceX test satellites for global broadband. If successful, Starlink constellation will serve least served.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 21, 2018

SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell echoed the sentiment in a statement provided to TechCrunch:

We appreciate the FCC’s thorough review and approval of SpaceX’s constellation license. Although we still have much to do with this complex undertaking, this is an important step toward SpaceX building a next-generation satellite network that can link the globe with reliable and affordable broadband service, especially reaching those who are not yet connected.

The proposed service, which will be called Starlink, was opposed by several existing satellite operators like OneWeb and Spire. They’re rightly concerned that another operator in space — especially one that wants to launch thousands of satellites — will crowd both spectrum and orbit.

Illustration of SpaceX satellite coverage from the FCC application

OneWeb, for example, said that SpaceX satellites shouldn’t be allowed to be deployed within 125 kilometers of altitude of its own. You do want to avoid interference, but really, it’s too much to ask for a 150-mile buffer zone around your gear.

One objection that did carry water, however, was the request for an extensive orbital debris mitigation plan.

The unprecedented number of satellites proposed by SpaceX and the other [non-geostationary orbit fixed-satellite service] systems in this processing round will necessitate a further assessment of the appropriate reliability standards of these spacecraft, as well as the reliability of these systems’ methods for deorbiting the spacecraft.

So SpaceX will have to provide more studies on this by the time it finalizes its designs and starts launching.

And that will have to be fairly soon. To move things along, the FCC requires SpaceX to get underway in a hurry or else, presumably, it will have to be reauthorized:

SpaceX must launch 50 percent of the maximum number of proposed space stations, place them in the assigned orbits, and operate them in accordance with the station authorization no later than March 29, 2024.

The company has already launched test versions of the satellites, but the full constellation will need to go out more than two at a time. SpaceX eventually plans to launch 12,000 of the things, but this authorization is for the high-altitude group of 4,425; a separate authorization is necessary for the remaining number, since they’ll be operating at a different altitude and radio frequency.

The Falcon 9 carrying SpaceX’s test Starlink satellites launches on February 22

Commissioner Rosenworcel, in a separate statement, also called for a general revisiting of regulations around commercial space.

“This rush to develop new space opportunities requires new rules,” she writes. “Despite the revolutionary activity in our atmosphere, the regulatory frameworks we rely on to shape these efforts are dated. Across the board, we need to prepare for the proliferation of satellites in our higher altitudes. In short, we have work to do.”

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