SpaceX

SpaceX’s Starlink aims to put over a thousand of its communications satellites in super-low orbit

Posted by | Gadgets, hardware, Satellites, Space, SpaceX, starlink | No Comments

SpaceX’s planned communication satellite constellation, known as Starlink, will now be targeting a much lower orbit than originally planned, at least for over a thousand of the satellites, the company revealed in an FCC filing. The move should help mitigate orbital debris and provide better signal for the company’s terrestrial users as well.

Starlink plans to put 1,584 satellites — about a third of the 4,409 the company aims to launch — in an orbit just 550 kilometers about the surface of the Earth. For comparison, many communications satellites are in orbits more than twice as high, and geosynchronous orbits are more than 20 times farther out (around 36,000 miles).

At that distance orbits decay quickly, falling into the atmosphere and burning up after a handful of years. But SpaceX isn’t daunted; in fact, it writes in its application, lower orbits offer “several attractive features both during nominal operation and in the unlikely event something goes wrong.”

In the first place, orbital debris problems are naturally mitigated by the fact that anything in that low orbit will fall to Earth quickly instead of cluttering up the orbit. Second, it should shorten the amount of time it takes to send and receive a signal from the satellites — ping time could be as low as 15 milliseconds, the company estimated. And 500 fewer kilometers means there will be less spreading for beam-based communications, as well.

The satellites will have to do more work to stay at their optimal altitude, as atmospheric drag will be higher, and each one will be able to see and serve less of the planet. But with thousands working together, that should be manageable.

The decision was informed by experimental data from the “Tintin” test satellites the company launched earlier this year. “SpaceX has learned to mitigate the disadvantages of operating at a lower altitude and still reap the well-known and significant benefits discussed above,” it wrote.

This change could lead to competitive advantages when satellite communications are more widely used, but it will also likely lead to a more intensive upkeep operation as Starlink birds keep dropping out of the air. Fortunately a third benefit of the lower orbit is that it’s easier to reach, though probably not so much easier that the company breaks even.

Starlink is aiming for the first real launches of its systems early next year, though that timeline may be a little too ambitious. But SpaceX can do ambitious.

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SpaceX lands Falcon 9 booster on Just Read The Instructions drone ship

Posted by | booster, falcon, Falcon 9, Gadgets, science, Space, spacecraft, spaceflight, SpaceX, transport | No Comments

SpaceX confirmed on Twitter this morning that it recovered the booster from the latest Falcon 9 launch. Shortly after launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California at 7:39AM ET this morning, the booster stage landed on the Just Read The Instructions drone ship. The company will now try to catch the rocket’s fairing with a giant net attached to the ship Mr. Stevens.

Despite challenging weather conditions, Falcon 9 first stage booster landed on Just Read the Instructions.

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 25, 2018

SpaceX has become more adept at landing its booster rockets but it’s still a spectacle every time it happens. This landing is extra special as the winds were gusting around the time of the launch.

The rocket company has so far been less successful with catching the payload shrouds. SpaceX’s high-speed recovery boat Mr. Steven took to the seas this time around with a larger net in the hopes of recovering the fairings. Reusing as much as possible is critical to SpaceX’s mission to lower the cost of space flight.

Today’s launch was SpaceX’s seventh mission for the company’s client Iridium who contracted with SpaceX to launch 75 satellites into orbit. According to SpaceX, today’s payload of Iridium satellites so far deployed without an issue. SpaceX is contracted for one more launch with Iridium.

This was SpaceX’s 14th launch of 2018.

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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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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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Virgin Galactic successfully tested its rocket-powered spacecraft today for the first time since 2014

Posted by | Gadgets, outer space, richard branson, space tourism, spacecraft, spaceflight, spaceshiptwo, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, virgin group, vss enterprise | No Comments

Virgin Galactic took to the skies today for the first test of its rocket-powered spacecraft in over three years. The SpaceShipTwo launch platform deployed the USS Unity at a set altitude where the space craft will fire its engines for as long as 30 seconds bringing the craft to 1 1/2 the speed of sound. This was the first powered test of the Unity since the SpaceShipTwo Enterprise broke up during a test flight in late 2014.

After the accident Richard Branson’s space program reworked a lot of components but as of late ramped up testing including releasing the Unity for glide testing.

Today is 12th flight for VSS Unity #SpaceShipTwo, 246th for VMS Eve #WhiteKnightTwo pic.twitter.com/eVezAf9W3p

Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) April 5, 2018

For today’s test two pilots — Mark “Forger” Stucky and Dave Mackay — were at the controls of the VSS Unity as its dropped from its mothership. Unlike the original SpaceCraftTwo vehicle, the Unity is built by The Spaceship Company, a subsidiary of Virgin Group, which is also building two more spaceships for the space company.

Virgin Galactic has yet to announce target altitude or speed for this test. This is a big test for the company and it has been relatively quiet about its existence — a stark difference from Elon Musk’s SpaceX .

Update: Richard Branson just released a bit of info minutes after the flight.

.@virgingalactic back on track. Successful powered flight, Mach 1.6. Data review to come, then on to the next flight. Space feels tantalisingly close now.

— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) April 5, 2018

Virgin Galactic was founded and so far existed to provide a reusable platform to reach sub-orbital altitudes of about 68 miles above the Earth. It’s capable of carrying passengers who are expected to pay around $250,000 for the trip and today’s showed that the company is back on the track to be a viable space delivery system. It’s unlikely the company could have survived another fatal disaster.

VSS Unity is the first #SpaceShipTwo in a fleet of spaceships proudly built by @TheSpaceshipCompany pic.twitter.com/3b18jkK7IX

— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) April 5, 2018

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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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Musk says under 5 percent of SpaceX is working on Mars mission, 2024 launch is ‘optimistic’

Posted by | Elon Musk, Gadgets, mars, mars colonization, mars mission, science, Space, SpaceX, TC, Transportation | No Comments

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-5-03-02-pm Elon Musk has a plan to colonize Mars, but he’s not rushing it. In a conference call following the SpaceX CEO’s presentation today at the International Astronautical Conference, Musk noted that the project is still essentially a hobby at the company, drawing only a fraction of its efforts. Read More

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SpaceX’s CRS-7 Mission Ends In Catastrophic Failure, Loss Of Vehicle

Posted by | CRS-7, Drone Ship, Falcon 9, Gadgets, SpaceX, TC, Transportation | No Comments

screen-rocket LATEST: Watch the NASA press conference above, which should begin no earlier than 12:30 PM ET, to learn more about what happened during today’s failed CRS-7 mission launch. Here’s a video of the explosion of the unmanned Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule: UPDATE: The SpaceX rocket seems to have broken apart entirely in what looks like a major mission failure. During the feed,… Read More

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