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SpaceX launches 60 more satellites during 15th Starlink mission

SpaceX has launched another batch of 60 Starlink satellites, the primary ingredient for its forthcoming global broadband internet service. The launch took place at 11:31 AM EDT, with a liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This is the fifteenth Starlink launch thus far, and SpaceX has now launched nearly 900 of the small, low Earth orbit satellites to date.

This launch used a Falcon 9 first stage booster that twice previously, both times earlier this year, including just in September for the delivery of a prior batch of Starlink satellites. The booster was also recovered successfully with a landing at sea aboard SpaceX’s ‘Just Read the Instructions’ floating autonomous landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Earlier this week, Ector County Independent School District in Texas announced itself as a new pilot partner for SpaceX’s Starlink network. Next year, that district will gain connectivity to low latency broadband via Starlink’s network, connecting up to 45 households at first, with plans to expand it to 90 total household customers as more of the constellation is launched and brought online.

SpaceX’s goal with Starlink is to provide broadband service globally at speeds and with latency previously unavailable in hard-to-reach and rural areas. Its large constellation, which will aim to grow to tens of thousands of satellites before it achieves its max target coverage, offers big advantages in terms of latency and reliability vs. large geosynchronous satellites that provide most current satellite-based internet available commercially.

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SpaceX raises $1.9 billion in largest funding round to date

SpaceX has raised $1.9 billion in new funding, per a filing with the SEC from Tuesday which was first spotted by Reuters. The company had been reported to be in the funding process earlier by Bloomberg, which pegged the post-money valuation of SpaceX at $46 billion following this raise.

The new funding for the still private SpaceX hardly comes as a surprise; The Elon Musk -led private launch company has been seeking funding since earlier this year, but Bloomberg reported last week that it increased the size of investment it was seeking owing to strong demand from the investment community.

The round was reportedly oversubscribed, though there isn’t yet much information available about who participated in the round (Bloomberg’s report said Fidelity Investments was among the largest in, but they did not confirm). SpaceX might be better positioned than ever to seek significant resources from investors, given the string of high-profile successes it has recorded recently.

Those include completing the first ever private human spaceflight mission to take off from U.S. soil. That mission, Demo-2, took off from Florida in May and returned the astronauts it carried to Earth earlier this month after a two-month stint at the International Space Station. Its successful completion means SpaceX can now regularly supply transportation services to and from the ISS – and puts them closer than ever to offering commercial spaceflight services for private tourists, researchers and more.

SpaceX has also made good progress on its Starlink spacecraft development program, with a successful short test flight of the prototype this month, and it won multiple multi-year contracts from NASA and the U.S. government for launch services this year.

It’s currently in the process of a very capital-intensive endeavor, too, which could explain the size of the round: Deploying Starlink, the massive satellite constellation that it will own and operate, and that will provide commercial and residential broadband internet services to customers in hard to reach areas once it’s active. Just this morning, SpaceX launched 58 more Starlink satellites, but it will have to launch many more before it can achieve its goal of global coverage.

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Watch SpaceX’s Crew Dragon splash down in the Atlantic Ocean live as astronauts return to Earth

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SpaceX and NASA are getting ready to complete their most important joint mission to date – Crew Dragon Demo-2, which is the culmination of the partners’ work on their Commercial Crew program designed to certify a SpaceX spacecraft for regular human spaceflight operations. NASA astronauts are already on board Crew Dragon making their way back to Earth during a multi-hour descent, and later on Sunday will be splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

Behnken and Hurley undocked from the International Space Station on Saturday, August 1 at just after 7:30 PM EDT, with the Crew Dragon capsule handling all of the maneuvers since in a fully automated fashion, just like it’s designed to do. SpaceX built Crew Dragon to be fully automated both during takeoff and the return to Earth and landing portion of any trip to the ISS, and in fact have previously flown a successful uncrewed version of the mission that’s happening now with astronauts on board.

To conclude Demo-2, Behnken and Hurley are currently scheduled to splash down in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:48 PM EDT (11:48 AM PDT), where they’ll be met and recovered by a SpaceX crew. This will be a historic first for a commercial spacecraft, capping a mission of historic first for private human spaceflight that began with the successful launch of Crew Dragon ‘Endeavour’ on May 30.

Once Dragon enters the atmosphere, it’ll deploy its parachutes, which will slow it until it’s traveling at a speed of just around 15 mph before it splashes down. The reason it requires such a long trip from time of departure to when it lands in the ocean is that it needs to slow down from a starting speed of around 17,500 mph when it departs the ISS.

NASA and SpaceX will have live coverage on the stream above, and we’ll provide any updates about key developments in the mission as they happen.

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Astronauts successfully depart the ISS aboard SpaceX Dragon, starting their trip home

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have successfully undocked from the International Space Station, which is the first crucial stage of their return to Earth. Next, they’ll travel on a coast phase that will take them on a descent course back through the atmosphere from space, shedding speed as they prepare to deploy the parachutes of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and drop into the Atlantic Ocean for recovery.

The undocking, coast and splashdown phase are all meant to be performed entirely via automation, with the control systems SpaceX designed for Crew Dragon managing the entire process, including burns to control the capsule’s travel away from the Station and its controlled descent through the atmosphere. While re-entering the atmosphere, the Dragon will undergo tremendous stress, and its angle of descent is intended to slow its velocity to the point where it can safely deploy those parachutes to slow its fall even further, all the while keeping Behnken and Hurley safe.

The coast phase will take many hours, with SpaceX and NASA expecting the eventual splashdown of the capsule happening sometime around 2:42 PM EDT (11:42 PM PDT) tomorrow, Sunday August 2.

This is the final phase of SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission from its Commercial Crew program with NASA, which is the qualification program that the agency requires to certify Crew Dragon for regular operational missions taking astronauts to and from the station. Behnken and Hurley launched on the first part of this historic mission, which is the first to see humans fly aboard a SpaceX spacecraft, on May 30, and have spent the intervening months on the Space Station contributing to regular crew missions.

Crew Dragon will splash down off the coast of Florida to conclude Demo-2, and SpaceX crews are on hand to recover the astronauts at that point and bring them the rest of the way back to terra firma. If everything goes to plan, then SpaceX will officially be ready to begin standard astronaut flights, as mentioned – and the first of those is planned for sometime in late September, so they won’t have to wait long.

We’ll have updates for the remainder of this final leg as they become available, so stay tuned.

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SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites and achieves a reusability record for a Falcon 9 booster

SpaceX launched its second Falcon 9 rocket in the span of just four days on Wednesday at 9:25 PM EDT (6:25 PM PDT). This one was carrying 60 more satellites for its Starlink constellation, which will bring the total currently in operation on orbit to 480. The launch took off from Florida, where SpaceX launched astronauts for the first time ever on Saturday for the final demonstration mission of its Crew Dragon to fulfill the requirements of NASA’s Commercial Crew human-rating process.

Today’s launch didn’t include any human passengers, but it did fly that next big batch of Starlink broadband internet satellites, as mentioned. Those will join the other Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit, forming part of a network that will eventually serve to provide high-bandwidth, reliable internet connectivity, particularly in underserved areas where terrestrial networks either aren’t present or don’t offer high-speed connections.

This launch included a test of a new system that SpaceX designed in order to hopefully improve an issue its satellites have had with nighttime visibility from Earth. The test Starlink satellite, one of the 60, has a visor system installed that it can deploy post-launch in order to block the sun from reflecting off of its communication antenna surfaces. If it works as designed, it should greatly reduce sunlight reflected off of the satellite back to Earth, and SpaceX will then look to make it a standard part of its Starlink satellite design going forward.

Part of this launch included landing the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket used for the launch, which has already flown previously four times and been recovered – that makes this a rocket that has now flown five missions, and today it touched down safely once again on SpaceX’s drone landing barge in the ocean so it can potentially be used again.

SpaceX will also be attempting to recover the two fairing halves that form the protective nose cone used during launch at the top of the rocket to protect the payload being carried by the Falcon 9. We’ll provide an update about how that attempt goes once SpaceX provides details.

Tomorrow, June 4, actually marks the 10-year anniversary of the first flight of a Falcon 9 rocket – between this reusability record, and the much more historic first human spaceflight mission earlier this week, that’s quite the decade.

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SpaceX’s first crewed spacecraft successfully docks with the International Space Station

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon ‘Endeavor’ successfully docked with the International Space Station as planned on Sunday morning, marking another key milestone during this historic Commercial Crew demonstration mission it’s conducting with NASA. On board Crew Dragon were NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, the test pilots selected to be the first ever humans to fly on board SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, and the first people ever to make the trip to orbit aboard a spacecraft built by a private company.

The docking process was handled completely autonomously by Crew Dragon itself, which is designed by SpaceX to operate on autopilot from the moment of launch throughout the course of the entire mission. The spacecraft is able to dock with a newer automated international docking adapter installed on the ISS, unlike the original cargo version of Dragon, which required manual capture by the robotic Canadarm 2 controlled by astronauts on the station. The updated cargo Dragon and Crew Dragon are designed to work with the new automated system.

Hurley and Behnken launched at 3:22 PM EDT (12:22 PM PDT) on Saturday, taking off from Cape Canaveral in Florida as planned. It was the second launch attempt for this mission, after weather caused a delay last Wednesday. This mission is NASA and SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Demo-2, which is the second demonstration mission of the full flight and return of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, one of two vehicles commissioned by NASA from commercial partners to provide transportation serves for astronauts to and from the Space Station.

Crossing this milestone means that essentially the first half of the mission has been completed successfully – so far, SpaceX has demonstrated that the launch process works as designed, as does manual control (the astronauts took over and ran two tests of that system), and automated docking.

The ISS hatch opened at 12:37 PM EDT, and the Dragon hatch opened at 1:02 PM EDT, at which point Behnken and Hurley were welcomed onboard the ISS by the existing crew, which includes two U.S. and one Russian astronaut. Hurley and Behnken will now perform standard ISS crew activities, including conducing experiments and research, during the next several weeks before they climb back into Crew Dragon for the final portion of Demo-2 – the trip back to Earth.

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Watch live as SpaceX’s first astronaut-carrying spacecraft docks with the International Space Station

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Today at around 10:30 AM EDT (7:30 AM PDT), SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule will dock with the International Space Station, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board. The two have been in flight on orbit since launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida yesterday at 3:22 PM EDT, a historic launch that made SpaceX the first private space company to fly people to orbit.

You can watch the livestream above to see the approach and docking maneuver, as well as the transfer process once the hatch opens and Hurley and Behnken make the short trip over from their spacecraft to the ISS. The astronauts will then serve on board the orbital lab for a shortened tour of duty, but taking part in all the activities a regular ISS rotation astronaut would do, before eventually heading home to Earth back aboard Crew Dragon in a few weeks.

This milestone mission is the first crewed flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which will certify SpaceX’s Crew Dragon for regular operational missions carrying astronauts from the agency and its partners to and from the Space Station .

Ahead of the docking, the astronauts will be conducting manual tests of the spacecraft’s control system, their second test after an initial trial yesterday shortly after launch. Crew Dragon is designed to fly and dock entirely on its own, but part of this mission is ensuring that the manual controls work as designed in case astronauts ever need to make use of them in an emergency.

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NASA astronauts successfully pilot SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft manually for the first time

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley took over manual control of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on Saturday, shortly after the vehicle’s historic first launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Crew Dragon is designed to fly entirely autonomous throughout the full duration of its missions, including automated docking, de-orbit and landing procedures, but it has manual control systems in case anything should go wrong and the astronauts have to take over. This test is the first time the manual controls have been used in space, and is a key part of certifying Crew Dragon for regularly operational human flight.

Astronaut Bob Behnken and Hurley removed their fashionable SpaceX space suits just before Hurley completed the manual maneuvers, which is also part of the plan. They’re able to go without the suits in the pressurized cabin during its transit to the ISS, only needing to put them back on for space station docking, and the interior of Crew Dragon actually provides them a fair amount of room to move around in. This also makes it easier for them to operate the spacecraft controls.

The manual maneuver testing including Hurley going through the process of using the spacecraft’s touchscreen controls to put the capsule into what’s called LVLH (local vertical local horizontal ) attitude, using Earth as a reference navigation point. That basically means putting Dragon in the same orientation as an airplane flying over Earth, with the planet located ‘underneath’ the Dragon as it flies. The test involves notifying the flight computer to not take over as Hurley conducts the maneuvers, but doesn’t involve actually finalizing the control orders by sending them to the flight computer, since it will be the one actually completing the automated flight and docking process.

Hurley will conduct two tests during the mission, the one he just did called a “far-field” flight test because it’s far away from the ISS, and one called the “near-field” test which will be conducted when they’re closer to the station.

You can actually try out the manual control system that Behnken and Hurley used yourself – no spaceship required. All you need is a browser, and this ISS Docking Simulator created and released by SpaceX. It’s a bit tricky, but not as hard as you might think thanks to an intuitive control interface design.

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Watch live as SpaceX launches its first ever spacecraft with people on board

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SpaceX is once again preparing to make history – the private spaceflight company is set to launch its Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission in collaboration with NASA today. This is the second time they’ve prepared to launch this mission, after an attempt on Wednesday last week was scrubbed due to bad weather. Today’s attempt is set for 3:22 PM EDT (12:22 PM PDT) and preparations, along with the launch itself, will be streamed above starting at 11 AM EDT (8 AM PDT).

The launch will take off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and once again weather is a concern for today’s launch window. SpaceX and NASA have an instantaneous launch window today, which means they only have the one shot to take off – if the weather isn’t cooperating at 3:22 PM EDT, they’ll have to re-attempt the launch again, with the next possible window set for tomorrow, Sunday May 31.

This is the first time ever that SpaceX will be launching humans aboard one of its spacecraft – NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have the honor of being those first passengers. The mission itself is actually technically still a test, the final demonstration mission in the multi-year development of Crew Dragon, SpaceX’s first human-rated spacecraft. This launch will serve as the proof that Crew Dragon and the Falcon 9 rocket that carries it, is ready for human-rating, after which it will be ready for regular operational service, flying U.S. and allied astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit.

That will mean the U.S. once again has domestic human launch capabilities, something it hasn’t been able to claim since it ended the Space Shuttle program in 2011. That’s a big deal for a number of reasons, but primarily because it means that NASA won’t rely on buying berths on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get to the ISS, which will help it save money and ultimately control its own access to Earth’s orbital lab.

If successful, SpaceX will be the first of NASA’s two Commercial Crew partners to achieve this milestone. The other, Boeing, is still in the process of working out the kinks of its CST-100 Starliner human crew capsule, which encountered errors during its first uncrewed demonstration mission, resulting in the need to run that launch again sometime later this year, and then, depending on how that goes, fly its first human flight hopefully in 2021. SpaceX, meanwhile, is set to begin operational missions with Crew Dragon later this year, if all goes well with Demo-2.

Provided the launch occurs today, Behnken and Hurley will then spend 19 hours on orbit as they make their way to rendezvous with the Space Station for docking. They’ll then staff the station for a period of between a few weeks and a few months, depending on NASA’s decision regarding their ultimate mission length. That will involve helping with station maintenance and conducting experiments, and then they’ll re-enter Crew Dragon and make the trip back to Earth for an Atlantic Ocean splashdown and recovery once their time at the station is over.

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Max Q: Huge week ahead for SpaceX and Virgin Orbit

This week could be the biggest week to date for private spaceflight, with landmark launch attempts coming from both Virgin Orbit and SpaceX .

Virgin Orbit is looking to join the elite club of private launch companies that have actually made it to space, with a full flight test of its combined Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne system. Meanwhile, SpaceX is looking to launch its Crew Dragon spacecraft with people on board – achieving a number of milestones, including returning U.S. crew launch capabilities, and human-rating its Falcon 9 rocket.

Virgin Orbit was supposed to launch its first full demonstration flight on Sunday, but a sensor bug that showed up during pre-launch checkouts means that it’s now pushing things back to at least Monday to check that out.

Extra precaution is hardly surprising since this milestone mission could help the company become an operational satellite launch provider – one of only a small handful of private companies that can make that claim.

SpaceX passed its first crucial flight readiness review (FRR) on Friday for its first ever crewed astronaut launch, setting it up for a full rehearsal of the mission on Saturday leading up to the actual launch Now it’s set for another FRR with partner NASA on Monday, and then the launch should take place on Wednesday – weather and checkouts permitting. This will definitely be one to watch.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries flew its last mission with its H-II series rocket, and the space transfer vehicle it carries to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. The company is readying a successor to this highly successful and consistent rocket, the H3, which is set to make its launch debut sometime in 2022 if all goes to plan.

While SpaceX is aiming to make history with NASA and two of its astronauts, the person in charge of the agency’s human spaceflight endeavors made a surprising and abrupt exit from the agency last week. Doug Loverro resigned from his position, reportedly over some kind of inappropriate activity he engaged in with a prospective agency business partner ahead of the contract awards for NASA’s commercial human lander program.

Xilinx specializes in building processors that are designed to withstand the rigors of use in space, which include heavy radiation exposure, extreme temperatures and plenty more. The company just debuted a new FPGA for space-based applications that is the first 20nm-based processor for space, and the first with dedicated machine-learning capabilities built in for edge computing that truly redefines the term.

Space has enjoyed a period of being relatively uncontested when it comes to international squabbles – mostly because it’s hard and expensive to reach, and the benefits of doing so weren’t exactly clear 30 to 40 years ago when most of those rules were set up. NASA’s new rules include a lot of the old ones, but also set up some modernizations that are sure to begin a lot of debate and discussion in the space policy community.

In a testing procedure, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxis on the flightline March 30, 2010, at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, FLa. (Courtesy photo)

The United Launch Alliance launched the X-37B last week on behalf of the U.S. Space Force – marking the first time the mysterious experimental unscrewed space plane has launched for that newly-formed agency. The X-37B has flown plenty before, of course – but previously it was doing so under the authority of the U.S. Air Force, since the Space Force hadn’t been formed yet.

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