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Main article: Space tourism

Topics from 1 to 5 | in all: 5

Blue Origin officially opens its new HQ and R&D center

17:01 | 7 January

Jeff Bezos -founded space technology company Blue Origin officially cut the ribbon to open its new HQ and R&D facility, located in Kent, Washington – close by to Amazon’s own headquarters. The new facility covers 230,000 square feet and sits on a plot of land over 30 acres in size, and will eventually be the base of operations for around 1,500 Blue Origin employees.

The new HQ is called the O’Neill Building, named after Princeton University physicist Gerard O’Neill. O’Neill is known for his work with NASA in the 1970s, conceiving potential future technology for sustained human presence in space – including the so-called O’Neill cylinders which are large habitats designed to spin to replicate Earth’s gravity for long-term residents and for on-board agriculture.

Bezos discussed discussed making O’Neill’s vision of the future a reality last year, detailing how the habitats might be able to house as many as a million people on each station, to help establish a new extension of humanity’s home on Earth.

In total, Blue Origin employs over 2,500 people, including at its facilities in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Van Horn, West Texas; and Huntsville, Alabama. It also plans to open a dedicated engine manufacturing facility in Alabama this March. 2020 should also see Blue Origin fly its first human passengers aboard New Shepard, its sub-orbital rocket which is currently well along the path to human certification, and it’s looking to next year to begin operating New Glenn, its orbital launch vehicle.

 


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Luna is a new kind of space company helping biotech find its footing in microgravity

23:37 | 19 November

Toronto-based startup Luna Design and Innovation is a prime example of the kind of space company that is increasingly starting up to take advantage of the changing economics of the larger industry. Founded by Andrea Yip, who is also Luna’s CEO, the bootstrapped venture is looking to blaze a trail for biotechnology companies who stand to gain a lot from the new opportunities in commercial space – even if they don’t know it yet.

“I’ve spent my entire career in the public and private health industry, doing a lot of product and service design and innovation,” Yip told me in an interview. “I was working in pharma[ceuticals] for several years, but at the end of 2017, I decided to leave the pharma world and I really wanted to find a way to work along the intersection of pharma, space and design, because I just believe that the future of health for humanity is in space.”

Yip founded Luna at the beginning of this year to help turn that belief into action, with a focus on highlighting the opportunities available to the biotechnology sector in making use of the research environment unique to space.

“We see space as a research platform, and we believe that it’s a research platform that can be leveraged in order to solve healthcare problems here on Earth,” Yip explained. “So for me, it was critically important to open up space to the biotech sector, and to the pharma sector, in order to use it as a research platform for R&D and novel discovery.”

The International Space Station has hosted a number of pharma and biotech experiments.

NASA’s work in space has led to a number of medical advances, inducing digital imaging tech used in breast biopsy, transmitters used for monitoring fetus development within the womb, LED’s used in brain cancer surgery and more. Work done on researching and developing pharmaceuticals in space is also something that companies including Merck, Proctor & Gamble and other industry heavyweights have been dabbling in for years, with experiments conducted on the International Space Station. Companies like SpaceFarma have now sent entire minilaboratories to the ISS to conduct research on behalf of clients. But it’s still a business with plenty of remaining under-utilized opportunity, according to Yip – and tons of potential.

“I think it’s a highly underutilized research platform, unfortunately, right now,” she said. “When it comes to certain physical and life sciences phenomena, we know that things behave differently in space, in what we refer to as microgravity-based environments […] We know that cancer cells, for instance, behave differently in short- and longer-term microgravity when it comes to the way that they metastasize. So being able to even acknowledge that type of insight, and try and understand ‘why’ can unlock a lot of new discovery and understanding about the way cancer actually functions […] and that can actually help us better design drugs, and treatment opportunities here on Earth, just based on those insights.”

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. Credit: Blue Origin .

Yip says that while there has been some activity already in biotech and microgravity, “we’re on the early end of this innovation,” and goes on to suggest that over the course of the next ten or so years, the companies that will be disrupting the existing class of legacy big pharma players will be ones who’ve invested early and deeply in space-based research and development.

The role of Luna is to help biotech companies figure out how best to approach building out an investment in space-based research. To that end, one of its early accomplishments is securing a role as a ‘Channel Partner’ for Jeff Bezos’ commercial space launch company Blue Origin. This arrangement means that Luna acts a a sales partner for Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket, working with potential clients for the Amazon founder’s rocket company on how and why they might seek to set up a sub-orbital space-based experiment.

That’s the near-term vision, and the way that Luna will seek to have the most impact here on Earth. But the possibilities of what the future holds for the biotech sector start to really open up once you consider the current trajectory of the space industry, including NASA’s next steps, and efforts by private companies like SpaceX to expand human presence to other planet.

“We’re talking about going back to the Moon by 2024,” Yip says, referring to NASA’s goal with its Artemis program. “We’re talking about going to Mars in the next few years. There’s a lot that we will need to uncover and discover for ourselves, and I think that’s a huge opportunity. Who knows what we’ll discover when we’re on other planets, and we’re actually putting people there? We have to start preparing for that and building capability for that.”

 


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Jeff Bezos aims Blue Origin at the Moon

23:45 | 9 May

Today at a packed event blocks from the White House, Jeff Bezos took the stage in front of select members of the media, executives, government officials and a gaggle of middle schoolers to reveal new details of his plan to get to the Moon by 2024

Blue Origin is going to send humans to space on New Shepard later this year and has unveiled a lunar lander, called “Blue Moon”, to access the resource-rich lunar surface, Bezos said.

Setting the stage with Neil Armstrong’s famous words as the first man to walk on the moon, Bezos took to the stage to explain his vision of answering a very simple question. Given the finite resources available to humanity, “where would a trillion humans live?”

It’s a vision that Bezos has articulated before.

For Bezos, the only impediment to this space utopia comes down to a mundane roadblock that the founder of Amazon knows all-too-well — the lack of logistics and infrastructure to drive down costs.

“My generation’s job is to build the infrastructure,” said Bezos. “We’re going to build the road to space.”

According to NASA and the U.S. government, that road is going to go through the moon, which is one reason why Bezos unveiled the lunar lander today.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in March called on NASA to use “any means necessary” to put American astronauts on a Moon-orbiting space station and eventually on the Moon’s South Pole by 2024.

But why the South Pole? Because of the ice.

Speaking at a National Space Council meeting, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine stated that NASA scientists estimate there are upwards of 1 trillion pounds of ice at the lunar poles. This estimate comes from data collected by the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, which detected the ice hiding craters tilted away from the sun.

The ice is locked in these craters, unable to evaporate, as temperatures reportedly never rise above -250 degrees Fahrenheit in these spots. NASA hopes to use this ice to make rocket fuel.

“In this century, we’re going back to the moon with new ambitions,” Pence said in March. “Not just to travel there, but also to mine oxygen from lunar rocks that will refuel our ships, to use nuclear power to extract water from the permanently shadowed craters of the south pole, and to fly on a new generation of spacecraft that will enable us to reach Mars in months, not years.”

Startups like Momentus are already building spacecraft which use alternative fuel sources (like oxygen) to propel their vessels.

Pence’s proclamation came after delays forced NASA to push back the first crewed mission to the Moon until 2028. NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) has been in development for years amid delays and budget cuts.

Returning to the moon is set to be a pricey venture and even more so given the updated target. NASA and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget calculated the cost but have yet to reveal the price tag to the American public.

“Right now, [the cost estimate is] under review, and we can’t come up with a number,” Mark Sirangelo, special assistant to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, said today during a hearing of the space and aeronautics subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Science, Space, and Technology committee. “We’ve provided the information, and the discussions have been very positive and open, and as soon as those discussions are complete and OMB has approved the numbers, they’ll provide them to you.”

As Space.com reminds, returning to the moon has been part of official U.S. policy since December 2017 after President Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1.

Though NASA has yet to reveal the detailed plan, the general timeline calls for crewed moon landings in late the 2020s paving the space road to Mars landings in the 2030s.

That’s where Blue Origin comes in.

In addition to the lunar lander, Blue Origin has two space vehicles in development. The New Shepard is a suborbital rocket designed for short-duration flight and not launching large satellites into orbit. That will be handled by the New Glenn, which is slated for a 2021 launch and will be able to ferry 45,000 kg of goods to low Earth orbit. Both rocket platforms are designed for reusability.

Last week the Blue Origin New Shepard completed its 11th mission after launching and landing while carrying 38 experiments into low Earth orbit. The New Shepard rockets to 100 kilometers at which point, the capsule detaches and continues upwards on its momentum. The tests (or eventually humans) onboard are exposed to several minutes of microgravity before the capsule descends back to Earth on three parachutes. The New Shepard rocket itself lands independently on its deplorable struts.

It’s this launch platform Bezos intends to use in part for space tourism. Tickets could cost $200,000-$300,000 according to a Reuters report last year.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has taken a different path, designing and producing larger and larger rockets. The Falcon Heavy is the company’s current largest rocket and is capable of carrying 63,800 kg to low Earth orbit. SpaceX is also working on its next-generation launch platform Starship that is said to be able to lift over 100,000 kg of goods to low Earth orbit. The first orbital fight for Starship is planned for 2020.

There is plenty of space for both companies and others. Startups like Rocket Lab, Virgin Galactic, and Vector are also developing launch platforms intended to be used by commercial operations and government bodies. These startups have to compete with incumbents such as the Russian government and the United Launch Alliance, which is co-owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing. And that’s just the rockets. Other startups are springing up to build different components, satellites, landers and telematic solutions needed for space travel.

 

 


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Relativity, the 3D printed rocket manufacturer, inks multi-year contract with Telesat

17:00 | 5 April

Relativity, the Los Angeles-based manufacturer fo 3D printed rockets, has signed its first public commercial contract with Telesat, the longtime vendor of satellite services for telecommunications and business information. 

The deal marks the first agreement between a major satellite operator and an entirely venture-backed company in the “New Space” industry and is a huge win for Relativity’s low cost rocket manufacturing platform.

Relativity’s first launch of its Terran 1 rocket, the first fully 3D printed rocket built using Relativity’s proprietary printing technology, is slated for the end of 2020.

The company already has a launch site at Cape Canaveral in Florida and a test facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center right on the Mississippi-Louisiana border. It’s currently in the process of acquiring a launch site in California that will expand its launch capabilities for customers, according to Relativity chief executive, Tim Ellis.

Relativity’s launch services come in at around $10 million for a 1,250 kilogram payload to low earth orbit, Ellis said. That’s about $10 million to $20 million less than it would cost to launch a similar payload on the Indian PSLV rocket or European Ariane rocket.

The company keeps costs low by relying heavily on automation and metal 3D printing technology at almost every step of the design and manufacturing process for its launch vehicles. Instead of taking 18 months to build, Relativity claims that it can make its rockets in 60 days with hundreds of components instead of the hundreds of thousands of parts that comprise a traditionally manufactured launch vehicle.

Telesat was certainly convinced by the company’s pitch.

“Early in our LEO program we decided that, in addition to working with outstanding leaders in satellite manufacturing and launch services who we know well, Telesat should also include NewSpace companies whose technologies and manufacturing methods offer lower costs and greater flexibility for deploying our constellation,” said Dave Wendling, Telesat’s chief technology officer. “Relativity is just such a company with their metal 3D printing, use of robotics and other advances. Telesat continues to establish a world-class supplier team to construct, deploy and operate our global LEO network and we are very pleased to welcome Relativity to the Telesat LEO program.”

With the revelation yesterday of Amazon’s plans to create a satellite network of its own, Telesat may be relying on Relativity’s services for more launches — since Blue Origin, Bezos’ own rocket company may have its hands full launching satellites for its sister company.

“It’s comparable in magnitude to when SES first signed with SpaceX back in early Falcon 9 days,” says Ellis of his company’s first public contract. “We’ve been working with their team for a very long time vetting our capabilities and our progress.”

The company has done 136 engine tests and has received its avionics systems, which are currently being tested now.

As for the overall industry, Ellis says it’s still the earliest days for NewSpace companies.

“We’re still in the phase of laying fiber in the ground,” Ellis says. “As far as space infrastructure and network..it’ll follow the path of the internet… the application layers will get built on top of that.”

 

 


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SpaceX has completed the first tethered hop for the “Starhopper”

05:48 | 4 April

SpaceX has completed the first tethered jump for its Starship prototyped, Elon Musk

Wednesday evening.

Called the Starhopper because it’s making limited hops to test the landing capabilities of the Starship vehicle, the tethered jump

of a rocket engine at the company’s Boca Chica launch site.

The hops are similar to the testing that preceded the commercial development and use of SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets. Those tests, the Grasshopper and the F9R Dev, were critical to the development of those earlier rockets in the same way that these early launches will pave the way for SpaceX’s interplanetary Starship.

The Starhopper is SpaceX’s smaller prototype for what will eventually be its Starship vehicle, which the company hopes will make its first cargo flights by 2022. Musk wants the vehicle to make its first passenger flight in 2023, when the Starship will voyage to the moon. That would be followed by a crewed Mars flight slated for 2024 and the construction of a Mars Base by 2028.

Musk first debuted the new rocket in January. And since the start of the year the company has been testing several components for the new launch vehicle. Most recently, the company

design that should protect the rocket as it reenters Earth’s atmosphere.

 


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Meet Shuttle, the company that’s building the booking agent for spaceflight

23:35 | 26 October

Avery Haskell says he first knew he wanted to be an astronaut ever since he was a boy growing up in Houston near NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The 24 year-old Stanford graduate who counts Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan as his heroes, grew up in an entrepreneurial family. In the early days of the Internet his mother, an accountant in the oil and gas industry, and father, an information technology technician for a railroad, had launched their own startup called “Neighbornet” — an early version of Zillow (which never got off the ground).

Haskell, himself has bounced around the startup industry with forays into launching a crowdfunding startup, and stints at a few mobile technology companies, before landing on his current venture, Shuttle.

Launched earlier this year out of the Alchemist Accelerator and co-founded with cybersecurity expert and Wickr co-founder, Nico Sell, Shuttle is aiming to be the web and mobile-based booking agent for spaceflight.

“Space is my first love,” said Haskell, who helped found the Stanford Space Initiative at his alma mater. “I’ve always wanted to be an astronaut and help more people become astronauts. I thought it would  be cool to get more people to go to space and get more people interested in space travel.”

Haskell met Sell at the Alchemist Accelerator where she first worked as a mentor to the young entrepreneur. But she quickly became enamored with the idea of working at the edge of a new kind of frontier market. The day that Sell agreed to be the chair of Shuttle was the day Elon Musk’s SpaceX landed two booster rockets back on earth nearly simultaneously.

“I’m following Elon into space,” said Sell. “When I first started working with Avery I had asked ‘Are we really ready for that now?’ And after working with him I’m convinced that we are.”

Purchasing tickets on a flight listed on Shuttle isn’t the same as buying a plane ticket on Kayak, primarily because the price points are higher to the point of near-absurdity if you’re not a member of the super rich.

Offerings will range from trips on Virgin Galactic trips that will cost upwards of $250,000 in the near term to low-end packages that will include a zero-gravity flight aboard a tricked out Boeing 747 for the low-low price of just under $5,000 per-seat.

The company is actually taking orders for its first zero gravity flight, which it expects to launch from San Francisco in March 2019. That’ll give roughly 34 people the opportunity to experience weightlessness for around 8 minutes.

“Our mission is to open space up to everyone,” says Haskell. “We want to get more people to space so that the price goes down and so that more people can see earth from space and become private astronauts.”

Eventually, as more space tourism offerings become available, the company expects to sell additional packages. “There’s a luxury space hotel that’s being built right now,” says Sell. “It’s a million dollars a night and a 12 night minimum and every 90 minutes you see a sunset and a sunrise. Pretty soon there’s going to be a moon walk and a space walk that are available too.”

Shuttle is hoping to be the hub that aggregates all of these offers into a single one-stop shopping and media experience for consumers interested in seeking out existing planets and boldly going where only few men (and women) have gone before. And the company will offer virtual space tours and tickets to launches for the plebes who can’t afford an actual ride.

Initially, expect the ultra-rich or the ultra-subsidized to be the only folks that will be able to take these trips. Sell sees a lot of opportunities in corporate packages for business customers — likening it to a trip to Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch for an executive retreat.

Sell believes that there will be upwards of 100,000 people in the next ten years who’ll be willing to plunk down the $50,000 to $250,000 that it will cost to go space.

Already, the company has $1.66 million in bookings off of 8 customers on four Virgin Galactic flights and four Zero Gravity Charters with commission rates of 5% to 10% on flights that average $250,000 per ticket.

As for what comes next, Haskell has some speculations. “We will probably be able to build a base on the moon very soon.. By 2030 that’s a possibility. Within my lifetime it will be pretty common for people to travel to and from other planets in space,” he said. 

For him, the importance of Shuttle is getting Earth’s human residents to realize the fragility of our existence on the tiny blue ball we all share. Haskell said his favorite quote from Carl Sagan was “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” And if that’s true, Haskell believes that the experience of traveling through the cosmos may be a way for humans to come to a better understanding of themselves as well. 

 


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

19:16 | 5 April

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

, 246th for VMS Eve
pic.twitter.com/eVezAf9W3p

Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic)

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 .

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

in a fleet of spaceships proudly built by @TheSpaceshipCompany pic.twitter.com/3b18jkK7IX

— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic)

 


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SpaceX landed two of its three Falcon Heavy first-stage boosters

03:07 | 7 February

SpaceX has managed an incredible feat alongside its historic Falcon Heavy first test launch today – landing two of its boosters at once, nearly simultaneously, intact. The first-stage rockets used during today’s launch included two flight proven Falcon 9 boosters previously used during missions for SpaceX in 2016 and then refurbished, which landed at their intended destinations after decoupling from Falcon Heavy’s second stage and returning to Earth.

The side boosters landed, touching down at LZ-1 and LZ-2 at Kennedy Air Force Station, the designated landing pads SpaceX uses to recover its reusable rockets. But the core, middle booster, which attempted to land aboard “Of Course I Still Love You,” a drone barge that SpaceX uses as a mobile, ocean-borne landing bad stationed in the Atlantic for its flights departing from Florida, wasn’t recovered.

That core booster approached the platform as planned, but it unfortunately hit the water going 300 MPH and was lost, because some of its return engines failed to light. Video feeds of the attempted landing cut out upon approach, and in the live stream SpaceX provided of the launch, you could hear someone say “We’ve lost the core” but it wasn’t clear whether that indicated just the feed, or the booster itself.

Still, two out of three first stages recovered is a tremendous achievement, which acts as not only a demonstration of SpaceX’s progress when it comes to making sure its boosters can return smoothly from their flights, but also a key new proof of concept regarding Elon Musk’s vision of reusable spaceflight. Eventually, Musk hopes to be able to turn rockets around in less than 24 hours and have reflown boosters go up twice in one day.

Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s heavy-lift space vehicle with a 140,000 lb cargo capacity for low-Earth orbit, will be crucial to establishing a near-Earth staging area for missions to Mars and beyond, and so reusability will be key if Musk is ever going to achieve the cost reductions he’s looking for. Being able to land two of three Falcon boosters used for Falcon Heavy at once, on their first try, is a tremendous step in the right direction toward making that kind of reusability more feasible.

 


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SpaceX test fires Falcon Heavy rocket, readies for launch in ‘a week or so’

22:13 | 24 January

SpaceX has successfully test fired its Falcon Heavy rocket – but this is just the prelude to the big show. The static test fire performed today is a necessary step prior to an actual test launch, firing up all 27 of the rocket’s big Merlin engines prior to trying to do the same but actually following through with a proper take-off.

The test fire, completed at the SpaceX Cape Canaveral launch facility from which Falcon Heavy will make its first voyage, occurred early Wednesday afternoon, and SpaceX signalled following the test that all went well. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk then revealed that because of the good firing of the engines, it’s now on track for launch within the next “week or so.”

That’s great news, because the test launch was already postponed from late last year, and then it looked like it might be even more delayed owing to the government shutdown, which affected SpaceX’s ability to launch from Cape Canaveral. The shutdown has been suspended, at least temporarily, and that means it’s now time to get back to launch activities – including the inaugural flight of SpaceX’s really big rocket.

With Falcon Heavy, SpaceX hopes to be able to launch heavier payloads, servicing more clients and potentially rolling multiple missions together for more economical operation. Falcon Heavy has nearly three times the load capacity of the Falcon 9, and is a crucial component in SpaceX’s plan to eventually fly crewed operations and make it to Mars.

 


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SpaceX apparently lost the classified Zuma payload from latest launch

05:24 | 9 January

SpaceX’s latest rocket may have launched successfully – but the mission didn’t end as a win. The Zuma payload it was carrying, a mysterious classified piece of cargo for the U.S. government believed to be a spy satellite, was lost after it failed to separate from the second stage of the rocket after the first stage of the Falcon 9 separated as planned and returned to Earth.

The WSJ reports, and we’ve confirmed separately, that the payload is thought to have fallen back through the Earth’s atmosphere after reaching space, because of the failure to separate. The failure is one that can happen when cargo doesn’t properly detach as planned, since the second stage is designed to fall back to Earth and burn up in re-entry.

SpaceX had launched as planned on January 7 in its target window, and recovered the first stage of the booster with a landing at its Cape Canaveral facility. Because of the nature of the mission, coverage and information regarding the progress of the rocket and its payload from then on was not disclosed.

The payload, codenamed Zuma, was contracted for launch by Northrop Grumman by the U.S. government, and Northrop selected SpaceX as the launch provider. SpaceX had previously launched the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B spacecraft, and was approved for flying U.S. government payloads with national security missions.

The satellite was likely worth billions, according to the WSJ, which makes this the second billion-dollar plus payload that SpaceX has lost in just over two years; the last was Facebook’s internet satellite, which was destroyed when the Falcon 9 it was supposed to launch on exploded during preflight preparations in September 2016.

This could be a significant setback for SpaceX, since these kinds of contracts can be especially lucrative, and it faces fierce competition from existing launch provider ULA, jointly operated by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

We’ve reached out to SpaceX and will update if they provide additional comment.

 


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Topics from 1 to 5 | in all: 5

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