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Main article: Space

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Stealth space catapult startup SpinLaunch is raising $30M

20:20 | 22 February

 What if instead of blasting cargo into space on a rocket, we could fling it into space using a catapult? That’s the big, possibly crazy, possibly genius idea behind SpinLaunch. It was secretly founded in 2014 by Jonathan Yaney, who built solar-powered drone startup Titan Aerospace and sold it to Google. Now TechCrunch has learned from three sources that SpinLaunch is raising a massive… Read More

 


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SpaceX misses catching Falcon 9 rocket fairing with a giant net on a big ship

18:21 | 22 February

SpaceX nearly succeeded in catching the fairing used in its PAZ Falcon 9 mission on Thursday, using a barge called ‘Mr. Steven’ that uses four giant arms with a net strung between them to secure the used nosecone once it floats back from space. The fairing missed the boat by just a few hundred meters, but did land intact in the water, at least.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted that the attempt was underway shortly after launch, and the fairing’s parafoil, which helps it decelerate and return to Earth at a speed that makes it possible for the barge to catch it without damage, deployed as planned.

Prior approaches to recovering the fairing used on SpaceX missions have had mixed success, and one key element was that previously the protective covering, which houses the rocket’s payload and separates once the rocket clears the atmosphere, basically just landed in the ocean (as it ended up doing today) and SpaceX would attempt to pull it out. Catching it on board the barge takes that risky element of the process out of the mix.

Missed by a few hundred meters, but fairing landed intact in water. Should be able catch it with slightly bigger chutes to slow down descent.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 22, 2018

Why even bother? Cost. The fairing is a $6 million part, which is around a tenth of SpaceX’s total rocket launch cost with an expendable configuration. If it can reduce or eliminate that by reusing fairings as often as possible, that’s a big savings and a key ingredient towards SpaceX’s broader goals of efficient, reusable rockets.

 


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SpaceX successfully launches Falcon 9 carrying Starlink demo satellites

17:28 | 22 February

SpaceX has successfully launched a Falcon 9 from SLC-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base today, its first launch since its successful Falcon Heavy test earlier this month. The launch took off early Wednesday morning, after being rescheduled a couple of times from an initial target of this past weekend.

The launch was primarily designed to bring the PAZ satellite to orbit (which was deployed as planned into a low Earth, sun-synchronous polar orbit), a satellite for a Spanish customer that’s designed to provide geocommunications and radar imaging for both government and private commercial customers. This launch had a secondary purpose, however, and one that might ultimately be more important to SpaceX’s long-term goals.

SpaceX packed two demonstration micro satellites for its planned internet broadband service (which Elon Musk confided via tweet it will call ‘Starlink’). These will perform tests required before it’s certified to operate the service, which it hopes to use to generate revenue by signing up subscribers to its internet service, which will hopefully be globe-spanning once complete.

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

We will also see SpaceX attempt to recover the fairing used on this mission, using a new barge designed for the purpose called ‘Mr. Steven.’ The vessel is basically a large landing platform with a net strung across its surface, which is intended to capture the fairing as it returns to Earth gently, assisted by special parachutes. The fairing, which is the two-part ‘shield’ that protects the rocket’s cargo atop the Falcon 9, is a part that could save SpaceX as much as $6 million per launch if it’s able to be consistently reused.

We’ll update this post when we find out more about that aspect of today’s launch.

SpaceX did not attempt to recover the first stage booster used during today’s launch, which was a flight proven Falcon 9 first stage used during a mission last August.

 


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Watch SpaceX launch its first broadband internet satellites to space live here

16:08 | 22 February

SpaceX is making a second attempt to launch its PAZ mission today, which includes the PAZ satellite from client Hisdesat, and is set for launch during an instantaneous window at 6:17 AM PST, or 9:17 AM EST. The mission was scrubbed on Wednesday due to high upper level winds, and reset for this morning.

The Hisdesat payload is a satellite with radar instrumentation on board, with a planned service mission of providing monitoring activities for both government and commercial clients over an intended linespace of five and a half years. The primary payload isn’t the whole story, however – this rocket will also be carrying two test satellites for SpaceX’s global broadband satellite internet service.

These two satellites will pave the way for a constellation of nearly 12,000 satellites in orbit eventually that will aim to deliver affordable, fast and low lag broadband internet to underserved areas the world over. SpaceX hopes to use this service, which it calls “Starlink,” to add an additional revenue stream to its business beyond launch operations, helping it fiscally pursue its goal of making humans an interplanetary species with missions to Mars and beyond.

The live stream above will begin around 15 minutes prior to the target launch time, or at around 6 AM PST (9 AM EST).

 


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Watch SpaceX launch a Falcon 9 carrying its first internet demo satellites live here

11:01 | 21 February

SpaceX is launching a Falcon 9 with client Hisdesat’s PAZ satellite on board today, provided weather remains favorable and everything else goes according to plan. The satellite, an imaging and radar instrument with a planned lifespan of five and a half years, will serve Spanish government and commercial needs, and will also work as part of a constellation together with TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X to be used jointly between Hisdesat and Airbus.

The launch will make use of a first stage booster for the Falcon 9 rocket first used last August during the FORMOSAT-5 mission, and today’s launch will take place at 6:17 AM PST (9:17 AM EST) during an instantaneous launch window. A backup window is scheduled for Thursday, February 22 at the same time should the launch be scrubbed for Wednesday. It’s taking off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

This launch will also carry SpaceX’s first demonstration satellites for its satellite broadband internet service, to be tested ahead of a full-scale constellation launch. It’s also said to be the first launch of the second generation of SpaceX’s fairing, which is designed to be be better able to survive launch for re-use on future missions.

The livestream for the launch will kick off likely around 15 minutes prior to launch, or at just after 6 AM PST (9 AM EST).

 


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SpaceX to use a net boat called ‘Mr. Steven’ to recover next rocket fairing

16:08 | 20 February

SpaceX is all about reducing the cost of launching things into space, and right now one of those costs it think it can eliminate is having to use a new fairing every time it launches a rocket. The fairing is basically the shell at the top of the rocket that protects whatever cargo’s being launched (for instance, it housed the Tesla Roadster and SpaceX’s Starman mannequin during the recent Falcon Heavy test launch).

The fairing costs $6 million to produce, and so re-using it for multiple costs could lead to a significantly reduction in how much each launch individually costs SpaceX. SpaceX recovered a nose cone last year during a launch, but it has a new plan for fairing retrieval that should make it more repeatable and reliable to get these things back.

Enter “Mr. Steven,” essentially a large navigable platform ship, with extended ‘arms’ and a net strung between them. Teslarati’s Pauline Acalin snapped a photo of Mr. Steven docked on the California coast near Vandenberg Air Force base, preparing to head out to sea to support the next Falcon 9 mission, PAZ, which includes imaging satellites for Spain as well as SpaceX’s own test satellites for its forthcoming broadband internet service.

SpaceX’s fairing grabber, Mr. Steven, a couple days ago preparing to ship out for Wednesday’s launch at Vandenberg. @Teslarati #paz #Starlink pic.twitter.com/lfWjUGy56k

— Pauline Acalin (@w00ki33) February 19, 2018

That mission is currently set for February 21 (Wednesday this week) after a couple of delays, and the goal will be to have the fairing return to Earth gently, assisted by geotagged parachutes that help guide it down to the Pacific Ocean, where Mr. Steven will navigate into its path, hopefully recovering the fairing as it gently touches down.

If SpaceX can make a habit of recovering and re-flying even half of its two-piece rocket fairing, it has a good chance of substantially reducing the per-launch cost of its missions. The estimated cost of Falcon 9 launch is currently at around $63 million, assuming total expendable configuration, so cutting a potential $6 million from that total, on top of reusable booster benefits, could be significant.

 


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Here’s how to keep track of Elon Musk’s Roadster and Starman in space

22:30 | 18 February

Elon Musk’s Starman, the mannequin driver of the Tesla Roadster SpaceX launched aboard its Falcon Heavy rocket, is taking a trip around our solar system, in a large elliptical orbit that will bring him relatively close to Mars, the Sun and other heavenly bodies. But how to track the trip, now that the Roadster’s onboard batteries are out of juice and no longer transmitting live footage?

Thanks to the work of Ben Pearson, a SpaceX fan and electrical engineer working in the aerospace industry, who created ‘Where is Roadster,’ a website that makes use of JPL Horizons data to track the progress of the Roadster and Starman through space, and to predict its path and let you know when it’ll come close to meeting up with various planets and the Sun.

The website tells you the Roadster’s current position, too, as well as its speed and whether it’s moving towards or away from Earth and Mars at any given moment. It’s not officially affiliated with SpaceX or Tesla, but it is something Elon Musk is apparently using to help remember where he parked his galactic ride.

I’m sure it’s parked around here somewhere …https://t.co/cq4LEhu4qD

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 18, 2018

At least he can stop freaking out about leaving it onboard the Heavy just before launch.

 


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FCC looks to approve SpaceX’s satellite internet plan

20:54 | 14 February

SpaceX is planning to send up a pair of its own satellites in this weekend’s launch, in order to test a proposed space-based broadband internet service. But if you want get into the broadband business, first you have to get past its U.S. gatekeepers: the FCC. Fortunately for SpaceX, Chairman Ajit Pai is all for it.

Pai issued a statement today saying that satellite internet might be able to “help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach.”

Satellite internet is nothing new, of course, and has its own considerable limitations. But a new generation of the technology is certainly worth pursuing — especially if it’s from a U.S. company. Pai wrote:

Following careful review of this application by our International Bureau’s excellent satellite engineering experts, 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.  If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies.

The SpaceX application was filed late in 2016, and the Chairman’s enthusiasm now suggests it’s soon to be considered and, with luck, approved. No doubt we’ll hear when it happens.

 


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The search for aliens is struggling thanks to cryptocurrency mania

17:23 | 14 February

Millions of idiots trying to mine  so they can be part of the latest, stupidest and most irresponsibly hyped get-rich-quick tech craze are hindering the actual important work of finding out if aliens exist. This revelation, first reported by the BBC, has ruined my Wednesday.

I generally stay quiet on the cryptocurrency and Bitcoin front, not because I hold any strong position in either (I own zero cryptocurrency) but because I think it’s a stupid, feverish fad that is only encouraged by allowing it any kind of oxygen whatsoever. But the fever doesn’t appear to be abating, and meanwhile GPUs used for cryptocurrency mining are high demand, meaning they can’t be used for other purposes for which they’re well suited, including parsing data gathered by observatories to help find signs of extraterrestrial life.

The BBC notes that a UC Berkeley team of researchers were hoping to expand their GPU capability at their telescope lab, and that they went to spend a National Science Foundation grant but realized their money wouldn’t go as far as planned because the cost of their target GPU hardware had doubled.

If we miss out on finding other sentient lifeforms because someone spent the last of their 2018 beer budget on a cryptocurrency minor, driving up the price of GPUs in service of chasing an imaginary payday, then I’m gonna be even more pissed off. But maybe said sentient beings will just obliterate us anyway, since we’ll just register as a substandard intelligence that has a bizarre fascination with running high-powered PCs around the clock in search of meaningless data with only fictional value.

Featured Image: Ramin Rahimian/The Washington Post/Getty Images

 


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SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 launch includes stage one of its satellite internet plan

16:22 | 14 February

SpaceX is launching a Falcon 9 on February 17 (should the current target date stick) and the rocket is carrying a primary payload of a Spanish satellite for client Paz. The secondary cargo on the launch is more interesting, however, since it’s two of SpaceX’s own satellites – demonstration satellites the company is putting into orbit to test its plan to offer satellite-based broadband internet communications services.

The rocket will include Microsat-2A and Microsat-2B (via TheNextWeb), small satellites with a planned useful lifetime of just 20 months. Both will contain Ku-band broadband transmitter radios, allowing them to test their ability to offer Earth-based connectivity from low-Earth orbit.

SpaceX wants to test this before deploying a full constellation of its own broadband-providing satellites with a longer-term lifespan, since the private space company hopes to offer affordable, space-based broadband to clients on Earth as an additional revenue stream on top of its rocket launching business. The satellite internet side of its revenue picture could help it pay for ambitious projects like its proposed Mars missions, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk explained previously when outlining the company’s long-term plans.

Putting the Microsats into orbit is just one step towards making the broadband business a reality, but it’s a good sign that SpaceX’s grand vision is progressing. After a successful Falcon Heavy first flight earlier this month, and plans to fly Crew Dragon later this year, 2018 could be a banner year for Musk’s space venture.

 


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