SpaceX ‘getting ready’ to fly orbital Starship design with new FCC filing – gpgmail


SpaceX is taking the steps necessary to begin test flying the orbital-class version of its Starship spacecraft, with new documents filed by the company (via Teslarati) with the FCC seeking necessary permissions for it to communicate with the prototype while it’s in flight.

The company filed documents with the U.S. regulatory agency this week in advance of the flight, which lists a max altitude of 74,000 feet, which is a far cry from Earth orbit but still a much greater distance vs. the 500 or so feet achieved by the squat ‘Starhopper’ demonstration and test vehicle that SpaceX has been actively operating in preparation for Starship .

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed that prep was underway via tweet. Musk has previously said that he hoped to follow the Starhopper’s most recent and final successful test quickly with tests of the full-scale vehicle. Like with that low-altitude test, SpaceX will aim to launch and land the Starhopper, with touch down planned just a short distance away.

Assembly and construction of the Starship prototype looks to be well underway, and Musk recently teased a Starship update event for September 28, which is likely when we’ll see this prototype assembled and ready to go ahead of its planned October first test flight window.

Starship is the next generation of SpaceX spacecraft, designed for maximum reusability, and with the aim of creating one vehicle that can serve the needs of current and future customers, eventually replacing both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. Starship is also a key ingredient in Musk’s ambitious plan to reach and establish a continuing human presence on Mars.


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SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA and Northrop Grumman bid for US national security launch contract – gpgmail


The U.S. Air Force is looking to lock in its launch providers for national security satellite missions to take place between 2022 and 2026, and the bids for this so-called “Phase 2” procurement contract are now in. The field of competitors looking to become one of the two companies chosen is a who’s who of U.S. commercial launch providers at the moment, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA and Northrop Grumman.

Both Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin are new entrants in this particular launch contracting area, while SpaceX and ULA are existing providers that handle U.S. national security missions. SpaceX additionally has a bit of a head start, since its Falcon rockets are the only proven, certified launch vehicles included in the bids submitted, while ULA has offered up its new Vulcan Centaur, which is tailor-made for the job but not yet certified and flight-proven; the others are still seeking certification.

“SpaceX means to serve as the Air Force’s long-term provider for space launch, offering existing, certified and proven launch systems capable of carrying out the full spectrum of national security space launch missions and requirements,” said SpaceX COO and president Gwynne Shotwell in an emailed statement, regarding this new bid.

SpaceX clearly sees its Falcon launch system as a key competitive advantage, as it’s flying currently for USAF and national security missions — the company says that this represents the lowest risk for the government overall in terms of providers for this mission, and with known costs, as well.

The Air Force will make its final selection about the two winning providers in 2020.


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SpaceX successfully launches twice re-flown Falcon 9 for AMOS-17 mission – gpgmail


SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 first-stage that had previously served two missions in July and November of 2018, today carrying its final payload, the AMOS-17 satellite for Spacecomm. SpaceX had configured the Falcon 9 in its ‘expendable mode’ for this mission, which means it made use of all available fuel on board to carry the 14,000+ lb satellite to orbit, without enough left over to come back in a controlled descent and landing.

A service life of three full missions is nothing to sneeze at, however, and definitely helps SpaceX save some costs on each of the missions flown by this flight-proven rocket booster. Meanwhile, everything looks to have gone to plan in terms of the AMOS-17 mission parameters, too. So far, the multi-purpose geostationary communications satellite, which will provide mobile, streaming and video connectivity across parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, has reached geostationary transfer orbit and is gearing up for its next burn to raise it to its target deployment orbit. We’ll update this post once it reaches that spot to confirm successful deployment.

SpaceX will attempt to recover the fairing used to protect the cargo as it ascends to space tonight – it’ll try to catch one half in a giant net strung across support structures on ‘Ms. Tree,’ a ship operated by SpaceX specifically for this purpose. The other half will fall into the ocean, and SpaceX will try to collect that half as well, using a second ship it has for that purpose. We’ll also update the post once we find out if that attempt has been successful.

SpaceX has recovered a fairing half using the net mounted on ‘Ms. Tree’ previously – it caught a fairing used in its last Falcon Heavy launch in June.

Developing…


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Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket will go reusable, with the company aiming for mid-air helicopter recovery – gpgmail


Private rocket launch startup and SpaceX competitor Rocket Lab made a big announcement today: It’ll be looking to re-use the first stage of its Electron rockets, returning them to Earth with a controlled landing after they make their initial trip to orbit with the payload on board. The landing sequence will be different from SpaceX’s however: They’ll attempt to catch the returned first stage mid-air using a helicopter.

That’s in part because, as Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck told a crowd when announcing the news today, the company is”not doing a propulsive re-entry” and “we’re not doing a propulsive landing,” and instead will leach off its immense speed upon return to Earth through a turnaround burn in space before releasing a parachute to slow it down enough for a helicopter to catch it.

There are a number of steps required to get to that point, but already, Rocket Lab has been looking to measure all the data it needs to ensure this is possible through its last few launches. It’s upgrading the instrumentation for its eighth flight to gather yet more data, and then on flight 10 it’ll have the rocket splash down into the ocean to recover that rocket for even more learning. Then, during a flight to be determined later (Beck is unwilling to put a number on it at this stage) they’ll try to actually bring one down in good enough shape to reuse it.

As for why, there’s a clear advantage to being able to re-fly rockets, and it’s a simple one to understand when you realize that there’s huge amount of demand for commercial launches.

“The fundamental reason we’re doing this is launch frequency,” Beck said. “Even if I can get the stage done once, I can effectively double production ratio.”

Beck also added that the biggest difficulty will be braking the rocket’s speed as it returns to Earth – a feat next to which he said the actual mid-air capture of the Electron via helicopter is actually pretty easy, from his POV as an amateur helicopter pilot in training.

Rocket Lab has an HQ in Huntington Beach, California and its own private launch site in New Zealand, was founded in 2006 by Beck. The company has been test launching its orbital Electron rocket since 2017, and serving customers commercially since 2018. It also intends to launch from Virginia in the U.S. starting in 2019.

The company revealed its Photon satellite platform earlier this year, which would allow small satellite operators to focus on their specific service and use the off-the-shelf Photon design to skip the step of actually designing and building the satellite itself.


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Watch SpaceX launch a huge satellite using a twice-flown Falcon 9 live – gpgmail


SpaceX is launching a Falcon 9 rocket with a huge communications satellite as payload, with launch window opening at 6:53 PM EDT (3:53 PM PDT) today. The window extends to 8:21 PM EDT, so there’s a possibility of a launch anytime in between there, should weather conditions or anything impact the ability to launch. The livestream above should begin around 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window.

The launch will use a twice-flown Falcon 9 first stage booster, which previously flew in missions in July and November of last year. This will be the last mission for the rocket, however, since the launch is configured in ‘expendable’ mode, which means that there’s no attempt to return it to Earth for a soft landing.

That’s because Amos-17, the satellite SpaceX is launching on behalf of Israeli company Spacecomm for this mission, weighs over 14,000 lbs – meaning it needs all the fuel on board the Falcon 9 to achieve its target orbit, leaving none remaining for an attempted controlled decent.

The launch will, however, include an attempted recovery of the nose cone fairing that protects the satellite during the ascent phase. SpaceX has managed to catch the fairing once before during a launch, using a ship at sea called ‘Ms. Tree’ which was fitted with an extra large net. Recovering the fairing is a big cost savings for SpaceX, as is recovering the Falcon 9 booster, all of which contributes to SpaceX’s goal of achieving 100 percent reusable launch capabilities.


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SpaceX launches ISS mission using twice-flown Dragon for the first time – TechCrunch


SpaceX has launched CRS-18, the 18th commercial resupply mission it has flown for NASA to deliver experiment, research and supply materials to the International Space Station. This mission’s cargo included IDA-3, the second automated docking ring set to be installed on the ISS, which will enable autonomous docking capabilities for future commercial spacecraft visiting the station with both crew and cargo on board. CRS-18 took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 6:01 PM ET (3:01 PM PT) on Thursday, after an attempt Wednesday was scrubbed due to weather.

There are around 5,000 lbs of cargo on board the Dragon launched for this mission. CRS-18 also carried a research mission into engineering organic tissue for use in 3D bioprinting from a company called Techshot, as well as experiments in tire material manufacturing from Goodyear. There’s even Nickelodeon’s signature green slime (yes, the slime you’re thinking of), which is being sent up care of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory to help astronauts educate students on how fluid operates in microgravity environments.

SpaceX previously flew the Falcon 9 first-stage rocket booster used on this mission just two months ago for the last ISS resupply mission, CRS-17. That’s a quick turnaround for one of its refurbished rockets, and another sign that it’s making good progress in its goal of achieving fully reusable launch capabilities. The Dragon cargo capsule used for this mission also flew before — twice, including for CRS-6 in April, 2015 and once again in December 2017 for CRS-13.

The landing of the Falcon 9 from CRS-18, sped up 2X.

This launch included a recovery attempt for the Falcon 9, too, and it returned and landed as planned at the company’s LZ-1 landing zone at Cape Canaveral Air Force base. The first-stage booster separated from the second-stage and Dragon craft as planned, and then returned to Earth, landing successfully after a controlled descent. This was SpaceX’s 44th successful recovery of a Falcon 9 first-stage after launch.

Next up for the Dragon capsule is for it to dock with the ISS, which is set to happen on Saturday. It’ll then have its cargo unloaded by the astronauts on board the station, and receive 3,300 lbs of return cargo, which it’ll bring back to Earth with a return trip that’ll conclude with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.



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