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NASA and the Private Sector - Page 167
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Keep in mind this was the same dragon that was used during the test.
SpaceX has received Federal Communications Commission approval to halve the orbital altitude of more than 1,500 planned broadband satellites in order to lower the risk of space debris and improve latency.
SpaceX's satellite project, named Starlink, aims to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband around the world. In a statement on the new FCC approval, SpaceX said that "Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing."
SpaceX last year received FCC approval to launch 4,425 low-Earth-orbit satellites at several different altitudes between 1,110km to 1,325km. However, the FCC approval was contingent on SpaceX filing a more detailed debris mitigation plan.
As part of its plan to prevent space debris, SpaceX later asked for permission to operate 1,584 of those satellites at an altitude of 550km instead of the previously authorized 1,150km. The FCC approved the request in an order on Friday but pointed out that SpaceX still has to file a detailed debris mitigation plan for the rest of the satellites.
"Given the atmospheric drag at this lower altitude, this relocation will significantly enhance space safety by ensuring that any orbital debris will quickly re-enter and demise in the atmosphere," SpaceX told the FCC in November 2018 in its application for a license modification.
At the lower altitude, "any orbital debris will undergo rapid atmospheric re-entry and demise, even in the unlikely event that a spacecraft fails in orbit." (SpaceX is designing its satellites to burn up completely during atmospheric re-entry in order to prevent physical harm from falling objects.)
Satellites orbiting at 1,150 km will take "hundreds of years to enter the Earth's atmosphere," but a SpaceX satellite "will take less than five years (even under worst-case assumptions) if it starts at an altitude of 550 km," the company said.
The lower altitude will bring an advantage to broadband users, SpaceX explained. "By operating closer to the Earth, SpaceX would also reduce the latency of its communications signals to as low as 15 milliseconds, at which point it would be virtually unnoticeable to almost all users," the company said. (SpaceX has said latency from an altitude of 1,150km would be 25ms to 35ms.)
During a news conference Thursday in advance of a SpaceX supply mission to the International Space Station, the company's vice president of mission assurance, Hans Koenigsmann, provided some additional details about a failure with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft 12 days ago.
In the company's most expansive comments to date, Koenigsmann said the "anomaly" occurred during a series of tests with the spacecraft, approximately one-half second before the firing of the SuperDraco thrusters. At that point, he said, "There was an anomaly and the vehicle was destroyed."
During the activation phase, the SuperDraco thruster system is pressurized, and valves are opened and closed. Since the accident there has been speculation that there may have been some issue with the composite overwrap pressure vessels, or COPVs, which store rocket fuels at extremely high pressures. The COPVs on Crew Dragon are different from those on the Falcon 9, and they would not have been overly stressed at that moment, Koenigsmann said. "I'm fairly confident that the COPVs are going to be fine," he said.
Investigative teams from SpaceX and NASA are carefully reviewing telemetry data and high-speed imagery, Koenigsmann said, and soon they will begin analyzing pieces of the spacecraft recovered at the test site near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Because this was a ground test, there is ample data for engineers to consider. He admitted the failure did come as "a shock" to some of the company's engineers.
It is too early to determine a probable, or root, cause, but Koenigsmann expressed confidence in the SuperDraco thruster system. He noted that SpaceX has tested these powerful thrusters more than 600 times at its test facilities in McGregor, Texas. Moreover, they have performed well in hover tests as well as a launch pad abort test in 2015. "We have no reason to believe there’s an issue with the SuperDracos themselves," he said.
SpaceX has been developing SuperDraco thrusters for the better part of a decade to enable human flights on board Dragon. There are four "pods" of two engines each situated around the Crew Dragon capsule, and each SuperDraco engine has a thrust of 16,000 pounds. Testing of the SuperDracos began in early 2012 using various thrust cycles on a test stand at SpaceX's rocket development facility in McGregor.
The lost spacecraft is the same one that successfully flew a demonstration mission to the International Space Station in March. (During that Demo-1 mission, the SuperDracos were not activated.) After the March flight, the Dragon spacecraft was being prepared for a launch abort test this summer.
During this launch abort test, the Dragon would have launched from Florida on a Falcon 9 booster and then fired its powerful SuperDraco engines to show that the Dragon could pull itself safely away from the rocket in case of a problem with the booster before or during flight. It is not clear what vehicle SpaceX will now use for that launch abort test, which will be all the more scrutinized due to the accident on April 20.
Before this accident, SpaceX and NASA had been targeting early October for the first crewed Dragon mission to the station. Now, that will almost certainly be delayed by at least several months into 2020. At Thursday's news briefing, Koenigsmann said the schedule impact will depend on what the investigation turns up. "I hope this is a relatively swift investigation at the end of the day," he said. "I don’t want to completely preclude the current schedule, but certainly this is not good news for the schedule."
Although NASA has stood by SpaceX after the accident, there are hints of future political problems. One of the sharpest critics of SpaceX, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, said Wednesday that NASA should conduct an independent investigation of the accident. He appeared unhappy with NASA's decision to conduct a side-by-side investigation with SpaceX. "Can you be independent, and reach independent conclusions, if you're doing something jointly with somebody?" he asked during a Senate committee hearing. "That's not the norm, I think, and it's something we'll check out."
WASHINGTON — Small launch vehicle developer Relativity announced May 6 it has signed an agreement with Spaceflight for a series of smallsat rideshare launches.
The launch services agreement between the two companies includes an order for one launch of Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket in the third quarter of 2021, with an option for an unspecified number of additional launches. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although Relativity has publicized a list price of $10 million for the rocket.
Spaceflight will use those launches for dedicated rideshare missions, aggregating a set of small satellites to fly on the rocket. Spaceflight is best known for arranging secondary payload accommodations on launches of larger vehicles for small satellites, but performed a dedicated rideshare mission last December, launching 64 satellites on a single Falcon 9.
“We consistently look for innovative new technologies that provide flexible, reliable and low-cost access to space for our customers,” Curt Blake, chief executive and president of Spaceflight, said in a statement. Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket “delivers key advantages in launching rideshare payloads.”
In an interview last month, Blake said the Falcon 9 mission last year, known as SSO-A, was at the “upper limit” of what the company thought was feasible for a rideshare mission. The large number of customers created what he called “constant churn” as some customers dropped out of the mission while others sought to join.
“Getting a smaller number of payloads makes sense because you don’t have as much churn,” he said. “If you’re talking 15 customers, 20 customers, that’s a lot easier.”
The Terran 1 should provide that better fit. The vehicle can place up to 1,250 kilograms into low Earth orbit and 900 kilograms into a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit.
“With Spaceflight’s leadership in rideshare launch solutions, state-of-the-art integration infrastructure, and experience, we are excited to work together to offer industry-defining lead time, flexibility, and cost for smallsats and cubesats and meaningfully expand the total launch capacity available through Spaceflight’s offering,” said Tim Ellis, chief executive of Relativity, in a statement.
The Spaceflight deal adds to a growing order book for Relativity. The company announced April 5 a contract with satellite operator Telesat for an unspecified number of launches of that company’s proposed broadband satellite constellation. Relativity followed that up April 23 with a deal with Thai startup mu Space for the launch of a low Earth orbit satellite.
Relativity is best known for making use of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, technologies to build its rocket. That approach, the company believes, will allow it to produce rockets quickly while minimizing labor and other costs.
The first launch of the Terran 1 is scheduled for the “very end of 2020,” Ellis said in an interview last month. The company is working with the U.S. Air Force to develop launch facilities for the rocket at Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 16, while also looking for a second site that can support launches to sun-synchronous and other high-inclination orbits.
Jeff Bezos may be ready to bring Blue Origin, his secretive space company, out of the shadows.
The firm has spent two decades quietly designing and testing new rocket technologies that Bezos hopes will help usher in a science fiction future where millions of people live and work among the stars.
The Amazon (AMZN) CEO and world's wealthiest person recently described Blue Origin as the "most important work" he's doing. But so far he's mostly forgone flashy announcements, and instead has encouraged employees to adopt mantras like "slow is smooth, and smooth is fast."
Things are different this week. Blue Origin is hosting a rare event with media in Washington, DC, on Thursday. Bezos himself is scheduled to speak, but it's not entirely clear what will be discussed.
The invitations said that Bezos plans to give an update on Blue Origin's "progress and share our vision of going to space to benefit Earth." Spokespeople for Blue Origin declined to share further details.
The only other clue is a cryptic tweet that includes the date of the event along with a photo of "Endurance," the ill-fated ship that left explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew stranded during an expedition to Antarctica in 1915. (A crater on the moon's south pole is also named for Shackleton, a hint that Bezos' speech could have a lunar focus.)
There are a few reasons Blue Origin may be hankering for media attention: Executives have said Blue Origin's space tourism business will be up and running this year; its massive New Glenn rocket could ready to fly in 2021; and Bezos has been more open in recent months about plans to ferry cargo to the moon and set up a base on its surface.
Bezos, the world’s richest man and chief executive of Amazon.com, is scheduled to host a rare media event at 4 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) in Washington to provide “an update on our progress and share our vision of going to space to benefit Earth.”
Blue Origin spokeswoman Caitlin Dietrich did not respond to requests for comment.
Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin has been tight-lipped about its lunar strategy. But people familiar with the company’s plans, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bezos is expected to lay out details on lunar missions and a lunar lander spacecraft that the company is developing. Blue has also discussed a human outpost on the moon.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in March called on NASA to build a space platform in lunar orbit and put American astronauts on the moon’s south pole by 2024 “by any means necessary,” four years earlier than previously planned. Bezos is likely to frame his strategy to align with that timeline in a bid to attract funds from the U.S. space agency, one of the people said.
One industry source said the company has been working to refine and accelerate its strategy after Pence’s comments.
The company dropped a possible hint about the announcement with a Twitter post last month of a picture of the ship used by explorer Ernest Shackleton on an expedition to Antarctica - a possible reference to an impact crater on the lunar south pole sharing the man’s name.
Bezos, who has talked about his broader vision of enabling a future in which millions of people live and work in space, has been intent on moving closer to commercialization.
But his vision is shared by other billionaire-backed private space ventures like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and aerospace incumbents like United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin.
Blue Origin is developing its New Shepard rocket for short space tourism trips and a heavy-lift launch rocket called New Glenn for satellite launch contracts. The company is aiming to deliver its New Glenn rocket by 2021, while launching humans in a suborbital flight later this year atop its rocket-and-capsule New Shepard.
No Press allowed, no Live stream either. This is how Blue Origin needlessly blows good PR for no reason.
According to SpaceX COO/President Gwynne Shotwell and a Turkish satellite industry official, Starship and Super Heavy may have a role to play in the launch of Turksat’s first domestically-procured communications satellite.
Per Shotwell’s specific phrasing, this comes as a bit of a surprise. Built by Airbus Defense and Space, SpaceX is already on contract to launch Turksat’s 5A and 5B communications satellites as early as Q2 2020 and Q1 2021, respectively. The spacecraft referred to in the context of Starship is the generation meant to follow 5A/5B: Turksat 6A and any follow-on variants. Turksat’s 6-series satellites will be designed and manufactured domestically rather than procured from non-Turkish heavyweights like Airbus or SSL. However, the Turksat 6A satellite’s current baseline specifications would make it an extremely odd fit for a launch vehicle as large as Starship/Super Heavy.
Curiously, in written statements to Turkish media outlets, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) referred to a “Turksat 6A2” satellite for the first time ever. Prior to comments made at the Satellite 2019 conference, Turksat’s prospects beyond 5A/5B were simply referred to as “Turksat 6A”, a ~4300 kg (9500 lb) domestically-built communications satellite scheduled for completion no earlier than the end of 2020. Turksat 5A and 5B will both be approximately 4500 kg (9900 lb), well within the capability of the flight-proven Falcon 9 rockets they are expected to launch on.
Why, then, might Starship “[potentially] work for the next Turksat project”, as suggested by Shotwell? Referring to what Turksat GM Cenk Sen then described as “6A2”, Shotwell noted that the satellite would be “quite a large, complex satellite.” While undeniably massive relative to almost anything else, the 4300-kg Turksat 6A is actually in the middle of the road (maybe even on the smaller side) relative to most geostationary communications satellites built and launched in the last few years.