SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches NRO Payload in Record 26th Successful Flight of Year

Falcon 9 launches the NROL-108 mission on Dec. 19, 2020. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — On Saturday, December 19 at 9:00 a.m. EST, Falcon 9 launched the NROL-108 mission from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, completing SpaceX’s 26th and final mission of 2020.

Falcon 9’s first stage booster previously supported launch of SpaceX’s 19th and 20th cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, a Starlink mission, and the SAOCOM 1B mission.

Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida – the 70th landing for SpaceX.

Editor’s Note: SpaceX’s 26 launches is a new record for Elon Musk’s company in a calendar year. It was America’s 44th and final orbital launch attempt of the year. That is the highest number in more than 50 years.

Overall, there have been 110 launch attempts with 10 failures worldwide. Two more launches — Long March 8 from China, and a Soyuz-2 from Kourou — are scheduled before the end of the year. It’s possible China or Russia could conduct additional launches; these countries don’t always announce flights very far in advance.

Starship Flies, Explodes While Attempting to Land

Starship SN8 takes off from Boca Chica, Texas. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX flew its Starship SN8 vehicle for nearly seven minutes on Wednesday, but the ship exploded as it attempted to land at the test site in Boca Chica, Texas.

Starship SN8 in flight. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

The vehicle flew vertically, powered by three Raptor engines. One engine stopped, and then a second one stopped firing, leaving a sole Raptor to power the flight.

Starship SN8 flies on one engine. (Credit: SpaceX website)

“Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted.

Starship SN8 in glide mode. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

Starship then pitched and glided to its landing area. However, SN8 was not able to right itself using engine power before it struck the ground at 6 minutes 42 seconds into the flight.

Starship SN8 explodes on impact. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

“Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!” Musk tweeted.

Prior to the flight test, Musk had estimated that SN8 had about a 30 percent chance of landing successfully.

SN8 was the latest in a series of Starship prototypes. SpaceX wants to use Starship and the Super Heavy rocket to launch crewed missions to the moon and Mars, satellites into orbit, and rapid point-to-point flights between distant locations on Earth.

Starship Flight Test Set for Next Week

SpaceX will attempt a high-altitude flight test of its Starship prototype sometime next week. Teslerati reports:

CEO Elon Musk says that SpaceX’s first fully-assembled Starship prototype is on track for its 15-kilometer (~50,000 ft) launch debut after completing a second three-engine static fire test on Tuesday.

Starship serial number 8’s (SN8) three Raptor engines ignited for a few seconds around 5:30 pm CST (UTC-6) on Tuesday, November 24th, less than four hours before a record-breaking Falcon 9 rocket  launched another batch of Starlink satellites roughly a thousand miles to the east. Perhaps briefly producing upwards of 600 metric tons (6000 kN/~1.3M lbf) of thrust, Starship SN8’s second triple-engine static fire was actually the first with that particular trio of engines.

Cameron County has posted the following schedule for closing Highway 4 and Boca Chica Beach to allow SpaceX to conduct the test.

TEMP. CLOSURE DATETIME OF CLOSURE
(CST)
CURRENT BEACH STATUS
Primary DateNov 30, 20207:00 am to 6:00 pmClosure Scheduled
Secondary DateDec 1, 20208:00 am to 5:00 pmClosure Scheduled
Secondary DateDec 2, 20208:00 am to 5:00 pmClosure Scheduled

Musk has estimated there is a one-in-three chance of Starship landing successfully. There are two more Starships in production.

Report: Loverro Feared 2024 Moon Landing Would be Imperiled by Boeing Contract Protest

Douglas Loverro (Credit: NASA)

A former senior NASA official violated procurement regulations in his dealings with Boeing out of fear the company could delay the Trump Administration’s plan to land astronauts on the moon in 2024, The Washington Post reports.

The Post reports that NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration Doug Loverro reached out to Boeing Senior Vice President Jim Chilton in February to tell the company it would not win a study contract for the Human Landing System, a vehicle that will take astronauts to and from the lunar surface. The call came at a time when NASA was not to contact any of the bidders.

Loverro, who abruptly resigned in May, wanted to find out if Boeing planned to protest its loss. If so, NASA would need to issue stop work orders to the winning bidders until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled on the protest. GAO reviews usually take months.

(more…)

OIG Audit: NASA Gateway Elements Behind Schedule, Over Budget

Artemis Gateway (Credit: Thales Alenia Space/Briot)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s attempt to use innovative acquisition practices to speed up development of the lunar Gateway has left the first two elements of the station over budget and behind schedule, according to a new audit from the space agency’s Office of Inspector General.

It is also unlikely the human-tended Gateway will be capable of supporting the planned 2024 mission to land American astronauts at the south pole of the moon, the audit concluded.

(more…)

Musk Might Have COVID-19 Virus He Dismissed & Said He Wouldn’t Catch

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)
  • Billionaire once predicted deadly coronavirus would largely disappear by April
  • Musk called government efforts to contain spread of COVID-19 “fascist”
  • He twice defied orders from health officials on closing his Tesla auto plant

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Elon Musk, who just six weeks dismissed the possibility that he would be infected with COVID-19, might in fact have caught the deadly virus. On Thursday, the SpaceX CEO tweeted:

Something extremely bogus is going on. Was tested for covid four times today. Two tests came back negative, two came back positive. Same machine, same test, same nurse. Rapid antigen test from BD,” Musk tweeted on Thursday.

(more…)

NASA and SpaceX Complete Certification of First Human-Rated Commercial Space System

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon Resilience for NASA SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission are seen inside the SpaceX Hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 9, 2020, before rollout to Launch Pad 39A. (Credits: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Years of design, development, and testing have culminated in NASA officially certifying the first commercial spacecraft system in history capable of transporting humans to and from the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA completed the signing of the Human Rating Certification Plan Tuesday for SpaceX’s crew transportation system after a thorough Flight Readiness Review ahead the agency’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission with astronauts to the space station.

(more…)

SpaceX’s Starlink Beta Test Costs $499 for Terminal, $99 per Month

60 Starlink satellites begin to separate after deployment from the Falcon 9 second stage. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX’s Starlink broadband service has launched an invitation-only public beta test that Elon Musk’s company is calling the Better Than Nothing Beta.

According to an invitation email posted on Reddit, people testing the satellite Internet service can look forward to:

  • Data speeds of 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s
  • Latency from 20ms to 40ms for the next several months
  • Brief periods of no connectivity at all
  • Spending $499 for the phased-array user terminal, mounting tripod and router
  • Paying a monthly subscription of $99.

SpaceX has launched 895 Starlink satellites as part of a constellation that will eventually total nearly 12,000 spacecraft. A number of the launched satellites are no longer functioning or have been deorbited.

“As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations and improve our networking software, data speed, latency and uptime will improve dramatically. For latency, we expect to achiev 16ms to 19ms by summer 2021,” SpaceX said in the email.

SpaceX Launches 60 Starlink Satellites on 100th Successful Mission

SpaceX launched 60 Starlink broadband satellites into orbit aboard a Falcon 9 on Saturday, completing the company’s 100th successful launch since the first successful Falcon 1 launch in September 2008.

The 15th dedicated Starlink flight brought to the number of constellation satellites launched to 895. A number of satellites have been deorbited or failed.

Falcon 9 lifted off at 11:31 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Launching for the third time, Falcon 9’s first stage touched down on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. The stage previously flew for the GPS III 03 mission in June 2020 and a Starlink mission in September 2020. 

Starlink is designed to provide fast broadband service across the globe. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has given Elon Musk’s company permission to launch nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites. SpaceX has applied to raise that number by 30,000 to 42,000.

The company has been conducting a private beta test of the Starlink constellation. Musk has said SpaceX will begin a public beta test soon.

Video: Why Hasn’t Space Tourism Taken Off?

Video Caption: Listening to Richard Branson over the past 20 years, you’d be forgiven for assuming that space was by now being frequented by lots of tourists. However, despite the Virgin Galactic chief’s optimism, the space tourism industry has yet to take off. Up to now there have been only seven self-funded citizens in space. And with billionaires such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in the space race, why are there still no tourists in space?

SpaceX Wins License to Operate Starlink in Canada

SpaceX has received a Basic International Telecommunications Services (BITS) license from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to offer its Starlink satellite broadband service north of the border.

(more…)

Supersonic & Hypersonic Civilian Transport Projects in Development

Overture supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boom Supersonic’s recent rollout of its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator aircraft marked a milestone in an accelerating race to revive an era of civilian supersonic travel that ended when the Concorde jetliner was retired in 2003.

XB-1, aka Baby Boom, is set to begin flight tests next year from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The Mach 2.2 (2,717 km/h, 1,688 mph) vehicle is the precursor to Boom’s 55-seat Overture airliner, which is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in 2029.

(more…)

HBO Plans Scripted Series About Elon Musk, SpaceX

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

HBO is developing a scripted series about Elon Musk and the early days of SpaceX. Variety reports:

The six-episode series “SpaceX” will be based on the book “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by Ashlee Vance. It will document how Musk, in pursuit of his lifelong dream to make humankind a multi-planetary species, handpicks a team of engineers to work on a remote Pacific Island where they build, and launch, the first SpaceX rocket into orbit. It spurred a new era of privately funded space exploration, culminating in the first manned Space X launch of the Falcon 9 on May 30, 2020.

Doug Jung will serve as writer and executive producer on the series. Channing Tatum will executive produce via his production company Free Association, along with Reid Carolin and Peter Kiernan of Free Association. Vance and Len Amato will also executive produce. Michael Parets will oversee the project for Free Association.

Jung’s previous writing credits include films like “Star Trek Beyond” and “The Cloverfield Paradox, as well as shows like “Mindhunter,” “Banshee,” “Big Love,” and “Dark Blue,” the last of which he co-created.

Tatum is currently in production on his directorial debut, “Dog,” which he will star in and co-direct with Carolin. In addition to producing several of Tatum’s films, Free Association most produced on Sony’s “Fatherhood” starring Kevin Hart. They are also producing “Gorilla and the Bird” also at HBO.

SpaceX’s Starlink Satellite Broadband Service Nears Public Beta

60 Starlink satellites begin to separate after deployment from the Falcon 9 second stage. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says the company is close to public beta testing on its Starlink satellite broadband service after the launch of 60 additional satellites aboard a Falcon 9 booster on Tuesday.

“We will be able to roll out a fairly wide public beta [service] in northern US and hopefully southern Canada,” he tweeted. “Other countries to follow as soon as we receive regulatory approval.”

The satellites launched this week will first need time to reach their operational locations. Smallsat News reports:

Normally it would take about 2-3 weeks following launch to place a flight of satellites into their designated positions.

Musk’s SpaceX rockets have launched around 775 satellites into orbit and is expected to place another 60 into orbit before the end of October. However, a batch of satellites launched in May 2019 have been deliberately de-orbited. SpaceX has yet to give a reason for the de-orbiting.

Spaceflight analyst Jonathan McDowell says that 39 satellites were de-orbited from that May 2019 launch.