SpaceX Decides to Build Starship in Texas; R&D to Stay in California

Starship hopper under construction at Boca Chica. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has decided it would be easier to build its giant Starship spacecraft in Texas rather than at the Port of Los Angeles in California as originally planned, Alan Boyle reports.

SpaceX says it’ll build and test the prototypes for its next-generation Starship space cruiser and Super Heavy booster in South Texas, despite a deal it struck to build a rocket factory at the Port of Los Angeles.

At least by some accounts, the turnabout is a setback to Los Angeles’ efforts to build a high-tech “Silicon Harbor” at the port, with SpaceX’s planned 18-acre site on Terminal Island as the centerpiece. The Los Angeles City Council approved a 20-year lease agreement with billionaire CEO Elon Musk’s company in May.

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“We are building the Starship prototypes locally at our launch site in Texas, as their size makes them very difficult to transport,” Musk explained today in a tweet.

However, Musk also said development work for Starship and its methane-fueled Raptor engines would continue to be done at SpaceX’s Hawthorne headquarters. He said any confusion about SpaceX’s plans was due to “our miscommunication.”

SpaceX is building a launch site at Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville. It is assembling a subscale Starship hopper to conduct atmospheric tests later this year.

Border Patrol, Homeland Security Want Access to SpaceX’s Boca Chica Facility

Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor’s Office)

The Brownsville Herald reports on a request by federal law enforcement for access to SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch complex, which lies just north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

SpaceX confirmed Wednesday that officials with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have requested access to the property where rockets could one day launch to Mars.

“The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently requested SpaceX permit access to our South Texas Launch site to conduct a site survey,” SpaceX Spokesman James Gleeson said in a statement. “At this time, SpaceX is evaluating the request and is in communication with DHS to further understand their plans.”

The development comes as SpaceX continues to work on its launch pad and while the company owned by entrepreneur Elon Musk, who recently visited the South Texas Launch site, is building a prototype of the Starship spacecraft that may one day take people to Mars.

The only announcement the federal government has made about building more border wall infrastructure in Cameron County is that it will fill in 11 gaps in the in existing wall.

SpaceX Receives $28.7 Million USAF Contract for Starlink Constellation

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded Elon Musk’s SpaceX a contract worth $28.7 million for research work on the company’s Starlink satellite constellation.

“This agreement allows for experimentation in the areas of establishing connectivity, operational experimentation, and special purpose experimentation. Experimentation will include connectivity demonstrations to Air Force ground sites and aircraft for experimental purposes,” the contract award states.

“For the proposed Phase 2, the awardee proposes to perform experiments in two other key areas: early versions of a commercial space-to-space data relay service and mobile connectivity directly from space to aircraft,” the award added.

Starlink is designed to provide global communications services using an initial constellation of more than 4,000 satellites. When fully built out, the system will include nearly 12,000 spacecraft.

Report: SpaceX Set to Raise $500 Million for Starlink Constellation

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

The Wall Street Journal reports that SpaceX is set to raise $500 million at a $30.5 billion valuation to kickstart its Starlink satellite Internet program.

The Hawthorne, Calif., company, known as SpaceX, is raising the capital from existing shareholders and new investor Baillie Gifford & Co., one of the people said. The Scottish money-management firm is one of the largest investors in another Musk-led company, Tesla Inc., with about a 7.6% stake in the electric-car maker, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

SpaceX and the investors have agreed on the financing terms, but the money hasn’t been sent to the company yet, this person said. SpaceX could announce the deal by year-end.

Including the current round, SpaceX has raised about $2.5 billion of equity funding, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. Last month it raised $250 million via its first high-yield loan sale….

SpaceX ultimately could require more than $10 billion in capital to reach its projected 11,000 satellite constellation, according to some industry estimates, while developing its heavy-lift rocket and capsule is anticipated to cost many more billions of dollars.

Musk’s Behavior Triggers NASA Safety Review of SpaceX & Boeing

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

The Washington Post reports NASA safety reviews of its two commercial crew providers was triggered by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s use of drugs and alcohol.

The review, to begin next year, would look at both Boeing and SpaceX, the companies under contract to fly NASA’s astronauts, and examine “everything and anything that could impact safety” as the companies prepare to fly humans for the first time, William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration, said in an interview with The Washington Post.
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Starlink 12K: Elon Musk’s Big Gamble on Global Satellite Internet

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s plan to provide high-speed communications to virtually any location on Earth got a big boost this week when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the company’s plan to add 7,518 satellites to the company’s Starlink constellation.

The action brings the total number of satellites in Starlink to 11,943 following the FCC’s earlier approval of 4,425 spacecraft last year.

Starlink is Musk’s ambitious entry into the global satellite Internet race. He is gambling big that there is a sufficient market worldwide to make the constellation profitable.

SpaceX launched two test Starlink test satellites into orbit earlier this year. Published reports say Musk wants to launch the first batch of satellites in the middle of next year, with service to begin in 2020.

Starlink is facing competition from OneWeb, which is planning to launch a constellation of 882 satellites to provide similar service. OneWeb plans to begin launching spacecraft next year.

The FCC also approved satellite broadband constellations by three other satellite companies last week. Telesat Canada received approval for an 117-satellite constellation while LeoSat plans to launch 78 spacecraft.

Kepler Communication’s 140-satellite constellation is focused on providing communications for the Internet of Things.

“These proposed satellite systems are expected to enable fixed satellite service in the United States, expanding global connectivity and advancing the goals of increasing high-speed broadband availability and competition in the marketplace,” the FCC said in a press release.

The constellations will greatly increase the number of satellites in Earth orbit. There are currently about 4,900 spacecraft in orbit out of the approximately 8,100 launched since the Space Age began in October 1957. Nearly 2,000 spacecraft are currently operational.

Russia to Leapfrog Elon Musk’s “Old Tech” with Nuclear Engines, Expert Says

Artist conception of Russian nulcear engine. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Russia plans to leapfrog Elon Musk’s “old tech” by developing nuclear-powered engines that will make human missions to Mars faster and safer for crews, the head of a research center told Russian media.

“Elon Musk is using the existing tech, developed a long time ago,” said Vladimir Koshlakov, head of the Keldysh Research Center. “He is a businessman; he took a solution that was already there, and applied it successfully. Notably, he is also doing his work with help from the government.”

Keldysh is working on a nuclear engines that will make human exploration of the Red Planet feasible within the near future, he added. The engines will allow cosmonauts to make the voyage in seven months.

“A person should not spend more than a year or two in space. Nuclear-powered spacecraft will allow a relatively fast journey, and, most importantly, a return flight. This technology has special significance for interplanetary flights and research of far planets,” Koshlakov said.

The Keldysh center has successfully conducted the first ground test of the nuclear engine’s cooling system, he added.

Sources:

‘Unlike us, Elon Musk is using old tech’: Russia shows off reusable NUKE ENGINE for Mars mission
https://www.rt.com/news/443889-mars-nuclear-reusable-russian-rocket/amp/

Senior designer outlines future of Russia’s space industry
http://tass.com/science/1030739

Roscosmos shows image of future nuclear-powered spacecraft
http://tass.com/science/1030596

Report: SpaceX Now Seeking $750 Million Loan

SpaceX launches its Dragon cargo craft on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:42 a.m. EDT June 29, 2018. The early-morning launch is the company’s 15th resupply mission to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. (Credit: NASA TV)

SpaceX is seeking a leveraged loan of $750 million in an effort being led by Bank of America, Bloomberg reports.

Bloomberg had earlier reported that Goldman Sachs was leading an effort to obtain $500 million in financing for Elon Musk’s company.

The reason for the change was not reported.

Musk: Still Looking to Launch BFR to Mars in 2024

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Kara Swisher of Recode posted an interview with Elon Musk last week. Below are lightly edited excepts concerning SpaceX and Musk’s plans for Mars.

Well let’s get to rockets, then. SpaceX. Last time we talked, you said you wanted to die on Mars, just not on landing. Which was a very funny joke, although it’s probably not a joke, it’s probably —

Well, it’d be ironic if that had happened. I have to be careful about tempting fate, because I think often the most ironic outcome is the most probable….

Instead of discussing your death, let’s discuss what’s going on at SpaceX. What are some of the things you’re doing?

We successfully launched the Falcon Heavy rocket, which is the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two. So that’s twice the power, twice the thrust of the next biggest rocket. And we actually launched a Tesla — my Tesla Roadster — to Mars orbit. The reason we did that is actually because, normally, when a new rocket is launched, you just put a dummy payload, which is like a block of concrete or something.
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Report: Musk Replaces Senior Management of Starlink Program

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Reuters reports that Elon Musk fired at least seven senior members of the management team of SpaceX’s Starlink program back in June over disagreements about the pace of developing the satellite Internet constellation.

Known for pushing aggressive deadlines, Musk quickly brought in new managers from SpaceX headquarters in California to replace a number of the managers he fired. Their mandate: Launch SpaceX’s first batch of U.S.-made satellites by the middle of next year, the sources said….

Among the managers fired from the Redmond office was SpaceX Vice President of Satellites Rajeev Badyal, an engineering and hardware veteran of Microsoft Corp and Hewlett-Packard, and top designer Mark Krebs, who worked in Google’s satellite and aircraft division, the employees said. Krebs declined to comment, and Badyal did not respond to requests for comment.

The management shakeup followed in-fighting over pressure from Musk to speed up satellite testing schedules, one of the sources said. SpaceX’s Behrend offered no comment on the matter.

Culture was also a challenge for recent hires, a second source said. A number of the managers had been hired from nearby technology giant Microsoft, where workers were more accustomed to longer development schedules than Musk’s famously short deadlines.

“Rajeev wanted three more iterations of test satellites,” one of the sources said. “Elon thinks we can do the job with cheaper and simpler satellites, sooner.”

Starlink aims to launch 4,425 satellites to provide Internet and other communications services to any place on the globe. A future constellation would bring the total number of satellites to about 12,000.

In February, Starlink launched two test satellites named Tintin A and Tintin B. The program faces competition from OneWeb and other companies that are aiming for the same market.

Rogozin Accuses Musk of Price Dumping

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

Although praising Elon Musk as “a talented engineer and an outstanding promoter,” Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin last week accused the American billionaire of selling launch vehicles at below-market prices in order to squeeze out Russian providers.

“If you compare the price Musk sells his rockets to Pentagon at and the price he quotes for them on the market, you will see that this is nothing but pure dumping. In order to drive Russia from the market he sells launches at 40 to 60 million dollars while being paid 150 million for a launch by Pentagon,” he told Russia’s TV Channel One.

SpaceX officials have said that U.S. government launches require additional tasks that drive up the cost.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Glavkosmos Launch Services announced last week that it charges $48.5 million for a Soyuz 2.1 booster with a Fregat upper stage. A launch without the Fregat is priced at $35 million.

Both prices are below the amount SpaceX charges for satellite launches. The Falcon 9 is capable of orbiting larger payloads than the Soyuz 2.

Musk Settles SEC Case, to Give Up Chairmanship of Tesla for 3 Years

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the Securities and Exchange Commission have reached a settlement in a case in which the billionaire SpaceX founder was charged with fraud, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Musk and Palo Alto-based Tesla agreed to pay a total of $40 million to settle the case, and he will give up his chairmanship for at least three years. The electric-car maker also is required to install an independent chairman and two new board members, though Musk will remain on the board, according to terms of the settlement.

Musk and Tesla will each pay $20 million to settle the case; both reached the deal without admitting wrongdoing. The company declined to comment.

The SEC charged Musk with fraud Thursday, alleging that his tweets about taking Tesla private — at $420 a share — were “false and misleading.” As part of the lawsuit, the agency asked a federal court to remove him from the company’s leadership and ban him from running a public company.

Japanese Billionaire is Passenger on SpaceX BFR Moon Flight

Yusaku Maezawa at SpaceX headquarters. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa was introduced on Monday as the customer for SpaceX’s planned circumlunar flight aboard the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR).

The 42-year old billionaire, who founded the clothing company Zozo (www.zozo.com) and collects high-priced art, said he plans to invited six to eight artists on the trip who would create works of art after returning home. The passengers could include painters, sculptors, film directors, architects, writers and fashion designers.

Musk praised Maezawa as brave to take the flight. “This is dangerous, let’s be clear,” Musk warned. “This is no walk in the park.”

Maezawa’s flight is tentatively scheduled to occur in 2023. SpaceX Founder Elon Musk admitted he was not sure of the date because BFR is still under development.

Musk said Maezawa made a significant deposit on the expensive voyage around the moon. The funds will help fund the development and testing of the reusable rocket/spacecraft, which Musk estimated will cost $5 billion.

Maezawa is calling his flight Dear Moon and has established a website, dearmoon.earth. The flight’s Twitter handle is @dearmoonmission.