Google Patent for Satellite Constellation

Video Caption: A few weeks back, a news went viral that Google is quitting the satellite business. Well, I think this is total BS.

The truth is that Google has just quit the satellite imaging business and not the satellite communication business. These are two totally different technologies with totally different applications.

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Google Sells Terra Bella to Planet Labs

SAN FRANCISCO (Planet Labs PR) — Planet Labs is thrilled to announce that we have entered into an agreement with Google, wherein Planet will acquire the Terra Bella business including the SkySat constellation of satellites, and Google upon closing, will enter into a multi-year contract to purchase Earth-imaging data from Planet.

I can speak for everyone at Planet when I say that we’re incredibly excited about this opportunity. We’ve long admired what the team at Terra Bella has achieved and we think the SkySat constellation of 7 high resolution satellites is highly complementary to Planet’s existing medium resolution 60-satellite fleet. The former enable regular, rapidly updated snapshots of select areas of the globe at sub-meter resolution; the latter regular, global coverage at 3-5 meter resolution. The two systems under one roof will be truly unique and will enable valuable new capabilities.

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Google Could Sell Terra Bella to Planet Lab

planet_labs_logoIt looks as if Google’s foray into satellites could be short lived:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google is in talks to sell its satellite business to competitor Planet Labs Inc., a satellite-imagery startup that is seeking a new round of funding to help pay for the possible acquisition, according to people familiar with the talks.

The sale of its satellite-imagery unit, Terra Bella, would be a rapid about-face for Google, which has recently shed some of its bolder ventures. Google bought the company for $500 million in 2014, when it was known as Skybox Imaging.

Discussions about the possible acquisition, which were first reported by Bloomberg News on Monday, are focused on a possible cash plus equity deal, the people said. Planet, founded in 2011, is seeking to raise funds to help finance the deal and pay for continuing operations, one of the people said.

Read the full story.

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Silicon Valley Lingo: Donald Trump Disrupts the Disrupters

good vibrations cover2a
Part 2 of an occasional series on entrepreneurial buzz words

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Recently, 145 Silicon Valley tech executives wrote an open letter opposing the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for president. In the letter, they basically declared the billionaire to be a threat to America’s very future.

We believe in an inclusive country that fosters opportunity, creativity and a level playing field. Donald Trump does not. He campaigns on anger, bigotry, fear of new ideas and new people, and a fundamental belief that America is weak and in decline. We have listened to Donald Trump over the past year and we have concluded: Trump would be a disaster for innovation. His vision stands against the open exchange of ideas, free movement of people, and productive engagement with the outside world that is critical to our economy—and that provide the foundation for innovation and growth.

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Video of Full Elon Musk Interview at Code Conference

Video Caption: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk talks with Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Walt Mossberg about his plans to send a one-way rocket to Mars in 2018. He estimates colonists could start arriving on the Red Planet by 2025. Musk also talks about the proliferation of electric vehicle initiatives that compete with his other company, Tesla, and why autonomous cars will become the norm. He says he doesn’t see Google as a competitor, but that “Apple will be more direct.” Plus: Why Musk wants more people to have access to the power of artificial intelligence.

Editor’s Note: Musk said he hopes to launch one of its recovered first stages within 2 to 3 months. He re-iterated his hope to launch the Falcon Heavy by the end of the year.

On Mars, Musk said SpaceX plans to send flights to Mars every 26 months beginning with the 2018 launch window. If everything goes according to plan, the first crew would be launched in 2024 and arrive the following year. He also talked about creating a way to get people to Mars in 3 months with the goal of reducing transit times to 1 month.

Musk said he thought direct democracy — people voting on laws — would be best for Mars. He feels it would be less corrupt than representative democracy. However, he felt it should be easier to repeal existing laws than to make new ones.

Musk plans to unveil his full plan for colonizing the Red Planet at a conference in Mexico in September.

J.J. Abrams Produces Documentary on Google Lunar X Prize

Video Caption: Academy Award®-nominated director Orlando von Einsiedel, Executive Producer J.J. Abrams, Bad Robot and Epic Digital have joined forces with Google and XPRIZE to create a documentary web series about the people competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE.

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Start-Up Space Report Shows More Venture Capital Invested In 2015 Than In Prior 15 Years Combined

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Tauri Group PR) – The year 2015 was a record-setting year for start-up space ventures with investment and debt financing of $2.7 billion (excluding debt financing, $2.3 billion). Nearly twice as much venture capital ($1.8 billion) was invested in space in 2015 than in the prior 15 years, combined. More than 50 venture capital firms invested in space deals in 2015, the most in any year during the 15-year study period (2000-2015).

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Report: Drones Flying From Spaceport America

Sunset at the "Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space" terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)
Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

It appears as if something is finally flying out of Spaceport America:

Google is testing solar-powered drones at Spaceport America in New Mexico to explore ways to deliver high-speed internet from the air, the Guardian has learned.

In a secretive project codenamed SkyBender, the technology giant built several prototype transceivers at the isolated spaceport last summer, and is testing them with multiple drones, according to documents obtained under public records laws.

In order to house the drones and support aircraft, Google is temporarily using 15,000 square feet of hangar space in the glamorous Gateway to Space terminal designed by Richard Foster for the much-delayed Virgin Galactic spaceflights.

The tech company has also installed its own dedicated flight control centre in the nearby Spaceflight Operations Center, separate from the terminal….

Google is paying Virgin Galactic $1,000 a day for the use of a hangar in the Gateway to Space building, but had to split its SkyBender tests into two separate flight campaigns to ease Virgin Galactic concerns.

Read the full story.

X Prize Verifies Moon Express Launch Contract

GoogleLunarXPRIZE_LogoLOS ANGELES (December 8, 2015) – Moon Express, Inc. has received official verification today of their launch contract from XPRIZE as part of the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE, a global competition for privately funded teams to land an unmanned spacecraft on the surface of the moon by December 31, 2017. Moon Express will use a Rocket Lab Electron rocket combined with the company’s  “MX-1E” micro-lander as part of a 2017 mission.

“We are extremely proud to officially confirm receipt and verification of Moon Express’s launch contract,” said Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE. “Having multiple teams attempting actual missions to the moon is a hallmark of a genuine competition. Verified launch contracts are the ‘bona fides’ that teams need to demonstrate that they are in it to win it. Moon Express’ accomplishment has brought XPRIZE closer to the moon.”

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Google Looks to Test Airborne Communications Tech at Spaceport America

Terminal Hanger Facility July 2011
An interesting report about Google’s plan to conduct some test at Spaceport America:

Google plans to test secret airborne communications technology at the New Mexico “spaceport” facility where space tourism and exploration companies Virgin Galactic and SpaceX have set up shop, as well as an Indian reservation in Oregon.

Google wants to test a radio technology that involves aircraft hovering 25,000 feet in the air and several terrestrial stations located at Spaceport America, a facility funded by the state of New Mexico that hopes to be the center of the nascent space tourism industry, according to recently filed documents with the Federal Communications Commission.

Google also requested authority to test the technology at an Indian reservation in Warm Springs, Oregon, and in Pescadero, California, according to the documents. The filings were submitted in the summer, before Google restructured into the Alphabet holding company, which creates independent companies out of various Google groups.

The filings represent the latest evidence of Google and parent-company Alphabet’s expanding efforts to take to the skies, as it looks to blanket the globe with its web services. The company is working on several air and space-based projects, including Loon, which uses air balloons to beam internet access down to earth, Project Titan, which uses drones to deliver internet access and Project Wing, which involves drones delivering packages.

Shotwell: About That 4,000 Satellite Internet Constellation…Well…

Gwynne Shotwell
Gwynne Shotwell

Speaking at a satellite convention in Hong Kong on Tuesday, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell downplayed the company’s commitment to building a 4,000 satellite constellation to deliver Internet around the world.

Addressing CASBAA’s convention Oct. 27, Shotwell sought to dispel the impression that SpaceX — already busy returning from a launch failure with an upgraded rocket, developing a Falcon Heavy variant, upgrading its Dragon cargo freighter to carry crew for NASA — was moving full-speed-ahead with what would almost certainly be a multibillion-dollar investment in satellites.

“I would say that this is actually very speculative at this point,” Shotwell said of the satellite Internet idea. “We don’t have a lot of effort going into that right now.

“Certainly I think that from a technical perspective this could get done. But can we develop the technology and roll it out with a lower-cost methodology so that we can beat the prices of existing providers like Comcast and Time Warner and other people? It’s not clear that the business case will work,” Shotwell said.

The story also mentions that Shotwell has always said that the $1 billion investment that SpaceX received from Google and Fidelity Investments has gone into the space company’s treasury for company purposes and has not been earmarked for the satellite constellation program.

LauncherOne’s Long & Winding Road to Orbit: A Timeline

LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

If the current schedule holds, Virgin Galactic’s revamped LauncherOne program will enter commercial service sometime in 2018 after roughly a decade of development. During that period, the program has been redefined several times, lost two of the key people hired to lead it, and changed its launch platform from WhiteKnightTwo to a jumbo jet. The estimates for the initial flight tests also have slipped by about  four years from 2013 to 2017.

Below is a timeline of the program’s major events, milestones, announcements, hires and departures, and other things. Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed anything significant.

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Mojave Journal: The Ansari X Prize’s Awkward Family Reunion

Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.
Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.

One Year Ago, the Ansari X Prize Turned 10
It Was an Uncomfortable Birthday

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The planes kept coming and coming. One after another, they swooped out of a blue desert sky and touched down on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. By mid-morning there were at least a dozen private jets stretched along the flight line running east from the Voyager restaurant toward the control tower. And even more were on their way.

And to what did Mojave owe this ostentatious display of wealth by the 1 percenters? They had come to the sun-splashed spaceport last Oct. 4 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ansari X Prize. A decade earlier, Burt Rutan and his Paul Allen-funded team had won $10 million for sending the first privately-built manned vehicle into space twice within a two-week period.

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Virgin Galactic Focused on Larger Satellite Launch Vehicle

Artist's conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Artist’s conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic is developing a rocket more powerful than LauncherOne to fulfill a recent order for 39 launches from its global satellite Internet partner OneWeb, according to sources familiar with the program.

LauncherTwo will use Virgin Galactic’s largest liquid fuel engine, NewtonThree, in its first stage, according to sources that insisted upon anonymity. A new engine, NewtonFour, will be developed for the second stage.

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Competition for Satellite Orders Heats Up as Airbus Opens Silicon Valley Innovation Center

Greg Wyler of OneWeb
Greg Wyler of OneWeb

Amy Svitak of ShowNews takes a look at the battle to win satellite contracts for the rival satellite constellations being pursued by OneWeb and SpaceX.

But in the scramble to compete for a chance to build such cutting-edge constellations, established satellite makers accustomed to producing a handful of high-dollar spacecraft each year have already learned a few things from Silicon Valley, where tech powerhouses are demanding the production of hundreds of small birds per year at a cost of around $1 million each, and even less.

“I think we can make an attractive proposition for the manufacturing of the satellites,” Airbus CEO Tom Enders told Aviation Week & Space Technology in May. Airbus Defense and Space, formerly Astrium, is one of five companies bidding on a constellation of more than 600 Internet satellites proposed by OneWeb. “We build hundreds of planes every year. Why wouldn’t we be able to also build hundreds of satellites?” asked Enders, adding that the company is willing to invest in OneWeb as a partner and to stand up manufacturing facilities in the U.S., as CEO Greg Wyler has stipulated.
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