SpaceX Again Aims for High Launch Cadence

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX’ is hoping the fourth time will be a charm.

For the fourth year in a row, SpaceX is trying to significant increase its launch rate.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp, better known as SpaceX, plans to launch its Falcon 9 rockets every two to three weeks, its fastest rate since starting launches in 2010, once a new launch pad is put into service in Florida next week, the company’s president told Reuters on Monday.

“We should be launching every two to three weeks,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

During each of the past three years, the company tried to vastly improve its launch cadence only to hit significant setbacks.

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New SpaceX Falcon 9 Problems: Cracks in Turbopump Turbine Blades

Falcon 9 lifts off. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

There have been more problems uncovered with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster.

Congressional investigators are raising new safety concerns about Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s plans for future manned launches, citing persistent cracking of vital propulsion-system components, according to government and industry officials familiar with the details.

The Government Accountability Office’s preliminary findings reveal a pattern of problems with turbine blades that pump fuel into rocket engines, these officials said. The final GAO report, scheduled to be released in coming weeks, is slated to be the first public identification of one of the most serious defects affecting Falcon 9 rockets.

The crack-prone parts are considered a potentially major threat to rocket safety, the industry officials said, and may require redesign of what are commonly called the Falcon 9’s turbopumps. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, they said, has warned SpaceX that such cracks pose an unacceptable risk for manned flights….

Industry officials have known about problems with cracked blades on Falcon 9 versions for many months or even years. But cracks continued to be found during tests as recently as September 2016, Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, confirmed in an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this week….

Mr. Lightfoot said “we’re talking to [SpaceX] about turbo machinery,” adding that he thinks “we know how to fix them.” In the interview, Mr. Lightfoot said he didn’t know if the solution would require a potentially time-consuming switch to bigger turbopumps.

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SpaceX Expanding Operations in Redmond, Los Angeles

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk’s SpaceX continues to expand, with the company setting up a satellite research and development (R&D) laboratory in Washington State and expanding the space it leases from the Port of Los Angeles.

The R&D laboratory is designed for SpaceX’s planned 4,425-satellite constellation that would provide Internet and other communications services around the world.

SpaceX has taken on a 40,625-square-foot facility in Redmond, Wash., that will become a research and development lab for its ambitious satellite operation.

The warehouse-style space in the Redmond Ridge Corporate Center, owned by M&T Partners, is slated for a $2.1 million interior remodeling job, according to a permit application filed last month with King County.

SpaceX is already using a 30,000-square-foot office building that’s about a 10-minute drive away in Redmond.
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Musk Getting Pummeled Online for Support of Trump

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

The Huffington Post has an interesting story about how “green guru” Elon Musk is getting pummeled online for his increasingly close ties to President Donald Trump.

First, President Trump, whom he opposed during the presidential campaign, named him to his Strategic and Policy Forum and his manufacturing council. Then Musk broke with the environmental community and endorsed Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, for secretary of state. Progressives were incensed by what they viewed as Musk’s betrayal. “What did they promise you in the golden room?” one tweeted to Musk.

Next, Musk defended Trump’s controversial travel ban that targets Muslims, sending out a retweet that said “after reading the language of [Trump’s executive] order, it looks far less bad than portrayed by left.” This prompted an even more intense response from progressives. One group, Americablog, went so far as to create an online petition demanding Musk end his association with Trump. “Enough is enough,” the group declared. “Tell Elon Musk to stop defending Trump’s racism — it’s time to dump Trump.”

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Iridium Adds Eighth Launch With SpaceX for Satellite Rideshare with NASA/GFZ

Falcon 9 lifts off. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

McLEAN, Va., Jan. 31, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ:IRDM) announced today that it has contracted with SpaceX for an eighth Falcon 9 launch. Along for the ride are the twin-satellites of the NASA/GFZ Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, which will be deployed into a separate low-Earth orbit, marking the first rideshare deal for Iridium. An agreement of this kind is economical for all parties, and affords Iridium the ability to launch five additional satellites for its next-generation global satellite network.   The rideshare is anticipated to launch out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California by early 2018.

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SpaceX to Launch Dragon Supply Ship from Historic Launch Pad 39A

SpaceX’s 300-foot long processing hangar, which stands at the base of Launch Pad 39A, and the upgraded launch infrastructure will support the needs of astronauts and ground support staff who will access SpaceX’s Crew Dragon as it stands on the pad for launch to the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

NASA’s historic Launch Complex 39A will see its first flight in nearly six years in mid-February when a SpaceX Falcon 9 launches a Dragon resupply ship to the International Space Station.

The California-based company announced over the weekend that the launch of the EchoStar 23 communications satellite, set to be the first from the renovated pad, would be delayed until after the CRS-10 Dragon supply flight.

SpaceX is leasing the historic launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center under a 20-year agreement with NASA. The company has been modifying the launch complex for launches of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters.

SpaceX’s main launch complex at the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station has been out of action since September when a Falcon 9 caught fire and exploded as it was being fueled for a pre-flight engine test. Repairs are still under way.

Pad 39A last saw a launch in July 2011 with the 135th and final space shuttle mission. Atlantis flew a nearly 13-day logistics flight to the space station. Prior to the start of the shuttle program in 1981, the complex hosted Saturn V launches for the Apollo program.

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White House, SpaceX Veteran Phil Larson Joining CU Boulder

Phil Larson

BOULDER, Colo. (CU Boulder PR) — The University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Bobby Braun is announcing the appointment of Phil Larson as assistant dean for communications, strategy, and planning, where he will lead strategic relations for the college.

Larson – who was senior advisor for space and innovation at the White House, where he served from 2009 to 2014 – will join CU Boulder in February. Most recently, Larson was part of Elon Musk’s SpaceX team, supporting communications efforts as well as managing corporate projects.

Larson’s appointment concludes a national search carried out by a College of Engineering and Applied Science search committee.

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Report: More Delays Likely for Commercial Crew

A suit technician fits the communications carrier on an astronaut stand-in before pressurizing the spacesuit inside Crew Quarters at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Cory Huston)

Ars Technica is reporting today that further delays are likely on NASA’s Commercial Crew Program as Boeing and SpaceX work through technical issues on the Starliner and Crew Dragon, respectively.

Ars spoke to a handful of sources familiar with the commercial crew program this week, and all expressed pessimism about the public timelines the companies have for reaching the launch pad. According to this unofficial analysis, even a single crewed test flight in 2018 by either company now appears unlikely, as teams from both Boeing and SpaceX continue to work through significant technical issues.

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SpaceX to Build Tunnel for Employees Under Crenshaw Boulevard

When Elon Musk posted this Tweet early on a Saturday morning back in December, the Interwebs went wild. There was all sorts of speculation that Elon was starting a new business and that it had something to do with habitats on Mars. Or that he was venting while stuck in traffic on one of LA’s notoriously clogged arteries.

As I reported at the time, all of that speculation was dead wrong. The tweets had nothing to do with any of that stuff.

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Analysis: SpaceX’s Revenue Projections for Satellite Internet Too Optimistic

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)
Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

A new analysis of SpaceX’s plans to have revenues of $30 billion per year for its global satellite Internet project is “too optimistic” and could damage the industry’s credibility by creating unrealistic expectations. It also claims that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly manipulated financial analysts with “totally unrealistic” schedules and projections.

Here’s an excerpt from the story. [Emphasis original]

WSJ’s [Wall Street Journal’s] article notes that SpaceX expects to attract over 40 M subscribers by 2025. The largest satellite Internet network today is operated by HughesNet, which has slightly above 1M subs after nearly a decade of operation. Combining ViaSat’s Exede and HughesNet, the year with the highest number of new subscribers was in the 300-350,000 range, which hints at how difficult it is to build the distribution channels for this kind of service. Of course, cheap, self-installation terminals and a global operation infrastructure could accelerate service take-up, but it appears very difficult to reach the 40M installed base in just 5 years. Compounding all of the above, one must not forget regulatory barriers as SpaceX would need to pursue landing rights in each and every country it wants to operate….

The best way to predict the future is building it, and NSR will only be pleased to see the satellite industry growing to the levels forecasted by SpaceX, as it would be beneficial for everyone. While it is true that forecasting revenues for such innovative ventures has a significant level of uncertainty, NSR nonetheless believes the $30 billion revenue projection is too optimistic no matter what assumptions are made and could stoke unrealistic expectations undermining the industry’s credibility.

One must also consider that SpaceX are masters of strategic communications and have repeatedly made extravagant announcements to push analysts, the financial community, the industry and employees in its favor. It is its CEO managing style, the day after he announced a totally unrealistic schedule and sales target for Tesla’s Model 3, auto analysts universally moved their own estimates up satisfying what probably was the original goal, shifting the paradigm. SpaceX has said very clearly that it plans a step deployment of the constellation starting commercial operations with a “modest” 800 satellite constellation (compared with the 4,420 of the full deployment), which hints at the venture having different growth scenarios with more reasonable assumptions. When analyzing SpaceX projections, being an investor, a competitor or an industry watcher, one must keep its independence and not fall in this expectations trap. Otherwise, industry’s credibility would be at risk.

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The Year Ahead for Commercial Crew

Launch_America_Commercial_Crew
By Steven Siceloff,

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Throughout 2017, NASA and its commercial crew partners, Boeing and SpaceX, will make major steps touching every area of space system development and operations, from completing flight-worthy spacecraft and rockets to putting the finishing touches on launch pads to performing detailed countdown and flight rehearsals.

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The Growing Cost of Not Having Direct Access to ISS

At the Integration Facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Expedition 49 crewmembers Shane Kimbrough of NASA (left) and Sergey Ryzhikov (center) and Andrey Borisenko (right) of Roscosmos pose for pictures Sept. 9 in front of their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft during a pre-launch training fit check. Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko will launch Sept. 24, Kazakh time on the Soyuz MS-02 vehicle for a five-month mission on the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov)
Expedition 49 crewmembers Shane Kimbrough of NASA (left) and Sergey Ryzhikov (center) and Andrey Borisenko (right) of Roscosmos pose for pictures Sept. 9 in front of their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft during a pre-launch training fit check. (Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov)

Bloomberg Government reports that delays in fielding replacements for the retired space shuttle has forced NASA to send billions of dollars to Russia over the past six years.

NASA has spent $897 million with state-controlled Roscosmos since fiscal 2015 and $2.1 billion since the U.S. retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, Bloomberg Government data show….

NASA must rely on Russia to transport astronauts and equipment for at least two more years. Roscosmos will receive another $950 million in 2017 and 2018 for 12 more round trips on Soyuz ISS flights, according a September report by NASA’s Office of Inspector General.

Congressional budget cuts to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program forced the agency to extend its contract with Roscosmos to keep sending American astronauts to the ISS, according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s August 2015 letter to Congress.

Putin consolidated the Russian space industry into Roscosmos in 2015, placing several close advisers in senior positions, according to Senator John McCain. Among them are Chairman Dmitry Rogozin and board member Sergei Chemezov, who are listed as Specially Designated Nationals on the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control SDN Sanctions List. Their names were added to the list following President Obama’s March 2014 emergency Executive Order 13660, issued in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Treasury denies that sanctions on Russia apply to the space industry. So while NASA isn’t in violation, it’s in an awkward position of paying billions of agency dollars directly to Russian government coffers to maintain a presence on the ISS.

The figures do not include the cost of additional Soyuz seats that NASA might end up buying for 2019 if commercial crew efforts by SpaceX and Boeing are delayed beyond 2018. NASA could purchase up to three seats through Boeing, which received them as part of a legal settlement of a lawsuit against Soyuz manufacturer RSC Energia.

Read the full story.

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NASA Looks to Purchase Additional Soyuz Seats — From Boeing!

Credit: NASA
Soyuz and Progress vehicles docked at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

After months of saying it had no plans to purchase any additional Russian Soyuz seats to take U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station, NASA is looking to do exactly that.

Only there’s a twist: NASA won’t be purchasing the seats directly from the Russians. They will be buying them from Boeing, which has obtained already purchased five seats from Soyuz manufacturer RSC Energia.

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Iridium Announces Successful First Launch of Iridium NEXT Satellites

Falcon 9 lifts off. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Falcon 9 lifts off. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

MCLEAN, Va., Jan. 14, 2017 (Iridium PR) — Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ:IRDM) announced today the successful launch of its first ten Iridium NEXT satellites. The satellites were delivered into low-Earth orbit approximately one hour after the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:54:39 a.m. PST. Iridium NEXT is the company’s next-generation satellite constellation, replacing and enhancing its existing network of low-Earth orbit satellites spanning the entire globe — the largest commercial satellite constellation in space.

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