SpaceX postpones launch of its first Internet network satellites – Gulf Times

AFP/Washington

SpaceX postponed a launch of 60 satellites into low-Earth orbit that was scheduled for Thursday night, possibly until next week, citing a need for software updates.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral was to be the first of potentially thousands in its Starlink project to beam broadband Internet across the planet.

“Standing down to update satellite software and triple-check everything again,” said a tweet from the official SpaceX account. “Always want to do everything we can on the ground to maximise mission success, next launch opportunity in about a week.”

The launch, which was initially envisaged for Wednesday, was first delayed because of high winds.

Billionaire Elon Musk’s firm, which is leading the private space race when it comes to rocket launches, is now looking to seize a chunk of the future space Internet market.

The launch will make it an early forerunner, along with rival OneWeb, a startup, but well ahead of Amazon’s Project Kuiper, the brainchild of Musk’s space rival Jeff Bezos.

Musk is hoping to grab three to 5% of the future global market, a figure he shared Wednesday during a call with reporters.

That could earn SpaceX an eye-watering $30bn a year, more than ten times what rocket launches make, he added.

The goal is to finance the development of future rockets and spacecraft, to realise the boss’s dream of colonising Mars.

Each of the satellites weighs just 227 kilograms (500 pounds) and was built in-house in Redmond, near Seattle.

The second stage of the rocket will begin to release them one hour after launch, at an altitude of 270 miles (440km), and then the satellites will use their thrusters to take up their places in a relatively low orbit of 340 miles (550km). That’s slightly higher than the International Space Station, but well below the majority of terrestrial satellites, the highest of which sit in a geostationary orbit of 22,400 miles (36,000km). The advantage of being so low is reduced lag times, key for broadband connectivity.

The disadvantage though is more satellites are required to cover the globe, and, being closer to the atmosphere, they fall back to earth faster, after a few years.

SpaceX will therefore have to replace them regularly — something that only became realistic from a price perspective recently with the rapid decline in the cost of manufacturing satellites and the development of mini-satellites.

SpaceX has obtained approval from the US government to launch up to 12,000 satellites, at varying levels of orbit, but Musk said Wednesday that a thousand would be enough for it to be “economically viable.”

Starlink will become operational once 800 satellites have been activated, which will require a dozen more launches.

“I think within a year and a half, maybe two years, if things go well, SpaceX will probably have more satellites in orbit than all other satellites combined,” said Musk.

Today there are about 2,100 active satellites orbiting our planet (and thousands of others that aren’t operational any more). In order to receive SpaceX Internet, users will need an antenna which “basically looks like a sort of a small to medium sized pizza,” said Musk, adding it would be a “flat disc.”

The company plans to team up with telecoms operators, but hasn’t yet begun the process of finding clients, he said.

The satellites will be designed such that 95% will burn up as they fall back through the atmosphere, with the rest of the debris falling into the Pacific ocean.

Finally, to reduce the risk of striking other satellites, each piece of the constellation will be equipped with anti-collision technology, according to SpaceX.

Musk added: “We don’t want to trivialise it or not take it seriously because we certainly do take it seriously.

But it’s not crowded up there, it’s extremely sparse.”

Read More

SpaceX kicks off a ‘new era in spaceflight’ with the Crew Dragon launch

SpaceX kicks off a ‘new era in spaceflight’ with the Crew Dragon launch

Image: John Raoux/AP/Shutterstock

2016%252f09%252f16%252f63%252fhttpsd2mhye01h4nj2n.cloudfront.netmediazgkymde1lza2.c97cf.jpg%252f90x90By Adam Rosenberg

It’s been a momentous Saturday for SpaceX, and for the future of crewed voyages into space.

At 2:49 a.m. ET, the American aerospace company founded by Elon Musk staged its first launch of Crew Dragon. It’s big news because this is the first time a commercial interest has launched a spacecraft that was built to carry humans.

SEE ALSO: SpaceX launches moon lander, lands booster despite tough conditions

American spaceflight has traditionally been the domain of NASA, but the past decade has seen a gradual shift toward having commercial interests share the responsibility. SpaceX and Boeing are leading that charge, so the successful Crew Dragon launch represents a major milestone moment.

It’s still just a first step, however. Although the Dragon capsule itself is designed to carry a crew of up to seven astronauts skyward, the one that launched on Saturday — Demo-1 is its designation — is more of a test run: it’s carrying a few hundred pounds of cargo, plus a sensor-filled dummy named “Ripley.”

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine hailed the launch as a “new era in spaceflight.” 

He added: “We are looking forward to being one customer of many customers in a robust commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit, so we can drive down costs and increase access in ways that, historically, have not been possible.” 

The cost savings Bridenstine mentioned are very real. After NASA retired its shuttle fleet in 2011, the U.S. has relied on Russia to bring astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Hitching a ride on a Russian Soyuz rocket costs roughly $80 million per seat, compared to the $51 million cost to fly on a SpaceX or Boeing vehicle.

Bridenstine’s comments don’t make it very clear, but NASA is closely involved with the U.S. development of commercial spaceflight. The agency’s influence shapes various aspects of third-party planning, including design, safety, and funding, under its Commercial Crew Program.

Now that Demo-1 is in space, the next phase of its mission begins. Early on Sunday morning, the capsule will dock with the ISS to drop off its cargo. After that, Demo-1 will detach and begin its return trip to Earth.

Assuming everything goes well for Demo-1, the first Crew Dragon launch to carry actual humans into space could come as soon as summer 2019.

Read More