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From The Editors Science

FCC Allows SpaceX to Launch its Starlink Internet Satellites in a Lower Earth Orbit

A major regulatory hurdle in the way of Elon Musk’s Starlink project – his ambitious plan to launch broadband services from space – has finally been overcome.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved his spaceflight company SpaceX’s application to modify its original approval, which allowed the company to operate 4,425 satellites at an orbital of altitude 1,150 km.

The revised application requested the Commission to let SpaceX reduce the number of its Starlink constellation of satellites to 4,409 and re-position 1,584 of them to a lower orbital altitude of 550 km.

Now that the modification request has got the FCC nod, SpaceX is expected to start launching its internet-beaming, non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellites from Florida, sometime next month.

Welcoming the FCC decision, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said: “This approval underscores the FCC’s confidence in SpaceX’s plans to deploy its next-generation satellite constellation and connect people around the world with reliable and affordable broadband service.”

The approval came despite apprehensions raised by companies like OneWeb and Kepler Communications – SpaceX’s competition in space broadband services – arguing that the Starlink satellites would interfere with their own satellites if allowed to fly at a reduced altitude.

However, the Commission overruled their petitions, noting in its approval that the proposed changes did not pose any interference threat to other satellites and that it was in the public interest.

In response to objections raised about collision risks, FCC said that SpaceX had provided the commission a detailed statement, explaining that the Starlink satellites were equipped with propulsion systems and had the maneuverability to avoid collisions.

“We find no reason to defer action on SpaceX’s modification request as requested by certain commenters,” the Commission wrote in clause 22 of the approval.

“Our rules do not prohibit SpaceX’s selection of an orbital regime that is also used by other satellite operators, but SpaceX must provide a detailed discussion of how it will avoid potential collisions,” the approval read.

“SpaceX has done so in this instance. SpaceX has stated that its satellites have propulsion and SpaceX will maintain the ability to maneuver the satellites to avoid collisions.”

Elon Musk’s foray into yet another business frontier got a major boost back in February last year when FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gave his nod of approval to SpaceX’s plan of providing broadband services using space technologies.

Pai urged his fellow commissioners to give their consent to the company’s application, highlighting the space internet technology’s potential to provide broadband services to rural America and remote parts of the country.

He said that innovative technologies were needed to “bridge America’s digital divide,” and that satellite technology could “help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach.”

“Following careful review of this application by our International Bureau’s excellent satellite engineering experts, I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application and moving to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans,” Pai had said in a statement at the time.

“If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies,” he said.

Pai’s words of encouragement came at the most opportune time for the Hawthorne, California-based company, as it was preparing to launch its first set of prototype satellites, Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, in about a week’s time.

The prototypes were launched on Feb 22, 2018, atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Nicknamed Tintin A and Tintin B for the mission, the satellites ultimately reached an altitude of 1,125 kilometers where they were supposed to the groundwork, or should we say spacework, for the Starlink constellation.

As a matter of fact, the decision to reduce the orbital altitude of 1,584 satellites was based on input provided by the two test satellites.

At the time, Telesat Canada and Kepler Communications, also a Canadian company, were slightly ahead in the race in so far as demo satellites were concerned, both having launched prototypes in January 2018.

While Telesat deployed its 168-kilogram smallsat with the help of an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, Kepler launched its smaller Cubesat atop a Chinese Long March 11 carrier rocket.

OneWeb, on the other hand, was supposed to launch its first ten operational satellites in May 2018, bypassing demo launches altogether.

The launch, however, happened on February 27 this year, and instead of ten, the Arlington, Virginia-based company put six satellites into orbit aboard a  Soyuz launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

According to OneWeb founder Greg Wyler, the company should have its next-gen constellation in place by 2021, ready to provide five times as much speed to consumers at 2.5 Gbps

As for the Starlink constellation, SpaceX is hopeful of making the space broadband service operational by 2025.

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From The Editors Science

Sending People to Mars is “Stupid” – “Almost Ridiculous” Says Former NASA Astronaut

While the likes of NASA and private players like SpaceX and Blue Origin, to name a couple, seem determined to send manned missions to Mars, one of the first men to orbit the moon believes it’s a “stupid” idea.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, former NASA astronaut Bill Anders, said that sending people to Mars was “almost ridiculous.”

He was speaking to the radio broadcast service as part of a special documentary – “Apollo 8: Christmas On the Far Side of the Moon” – celebrating the golden jubilee anniversary of the mission.

Anders told the service that he was a “big supporter” of unmanned space missions, largely due to the fact that they were much cheaper to fund than human missions, which is why they didn’t have any public support.

“What’s the imperative? What’s pushing us to go to Mars?” Anders asked.
“I don’t think the public is that interested,” he added.

Anders, who as a lunar module pilot was an integral part of NASA’s Apollo 8 mission in 1968, was rather critical of how the space agency has evolved since.

“NASA couldn’t get to the Moon today. They’re so ossified,” Anders lamented.

“Nasa has turned into a jobs program… many of the centers are mainly interested in keeping busy and you don’t see the public support other than they get the workers their pay and their congressmen get re-elected,” he said.

“I think NASA’s lucky to have what they’ve got — which is still hard, in my mind, to justify,” he said, acknowledging that he wasn’t a “very popular guy at NASA for saying that,” but that’s what he thought.

Ander’s Apollo 8 crewmate and mission commander, Frank Borman, has a different perspective, though.

“I’m not as critical of NASA as Bill is,” he told Radio 5, adding, “I firmly believe that we need robust exploration of our Solar System and I think a man is part of that.”

However, Borman was somewhat scathing in his opinion about Space X CEO Elon Musk and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, both of whom have manned missions to the red planet in the pipeline.

“I do think there’s a lot of hype about Mars that is nonsense,” Borman said.
“Musk and Bezos, they’re talking about putting colonies on Mars, that’s nonsense,” he added.

Reminiscing about the pioneering mission, Anders said that the “Earthrise” picture taken from Apollo 8, which shows the blue planet above the lunar horizon, half-lit against the pitch black of space, has left a lasting impression on his mind.

The famous Earthrise image from Apollo 8 (Source: NASA)
The famous Earthrise image from Apollo 8 (Source: NASA)

Calling it a “great endeavor,” Borman said that the Apollo 8 mission, effectively, won the space race for the United States.

When people were celebrating Christmas back home, Anders, Borman and the third crew member of the mission, command module pilot Jim Lovell, were marveling at the sight of the moon up close.

Apollo 8 went on to orbit the moon as many as ten times, taking twenty hours in the process, and each time they went around the far side they lost radio contact with mission control.

“Behind the moon, you have absolutely no contact with anybody on Earth, anyway,” Anders said.

“I felt like I have to make sure the spacecraft was working,” he said, adding that he didn’t dwell much on the fact that they were out of touch with humanity.

Borman said that working with NASA kept him away from home for 200-250 days a year, “so it was nothing that we weren’t accustomed to,” but the fact that it was Christmas made him more nostalgic than he had ever felt.

Launched on December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 traveled through space for 68 hours to cover the distance to the moon and, as mentioned, orbited Earth’s natural satellite ten times in just over twenty hours before heading back home.

Their spaceplane made a watery landing in the northern Pacific Ocean on December 27, about 4,500 meters off-target, where they were picked up by the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.

The Apollo 8 mission set the tone for Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin’s historic moon landing on Apollo 11, which in the words of Armstrong was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Speaking at a Q&A session at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this year, Musk had spoken at length on one of his pet topics, Mars and its imminent colonization.

He said that SpaceX was in the process of building an “interplanetary ship,” which would be the first step towards realizing his super-ambitious dream of putting humans on the red planet.

“We are building the first ship, or interplanetary ship, right now,” Musk told screenwriter Jonathan Nolan at the Austin venue.

He was obviously referring to the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR)

“And we’ll probably be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, during the first half of next year,” he said.

Clearing the general misconception that the colonization of Mars would mainly serve as “an escape hatch for rich people,” Musk said that it was far from the truth.

He said that it was a dangerous undertaking that could even end in death for some, but “excitement” for those who manage to come out of it alive.

“For the people who go to Mars, it’ll be far more dangerous,” he said.

“It kind of reads like Shackleton’s ad for Antarctic explorers. ‘Difficult, dangerous, good chance you’ll die. Excitement for those who survive.’ That kind of thing,” he added.

He said that despite the risks involved, there were people for whom the thrill of the adventure into the “next frontier” would take precedence over everything else.

“There are already people who want to go in the beginning. There will be some for whom the excitement of exploration and the next frontier exceeds the danger,” Musk said.

Taking it a step or two further, he said that his Mars endeavor would herald larger world participation, in terms of building the infrastructure necessary for the colonization of his favorite planet, ranging from “iron foundries to pizza joints and nightclubs.”

He even spoke about a “direct democracy” kind of government on the red planet, allowing colonizers to vote directly on specific issues, rather than having a representative government.

“Most likely, the form of government on Mars would be somewhat of direct democracy.” He said.

“Maybe it requires 60% [majority vote] to get a law in place, but any number over 40% can remove a law,” Musk said. That way it would be “easier to get rid of a rule than to put one in,” he added.

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From The Editors Science

Space X Launches GPS III SV01 Satellite for US Air Force, Capping 2018 with a Record 21 Launches

After multiple delays over the past week due to weather and technical issues, Elon Musk’s spaceflight company, Space X, finally managed to launch a new state-of-the-art GPS satellite into orbit on behalf of the United States Air Force.

A 229-foot Falcon 9 rocket, along with the USAF payload, blasted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station into a clear Florida sky at 8:51 a.m.

EST (1351 GMT) on Sunday (Dec 23), marking the company’s record 21st launch for the year, as well as its maiden National Security Space mission.

It was a three-launch jump for Space X from the 18 launches it managed last year.

Space X had closed 2018 with the launch of a reclaimed Falcon 9 booster on Dec 22, which successfully put ten Iridium Next communications satellites into their respective orbits.

The late evening launch had left many southern Californians wondering as to what had really blazed through the darkening sky, until a media advisory from the LA Fire Department AND a Twitter post from none other than the LA Mayor Eric Garcetti himself, allayed their worst fears of UFOs and North Korean nuclear attacks.

“SpaceX has had a phenomenal year no matter how you slice it,” Luigi Peluso, an aerospace and defense consultant at AlixPartners, was quoted by The National as saying in a phone interview.

“In 2019, the big race is who is going to be the first company to put humans into space and bring them back. You’ve got SpaceX, Boeing, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin all vying,” Peluso reportedly added.

As the Falcon 9 climbed to about 52 miles (84 kilometers) above Earth, the nine first-stage Merlin engines cut-off, followed by the separation of the first stage, and then the firing of the second-stage engines – all three events happening in a matter of seconds.

Nicknamed Vespucci in honor of the famous Italian explorer, navigator and cartographer, Amerigo Vespucci, the Lockheed Martin-built satellite entered into a 12,500-mile-high medium Earth orbit about two hours after lift-off, confirmed by Space X through a tweet.

Space X, which is known for salvaging its first-stage boosters for reuse, let it pass this time around, citing USAF requirement.

“There simply was not a performance reserve to meet our requirements and allow for this mission to bring the first stage back,” Space.com quoted Walter Lauderdale – mission director at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate – as telling reporters during a pre-launch call on Dec. 14.

Air Force program executive officer for Space and commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson said:

“Launch is always a monumental event, and especially so since this is the first GPS satellite of its generation launched on SpaceX’s first National Security Space mission.

“As more GPS III satellites join the constellation, it will bring better service at a lower cost to a technology that is now fully woven into the fabric of any modern civilization.”

Col. Robert Bongiovi, Director for Launch Enterprise, said that the launch was a “significant milestone for the GPS constellation as well as our partnership with SpaceX,” adding that it “demonstrated the successful teamwork and cooperation amongst all mission partners to deliver the capabilities our warfighter demands.”

He also said: “I’m proud of my team and look forward to our additional National Security Space missions with SpaceX.”

The 4,400-kilogram solar-powered Vespucci has been deployed as a replacement for the 1997-launched SVN-43, one of the 31 GPS satellites currently providing precise positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) information from their near-Earth orbits to civilians and the armed forces alike.

The SUV-sized Vespucci, the first of a planned series of upgrades to the existing constellation, is three times more accurate in delivering PNT information than the current lot, claims the Air Force.

During the Dec 14 telecon, Col. Steve Whitney, director of the SMC Global Positioning Systems Directorate, reportedly said that the upgrade also includes “an increase in power.”

“We put a requirement on there to produce stronger signals, to try and fight through some of that jamming that we see, particularly on our military signals,” Whitney said.

GPS III signals will also be accessible by other GPS systems, which is a big step forward in terms of enhancing the connectivity and accuracy of navigation signals for civilians across the globe.

“GPS III’s new L1C civil signal will also make it the first GPS satellite broadcasting a compatible signal with other international global navigation satellite systems, like Europe’s Galileo, improving connectivity for civilian users,” officials said in a Sunday press release.

Although Vespucci is designed to remain operational for fifteen years, GPS satellites are known to outlive their proposed lifetimes by sizable margins.

The upgrades to Vespucci and other GPS III satellites that will follow include a redesigned Nuclear Detonation Detection System and a search-and-rescue payload.

“The most important thing is that we get that rocket up safely and securely and it achieves its mission,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told spaceport workers, according to CBS News.

“I know this bird is going to fly and when it flies, it’s going to make a difference for the security and prosperity of the American people,” said Pence, who is also the president of the newly reconstituted National Space Council.

Trump’s deputy was conspicuously absent from the Sunday launch, although he did make an appearance at the postponed Tuesday launch.

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From The Editors Science

Space X Postpones Launch of Rideshare Mission – Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express

It looked like all systems go at SpaceX’s West Coast launch pad at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, after the spaceflight company announced Saturday morning that its Falcon 9 had rolled out to the launch site for its intended flight on Sunday.

However, late night the same day, the company tweeted that it was temporarily calling off the scheduled launch to run additional inspections of the rocket’s second stage, saying that it was “working toward a backup launch opportunity” on Monday (Dec 3).

This was the third postponement of the launch in a matter of days.
Initially scheduled for Nov 19, the launch attempt was called off “to conduct additional pre-flight inspections.”

The launch was then rescheduled for Nov 28 but once gain Space X announced a “no-go due to extreme high-altitude winds that violate Range requirements.”

If all goes well with the backup launch on Sunday, the Falcon 9 rocket should blast off at 10:32 am, carrying a payload of not one, not two, but 64 satellites on what the company is calling a “rideshare mission” organized by Spaceflight, a Seattle-based launch broker for SmallSats.

Ranging from Rubik’s Cube-sized satellites to some that are as big as a refrigerator, the assorted spacecraft will be launched into a “Sun-Synchronous Low Earth Orbit” (LEO) on behalf of 34 U.S. and international organizations.

According to Spaceflight Industries, the mixed bag of satellites includes:

“15 microsats and 49 cubesats from both commercial and government entities, of which more than 25 are from international organizations from 17 countries, including United States, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Finland, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, UK, Germany, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Poland, Canada, Brazil, and India.”

The rideshare mission, named SSO-A: SmallSat Express, not only represents the Spaceflight’s “first purchase of an entire Falcon 9 to accommodate the growing number of customers seeking affordable rideshare options to launch their spacecraft into orbit, it’s also a historic launch,” says the Spaceflight SSO-A website.

Some notable names among the 64 include:

  • University of North Carolina Wilmington
  • NovaWurks
  • Helios Wire / Sirion Global
  • King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok (KMUTNB)
  • Astrocast
  • Honeywell Aerospace
  • HawkEye 360
  • Nevada Museum of Art
  • Fleet Space Technologies
  • Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
  • Audacy
  • Capella Space Corporation
  • University of Colorado Boulder Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space
    Physics

Although Space X has flown used boosters in the past, it has never launched a previously-flown booster more than once.

The Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express mission will be the Hawthorne-based company’s first attempt to fly a used-booster twice, which means it will be the booster’s third flight if you include its debut flight when it was brand new.

Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany, in October, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability, said that the company was working on flying a booster multiple times in the future.

“So far, we’ve only flown a booster twice,” Koenigsmann said.

“Beginning soon, we will start flying a booster three times, and then take it to four times, five times, and so on and so forth,” he said.

“We have obviously to be very careful in evaluating boosters that come back after multiple flights. We want to make sure that we don’t see wear-and-tear in the wrong spots,” Koenigsmann added.

The Falcon 9 first-stage booster being used for the SSO-A mission debuted in May when it lifted off from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying into orbit Bangladesh’s communication satellite, Bangabandhu 1.

The booster returned back to land on Space X’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean from where it was brought to Florida for inspection and repairs.

It was re-flown in August, blasting off from launch pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, also in Florida, this time carrying an Indonesian communications spacecraft called Merah Putih.

It returned without incident for another landing on the company’s drone ship in the Atlantic.

It was brought back to terra firma for a cross-country haul to California where it was again inspected and refurbished and is now on the verge of its third mission, which should happen on Sunday, provided there are no further postponements.

Space X is planning to use the booster a fourth time if it manages to successfully land it a third time on the drone ship; however, this time around the drone-ship is stationed in the Pacific Ocean, off the Vandenberg cost.

Retrieving and re-flying boosters are still in a nascent stage and Space X is learning with each recovery and re-launch, as was pointed out by Koenigsmann in October.

“One of the problems is fatigue. You’ve got to watch the life cycle on components,” Koenigsmann said.

“They vibrate, basically, and you’ve got to have an eye on fracture control and make sure that you don’t have any fractures on those components,” he said.

“That is actually not new. Helicopters do this right now. They are basically vibration machines, and they track, actually, the number of cycles, and they know exactly when they have to go into maintenance or preventive maintenance,” Koenigsmann continued.

“Something similar is what we can do here on the rocket,” he said.

“We can basically record the flight load, and then log this to the history of the part, and we can figure out when the part has to be exchanged, if it actually has to be exchanged.

Ideally, you do not want to change parts,” Koenigsmann concluded.

So far, Space X has successfully achieved booster recoveries a record 21 times, achieving the last retrieval in May 2017 when a first-stage Falcon 9 returned to touch down on Landing Zone-1 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It was the ninth recovery on Landing Zone-1, while 12 retrievals were made on ‘autonomous spaceport drone ships’ in the ocean.

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From The Editors Science

Space X’s Starman Roadster Goes Beyond Mars’ Orbit

Elon Musk’s personal cherry-red Tesla Roadster and its mannequin driver Starman – launched into space atop a Falcon Heavy rocket on February 6 this year – have, now, gone past the orbit of Mars.

“Starman’s current location. Next stop, the restaurant at the end of the universe,” read a November 3 Space X tweet, accompanied by a diagram showing the orbit of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars in relation to Starman and his electric car’s location as on November 2, 2018.

The illustration also shows the projected heliocentric orbit of the roadster and the spacesuit-clad Starman, expected to reach its farthest point on November 8, about 155 million miles (1.66 AU) away from the sun, before it loops back in its orbit.

The fact that Musk is an ardent fan of Douglas Adam’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is evident from the second sentence in his company’s tweet, which clearly refers to the second book in the series – “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.”

The Space X chief’s fondness for the great writer and the positive influence of the Hitchhiker’s Guide on his life go way back to his teen years, as he acknowledged in a 2013 interview with Fresh Dialogue host Alison van Diggelen.

Musk said he was “around 12 or 15” when was going through an “existential crisis” and trying to find answers to some of the harder questions about life when he happened to come across “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” a book that he referred to as “quite positive.”

The book “highlighted an important point which is that a lot of times the question is harder than the answer,” he told Diggelen.

“And if you can properly phrase the question, then the answer is the easy part. So, to the degree that we can better understand the universe, then we can better know what questions to ask,” he said.

He went on to add: “Then whatever the question is that most approximates: what’s the meaning of life? That’s the question we can ultimately get closer to understanding. And so I thought to the degree that we can expand the scope and scale of consciousness and knowledge, then that would be a good thing,”

In another interview in 2015, Musk once again expressed his admiration for Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide when he acknowledged that “Heart of Gold” from the five-book series was his favorite spaceship.

“The one that’s powered by the Improbability Drive,” he said. “It does the most unexpected things.”

One more proof of the billionaire entrepreneur’s love for the Hitchhiker’s Guide is the fact that the words “Don’t Panic!” that appeared on a cover of the book also featured on the entertainment display panel of Starman’s Roadster – what better tribute to the book and, indeed, the man responsible for it.

In what would turn out be another first for SpaceX, Musk had announced in December 2017 that future test flights of new rockets would carry a Tesla Roadster car, instead of the usual “concrete or steel blocks,” which he called boring.

In a December 22 Instagram post, Musk uploaded the image of the red car alongside a message captioned “A Red Car for the Red Planet.”

“Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring. Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel,” Musk’s post said, adding that the payload would be an “original Tesla Roadster, playing Space Oddity, on a billion year elliptic Mars orbit.”

The fact that the Falcon Heavy’s mighty Merlins did give the Roadster enough thrust for it to beat Earth’s gravity, allowing it to go into a heliocentric orbit, went on to show to the world that Musk’s confidence was not ill-founded.

According to calculations by Czech and Canadian researchers, the car and its passenger have a good chance of continuing to remain in space for tens of millions of years before crashing back into Earth or Venus, reported BBC at the time.

The researchers gave the car a 6% probability of crashing into earth, a 2.5% chance of colliding with Venus and little or no chance of hitting either the Sun or Mars in the next million years or so.

“We perform N-body simulations to determine the fate of the object over the next several million years, under the relevant perturbations acting on the orbit,” said Hanno Rein (Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, Canada), Daniel Tamayo (Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Planetary Sciences (CPS) and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA), and David Vokrouhlicky (professor at the Astronomical Institute, Charles University, Prague, in their analysis.

“The orbital evolution is initially dominated by close encounters with the Earth. The first close encounter with the Earth will occur in 2091,” they said.

“We estimate the probability of a collision with Earth and Venus over the next one million years to be 6% and 2.5%, respectively. We estimate the dynamical lifetime of the Tesla to be a few tens of millions of years,” their analysis also said.

Here are the upcoming key milestones of Starman Roadster as listed by Whereisroadster.com.

  • Far point from Sun on November 8, 2018, at a distance of 1.664 AU.
  • Far point from Earth on February 21, 2019, at a distance of 2.446 AU.
  • Close Approach of Sun on August 14, 2019, at a distance of 0.986 AU.
  • Close Approach of Mars on September 16, 2019, at a distance of 0.649 AU.
  • Far point from Earth on January 17, 2020, at a distance of 2.336 AU.
  • Far point from Sun on May 19, 2020, at a distance of 1.664 AU.
  • Close Approach of Mars on October 6, 2020, at a distance of 0.050 AU.
  • Close Approach of Earth on November 5, 2020, at a distance of 0.346 AU.
  • Close Approach of Sun on February 21, 2021, at a distance of 0.986 AU.
  • Close Approach of Earth on March 29, 2021, at a distance of 0.275 AU
  • Far point from Sun on May 19, 2020, at a distance of 1.664 AU
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From The Editors Technology

Elon Musk Reveals Details of the Final Iteration of Space X’s Gargantuan BFR

At the Space X event earlier this week, not only did Elon Musk announce the name of Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as the company’s first private passenger to have booked a trip to the Moon, he also revealed the updated design and various other details of the company’s under-production BFR, short for Big Falcon Rocket – or “Big F*ing Rocket,” as Musk likes to call it.

Sitting atop the humongous booster will be a massive spaceship, dubbed BFS (Big Falcon Spaceship), with Maezawa inside it when the moon-bound rocket blasts off into space sometime in 2020.

Accompanying Maezawa will be a merry band of six to eight artists from around the word that the Japanese tycoon wishes to invite to the party around the Moon, but that shouldn’t be a problem as the massive BFS is capable of carrying a payload of up to 100 passengers.

Effectively, that leaves the door open for the fashion magnate, a known connoisseur of art, to invite even more artists – as long as he’s willing to foot the bill, which, of course, he’s quite capable of, many times over.

The BFR and BFS together will stand 387 feet tall – almost as tall as a 40-story building – which is about the same size as the Saturn V rocket used by NASA for its Moon mission.

Powered by 31 main Raptor engines that are propelled by liquid oxygen and methane, the BFR will be able to generate 5,400 tons of thrust; good enough to go all the way to the Solar System, says Musk.

“If you have propellant depot on Mars, you’ll be able to get from Mars to the asteroid belt to the moons of Jupiter and kind of like a planet moon-hop all the way to the outer Solar System,” he said.

“BFR is intended as an interplanetary transport system capable of getting from Earth to anywhere in the Solar System.”

Both units, launch vehicle as well as spaceship, are equipped with their own set of Raptor engines, giving them the capability for powered touchdowns, be it on Earth or elsewhere in the Solar System – or, perhaps, even beyond.

Details of the BFR was first made public back in 2016 at the 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), held in Guadalajara, Mexico, although Space X had been working on it for several years and used the nomenclature Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT) to refer to it.

Musk presented the Big Falcon Rocket as a vehicle meant exclusively for interplanetary travel; part of his vision of an Interplanetary Transport System (ITS).

At the next IAC event in Adelaide the following year, Musk presented an updated design version of the BFR, which had been scaled down to have a core diameter of 30 feet, instead of 89, and was now being looked at as an all-embracing multipurpose vehicle – not one that’s dedicated to just planet hopping.

And now, in 2018, we have yet another update on the BFR, and a big one at that – the announcement coming at a Space X event and not at the IAC.

“The production design of BFR is different in some important ways from what I presented about a year ago,” Musk said.

According to the updated design, the BFR will be about 387 feet tall, as mentioned earlier, almost half of which is accounted for by the spaceship (BFS).

.

“I mean, this is a ridiculously big rocket,” Musk said, pointing out to a life-size illustration on the wall to give the audience a sense of size, relative to the other rockets and the crowd in the picture.

However, most of the updates and changes involve the BFS, rather than its launch vehicle.

The revised design iteration of the BFS includes seven large Raptor engines, instead of four large and two smaller engines that the previous design version called for.

Explaining the new design’s engine-size uniformity and the increase in the number of engines and their changed arrangement, Musk said that it was an attempt to bring engine parity between the BFR and the BFS so that “development risk and costs” could be brought down.

.

“In order to minimize the development risk and costs, we decided to harmonize the engine between the booster and the ship,” he said.

“Having the engines in that configuration, with seven engines, means it’s definitely capable of engine out at any time, including two engine out in almost all circumstances,” he said.

“In fact in some cases you could lose up to four engines and still be fine. It only needs three engines for landing.”

According to the new update, the spaceship will now have three fins at the bottom – one more than what the previous iteration suggested.

In addition to helping the BFS with maneuverability and stability in flight, the fins on the bottom will also serve as landing legs, a big deviation from the pop-out landing pads shown in the earlier designs.

It must be mentioned, though, that the third fin does not have any aerodynamic purpose; it’s there to complete the set of three landing pads and has been designed as a replica of the other two fins to maintain symmetry, says Musk.

“It doesn’t have any aerodynamic purpose — it really is just a leg,” he said, explaining that “it looks the same as the other ones for purposes of symmetry.”

The new version of the design also provides for additional cargo space on the bottom of the launch vehicle, spacious enough to hold a couple of buses’ worth of payload.

The new iteration’s uncanny resemblance to the spaceship seen in the Tintin classic comic “Explorers on the Moon,” is by design and not a case of serendipity.

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“I love the Tintin rocket design, so I kind of wanted to bias it toward that. So now we have the three large legs, with two of them actuating as body flaps or large moving wings.”

“I think this design is probably on par with the other one. It might be better. Yeah, if in doubt, go with Tintin,” he quipped.

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From The Editors Technology

Tesla Celebrates Model 3 Production Milestone of 5000 Units Per Week

Tesla shares were up by as much as 6 percent following the company’s announcement today (July 2) that it had not only surpassed the production milestone of 5,000 Model 3 units, but also the Model S and Model X production targets, churning out a combined 7,000 vehicles in a week.

“We did it!!” Musk wrote in his email to Tesla employees, applauding their hard work and contribution in achieving what was considered almost impossible, as recently as a month, or so, ago.

“What an incredible job by an amazing team. Couldn’t be more proud to work with you. It is an honor,” he said.

“The level of dedication and creativity was mind-blowing. We either found a way or, by will and inventiveness, created entirely new solutions that were thought impossible,” he added.

The billionaire CEO of Tesla and Space X continued:

“The level of dedication and creativity was mind-blowing. We either found a way or, by will and inventiveness, created entirely new solutions that were thought impossible. Intense in tents. Transporting entire production lines across the world in massive cargo planes.

Whatever. It worked. Not only did we factory gate over 5000 Model 3’s, but we also achieved the S & X production target for a combined 7000 vehicle week!”

Tesla’s initial plan of achieving the Model 3 target numbers in December 2017 did not come about, as the company, by its own admission, found itself mired in a “production hell,” managing a production rate of only 3,600 cars a week, way short of its intended goal.

Musk had attributed the Model 3 production hiccups to automation, a couple of months ago, admitting that humans were the answer to Tesla’s production woes.

When asked if robots were the reason behind the poor production numbers, Musk said, “Yes, they did … We had this crazy, complex network of conveyor belts … And it was not working, so we got rid of that whole thing.”

The very next day, Tesla temporarily halted the Model 3 production in a bid to improve its production performance by enhancing automation and removing bottlenecks – a move which was in stark contrast to what Musk had said a day earlier about humans being the answer to production issues.

Not having met its last quarter target in 2017, Musk and company went full steam ahead to achieve its new goal of reaching the magical number of 5,000 Model 3s a week by the end of the second quarter this year, which ended yesterday and the result of all the sweat and sacrifice is there for the world to see.

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Talking of sacrifices, Musk led by example through those difficult times, moving his office to the factory floor where he even celebrated his 47th birthday.

Well, all that is in the past now and the company has every reason to celebrate the commendable feat, something which was not considered possible even as recently as a month ago.

The second quarter of 2018 was what Tesla calls “the most productive quarter in Tesla history by far,” as the company managed to record a 55 percent jump in production from the previous quarter, rolling out a total of 53,339 vehicles during this period.

Included in that figure are 28,578 Model 3 sedans – that’s three times the Model 3s produced in the first quarter – and a combined total of 24,761 Model S and Model X cars.

A total of 40,740 vehicles were delivered in this past quarter, including 18,440 Model 3, 10,930 Model S, and 11,370 Model X cars, which according to Wall Street estimates fell short of expectations.

While the second-quarter delivery data is not very encouraging, as far as analysts and investors are concerned, what’s boosting the Tesla shares is the Model 3 numbers.

It remains to be seen if Musk and his Tesla crusaders can maintain the punishing pace of the last quarter to achieve the CEO’s key goal of making the company cash flow positive in the remaining half of 2018, “despite negative pressures from a weaker [U.S. dollar] and likely higher tariffs for vehicles imported into China as well as components procured from China.”

Becoming cash flow positive is a critical step toward Tesla’s profitability, considering the company has recorded just two profitable quarters since it went public eight years ago.

Tesla is now looking to work its way up to producing 6,000 Model 3 units a week, sometime by late August.

In May, amid all the production chaos Musk was having to contend with, he announced two new variants of the Model 3 – the dual-motor, all-wheel drive (AWD) Model 3, as well as the Performance version, which Musk said is capable of zero to 60mph in just 3.5 seconds.

While the single motor rear-wheel-drive base model option remains, you can opt for an upgraded version at an additional $5,000, which will not only give you AWD, but also an improved range of 310 miles and a zero to 60mph time of 4.5 seconds, with a top speed of 140mph.

To put that in perspective, the base Model 3 has a maximum range of 220 miles and its stationary to sixty miles per hour time is 5.6 seconds.

The $78,000 Performance version of the Model 3 is not only set to give the BMW M3 a run for its money – in terms of speed and handling – but is good enough to “beat anything in its class on the track,” claimed Musk, which is, indeed, a tall claim to make, considering the fact that the M3 is quite a gladiator in the sports sedan arena.

One thing is for sure, though; the Model 3 is not going to be the fastest car out of the Tesla stable, as the Model S P100D can do zero to sixty miles per hour in a snappy 2.5 seconds, while the $200,000 Tesla Roadster promises the same acceleration in a snappier 1.9 seconds, but we’ll have to wait for that, as production is yet to start.

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From The Editors Science

SpaceX Launches 5 Iridium Next and 2 GRACE-FO Satellites

Powered by a pre-flown first stage booster, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 3:47 p.m. EDT, on Tuesday (May 22), carrying a payload of seven satellites, including five Iridium Next and two NASA GRACE-FO (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On) satellites.

“Liftoff for GRACE Follow-On, continuing the legacy of the GRACE mission of tracking the movement of water across our planet,” NASA TV’s launch commentator Gay Yee Hill announced, as the rocket climbed into orbit on the ride-share mission between Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Iridium, and German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ).

The GRACE-FO project – a joint NASA-GFZ endeavor – saw the space agency spending some $430 million, while GFZ’s share of the cost totaled up to around €77 million (about $91 million).

The previously used first stage booster powering the Tuesday launch was none other than the one deployed for the hush-hush Zuma mission for the United States Air Force, in January this year, which was, incidentally, SpaceX’s first launch in 2018.

While the first stage of the brand new Falcon 9 rocket did make a safe return back to Earth, the top-secret payload, probably worth billions, did not make it to its intended orbit, crashing into the ocean instead.

However, SpaceX got a clean chit from investigators who determined that it was spacecraft contractor Northrop Grumman and not the Musk-owned company that was responsible for the failed Zuma mission.

SpaceX is under a $536 million contract with Iridium Communications Inc. to launch 75 Iridium Next satellites over eight Falcon 9 mission.

With six Iridium missions already in the SpaceX bag, including Tuesday’s launch, Musk’s company is now left with 20 more satellites to launch over the two remaining missions – Iridium-7 and Iridium-8; which can be achieved by mid-2018, provided SpaceX is able to maintain the blistering pace it has set, thus far.

The two GRACE-FO craft that were part of Tuesday’s payload is a continuation – or follow-on, as they like to call it – of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, the original GRACE mission that started back in 2002, involving similar satellites.

“GRACE was really a revolutionary mission for understanding the water cycle, how the climate behaves and the trends taking place over the last 10 or 15 years, and it did this in a very unique way by making measurements of how the mass gets redistributed on the surface of the earth,” GRACE-FO project scientist, Frank Webb said at the news conference.

“We’re able to see how water has moved from different parts of the earth by actually measuring its mass, which is not something you see with your eyes. It’s something you have to feel with the satellite system,” he said.

A few seconds after the recycled first stage booster was jettisoned, the Falcon 9’s second stage fired its Merlin, accelerating ahead for the actual release of the payload sitting inside the nose cone.

Some 12 minutes into the launch, the NASA GRACE-FO satellites were successfully deployed into a near-polar orbit, after which the Merlin re-ignited and shot farther away to release the Iridium Next satellites, launching them in quick succession through a dispenser at the forward end of the second stage.

Contact with the two GRACE-FO satellites was confirmed, soon after, by the ground controllers in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, near Munich, based on radio signals received via a tracking station at McMurdo, Antarctica.

Nor too long after that, SpaceX also confirmed the successful deployment of the Falcon 9’s entire payload of seven satellites, calling it “a clean sweep again for deployments.”

“It’s been a great Falcon 9 day here in Hawthorne and at Vandenberg Air Force Base,” declared John Insprucker, Falcon 9 lead engineer at SpaceX and host of the company’s live webcast of the mission.

Iridium boss, Matt Desch also confirmed receiving “good telemetry from all 5 Iridium NEXT satellites,” not forgetting to thank SpaceX for the “complete success” of the mission.

SpaceX did not make any attempts to recover the first stage of the rocket, as it usually does with pre-flown boosters, allowing it to crash into the Pacific Ocean.

The company did, however, send Mr. Steven to retrieve the $6 million fairing – a part of the rocket’s nosecone that, basically, protects the payload during the ever so stressful ascent.

Mr. Steven, by the way, is a SpaceX-customized fairing recovery boat, fitted with a massive net, held in place by giant metal arms extending out of the vessel – which Musk fondly refers to as the “giant catcher’s mitt.”

However, the fairing narrowly missed Mr. Steven’s “mitt” and landed in the Pacific, instead – a failure that SpaceX is familiar with, as Mr. Steven had missed the fairing after the previous Iridium Next launch on March 30, as well.

“The payload fairings both successfully deployed parachutes, but they landed in the Pacific Ocean,” Insprucker said. “The fairing recovery ship ‘Mr. Steven’ came very close, but not quite. We’re going to keep working on that, but meanwhile, the second stage went into a great orbit.”

While no major damage was reported, seawater is likely to affect the sensitive components of the fairing, making it more difficult and certainly more expensive to refurbish for future use.

On Monday, Iridium became the second company after Inmarsat to be recognized by the International Maritime Organization as having a network that conforms to the safety and performance criteria for providing Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.

“Our strong presence in the world of safety services is a testament to the unique benefits our network can enable,” Desch said after the Tuesday launch.

“With every successful launch, we are one step closer to Iridium Next being fully operational, which officially starts a new age of satellite connectivity,” said the Iridium chief.

“When it comes to safety communications, especially for those operating in the skies or out at sea, having built-in network redundancy and resiliency enabled by our satellite’s cross-links is paramount, especially during times of distress,” Desch said.

“We recognize this and feel that as the only network covering the entire planet, we have an inherent responsibility to constantly innovate for this critical arena,” he added.

In a conference call with reporters, last week, Desch had said that Iridium customers will now be able to benefit from the new satellites “well over 80 percent of the time since we are biasing our Next satellite beams to carry more of the traffic, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere.”

He said that the “Next satellites are faster, voice calls sound better, and we want our customers to get service through them as soon as possible,” he said.

In the coming weeks, the new satellites are expected to reach a height of 484 miles above Earth where they’ll join the other Iridium spacecraft, taking the total fleet strength to 55, with 20 more to go, before the conclusion of its contract with SpaceX.

Desch also confirmed that testing of ground terminals for a brand new broadband service called Iridium Certus is well underway and should be able for commercial operations in a matter of months.

As for the GRACE-FO mission, Michael Watkins, GRACE-Follow On science lead and director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, “GRACE and GRACE-Follow On are some of NASA’s most unique missions.”

“What GRACE has done, and what GRACE-Follow On will do shortly after its launch, is map the Earth’s water in motion,” he said.

“What’s fascinating about GRACE is it does it not by looking the surface of Earth — not by looking at water or by bouncing a radar off the water — but by actually measuring the weight of the water,” Watkins added.

“So it actually is able to tell how much water is in a given location on the Earth and how that’s changing over time,” he said.

The Airbus Defense and Space-developed GRACE-FO craft are equipped with microwave ranging instruments that calculate the distance separating the satellites as they orbit Earth 137 miles or so apart from each other.

“Think of the actual satellite size as about the size of a sports car, one in Los Angeles and one in San Diego,” said Phil Morton, NASA’s GRACE-Follow On project manager. “That’s about how far apart they’re flying typically.”

The GRACE-FO satellites have been developed along the lines of the original GRACE spacecraft so that they are able to gather similar data, with upgrades like laser ranging devices expected to measure the distance between the two satellites with a precision that’s 10 times more accurate than baseline microwave instruments, says Frank Flechtner, who’s the GRACE-FO project manager at GFZ in Potsdam, Germany.

However, the mission’s primary objective is dedicated to gravity measurements and Earth’s water cycle.

“The satellites are sensitive to all mass change around the globe,” says Webb. “We make measurements every 30 days, so we see atmospheric, ocean tides, solid earth changes, water ice moving around.”

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From The Editors Science

A Recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Lifts Off with 10 Iridium NEXT Satellites

Exactly three months into 2018 and SpaceX has already completed its sixth mission of the year, successfully launching 10 Iridium NEXT Satellites into orbit today (March 30).

A previously used SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 10:13 a.m. EDT (1413 GMT) on its fifth Iridium mission, dubbed Iridium-5.

Ironically, the recycled booster‘s previous deployment was also for an Iridium launch – the Iridium-3 mission, to be precise – after which the booster was recovered for re-deployment.

However, this wasn’t the first time that an Iridium mission was launched using a recovered booster from an earlier Iridium mission.

Iridium-4 was launched last December using the same Falcon 9 booster recovered from the Iridium 2 mission in June 2017.

So, effectually, SpaceX has thus far launched five Iridium missions using just three boosters, as SpaceX materials engineer Michael Hammersley was quick to point out during live commentary of today’s launch.

“Today, this is our fifth launch for the Iridium constellation, using only three rockets,” he said.

Well, you can call it a record of sorts.

However, no attempt was made to recover the booster today, but no surprises there, as SpaceX had announced prior to the launch that it would not be going for a second retrieval of the first stage.

SpaceX is under a $536 million contract with Iridium Communications Inc. to launch 75 Iridium Next satellites over eight Falcon 9 mission.

With five Iridium missions already in the SpaceX bag, and 50 of the Virginia-based company’s satellites circling their intended orbits, SpaceX is left with 25 more satellites to launch over the three remaining missions – the Iridium-6, Iridium-7 and Iridium-8 missions, which should be achieved by mid 2018, providing SpaceX is able to maintain the blistering pace it has set thus far.

Some nine minutes into today’s launch, the company stopped the live video feed from the rocket’s second stage – a clear deviation from a typical SpaceX launch.

“Due to some restrictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric [Administration], NOAA for short, SpaceX will be intentionally ending live video coverage from the second stage just prior to engine shutdown,” Hammersley said.

“We’re working with NOAA to address these restrictions in order to hopefully be able to bring you live views from orbit in the future,” added the commentator, without elaborating on the details of the so-called NOAA restrictions.

As part of its endeavor to bring down launch costs, SpaceX has been working hard at perfecting its booster recovery act and has been pretty much successful in launching, recovering and re-launching first stage Falcon 9 boosters.

Well, having gained ample expertise in that area, SpaceX is now looking towards other cost-cutting measures, including the recovery of fairings – a part of the rocket’s nosecone which basically protects the rocket’s payload during its stressful ascent.

The company did manage to recover a Falcon 9 fairing last month after launching Hisdesat’s PAZ and two of its own demo satellites, but the recovery did not exactly go according to plans.

As the clamshell-like fairing fell back to Earth after separation, it deployed a parafoil to slow down its descent so that SpaceX could collect it on its customized fairing recovery boat, called Mr. Steven, fitted with a massive net, held in place by giant metal arms extending out of the boat.

“Going to try to catch the giant fairing (nosecone) of Falcon 9 as it falls back from space at about eight times the speed of sound,” Elon Musk wrote on Instagram at the time. “It has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship, named Mr. Steven, with basically a giant catcher’s mitt welded on, tries to catch it

However, the fairing missed Mr. Steven’s “giant catcher’s mitt” and landed in the Pacific but no major damage to the nosecone was reported.

“Missed by a few hundred meters, but fairing landed intact in water,” Musk wrote on Twitter, adding that in future the company “should be able catch it with slightly bigger chutes to slow down descent.”

While today’s mission is another feather in the SpaceX cap, there’s no time for the company to sit back and dwell too much on its successes as another important launch is coming up this week – not that there’s any such thing as an unimportant launch.

Scheduled for an April 2 launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, another previously-used Falcon 9 rocket will lift off with a Dragon cargo ship, also used before, to carry food and other supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) crew.

Again, it won’t be the first instance of a used Dragon spaceship launching atop a used Falcon 9 rocket.

The feat has already been successfully achieved, and as recently as December last year, when SpaceX launched a used Dragon spacecraft, carrying a 4,800-pound resupply payload for the International Space Station (ISS), atop its previously used Falcon 9 rocket, taking the company another step closer, and a big one at that, to its goal of achieving total re-usability.

Not in the history of all its launches had Space X used a previously-flown spacecraft on a previously-flown rocket. It was also the first time, ever, that Elon Musk’s spaceflight company had used a recycled rocket for a NASA mission

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From The Editors Science

SpaceX Launches Hisdesat’s PAZ plus Two Starlink Demo Satellites atop it’s Falcon 9 Rocket

Delayed by a day, after ‘Upper Level Winds’ forced SpaceX to call off its Wednesday launch, the company’s Falcon 9 finally lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Thursday (Feb.22) at 9:17 a.m. Eastern (1417 GMT; 6:17 a.m. local time), carrying three significant payloads.

All three satellites atop the Falcon 9 rocket – including Spanish company Hisdesat Servicios Estrategicos’ radar-imaging reconnaissance satellite PAZ and two of SpaceX’s own prototypes for its ambitious Starlink high-speed internet from space project – were successfully deployed into low Earth orbit 11 minutes after launch.

The company did not attempt to recover the Falcon 9’s reusable first stage as the Thursday mission was its second, having already been used for the launch of a Taiwanese Earth-observing satellite in August last year.

In its mission, expected to last at least five and a half years, PAZ will observe Earth in radar wavelengths from an altitude of 514 kilometers (319 miles), orbiting the planet 15 times a day, collecting important information – including weather data and ship tracking – on behalf of government agencies as well as commercial clients.

The 1,400-kilogram PAZ – which in Spanish means “peace” – was built by Airbus Defence and Space around the AstroBus platform and will be operated by Hisdesat to work in tandem with Germany’s national space center’s aging TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X manufactured by EADS Astrium. While still operational, both the satellites have outlived their five-year design lifespan.

Meanwhile, SpaceX prototypes Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, nicknamed Tintin A and Tintin B for the mission, will ultimately reach an altitude of 1,125 kilometers where they will do the groundwork, or should we say spacework, for the Starlink constellation of 4,425 satellites that Musk’s company intends to launch by 2025.

Elon Musk confirmed the successful deployment of the two Starlink demo satellites in a tweet, saying that they were communicating with Earth stations.

In a subsequent tweet, Musk said that Tintin A and B will attempt to greet us with the words “hello world” as they pass over the Los Angeles area in about 22 hours, meaning Friday.

While SpaceX made no attempt to recover the already used first stage booster, it did manage to recover the six-million-dollar fairing – which basically protects the rocket’s payload during the stressful ascent – but not in the manner it had planned to.

As the clamshell-like fairing fell back to Earth after separation, it deployed a parafoil to slow down its descent so that SpaceX could collect it on its customized fairing recovery boat, called Mr. Steven, fitted with a massive net held in place by giant metal arms extending out of Mr. Steven.

“Going to try to catch the giant fairing (nosecone) of Falcon 9 as it falls back from space at about eight times the speed of sound,” the billionaire wrote on Instagram. “It has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship, named Mr. Steven, with basically a giant catcher’s mitt welded on, tries to catch it.”

However, the fairing missed Mr. Steven’s “giant catcher’s mitt” and landed in the Pacific with no major damage do it.

“Missed by a few hundred meters, but fairing landed intact in water,” Musk wrote on Twitter, adding that in future the company “should be able catch it with slightly bigger chutes to slow down descent”

Watch the launch here.

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO’s internet-from-space ambitions received a major thrust earlier this month when Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai gave his nod of approval to SpaceX’s plan of providing broadband services using space technologies.

Pai urged his fellow commissioners to give their consent to the California-based space company’s application, highlighting the space internet technology’s potential to provide broadband services to rural America and remote parts of the country.

The four FCC commissioners who will be considering the application are Mignon Clyburn (Dem.), Michael O’Reilly (Rep.), Brendan Carr (Reo.) and Jessica Rosenworcel (Dem.).

“To bridge America’s digital divide, we’ll have to use innovative technologies,” Pai said. “Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach. And it can offer more competition where terrestrial internet access is already available.”

Should the application get the majority votes it requires from Pai’s four fellow commissioners, SpaceX will become the fourth company after OneWeb, Telesat Canada and Space Norway to get the FCC approval for broadband satellite services out of a total of twelve applications that the agency has received until now.

“Following careful review of this application by our International Bureau’s excellent satellite engineering experts, I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application and moving to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans. If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies,” Pai said in a Feb. 14 statement.

With Pai in favor of the plan and two Republican commissioners most likely to give their nods as well, it appears that Musk is well on his way to realizing his space-broadband dreams.

And, with Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel saying that the move would “multiply the number of satellites in the skies, creating extraordinary new opportunities,” a unanimous decision in favor of the project seems like a foregone conclusion.

“The FCC should move quickly to facilitate these new services while underscoring our commitment to space safety,” Rosenworcel said.
If all goes as anticipated, SpaceX will deploy an array of 4,425 satellites to meet its broadband venture requirements.

It must be mentioned that OneWeb and Telesat Canada have FCC approval for 720 and 117 LEO satellites respectively, while Space Norway has the agency’s go-ahead for two highly elliptical arctic-focused satellites.