NBC Today Show Segment with Richard Branson About Upcoming Virgin Galactic Suborbital Flight

Video Caption: At his SpacePort in New Mexico, where he is preparing to ride to the edge of space, this weekend, beating another billionaire, Jeff Bezos, by just over a week, Sir Richard Branson shared an exclusive look behind the scenes, including the spaceship he and five others will be flying in. NBC’s Tom Costello reports for TODAY from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

Editor’s Note: Everyone who sees SpaceShipTwo and goes crazy over it like Tom Costello does in this report. The vehicle is, as Branson says in the video, what you imagine a spaceship should look like. He has on multiple occasions accurately referred to it as “sexy”. Personally, it was one of the few things in Mojave that reminded me I am living in the 21st century.

But, looks can be deceiving. It’s a complex vehicle that requires two pilots to fly. The nitrous oxide SpaceShipTwo uses is a monopropellant, meaning it can explode on its own. It did once, claiming three the lives of three engineers working on the engine in an accident that NBC seems to have forgotten about. And the ship needs to be reconfigured for reentry using twin tail booms known as the feather. Premature unlocking of the system caused a fourth fatality and destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo.

Those specific issues have been addressed. But, the ship is still risky to fly on; it is rocket science. And there are no mandatory safety regulations to protect anyone on board. The technology is very much on the edge.

It’s kind of disturbing to see a reporter getting all excited and asking Branson when he can fly on it. He got seduced by the look of the vehicle and the excitement of the flight without fully understanding the risks or conveying them to viewers.

Costello was also talking to a guy who is a major risk taker. Branson included an appendix in his latest autobiography that chronicles 75 near-death experiences he has had in his life. The man thrives on facing danger and the enormous public attention his actions generate.

I don’t know if SpaceShipTwo flight is the riskiest thing he has ever done, but it’s pretty high up on the list. And this upcoming flight on Sunday is a test. SpaceShipTwo is still in a test flight program that has lasted 11 years.

The flight on Sunday will in all likelihood go just fine. But, space travel remains risky. It’s not simply a souped-up rollercoaster ride.

117,000 People Tell Jeff Bezos: Don’t Come Back From Space

Jeff Bezos

Well, it’s official. Lots of people seem to really hate Jeff Bezos.

As of this writing, two online petitions on Change.org have garnered nearly 117,000 signatures urging that the Amazon founder not be allowed to return to Earth during his July 20 trip to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule. (The petitions are here and here.)

“Billionaire’s should not exist…on earth, or in space, but should they decide the latter they should stay there,” one petition says.

The other petition mentions Bezos’ eerie resemblance to Superman villain Lex Luthor and calls him “an evil overlord hellbent on global domination….This may be our last chance before they enable the 5G microchips and perform a mass takeover.”

Wow. So much at stake. And so little actual power. The cry of more than 100,000 merely shows their inability to really do anything but vent their anger.

This mass populist outrage will have no effect on actual events. Since New Shepard lacks the power to send Bezos into orbit, the odds of stranding the billionaire in space permanently are exactly zero. The vehicle will up and then come down, all in the space of 10 to 11 minutes. Bezos, his brother Mark, an anonymous bidder paying $29.68 million for a seat, and a fourth person yet to be revealed will be returning to Earth regardless of how many people sign the petition.

GAO: Blue Origin BE-4 Engine Technical Issues Threaten ULA’s Vulcan Booster Schedule

BE-4 engine firing (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Technical issues related to related to “the igniter and booster capabilities” with Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine could delay the maiden flight of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) new Vulcan Centaur booster scheduled for late this year, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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Fun with Figures: Move Over Starlink, Here Comes China’s Satellite Mega-Constellation

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Chinese government recently formed a company to develop a satellite mega-constellation that would exceed SpaceX’s rival Starlink communications network in size, according to media reports.

The newly created China Satellite Network Group Co. will oversee the development of a communications satellite constellation that will include 12,992 satellites. China has filed for spectrum allocation for the constellation with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The Chinese constellation would be the largest in the world with 1,049 more satellites than the 11,943 Starlink satellites approved by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Together, the Chinese and Starlink satellites would place 24,935 satellites into Earth orbit.

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Amazon Secures United Launch Alliance’s Proven Atlas V Rocket for Nine Project Kuiper Launches

Northrop Grumman’s GEM 63 rocket motors propel the launch of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V on Nov. 13, 2020. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Atlas V provides important reliability and schedule assurance in launch agreement

Centennial, Colo., April 19, 2021 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today that Amazon has secured Atlas V for nine launches supporting deployment of its ambitious Project Kuiper initiative. Project Kuiper is an initiative that will increase global broadband access through a constellation of 3,236 advanced satellites in low earth orbit.  

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COVID-19 Impact on Smallsat Market Mitigated by Funding Availability, Government Support

PARIS, WASHINGTON DC, MONTREAL, YOKOHAMA (Euroconsult PR) — The latest update of “Prospects for the Small Satellite Market” was released this week by Euroconsult, forecasting further growth in the global supply and demand of government, commercial and academic satellites weighing up to 500 kg.

The market intelligence report, now in its 7th edition, builds upon Euroconsult’s previous iteration that accurately predicted more than 1,000 satellites would be launched during 2020, a record year despite COVID-19. The new release further reinforces the sentiment that the 2020s will be the decade of small satellites, anticipating the launch of close to 14,000 smallsats before 2030.

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Amazon Makes Breakthrough in Project Kuiper Development

Installation of a Project Kuiper antenna. (Credit: Amazon)

https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/innovation-at-amazon/amazon-marks-breakthrough-in-project-kuiper-development

Custom-built antenna architecture will allow Amazon to deliver a small, affordable customer terminal to connect unserved and underserved communities around the world.

SEATTLE (Amazon PR) — Months after receiving approval from the Federal Communications Commission, Project Kuiper has hit another key milestone on its path to delivering fast, affordable broadband through a constellation of 3,236 low Earth orbit satellites.

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Bye Bye, Neutrality Pai: FCC Chairman to Call it Quits on Jan. 20

Ajit Pai
  • Chairman who led the effort to kill net neutrality will depart with the Trump Administration and his massive coffee cup
  • FCC approved constellations of thousands of satellites by SpaceX and Amazon under his leadership
  • Official announcement from the FCC is below

WASHINGTON, November 30, 2020 (FCC PR) —Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that he intends to leave the Federal Communications Commission on January 20, 2021. Chairman Pai issued the following statement:

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve at the Federal Communications Commission, including as Chairman of the FCC over the past four years. I am grateful to President Trump for giving me the opportunity to lead the agency in 2017, to President Obama for appointing me as a Commissioner in 2012, and to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the Senate for twice confirming me. To be the first Asian-American to chair the FCC has been a particular privilege. As I often say: only in America.

“I also deeply appreciate the chance to have worked alongside the FCC’s talented staff. They are the agency’s best assets, and they have performed heroically, especially during the pandemic. It’s also been an honor to work with my fellow Commissioners to execute a strong and broad agenda. Together, we’ve delivered for the American people over the past four years: closing the digital divide; promoting innovation and competition, from 5G on the ground to broadband from space; protecting consumers; and advancing public safety. And this FCC has not shied away from making tough choices. As a result, our nation’s communications networks are now faster, stronger, and more widely deployed than ever before.

“I am proud of how productive this Commission has been, from commencing five spectrum auctions and two rural broadband reverse auctions in four years, to opening 1,245 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for unlicensed use, to adopting more than 25 orders through our Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative, to aggressively protecting our communications networks from national security threats at home and abroad, to designating 988 as the three digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and much, much more. I’m also proud of the reforms we have instituted to make the agency more accountable to the American people. In particular, for the first time ever, we’ve made public drafts of the proposals and orders slated for a vote three weeks before the agency’s monthly meetings, making this the most transparent FCC in history.

“Last but not least, I want to thank my family for all they have done to enable me to serve at the agency. The public service of one generally results from the private sacrifice of many, and I’m grateful for their love and support.”

Bezos Cashing in $3.1 Billion in Amazon Stock

Jeff Bezos

CNBC reports that Jeff Bezos, who has been selling Amazon stock to fund his Blue Origin space company, has liquidated more of his holdings.

Bezos has accelerated his stock sales in the last year. In August, Bezos offloaded more than $3.1 billion of Amazon shares, after selling more than $4.1 billion worth of shares in February. The sales this week bring his total cash out in 2020 to more than $10.2 billion so far, which is a notable jump from 2019, when Bezos sold $2.8 billion worth of shares.

Bezos has previously said he sells about $1 billion of Amazon stock each year to fund his rocket start-up, Blue Origin. Additionally, the Amazon CEO in February launched a $10 billion Earth Fund to combat the effects of climate change, which will issue grants to scientists, activists and other organizations.

Bezos’ estimated net worth is $170 billion, making him the richest man in the world.

Constellationizing Space: Chinese Company Seeks Approval to Launch Nearly 13,000 Satellites

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Larry Press reports a Chinese company named GW has filed for spectrum allocation from the International Telecommunication Union for two broadband constellations called GW-A59 and GW-2 that would include 12,992 satellites.

The size of GW’s request indicates to Press that the company would compete globally with broadband constellations being built by SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon. He wrote:

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Why UK is Backing its Leading Space Scientists to Clean up the Cosmos

Alok Sharma

by Alok Sharma
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

On 2 July 2018, a £100 million satellite called CryoSat-2 was completing its daily rounds of monitoring ice caps back on Earth from an orbital vantage point 700 kilometres above us, when mission controllers spotted a chunk of space debris hurtling towards it at 17,000 miles per hour.

To avert a potentially catastrophic collision, engineers fired up CryoSat’s thrusters and moved it out of harm’s way. This near miss was not the first, and it will not be the last.

An estimated 20,000 pieces of space debris, better known as ‘space junk’; are whizzing around the Earth as you read this. This includes zombie satellites and whole junkyards’ worth of whirling fragments left over from space missions.

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OneWeb Gets FCC Approval for Additional 1,280 Satellites

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Satellite broadband provider OneWeb received FCC approval this week to launch an additional 1,280 satellites, increasing the size of the company’s constellation to 2,000 spacecraft.

The additional satellites will provide services in the V-band and operate at an altitude of 8,500 km (5,282 miles).

“After review of the record, we conclude that granting OneWeb access to the U.S. market for its proposed V-band satellite system would increase competition for the broadband services proposed to be provided by such systems to American consumers, particularly in underserved areas, offer a greater likelihood that such a large system is able to fulfill its ambitions and deploy the proposed services, and thereby serve the public interest, subject to the requirements and conditions specified herein,” the FCC said.

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FCC Approves Amazon’s $10 Billion Kuiper Satellite Constellation

Jeff Bezos

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved Amazon’s plan to launch its Kuiper constellation of 3,236 satellites to provide global broadband coverage.

Jeff Bezos’ company plans to invest $10 billion in the constellation, which will compete with OneWeb and SpaceX’s Starlink system to deliver high-speed, low-latency broadband services via satellite.

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