AAS Issues Position Statement on SpaceX’s Satellite Constellations

Telescopes at Lowell Observatory in Arizona captured this shot of galaxies May 25. Their image was marred by the reflected light from more than 25 Starlink satellites as they passed overhead. (Credit: Victoria Girgis/Lowell Observatory)

American Astronomical Society Statement

On May 23rd entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX launched 60 Starlink communication satellites aboard a single rocket. Within days skywatchers worldwide spotted them flying in formation as they orbited Earth and reflected sunlight from their shiny metal surfaces. Some people, unaware that artificial satellites can be seen moving against the starry background every clear night, reported UFO sightings. Astronomers, on the other hand, knew exactly what they were seeing — and immediately began to worry.

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A Tale of 2 Elon Musk Companies: SpaceX Raises $1 Billion for Starlink, Tesla Can’t Afford Toilet Paper

60 Starlink satellites begin to separate after deployment from the Falcon 9 second stage. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

On the heels of the launch of 60 SpaceX Starlink satellites on Thursday comes news that SpaceX has raised $1.02 billion since the beginning of the year. CNBC reports:

SpaceX continues to accelerate its fundraising, as SEC filings indicate the company sought equity rounds of $500 million in January and $400 million in April. CEO Elon Musk had said those rounds were oversubscribed in terms of investor interest.

The filing on Friday, an amendment of the company’s April filings, shows that SpaceX did bring in more funding than expected. The company raised $1.02 billion since the beginning of the year – greater than the $900 million it sought across the two rounds. Gigafund, led by Luke Nosek (a PayPal co-founder and SpaceX board member) and Stephen Oskoui, once again invested in the round for SpaceX, people familiar with the fundraising told CNBC.

Meanwhile, things at Musk’s electric car company aren’t nearly as rosy.

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Starlink Launch Rescheduled for Thursday as Elon Musk Describes Global Broadband System

60 Starlink satellites inside the Falcon 9 payload fairing. (Credit: Elon Musk)

Update: SpaceX scrubbed for Thursday to update satellite software and make additional checks. Next launch attempt will be in about one week.

SpaceX was forced to cancel a Falcon 9 launch with 60 Starlink satellites on board on Wednesday night due to high upper-level winds. Tonight’s launch window opens at 10:30 p.m. EDT, or 2:30 UTC on May 17, and closes at 12:00 a.m. on May 17, or 4:00 UTC. The launch webcast will go live about 15 minutes before liftoff at spacex.com/webcast. The ground weather forecast is 90 percent go for launch.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave a media teleconference during which he describes elements of the Starlink satellite constellation, which is designed to provide high-speed broadband and other communications on a global basis. Here are the highlights:

  • although the constellation could eventually number nearly 12,000 satellites, it would be economically viable with about 1,000 spacecraft;
  • Musk said “it looks like we have sufficient capital to get to an operational level”;
  • Starlink would be able to provide coverage to limited areas of the globe with 400 satellites, which would require a total of seven launches;
  • the constellation would be able to provide coverage for the United States with 12 launches, most of the world’s population with 24, and the entire planet with 30 launches;
  • the 60 satellites being launched are equipped with phased array antennas and ion propulsion units that use krypton instead of more expensive xenon gas;
  • the spacecraft do not have inter-satellite communications links, which will be added to future iterations of the spacecraft;
  • Starlink satellites should last four to five years in orbit before they burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere;
  • spacecraft will be able to detect and avoid orbital debris;
  • ground terminals are about the size of a small or medium pizza and use phased array, electronically steered antennas that can switch between satellites in under a thousandth of a second with a latency of under 20 milliseconds;
  • SpaceX has not signed up any customers yet, but is targeting telecommunications companies, governments, maritime industries, aviation and under served areas of the globe;
  • Musk sees Starlink as providing a revenue stream to fund SpaceX’s Starship launch system and his dream of establishing settlements on Mars;
  • annual revenues could approach more than $30 billion per year, 10 times the approximately $3 billion that the launch side of SpaceX’s business brings in; and,
  • 60 satellites weigh about 18.5 tons, which is the heaviest payload ever launched by Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy.

Elon Musk, Apollo 11 Documentary Honored With Stephen Hawking Medals

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

ZURICH (STARMUS PR) — The STARMUS festival announces the 2019 winners of the Stephen Hawking Medal, one of the world’s most celebrated science communication awards. This year’s recipients are:

  • Elon Musk for his astounding accomplishments in space travel and for humanity
  • Brian Eno for his contribution to the popularisation of science
  • Apollo 11, a documentary by Todd Douglas Miller, for its breakthrough look at history’s most famous space mission.

STARMUS will announce the winners at a press event in Zurich on May 10th, with the medal ceremony to follow on June 24 at the STARMUS V festival, also in Zurich. Celebrated scientist and educator Bill Nye will host the ceremony, and scheduled attendees include a remarkable roster of science and space luminaries, including Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins and six other Apollo mission astronauts.

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SpaceX to Launch 60 Starlink Satellites on Wednesday.

60 Starlink satellites inside the Falcon 9 payload fairing. (Credit: Elon Musk)

Elon Musk tweeted this photo of 60 Starlink satellites inside the fairing of a Falcon 9 rocket scheduled to launch on Wednesday from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The satellites are part of a constellation of nearly 12,000 spacecraft designed to provide fast global broadband services.

Bezos Re-unveils Blue Moon, BE-7 Engine

Blue Moon lander with payloads. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During a presentation in Washington, DC, today, Jeff Bezos laid out a bold vision humans living in giant cylindrical floating space colonies first envisioned by Gerard K. O’Neill four decades ago.

On a more immediate, practical front, the Amazon.com founder produced updated concept art for Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander he says would be perfect for landing astronauts at the south pole of the moon by 2024 as the Trump Administration has proposed.

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Who Was Ernest Shackleton? A Brief Biography

Ernest Shackleton

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nearly a century after his death, Ernest Shackleton is back in the news after Blue Origin tweeted a photo of the Antarctic explorer’s ship, Endurance, with the date 5.9.19.

The tweet has fed speculation that Jeff Bezos’ company might announce a mission next week to a crater at the south pole of the moon that is named after Shackleton. (For more about that, see Why Everyone Interested in Shackleton Crater.)

You might also be asking: Who was Shackleton? What did he accomplish at the South Pole? Why is a crater on the moon named after him? And what does all this have to do with Bezos?

All excellent questions. Let’s find more about one of history’s greatest explorers.

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SpaceX: Crew Dragon Explosion Occurred Prior to SuperDraco Firing

An instrumented mannequin sit in the Crew Dragon spacecraft for the Demo-1 mission. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX provided more information today about the explosion that destroyed a Crew Dragon capsule on the test on April 20 as Elon Musk’s company prepares to launch a Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday.

During a pre-flight conference on Thursday, Vice President of Mission Assurance Hans Koenigsmann said the Crew Dragon capsule powered up as expected for the test. Engineers then fired the small Draco maneuvering thrusters successfully.

The explosion occurred during the activation of the SuperDraco abort system but prior to the firing of the engines. Koenigsmann said the problem was not with the thrusters themselves, which have been tested about 600 times.

Koenigsmann said investigators are still trying to piece together precisely what happened. The investigation is being led by SpaceX with the assistance of NASA.

The destroyed Crew Dragon capsule flew a flight test to the ISS in March. SpaceX planned to use it in an in-flight abort test that had been scheduled for June.

The abort test is one of the last major milestones prior to a crewed flight test to the space station. That was nominally scheduled for July, but unofficial account indicate it was going to slip several months.

Koenigsmann said he did not know what the impact of the accident on the schedule. He noted that SpaceX has a number of Crew Dragon spacecraft in various stages of production.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is preparing to launch a cargo Dragon resupply mission to the space station on Friday. Liftoff is set for 3:11 a.m. EDT (0711 GMT ) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The launch was delayed for two days due to a power problem on the station that was corrected over night.

The weather forecast is not looking very good for the Friday morning launch.

SpaceX Embarks on Another Funding Round to Raise $400 Million

Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceX is seeking to raise $400 million in its latest round of fundraising. According to a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, SpaceX has raised 11 percent of the total:

Total Amount Offered: $399,999,936
Total Amount Sold: $43,999,332
Total Remaining to be Sold: $356,000,604

Five investors have participated in the funding round thus far.

Elon Musk’s company is preparing to launch its Starlink constellation of satellites, which could eventually include nearly 12,000 spacecraft that would provide high-speed Internet and other communications services. The launch of the first satellites is scheduled for no earlier than May.

SpaceX has also begun testing its Raptor engine, which will power its Starship vehicle and super heavy booster.

Amazon Constellation Sends Number of Planned Communications Satellites Soaring Above 20,000

F6 satellite (Credit: OneWeb)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Jeff Bezos’ Amazon has jumped into a crowded field of companies seeking to provide high-speed broadband, data and other communications services to the entire globe.

Amazon’s Kuiper constellation of 3,236 satellites brings the total number of spacecraft in the 16 announced systems to 20,241 spacecraft. The competition includes SpaceX, Boeing, Telesat, SES and government-backed companies in China and Russia.

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Starship Hopper Testing Set for Wednesday at Earliest

The Monitor reports on SpaceX’s plans to test its Starship Hopper this week at Boca Chica near Brownsville, Texas:

Cameron County has posted public notice that it will close Highway 4 to Boca Chica Beach for space flight activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.

In the alternative, the public notice said Highway 4 to Boca Chica Beach will be closed for the same time duration on either Thursday or Friday.

Musk Tweets About Hopper, Flight Tests & Boca Chica Plans