The Washington Postreports NASA safety reviews of its two commercial crew providers was triggered by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s use of drugs and alcohol.
The review, to begin next year, would look at both Boeing and SpaceX, the companies under contract to fly NASA’s astronauts, and examine “everything and anything that could impact safety” as the companies prepare to fly humans for the first time, William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration, said in an interview with The Washington Post. (more…)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s plan to provide high-speed communications to virtually any location on Earth got a big boost this week when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the company’s plan to add 7,518 satellites to the company’s Starlink constellation.
The action brings the total number of satellites in Starlink to 11,943 following the FCC’s earlier approval of 4,425 spacecraft last year.
Starlink is Musk’s ambitious entry into the global satellite Internet race. He is gambling big that there is a sufficient market worldwide to make the constellation profitable.
SpaceX launched two test Starlink test satellites into orbit earlier this year. Published reports say Musk wants to launch the first batch of satellites in the middle of next year, with service to begin in 2020.
Starlink is facing competition from OneWeb, which is planning to launch a constellation of 882 satellites to provide similar service. OneWeb plans to begin launching spacecraft next year.
The FCC also approved satellite broadband constellations by three other satellite companies last week. Telesat Canada received approval for an 117-satellite constellation while LeoSat plans to launch 78 spacecraft.
Kepler Communication’s 140-satellite constellation is focused on providing communications for the Internet of Things.
“These proposed satellite systems are expected to enable fixed satellite service in the United States, expanding global connectivity and advancing the goals of increasing high-speed broadband availability and competition in the marketplace,” the FCC said in a press release.
The constellations will greatly increase the number of satellites in Earth orbit. There are currently about 4,900 spacecraft in orbit out of the approximately 8,100 launched since the Space Age began in October 1957. Nearly 2,000 spacecraft are currently operational.
Russia plans to leapfrog Elon Musk’s “old tech” by developing nuclear-powered engines that will make human missions to Mars faster and safer for crews, the head of a research center told Russian media.
“Elon Musk is using the existing tech, developed a long time ago,” said Vladimir Koshlakov, head of the Keldysh Research Center. “He is a businessman; he took a solution that was already there, and applied it successfully. Notably, he is also doing his work with help from the government.”
Keldysh is working on a nuclear engines that will make human exploration of the Red Planet feasible within the near future, he added. The engines will allow cosmonauts to make the voyage in seven months.
“A person should not spend more than a year or two in space. Nuclear-powered spacecraft will allow a relatively fast journey, and, most importantly, a return flight. This technology has special significance for interplanetary flights and research of far planets,” Koshlakov said.
The Keldysh center has successfully conducted the first ground test of the nuclear engine’s cooling system, he added.
Kara Swisher of Recode posted an interview with Elon Musk last week. Below are lightly edited excepts concerning SpaceX and Musk’s plans for Mars.
Well let’s get to rockets, then. SpaceX. Last time we talked, you said you wanted to die on Mars, just not on landing. Which was a very funny joke, although it’s probably not a joke, it’s probably —
Well, it’d be ironic if that had happened. I have to be careful about tempting fate, because I think often the most ironic outcome is the most probable….
Instead of discussing your death, let’s discuss what’s going on at SpaceX. What are some of the things you’re doing?
We successfully launched the Falcon Heavy rocket, which is the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two. So that’s twice the power, twice the thrust of the next biggest rocket. And we actually launched a Tesla — my Tesla Roadster — to Mars orbit. The reason we did that is actually because, normally, when a new rocket is launched, you just put a dummy payload, which is like a block of concrete or something. (more…)
Reutersreports that Elon Musk fired at least seven senior members of the management team of SpaceX’s Starlink program back in June over disagreements about the pace of developing the satellite Internet constellation.
Known for pushing aggressive deadlines, Musk quickly brought in new managers from SpaceX headquarters in California to replace a number of the managers he fired. Their mandate: Launch SpaceX’s first batch of U.S.-made satellites by the middle of next year, the sources said….
Among the managers fired from the Redmond office was SpaceX Vice President of Satellites Rajeev Badyal, an engineering and hardware veteran of Microsoft Corp and Hewlett-Packard, and top designer Mark Krebs, who worked in Google’s satellite and aircraft division, the employees said. Krebs declined to comment, and Badyal did not respond to requests for comment.
The management shakeup followed in-fighting over pressure from Musk to speed up satellite testing schedules, one of the sources said. SpaceX’s Behrend offered no comment on the matter.
Culture was also a challenge for recent hires, a second source said. A number of the managers had been hired from nearby technology giant Microsoft, where workers were more accustomed to longer development schedules than Musk’s famously short deadlines.
“Rajeev wanted three more iterations of test satellites,” one of the sources said. “Elon thinks we can do the job with cheaper and simpler satellites, sooner.”
Starlink aims to launch 4,425 satellites to provide Internet and other communications services to any place on the globe. A future constellation would bring the total number of satellites to about 12,000.
In February, Starlink launched two test satellites named Tintin A and Tintin B. The program faces competition from OneWeb and other companies that are aiming for the same market.
Although praising Elon Musk as “a talented engineer and an outstanding promoter,” Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin last week accused the American billionaire of selling launch vehicles at below-market prices in order to squeeze out Russian providers.
“If you compare the price Musk sells his rockets to Pentagon at and the price he quotes for them on the market, you will see that this is nothing but pure dumping. In order to drive Russia from the market he sells launches at 40 to 60 million dollars while being paid 150 million for a launch by Pentagon,” he told Russia’s TV Channel One.
SpaceX officials have said that U.S. government launches require additional tasks that drive up the cost.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Glavkosmos Launch Services announced last week that it charges $48.5 million for a Soyuz 2.1 booster with a Fregat upper stage. A launch without the Fregat is priced at $35 million.
Both prices are below the amount SpaceX charges for satellite launches. The Falcon 9 is capable of orbiting larger payloads than the Soyuz 2.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the Securities and Exchange Commission have reached a settlement in a case in which the billionaire SpaceX founder was charged with fraud, the Los Angeles Timesreports.
Musk and Palo Alto-based Tesla agreed to pay a total of $40 million to settle the case, and he will give up his chairmanship for at least three years. The electric-car maker also is required to install an independent chairman and two new board members, though Musk will remain on the board, according to terms of the settlement.
Musk and Tesla will each pay $20 million to settle the case; both reached the deal without admitting wrongdoing. The company declined to comment.
The SEC charged Musk with fraud Thursday, alleging that his tweets about taking Tesla private — at $420 a share — were “false and misleading.” As part of the lawsuit, the agency asked a federal court to remove him from the company’s leadership and ban him from running a public company.
Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa was introduced on Monday as the customer for SpaceX’s planned circumlunar flight aboard the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR).
The 42-year old billionaire, who founded the clothing company Zozo (www.zozo.com) and collects high-priced art, said he plans to invited six to eight artists on the trip who would create works of art after returning home. The passengers could include painters, sculptors, film directors, architects, writers and fashion designers.
Musk praised Maezawa as brave to take the flight. “This is dangerous, let’s be clear,” Musk warned. “This is no walk in the park.”
Maezawa’s flight is tentatively scheduled to occur in 2023. SpaceX Founder Elon Musk admitted he was not sure of the date because BFR is still under development.
Musk said Maezawa made a significant deposit on the expensive voyage around the moon. The funds will help fund the development and testing of the reusable rocket/spacecraft, which Musk estimated will cost $5 billion.
HAWTHORNE, Calif. (SpaceX PR) — SpaceX has signed the world’s first private passenger to fly around the Moon aboard our BFR launch vehicle – an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space.
Only 24 humans have been to the Moon in history. No one has visited since the last Apollo mission in 1972. Find out who’s flying and why on Monday, September 17 at 6pm PT.
Editor’s Note: SpaceX announced in February 2017 to send two people around the moon aboard a modified Crew Dragon spacecraft using a Falcon Heavy booster. The two individuals had already paid significant deposits toward the flight, which was to have taken place late this year.
In Febraury 2018, Musk announced that he had scrapped plans to use the Falcon Heavy and Crew Dragon. Instead, the BFR would be used for the cicum-lunar flyby. Musk said earlier this year that BFR could be ready for flights beyond Earth orbit in 2022.
That’s the assessment of SpaceX President & COO Gwynne Shotwell, who was asked about her boss Elon Musk’s erratic behavior in recent months during World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris. Bloomberg reports:
“Elon is a brilliant man,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, said Tuesday after speaking at a satellite industry conference in Paris. “He is as lucid and capable as he has ever been. I wish people would not focus on triviality.”
There’s “no chance” that Musk’s conduct will impact SpaceX’s ability to win contracts, and there’s been “no impact at all” on the level of confidence in him on the part of the closely held company’s backers, Shotwell said.
“Look at the work that Elon’s companies do and focus on that. Not on what he does” in his own time, she said.
Shotwell also said that although she loves cars, she has no interest in taking a similar position at Musk’s struggling car company, Tesla Motors.
Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race by Tim Fernholz Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018 304 pp., illus. ISBN 978-1-328-66223-1 US$28
In 2004, a small vehicle named SpaceShipOne built by Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites and funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen flew three suborbital flights, becoming the first privately-built crewed craft to exit the Earth’s atmosphere. For their efforts, Rutan and Allen won the $10 million Ansari X Prize.
Rutan quickly teamed with another billionaire, Richard Branson, to build a successor vehicle named SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic that would carry two pilots and six passengers on commercial suborbital flights as early as 2007. It didn’t quite work out as planned; 14 years later, SpaceShipTwo hasn’t flown anyone to space.
CNBC has an update on Elon Musk’s pursuit of making Tesla Motors a private company once again.
Morgan Stanley is telling its clients Elon Musk’s stake in SpaceX may be leveraged as a source of funding for his plan to take Tesla private….
“Elon Musk’s desire to potentially take Tesla private may require large amounts of new equity capital. We see scope for SpaceX to play a potentially crucial role in facilitating the required financing as well as the strategic narrative going forward,” analyst Adam Jonas said in a note entitled “How SpaceX Can Potentially Help Tesla Go Private” to clients Monday. “We believe investors should consider the potential role of SpaceX in the near-term financial options confronting Tesla and its shareholders.”
….In a blog post later that day, Musk said “the intention is not to merge SpaceX and Tesla.”
Despite the comment, Jonas said SpaceX could invest directly in Tesla as part of a strategic partnership.
“While we are in no position to dispute this statement on a merging of the two entities, we do not expect Elon Musk to rule out the potential for the involvement of SpaceX as a capital-providing strategic partner or the potential for the value of SpaceX equity held within Mr. Musk’s trust to be considered in the financing of a potential Tesla buyout,” Jonas said. “We see increasingly compelling areas of industrial and strategic cooperation between SpaceX and Tesla in telecommunications / satellite broadband which we see as potentially advantageous for shared and automated transport networks.”
Show of hands if all this sounds a bit familiar. Tesla Motors took over SolarCity in what Musk called a “no-brainer” of synergies and which critics charged was a conflict of interest riddled bailout of a failing company about to go under that benefited Musk and two cousins. The deal added to Tesla’s already enormous debt load.
Some critics are predicting Tesla will go bankrupt this year; Musk disputes that. SpaceX is also in better shape than Tesla was when it absorbed SolarCity.