China Launch Surge Left U.S., Russia Behind in 2018

Long March 2F rocket in flight carrying Shenzhou-11. (Credit: CCTV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The year 2018 was the busiest one for launches in decades. There were a total of 111 completely successful launches out of 114 attempts. It was the highest total since 1990, when 124 launches were conducted.

China set a new record for launches in 2018. The nation launched 39 times with 38 successes in a year that saw a private Chinese company fail in the country’s first ever orbital launch attempt.

(more…)

Upcoming Launches Include Mission Extension Vehicle, ICON and Starlink Satellites

Mission Extension Vehicle refuels satellite. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Four upcoming launches in the United States, Russia and New Zealand feature payloads to refuel a communications satellite, study space weather, expand SpaceX’s Starlink network, and test out new technology.

October 9

Proton
Payloads: Eutelsat 5 West B communications satellite, Mission Extension Vehicle 1 (MEV 1)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Launch Time: 6:17 a.m. EDT (1017 GMT )

This is the first flight of the MEV, which will refuel the Intelsat 901 communications satellite. Both satellites on this launch were built by Northrop Grumman.

October 9/10

Pegasus XL
Payload: Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite
Launch Platform: Stargazer L-1011 aircraft
Departure Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Window: 9:25-10:55 p.m. EDT on Oct. 9 (0125-0255 GMT on Oct. 10)

NASA’s ICON mission will study disturbances in the ionosphere caused by terrestrial weather and solar storms that disrupt radio transmissions and GPS navigation. ICON has suffered repeated delays due to technical problems. The original launch date was in June 2017. The launch is being conducted by Northrop Grumman.

October 14/15

Electron
Payloads: Palisade CubeSat
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Launch Window: 7:00-11:00 p.m. EDT on Oct. 14 (2300-0300 GMT on Oct. 14/15)

Rocket Lab’s “As The Crow Flies” mission is the ninth launch of the Electron rocket Astro Digital’s Palisade technology demonstration satellite is a 16U CubeSat with a next-generation communications system and an an on-board propulsion system.

NET October 17

Falcon 9
Payloads: ~ 60 Starlink 1 communications satellites
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Time: TBD

SpaceX will launch the second group of Starlink 1 broadband satellites no earlier than Oct. 17.

Amazon Files for Approval to Launch 3,236 Satellites for Internet Services

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com marked Independence Day by filing an application with the Federal Communications Commission to launch 3,236 satellites to provide global Internet services from space. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Amazon in its FCC application said its satellites would operate at altitudes of about 370 to 390 miles (590 to 630 kilometers).

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos last month said the Kuiper project would cost “multiple billions of dollars.” The project is separate from Bezos’ space launch vehicle maker, Blue Origin.

In its FCC filing, Amazon said it would help serve U.S. communities “by offering fixed broadband communications services to rural and hard-to-reach areas.” The Kuiper System will help mobile network operators to expand wireless services, Amazon said in its application. It also offered the prospect of “high-throughput mobile broadband connectivity services for aircraft, maritime vessels and land vehicles.”

Amazon is in a race with OneWeb, SpaceX and other companies to provide global broadband services from space. SpaceX has received approval for nearly 12,000 satellites and launched the first 60 spacecraft of its Starlink constellation in May. OneWeb launched the first six of a planned 648 satellites in February.











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.

(more…)











NRAO Statement on Starlink and Communication Satellite Constellations

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

National Radio Astronomy Observatory Statement

Recent news reports of planned constellations of communication satellites, including the SpaceX Starlink proposal, have pointed out the potential impacts these systems may have on radio astronomy. For decades, the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the Green Bank Observatory (GBO), in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, have worked to ensure that innovations in communications can advance while still preserving our ability to explore the Universe from Earth and conduct essential fundamental research through radio astronomy.

(more…)











SpaceX Update on Status of 60 Starlink Satellites

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

SpaceX Statement
May 31, 2019

We continue to track the progress of the Starlink satellites during early orbit operations. At this point, all 60 satellites have deployed their solar arrays successfully, generated positive power and communicated with our ground stations.

Most are already using their onboard propulsion system to reach their operational altitude and have made initial contact using broadband phased array antennas.

SpaceX continues to monitor the constellation for any satellites that may need to be safely deorbited. All the satellites have maneuvering ability and are programmed to avoid each other and other objects in orbit by a wide margin.

Also, please note that the observability of Starlink satellites is dramatically reduced as they raise orbit to greater distance and orient themselves with their phase array antennas toward Earth and their solar arrays behind the body of the satellite.

Editor’s Note: During a talk at MIT earlier this week, President Gwynne Shotwell said 56 satellites were performing as expected and that four had problems. She did not elaborate on the nature of the problems.











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.

(more…)











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.











SpaceX Falcon 9 to Launch 60 Starlink Satellites Tonight

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

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — SpaceX is targeting Wednesday, May 15 for the launch of 60 Starlink satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. SpaceX’s Starlink is a next-generation satellite network capable of connecting the globe, especially reaching those who are not yet connected, with reliable and affordable broadband internet services.

The launch window opens at 10:30 p.m. EDT on May 15, or 2:30 UTC on May 16, and closes at 12:00 a.m. on May 16, or 4:00 UTC. A backup launch window opens on Thursday, May 16 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.

(more…)











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.











SpaceX Receives FCC Approval to Launch 1,500 Starlink Satellites

Gwynne Shotwell

HAWTHORNE, Calif. (SpaceX PR) — Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved SpaceX’s request to fly more than 1,500 of its Starlink satellites at an altitude of 550 kilometers. Additional information on the approval can be found here, and the following statement can be attributed to Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX:

“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. Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing.”

SpaceX is targeting no earlier than May for launch of a Starlink mission.

Last year, SpaceX became the first U.S.-based company to be licensed by the FCC to operate a NGSO constellation of more than 11,000 satellites.

Earlier this year, SpaceX submitted an application to operate 1 million user terminals as well as its first six gateways to provide the necessary communications links back from the satellites to the global Internet. SpaceX intends to install sufficient gateway sites in the U.S. and around the world to ensure that the Starlink satellites have a visible gateway earth station with which they can communicate from all parts of their orbits.











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.

(more…)











SpaceX Receives $28.7 Million USAF Contract for Starlink Constellation

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded Elon Musk’s SpaceX a contract worth $28.7 million for research work on the company’s Starlink satellite constellation.

“This agreement allows for experimentation in the areas of establishing connectivity, operational experimentation, and special purpose experimentation. Experimentation will include connectivity demonstrations to Air Force ground sites and aircraft for experimental purposes,” the contract award states.

“For the proposed Phase 2, the awardee proposes to perform experiments in two other key areas: early versions of a commercial space-to-space data relay service and mobile connectivity directly from space to aircraft,” the award added.

Starlink is designed to provide global communications services using an initial constellation of more than 4,000 satellites. When fully built out, the system will include nearly 12,000 spacecraft.