Success for SpaceX re-usable rocket – BBC News

Success for SpaceX ‘re-usable rocket’

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California’s SpaceX company has successfully re-flown a segment from one of its Falcon 9 rockets.

The first-stage booster, which was previously used on a mission 11 months ago, helped send a telecommunications satellite into orbit from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

It marks an important milestone for SpaceX in its quest for re-usability.

Traditionally, rockets are expendable – their various segments are discarded and destroyed during an ascent.

The California outfit, in contrast, aims to recover Falcon first-stages and fly them multiple times to try to reduce the cost of its operations.

And to emphasise this point, Thursday’s booster was also brought back under control to land on a barge stationed out in the Atlantic.

“I think it’s an amazing day for space,” said Elon Musk, the chief executive of SpaceX.

“It means you can fly and re-fly an orbit class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket. This is going to be, hopefully, a huge revolution in spaceflight.”

The lift-off had occurred on cue at 18:27 EDT (22:27 GMT; 23:27 BST).

The satellite passenger, SES-10, was ejected some 32 minutes later.

This spacecraft is now being manoeuvred by its own thruster system to a position over the equator from where it can deliver TV and telecom services to the Caribbean, Brazil, and other regions in Central and South America.

SpaceX has become adept in the past two years at bringing first-stage boosters home after they have completed their primary task of getting a payload out of the thicker lower-reaches of the atmosphere.

The segments autonomously guide themselves back to the floating platform or a coastal pad to make propulsive landings.

Thursday’s mission was the first time one of these “flight proven” vehicles had been re-launched.

Other landed boosters will now be used on future missions. Another six this year, most likely.

Some customers may still insist on a brand new rocket, but if SpaceX can demonstrate routine, untroubled performance from these second-hand vehicles then satellite operators will get increasingly comfortable with the concept.

Getting away from expendable rockets has been a long quest.

Famously, Nasa’s space shuttle system was partially re-usable.

Its white solid-fuel strap-on boosters, for example, would parachute into the Atlantic after each launch. The casings of these boosters were then refurbished and re-used numerous times.

And yet the complexities of servicing the shuttle system after every flight swamped any savings.

SpaceX expects its simpler Falcon 9 rocket finally to deliver a practical commercial solution. It believes its technology will eventually permit rapid turnaround, with boosters flying perhaps 10 times before being retired; maybe even up to 100 times with a certain level of refurbishment.

“With this being the first re-flight we were incredibly paranoid about everything,” Mr Musk said.

“The core airframe remained the same, the engines remained the same – but any auxiliary components that we thought might be slightly questionable, we changed out. Now our aspiration will be zero hardware changes, re-flight in 24 hours – the only thing that changes is that we reload propellant.”

Other players are following close behind. The Amazon entrepreneur Jeff Bezos already has a re-usable sub-orbital rocket and capsule system that he has successfully launched and landed five times.

Mr Bezos now plans a recoverable orbital rocket called New Glenn. And United Launch Alliance, which puts up the majority of America’s national security payloads, is in the process of designing a new vehicle that will return its engines to Earth via parachute.

All this is welcome news for the likes of Luxembourg satellite operator SES, which is having to queue up for rocket rides and wait many months to get its valuable telecoms spacecraft in orbit and earning revenue.

“It’s a big deal for us. If we can get reliable re-usability then we will get better management of the manifest,” said Martin Halliwell, the chief technology officer for SES.

“We made a little bit of history today, actually. We just opened the door to a whole new era of spaceflight,”

This Space TV Startup Plans To Stream Live Videos Of Earth’s Surface From Space In 2021

This Space TV Startup Plans To Stream Live Videos Of Earth’s Surface From Space In 2021

Sen is planning a constellation of up to 100 video-streaming satellites.

A startup company that hopes to provide real-time video streaming of Earth from space has announced it will launch its first satellite in 2021, with four further satellites set to launch in 2022.

Sen, based in the U.K., said it had contracted Lithunia-based NanoAvionics to build the five satellites, together called EarthTV, which will be equipped with cameras to beam ultra-high definition (UHD) video to Earth from space. The satellites will be among the first to watch events on Earth unfold in real-time, enabling a wide range of services for companies and consumers.

“Sen’s vision is to become a space video company, to stream real-time video from space with a focus on environmental events and human movement,” says Charles Black, founder and CEO of Sen. “[There are already] companies capturing still imagery at different resolutions. What we’re doing is introducing a new type of data to the market, which is video.”

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The satellites will be launched into a Sun-synchronous orbit, one that remains constantly in sunlight, about 500 kilometers above Earth’s surface. Each so-called nano-satellite, less than two meters across, will have use its camera to view Earth in a variety of resolutions, ranging from 250 meters down to just 1.5 meters.

Events that will be observed will include environmental disasters, such as flooding and wildfires, along with the movements of large groups of people. “We feel that video data will help organizations help displaced people by providing real-time or very timely information,” says Black.

Each steerable satellite will be able to focus on these events unfolding on the ground below, and stream them in real-time. Companies will be able to pay Sen to access the service, while members of the public will be able to watch the stream and get a live glimpse of Earth’s surface through an app. “That will enable individuals to watch and track events,” says Black.

Sen has already demonstrated its capabilities on a satellite launched by the Russian organization RSC Energia in February 2019, highlighting the impressive quality of their video footage. But the ultimate goal is to operate a fleet of spacecraft in orbit, providing large amounts of video of Earth’s surface.

The company already has cameras orbiting Earth on a Russian-built satellite.

“I would like to target something like 100 [satellites in orbit],” says Black. “So it’s not going to be a ‘mega constellation’. But it’s going to be one where we have real-time video of pretty much any place on Earth.”

Sen’s goals do not just extend to Earth orbit, as the company hopes to also eventually send some of its video spacecraft to the Moon or even Mars. The goal here is to have spacecraft in place to watch the arrival of future human missions, planned by organizations like NASA and SpaceX, and stream video back to people on Earth.

“As people expand to the Moon, Sen wants to be telling that story,” says Black. “We believe society needs an independent media that can tell that story of both government agencies and private companies that explore the Moon. We’re aiming for the Moon in the mid-2020s at the earliest, and Mars in 2030 onwards.”

For now though the focus is very much on Earth. And with the launches beginning next year, the company hopes to deliver unique views of the planet from space. “With the real-time capability we believe there is very little similar data available at the moment,” says Black.

Testing opportunities missed ahead of ill-fated Boeing Starliner spaceflight, review finds

Testing opportunities missed ahead of ill-fated Boeing Starliner spaceflight, review finds

NASA: Boeing must come up with corrective plan prior to next spaceflight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – An independent review of Boeing’s ill-fated Starliner spaceflight found testing opportunities were missed before launch and the next time Starliner will fly remains unknown, Boeing and NASA officials said Friday as they revealed the results of their joint investigation into Starliner’s December orbital test flight.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner launched from Cape Canaveral in December without astronauts on board. The spacecraft was bound for the International Space Station to test its launch, docking and landing systems but the spacecraft was forced to return to Earth 48 hours after launch when it missed a critical maneuver to catch up to the space station.

NASA previously said three main issues were discovered during Boeing’s December orbital test flight, two were related to software errors and the third was an intermittent communication problem between the spacecraft and controllers on the ground.

On Friday, Boeing and NASA officials said an independent review team has made more than 60 corrective recommendations to Boeing and identified three specific issues that must be addressed before the spacecraft can fly again.

NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Doug Loverro said, specifically, the review team found Boeing did not run all possible software tests ahead of the first flight.

“There are four ways software could have run,” Loverro said. “We didn’t test all four ways it could have run.”

The independent review team found that too much authority was given to the software board before changes were made to the spacecraft software. Those changes should have been brought up to the design review board, Loverro said.

Last week, Boeing Starliner Program Manager John Mulholland said Boeing will now test the spacecraft software from start to finish prior to launch.

NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders said next Boeing will come up with a plan to correct the issues discovered during the review and present that plan to NASA, possibly by the end of the month. NASA will then need to approve or recommend changes to the plan.

Since 2011, the U.S. has relied on Russian rockets to get its crew to the space station.

NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to build human-rated spacecraft to fly U.S. astronauts as part of the Commercial Crew program, awarding the private companies a combined $6.4 billion. Both companies have experienced delays as they work to certify their capsules to fly crew to the ISS and bring them home safely.

Due to the program delays, NASA is in negotiation with Russia to purchase extra seats to fly astronauts to the ISS.

The Boeing Starliner Orbital Test Flight on Dec. 20 was part of the process to certify the spacecraft to fly NASA astronauts.

Elon Musk’s company successfully launched Crew Dragon — without astronauts — to the ISS and brought it home for an Atlantic Ocean splashdown last year.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule is slated to launch with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley as soon as this spring, marking the first time Americans have launched from U.S. soil since the shuttle program.

After Friday’s call with NASA and Boeing, it’s still unclear if Starliner will have to repeat its orbital test flight before flying astronauts because it did not dock at the space station.

“Quite frankly we don’t know,” Loverro said when asked about another uncrewed test flight. “I can’t even tell you what the schedule will be on that.”

NASA will evaluate Boeing’s plan to correct the Starliner issues before it determines if there will be a second test flight, Loverro said.

Boeing’s Senior Vice President Jim Chilton said the company is ready to repeat a test flight without a crew, if NASA asks.

“’All of us want crew safety No. 1,” Chilton said. “Whatever testing we’ve got to do to make that happen, we embrace it.”

The results of the review will also roll over into another major NASA program Boeing is involved in, the Space Launch System, otherwise known as the Artemis program rocket. Boeing is the prime contractor for the rocket’s core stage and the developer of the flight electronics.

A high-visibility close call like Starliner’s triggers a review of Boeing as a whole in addition to the independent review just completed, according to NASA.

Loverro said this procedure allows NASA to formally document lessons learned from the Starliner flight and perform “an organizational root causes assessment,” meaning NASA will look at both Boeing and NASA organizational processes.

“I think we could all agree that it was a close call, we could have lost a spacecraft twice during this mission,” Loverro said, adding if it weren’t for Boeing’s actions, the orbital test flight could have ended very differently.

Mulholland said the changes from the larger review could help “the whole space ecosystem.”

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