Watch: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Takes A Rough Emergency System Test

SpaceX is banking on its commercial space taxi, Crew Dragon to fly seven astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in an orbital mission to …

SpaceX is banking on its commercial space taxi, Crew Dragon to fly seven astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in an orbital mission to and from Earth. So far, the American aerospace company has completed over 700 tests of the space cab’s SuperDraco engines, that allow for orbital maneuvering.

SEE ALSO: NASA Astronauts Try On Next-Gen SpaceX Spacesuits For The 2020 Mars Mission

Now, the Crew Dragon is being tested rigorously for its emergency abort system, as per a video that was posted by SpaceX on Twitter. The dramatic video shows the space cab outfitted with eight SuperDraco engines, allowing it to cover half a mile in just 7.5 seconds at the time of an emergency, as tweeted by SpaceX. The maximum speed that the Crew Dragon can reach at this point is 436 metres per hour.

Ahead of our in-flight abort test for @Commercial_Crew—which will demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to safely carry astronauts away from the rocket in the unlikely event of an emergency—our team has completed over 700 tests of the spacecraft’s SuperDraco engines pic.twitter.com/nswMPCK3F9

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 12, 2019

Fired together at full throttle, Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDracos can move the spacecraft 0.5 miles—the length of over 7 American football fields lined up end to end—in 7.5 seconds, reaching a peak velocity of 436 mph

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 12, 2019

As the system deploys mid-air, parachutes ensure that the craft safely lands back on Earth. This mechanism is carefully designed for when something goes wrong with the rocket carrying the Crew Dragon to orbit. The module, thus, can fire up its thrusters to quickly evade the danger and then, balloon down sustaining minimal damage to the craft.

SEE ALSO: SpaceX Dragon Returns To Earth From The International Space Station With Science Hauls for NASA

But it hasn’t always been a smooth ride testing out the Crew Dragon. The same engines that make up the integrated launch system, caused the first Crew Dragon capsule to blow up during a system check in April. The explosion happened due to a leaking valve. As per Digital Trends, the aerospace company’s Falcon 9 booster launched the Crew Dragon capsule into orbit on July 25. The Dragon capsule contains 5,500 pounds worth of equipment for experiments and ongoing scientific research to supply the ISS.

As SpaceX is perfecting its soon-to-be-manned capsule, it tested out the first stage of its Falcon 9 boosters that will be responsible for launching two NASA astronauts into orbit as a part of Crew Dragon’s first-ever chartered test flight. The exact date of that test flight is still uncertain.

SEE ALSO: SpaceX To Launch Its First Commercial Starship Mission In 2021

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SES selects SpaceX for two Falcon 9 launches

Two SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches will loft seven high-throughput broadband satellites for SES’s O3b mPower constellation in 2021, SES …
File photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, the expected launch site for the first satellites in the O3b mPower constellation. Credit: SpaceX

Two SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches will loft seven high-throughput broadband satellites for SES’s O3b mPower constellation in 2021, SES announced this week.

The two launches are expected to take off from Cape Canaveral and deliver the seven satellites into an elliptical transfer orbits on the way to operating positions more than 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) over the equator.

Four of the Boeing-built broadband satellites will launch on one mission, and three on the other, SES said. Officials have not determined the order of the launches.

The O3b mPower constellation, first announced in 2017, will expand on SES’s O3b network providing connectivity to ships and remote locales from a unique equatorial medium Earth orbit.

“Momentum in the O3b mPower ecosystem is accelerating quickly as we continue to build the right partnerships to bring this massively innovative communications system to market,” said Steve Collar, CEO of SES. “Working with SpaceX as our launch provider is fitting because in the last seven years we have already jointly made multiple revolutionary industry advancements that make access to space innovation more cost-efficient and unlock new opportunities in critical markets.”

The two Falcon 9 launches to kick off SES’s O3b mPower fleet will mark the Luxembourg-based satellite operators return to SpaceX after six missions between 2013 and 2018. SES was the first commercial satellite operator to launch a payload with SpaceX, and the operator was the first customer to launch a satellite on a reused Falcon 9 booster.

“We are delighted to have SpaceX as partners for our historic O3b mPower launch, and together, we will extend high-performance connectivity to all who have limited access to it today,” Collar said.

The first 20 O3b satellites launched four at a time on Russian-made Soyuz rockets from French Guiana on missions managed by the French launch service provider Arianespace. The first-generation O3b satellites were manufactured by Thales Alenia Space of France.

SES is going with different spacecraft and launch contractors for the next round of O3b satellites.

“We are pleased that SES has once again selected Falcon 9 to launch their powerful, groundbreaking communications system,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer at SpaceX. “SES has been an important partner for SpaceX – fully supporting our efforts to make rocket reusability a reality. We are proud to play a part in SES bringing revolutionary connectivity solutions to the market.”

Artist’s illustration of the initial O3b mPower constellation of seven satellites in an equatorial orbit. Credit: SES

SES operates one of the largest fleets of conventional geostationary communications satellites, located roughly four times farther from Earth than the O3b fleet. Unlike some of its competitors, SES has not pursued a constellation of small broadband satellites in low Earth orbit — an orbital regime a few hundred miles above Earth — but has focused on marrying the capabilities of its sizable geostationary fleet with a low-latency Internet network in medium Earth orbit.

Each of the seven O3b mPower satellites will weigh less than 2 tons. The satellites will employ electric propulsion to reach their final operating orbit after deployment into a preliminary transfer orbit by the Falcon 9 rocket, an SES spokesperson said.

Like the existing O3b satellites, the mPower spacecraft in an equatorial will each customers across 80 percent of the Earth’s surface, excluding high-latitude polar regions. The Federal Communications Commission last year approved a request by SES to sell satellite communications capacity from additional O3b mPower platforms flying in inclined orbits, giving the system global reach.

A single O3b mPower satellite, each with the ability to form more than 4,000 user beams, will have 10 times the capacity of the current O3b satellites, according to SES. The initial seven satellites are expected to provide 10 terabits of total throughput.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Watch SpaceX Test Its Crew Dragon’s Escape System

SpaceX just posted dramatic footage of its commercial space taxi Crew Dragon undergoing rigorous tests of its emergency abort system. The idea is …

Abort! Abort!

SpaceX just posted dramatic footage of its commercial space taxi Crew Dragon undergoing rigorous tests of its emergency abort system.

The idea is that if something goes wrong with the rocket carrying the Crew Dragon to orbit, the module can engage its own thrusters to quickly escape the danger — and then coast down safely on a parachute.

Ahead of our in-flight abort test for @Commercial_Crew—which will demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to safely carry astronauts away from the rocket in the unlikely event of an emergency—our team has completed over 700 tests of the spacecraft’s SuperDraco engines pic.twitter.com/nswMPCK3F9

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 12, 2019

Ejector Button

The spacecraft is outfitted with eight SuperDraco engines, allowing it to cover half a mile in just 7.5 seconds during an emergency, reaching a top speed of 436 mph, according to a follow-up tweet. Parachutes ensure that the craft safely lands back on Earth after the system deploys.

But testing hasn’t always gone according to plan. The same engines were responsible for blowing up the first Crew Dragon capsule during a system test in April.

Last week, SpaceX tested the first stage of its Falcon 9 boosters that will be responsible for launching two NASA astronauts into orbit as part of Crew Dragon’s first-ever crewed test flight. When exactly that test flight will take place is still uncertain.

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SpaceX wants to launch almost 1.5k Starlink satellites next year – that’s a necessity

First reported by SpaceNews, in attendance at the 2019 World Satellite Business Week in Paris, France, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne …

First reported by SpaceNews, in attendance at the 2019 World Satellite Business Week in Paris, France, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell says that the company has plans for as many as 24 dedicated Starlink launches in 2020.

This news comes less than four months after SpaceX’s inaugural Starlink launch – placing 60 prototype spacecraft in orbit on May 24th – and roughly one and a half months before a planned burst of 2-4 more Starlink missions in the final months of 2019. By leveraging the proven reusability of Falcon 9 boosters and probable reusability of Falcon payload fairings, Shotwell believes that the company can simultaneously launch dozens of Starlink missions while still regularly launching customer spacecraft next year.

Towards the end of the #WSBW launch panel, SpaceX President & COO Gwynne Shotwell made a brief mention of the company’s Starlink 2020 launch target. It’s significant. https://t.co/JR6gsMRPeN

— Caleb Henry (@CHenry_SN) September 10, 2019

Extrapolating from SpaceX’s 60-satellite Starlink launch debut, 24 dedicated Starlink missions launched via Falcon 9 rockets would translate to at least 1440 satellites placed in orbit in 2020. In a best-case scenario, SpaceX also wants to launch another four missions before the end of 2019, potentially leaving the company with more than 1700 satellites in orbit by the end of next year.

Shotwell: anticipate our launch rate to be “much higher” next year than the ~18 estimated for this year. #WSBW

— Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) September 10, 2019

In roughly 18 months, SpaceX could thus single-handedly almost double the number of functional satellites in orbit – relative to the ~2000 currently under control. Of course, SpaceX is famous for eventually accomplishing almost every problem it sets its gaze on, but not without delays. Even achieving 12 launches – half as many as hoped for – would be a huge milestone, giving SpaceX control of the largest satellite constellation ever launched, capable of supporting an instantaneous bandwidth of ~18 terabits per second (Tbps).

Although it sounds (and is) incredibly ambitious, the reality is that that launch rate is just shy of a necessity for SpaceX to retain Starlink’s two FCC launch and operations licenses. It’s not 100% accurate, as the constellations – one around 1000 km and the other around 350 km – were granted licenses about half a year apart, but SpaceX essentially needs to launch half of its ~11,900-satellite constellation by November 2024. This gives SpaceX a little over five years from the time of this article’s publishing to launch almost 6000 satellites, translating to roughly 3.3 satellites per day or 100 satellites per month.

Decided to make a graphic of (almost) all the spacecraft @SpaceX will need to launch to finish its nominal ~11,900-satellite #Starlink constellation. Each of the 24 slight columns is 480 satellites, representing eight Falcon 9 launches. This graphic shows 11,520 satellites. pic.twitter.com/CU84ZHwfKE

— Eric Ralph (@13ericralph31) September 12, 2019

At 24 annual launches of 60 satellites apiece, SpaceX would average exactly 120 satellites per month, leaving a decent margin for failed or delayed launches and dead satellites. Nevertheless, although it’s extremely unlikely that the FCC would retract SpaceX’s Starlink launches after the company has launched thousands of satellites, those licenses also come with a requirement that the second half of the constellation be launched within seven years of receipt.

In the event that SpaceX manages to launch almost 6000 satellites by November 2024, this means that the company will have to almost double its effective launch cadence to fully complete Starlink by November 2027. It’s safe to say that, short of total corporate dissolution, SpaceX’s next-generation Starship launch vehicle will be operational by 2024, but in the event that Falcon 9 is still the only practical option, SpaceX would need to average almost three Starlink launches per month.

#SpaceX updates SmallSat rideshare mission plans.

9 Starlink rideshares in 2020

13 Starlink rideshares in 2021

3 missions to SSO in 2020

4 missions to SSO in 2021

29 total missions pic.twitter.com/fKxlxa2w2m

— Michael Baylor (@nextspaceflight) August 29, 2019

According to SpaceX, approximately a third of those 24 Starlink launches will include a small amount of extra capacity for small satellites seeking affordable access to space. Following demand that apparently far outstretched SpaceX’s anticipated interest in a new Smallsat Program, the company significantly widened its scope and lowered the base price to just $1M for up to 200 kg (440 lb) of cargo, while also announcing that some Starlink launches would include latent capacity. Public schedules show that as many as 9 Starlink missions could feature additional smallsats in 2020, followed by up to 13 in 2021.

Check out Teslarati’s newsletters for prompt updates, on-the-ground perspectives, and unique glimpses of SpaceX’s rocket launch and recovery processes.

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SpaceX says it will deploy satellite broadband across US faster than expected

SpaceX says it plans to change its satellite launch strategy in a way that will speed up deployment of its Starlink broadband service and has set a new …
An illustration of the Earth, with lines circling the globe to represent a telecommunications network.

SpaceX says it plans to change its satellite launch strategy in a way that will speed up deployment of its Starlink broadband service and has set a new goal of providing broadband in the Southern United States late next year.

In a filing on August 30, SpaceX asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to “adjust the orbital spacing of its satellites.” With this change, each SpaceX launch would deploy satellites in “three different orbital planes” instead of just one, “accelerating the process of deploying satellites covering a wider service area.”

“This adjustment will accelerate coverage to southern states and US territories, potentially expediting coverage to the southern continental United States by the end of the next hurricane season and reaching other US territories by the following hurricane season,” SpaceX told the FCC. The Atlantic and Pacific hurricane seasons each begin in the spring and run to November 30 each year.

SpaceX said it already planned to “provide continual coverage over northern states after as few as six more launches,” but said it needs a license modification to speed up deployment in the Southern US. SpaceX’s filing stresses the importance of quickly getting service to parts of the US where broadband coverage is limited.

“With this straightforward adjustment, SpaceX can broaden its geographic coverage in the early stages of the constellation’s deployment and enable service initiation to serve customers earlier in the middle latitudes and southern-most states, and critically, those often underserved Americans in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands,” the company told the FCC.

SpaceX has been somewhat vague about launch dates for its broadband service. In October 2017, SpaceX told a Congressional committee that it would launch at least 800 satellites before offering commercial service and said the commercial service would likely become available in 2020 or 2021, as SpaceNews reported at the time. Last year, Reuters reported that SpaceX’s goal of a 2020 launch was “pretty much on target.” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had fired some of Starlink’s senior managers in order to stay on schedule.

In its new FCC application, SpaceX said the adjustment in orbital spacing means it would need “fewer launches of satellites—perhaps as few as half—to initiate service to the entire contiguous United States (as well as Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands).” In the rest of the world, “the modification would enable more rapid coverage of all longitudes to grow toward the Equator, as well as bolstering capacity in areas of greater population density,” SpaceX said.

Unlike traditional satellite broadband, SpaceX’s low-Earth orbit satellites would be able to provide latency as low as 25ms and gigabit speeds. In order to cover any given region, SpaceX said it must “deploy a sufficient number of nodes to ensure continuous coverage,” and “have enough antennas in the right physical configurations to hand off signals.”

No change to altitude or inclination

The orbital-spacing adjustment will not change “the overall number of satellites, their altitude or inclination, their operational characteristics, or their orbital debris implications,” SpaceX said.

If the change is approved, SpaceX satellites would travel in 72 orbital planes instead of the previously approved 24, and there would be 22 satellites in each plane instead of the previously approved 66 in each. This would affect 1,584 out of the 11,943 satellites that SpaceX has FCC authorization to launch. The altitude and inclination would remain unchanged at 550km and 53°, respectively.

An orbital plane is defined by two parameters: the orbiting object’s inclination, and the longitude of its ascending node. I wasn’t sure how to describe this in layman’s terms, so I consulted with our science editor, John Timmer. He explained it this way:

Imagine a spacecraft that orbits so that it’s constantly over the equator. The plane defined by that orbit would cut the earth in half, separating the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. But it’s relatively easy to tilt that plane, so a spacecraft would loop into the northern latitudes for half of its orbit, and into the southern for the other half. By putting a set of spacecraft in enough of these planes, SpaceX plans to greatly expand the areas that can be served by its fleet of satellites.

SpaceX launched 60 satellites in May this year to test the system before preparing for a wider deployment. SpaceX said its “iterative process” led to its new proposal.

“SpaceX has demonstrated the effectiveness of its revolutionary deployment process and confirmed its ability to populate three orbital planes with a single launch,” the company said in its new filing. “By then reorganizing its satellites at their already authorized altitude, SpaceX can place coverage and capacity more evenly and rapidly across more of the US.”

SpaceX also said it plans “to conduct several more Starlink launches before the end of 2019,” and asked the FCC to rule on its application quickly.

The European Space Agency (ESA) this month had to take action to avoid a collision with a SpaceX broadband satellite because a bug in SpaceX’s on-call paging system prevented the company from getting a crucial update about an increased collision risk. But SpaceX said in its FCC filing that the overall collision risk is still near zero “because SpaceX has invested in propulsion for its satellites.”

Other companies planning low-Earth orbit satellites include OneWeb, Space Norway, Telesat, and Amazon. OneWeb recently said it will begin delivering broadband to the Arctic in 2020.

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