Rocket Men: Why Tech’s Biggest Billionaires Want their Place in Space

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Forget gilded mansions and super yachts. Among the tech elite, space exploration is now the ultimate status symbol.

On board was a $200m, 12,000lb communications satellite – part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org project to deliver broadband access to sub-Saharan Africa.

Zuckerberg wrote, with a note of bitterness, on his Facebook page that he was “deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite”. SpaceX founder Elon Musk told CNN it was the “most difficult and complex failure” the 14-year-old company had ever experienced.

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It was also the second dramatic explosion in nine months for SpaceX, following a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” of a booster rocket as it attempted to land after a successful mission to the International Space Station.

Later that day, Nasa’s official Twitter account responded: “Today’s @SpaceX incident – while not a Nasa launch – reminds us that spaceflight is challenging.”

Yet despite those challenges, a small band of billionaire technocrats have spent the past few years investing hundreds of millions of dollars into space ventures. Forget gilded mansions and super yachts; among the tech elite, space exploration is the ultimate status symbol.

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Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, is arguably the most visible billionaire in the new space race. The apparent inspiration for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark character in Iron Man, Musk has become a god-like figure for engineers, making his fortune at PayPal and then as CEO of luxury electric car firm Tesla and clean energy company Solar City. Yet it is his galactic ambitions, insiders say, that really motivate him. “His passion is settling Mars,” says one.

[Read the full story here, at The Guardian]

SpaceX has completed 32 successful launches since 2006, delivered cargo to the International Space Station and secured more than $10bn in contracts with Nasa and other clients. Musk has much grander ambitions, though, saying he plans to create a “plan B” for humanity in case Earth ultimately fails. He once famously joked that he hoped to die on Mars – just not on impact. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] A Quick History of Space Exploration 

Orbital Sciences will once again attempt to rendezvous with the International Space Station when it launches the Cynus spacecraft aboard its Antares rocket, shown here in a file photo of an earlier launch. Photo courtesy Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences will once again attempt to rendezvous with the International Space Station when it launches the Cynus spacecraft aboard its Antares rocket, shown here in a file photo of an earlier launch. Photo courtesy Orbital Sciences

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Artist's concept of the new SpaceX Dragon, which may one day fly from Brownsville, Texas (Image: SpaceX)

Artist’s concept of the new SpaceX Dragon, which may one day fly from Brownsville, Texas (Image: SpaceX)

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From the first rocket launch in 1926 to Gagarin, Armstrong, Hubble, Curiosity and beyond, take a fast ride through the 90 years of human space exploration. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] High-Speed SpaceX Footage from Launches of Falcon 9 Rockets  

New camera views of past launches and reentries.Missions in order of appearance: May JCSAT-14; July CRS-9 launch, stage separation, engine plume interaction, and re-entry burn; December 2015 ORBCOMM landing burn; July CRS-9 landing burn.

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SpaceX Lands Fourth Booster after Successful Falcon 9 Launch

 reports: SpaceX enjoyed a trio of successes on Friday when it launched its Falcon 9 rocket, landed the first stage and deployed a communications satellite.Falcon 9 blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:39 p.m. Eastern time with the Thaicom 8Wochit

SpaceX on Friday landed its third consecutive rocket on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, during a mission that successfully launched a commercial communications satellite to orbit.

“Falcon 9 has landed,” a member of SpaceX’s launch team confirmed about 10 minutes after a 230-foot Falcon 9 rocket’s 5:39 p.m. blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

About 20 minutes later, the rocket’s upper stage deployed the Thaicom 8 satellite in orbit as planned.

“All looks good,” reported SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral

Photos: SpaceX launch from Cape Canaveral with Thaicom 8

Later, Musk said the rocket stage had landed at close to the top speed it was designed to handle, possibly undermining its stability on the ship floating more than 400 miles offshore.

“Prob ok, but some risk of tipping,” he said on Twitter.

[Read the full story here, at floridatoday.com]

If it staid upright, crews planned to board the unpiloted “drone ship” to weld shoes over the rocket’s four landing legs and sail it back to Port Canaveral within a few days.

Musk’s comment was a reminder that despite a remarkable run of three straight booster landings and four in the company’s last six missions, the landings remain experimental.

SpaceX’s long-term goal is to cut launch costs by reusing rockets. Musk wants to achieve aircraft-like operations, with teams needing only to hose down down and refuel rockets between flights.

But the rockets landed Friday and three weeks ago have sustained more damage, possibly too much to allow them to fly again.
Read the rest of this entry »


SpaceX Continues Ambitious Launch Schedule with Next Mission, Fifth One This Year

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Emily Calandrelli reports: Less than a month after their last successful mission, SpaceX is back at it again. Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 5:40pm EST tomorrow with telecommunications satellite Thaicom 8 on board.

What’s truly notable is that tomorrow’s launch will be the fifth one for SpaceX this year, demonstrating an increased launch frequency compared to last year.

In 2015, SpaceX conducted a total of six successful Falcon 9 launches, putting their launch frequency at about one launch every other month. So far this year, they’ve doubled that frequency with nearly one launch per month.

[Read the full story here, at TechCrunch]

In March, President of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell, stated that the company actually plans to launch a total of 18 times in 2016, which would triple the number of successful launches compared to 2015. She also said that they plan to increase that launch rate even further the following year with 24 hopeful launches in 2017.

The expected increase would be remarkable considering there were only 82 recorded successful orbital launches in the entire world last year. This number was down from 2014, which saw 90 successful orbital launches – the highest number of annual launches in two decades.

With more Falcon 9 launches comes more rocket recovery attempts, and tomorrow’s mission will be no exception.

After the launch, SpaceX will make another attempted recovery of the first stage of their rocket on a drone ship out at sea.

SpaceX's Of Course I Still Love You drone ship / Image Courtesy of SpaceX

SpaceX’s Of Course I Still Love You drone ship / Image Courtesy of SpaceX

A land-based recovery was ruled out for this mission because Thaicom 8 needs to be inserted into geostationary orbit (GEO: an altitude of above 22,000 miles), which means the mission will require higher speeds and more fuel and wouldn’t be able to navigate back to land.

Missions like these are precisely why SpaceX has worked to perfect their sea-based landings. Read the rest of this entry »


Space: The Visionaries Take Over

Charles Krauthammerkrauthammer-sm writes: Fractured and divided as we are, on one thing we can agree: 2015 was a miserable year. The only cheer was provided by Lincoln Chafee and the Pluto flyby (two separate phenomena), as well as one seminal aeronautical breakthrough.

On Dec. 21, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, after launching 11 satellites into orbit, returned its 15-story booster rocketupright and intact, to a landing pad at Cape Canaveral. That’s a $60 million mountain of machinery — recovered. (The traditional booster rocket either burns up or disappears into some ocean.)

The reusable rocket has arrived. Arguably, it arrived a month earlier when Blue Origin, a privately owned outfit created by Jeffrey P. Bezos (Amazon chief executive and owner of this newspaper) launched and landed its own booster rocket, albeit for a suborbital flight. But whether you attribute priority to Musk or Bezos, the two events together mark the inauguration of a new era in spaceflight.

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Musk predicts that the reusable rocket will reduce the cost of accessing space a hundredfold. This depends, of course, on whether the wear and tear and stresses of the launch make the refurbishing prohibitively expensive. Assuming it’s not, and assuming Musk is even 10 percent right, reusability revolutionizes the economics of spaceflight.

[Read the full story here, at The Washington Post]

Which both democratizes and commercializes it. Which means space travel has now slipped the surly bonds of government — presidents, Congress, NASA bureaucracies. Its future will now be driven far more by a competitive marketplace with its multiplicity of independent actors, including deeply motivated, financially savvy and visionary entrepreneurs. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Elon Musk’s SpaceX Returns to Flight and Pulls Off Dramatic, Historic Landing

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SpaceX Falcon rocket blasts off, booster lands safely

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Christian Davenport reports: Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket at its landing pad here Monday evening in its first flight since its rocket exploded six months ago.

The historic landing, the first time a rocket launched a payload into orbit and then returned safely to Earth, was cheered as a sign that SpaceX, the darling of the commercial space industry, has its momentum back.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida before the reusable main-stage booster turned around, soaed back to Cape Canaveral and landed safely near its launch pad. (Reuters)

“The Falcon has landed,” a SpaceX commentator said on the live webcast, as workers at its headquarters went wild, chanting “USA! USA!”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Unveils Company's New Manned Spacecraft, The Dragon V2

Monday’s flight, initially delayed because of technical concerns, was the second time in a month that a billionaire-backed venture launched a rocket to space and recovered it. And it represents yet another significant step forward in the quest to open up the cosmos to the masses.

[Read the full story here, at The Washington Post]

In a call with reporters, Musk said that it appeared the stage landed “dead center on the landing pad. … We could not have asked for a better mission.” He called it a “revolutionary moment.”

Typically, rocket boosters are used once, burning up or crashing into the ocean after liftoff. But Musk, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and Tesla, and Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com who has his own space company, have been working on creating reusable rockets that land vertically by using their engine thrust. If they are able to recover rockets and fly them again and again, it would dramatically lower the cost of space flight.

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Reusing the first stage, which houses the engine and is the most expensive part of the rocket, was thought impossible by many just a few years ago. But last month Bezos’s Blue Origin flew a rocket to the edge of space, and landed it in a remote swath of West Texas. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

On Monday, SpaceX’s first flight since its Falcon 9 rocket blew up in June, Musk topped his fellow tech billionaire and space rival, by landing a larger, more powerful rocket designed to send payloads to orbit, and not just past the boundary of what’s considered space. It was a much more complicated feat that was celebrated as another leap forward for Musk and his merry band of rocketeers.

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SpaceX’s unmanned — and recently upgraded — Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral at 8:29 p.m. on a mission to deliver 11 commercial satellites into space for Orbcomm, a communications company. A few minutes later, the second stage separated and headed further on while the towering booster performed an aerial U-turn and headed back to Earth, hurtling back through gusty winds and using its engine thrust to slow down. Read the rest of this entry »


SpaceX Has Nearly A Full Uber Funding In Contracts 

 writes: Sending things to space isn’t cheap, which is exactly why Elon Musk got into the business with SpaceX. In a press release today about some newly signed contracts for use of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, the company updated just how much money it has booked.

Seven Billion Dollars under contract for the 60 missions on manifest. To put all of this into perspective, Uber has raised $8.2 Billion to date.

Financially, the milestone is notable. SpaceX raised a fresh $1 billion in January of this year, after denying that it had reached a valuation of of $10 billion last Summer.

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Space exploration is a capital intensive business. To date, SpaceX has raised $1.2 billion. Given the massive discrepancy between the startup’s past raise total, and its recent raise quantity, it seems quite reasonable to presume that the firm isn’t cash poor looking ahead in the short, or moderate term. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] ‘The Vehicle Experienced an Anomaly on Ascent’: SpaceX CRS-7 Explodes Moments After Liftoff, Mission Ends In Disaster

The latest Dragon spacecraft cargo run to the International Space Station blasted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28th, 2015 and exploded during flight. SpaceX wanted to attempt to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on a ocean platform. [The last attempt crashed into the platform – see the tracking cam video]

Christian Davenport reports: An unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded a couple of minutes after liftoff Sunday morning. It was the third cargo mission to the space station to be lost in recent months.

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SpaceX tweeted: “The vehicle experienced an anomaly on ascent. Team is investigating. Updates to come.”

NASA officials said it was not clear what caused the explosion.

SpaceX was carrying more than 4,000 pounds of food and supplies to the space station, where American Scott Kelly is spending a year in space. There were no astronauts on board.

The failure follows two earlier mishaps. An Orbital Antares rocket blew up in October, and then a Russian Progress 59 spun out of control after reaching orbit.

Before the launch, Stephanie Schierholz, a NASA spokeswoman, said that the station had plenty of supplies on board and that the crew would be fine even if there was another failure. Read the rest of this entry »


SpaceX and the Russian Rocket Mess

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Boeing and Lockheed aren’t the enemy, but accelerating a competitive launch business is worth some risks

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes: The first thing to notice is how rapidly Elon Musk’s SpaceX is altering the market for government-sponsored rocket launches.

“Should Congress, however bad the precedent, climb down from sanctions enacted last December curtailing the Pentagon’s reliance on a Russian-made engine to put U.S. military satellites in orbit?”

Witness how frequently the words “to compete with SpaceX” appear in industry statements and press coverage. To compete with SpaceX, say multiple reports, the United Launch Alliance, the Pentagon’s traditional supplier, is developing a new Vulcan rocket powered by a reusable engine designed by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin.

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Because of SpaceX, says Aviation Week magazine, Japan’s government has instructed Mitsubishi to cut in half the cost of the Japanese workhorse rocket, and China is planning a new family of kerosene-fueled Long March rockets. “Stimulated by SpaceX’s work on reusable rockets,” reports SpaceNews.com, Airbus is developing a reusable first stage for Europe’s venerable Ariane rocket.

“Yes, say the Pentagon, the national intelligence leadership and the White House, because avoiding disruption to crucial military launches is more important than any symbolic weakening of sanctions against Russia.”

All this comes amid one of those Washington battles ferocious in inverse relation to the certainties involved. Should Congress, however bad the precedent, climb down from sanctions enacted last December curtailing the Pentagon’s reliance on a Russian-made engine to put U.S. military satellites in orbit?

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

Yes, say the Pentagon, the national intelligence leadership and the White House, because avoiding disruption to crucial military launches is more important than any symbolic weakening of sanctions against Russia. Read the rest of this entry »


SpaceX Tests Launch Abort System

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SpaceX has put its Dragon astronaut capsule through a practice abort.

The demonstration simulated what would happen to the crewship in the event of a rocket failure on the launch pad.

Wednesday’s test was conducted at Cape Canaveral in Florida, and saw a test vehicle – carrying no humans, only a dummy – hurled skywards by a set of powerful in-built thrusters.

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The Dragon ship was propelled to a safe distance, lowering itself softly into the Atlantic via three parachutes.

SpaceX expects to start launching astronauts in 2017.

It is one of two companies that have been contracted by the US space agency (Nasa) to develop vehicles to ferry people to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The other firm is Boeing.

Both have to demonstrate effective launch escape technologies for their rockets and capsules to receive certification. Only with the necessary assurance will Nasa permit its astronauts to climb aboard.

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SpaceX has elected to use a so-called pusher system on the Dragon.

Eight SuperDraco thrusters have been integrated into the side of the ship, and these fired in tandem for just over five seconds at the start of the test to hurl the ship up and to the east of the Cape. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] SpaceX Launches: 4K Footage

Enjoy SpaceX launch footage in Ultra HD 4K. All footage used in this video was shot in 4K. If your connection is slow, toggle to 1080 HD for smoother playback.


[VIDEO] SpaceX Launch Successful: Attempt to Land Booster Rocket on Platform #Fail

After six successful missions to the International Space Station, including five official resupply missions for NASA, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft are set to liftoff from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, for their sixth official Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)

 


Falcon 9 Passes Readiness Review


SpaceX Launches Rocket, Attempt to Land Booster Falls Short: ‘Close, but No Cigar’

 reports: Elon Musk’s SpaceX sent a cargo capsule loaded with International Space Station supplies into orbit Saturday morning, but the company’s unprecedented attempt to set down the craft’s first-stage rocket on an ocean barge was rocky and damaged the booster.

“Rocket made it to the drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho.”

— Elon Musk

The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral at 1:47 a.m. Pacific time.

Within minutes, the cargo-filled capsule separated from the first-stage booster rocket and continued on its way to orbit and rendezvous with the space station.

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That was when SpaceX attempted what had never been done: flying the 13-story booster back to Earth and landing it upright on an ocean barge.

The booster made it to the barge, but Musk tweeted that some of the vessel’s equipment was damaged by the impact. “Ship itself is fine,” he wrote. “Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced.”

“Didn’t get good landing/impact video,” he tweeted. “Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and … actual pieces.”

Hawthorne-based SpaceX hopes to one day be able to reuse the first stage, which includes the expensive and powerful engines needed to blast the capsule to orbit. The planned landing and recovery of the first stage is part of Musk’s goal to eventually be able to refly the same spacecraft many times, greatly lowering the cost of space flight. Read the rest of this entry »


SpaceX Will Try to Land Falcon 9 Rocket on Floating Platform Next Week

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Space.com Senior Writer Mike Wall, reports: SpaceX will apparently attempt something truly epic during next week’s cargo launch to the International Space Station.

During the Dec. 16 launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which will send SpaceX’s robotic Dragon capsule toward the orbiting lab, the California-based company will try to bring the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket back to Earth for a controlled landing on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean.

“There are a lot of launches that will occur over the next year. I think it’s quite likely that [on] one of those flights, we’ll be able to land and refly, so I think we’re quite close.”

— Elon Musk

The bold maneuver marks a big step forward in SpaceX’s development of reusable-rocket technology, which the company’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, says could eventually cut the cost of spaceflight by a factor of 100 and perhaps make Mars colonization economically feasible. [SpaceX’s Quest For Rocketry’s Holy Grail: Exclusive Video]

A photo of the "autonomous spaceport drone ship" on which SpaceX will attempt  Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX

A photo of the “autonomous spaceport drone ship” on which SpaceX will attempt
Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX

Musk shared photos of the Falcon 9 and landing platform via Twitter late last month, ratcheting up interest in the cargo mission, the fifth of 12 unmanned resupply flights SpaceX will make to the space station for NASA under a $1.6 billion contract. Read the rest of this entry »


The Saturn V at the US Space & Rocket Center

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The Saturn V at the US Space & Rocket Center


[PHOTO] Long Exposure Photo of Falcon 9 Rocket Launch from Cape Canaveral

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Long Exposure Photo of tonight’s Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, carrying AsiaSat 6 to Geostationary Transfer Orbit


Bring it On: SpaceX Set to Launch the World’s First Reusable Booster

SpaceX’s reusable booster rocket, the first of its kind, could pave the way for radically cheaper access to space.

After delivering cargo to the International Space Station, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket used for the flight will fire its engines for the second time. The burn will allow the rocket to reenter the atmosphere in controlled flight, without breaking up and disintegrating on the way down as most booster rockets do.

The launch was originally planned for March 16, but the company has delayed the launch until at least March 30 to allow for further preparation.

The machine will settle over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of its Cape Canaveral launchpad, engines roaring, and four landing legs will unfold from the rocket’s sides. Hovering over ocean, the rocket will kick up a salt spray along with the flames and smoke. Finally, the engines will cut off and the rocket will drop the last few feet into the ocean for recovery by a waiting barge.

[Order Michael Belfiore‘s book: “Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space” from Amazon]

Future flights of the so-called F9R rocket will have it touching down on land. For now, a water landing ensures maximum safety in case the rocket goes off course.

Read the rest of this entry »


SpaceX Satellite Launch Rewrites the Rules

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Joe Pappalardo reports: Today SpaceX launched its first satellite into geosynchronous orbit, positioning the young company as a disruptive player in an international launch market. Elon Musk’s company is officially a launch industry upstart. The success comes after two launch delays last week caused by technical glitches.

At approximately 5:41 pm Eastern, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 left the launch pad at Cape Canaveral carrying a 6400-pound communications sat for the operator of the world’s second-largest sat fleet, Luxembourg-based SES. All eyes were on the upper stage, which failed to perform as needed during a demonstration launch in late September. For the rocket to deliver its cargo to high orbit, the second stage had to reignite in space. This time around it succeeded: The upper stage reignited as planned.

Read the rest of this entry »


Amazing Shot [VIDEO] Grasshopper 744m Test – Single Camera (Hexacopter)

On Monday, October 7th, Grasshopper completed its highest leap to date, rising to 744m altitude. The view above is taken from a single camera hexacopter, getting closer to the stage than in any previous flight.

Grasshopper is a 10-story Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle designed to test the technologies needed to return a rocket back to Earth intact. While most rockets are designed to burn up on atmosphere reentry, SpaceX rockets are being designed not only to withstand reentry, but also to return to the launch pad for a vertical landing. The Grasshopper VTVL vehicle represents a critical step towards this goal.

Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage tank, Merlin 1D engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.

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What Happens If I Put Rocket Fuel In My Gas Tank?

Rocket Fuel StockTrek/Getty Images

Rocket Fuel StockTrek/Getty Images

FYI: Sean Kane at Popular Science answers this for us.

If your car is a diesel, it will run. Liquid hydrogen, the fuel that powered the space shuttle’s main engines, could work, says Manuel Martinez-Sanchez, an aeronautics and astronautics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But keeping hydrogen liquid requires maintaining it at a temperature below about –432°F. Storing it in a garage would be tricky, as would keeping it from freezing the engine. Read the rest of this entry »


Coming Later This Month: SpaceX’s Big Reusable Rocket Launch

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We’ve been documenting the slow, steady growth of SpaceX‘s Grasshopper program—Elon Musk‘s attempt to build a rocket that, after firing its cargo into space, would set itself down on the pad. Those test firings have been experiments. Now SpaceX plans to demonstrate reusable rocket tech in a real launch, but we’ll have to wait until the end of September to find out whether it works.  Read the rest of this entry »