from the how-about-a-game-of-ra^Hocket-ball? dept.
SpaceX has launched the Paz satellite for a Spanish company using a Falcon 9 rocket, which also carried two secondary payloads: Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b. These are intended to test technologies needed to provide broadband Internet access from orbit:
SpaceX launched again on Thursday - this time to put a Spanish radar satellite above the Earth.
But there was a lot of interest also in the mission's secondary payloads - a couple of spacecraft the Californian rocket company will use to trial the delivery of broadband from orbit. SpaceX has big plans in this area. By sometime in the mid-2020s, it hopes to be operating more than 4,000 such satellites, linking every corner of Earth to the internet.
SpaceX projections show that the company expects its "Starlink" Internet service to have 40 million subscribers and $30 billion in revenue by 2025.
SpaceX also attempted to recover the $6 million payload fairing (nose cone) of the rocket using a specially-built "catcher's mitt" net boat called "Mr. Steven":
After launching its Falcon 9 rocket from California this morning, SpaceX used a giant net to try to recover the rocket's nose cone as it fell down in the Pacific Ocean. The first-time experiment failed, however: one of the pieces of the nose cone missed the net, which was attached to a ship, and landed intact on the sea surface instead.
[...] A typical rocket fairing doesn't have any onboard engines, however. So SpaceX has equipped its latest nose cone with a guidance system and thrusters, tiny engines that help guide the pieces through the atmosphere when they break away from the rocket. Then, as the pieces descend, they deploy thin parachute-like structures known as parafoils to slow their fall. Down at the surface, a SpaceX boat named Mr. Steven (a random name, Musk said) attempts to catch one of the fairing pieces with a giant net attached to large claw-like appendages.
SpaceX has been able to land its fairings in the ocean before, but this was the first time the company deployed Mr. Steven to catch one of the pieces. Musk noted that a fairing half missed the boat by a few hundred meters. However, the company should be able to fix the problem by making the parafoils bigger, he said.
Spotted on an official SpaceX T-shirt commemorating Starlink's first two prototype satellites and corroborated through analysis of limited public photos of the spacecraft, SpaceX appears to be testing a relatively unique style of solar arrays on the first two satellites launched into orbit, known as Tintin A (Alice) and B (Bob).
It's difficult to judge anything concrete from the nature of what may be immature prototypes, but SpaceX's decision to take a major step away from its own style of solar expertise – Cargo Dragon's traditional rigid panel arrays – is almost certainly motivated by a need to push beyond the current state of the art of satellite design and production.
Unlike any discernible solar panel deployment mechanism with a flight history, SpaceX's Starlink engineers seem to have taken a style of deployment used successfully on the International Space Station and mixed it with a modern style of solar arrays, relying on several flexible panels that can be efficiently packed together and designed to be extremely lightweight. While a major departure from SpaceX's successful Cargo Dragon solar arrays, the mechanisms visible on the Tintins seem to have the potential to improve upon the packing efficiency, ease of manufacturing, and number of failure modes present on Dragon's panels.
[...] To give an idea of where the industry currently stands, satellite internet provider Viasat launched its own Viasat-2 spacecraft in 2017. Weighing in around 6500 kg (14300 lb), the immense satellite cost at least $600 million and offers an instantaneous bandwidth of 300 gigabits per second, impressive but also gobsmackingly expensive at $2 million/Gbps. To ever hope to make Starlink a reality, SpaceX will need to beat that value by at least a factor of 5-10, producing Starlink satellites for no more than $1-3 million apiece ($4.5B-$13.5B alone to manufacture the initial 4,425 satellite constellation) with a bandwidth of 20 Gbps – baselined in official statements.
"Starlink is a satellite constellation development project underway by SpaceX, to develop a low-cost, high-performance satellite bus and requisite customer ground transceivers to implement a new space-based Internet communication system. By 2017, SpaceX had submitted regulatory filings to launch a total of nearly 12,000 satellites to orbit by the mid-2020s."
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently "fired at least seven" managers in order to speed up development and testing of satellites that could provide broadband around the world, Reuters reported today.
SpaceX denied parts of the story, saying that some of those managers left of their own accord and that the firings happened over a longer period of time than Reuters claimed.
[...] Among the fired employees were SpaceX VP of Satellites Rajeev Badyal and top designer Mark Krebs, Reuters wrote. "Rajeev wanted three more iterations of test satellites," Reuters quoted one of its sources as saying. "Elon thinks we can do the job with cheaper and simpler satellites, sooner."
Reuters described a culture clash between Musk and employees hired from Microsoft, "where workers were more accustomed to longer development schedules than Musk's famously short deadlines." Badyal is a former Microsoft employee, while Krebs previously worked for Google."
Apparently, the test satellites work:
"We're using the Tintins to explore that modification," one of the SpaceX employee sources said. "They're happy and healthy and we're talking with them every time they pass a ground station, dozens of times a day."
SpaceX engineers have used the two test satellites to play online video games at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California and the Redmond office, the source said. "We were streaming 4k YouTube and playing 'Counter-Strike: Global Offensive' from Hawthorne to Redmond in the first week," the person added.
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