FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

SpaceX alumni are helping build LA’s startup ecosystem

By Jonathan Shieber

During the days when Snapchat’s popularity was booming, investors thought the company would become the anchor for a new Los Angeles technology scene.

Snapchat, they hoped, would spin-off entrepreneurs and angel investors who would reinvest in the local ecosystem and create new companies that would in turn foster more wealth, establishing LA as a hub for tech talent and venture dollars on par with New York and Boston.

In the ensuing years, Los Angeles and its entrepreneurial talent pool has captured more attention from local and national investors, but it’s not Snap that’s been the source for the next generation of local founders. Instead, several former SpaceX employees have launched a raft of new companies, capturing the imagination and dollars of some of the biggest names in venture capital.

“There was a buzz, but it doesn’t quite have the depth of bench of people that investors wanted it to become,” says one longtime VC based in the City of Angels. “It was a company in LA more than it was an LA company.” 

Perhaps the most successful SpaceX offshoot is Relativity Space, founded by Jordan Noone and Tim Ellis. Since Noone, a former SpaceX engineer, and Ellis, a former Blue Origin engineer, founded their company, the business has been (forgive the expression) a rocket ship. Over the past four years, Relativity href="https://techcrunch.com/2019/10/01/relativity-a-new-star-in-the-space-race-raises-160-million-for-its-3-d-printed-rockets/"> has raised $185.7 million, received special dispensations from NASA to test its rockets at a facility in Alabama, will launch vehicles from Cape Canaveral and has signed up an early customer in Momentus, which provides satellite tug services in orbit.

Max Q: SpaceX gets ready for first human flight

By Darrell Etherington

Max Q is a new weekly newsletter all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Sundays in your inbox.

This week turned out to be a surprisingly busy one in space news — kicked off by the Trump administration’s FY 2021 budget proposal, which was generous to U.S. space efforts both in science and in defense.

Meanwhile, we saw significant progress in SpaceX’s commercial crew program, and plenty of activity among startups big and small.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon arrives in Florida

The spacecraft that SpaceX will use to fly astronauts for the first time is now in Florida, at its launch site for final preparations before it takes off. Currently, this Crew Dragon mission is set to take place sometime in early May, and though that may still shift, it’s looking more and more likely it’ll happen within the next few months.

NASA taps Rocket Lab for Moon satellite launch

Rocket Lab will play a key role in NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to get humans back to the surface of the Moon by 2024. NASA contracted Rocket Lab to launch its CAPSTONE CubeSat to a lunar orbit in 2021, using Rocket Lab’s new Proton combined satellite and long-distance transportation stage.

Astronomers continue to sound the alarm about constellations

Starlink satellites streak through a telescope’s observations.

Astronomers and scientists that rely on observing the stars from Earth are continuing to warn about the impact on stellar observation from constellations that are increasingly dotting the night sky.

Meanwhile, SpaceX just launched another 60 satellites for its Starlink constellation, bringing the total on orbit to 300. SpaceX founder Elon Musk says that the “albedo” or reflectivity of satellites will drop “significantly” going forward, however.

Blue Origin is opening its new rocket factory

Blue Origin is opening its new rocket engine production facility in Huntsville, Ala. on Monday. The new site will be responsible for high-volume production of the Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engine, which will be used on the company’s own New Glenn orbital rocket as well as the ULA’s forthcoming Vulcan heavy-lift launch vehicle.

Virgin Galactic’s first commercial spacecraft moves to its spaceport

Virgin Galactic is getting closer to actually flying its first paying space tourists — it just moved its SpaceShipTwo “VSS Unity” vehicle from its Mojave manufacturing site to its spaceport in New Mexico, which is where tourists will board for their short trips to the edge of outer space.

Astranis raises $90 million

Satellite internet startup Astranis has raised a $90 million Series B funding round, which includes a mix of equity ($40 million) and debt facility ($50 million). The company will use the money to get its first commercial satellites on orbit as it aims to build a next-generation geostationary internet satellite business.

Astroscale will work with JAXA on an orbital debris-killing system


Orbital debris is increasingly a topic of discussion at events and across the industry, and Japanese startup Astroscale is one of the first companies dedicated to solving the problem. The startup has been tapped by JAXA for a mission that will seek to de-orbit a spent rocket upper stage, marking one of the first efforts to remove a larger piece of orbital debris.

Register for TC Sessions: Space 2020

Our very own dedicated space event is coming up on June 25 in Los Angeles, and you can get your tickets now. It’s sure to be a packed day of quality programming from the companies mentioned above and more, so go ahead and sign up while Early-Bird pricing applies.

Plus, if you have a space startup of your own, you can apply now to participate in our pre-event pitch-off, happening June 24.

Rocket Lab will launch a satellite to the Moon for NASA to prepare for the Lunar Gateway

By Darrell Etherington

Launch startup Rocket Lab has been awarded a contract to launch a CubeSat on behalf of NASA for the agency’s CAPSTONE experiment, with the ultimate aim of putting the CAPSTONE CubeSat into cislunar (in the region in between Earth and the Moon) orbit – the same orbit that NASA will eventually use for its Gateway Moon-orbiting space station. The launch is scheduled to take place in 2021.

The CAPSTONE launch will take place at Rocket Lab’s new Launch Complex 2 (LC-2) facility at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Rocket Lab opened its launch pad there officially in December, and will launch its first missions using its Electron vehicle from the site starting later this year.

The launch is significant in a number of ways, including being the second ever lunar mission to launch from the Virginia flight facility. It’s also going to employ Rocket Lab’s Photon platform, which is an in-house designed and built satellite that can support a range of payloads. In this case, Photon will transport the CAPSTONE CubeSat, which weighs only around 55 lbs, from Earth’s orbit to the Moon, at which point CAPSTONE will fire up its own small engines to enter its target cislunar orbit.

Rocket Lab introduced Photon last year, noting at the time that it is designed in part to provide longer-range delivery for small satellites – including to the Moon. That’s a key capability to offer as NASA embarks on its Artemis program, which aims to return human astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, and establish a more permanent human presence on and around the Moon in preparation for eventual missions to Mars.

CAPSTONE will play a key role in that mission, by acting “as a pathfinder” for the lunar Gateway that NASA eventually hopes to build and deploy.

“CAPSTONE is a rapid, risk-tolerant demonstration that sets out to learn about the unique, seven-day cislunar orbit we are also targeting for Gateway,” said Marshall Smith, director of human lunar exploration programs at NASA in a press release. detailing the news “We are not relying only on this precursor data, but we can reduce navigation uncertainties ahead of our future missions using the same lunar orbit.”

In total, the launch contract with Rocket Lab has a fixed price of $9.95 million, the agency said. NASA expects contractors Advanced Space and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems to begin building the CAPSTONE spacecraft this month ahead of its planned 2021 launch.

Virgin Galactic relocates SpaceShipTwo ‘VSS Unity’ to its spaceport for preparations ahead of commercial flights

By Darrell Etherington

Virgin Galactic is one crucial step closer to actually flying paying customers to space: The space tourism company just relocated its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, the VSS Unity, from its Mojave, California manufacturing facility to Spaceport America in New Mexico, where it will begin flights with a goal of at least sending company founder Richard Branson to space during the year of his 70th birthday.

VSS Unity made the trip attached to the carrier aircraft that will bring it up to its launch altitude, where it’ll detach from the plane (named ‘VMS Eve’) and climb to the edge of space, providing the customers on board with “several minutes” of weightlessness in near zero-G when the spacecraft’s rocket motor disengages at the peak of its journey.

The 90 minute experience will cost the first tourists around $250,000 per ticket, which sounds steep but will also be the most affordable way that anyone’s experienced a trip to space to date. Those ticket holders will still have to wait a while to enjoy the trip they’ve been waiting for for a few years now, however – this relocation sets up a final round of testing on the spacecraft and its carrier planet that will still take some time to complete.

This round of preparation includes a number of relatively unexciting “capture and carry” flights with the spaceship and carrier aircraft attached to one another to get familiar with the surrounding airspace, as well as tests of rocket powered flight for the VSS Unity on its own. Finally, teams will assess and finalize the spaceship’s cabin, and the overall customer experience that tourists will encounter throughout their quarter-million dollar trip.

Given that not insignificant list of remaining activities prior to an actual flight, expect the inaugural commercial journeys of VSS Unity to still be a little ways out. As mentioned, the company has said that it at the very least is prioritizing a 70th birthday trip for Branson, but depending on how things go it might just be able to get other commercial flights in before year’s end, too.

Max Q: A SpaceX spin-out sounds great

By Darrell Etherington

Max Q is a new weekly newsletter all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Sundays in your inbox.

Two rocket launches were set to take off Sunday, including one from Wallops Island in Virginia and another from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The first is a relatively standard (but still exciting – we are talking about rockets here, very little is ‘standard’) ISS resupply mission, and the second is a major scientific mission from NASA and the ESA called the ‘Solar Orbiter.’

Unfortunately, a technical issue meant the ISS resupply mission is rescheduled for Thursday – but the Solar Orbiter launched as planned, with as clean a delivery by the ULA Atlas V rocket that launched it as you can ask for.

Boeing Starliner encountered two potentially catastrophic issues

Starliner, the crew spacecraft developed by Boeing for NASA’s Commercial Crew program, encountered not one, but two major software flaws during its most recent demonstration mission that would’ve been very bad had they not been corrected.

The second one was only revealed in detail this week, and was discovered and patched only because the first software issue caused the ground team on the mission to go back over all the software relating to the capsule’s re-entry and check for potential errors. Otherwise, the mission team says it would not have been caught. No word yet on what this means definitively for Boeing’s crew program, but we’ll find out at the end of this month according to NASA officials.

Trump administration asks for $3B NASA budget boost

NASA could get significantly more funding than it did in 2020 for its fiscal 2021 operating year, with the bulk of a proposed $3 billion increase earmarked for development of human landers to be used in the Artemis program. Trump will still have to make that official during his budget presentation on February 10 (that’s today), but it looks like a strong endorsement of the agency’s plans by the current administration.

NASA seeks industry input on rovers

NASA may be looking to lock its Lander plans this coming year, but it’s also asking industry to provide concepts and input on lunar rovers, including robotic designs and ideas for human-carrying Moon buggies. This will likely lead to some kind of formal RFP for commercial rover partners down the road.

OneWeb launches 34 more satellites for its constellation

Meanwhile, Starlink competitor OneWeb launched its second batch of satellites, a group of 34 spacecraft. The company says this is just the beginning of its plans that include launching a group of at least 30 satellites per month until its constellation reaches its goal of 650, though it did also note that its going to pause the campaign in April to incorporate a satellite redesign.

SpaceX launches online rocket rideshare booking tool

SpaceX has launched a new online booking portal for its rideshare rocket service, which actually lets anyone with a credit card book a rocket launch starting at $1 million with a $5,000 downpayment. Don’t do this unless you actually plan to launch something and have your ducks in a row, however – unless you really want to just donate $5,000 to SpaceX .

Inside Astra’s unique new launch offering

Astra is a new launch startup that’s been developing its rocket for at least three years, but that only recently broke cover. I spoke to CEO and founder Chris Kemp about the company’s business model – and found out it’s not like anything else currently in the market, by design. ExtraCrunch subscription required.

Register for TC Sessions: Space 2020

Our very own dedicated space event is coming up on June 25 in Los Angeles, and you can get your tickets now. It’s sure to be a packed day of quality programming from the companies mentioned above and more, so go ahead and sign up while Early Bird pricing applies.

Plus, if you have a space startup of your own, you can apply now to participate in our pre-event pitch-off, happening June 24.

Watch two rocket launches live, including a Space Station supply flight and a mission to study the Sun

By Darrell Etherington

There are two – that’s right two – launches happening this Sunday, and both are set to broadcast live on NASA’s official stream above. The first is a NASA International Space Station resupply mission, with a Norhtrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft launching aboard an Antares rocket from Wallops Island in Virginia at 5:39 PM EST (2:39 PM PST). The second is the launch of the Solar Orbiter spacecraft, a joint scientific mission by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) that’s set to take off aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11:03 PM EST (8:03 PM PST).

The ISS resupply mission is the 13th operated by Northrop Grumman, and will carry around 8,000 lbs of experiment materials, supplies for the STation’s astronaut crew, and additional cargo including various cargo. If all goes to plan, the Cygnus spacecraft will get to the Space Station on Tuesday at around 4:30 AM EST, where astronauts on board will capture the spacecraft with the station’s robotic arm for docking.

The NASA/ESA Solar Orbiter mission is a bit more of an event, since it’s a launch of a very special payload with a dedicated mission to study the Sun, launching aboard a brand new custom configuration of ULA’s Atlas V rocket tailor-made for the Orbiter. The Orbiter has a mass of nearly 4,000 lbs, and a wingspan of nearly 60 feet, and is carrying a complement of 10 instruments for gathering data from our Solar System’s central player.

Solar Orbiter will take the first ever direct images of the Sun’s poles once it arrives at our star, but it first has to get there, using the gravitational force of both Earth and Venus to help propel it along its path. Already, the planned launch of Solar Orbiter has been delayed by a few days – and timing is key to making sure those gravitational forces can work as designed to get it to tis goal, so here’s hoping today’s launch goes off as planned.

As its name implies, Solar Orbiter is designed to orbit the Sun – and it’ll do so from a relatively close distance of around 26 million miles away. That’s closer than Mercury, the planet in our solar system closest to the Sun, and at that distance it’ll still face max temperatures of around 520 degrees Celsius (968 degrees Fahrenheit). To endure those temps, the spacecraft is protected by a titanium heat shield that will always be oriented towards the star, and even its solar panels will actually have to tilt away from the Sun during the spacecraft’s closest approach to make sure they don’t get too hot while powering the satellite.

Solar Orbiter will study the Sun’s polar regions, as mentioned, and shed some light on how its magnetic field and emissions of particles from the star affect its surrounding cosmic environment, including the region of space that we inhabit here on Earth. After launch, Orbiter should make its way to Venus for a flyby this December, then cost paths with Earth for a planned approach in November, 2021, before making its first close approach to the Sun in 2022.

Check back above for live views of both launches, with the stream for the first mission kicking off shortly after 5 PM EST (2PM PST).

Max Q: SpaceX’s Starlink constellation grows again

By Darrell Etherington

Max Q is a new weekly newsletter all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Sundays in your inbox.

This week was the busiest yet for space-related news in 2020, thanks in part to the 23rd Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference that happened last week. The event saw participation from just about every company who has anything to do with commercial spaceflight, including SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, and dove deep on questions of regulation and congressional support for NASA’s Artemis program.

Our own TC Sessions: Space 2020 event, which is happening June 25 in LA, will zero in on the emerging startup economy that plays such a crucial role in commercial space, and it’s sure to touch on the same topics but get into a lot more detail on the innovation side of things as well.

SpaceX launches 60 more satellites – second Starlink launch already in 2020

SpaceX is clearly very eager to get its Starlink satellite broadband network operational, as the company has already launched not one, but two batches of 60 satellites for its constellation in 2020. After a launch early in January, the latest batch when up on January 29, moving SpaceX closer to the total volume of satellites needed for it to begin offering service in North America, its first target market for the (eventually) world-spanning network.

Rocket Lab launches its first mission in 2020

Busy launch week for new space launch companies, as Rocket Lab also launched a mission – its first of 2020. The launch was on behalf of client the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, delivering a surveillance satellite for the U.S. intelligence agency. This is part of a new program the NRO has in place to quickly secure launch vehicles for small satellites, departing from its traditional practice of using large, geostationary Earth observation spacecraft.

NASA and Maxar to demo in-orbit spacecraft assembly

NASA and its partner Maxar are planning to demonstrate orbital manufacturing in a big way using a robotic platform in space that will assemble a new multipanel reflector antenna. It’ll also refuel a satellite in space, both demonstrations that would go a long way towards proving out the viability and potential commercial benefit of doing maintenance, upgrades and spacecraft assembly in orbit.

NASA teams with Axiom Space on first commercial ISS habitat module

NASA has tapped space station startup Axiom to build its first commercial module for the ISS designed to receive and house commercial astronauts. It’s a place designed for both work (research and science experimentation) and play (potentially receiving future paying orbital tourists) and it’s step one of Axiom’s grand vision for a fully private space station. Axiom is founded by a former ISS manager whose mission is to ensure we don’t lose human presence in orbit following the Space Station’s eventual decommission.

SpaceX looks to Port of LA for Starship manufacture

Starship Mk1 night

SpaceX will eventually have to manufacture a lot of Starships to meet founder Elon Musk’s ambitious goals for frequent flights and Mars colonization. Musk wants to build 1,000 Starships over the course of the next decade, and talks are ongoing with the Port of LA to potentially manufacture at least some of them there, where there’s easy access to water for shipping the rockets to launchpads including SpaceX’s Florida facilities.

Space needs an exit

Space startups are seeing record investment, and a record number of seed rounds indicating ample interest in starting new companies – but investors are still watching for that next big exit. They’ve been few and far between in the sector, which is not something you want to see if you want the hype to continue.

Kepler will build its satellites in Toronto

Satellite constellation startup Kepler Communication is going to be building its IoT small satellites in-house in downtown Toronto. Not necessarily everyone’s first choice when building satellites, but Kepler wants to keep things to its own backyard to eventually realize cost efficiencies, and to closely align design and development with manufacturing.

NextNav raises $120M to deploy its indoor positioning tech to find people in skyscrapers

By Kirsten Korosec

NextNav LLC has raised $120 million in equity and debt to commercially deploy an indoor-positioning system that can pinpoint a device’s location — including what floor it’s on — without GPS .

The company has developed what it calls a Metropolitan Beacon System, which can find the location of devices like smartphones, drones, IoT products or even self-driving vehicles in indoor and urban areas where GPS or other satellite location signals cannot be reliably received. Anyone trying to use their phone to hail an Uber or Lyft in the Loop area of Chicago has likely experienced spotty GPS signals.

The MBS infrastructure is essentially bolted onto cellular towers. The positioning system uses a cellular signal, not line-of-sight signal from satellites like GPS does. The system focuses on determining the “altitude” of a device, CEO and co-founder Ganesh Pattabiraman told TechCrunch.

GPS can provide the horizontal position of a smartphone or IoT device. And wifi and Bluetooth can step in to provide that horizontal positioning indoors. NextNav says its MBS has added a vertical or “Z dimension” to the positioning system. This means the MBS can determine within less than 3 meters the floor level of a device in a  multi-story building.

It’s the kind of system that can provide emergency services with critical information such as the number of people located on a particular floor. It’s this specific use-case that NextNav is betting on. Last year, the Federal Communication Commission issued new 911 emergency requirements for wireless carriers that mandates the ability to determine the vertical position of devices to help responders find people in multi-story buildings.

Today, the MBS is in the Bay Area and Washington D.C. The company plans to use this new injection of capital to expand its network to the 50 biggest markets in the U.S., in part to take advantage of the new FCC requirement.

The technology has other applications. For instance, this so-called Z dimension could come in handy for locating drones. Last year, NASA said it will use NextNav’s MBS network as part of its City Environment for Range Testing of Autonomous Integrated Navigation facilities at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The round was led by funds managed by affiliates of Fortress Investment Group . Existing investors Columbia Capital, Future Fund, Telcom Ventures, funds managed by Goldman Sachs Asset Management, NEA and Oak Investment Partners also participated.

XM Satellite Radio founder Gary Parsons is executive chairman of the Sunnyvale, Calif-based company.

Rocket Lab to open a new combined HQ, mission control and production facility in Long Beach

By Darrell Etherington

Rocket Lab is expanding its U.S. footprint, alongside the opening of its first launch site on Wallops Island, Va. The rocket launch startup will open a new corporate headquarters in Long Beach, Calif. at a facility that will also provide some production capabilities, and act as its second Mission Control Center, complementing its existing Mission Control in New Zealand.

Construction on the new facility has already begun, Rocket Lab says, and should be completed in the second quarter of this year. Its production capacity will mean it can put out over a dozen full Electron launch vehicles per year, which should serve the company’s needs in terms of supplying its planned launch cadence of roughly one launch per month from the Wallops Island launch site.

In addition to Electron launch vehicles, the Long Beach facility will also be producing Rocket Lab satellites, which are part of the company’s expanded service offerings. Rocket Lab announced last year that it was moving beyond just offering launches to clients, and will provide end-to-end mission services — including customizable satellite hardware that can be tailored to the needs of clients looking to deploy small satellites for any number of purposes.

Rocket Lab is also going to house its first U.S. Mission Control Center at this Long Beach location, from which it’ll be able to coordinate and manage its launches at Wallops. Between that and its New Zealand-based Mission Control, this should help it manage the increased volume it should ramp up to when launching from both LC-1 in New Zealand and LC-2 at Wallops — and eventually, a second launch pad at its Mahia Peninsula, NZ complex.

Waze adds unplowed road reporting feature for better awareness of winter driving hazards

By Darrell Etherington

Crowdsourced navigation app and Google subsidiary Waze is adding new features that allow you to report within the app unplowed roads made more dangerous or inaccessible during snowstorms, and also to see reports posted by other people who have already added their own to the map. This Waze update was also developed by the company after it received a recommendation from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to build this kind of reporting option, working with the municipal agency through its “Waze for Cities Data” partnership and data sharing program.

People can report both unplowed roads through the Hazards -> Weather section of the app’s reporting tools, and it’s live and available in all 185 countries where Waze is currently available. In Virginia, specifically, Waze will be providing to the VDOT back data from its crowdsourced snow condition data gathering, which will use it along with other info about snow clearance from its own sources to help better inform its snow removal efforts during future cold seasons.

Snow is a huge factor when it comes to winter driving in areas where conditions allow for it. Waze building this in alongside other reporting options like collisions and construction delays should go over well with anyone living in an area where snowfall regularly requires road clearance.

[gallery ids="1922069,1922070,1922071"]

❌