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Yesterday — September 23rd 2019Your RSS feeds

SpaceX to share Starship progress update Saturday as it continues prototype construction

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was in Boca Chica, Texas over the weekend to oversee key construction activities in the assembly of the company’s newest Starship prototype. Musk will deliver an update on Starship, which will likely recap progress to date and provide a more detailed roadmap of SpaceX’s plans for the future of its next-generation spaceship and launch system.

Musk shared photos of the prototype construction in progress, with the so-called “Mk1” prototype getting its rear moving fins, which are located on the bottom half of the rocket and which work together with fins located on the yet-to-be-installed top half of the spacecraft to control its stability during entry and landing.

[gallery ids="1885055,1885056,1885057,1885058"]

The Starship Mk1 prototype will be the first to represent the final vehicle in its orbital-class configuration, after a ‘Starhopper’ prototype SpaceX produced initially accomplished the goal of testing one of the new Raptor engines and demonstrating low-altitude flight, control and landing capabilities. That stubbier version of Starship is retired after doing both a short and a longer ‘hop’ test flight over the past two months, and now SpaceX will look to test higher altitude and longer duration flights, using multiple Raptor engines, with the Starship Mk1 and Mk2 prototypes currently under development at Boca Chica, and in another SpaceX facility in Florida.

Musk has said that Starship Mk1 already has three Raptor engines installed on the vehicle, and the company has filed documents with the FCC required for it to receive permission for the communications components of its first test launches. We should find out more concrete details as of Saturday, and TechCrunch will have all the info here as it happens.

 

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SpaceX ‘getting ready’ to fly orbital Starship design with new FCC filing

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX is taking the steps necessary to begin test flying the orbital-class version of its Starship spacecraft, with new documents filed by the company (via Teslarati) with the FCC seeking necessary permissions for it to communicate with the prototype while it’s in flight.

The company filed documents with the U.S. regulatory agency this week in advance of the flight, which lists a max altitude of 74,000 feet, which is a far cry from Earth orbit but still a much greater distance vs. the 500 or so feet achieved by the squat ‘Starhopper’ demonstration and test vehicle that SpaceX has been actively operating in preparation for Starship .

Getting ready for flight of orbit-class Starship design https://t.co/CtXtq522ia

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 10, 2019

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed that prep was underway via tweet. Musk has previously said that he hoped to follow the Starhopper’s most recent and final successful test quickly with tests of the full-scale vehicle. Like with that low-altitude test, SpaceX will aim to launch and land the Starhopper, with touch down planned just a short distance away.

Assembly and construction of the Starship prototype looks to be well underway, and Musk recently teased a Starship update event for September 28, which is likely when we’ll see this prototype assembled and ready to go ahead of its planned October first test flight window.

Starship is the next generation of SpaceX spacecraft, designed for maximum reusability, and with the aim of creating one vehicle that can serve the needs of current and future customers, eventually replacing both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. Starship is also a key ingredient in Musk’s ambitious plan to reach and establish a continuing human presence on Mars.

India has labeled hyperloop a public infrastructure project — here’s why that matters

By Kirsten Korosec

Hyperloop, the futuristic and still theoretical transportation system that could someday propel people and packages at speeds of more than 600 miles per hour, has been designated a “public infrastructure project” by India lawmakers in the state of Maharashtra.

Wrapped in that government jargon is a valuable and notable outcome. The upshot: hyperloop is being treated like any other public infrastructure project such as bridges, roads and railways. In other words, hyperloop has been plucked out of niche, futuristic obscurity and given a government stamp of approval.

That’s remarkable, considering that the idea for hyperloop was first proposed by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a nearly 60-page public white paper just five years ago.

It also kicks off a process that could bring hyperloop to a 93-mile stretch of India between the cities of Mumbai and Pune. The Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority will begin the procurement process in mid-August when it starts accepting proposals from companies hoping to land the hyperloop contract.

The frontrunner is likely Virgin Hyperloop One -DP World, a consortium between the hyperloop company and its biggest backer that pitched the original project to India. The MahaIDEA Committee earlier approved Virgin Hyperloop One-DP World Consortium as the Original Project Proponent.

Under the VHO-DPW proposal, a hyperloop capable of transporting 200 million people every year would be built between Pune and Mumbai. That stretch of road now takes more than three hours by car; VHO says its hyperloop would reduce it to a 35-minute trip.

“This is history in the making. The race is on to host the first hyperloop transportation system in the world, and today’s announcement puts India firmly in the lead. This is a significant milestone and the first of many important steps toward bringing hyperloop to the masses,” Virgin Hyperloop One CEO Jay Walder said in a statement Wednesday.

The hope is that India’s government will award the contract by the end of 2019, a VHO executive told TechCrunch. If that occurs, Phase 1 of the project — an 11.8 kilometer (or 7.3 mile) section — would begin in 2020.

The cost of building Phase 1 will be covered by DP World, which has committed $500 million to this section. The government is covering the cost and logistics of acquiring the land for the hyperloop.

Phase 1 will initially act as a certification track, which will be used to certify the hyperloop technology for passenger operations. VHO wants this certification track built and operating by 2024. If this section meets safety standards it will become part of the larger hyperloop line between Pune and Mumbai.

There is a lot of work to do, and technical milestones to meet, before hyperloop is whisking people in pods through a tunnel. But if it works and is built, the region’s economy could be transformed, supporters insist.

Once commercialized, the hyperloop will transform the Pune-Mumbai corridor into a mega-economic region, according to Harj Dhaliwal, managing director of India and Middle East at Virgin Hyperloop One.

Today, some 75 million people travel between Pune and Mumbai each year, and forecasts suggest that number could rise to 130 million annually by 2026. The VHO-DPW consortium says its hyperloop will have the capacity to handle 16,000 passengers day, or about 200 million people annually.

Tesla will deliver in-car YouTube and Netflix video streaming ‘soon’

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla is getting ready to “soon” deliver the in-car video streaming services that CEO Elon Musk suggested would eventually come to the automaker’s cars. Musk shared this (somewhat vague) updated timeline on Twitter over the weekend, after noting earlier in June at E3 that Tesla’s infotainment displays would eventually be getting YouTube and streaming video support.

This is also the first time Musk has specifically said that both YouTube and Netflix would be coming, after previously noting that version 10 of the in-car software would support video streaming generally in reply to a question from a fan on Twitter. Musk added that these would be available to stream video only while the vehicle is stopped — but the plan is to change that once full self-driving becomes a reality.

Once full autonomous driving capabilities are “approved by regulators,” Musk said, the plan is to turn on the ability to stream video in the vehicle while it’s in motion. This plan likely extends to Tesla’s in-car gaming features, too — though that’s a separate level of distraction as you’re actually interacting with what’s happening on the screen, which may not be the best idea for initial roll-out of autonomous features where a driver might be required to take over manual control in case of any incidents.

The Tesla CEO said the experience of watching video on Netflix and YouTube in a Tesla vehicle is akin to “an old-school drive-in movie experience, but with much better sound” and that it has an “immersive, cinematic feel” thanks to the surround audio available via the Tesla’s audio system and its “comfy seats.”

It may seem like a weird software update priority for a car, but it’s entirely possible Tesla owners spent so much on their vehicles that they don’t have spare cash for a fixed address, in which case an entertainment system for their tiny apartment actually makes a lot of sense.

Hit indie game Cuphead is headed to Tesla vehicles in August

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla’s games library is getting bigger, and the latest announced title is probably a familiar one to gaming fans: Cuphead. This indie game was released in 2017 for Xbox One and Windows after making a big debut in 2013, attracting a lot of attention thanks to its hand-drawn, retro Disney-esque animation style.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Cuphead would be getting a Tesla port sometime in August, replying to a post in which Tesla announced its latest addition to the in-car arcade library: Chess. The game will run at 60fps on the in-car display, Musk added, noting that while 4K isn’t supported for Tesla’s screens, the game “doesn’t need” that high resolution.

Cuphead for Tesla coming out in August

— e^👁🥧 (@elonmusk) July 27, 2019

Cuphead has since been released for both macOS and Nintendo Switch, and has gained critical acclaim for its challenging gameplay in addition to its unique graphic style. The game works with one or two players (which Tesla cars also now support via gamepad controllers for some other titles) and basically involves side-scrolling run-and-gun action punctuated by frequent boss fights.

Musk continued on Twitter regarding the Cuphead port that it will use a Unity port for Tesla’s in-car OS, which is already done, and currently they’re in the process of refining the controls. A limit of available onboard storage will be solved by allowing added game storage via USB, so that Tesla owners will be able to add flash drives to hold more downloaded games.

Earlier this month, Netflix announced that it would be developing an animated series based on Cuphead, and the game has sold over 4 million copies world-wide so far. Tesla launched Tesla Arcade last month as a dedicated in-car app to host the growing collection of games it’s brought to the car – and it’s worth noting that you can only access these games while in park.

 

SpaceX succeeds with first untethered StarHopper low altitude ‘hop’ test

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX is racking up wins this week, after a successful second launch attempt for its CRS-18 mission earlier this evening, and now with a first short-hop free flight for its StarHopper prototype spacecraft on Thursday night, again on its second try after a scrub earlier this week.

This test involved flying StarHopper to the relatively modest height of just 20 meters (around 65 feet, which is roughly how tall it is to begin with), where it moved around only very slightly, guiding itself under its own navigation. The StarHopper then returned to Earth as planned, so all indications are that this was a good test that went exactly as intended by the SpaceX crew.

Starhopper flight successful. Water towers *can* fly haha!!

— e^👁🥧 (@elonmusk) July 26, 2019

 

StarHopper is a scaled down test vehicle designed to help SpaceX run crucial preparation trials for the new Raptor engine ahead of building its full-scale Starship reusable spacecraft. Starship is the next launch vehicle SpaceX is developing, which is intended to be fully reusable (its current rockets are only partially able to be refurbished and reflow) and which SpaceX CEO Elon Musk envisions eventually being able to take over all mission activity for the company, including transfer of crew and cargo to Mars. Once ready, it’ll be paired with SpaceX’s future ‘Super Heavy’ launch rocket for extra-orbital launch capabilities.

An untethered hop is a key milestone in SpaceX’s planned development, and it’s been trying to get this done for a couple of weeks now. Musk has already said that he anticipates flying the full-scale Starship prototype. Mark 1 and Mark II of which are both in simultaneous development at both Boca Chica in Texas, and at SpaceX’s Florida facility.

Is space truly within reach for startups and VC?

By Darrell Etherington

Elon Musk’s SpaceX managed to pull off something very few people thought it could — by disrupting one of the most fixed markets in the world with some of the most entrenched and protected players ever to benefit from government contract arrangements: rocket launches. The success of SpaceX, and promising progress from other new launch providers including Blue Origin and Rocket Lab, have encouraged interest in space-based innovation among entrepreneurs and investors alike. But is this a true boom, or just a blip?

There’s an argument for both at once, with one type of space startup rapidly descending to Earth in terms of commercialization timelines and potential upside, and the other remaining a difficult bet to make unless you’re comfortable with long timelines before any liquidity event and a lot of upfront investment.

Cheaper, faster, lighter, better

GettyImages 840530492

Image via Getty Images / Andrey Suslov

There’s no question that one broad category of technology at least is a lot more addressable by early-stage companies (and by extension, traditional VC investment). The word ‘satellite’ once described almost exclusively gigantic, extremely expensive hunks of sophisticated hardware, wherein each component would eat up the monthly burn rate of your average early-stage consumer tech venture.

Tesla focuses on service with 25 new service centers in Q2, rate of new openings to ‘increase’

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla is set to aggressively ramp up the rate at which it opens new service facilities, according to CEO Elon Musk’s guidance on the company’s Q2 2019 earnings call. In total, Tesla opened 25 new service centers during the quarter, and added 100 new service vehicles to its existing fleet — which is in contrast to an earlier statement made by Musk that they’d look to close most of their physical stores in an effort to reduce costs.

Notably, Musk referred to the locations only as “service centers” during his comments on the subject on Wednesday’s earnings call, and never as stores — asked about “retail locations,” he corrected the analyst asking and again said that what Tesla opened were “service centers” specifically. He also emphasized the importance of ensuring that service scales in line with the size of Tesla’s overall fleet of vehicles in active use. Musk mentioned that the number of Tesla cars on the road doubled in the last year alone, meaning it’s seeing exponential growth in terms of the total size of the fleet it needs to service.

“Service scales not just with new production, but as the whole fleet sales,” Musk said, adding that they want to grow their service capabilities in a way that’s responsible when it comes to cost, but that that is “quite difficult” when it comes to the rate at which the company’s sales and shipments are increasing.

Even so, Tesla is taking on still more of its service work itself, rather than outsourcing to external vendors.

“We’ve in-sourced a great deal of the collision repair activities, which I think had quite a good impact on customer happiness,” Musk said. “This will continue in the months to come.” Musk also noted that the company is working hard to reset its processes in order to ensure that parts are available on-hand when and where needed for service, which is a gap that has prompted customer complaints in the past.

The Tesla CEO said that he meets with the Tesla service team “multiple times a week” to “get updates on the reliability of the vehicle,” noting the best service possible is “no service” because that would represent maximum reliability (and of course, lowest possible ongoing costs for Tesla). He also said that they’ve seen “fewer and fewer service visits for the most recent cars that we’re building, so we’re on a good trend there.”

Jerome Guillen, President of Automotive at Tesla also noted that the number one reason for service visits is actually people looking to learn how to use Autopilot, and in general education represents a high percentage of visits.

Tesla CFO Zach Kirkhorn addressed a question about the service center expansion later in the call, adding that the company is pursuing a path of systematic “focus on service and supercharging, as opposed to a retail presence.” He also noted that he believes efforts to improve their parts distribution, with a focus on ensuring that parts are available on-hand in inventory at the service centers where they’re needed will actually help bring down costs overall versus housing them centrally or ordering on-demand from suppliers and Tesla’s own fabrication facilities.

Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel stepping down

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel is stepping down from his day-to-day role as an executive at the automaker, CEO Elon Musk announced during a conference call with analysts Wednesday.

Drew Baglino, vice president of technology, will take over his duties, Musk said. Straubel will stay on in a senior advisor role.

“I want to thank JB for his fundamental role in creating and building Tesla,” Musk said during the call. “If we hadn’t had lunch in 2003, Tesla wouldn’t exist, basically,” Musk added.

Straubel described his time at Tesla as an adventurous 16 years.

“I’m not disappearing, and I just wanted to make sure that people understand that this was not some, you know, lack of confidence in the company or the team or anything like that,” Straubel said, adding that he loves the company.

Straubel’s role at Tesla cannot be understated. The executive was responsible for some of the company’s most important technology, notably around batteries. His understated yet steady presence along with his technological acumen gave provided stability even when its CEO became embroiled in controversy.

His departure is the latest in a long string of high-profile executives to leave Tesla in the past year, most recently Steve McManus, a vice president in charge of engineering for car interiors and exteriors at Tesla, who joined Apple. Two other former Tesla executives, Michael Schwekutsch, and chief engineer Doug Field, have also left to join Apple.

Straubel is involved in another company called Redwood Materials, which emerged in 2017. An SEC filing in 2017 a $2 million initial investment in the Redwood City, Calif.-based company that describes itself at its site as focused on “advanced technology and process development for materials recycling, remanufacturing, and reuse.”

The filing lists Straubel and Andrew Stevenson, the former head of special projects at Tesla, as executive officers. Stevenson is now CFO at Redwood Materials. 

Tesla has begun preparations for Model Y production at its Fremont factory

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla has already started the preparations required to get production started on its forthcoming Model Y compact all-electric SUV, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk . During his introductory comments on the automaker’s Q2 2019 earnings call, Musk noted that prep had started at its facility in Fremont, confirming a report from CNBC from March.

In Tesla’s first earnings call for 2019, Musk said that it was in the process of deciding between Fremont and its Gigafactory in Nevada for production of the Model Y, which is going to be based on the Model 3 platform and will share some of its componentry, something that Musk noted will help reduce its cost of production.

The Model Y, revealed in March, looks quite similar at first glance to the Model 3. It has a slightly higher profile, however, putting it in this compact SUV range. It has similar interior features to the Model 3, including the horizontal 15-inch touchscreen, and also features a panoramic roof more like its larger Model X premium all-electric SUV sibling. Pricing for the Model Y will begin at $39,000, and that version will have a 230-mile range. It’s currently planned to ship sometime in the fall of 2020.

Tesla should be able to get to around 7,500 to 8,000 Model Ys produced at Fremont by the end of the year, Musk confirmed in response to a question from an analyst on the call.

Elon Musk teases possible late July Starship presentation following engine test

By Darrell Etherington

Elon Musk was fielding a number of questions from fans on Twitter on Sunday, and revealed that the current target for a full presentation of Starship, SpaceX’s next-generation reusable rocket and a key piece of the company’s plan to reach Mars, could come as soon as “late July.”

The SpaceX CEO also noted that the company’s most recent test of one of its Raptor rocket engines (officially test ‘SN6’) was “overall successful,” despite an abort, since the whole purpose of the test was to test the outward limits of the new engine’s tolerances on fueling mixture ratios.

Starship Mk 1 & Hopper

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 8, 2019

SpaceX’s official Starship presentation should take place “a few weeks after Hopper hovers,” according to Musk, which refers to the test StarHopper (or ‘Hopper’ for short) quick duration flights, which won’t be fully launches but will instead engage the engines to help prove their viability for eventual launch.  StarHopper completed a tethered hop test back in April, but the next step is to do this untethered, which is closer to reality than ever after last night’s test addressed a key issue with Raptor engine vibration at a specific operating frequency.

Exciting progress in Boca! Hopper almost ready to hover. Based on tonight’s test, looks like 600 Hz Raptor vibration problem is fixed. pic.twitter.com/9bLWOHG0sV

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 7, 2019

Once Hopper is through testing, presumably SpaceX will move on from using the scaled down prototype, which is only designed for testing in low altitudes, to a full-scale test rocket build, but we’ll hear the company’s plans in much more detail whenever this official Starship presentation really does take place.

SpaceX aims to provide commercial Starship launches by 2021

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX is only getting started launching Falcon Heavy commercial missions, but it already has its eyes on the next prize – launching Starship. Now, we know that it’s hoping to start commercial service for this next-generation, fully reusable rocket by 2021, according to SpaceX Vice President of Commercial Sales Jonathan Hofeller.

Hofeller was speaking at a conference in Indonesia (via SpaceNews), and noted that the private space launch company is currently talking to three different telecom companies about selecting which will be the first mission aboard the new spacecraft. Starship, formerly knowns as ‘BFR’ or ‘Big Falcon Rocket’) is currently in development at two separate SpaceX facilities, one in Texas and one in Florida, in what amounts to an internal company ‘bake-off’ to see which team can delivery the better solution faster. An engineering show-down of this kind is not uncommon among tech companies, and often produces results from both efforts that complement or enhance whatever the final product ends up being, rather than being a ‘winner take all’ scenario.

Starship, once complete, will include a launch system propelled to orbit by a ‘Super Heavy’ booster, with even more lift capacity than the existing Falcon Heavy rocket. It’ll be able to delivery as many as 20 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit, or over 100 tons to low-Earth orbit. It’s also intended to be the spacecraft that enables SpaceX to achieve its goal of running crewed missions to Mars.

Previously stated target dates for Starship milestones include achieving orbital launches by 2020, though based on this new info those will be test or demonstration missions rather than for paying customers. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also previously said that the company is looking at 2023 as the earliest target date for providing a Moon circuit space trip to his first paying tourist customer, Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa.

Tesla’s in-dash sketchpad gets a boost in next update, music tools coming later

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla owners will be better able to express themselves artistically using their in-vehicle infotainment touchscreen with the next update of their vehicle’s in-car software. Tesla revealed via Twitter today that the forthcoming software update will bring improved Sketchpad features, providing essential upgrades to an Easter Egg it first debuted over two years ago that lets Tesla owners doodle in their cars.

In response to a request from a fan asking for Tesla’s in-car drawing software (this is a weird phrase to be writing) to add a color picker, saturation controls and an undo history, Tesla noted that new features are coming in the next big update planned for Tesla vehicle software. It sounds like all of those could be on the menu, based on this tweet, and that might not be the end of the improvements in store.

Wish granted 💫. New Sketchpad features are rolling out in our next software update.

What will you draw? 🎨https://t.co/eXUm4k24qH

— Tesla (@Tesla) June 28, 2019

In May, Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded to another Twitter fan who was requesting animation support. Musk replied just a simple ‘Ok’ but given his general meme love, I would not at all be surprised if the next version of Sketchpad supports GIF output.

Musk also noted at around the same time that “Every Tesla should have good art & music creation software” which does not actually seem like an essential accoutrement for a vehicle at all, but then again Musk is a billionaire and I am not.

The CEO also followed up with some more details on what he has in mind for music curation: A ‘little music tool’ to be released later, and even in-car karaoke.

Fun, little music tool coming later

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 28, 2019

SpaceX reportedly seeking over $300M in fresh funding

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX is looking to raise a bunch of new cash – $314.2 million at a per share price of $214, according to a new CNBC report. The raise would be the third total this year, which together added up to over $1 billion in new capital.

Both those filings were revealed in May, so it’s a lot of money to be generating not even halfway through 2019. But SpaceX is also spending a lot, and expanding beyond its existing rocket launch business with new projects that have high costs, including building an all-new reusable spacecraft called the “Starship” and launching a constellation of satellites called “Starlink” to serve high-speed internet to traditionally underserved customers globally.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is still making money on launches, and CEO Elon Musk estimated last year that it’s probably on track for around $3 billion in revenue for this year. That’s a good chunk of change, but Musk has a lot of pots in the fire, including presumably a plan to still make its way to Mars and set up permanent operations on the red planet, as detailed in a couple consecutive talks at the annual International Astronautical Congress.

We’ve reached out to SpaceX for comment and will update if they respond.

SpaceX records another first for reusable rocketry by catching Falcon Heavy fairing with a boat

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX has managed to do another thing that seemed audacious and highly unlikely after a few early botched attempts. It used a ship at sea to catch the falling nosecone that shielded the cargo aboard its Falcon Heavy rocket during launch.

The maneuver saw a SpaceX -owned barge called Ms. Tree rigged with a giant net slung across four large protruding beams navigate to a point off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean to await the SpaceX fairing’s return once it separated from the rocket. Falcon Heavy launched from Kennedy Space Center last night for its STP-2 mission.

After beginning its career serving the launches that take place from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Ms. Tree (née Mr. Steven) traveled to the East Coast via the Panama Canal earlier in the year to make some attempts at catching SpaceX rockets launched from Florida.

The boat was put into service during a SpaceX launch from Vandenberg for the first time in February 2017, but the fairing missed the net and the boat, and the same is true for three subsequent attempts in 2018, during which SpaceX also decked the boat out with larger nets to give it a better chance of success.

This is a big deal for SpaceX because it likely makes re-using the fairings much more feasible. CEO Elon Musk has said that the company is basically throwing away $6 million every time it loses one of these fairings to a hard ocean landing, and so SpaceX has been working on a way to recover the parts – just like it recovers boosters via controlled descent.

The nosecone parts (each launch has two, one fairing for each half of the payload capsule) have been able to control their descent using small thrusters and a parachute which SpaceX can steer to a degree from the ground since the company’s 2017 SES-10 mission, but until now they’ve dropped in the ocean, which makes recovery more challenging and difficult to refurbish.

During this launch, Ms. Tree caught one half of the fairing as planned, and the other half landed in the water nearby. The big test now will be examining the returned caught fairing to determine if it’s suitable for refurbishment and re-flight, which could help a lot in trimming SpaceX launch costs further still.

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