All posts in “Spaceflight”

Watch SpaceX launch NASA’s latest exoplanet-hunting satellite

SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket today during a 30 second window at 6:32pm EDT. Onboard is NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) designed to find exoplanets. SpaceX said this morning there’s an 80 percent chance of launching today. Following the launch, SpaceX will attempt to recover the Falcon 9 rocket and nose cone by landing the rocket on a drone ship and using parachutes to slow down fairings before they hit Atlantic. SpaceX’s high-speed net boat Mr. Stevens is still in the Pacific.

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The livestream is set to begin at 6:00pm EDT.

The satellite onboard uses four cameras to hunt for exoplanets around stars. They measure tiny dips in a star’s brightness that could indicate a planetary body passing in front of the camera’s line of sight. This is called a transit. Mission officials have said that this satellite will likely find thousands of worlds during its two-year mission.

The Falcon 9 used in today’s mission has never been launched before though if it lands successfully, it will be reportedly used in a future mission. This rocket is also the final block 4 version before Tesla starts using block 5 versions with upgraded engines and improvements to increase the reusability of the rocket.

Elon Musk’s latest SpaceX idea involves a party balloon and bounce house

Elon Musk took to Twitter Sunday night to announce a new recovery method for an upper stage SpaceX rocket. A balloon — a “giant party balloon” to quote him directly — will ferry part of a rocket to a bounce house. Seriously.

If anyone else proposed this idea they would be ignored, but Elon Musk lately has a way of turning crazy ideas into reality.

It was just in 2012 that SpaceX launched and landed its first rocket and now the company is doing it with rockets significantly larger. And then early this year SpaceX made a surprise announcement that it would attempt to use a high-speed boat and large net to catch part of rocket. And it worked after a failed first attempt.

This isn’t the first time a balloon has tried to be used to return a rocket. Legendary programmer John Carmack’s rocket company attempted to use a ballute in 2012 to return a rocket body and nose cone. It didn’t work as planned and according to officials at the time, the rocket made a “hard landing” around the Spaceport America property in New Mexico.

Just like SpaceX’s self-landing rockets and its giant net boat, the goal is to reduce the cost of launching rockets by reusing parts. It’s unclear when this latest plan will be implemented but chances are SpaceX will at least attempt it in the coming future.

Virgin Galactic successfully tested its rocket-powered spacecraft today for the first time since 2014

Virgin Galactic took to the skies today for the first test of its rocket-powered spacecraft in over three years. The SpaceShipTwo launch platform deployed the USS Unity at a set altitude where the space craft will fire its engines for as long as 30 seconds bringing the craft to 1 1/2 the speed of sound. This was the first powered test of the Unity since the SpaceShipTwo Enterprise broke up during a test flight in late 2014.

After the accident Richard Branson’s space program reworked a lot of components but as of late ramped up testing including releasing the Unity for glide testing.

For today’s test two pilots — Mark “Forger” Stucky and Dave Mackay — were at the controls of the VSS Unity as its dropped from its mothership. Unlike the original SpaceCraftTwo vehicle, the Unity is built by The Spaceship Company, a subsidiary of Virgin Group, which is also building two more spaceships for the space company.

Virgin Galactic has yet to announce target altitude or speed for this test. This is a big test for the company and it has been relatively quiet about its existence — a stark difference from Elon Musk’s SpaceX .

Update: Richard Branson just released a bit of info minutes after the flight.

Virgin Galactic was founded and so far existed to provide a reusable platform to reach sub-orbital altitudes of about 68 miles above the Earth. It’s capable of carrying passengers who are expected to pay around $250,000 for the trip and today’s showed that the company is back on the track to be a viable space delivery system. It’s unlikely the company could have survived another fatal disaster.

3D printed rocket maker Relativity raises $35M to simplify satellite launches

LA-based space startup Relativity has raised $35 million in Series B funding, in a new round led by Playground Global, and including existing investors Social Capital, Y Combinator Continuity and Mark Cuban. The funding will help the startup expand its automated, 3D-printing process for manufacturing rockets quickly and with greatly reduced complexity, with the ultimate aim of making it easier and cheaper to send satellites into space.

Relativity’s goal is to introduce a highly automated rocket construction process that relies on nearly 100 percent 3D printed rocket parts, to create custom, mission-specific rockets that can launch payloads the size of small cars, or much larger than those of some of its cubesat-targeting competitors. It boasts a process that has reduced rocket part count from around 100,000 to just 1,000, while also dropping labor and build time, using machine learning and even proprietary base materials to achieve these drastic reductions.

Basically, Relativity wants to play in the same ballpark as SpaceX for some prospective missions, and it’s getting closer to be able to do that. It has a 20-year test site partnerships with NASA Stennis, for use of its E4 Test Complex, and this will allow the would-be launcher to develop and quality as many as 36 complete rockets per year on the 25 acre space, with an option to grow its footprint to as many as 250 acres for launches.

Rocket’s 3D metal printer, aptly named ‘Stargate,’ is the largest of its kind in the world, and aims to be ale to go from raw materials to a flight-ready vehicle in just 60 days. The process overall should save between two and four years of time per launch overall, which would mean a drastic improvement in time allotment for mission conception to execution for commercial clients.

Behind the scenes of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch day prep

SpaceX is launching its Falcon Heavy rocket tomorrow, and if it’s successful, it’ll be twice as powerful in terms of cargo capacity as its next closest active rival. That will help give SpaceX an edge in the growing private space race, and open up new opportunities in terms of potential clients, as well as set the stage for traveling to Mars.

The launch itself is happening on Tuesday, February 6 at 1:30 PM EST, weather permitting. The window lasts until 4 PM EST, however, so if conditions are good within that time the lunch should go off as planned. There’s a backup window on February 7, which also starts at 1:30 PM EST, and we’ll be there live to watch it happen and report back all the news right here on TechCrunch.