All posts in “Spacex”

You won’t see Elon Musk smoking weed in public again, NASA admin says

Elon Musk speaks near a Falcon 9 rocket.
Elon Musk speaks near a Falcon 9 rocket.

Image:  DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

Elon Musk’s days of smoking weed in public are, apparently, over. 

To be fair, it was just that one time, when Musk appeared to be smoking weed on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, but it was enough to ruffle NASA’s feathers. And NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Musk will not be doing it again, The Atlantic reported Thursday.

“I will tell you that was not helpful, and that did not inspire confidence, and the leaders of these organizations need to take that as an example of what to do when you lead an organization that’s going to launch American astronauts,” Bridenstine told reporters at a meeting at NASA’s headquarters Thursday.

Musk is the CEO of SpaceX which does a lot of contractor work for NASA, including building new vehicles (alongside Boeing) to bring NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. And according to Bridenstine, a healthy workplace culture — both at NASA and its contractors —  is important in order for everything to go smoothly.

Last week, after a Washington Post report, NASA said it plans to conduct a “cultural assessment study” with its commercial partners. Now, Bridenstine said that he personally ordered the reviews, and that he wanted to that even before Musk’s public weed smoking incident, describing the reviews as “necessary and appropriate.”

The primary motivation behind these measures according to Bridenstine is avoiding accidents such as the Columbia and Challenger space shuttle disasters. These accidents stemmed from technological issues, but Bridenstine also pointed out that poor workplace culture may have contributed. 

As for Musk, Bridenstine said he recently spoke with him and that he understands his behavior was inappropriate. “You won’t be seeing that again,” Bridenstine said. 

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SpaceX’s Starlink aims to put over a thousand of its communications satellites in super-low orbit

SpaceX’s planned communication satellite constellation, known as Starlink, will now be targeting a much lower orbit than originally planned, at least for over a thousand of the satellites, the company revealed in an FCC filing. The move should help mitigate orbital debris and provide better signal for the company’s terrestrial users as well.

Starlink plans to put 1,584 satellites — about a third of the 4,409 the company aims to launch — in an orbit just 550 kilometers about the surface of the Earth. For comparison, many communications satellites are in orbits over twice as high, and geosynchronous orbits are more than 20 times further out (around 36,000 miles).

At that distance orbits decay quickly, falling into the atmosphere and burning up after a handful of years. But SpaceX isn’t daunted; in fact, it writes in its application, lower orbits offer “several attractive features both during nominal operation and in the unlikely event something goes wrong.”

In the first place, orbital debris problems are naturally mitigated by the fact that anything in that low orbit will fall to Earth quickly instead of cluttering up the orbit. Second, it should shorten the amount of time it takes to send and receive a signal from the satellites — ping time could be as low as 15 milliseconds, the company estimated. 500 fewer kilometers means there will be less spreading for beam-based communications, as well.

The satellites will have to do more work to stay at their optimal altitude, since atmospheric drag will be higher, and each one will be able to see and serve less of the planet. But with thousands working together, that should be manageable.

The decision was informed by experimental data from the “Tintin” test satellites the company launched earlier this year. “SpaceX has learned to mitigate the disadvantages of operating at a lower altitude and still reap the well-know and significant benefits discussed above,” it wrote.

This change could lead to competitive advantages when satellite communications are more widely used, but it will also likely lead to a more intensive upkeep operation as Starlink birds keep dropping out of the air. Fortunately a third benefit of the lower orbit is that it’s easier to reach, though probably not so much easier that the company breaks even.

Starlink is aiming for the first real launches of its systems early next year, though that timeline may be a little too ambitious. But SpaceX can do ambitious.

The Air Force is trying to figure out a response to Elon Musk’s pot smoking

Elon Musk might be hearing from the Air Force about a certain podcast appearance.
Elon Musk might be hearing from the Air Force about a certain podcast appearance.

Image: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

It turns out the Air Force isn’t quite sure what to make of Elon Musk’s pot smoking either.

No, the military hasn’t launched a formal investigation into the SpaceX CEO. But it is trying to figure out how to respond to Musk’s latest antics.

After setting the internet ablaze following an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, which featured Musk taking a single hit off a spliff, questions have been swirling about whether or not said hit would have any negative consequences for the man or his businesses.

These questions kicked into high gear Friday, when a Fox Business reporter tweeted that the Air Force was looking into Musk’s actions, potentially putting his government security clearance at risk.  The Air Force later clarified that while it’s evaluating the situation, there is not, in fact, an investigation.

“It’s inaccurate that there is an investigation. We’ll need time to determine the facts and the appropriate process to handle the situation,” a spokesperson told The Verge.

Pretty much everything Musk says or does makes headlines, so it’s not surprising that his momentary joint-smoking on Rogan’s podcast is quickly turning into its own news cycle, too. Despite the fact marijuana is legal in California, and that all the pot-shaming really isn’t cool anyway, Musk’s actions could have serious implications for SpaceX — at least in theory. 

That’s because SpaceX has contracts with the U.S. Air Force, which has markedly different stance on marijuana than Musk. As others have pointed out, people with security clearances are prohibited from using marijuana; partaking in any way could lose you your clearance. Which brings us back to Musk.

The fact that the SpaceX CEO openly smoked while on Rogan’s show could potentially create problems for the company’s government contracts, the thinking goes. 

Of course, the Air Force hasn’t actually said anything of the sort yet. It’s only confirmed that it’s aware of the situation and attempting to figure out a response. Regardless, it seems this could turn into yet another major buzzkill for Musk.

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Diver attacked by Elon Musk as “pedo guy” is prepping a libel suit

A British cave diving expert who helped save the young Thai football team that got trapped in caves this summer is preparing a legal action against Elon Musk for making “false and defamatory statements”, TechCrunch has confirmed.

BuzzFeed reported the development earlier, after obtaining a letter sent to Musk’s home on August 6 by a firm representing the diver, Vernon Unsworth.

The background here is that in a highly offensive and extremely bizarre episode last month — even for the famously ‘loose cannon online’ Musk — the Tesla and SpaceX CEO took to Twitter to attack Unsworth, branding him a “pedo guy”.

The bizarre attack came after Unsworth had given a critical interview to the media saying the mini sub which Musk had designed and brought to Thailand “had absolutely no chance of working”. Unsworth ended an interview segment by suggesting Musk should “stick his submarine where it hurts” — a tongue-in-cheek phrase which apparently triggered Musk’s Twitter outburst.

Facing a backlash over his comments about a man who had successfully helped rescue the boys, Musk subsequently deleted the offensive tweets and quasi-apologized for slurring Unsworth in a further set of tweets, on July 18, though these were only posted within a Twitter thread, rather than being broadcast to his ~22.4M Twitter followers.

At the time Musk said Unsworth’s comment had angered him, and that had made him lash out, but he also added: “Nonetheless, his actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.”

The public element of the episode might have ended there but earlier this week Musk dredged it all up again by repeating his offensive insinuation against Unsworth during a debate with ex-TechCrunch journalist Drew Olanoff — who had brought up the “pedo guy” attack as an example of Musk himself telling untruths.

Yet instead of reiterating his apology to Unsworth, Musk doubled down on his original offensive attack — writing: “You don’t think it’s strange he hasn’t sued me? He was offered free legal services.”

To which Olanoff replied: “What I think is especially strange here is that you’re wondering why he hasn’t sued you while the rest of us are wondering why you did something so egregious that he could sue you for in the first place.”

We contacted the law firm for confirmation that it is representing Mr Unsworth in a defamation suit against Musk. Partner Lin Wood was unavailable to speak about the matter when we called but he confirmed via email that the firm is representing Unsworth in a defamation suit against Musk, and that it is preparing a legal action.

In the letter sent by the firm to Musk’s home earlier this month Wood informs Musk he has been retained by Unsworth on account of the defamatory statements made by Musk on Twitter alleging that he is a pedophile.

Wood also writes that he is preparing a civil complaint of libel and invites Musk to contact him “in an attempt to avoid litigation and to see the public record corrected”.

It’s not clear whether or not Musk had seen the letter at the time of his tweets to Olanoff.

We’ve reached out to Musk (via Twitter) for comment on the legal action and to ask whether he will be withdrawing his repeat allegation against Unsworth. We’ll update this story with any response.

The Tesla CEO’s erratic behavior online has caused other high profile headaches for his companies in recent weeks, after he tweeted about taking Tesla private — triggering wild swings in the stock price and scrutiny (and potential problems) from the Securities and Exchange Commission, only for the idea to be nixed weeks later.

The associated risks for shareholders in a public company whose CEO uses Twitter as a weapon to indulge personal spats and feuds — and to spitball major business decisions — without, apparently, any thought for the legal and reputational consequences for him or his companies, are hard to quantify but equally difficult to deny.

SpaceX lands Falcon 9 booster on Just Read The Instructions drone ship

SpaceX confirmed on Twitter this morning that it recovered the booster from the latest Falcon 9 launch. Shortly after launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California at 7:39AM ET this morning, the booster stage landed on the Just Read The Instructions drone ship. The company will now try to catch the rocket’s fairing with a giant net attached to the ship Mr. Stevens.

SpaceX has become more adept at landing its booster rockets but it’s still a spectacle every time it happens. This landing is extra special as the winds were gusting around the time of the launch.

The rocket company has so far been less successful with catching the payload shrouds. SpaceX’s high-speed recovery boat Mr. Steven took to the seas this time around with a larger net in the hopes of recovering the fairings. Reusing as much as possible is critical to SpaceX’s mission to lower the cost of space flight.

Today’s launch was SpaceX’s seventh mission for the company’s client Iridium who contracted with SpaceX to launch 75 satellites into orbit. According to SpaceX, today’s payload of Iridium satellites so far deployed without an issue. SpaceX is contracted for one more launch with Iridium.