SpaceX’s orbital Starship prototype construction progress detailed in new photos

SpaceX is making progress assembling its Starship orbital spacecraft prototype, as seen in new photos shared by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk . This full-scale testing version of the Starship will take over for the StarHopper, which was a scaled down version used to test the Raptor engine initially with low-altitude ‘hop’ flights.

The Starship Mk I Prototype and Mk II prototypes, which are under construction simultaneously at SpaceX facilities in South Texas and Florida, will be used to test flight at higher altitudes and higher speeds, and will use as many as three to six Raptor engines simultaneously, vs. the single engine used with the StarHopper.

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The round sections of the prototype you see in the photos being lowered on top of one another measure 9 meters (about 30 feet) in diameter, and unlike the StarHopper, these will feature a smooth curved top section, which you can see in the second photo. Once complete, SpaceX will run a first test of the orbital prototype with the goal of reaching a height of 12 miles, or 63,000 feet, before moving on to higher velocity testing at similar heights, and finally a first orbital flight.

Ultimately, SpaceX’s goal with Starship is have it become the workhorse of all of its commercial operations, replacing entirely the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon Capsule spacecraft and servicing both Earth orbital needs, as well as trips to ferry supplies and astronauts to Mars, and potentially beyond.

Space is the next economic frontier… hear more about it at Disrupt SF

For decades space has been the play place for world powers, but the advent of (relatively) cheap and frequent rocket launches has opened it up for new business opportunities. But it’s still hard as hell, as early adopters of this orbital economy Tess Hatch of Bessemer Ventures, Swarm’s Sara Spangelo and OneWeb’s Adrian Steckel can attest. They’ll be on the Extra Crunch stage at Disrupt SF 2019 on October 3rd at 1:40 PM.

Spangelo and Steckel are in the midst of launching what have been termed “mega-constellations,” collections of hundreds or thousands of satellites offering a coordinated service (in their cases, global connectivity). These efforts are only possible with the new launch economy, and came hot on its heels, showing there’s no reason to wait to put new plans in action.

But such constellations bring their own challenges. Just from an orbital logistics point of view, launching a single satellite so that it enters a unique and predictable trajectory is hard enough; launching a dozen or a hundred at once is more difficult by far. And after launch, how will those satellites be tracked? How will they communicate to the surface and each other? What about the growing risk of collisions?

On top of that are more terrestrial, but no less crucial, questions: What services can be made available from orbit? What’s a reasonable amount to spend on them? How will they compete with and accommodate one another? Whose regulations will they follow?

These latter questions are among those that must also be answered by investors like Hatch, who is familiar with both the technical and capital side of the burgeoning space industry (and of course the technical side of the capital side). Space ventures can be extremely expensive and high-risk, but to get your foot in the door at this stage could be the start of a billion-dollar advantage a couple of years down the line.

If you’re planning on getting involved with the new space economy, or are just curious about it, join us for an extended discussion and Q&A on the 3rd.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available here, and they just happen to be available at a discount today only.

Ten questions for 2020 presidential candidate John Delaney

In November 2020, America will go to the polls to vote in perhaps the most consequential election in a generation. The winner will lead the country amid great social, economic and ecological unrest. The 2020 election will be a referendum on both the current White House and the direction of the country at large.

Nearly 20 years into the young century, technology has become a pervasive element in all of our lives, and will continue to only grow more important. Whoever takes the oath of office in January 2021 will have to answer some difficult questions, raging from an impending climate disaster to concerns about job loss at the hands of robotics and automation.

Many of these questions are overlooked in day to day coverage of candidates and during debates. In order to better address the issues, TechCrunch staff has compiled a 10-part questionnaire across a wide range of tech-centric topics. The questions have been sent to national candidates, regardless of party. We will be publishing the answers as we receive them. Candidates are not required to answer all 10 in order for us to publish, but we will be noting which answers have been left blank.

First up is former Congressman John Delaney. Prior to being elected to Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, Delaney co-founded and led healthcare loan service Health Care Financial Partners (HCFP) and  commercial lender CapitalSource. He was elected to Congress in 2013, beating out a 10-term Republican incumbent. Rumored to be running against Maryland governor Larry Hogan for a 2018 bid, Delaney instead announced plans to run for president in 2020.

1. Which initiatives will you prioritize to limit humankind’s impact on climate and avoid potential climate catastrophe?

My $4 trillion Climate Plan will enable us to reach the goal of net zero emissions by 2050, which the IPCC says is the necessary target to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The centerpiece of my plan is a carbon-fee-and-dividend that will put a price on carbon emissions and return the money to the American people through a dividend. My plan also includes increased federal funding for renewable energy research, advanced nuclear technologies, direct air capture, a new Climate Corps program, and the construction of the Carbon Throughway, which would transport captured carbon from all over the country to the Permian Basin for reuse and permanent sequestration.

2. What is your plan to increase black and Latinx startup founders’ access to funding?

As a former entrepreneur who started two companies that went on to be publicly traded, I am a firm believer in the importance of entrepreneurship. To ensure people from all backgrounds have the support they need to start a new business, I will create nonprofit banks to serve economically distressed communities, launch a new SBIC program to help provide access to capital to minority entrepreneurs, and create a grant program to fund business incubators and accelerators at HBCUs. Additionally, I pledge to appoint an Entrepreneurship Czar who will be responsible for promoting entrepreneurship-friendly policies at all levels of government and encouraging entrepreneurship in rural and urban communities that have been left behind by venture capital investment.

3. Why do you think low-income students are underrepresented in STEM fields and how do you think the government can help fix that problem?

I think a major part of the problem is that schools serving low-income communities don’t have the resources they need to provide a quality STEM education to every student. To fix that, I have an education plan that will increase investment in STEM education and use Title I funding to eliminate the $23 billion annual funding gap between predominantly white and predominantly black school districts. To encourage students to continue their education after they graduate from high school and ensure every student learns the skills they need, my plan also provides two years of free in-state tuition and fees at a public university, community college, or technical school to everyone who completes one year of my mandatory national service program.

4. Do you plan on backing and rolling out paper-only ballots or paper-verified election machines? With many stakeholders in the private sector and the government, how do you aim to coordinate and achieve that?

Making sure that our elections are secure is vital, and I think using voting machines that create a voter-verified paper record could improve security and increase voters’ confidence in the integrity of our elections. To address other facets of the election security issue, I have proposed creating a Department of Cybersecurity to help protect our election systems, and while in Congress I introduced election security legislation to ensure that election vendors are solely owned and controlled by American citizens.

5. What, if any, federal regulation should be enacted for autonomous vehicles?

I was proud to be the founder of the Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to understanding the impacts of advances in AI technology and educating other legislators so they have the knowledge they need to enact policies that ensure these innovations benefit Americans. We need to use the legislative process to have a real conversation involving experts and other stakeholders in order to develop a comprehensive set of regulations regarding autonomous vehicles, which should include standards that address data collection practices and other privacy issues as well as more fundamental questions about public safety.

6. How do you plan to achieve and maintain U.S. superiority in space, both in government programs and private industry?

Space exploration is tremendously important to me as a former Congressman from Maryland, the home of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, major space research centers at the University of Maryland, and many companies that develop crucial aerospace technologies. As president, I will support the NASA budget and will continue to encourage innovation in the private sector.

7. Increased capital in startups founded by American entrepreneurs is a net positive, but should the U.S. allow its businesses to be part-owned by foreign governments, particularly the government of Saudi Arabia?

I am concerned that joint ventures between U.S. businesses and foreign governments, including state-owned enterprises, could facilitate the theft of intellectual property, potentially allowing foreign governments to benefit from taxpayer-funded research. We need to put in place greater protections that defend American innovation from theft.

8. Will U.S.-China technology decoupling harm or benefit U.S. innovation and why?

In general, I am in favor of international technology cooperation but in the case of China, it engages in predatory economic behavior and disregards international rules. Intellectual property theft has become a big problem for American businesses as China allows its companies to steal IP through joint ventures. In theory, U.S.-China collaboration could advance technology and innovation but without proper IP and economic protections, U.S.-China joint ventures and partnerships can be detrimental to the U.S.

9. How large a threat does automation represent to American jobs? Do you have a plan to help train low-skilled workers and otherwise offset job loss?

Automation could lead to the disruption of up to 54 million American jobs if we aren’t prepared and we don’t have the right policies. To help American workers transition to the high-tech, high-skill future economy, I am calling for a national AI strategy that will support public/private AI partnerships, develop a social contract with the communities that are negatively impacted by technology and globalization, and create updated education and job training programs that will help students and those currently in the workforce learn the skills they need.

To help provide jobs to displaced workers and drive economic growth in communities that suffer negative effects from automation, I have proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that would create an infrastructure bank to facilitate state and local government investment, increase the Highway Trust Fund, create a Climate Infrastructure Fund, and create five new matching funds to support water infrastructure, school infrastructure, deferred maintenance projects, rural broadband, and infrastructure projects in disadvantaged communities in urban and rural areas. In addition, my proposed national service program will create new opportunities that allow young adults to learn new skills and gain valuable work experience. For example, my proposal includes a new national infrastructure apprenticeship program that will award a professional certificate proving mastery of particular skill sets for those who complete the program.

10. What steps will you take to restore net neutrality and assure internet users that their traffic and data are safe from manipulation by broadband providers?

I support the Save Net Neutrality Act to restore net neutrality, and I will appoint FCC commissioners who are committed to maintaining a fair and open internet. Additionally, I would work with Congress to update our digital privacy laws and regulations to protect consumers, especially children, from their data being collected without consent.

Scientists propose ‘Spaceline’ elevator to the Moon

Fans of sci-fi and fringe tech may already be familiar with the idea of the “space elevator,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — and totally impossible with today’s technology. But a pair of scientists think they’ve found an alternative: a Moon elevator. And it’s slightly less insane… technically.

The idea of the space elevator, first explored in detail by Arthur C. Clarke in his novel “The Fountains of Paradise,” is essentially a tower so tall it reaches space. Instead of launching ships and materials from the surface of the Earth to orbit, you just put them in the elevator of this tower and when they reach the top, somewhere about 26,000 miles up in geosynchronous orbit, they’re already beyond gravity’s pull, for all intents and purposes.

It’s a fun idea, but the simple fact is that this tower would need to be so strong to support its own weight, and that of the counterweight at the far end, that no known material or even reasonably hypothetical one will do it. Not by a long shot. So the space elevator has remained well on the “fiction” side of science fiction since its first proposal. Hasn’t stopped people from patenting it, though.

But what if I told you that we could make a space elevator even bigger, with materials available today? You’d say I am completely unqualified to engineer such a structure — and you’d be right. But two astronomers from Cambridge and Columbia Universities think they’ve got an alternative. They call it the Spaceline.

The secret is in abandoning the entire concept of anchoring the space elevator to the surface of the Earth. Instead they propose a tower or cable extending the other direction: From the surface of the Moon to geosynchronous orbit around the planet.

Unsurprisingly, this idea has been put out there before, as early as the ’70s. But as Zephyr Penoyre and Emily Sandford put it in their paper:

We present the derivations herein as a full standalone mathematical and physical description of the concept, one that we and authors before us have been surprised to find is eminently plausible and may have been overlooked as a major step in the development of our capacity as a species to move within our solar system.

diagram

Math by Cambridge and Columbia. Diagram by MS Paint.

In other words, others have suggested it before, but they did the math. And it actually works out. And it might only cost a few billion dollars.

The Spaceline would be more like a skyhook than a tower. A thin, strong piece of material (think the width of a pencil lead) that extends about 225,000 miles from the surface of the Moon to a safe distance above the planet, where it won’t interfere with satellites or encounter our pesky atmosphere.

Anyone interested in going to the Moon would simply launch to the correct orbit height and sync up with the tip of the Spaceline, where there would no doubt be a station of some kind. From there they could use solar-powered propulsion to zip along the line, no fuel required. At the other end, they simply slow down and have a soft landing at lunar orbit or whatever surface facility we put on the regolith there.

Importantly, the Spaceline would pass through the Earth-Moon Lagrange point, where there is effectively zero gravity and no other physical interference, making construction and storage a snap.

Having only a small team of scientists and engineers at such a base camp would allow hand construction and maintenance of a new generation of space based experiments – one could imagine telescopes, particle accelerators, gravitational wave detectors, vivariums, power generation and launch points for missions to the rest of the solar system.

Sounds nicer than the tiny Lunar Gateway NASA has planned.

While the researchers say this is “not idle theorycrafting,” it most certainly is, with the caveat that the theory is more realistic than a famously unrealistic one no one takes seriously. Still, the possibility is tantalizing now that someone has crunched the numbers. Perhaps one of these space-bound billionaires will make a Moon elevator their next passion project.

Hubble spots liquid water on a ‘super-Earth’ 110 light-years away

Water is not uncommon to find in our galaxy in ice or gaseous form, but liquid water is quite rare — and liquid and gaseous water on an Earth-like exoplanet? That’s never been observed… until now. Astronomers spotted this celestial unicorn, called K2-18 b, using the venerable Hubble space telescope.

K2-18 b is a “super-Earth,” a planet with a mass and size approximately like our own, and not only that, it exists in its solar system’s “habitable zone,” meaning a range of temperatures where liquid water can continuously exist. It’s about 110 light-years away in the constellation Leo.

Of course there are many super-Earths, and many planets in habitable zones, and many planets with water — but they’re never one and the same. This is the first time we’ve found the trifecta.

Researchers used past Hubble data to examine the spectral signature of light shining from K2-18 b’s sun through its atmosphere. They found evidence of both liquid and gaseous water, suggesting a water cycle like our own: evaporation, condensation, and all that.

To be clear, this is not an indication of little green men or anything like that; K2-18 b’s red dwarf sun is absolutely bombarding it with radiation. “It is highly unlikely that this world is habitable in any way that we understand based on life as we know it,” the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Hannah Wakeford told Nature.

Too bad — but that wasn’t what scientists were hoping to find. The discovery of an Earth-like planet with an Earth-like water cycle in the habitable zone is amazing, especially considering the relatively small number of exoplanets that have been examined this way. The galaxy is full of them, after all, so finding one with these qualities suggests there are plenty more where K2-18 b came from.

This discovery is an interesting one in another fashion: It was done, like lots of others are these days, by performing after-the-fact analysis on publicly available data (from 2016 and 2017), and the analysis used open-source algorithms. Essentially both the data and the methods were out there in the open — though naturally it takes serious scientific effort to actually put them together.

Two papers were published on K2-18 b, one from the University of Montreal and one from University College London. The former appeared on preprint site Arxiv yesterday, and the other was published in the journal Nature Astronomy today.

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

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 .

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.

Watch JAXA’s HTV-8 mission launch aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIB rocket live

 

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’s Launch Services division is all set to send a crucial cargo payload to the International Space Station from JAXA today. The launch is scheduled for 6:33 AM Japan Standard Time (5:33 PM ET/2:33 PM PT), and will take off from Tanegashima Island, at JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center.

The rocket used for this launch is the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) H-IIB, and this is the eighth flight launch of the H-11 Transfer Vehicle (HTV) that MHI designed and built in Japan.

In the H-IIB configuration, the MHI-built rocket that will transport he HTV includes a liquid propellant central core, along with four solid propellant rocket boosters to give it additional life capacity. This particular mission will see the HTV loaded with 5.3 metric tons (just under six U.S. tons) of supplies for the ISS on board in both pressurized and unpressurized cargo containers which divvy up the total capacity.

MHI H IIB HTV8 10

One of the crucial pieces of cargo going up is a small satellite deployment device called ‘Kibo’ created by the Kyushu Institute of Technology and the National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Science. It’ll be used to deploy a range of super compact ‘CubeSats’ also on board, including a propulsion tech demo create by the University of Tokyo and startup Space BD, which is the first company awarded a contract by JAXA to be the commercial operator for deploying smallsats from the ISS via Kibo.

NASA TV will be carrying the launch live via the stream above, with their coverage kicking off around 5 PM ET (2 PM PT/6 AM JST).

Aerospace Corp CEO Steve Isakowitz to talk how to raise non-dilutive capital at Disrupt SF this Oct

The US government is awake to the remarkable innovation coming the startup scene in many deep tech categories, and the response has been diverse efforts across many government agencies and departments to support select startups with non-dilutive financial backing, technology sharing, fast-track procurement and even start-up competitions with cash prizes.

Space is one of those deep tech categories, and at we’re delighted to announce that Steve Isakowitz, CEO of Aerospace Corporation, is joining us on the Extra Crunch stage at Disrupt SF (Oct. 2-4) stage to discuss how Aerospace Corp sees the rapidly emerging space startup scene. Aerospace Corp is not all that widely known outside space circles, but its 59-year-old R&D legacy is remarkable. Based in El Segundo, California, the non-profit works with the US Air Force and other government space programs to identify emerging technologies from the commercial sector that could apply to future space programs. Examples of core space technologies include communications and spacecraft materials with an increased focus on cloud computing, data analytics, additive manufacturing, cyber security, and AI and robotics technologies.

Isakowitz was formerly CTO of Virgin, where he managed the company’s space launch program, and before that was CFO of the Department of Energy and an administrator at NASA, where he worked on space transportation and government-industry partnerships. He graduated from MIT, where he received his bachelors and masters in aerospace engineering.

We will talk on stage about how startups can take advantage of government funding initiatives, particularly in harder tech areas like space, satellites, defense, and health, as well as talk about what’s next in the space industry.

We’re amped for this conversation, and we can’t wait to see you there! Buy tickets to Disrupt SF here at an early-bird rate!

Did you know Extra Crunch annual members get 20% off all TechCrunch event tickets? Head over here to get your annual pass, and then email [email protected] to get your 20% discount. Please note that it can take up to 24 hours to issue the discount code.

India loses contact with spacecraft during historic moon landing attempt

India’s attempt to become the first nation to soft land a robotic spacecraft at the moon’s South Pole, an unexplored region, has ended in failure, the space agency said Saturday.

Less than two miles above the lunar surface, the Vikram lander (named after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program) lost communications with the mission control.

A live broadcast from ISRO, India’s equivalent of NASA, showed scientists grow tense as the control station struggled to get a signal from the lander.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was watching the landing attempt, offered words of encouragement to the scientists and children, who had accompanied him at the ISRO campus.

“Be courageous. Our faith in ISRO has not lost. I can proudly say that the effort was worth it and so was the journey. We are full of confidence that when it comes to our space program, the best is yet to come,” he said.

Space is hard. The lunar surface is filled with debris of spacecrafts that have attempted and failed to land in one piece. Because there is little to no atmosphere on the moon, parachutes can’t be used, leaving landers to rely completely on thrusters to modulate the speed.

Chandrayaan-2, a roughly $140 million mission, is, in part, intended to study moon craters that are believed to contain water deposits, something Chandrayaan-1 found in 2008.

A successful touchdown would have made India the fourth country to successfully complete a soft landing on the lunar surface. So far, only the former Soviet Union, the U.S., and China have accomplished it.

GettyImages 1165864210

Photo by Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

The 142-foot tall spacecraft that blasted off Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 15, carried an orbiter, a lunar lander, and a six-wheeled rover. The lander and rover were expected to operate for just a couple of weeks, but the orbiter, which detached from the lander earlier this week, will continue to operate for at least one year.

ISRO has come a long way and specialized in low-cost space launches since the early 1960s, when components of rockets were transported by bicycles and assembled by hand in the country.

In 2013, ISRO also launched an orbiter to Mars in its maiden $74 million interplanetary mission — a fraction of the $671 million NASA spent for a Mars mission in the same year. In 2017, ISRO also deployed a record 104 satellites into space in just 18 minutes.

Earlier this year, ISRO said it intends to have its own space station in the future and conduct separate missions to study the Sun and Venus. It will begin working on its space station following its first manned mission to space, called Gaganyaan (which means “space vehicle” in Sanskrit), in 2022 — just in time to commemorate 75 years of the country’s independence from Britain. The government has sanctioned Rs 10,000 crores ($1.5 billion) for the Gaganyaan mission.

Watch India’s Chandrayaan-2 make its historic moon landing attempt right here

It’s a big day for India’s highly audacious Chandrayaan-2 mission. The nation will attempt to land its lunar orbit on the moon’s surface shortly as it inches closer to become the fourth in the world to complete a successful lunar landing. ISRO, India’s equivalent of NASA, is live streaming the landing on its website, and YouTube channel (embedded below).

Additionally, if you are tuning in from India, dozens of channels including Doordarshan (DD1), Disney India, Colors Infinity, National Geographic, Star Plus, Star Bharat, and DD News are live telecasting the India’s mission to the moon. The landing is scheduled for between 1pm and 2pm Pacific Time (4pm to 5pm Eastern Time; 8pm to 9pm GMT).

ISRO launched its 142 feet tall spacecraft from the the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 15. The spacecraft consists of an orbiter, a lander named Vikram (named after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program), and a six-wheeled rover named Pragyaan (Sanskrit for “wisdom”). Earlier this week, the lander that carried the rover detached from the orbiter.

The mission’s budget is just $141 million, significantly lower than those of other countries, and less than half of the recently released blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame.”

Commenting on the landing, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will be watching the nation’s attempt at the moon landing from ISRO’s office, said earlier today that, “India, and the rest of the world will yet again see the exemplary prowess of our space scientists.”

Chandrayaan-2 aims to land on a plain surface that covers the ground between two of the moon’s craters, Simpelius N and Manzinus C — that is about 375 miles from the South Pole. It’s an understudied region that no one has seen closely yet.

NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger, said in a televised program today, “I just want everyone to know that the whole world is following this and it is not just Indians. This is the first time any country is going to the South Pole of the moon! India is leading this and as a representative of the US, we are nervous and we are hoping for success. This increases the knowledge base of the moon.”