Max Q: How to build a Starship
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Busy week for SpaceX – across funding, space tourism, and next-gen spacecraft. There’s also a space station resupply mission coming up that it’s getting ready for, and signs (this time literally) continue to suggest that its first human spaceflight mission is imminent.
Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who defied prejudice in the ’50s and ’60s to help NASA send the first men to the moon, has died at the age of 101. She was a pioneer, a role model and an instrumental part of America’s space program, and she will be dearly missed.
SpaceX is serious about iteration – its strategy of building (and failing – and learning from its failures) fast is in full effect for its Starship development program. Elon Musk said on Twitter this week that the plan is to build them as frequently as possible with significant improvements between each successive spacecraft, with the aim of going through two or three iterations before flying an orbital mission later this year.
The still-private SpaceX is going back to investors for more cash, likely to help it with the expensive proposition of building a bunch of Starships in rapid succession essentially by hand. It’s said to be seeking $250 million in a round that could close as early as mid-March, according to a CNBC report.
One side of SpaceX’s business that isn’t necessarily as obvious as its commercial cargo launch services is the space tourism angle. This week, the company announced a partnership with Space Adventures, the same firm that has arranged paid trips to the Space Station for private citizens aboard Soyuz capsules. The first of these trips, which won’t go to to the ISS but instead will fly up to a higher orbit, take a trip around Earth and come back, is set to take off as early as next year. And if you have to ask about the price, you probably can’t afford it.
The ISS gets a new platform next month that can support attached payloads – up to a dozen – from research partners, including academic institutions and private companies. It’ll go up aboard SpaceX’s next resupply mission for the station, which is currently targeting liftoff on March 2. Also, Adidas is sending up a machine that makes its BOOST shoe soles just to see how it works in space.
Japan is sending a mission to Phobos and Deimos to study the two moons of Mars, using a probe that will orbit the red planet’s natural satellites loaded with sensors. It’ll also carry a small lander, that will itself deploy an even smaller rover, which will study the surface of Phobos directly. If all goes to plan, it’ll collect a sample and bring that back to Earth for further study here.
It turns out that SpaceX, not Snap, may be the most important young technology company for developing the Los Angeles startup ecosystem. Jon Shieber documents how SpaceX alum have gone forth and build a number of companies in the area that have gone on to raise big cash, as well as very young startups that have had a promising beginning. Extra Crunch subscription required.
Yes, LA has a bustling space tech ecosystem. But communications satellite startup Kepler calls Canada home, and it recently made the interesting decision to build its small satellites in-house – in its own facility in downtown Toronto. Founder and CEO Mina Mitry tells me why that’s the best choice for his company. Extra Crunch subscription required.