SpaceX is on its way to delivering NASA’s DISCOVR satellite to orbit after a succesfull rocket launch today, a feat that will make it the first private company to travel beyond the inner ring of Earth’s orbit. The satellite will travel 1 million miles to a location between the Earth and the Sun, where it will spot solar flares up to an hour before they hit Earth and take daily images of the planet.
In a busy year where he retooled his Tesla fleet and launched reusable rockets, Elon Musk also found time to pick a major fight with the defense industry: he sued the Air Force last April, claiming his company SpaceX had been wrongfully shut out from lucrative contracts to launch satellites.
According to Musk, the Air Force had breached procurement policies by giving an exclusive deal to a consortium run by Lockheed Martin and Boeing without giving [company]SpaceX[/company] the time to navigate a complex certification process.
The contract in question, which involves sending up 36 rockets to deliver satellites and other payloads, is worth billions of dollars with Musk claiming that SpaceX can do it far cheaper than what the incumbents are bidding. Musk has also made provocative comments about the cozy nature of defense contracting:
“Essentially we’re asking them to award a contract to a company where they are probably not going to get a job, against a company where their friends are. So they’ve got to go against their friends, and their future retirement program. This is a difficult thing to expect,” he told Bloomberg.
Now, however, he appears to have won at least a partial concession. In a Friday news release, SpaceX said it is dropping the lawsuit as a result of the Air Force improving the competitive landscape for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.
“The Air Force also has expanded the number of competitive opportunities for launch services under the EELV program while honoring existing contractual obligations,” the release added.
The resolution comes at a time that SpaceX appears to have made major progress in developing reusable rockets and booster stages, which could significantly lower the cost of sending objects and people into space.
A Tuesday test of SpaceX’s reusable launch system was aborted at the last minute due to a problem with the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage. Multistage rockets shed stages as they climb, to lighten the load by detaching segments whose fuel has burned out, and to clear the way for different types of motors that are suited to various atmospheric conditions. The SpaceX system’s stages are being designed to find their way back down to Earth’s surface for reuse as soon as a few hours later, which could drastically reduce the cost of space travel. Tuesday’s would have been the first test for bringing down the first stage on a solid surface. It may now be conducted as soon as Friday.
A SpaceX F9R rocket exploded during a test over Texas today after an anomaly was detected. The rocket’s software automatically blew up the ship, preventing it from leaving the test area. “Today’s test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test,” a SpaceX statement read. “As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.”
Twenty years after its founding, Microlaunchers could finally find the interest it needs to build huge fleets of small rockets.
The funding adds to the $245.5 million the company has already raised. SpaceX is on the verge of trying out a reusable rocket that could dramatically lower its launch costs.
The Dragon capsule will carry important science experiments to the International Space Station. It also holds a part needed to repair a backup computer on the ISS.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is to start using 3D printing methods to create metal parts for rockets, jets and potentially even nuclear fusion reactors. According to the ESA, the parts will be able to withstand heat of up to 3,000° Celsius (5,432° Fahrenheit) and will cut down on materials waste. “Our ultimate aim is to print a satellite in a single piece,” said ESA new materials and energy research chief David Jarvis.