SpaceX is a company founded by Elon Musk of PayPal and Tesla, which recently became the first privately-owned group to launch a mission to the International Space Station. Its Dragon capsule successfully docked with the ISS after detaching from a Falcon rocket, clearing SpaceX to proceed with a $1.6 billion contract covering at least six further missions to the station. Virgin Galactic, founded by Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Group, is pursuing the stars as well, in addition to Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace.
- And now they’re back.
The crew of the Galactic 01 mission has returned safely after their brief trip to space aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity vehicle. A successful end to the company’s first commercial flight at least finally puts it on the board in the race between SpaceX and Virgin Galactic for commercial spaceflight after SpaceX took a paid crew to the Space Station last year.
- Virgin Galactic’s first commercial spaceflight is already in the air, and you can watch the livestream here.
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spacecraft is already getting a ride from its mothership that’s boosting the company’s first commercial flight crew along their trip. The livestream is scheduled to begin at 11AM ET, and you can see it below.
Apr 17, 2015
Tuesday saw SpaceX come agonizingly close to landing its reusable Falcon 9 rocket on a barge at sea, and the released footage (below) made the failed attempt seem somehow serene; the rocket drifts into view and floats onto its target like a sycamore seed before toppling over in slow motion.Read Article >
But in this unverified new video (above), which appeared on Reddit and allegedly came from a GoPro camera mounted on the barge itself, the explosive reality of the events are thrown into sharp relief. You can see how the rocket overcompensates for its off-balance approach before meeting a fiery end as it comes down on the barge. SpaceX is making big advances with its Falcon 9 rocket, but this video gives a better idea of just how complex the physics are that Elon Musk and company have to wrestle with.
Jan 5, 2015
SpaceX is gearing up for its next big launch. According to a tweet from Elon Musk, SpaceX's drone spaceport ship has left the dock and headed to its hold position in the Atlantic Ocean. Tomorrow, the company will launch its Falcon 9 rocket and attempt to land it on the 30,000 square-foot ship, with engineers attempting a landing accuracy of 10 meters on each side. SpaceX is the first company to attempt a rocket landing of this scope, although it has never successfully carried one out. In August, a Falcon 9 exploded in mid-air during a similar test flight over MacGregor, Texas.Read Article >
It's a tricky task, and the Falcon rocket may not succeed. The launch initially scheduled for December, but hit delays after a faulty test fire, and a SpaceX post on the earlier test put the odds of success at "50 percent at best." But even if the test fails, it marks the beginning in a series of tests that SpaceX hopes will culminate in a rocket design that can be reused after launch — a huge source of savings in the otherwise exorbitant world of space flight. The launch is currently scheduled for tomorrow, January 6th, after which we'll know more about how the Falcon performed.
Nov 7, 2014
Elon Musk, the chief executive of automotive company Tesla — which reported a $75 million loss earlier this week and delayed, again, its Model X SUV — is considering global internet satellites as his next venture, The Wall Street Journal reported.Read Article >
Musk is exploring a partnership with Greg Wyler, founder of WorldVu Satellites Ltd, to launch about 700 satellites, The Wall Street Journal says. The satellites would weigh less than 250 pounds, which is about half the size of the smallest current satellites used commercially for communication. The current largest fleet is about 10 times smaller. The effort may cost $1 billion or more, and the project "is in a formative stage, and it isn’t certain Mr. Musk will participate." Musk's SpaceX would be a likely candidate for launching the satellite swarm, though no agreement is yet in place.
Nov 6, 2014Read Article >
Officials are still investigating what caused Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo to break apart during a test run and crash into the Mojave Desert. So far, the National Transportation and Safety Board has recovered the intact fuel tanks and engine, apparently disproving a theory that a new type of fuel caused the crash. It's also found that the drag-producing tail wings seem to have been deployed prematurely by either pilot or mechanical error, which could have torn the craft apart. But the NTSB and Virgin Galactic emphasize that it's too early to say what's actually behind the disaster.
Today one test pilot died when Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo crashed in the Mojave desert. A second pilot was evacuated to a hospital.Read Article >
"From my eyes and my ears, I detected nothing abnormal," said Stuart Witt, the chief executive officer of the Mojave Air and Space Port, where Virgin Galactic operates. "I didn't detect anything other than a pause. It wasn't what did happen, it was what didn't I see or hear. If there was an explosion, I didn't see it." Parabolicarc.com, which had been livetweeting the flight, reports that SpaceShipTwo "came down in pieces" after exploding in mid-air.
Sep 17, 2014
Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin partners with Boeing and Lockheed Martin to reduce dependence on Russian rockets
The current contract covers a four-year development period, entering "full-scale testing" in 2016; Blue Origin has apparently already been developing the BE-4 rocket engine for three years and is currently testing components. ULA says it's not a "direct replacement" for the current RD-180 engines, but it will be integrated into future generations of rocket, and the frequent references to "American" components suggest that this is an attempt to move away from Russian products. It will supposedly be cheaper, though the price isn't given, and Blue Origin plans to eventually sell it to manufacturers besides ULA.Read Article >
Sep 16, 2014
Boeing and SpaceX have received contracts to develop a new fleet of American spacecraft for NASA. The companies will spend the coming three years and $6.8 billion ($4.2 billion for Boeing and $2.6 billion for SpaceX) in funding from the agency working towards certifying their ships to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, a goal they're expected to hit in 2017. Boeing will work with its CST-100 capsule, while SpaceX — a younger company founded by Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk — will continue to test its own Dragon capsule. NASA will oversee a series of performance tests for both companies, including a test flight with a single astronaut on board.Read Article >
A maximum of six missions may be approved as part of each contract, and funding was awarded based on their proposals; SpaceX might be getting less than Boeing, but they're both expected to reach the same goals. "To achieve NASA certification in 2017, they must meet the same rigorous safety standards we had for the Space Shuttle Program," said agency head Charles Bolden.
Aug 23, 2014
SpaceX's rocket program suffered a setback today, with one of its three-engine Falcon rockets exploding in mid-air during a test flight in McGregor, Texas. The company says it triggered the action after onboard systems detected that something was wrong. Nobody was injured, local Central Texas news station KXXV reports.Read Article >
According to SpaceX, the Falcon 9-R Dev 1 test rocket's systems detected "an anomaly" that led to an automatic termination of the test. A company spokesperson added that it's analyzing the data for more information on what the anomaly was, and how it occurred. "With research and development projects, detecting vehicle anomalies during the testing is the purpose of the program," a SpaceX spokesperson told The Verge. "Today's test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test."
Aug 19, 2014
The company that Elon Musk hopes will some day carry him to Mars has been making big strides in recent months, winning contracts to provide the rockets that ferry public and private satellites and other equipment into space. As NASA looks to limit it new launches and collaboration with Russia breaks down, SpaceX is filling the void. Today TechCrunch reports that the company is in talks to raise $200 million in new funding, an investment that would value it at more than $10 billion dollars.Read Article >
May 29, 2014
True to form, SpaceX will be streaming the reveal, which takes place in California at 10PM ET or 7PM PT. You'll be able to watch it here in the lead-up to the event, as well as on SpaceX's own site.Read Article >
SpaceX founder Elon Musk teased the announcement a month ago, when tensions with Russia were making the news. The US currently pays Russia $60 million per person to transport astronauts to the ISS, a result of the decommissioning of the US space shuttle program. It now seems as if both countries want out of the arrangement, however. After the US condemned Russia's aggressiveness in Ukraine, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin joked that NASA would have to use trampolines to get its astronauts to space.
Apr 18, 2014
Update April 18th, 2014 3:30pm: The Falcon 9 has successfully launched, and the capsule is headed towards the ISS for a Sunday docking.Read Article >
After weeks of delays, SpaceX is preparing to launch its third supply mission to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 rocket and accompanying Dragon capsule are expected to blast off from Cape Canaveral at 3:25 EDT, and the craft is set to rendezvous with the space station on the morning of Sunday, April 20th. A video feed of the takeoff will go live around 2:45PM. The CRS-3 mission, carried out through a partnership with NASA, comes almost two years after the Dragon capsule became the first commercial craft to ever dock with the ISS. This time, SpaceX is using the flight to test the next steps in its plan for a reusable rocket. The first stage of the Falcon rocket has been equipped with four landing legs. After launch, it will separate as normal, then attempt to slow itself and make a controlled return to Earth, which would allow it to be used again after being fished out of the ocean.
Mar 9, 2014
Is there life on Mars? NASA is still trying to find out, discovering evidence of water in a Martian meteorite just over a week ago. But though scientists are happy to investigate meteorites and live vicariously through robotic rovers roaming the Red Planet, they're really itching to get their hands on samples scooped right off the Martian surface to analyze here at home. Now, a team at NASA believes they can do so cost-effectively, as soon as 2022, by relying on commercial spaceflight provider SpaceX for a little help.Read Article >
Jan 10, 2014
Today, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two ascended to the upper atmosphere for its third supersonic flight, and the highest to date. The ship reached an altitude of 71,000 feet, 2000 feet higher than the previous record, before returning safely to the ground under the guidance of chief pilot Dave Mackay. The mission was designed to test the thermal coating on the craft's tail as well as the ship's reaction control system, which will allow pilots to maneuver the craft once in space.Read Article >
Previously, Virgin Galactic had promised to run their first commercial space voyages in 2014 and, with less than a year to make good on the promise, the company seemed confident it would meet the self-imposed deadline. "With each flight test, we are progressively closer to our target of starting commercial service in 2014," said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. After the launch, founder Richard Branson also doubled down on the promise, saying, "2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space."
Dec 6, 2013
On Tuesday, SpaceX successfully launched a commercial communications satellite into orbit after two abortive attempts, a major milestone in entrepreneur Elon Musk’s lofty mission to build a private space program. In 2012, an ISS supply mission made SpaceX’s Dragon capsule the first privately owned spacecraft to dock with the station; Musk himself has become one of the figureheads of a new, aspirational entrepreneurship that prizes impossible ideas alongside traditional business. And SpaceX’s success comes after years of worry about whether NASA is still capable of the grand feats it achieved in the mid-20th century — and speculation that SpaceX and its many competitors, not an old guard of aerospace companies and government agencies, will be the future of extraterrestrial exploration.Read Article >
The launch isn’t just a springboard for more contracts. It’s the start of a revenue stream that Musk hopes will help the company reach its long-term goal: sending humans to Mars. Aerospace journalist Michael Belfiore says SpaceX is miles ahead of similar startups, calling it "the lynchpin of America’s manned space program." Competitor Orbital Sciences has an established cargo program — this fall, it became the second private company to have a ship dock with the ISS — but it’s not planning manned trips, and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser is too dependent on federal funding, Belfiore tells The Verge.
Dec 3, 2013
After dealing with numerous setbacks and last-minute delays, SpaceX's third launch attempt of its upgraded Falcon 9 rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral appears to have gone smoothly. The rocket is carrying a commercial SES-8 communications satellite into orbit, an achievement that — if all continues to go well — marks a major milestone for its private space transport ambitions. The Falcon 9's takeoff has been abruptly pushed back more than once this month, but SpaceX earlier this week reassured the public that "all known rocket anomalies have been resolved."Read Article >
In an update yesterday, the company revealed that its engineers spent an extra day "rechecking" systems ahead of today's attempt. "This launch is obviously very important to the future of SpaceX," Elon Musk said on Sunday.
Nov 28, 2013
Having originally been scheduled to celebrate Thanksgiving by taking to the stratosphere, SpaceX's launch was aborted at the last moment today. The Falcon 9 rocket had been scheduled to take off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station sometime during a 65-minute launch window starting at 5:39 PM ET.Read Article >
The aborted launch was initially set to occur earlier this week, but SpaceX missed its last launch window due to a technical glitch. "Saw pressure fluctuations on Falcon boost stage liquid oxygen tank," SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk wrote on Twitter at the time. "Want to be super careful, so pushing launch to Thurs."
Nov 25, 2013
SpaceX's upgraded Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida this evening, where it'll be attempting to place a communications satellite into orbit, 22,000 miles above the equator, reports USA Today. The launch is scheduled for 5:37PM local time and is being streamed live online. This is reportedly SpaceX's first launch of a commercial communications satellite, and if successful, would be a major step forward for the private space transportation company. The satellite onboard is an SES-8, which satellite operator SES has contracted SpaceX to launch.Read Article >
"Let me put this very clearly and maybe not too dramatically: The entry of SpaceX into the commercial market is a game-changer," Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer for SES, reportedly said during a conference call. "It's going to really shake the industry to its roots."
Oct 22, 2013
You may soon have a less expensive way to get into space. A new space tourism venture plans to bring visitors 30 km (about 100,000 feet) into the stratosphere in what is essentially a space-ready air balloon for $75,000. The capsule won't technically be in space — and that's not high enough to enter orbit and achieve the sensation of "weightlessness" — but there should be a wonderful view of the curvature of the Earth, the blue atmosphere around it, and the dark void beyond. Those joining in on the trip won't have to undergo training, and they'll spend two hours up at that height, where they'll be free to stand and walk about the cabin. Trips could start as soon as 2016.Read Article >
The new project comes from World View, a subsidiary of Paragon, which makes equipment for the International Space Station and other space applications. Paragon is also the company behind an ambitious plan to send astronauts to Mars by 2018. World View itself isn't a rocket — it is a pressurized, four-ton capsule that can hold up to eight passengers, according to The Wall Street Journal. A helium-filled, high altitude balloon will carry the capsule to its maximum height. Few details are available, as World View has to go through plenty of regulatory and testing hurdles before becoming a reality, but the project is not so different from Felix Baumgartner's trip in the Red Bull Stratos last year, which took the skydiver to a height of 128,000 feet. Instead of having passengers jump out of the capsule like Baumgartner, however, the World View itself will be piloted down to a predetermined landing spot using a parafoil.
Oct 18, 2013
Virgin Galactic may be closing in on launching its first-ever commercial space flight, but the company is also thinking about how its technology can help improve travel on Earth, as well. Speaking at the Wired 2013 event in London, Virgin Galactic's commercial director Stephen Attenborough hinted that his company's spaceplans might be the basis for long haul aviation across the planet someday. "If we can get this first step right, take people into space and keep them safe in commercially viable aircraft," Attenborough said, Virgin might be able to "push long haul aviation." The bottom line could be flights between London and Australia in as little as 2.5 hours — and Attenborough said that such a flight would be better for the environment, since emissions would be released outside of the Earth's atmosphere rather than within it.Read Article >
There's no timeline for when this might happen, unfortunately, but Attenborough did give a preview of what a typicalVirgin Galactic space flight would be like. It starts with six passengers strapped into Spaceship Two — which itself is attached to a larger "carrier aircraft." After ascending to about 50,000 feet (the same cruising altitude of the Concorde), the spaceship is released. Following a countdown, its rockets fire, and Spaceship Two hits the speed of sound within six seconds. It's an event that sounds like the most dramatic part of the flight, but it'll end abruptly as the ship cuts its engines and hits zero-gravity.
Oct 13, 2013Read Article >
Elon Musk's quest to build a rocket that can be reused after delivering its cargo is getting closer to the atmosphere's upper reaches. A new video from SpaceX shows the Grasshopper rocket reaching its highest point to date: 744 meters. The test flight comes a month after Musk demonstrated the Grasshopper launching, flying 300 feet laterally, then returning to the launchpad and landing vertically. SpaceX has a long way to go before its reusable rockets are ready to deliver their cargo to the cosmos. But combined with the successful test flight of a more powerful Falcon 9 rocket last month, Musk has said "I think we now have all the pieces of the puzzle to bring the rocket back home."
Sep 29, 2013
Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft completed a successful rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, marking what NASA hailed as an "historical milestone" in commercial spaceflight. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the Cygnus unmanned vehicle linked up with the ISS Sunday morning, after an eleven day journey through space. Astronauts used a robotic arm to capture and secure the Cygnus, which will unload 1,300 pounds of supplies before departing (and self-destructing) within the next several weeks. With today's successful operation, Orbital becomes the second private company to send a spacecraft to the ISS, joining Elon Musk's SpaceX.Read Article >
NASA has become increasingly reliant upon private sector initiatives in recent years, as the government phases out the shuttle program. The agency invested $285 million in research and development leading up to Sunday's launch (Orbital spent $500 million) and has committed to spending $1.9 billion on future Orbital projects over the next several years.
Sep 9, 2013
Last month, we saw Elon Musk's reusable SpaceX Grasshopper rocket perform its best trick yet: launch skywards, fly 300 feet laterally, then return to the exact spot of its launch, all within 73 seconds. Now, SpaceX has released a new video depicting the lateral launch in context. The zoomed-out video gives a far better view of the precise control SpaceX has over its rocket's movement. As an added bonus, there's even a cameo from a perplexed herd of cows.Read Article >
While the stunt is certainly impressive, there's still a way to go before the reusable rocket fulfills its actual promise. SpaceX wants to use the technology it's testing with Grasshopper to help move cargo into space. SpaceX is already doing that, but at the moment the rockets it uses aren't reusable, so the integration of this technology will help cut down costs dramatically.
Sep 5, 2013
Virgin Galactic is nearing in on commercial spaceflight with the completion of its latest test of SpaceShipTwo. The reusable ship, which will eventually be used to ferry around passengers, took its second rocket-powered flight this morning over Mojave, California. Virgin founder Richard Branson says that the craft flew higher and faster than it ever has before — up to 69,000 feet in the air. This run was also apparently a crucial measure of the shuttle's unique "feathering" reentry system, which it tested today for the first time.Read Article >
Branson describes SpaceShipTwo's feathering system as effectively turning the vehicle into a giant shuttlecock: it raises the craft's wings and tail into a vertical position, creating drag that slows its descent. "We are absolutely delighted today to have another major milestone under our belts," says Branson. This test keeps the shuttle on course for a 2014 commercial launch — a slight delay from Virgin's previous estimates of this year, but a looming date nonetheless.