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After sky show, SpaceX picks up its rocket droppings

The atmospheric re-entry and breakup of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket upper stage created a fiery display in the skies above the Pacific Northwest a week ago, but not all of those shooting stars burned up on the way down.

At least one big piece of the rocket — a roughly 5-foot-long composite-overwrapped pressure vessel — fell onto private property in southwest Grant County in Central Washington, the county sheriff’s office reported today in a tweet.

Kyle Foreman, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, told GeekWire that the property owner left a message reporting the debris last weekend. Based on the reports about March 25’s meteor show, SpaceX’s rocket re-entry loomed as the likeliest cause for the commotion.

“The sheriff’s office checked it out on Monday, and SpaceX staff came over on Tuesday and retrieved it,” Foreman said.

He was unaware of any other reports of fallen rocket debris — and in its tweet, the sheriff’s office made clear that it considered the case closed. “Media and treasure hunters: we are not disclosing specifics,” it said. “The property owner simply wants to be left alone.”

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GeekWire

Pacific Northwest meteor mystery gets solved quickly

Was it a meteor? A broken-up satellite? Maybe a UFO? Leave it to an astronomer to identify what caused the light show that was visible over a wide stretch of the Pacific Northwest around 9 p.m. PT tonight.

Jonathan McDowell, an expert satellite-tracker at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, quickly figured out that the meteoric display was actually the breakup of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stage, left over from a launch that took place three weeks ago.

“The Falcon 9 second stage from the Mar 4 Starlink launch failed to make a deorbit burn and is now re-entering after 22 days in orbit,” McDowell tweeted.

It’s fitting that the re-entry of a rocket stage from a Starlink satellite launch provided a moment of marvelment from Seattle to Portland and beyond. After all, those satellites are manufactured at SpaceX’s facility in Redmond, Wash., and it’s conceivable that members of the Starlink team caught the show.

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GeekWire

SpaceX puts a record 143 satellites in orbit

SpaceX set a record for the number of satellites sent into orbit by a single rocket, and that’s not the only milestone reached during today’s Transporter-1 mission.

The Falcon 9 rocket launch also marked the orbital debut of Sherpa-FX, a satellite transfer vehicle made and managed by Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc.

SpaceX had postponed the launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida for a day due to concerns about the potential for lightning. Today’s weather was also “a bit challenging,” launch commentator Andy Tran said, but all systems were go tor today’s liftoff at 10 a.m. ET (7 a.m. PT).

Minutes after launch, the Falcon’s second stage separated from the first-stage booster as planned. The booster, which had been used for four previous launches, flew itself back over the Atlantic Ocean to land on a drone ship dubbed “Of Course I Still Love You.” Meanwhile, the second stage continued its ascent to orbit, loaded with satellites.

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Cosmic Space

SpaceX kicks off its first certified crew flight to orbit

This is not a test: For the first time, a commercial space venture has sent astronauts on their way to the International Space Station for a regularly scheduled crew rotation.

Today’s launch of three Americans and a Japanese spaceflier in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, powered by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, followed the pattern set in May for the company’s first-ever crewed space mission. Like that earlier journey, this one is being funded by NASA at an estimated price of $55 million per seat.

But unlike May’s outing, this mission isn’t considered a test flight. Instead, it’s the first crewed SpaceX launch to be conducted under the terms of a post-certification contract with NASA. SpaceX’s space transportation system was officially certified for regular flights with astronauts last week — just in time for the flight known as Crew-1.

It’s also the first crewed orbital launch to be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates commercial spaceflight. “This is a big night for many of us, and it’s a big night for the FAA,” the agency’s administrator, Steve Dickson, said at a post-launch briefing.

In response to issues that arose during the crewed test flight, SpaceX beefed up the Dragon’s heat shield and fine-tuned the triggering system for the parachutes used for the spacecraft’s at-sea homecoming.

The first opportunity for launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Nov. 14, had to be put off for a day due to weather concerns — and when today’s countdown began, the chances of acceptable weather were rated at 50-50. But the weather improved, a glitch involving a hatch leak was quickly resolved, and the Falcon 9 rose from its launch pad into the night at 7:27 p.m. ET (4:27 p.m. PT.)

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, thousands watched the launch in person from Florida’s Space Coast. Hundreds of thousands watched streaming video coverage via NASA and SpaceX. Live coverage is scheduled to continue during the Dragon’s cruise to the space station.

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GeekWire

ULA and SpaceX win shares of Space Force launches

The U.S. Space Force designated United Launch Alliance and SpaceX as the winners of a multibillion-dollar competition for national security launches over a five-year period, passing up a proposal from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture in the process.

Northrop Grumman and its OmegA rocket also lost out in the Phase II competition for the National Security Space Launch program.

ULA will receive a 60% share of the launch manifest for contracts awarded in the 2020-2024 time frame, with the first missions launching in fiscal 2022, said William Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics.

SpaceX will receive the other 40%.

The competition extended through the creation of the U.S. Space Force, whose Space and Missile Systems Center will be in charge of executing the launches in partnership with the National Reconnaissance Office.

The five-year Phase II program provides for fixed-price but indefinite-delivery contracts, which means there isn’t a specified total payout. But Roper said it’d be reasonable to estimate that somewhere around 32 to 34 launches would be covered, which would translate to billions of dollars in business.

Three launches were assigned today: ULA is scheduled to launch two missions known as USSF-51 and USSF-106 for the Space Force in 2022, while SpaceX has been assigned USSF-67 in mid-2022.

ULA’s two contracts amount to $337 million, and SpaceX’s contract is worth $316 million. Roper said details about the payloads are classified.

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GeekWire

SpaceX launches Starlink and BlackSky satellites

After weeks of delay, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sent up 57 more satellites for its Starlink broadband internet constellation, with two BlackSky planet-watching satellites hitching a ride.

The launch was originally scheduled for June, but had to be put off several times due to technical concerns, weather delays and range schedule conflicts. This time around, the countdown proceeded smoothly to liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 1:12 a.m. ET Aug. 7 (10:12 p.m. PT Aug. 6).

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GeekWire

Astronauts reach space station in SpaceX capsule

SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour
A camera mounted on the International Space Station shows SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour capsule hooked up to a port on the station’s Harmony module. (NASA via YouTube)

For the first time in nearly nine years, astronauts have arrived at the International Space Station in a spaceship that was made in the USA.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, which was christened Endeavour soon after Saturday’s launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, hooked up with the station at 7:16 a.m. PT today.

Endeavour brought NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the station’s Harmony port, prompting space station commander Chris Cassidy to ring the naval bell that’s part of the tradition for welcoming space crews.

“Dragon arriving,” Cassidy declared.

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GeekWire

Trump hails SpaceX launch after seeing it firsthand

Donald Trump in VAB
President Donald Trump delivers remarks in Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building with a mockup of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule in the background. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

President Donald Trump held up America’s space effort as a unifying endeavor for a divided nation after becoming only the third sitting president to witness the launch of American astronauts in person.

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GeekWire

Astronauts give their capsule a storied name

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (foreground) and Bob Behnken (background) provide a tour of their Crew Dragon space taxi. (NASA via YouTube)

The two NASA astronauts who rode SpaceX’s first crew-carrying Dragon capsule to orbit today named their spacecraft, continuing a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of America’s space effort.

“I know most of you, at SpaceX especially, know it as Capsule 206,” Hurley said over a space-to-ground video link a few hours after launch. “But I think all of us thought that maybe we could do a little bit better than that. So, without further ado, we would like to welcome you aboard capsule Endeavour.”

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GeekWire

SpaceX sends NASA astronauts on historic trip

Falcon 9 launch
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, sending NASA astronauts into orbit in a Crew Dragon capsule. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station today, becoming the first company to send humans to orbit on a commercial spaceship.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:22 p.m. ET (12:22 p.m. PT) marked a feat that Americans hadn’t been able to do since NASA retired the space shuttles in 2011: sending astronauts into orbit from a U.S. launch pad rather than relying on the Russians.

“It is absolutely our honor to be part of this huge effort to get the United States back in the launch business,” NASA astronaut Doug Hurley told SpaceX Mission Control just before liftoff.

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