International Launch Services, facing headwinds in a commercial launch market now largely shaped by billionaires and satellite miniaturization, has touted a new relationship with the Russian space agency and Glavkosmos as a means to drive down Proton rocket prices, make Russian space industry more friendly to the commercial market, and diversify its offerings.
Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, spoke with reporters via conference call May 15 as the company prepared for the launch of the first 60 satellites to build out a network of potentially thousands of broadband relay stations in low Earth orbit providing high-speed Internet to consumers around the world.
The 60 satellites SpaceX is set to launch Wednesday night, beginning the build-out of a broadband network of orbiting spacecraft that could eventually number thousands, are based on a new flat-panel design, with krypton-fueled plasma thrusters, high-power antennas, and a capability to autonomously steer away from other objects in space.
A flight demonstration of an inflatable heat shield that could be used to retrieve reusable engines from United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket, and for the delivery of heavier cargo to the surface of Mars, is planned for launch in late 2021 or early 2022 as a piggyback payload on an Atlas 5 rocket with a NOAA weather satellite.
SpaceX ground teams at Cape Canaveral transferred a Falcon 9 rocket to launch pad 40 and rotated the booster vertical Monday for a preflight hold-down firing, ahead of a liftoff scheduled for Wednesday night carrying 60 satellites into orbit for the company’s planned Starlink broadband constellation.