Today’s Tidbits: February 22, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: February 22, 2018

Here are our tidbits for February 22, 2018:  SpaceX almost catches a fairing, two demonstration Starlink satellites in orbit, four Russians jailed for Vostochny embezzlement.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

SpaceX Almost Catches a Fairing

Elon Musk’s SpaceX believes reusability is the key to lower launch costs and has made recovering Falcon 9 first stages almost commonplace.  Next on its list of rocket hardware slated for reusability are the fairings, or nosecones, that protect satellites during their ascent to orbit.  Once the satellite is safely through the first phases of launch, the fairing splits in two and falls back to Earth.  For U.S. launches, they fall into the ocean.

SpaceX has designed a “catcher’s mitt” attached to a boat to catch them. As with other SpaceX marine vessels, the boat has a whimsical name:  Mr. Steven.  The first attempt took place today (February 22) for the launch of Spain’s Paz (peace) radar imaging satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.  It didn’t work, but it was just the first try.  Musk tweeted that it missed the net by “a few hundred meters.”

Photo of half of payload fairing from SpaceX Paz launch, Feb. 22, 2018. Posted by Elon Musk on Instagram.

Two Starlink Demonstration Satellites in Orbit

That launch also took two small satellites into orbit for Musk’s proposed satellite Internet system, Starlink, which ultimately could consist of almost 12,000 satellites.  Musk refers to the demonstration satellites as Tintin A and B, though they are more commonly known as Microsat-2a and -2b.  (Tintin presumably refers to the Belgian comic book hero/reporter who had many adventures with his dog Snowy, including trips to the Moon.)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering whether to approve the Starlink system.  It assigns use of the radio spectrum to non-government entities like SpaceX.  Spectrum is a limited natural resource and battles over who gets to use which frequencies are intense.  The demand for terrestrial mobile services (like smartphones) is insatiable and those companies want to take spectrum currently allocated to satellites for their own use.  Musk got some good news last week when FCC chairman Ajit Pai expressed support for Starlink [].

Starlink is one of several proposed satellite systems that would provide high speed Internet services around the globe, including to underserved areas that currently have no access to the Internet.  Another U.S. company, OneWeb, received FCC approval for its 720-satellite constellation last year.

Using satellites to provide Internet access is not a new idea.  Proposals in the 1990s and 2000s to use large constellations of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), such as Teledesic, never got off the ground in part because of the high cost of building, launching, managing and maintaining so many satellites compared with terrestrial systems.  Fewer satellites would be needed if they were in geostationary orbit, like those that provide satellite television services, but that orbit is not ideal for Internet services because it takes extra time (latency) for the signals to get back and forth to satellites at that altitude.

Starlink and OneWeb, among others being proposed, would be in LEO like Teledesic.  Conceptually, technology has advanced sufficiently since the Teledesic era that satellites can be much smaller and the system therefore less costly to build and launch.  The question remains as to whether there are enough users who want satellite-based instead of terrestrial services to close the business case for even one provider, never mind the multitude of U.S. and foreign companies who want to enter the market.

Four Russians Jailed for Vostochny Embezzlement

AFP reports that three men and one woman were jailed for embezzling 1.3 billion rubles ($23 million) while constructing Russia’s new launch site, Vostochny.  Corruption has plagued the Russian space program for years and was blamed for repeated delays in the construction of Vostochny, whose first launch finally took place last year.

The four were all involved in construction companies building the launch site.  Sergei Degtyarev was sentenced to 8 years, his daughter to 4.5 years, and two senior staff members at the daughter’s company were sentenced to 5.5 years.  AFP has more: [].

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