As wild as it sounds, the race is on to build a functioning space internet — and SpaceX is taking its biggest step yet with the launch of 60 (!) satellites tomorrow that will form the first wave of its Starlink constellation. It’s a hugely important and incredibly complex launch for the company — and should be well worth launching. A Falcon 9 with the flat Starlink test satellites (they’re “production design” but not final hardware) is vertical at launchpad 40 in Cape Canaveral. It has completed its static fire test and should have a window for launch tomorrow, weather permitting. Building satellite constellations hundreds or thousands strong is seen by several major companies and investors as the next major phase of connectivity — though it will take years and billions of dollars to do so. OneWeb, perhaps SpaceX’s biggest competitor in this area, just in funding after in March of a planned 650. Jeff Bezos has announced that Amazon will join the fray with the proposed 3,236-satellite Project Kuiper. Ubiquitilink has . And plenty of others are taking on smaller segments, like lower-cost or domain-specific networks. Needless to say it’s an exciting sector, but today’s launch is a particularly interesting one because it is so consequential for SpaceX. If this doesn’t go well, it could set Starlink’s plans back long enough to give competitors an edge. The satellites stacked inside the Falcon 9 payload fairing. “Tight fit,” pointed out CEO Elon Musk. SpaceX hasn’t explained exactly how the 60 satellites will be distributed to their respective orbits, but founder and CEO Elon Musk did note on Twitter that there’s “no dispenser.” Of course there must be some kind of dispenser — these things aren’t going to just jump off of their own accord. They’re stuffed in there like kernels on a corncob, and likely each have . A pair of prototype satellites, Tintin-A and B, have been in orbit since early last year, and have no doubt furnished a great deal of useful information to the Starlink program. But the 60 aboard tomorrow’s launch aren’t quite final hardware. Although Musk noted that they are “production design,” COO Gwynne Shotwell has said that they are still test models. “This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together,” she said at the Satellite 2019 conference in Washington, D.C. — they reportedly lack inter-satellite links but are otherwise functional. I’ve asked SpaceX for more information on this. It makes sense: If you’re planning to put thousands (perhaps as many as 12,000 eventually) of satellites into orbit, you’ll need to test at scale and with production hardware. And for those worried about the possibility of overpopulation in orbit — it’s absolutely something to consider, but many of these satellites will be ; at 550 kilometers up, these tiny satellites will naturally de-orbit in a handful of years. Even OneWeb’s, at 1,100 km, aren’t that high up — geosynchronous satellites are above 35,000 km. That doesn’t mean there’s no risk at all, but it does mean failed or abandoned satellites won’t stick around for long. Just don’t expect to boot up your Starlink connection any time soon. It would take a minimum of 6 more launches like this one — a total of 420, a happy coincidence for Musk — to provide “minor” coverage. This would likely only be for testing as well, not commercial service. That would need 12 more launches, and dozens more to bring it to the point where it can compete with terrestrial broadband. Even if it will take years to pull off, that is the plan. And by that time others will have spun up their operations as well. It’s an exciting time for space and for connectivity. No launch time has been set as of this writing, so takeoff is just planned for Wednesday the 15th at present. As there’s no need to synchronize the launch with the movement of any particular celestial body, T-0 should be fairly flexible and SpaceX will likely just wait for the best weather and visibility. Delays are always a possibility, though, so don’t be surprised if this is pushed out to later in the week. As always you’ll be able to watch the launch , but I’ll update this post with the live video link as soon as it’s available.
announced today it has begun to ask customers to participate in a preview program that will help the company build a Spanish-language Alexa experience for U.S. users. The program, which is currently invite-only, will allow Amazon to incorporate into the U.S. Spanish-language experience a better understanding of things like word choice and local humor, as it has done with prior language launches in other regions. In addition, developers have been invited to begin building Spanish-language skills, also starting today, using the Alexa Skills Kit. The latter was , noting that any skills created now will be made available to the customers in the preview program for the time being. They’ll then roll out to all customers when Alexa launches in the U.S. with Spanish-language support later this year. Manufacturers who want to build “Alexa Built-in” products for Spanish-speaking customers can also now request early access to a related Alexa Voice Services (AVS) developer preview. Amazon says that Bose, Facebook and Sony are preparing to do so, while smart home device makers, including Philips, TP Link and Honeywell Home, will bring to U.S. users “Works with Alexa” devices that support Spanish. Ahead of today, Alexa had supported Spanish language skills, but only in Spain and Mexico — not in the U.S. Those developers can opt to to U.S. customers, Amazon says. In addition to Spanish, developers have also been able to create skills in English in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and India; as well as in German, Japanese, French (in France and in Canada), and Portuguese (in Brazil). But on the language front, Google has had a decided advantage thanks to its work with Google Voice Search and Google Translate over the years. Last summer, for Spanish, in addition to launching the device in Spain and Mexico. Amazon also trails Apple in terms of support for Spanish in the U.S., as in the U.S., Spain and Mexico in September 2018. Spanish is a widely spoken language in the U.S. According to a by Instituto Cervantes, the United States has the second highest concentration of Spanish speakers in the world, following Mexico. At the time of the report, there were 53 million people who spoke Spanish in the U.S. — a figure that included 41 million native Spanish speakers, and approximately 11.6 million bilingual Spanish speakers.
JetSuiteX flies out of private air terminals on Embraer 135 aircraft. (JetSuiteX via PRNewsfoto) says it’s starting air service between Seattle’s Boeing Field and Oakland International Airport in July, with flights that combine the convenience of private jets with the pricing of commercial airlines. Up to three round-trip flights a day will be offered starting on July 1, at prices that range as low as $99 one-way. The expanded service will put JetSuiteX, a California-based airline that has a code-sharing partnership with JetBlue, in competition with Alaska Airlines, Spirit, Delta, American and Southwest. (JetBlue also offers SEA-OAK flights.) Even $99 isn’t as cheap as Alaska’s lowest fares for flights between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Oakland, which can go as low as $69 one-way, But JetSuiteX is banking on the benefit of avoiding travel delays between Seattle’s urban core and Sea-Tac, as well as the security-line congestion that travelers often face once they get to Sea-Tac. “Travelers between Seattle and the Bay Area can now shave valuable time off the trip by flying from the conveniently located Boeing Field while experiencing JetSuiteX’s unparalleled efficiency and customer service,” Alex Wilcox, co-founder and CEO of JetSuiteX, . JetSuiteX says its passengers can show up at an airport’s private terminal 20 minutes before their flight, avoid long lines and bring free luggage along for the ride. The airline uses 30-seat Embraer 135 aircraft to handle 330 weekly scheduled flights. In addition to Oakland and Boeing Field, daily destinations include Burbank, Orange County and Concord in California, plus Las Vegas. There’s seasonal service to Mammoth Lakes and Coachella Valley. Aircraft can also be chartered for group trips. JetSuiteX’s sister charter airline, JetSuite, is produced by Bothell, Wash.-based in the early 2020s. For what it’s worth, Zunum’s financial backers include JetBlue Technology Ventures as well as Boeing HorizonX Ventures.
A wide-angle view provides an unusual perspective of First Mode’s new lab space on Western Avenue in Seattle. Click on the image for a 360-degree view. (First Mode Photo) Planetary Resources was , but a troop of engineers who used to work for the asteroid mining company is seeking out new frontiers with a new company called . And this time, asteroids aren’t the final frontier. “First Mode is working with industries on and off the planet to do design and creative engineering work, but also to build hardware and build solutions that get deployed around the solar system as well as a lot of harsh and challenging environments here on planet Earth,” Rhae Adams, vice president of strategy and business development, told GeekWire. The company’s expertise is being applied to a wide range of technical challenges, including robotic space missions as well as clean tech, mobility, agriculture, oil and gas development, high-reliability consumer products — and yes, . “The goal for First Mode and its customers is to provide that method of looking at a problem that, at its starting point, appears to be an intractable issue … and then help the customer break that down into a set of problems that can be worked in parallel, and then brought together to form the functional whole that the marketplace needs,” said Chris Voorhees, president and chief engineer. Chris Voorhees, First Mode’s president and chief engineer. (First Mode Photo) Voorhees said First Mode has already solved what sometimes seems to be an intractable problem for startups: making money. “We’ve reached a point where the company has achieved profitability,” he said. The company has also expanded from its original core group of 11 Planetary Resources veterans to 14 employees, and Voorhees says there’s more growth ahead. That’s a big change from the final days of Planetary Resources, which made significant headway on its plan to develop asteroid-prospecting spacecraft but after a funding round fizzled. Voorhees and Adams were among those laid off. “We had a core group of engineering, scientific technical staff members that really felt like they had unfinished business coming out of Planetary, and wanted to stay together,” Voorhees recalled. The new venture started out under the name “Synchronous,” and built on the partners’ expertise and connections in the space industry. Last summer, the company said on LinkedIn that its team members were planned by NASA. Just last month, Synchronous moved into a 7,500-square-foot lab space on Western Avenue in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. It also . Why First Mode? Engineers know that structures have natural frequencies at which they resonate — and that the most basic frequency for that resonance is known as the “first mode.” “The founding members of First Mode realized from their previous experience working together that they too had found a natural frequency,” the company explained in its . “By working together, our talents and expertise result in technical solutions that are stronger than the contributions of team members working alone.” Voorhees said First Mode draws inspiration from NASA’s , where he began his career more than two decades ago, as well as from design and engineering companies such as and . Lockheed Martin’s and Boeing’s also serve as models, he said. Rhae Adams, First Mode’s vice president of strategy and business development. (First Mode Photo) Adams said First Mode is working with more than 10 different clients in business and government, while Voorhees said the company has taken on more than 40 different projects. Some work has even been done for folks on Capitol Hill, although Voorhees declined to go into specifics. “In general, there’s an intimate connection between the development of new space policy and technology. … We’ve had the opportunity to contribute over the past year to conversations regarding where those two things have had to intersect,” he said. Voorhees said that First Mode’s team members have “good, amicable personal connections” with their former colleagues at what used to be known as Planetary Resources and is now known as ConsenSys Space. But there are no formal business dealings. Nor are there any plans to raise money from investors, at least in the near term. “It was important to us from the get-go that we were employee-owned,” Adams said. Voorhees said he was grateful for the experience he and the other founders of First Mode gained at Planetary Resources’ headquarters in Redmond, Wash . “It would have been very difficult for us to have gone off and done this without that experience,” he said. So just how scary is it to start up a startup, especially when it’s self-funded? ” ‘Exhilarating’ is the right word, which is a simultaneous combination of excitement and terror,” Voorhees said. “That’s what I live under most every day.” Adams seconded that emotion. “I know we’ve not come across anyone else that had 11 founders who have been able to work together and build something,” he said. “It’s gone remarkably smoothly for the number of unique personalities and opinions we have. We’re always able to take that step back and approach things logically as best we can, like any technical problem. It works for founding a company too, not just for pieces of hardware.”
After years of development and delays, Crew Dragon is ready to launch into orbit. It’s the first commercially built and operated crewed spacecraft ever to do so, and represents in many ways the public-private partnership that could define the future of spaceflight. for just before midnight Pacific time — 2:49 Eastern time in Cape Canaveral, from where the Falcon 9 carrying the Crew Dragon capsule will take off. It’s using Launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, which previously hosted Apollo missions and more recently SpaceX’s momentous Falcon Heavy launch. Feel free to relive that moment with us, while you’re here: The capsule has been the work of many years and billions of dollars: an adaptation of the company’s Dragon capsule, but with much of its cargo space converted to a spacious crew compartment. It can seat seven if necessary, but given the actual needs of the International Space Station, it is more likely to carry two or three people and a load of supplies. Of course it had to meet extremely stringent safety requirements, with an emergency escape system, redundant thrusters and parachutes, newly designed spacesuits, more intuitive and modern control methods and so on. Crew Dragon interior, with “Ripley” It’s a huge technological jump over the Russian Soyuz capsule that has been the only method to get humans to space for the last eight years, since the Shuttle program was grounded for good. But one thing Dragon doesn’t have is the Soyuz’s exemplary flight record. The latter may look like an aircraft cockpit shrunk down to induce claustrophobia, but it has proven itself over and over for decades. The shock produced by a recent aborted launch and the quickness with which the Soyuz resumed service are testament to the confidence it has engendered in its users. But for a number of reasons the U.S. can’t stay beholden to Russia for access to space, and at any rate the commercial spaceflight companies were going to send people up there anyway. So dedicated a major portion of its budget to funding a new crew capsule, pitting SpaceX and Boeing against one another. SpaceX has had the best of Boeing for the most part, progressing through numerous tests and milestones, not exactly quickly, but with fewer delays than its competitor. Test flights originally scheduled for 2016 are only . Boeing’s Starliner doesn’t have a launch date yet, but it’s expected to be this summer. Tonight’s test (“Demo-1”) is the first time the Crew Dragon will fly to space; suborbital flights and have already taken place, but this is a dry run of the real thing. Well, not completely dry: the capsule is carrying 400 pounds of supplies to the station and will return with some science experiments on board. After launch, it should take about 11 minutes for the capsule to detach from the first and second stages of the Falcon 9 rocket. It docks about 27 hours later, early Sunday morning, and the crew will be able to get at the goodies just in time for brunch, if for some reason they’re operating on East Coast time. SpaceX will be live streaming the launch as usual starting shortly before takeoff; you can watch it right here:
After four years and more than $2 billion in funding, is ready to launch the first six satellites out of a planned constellation of 650 with which it plans to blanket the world in broadband. The Arianespace-operated Soyuz rocket will take off at 1:37 Pacific time from Guiana Space Center. . OneWeb is one of several companies that aims to connect the world with a few hundred or thousand satellites, and certainly the most well-funded — is the biggest investor, but Virgin Group, Coca Cola, Bharti Group, Qualcomm, and Airbus have all chipped in. The company’s plan is to launch a total of 900 (650 at first) satellites to about a 1,100-kilometer low Earth orbit, from which it says it will be able to provide broadband to practically anywhere on Earth — anywhere you can put a base station, anyway. Much cheaper and better than existing satellite connectivity, which is expensive and slow. Sound familiar? Of course SpaceX’s side project Starlink has similar ambitions, with an planned, and is aiming for a smaller constellation of smaller satellites for low-cost access. And Ubiquitilink just announced this week that its unique technology will remove the need for base stations and . And they’ve all launched satellites already! The launch vehicle fueling today at GSC. OneWeb has faced numerous delays; the whole constellation was originally planned to be in place by the end of 2019, which is impossible at this point. But delays are the name of the game in ambitious space-based businesses, and OneWeb hasn’t been just procrastinating; it’s been girding itself for mass production, raising funds to set up launch contracts, and improving the satellites themselves. Its updated schedule, as it states in the mission summary: “OneWeb will begin customer demos in 2020 and provide global, 24-hour coverage to customers in 2021.” At a reported cost of about a million dollars per satellite — twice the projected cost in 2015 — just building and testing the constellation will likely rub up against a billion dollars, and that’s not counting launch costs. But no one ever said it would be cheap. In fact, they probably said it would be unbelievably expensive. That’s why SoftBank and the other investors are “committing to a lot more capital,” as CEO Adrián Steckel last month. The company also announced its first big deal with a telecom; Talia, which provides connectivity in Africa and the Middle East, signed on to use OneWeb’s services starting in 2021. Soyuz launches could carry more than 30 of these satellites each, meaning it would take at least 20 to put the whole constellation in orbit. This first launch, however, only has six aboard; the other spots on board the mass launch system have dummy payloads to simulate how it should be going forward. A OneWeb representative told me that this launch is meant to “verify the satellite design and validate the end to end system,” which is probably a good idea before sending up 600 more. That means OneWeb will be testing and tracking these six birds for the next few months and making sure the connection with ground stations and other aspects of the whole system are functioning properly. Full payloads will start in the fall, after OneWeb opens its (much-delayed) production facility just outside Kennedy Space Center in Florida. .
Telecom company has shared some of its plans when it comes to 5G service in the U.S. The company announced at MWC in Barcelona that mobile customers in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City can expect 5G service as soon as May 2019. If you don’t live in one of those cities, maybe you live in Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix or Washington D.C. Sprint also promises 5G coverage in those cities soon after the initial launch, at some point before the end of June 2019. Overall, Sprint expects to cover 1,000 square miles in nine cities by the end of the first half of 2019. It’s going to take years to roll out 5G coverage across the U.S. When it comes to devices, Sprint will sell smartphones that are compatible with its 5G network. The first one will be the . The company will also sell the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G at some point this summer. Sprint is also partnering with Google so that Google Fi customers can take advantage of Sprint’s 5G network if they have a compatible device. And that’s about all there’s to know. It’s still unclear whether 5G plans are going to cost more. Disclosure: Sprint competitor Verizon owns TechCrunch
For the first time later this week, a privately developed moon lander will launch aboard a privately built rocket, organized by a private launch coordinator. It’s an historic moment in space and the Israeli mission stands to make history again if it touches down on the Moon’s surface as planned on April 11. The Beresheet (“Genesis”) program was originally conceived as an entry into the ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful Google Lunar Xprize in 2010, which challenged people to accomplish a lunar landing, with $30 million in prizes as the incentive. The prize closed last year with no winner but as these Xprize competitions aim to do, it had already spurred great interest and investment in a private moon mission. and Israel Aerospace Industries worked together on the mission, which will bring cameras, a magnetometer, and a capsule filled with items from the country to, hopefully, a safe rest on the lunar surface. The Beresheet lander ahead of packaging for launch. The launch plan as of now (these things do change with weather, technical delays, and so on) is for takeoff at 5:45 Pacific time on Thursday — 8:45 PM in Cape Canaveral — aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A live stream should be available shortly before, which I’ll add here later or in a new post. 30 minutes after takeoff the payload will detach and make contact with mission control, then begin the process of closing the distance to the Moon, during which time it will circle the Earth six times. Russia, China, and of course the U.S. are the only ones ever to successfully land on the Moon; was the first to soft-land (as opposed to impact) the “dark” (though really only far — it’s often light) side and is currently functional. But although there has been one successful private lunar flyby mission (the Manfred Memorial probe) no one but a major country has ever touched down. If Beresheet is a success it would be both the first Israeli moon mission and the first private mission to do so. It would also be the first lunar landing to be accomplished with a privately built rocket, and the lightest spacecraft on the Moon, and at around $100M in costs, the cheapest as well. Landing on the Moon is, of course, terribly difficult. Just as geosynchronous orbit is far more difficult than low Earth orbit, a lunar insertion orbit is even harder, a stable such orbit even harder, and accomplishing a controlled landing on target even harder than that. The only thing more difficult would be to take off again and return to Earth, as Apollo 11 did in 1969 and other missions several times after. Kind of amazing when you think about it. Seattle’s Spaceflight coordinated the launch, and technically Beresheet is the secondary payload; the primary is the Air Force Research Labs’ S5 experimental satellite, which the launch vehicle will take to geosynchronous orbit after the lunar module detaches. Although Beresheet may very well be the first, it will likely be the first of many: other contenders in the Lunar Xprize, as well as companies funded or partnering with NASA and other space agencies, will soon be making their own attempts at making tracks in the regolith.
, but already the Korean tech giant has revealed its entire upcoming range of wearable devices that will seemingly be unveiled alongside the Galaxy S10. That’s because the company’s was uploaded today with support for a range of unreleased products which include wireless earbuds, a sports-focused smartwatch, and a new fitness band. — and — the new wearables include a Galaxy Sport smartwatch, fitness bands Fit and Galaxy Fit e, Galaxy Buds, Samsung’s take on Apple’s AirPods. The devices have all been teased in various leaks in recent weeks but this confirmation from the Samsung app, deliberate or inadvertent, appears to all but confirm their impending arrival. That said, we really can’t tell too much about the respective devices based on the app, which just shows basic renders of each device. Still, that might just be enough of a tease to general a little more interest in what promises to be Samsung’s biggest consumer launch event of the year. The Samsung unveiling comes days before Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry’s biggest event of the year, kicks off — so expect to see new product launches coming thick and fast over the coming weeks.