The new generation of Starlink satellites remain above the accepted brightness threshold.
It’s one of the stranger sights of the modern Space Age. Recently, we found ourselves under the relatively dark skies of southern Spain. Sure enough, within a few minutes, we caught sight of a chain of flashing ‘stars’ winking in and out of view in quick succession.
Engineers and technicians at the SpaceX Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, are working on getting the fully-stacked Starship and Super Heavy prototypes ready for their orbital launch test. The most recent step consisted of a static fire test with the BN7 Super Heavy prototype, where the booster was placed on the orbital launch pad and fired one of its thirty-three Raptor 2 engines. News of the test was shared via SpaceX’s official Twitter account and showed the BN7 blasting the launch pad, leading many to wonder what the orbital launch test will look like!
In 2026, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (RST) – aka. the “Mother of Hubble” – will take to space and begin addressing some of the deepest mysteries of the Universe. This will include capturing the deepest field images of the cosmos, refining measurements of the Hubble Constant (aka. Hubble’s Law), and determining the role of Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the evolution of the cosmos. Alongside its next-generation partner, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the RST will acquire infrared images with over 200 times the surveying power of its predecessor with the same rich level of detail.
On Tuesday, July 19th, NASA announced that it had awarded SpaceX with a Launch Services (NLS) II contract to provide the rocket that will deploy the RST mission to space. As specified in the NLS II, the launch will take place in October 2026 (May 2027, at the latest) and consist of a Falcon Heavy rocket transporting the RST from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to orbit. This indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract is valued at approximately $255 million and covers the launch and other mission-related costs.
Not long ago, SpaceX passed their Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) with the FAA, though many corrective actions were recommended. With this hurdle in its rearview mirror, SpaceX is busy preparing the Starship and Super Heavy prototypes for their orbital test flight. On Saturday (July 2nd), the company posted pictures on its Twitter feed that showed the Starship (SN24) and Super Heavy booster (BN7) outfitted with all the Raptor engines – 33 Raptors for the BN7, 6 for SN24 – that will take them to space.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) – NASA’s eye-in-the-sky in orbit around the Moon – has found the crash site of the mystery rocket booster that slammed into the far side of the Moon back on March 4th, 2022. The LRO images, taken May 25th, revealed not just a single crater, but a double crater formed by the rocket’s impact, posing a new mystery for astronomers to unravel.
Remember Mechazilla, that tall launch tower at the SpaceX Starbase in Texas that will stack Starships and “catch” spent Super Heavy boosters? SpaceX began constructing an identical launch tower at Cape Canaveral in Florida, where Starships will also be launching from soon. This tower is taking shape alongside SpaceX’s Launch Complex-39A (LC-39A) facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Once complete, the launch tower will stand about 146 meters (~480 ft) in height, making it the second-tallest space-related structure on the East Coast, second to NASA’s massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).
On March 17th, the Artemis Imission rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VLB) and was transferred to Launch Complex 39B at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the first time that a fully-stacked Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft were brought to the launchpad in preparation for a “wet dress rehearsal.” To mark the occasion, NASA released a video of the event that featured a new song by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder (“Invincible”).
Unfortunately, technical issues forced ground controllers to scrub the dress rehearsal repeatedly and return the Artemis I to the VLB on April 26th. This was followed by reports that these issues were addressed and that Artemis I rocket would return to LC 39B by early- to mid-June. Meanwhile, an official NASA statement (issued on Thursday, May 8th) says that the official launch of the mission is not likely to take place until August at the earliest.
Axiom Space’s first crew of private astronauts is back on Earth after a 17-day orbital trip that included a week of bonus time on the International Space Station. The mission ended at 1:06 p.m. ET (5:06 p.m. GMT) today when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.
Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria was the commander for the homeward trip, accompanied by three investors who each paid Axiom $55 million for their rides: Ohio real-estate and tech entrepreneur Larry Connor, who served as the mission pilot, plus Canada’s Mark Pathy and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe.
“Welcome back to planet Earth,” SpaceX’s mission control operator Sarah Gillis told the crew. “The Axiom-1 mission marks the beginning of a new paradigm for human spaceflight. We hope you enjoyed the extra few days in space.”
Axiom-1 began on April 8 with the Florida launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The trip was originally supposed to last about 10 days, but concerns about weather in the splashdown zone delayed the descent. Because of the way their fares were structured, Axiom’s customers didn’t have to pay extra for the extension.
This morning, at 11:17 AM EDT (08:17 AM PDT), the first all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Designated Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), this mission consists of four commercial astronauts flying aboard the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft that launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The launch was live-streamed via NASA’s official Youtube channel (you can catch the replay here).
SpaceX has enjoyed a lot of wins in the past few years. In addition to successfully glide-testing and landing multiple Starship prototypes, they’ve rolled out its first Super Heavy boosters, test-fired the new Raptor Vacuum engines, and assembled the “Mechazilla” launch tower at Boca Chica, Texas. They also unveiled the first fully-furbished orbital test vehicle (SN20) that was stacked with a first stage booster for the first time on its launch pad.
Given the prodigious rate of progress, few were surprised when Musk announced that the first orbital flight test could take place as soon as January 2022. Unfortunately, this date had to be pushed back to an environmental assessment and the usual bureaucratic rigmarole. However, Musk recently announced on Twitter that in light of his company’s success with the new Raptor engines, they could be ready to conduct the long-awaited orbital test flight this May.