I’m starting to get whiplash from this roller coaster ride that is Dogecoin’s value in recent days. It surged amid hype for Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Saturday Night Live debut last weekend but plummeted after he called the meme-inspired cryptocurrency a “hustle,” only to ricochet again days later when SpaceX committed to accept a company’s payment in Dogecoin and Tesla suspended purchases using Bitcoin, citing environmental concerns, not long after.
Well, strap in folks, because the Dogefather sent its price soaring yet again Thursday evening with the following tweet:
“Working with Doge devs to improve system transaction efficiency. Potentially promising.”
Now, Musk is a known internet troll with a history of using Twitter to throw the stock market into a tailspin for the sake of a punchline, so it’s anyone’s guess whether he’s being serious. About an hour later, he posted another tweet sharing a bit of age-old wisdom from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with his millions of followers: Don’t panic! This seems to suggest it might just be a prank, but honestly, who fucking knows. (We’ve reached out to Tesla for clarification, but admittedly the company’s been pretty quiet since dissolving its PR department last October).
Joke or not, though, the effect it’s had on the price of Dogecoin is very much real. Dogecoin’s value jumped by as much as 18% following Musk’s tweet, according to Coinbase, and TradingView reports that its market cap spiked by $10 billion. The buzz has since tapered off a bit, but Dogecoin’s value is still coasting about 11% higher compared to this time yesterday.
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On Wednesday, Musk announced (also via tweet) that Tesla would no longer be accepting vehicle payments in Bitcoin, supposedly out of concern over the “rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions.” In the meantime, he said, Tesla will continue to look for more energy-efficient cryptocurrencies. And while that’s a commendable goal, the fact that Musk is only just now acknowledging how insane crypto mining’s carbon footprint is makes Tesla’s newfound concern feel like a PR move more than anything else.
On Monday SpaceX agreed to accept a payment solely comprised of Dogecoin from the Canada-based Geometric Energy Corporation to secure its spot for an 88-pound satellite aboard a space mission scheduled for 2022. The announcement had Dogecoin prices rebounding a bit after they tanked by about a third following Musk’s SNL appearance. Prices have been extremely volatile (even for a cryptocurrency) in the days since. But whether Musk’s tweets are serious or not, their command over stock prices is undeniable, so I suppose the Dogefather is getting the last laugh either way.
Google announced Thursday that it’s partnering with SpaceX to link Elon Musk’s ambitious satellite internet service Starlink with Google’s cloud infrastructure. The alliance marks a major win for Google in its competition with other tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft to dominate the fast-growing cloud computing market.
SpaceX will install ground stations at Google’s cloud data centers around the world to connect to its Starlink satellites to start providing the network’s speedy internet service to Google’s enterprise cloud customers by the second half of this year, Google said in a press release. The first terminal will be installed at Google’s New Albany, Ohio, data center, a SpaceX spokesperson told the Verge, adding that further details about the partnership will be shared in the coming months.
“We are delighted to partner with SpaceX to ensure that organizations with distributed footprints have seamless, secure, and fast access to the critical applications and services they need to keep their teams up and running,” said Urs Hölzle, senior VP of infrastructure at Google Cloud, in Thursday’s press release.
While the partnership isn’t exclusive—Microsoft announced plans in October to connect SpaceX’s network to its Azure cloud service—it should help Google keep up with Amazon and its burgeoning Project Kuiper, which plans to launch more than 3,000 interconnected broadband satellites into orbit to supply internet connections to an estimated 95% of the planet.
The SpaceX-Google deal involves providing internet access “to businesses, public sectors organizations, and many other groups operating around the world,” said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in the press release. “Combining Starlink’s high-speed, low-latency broadband with Google’s infrastructure and capabilities provides global organizations with the secure and fast connection that modern organizations expect.”
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This isn’t Google and SpaceX’s first time collaborating. The search giant invested $900 million into SpaceX in 2015 to fund the development of its satellites and other technology.
To date, SpaceX has launched more than 1,500 Starlink satellites into orbit, making it the world’s largest satellite constellation. Last week, the company said more than 500,000 people have placed an order or put a deposit down on the internet service so far. SpaceX also scored another big win in December 2020 when it secured an $885 million U.S. government contract to provide high-speed internet to underserved, rural areas of the nation.
A Japanese fashion magnate, who has booked an all-civilian SpaceX flight ‘round the moon for 2023, has now announced that he’s also making an earlier trip this December to the International Space Station. On Thursday, billionaire Yusaku Maezawa tweeted: “Going to the ISS before the Moon 🚀.” Sounds perhaps slightly more action-packed than the 2023 moon trip, which will consist entirely of orbiting a rock where nothing happens, and gazing at the Earth, a location where everything happens. Perhaps ponder the fact that money is no good on the moon, and then go home.
The trip is facilitated by space tour agency Space Adventures, which has arranged space tours for a handful of monied clients, primarily tech entrepreneurs, including billionaire engineer Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth, and Anousheh Ansari. Maezawawill board the Russian Soyuz MS-20 from Kazakhstan and spend 12 days in space accompanied by a cosmonaut and his personal production assistant.
In a statement published by ABC News, Maezawa said “I’m so curious, ‘What’s life like in space?’ So, I am planning to find out on my own and share with the world.” He can tweet about it while he’s up there.
Maezawa has also famously arranged the 2023 SpaceX mission “dearMoon,” aboard SpaceX’s Starship rocket, a commercial civilian space flight. Maezawa has solicited the public for eight creatively-minded people to join, all expenses paid (applications are now closed). They expect to circle the moon, which will take six days in total.
“I want to be reminded of how small, how insignificant I am,” Maezawa said in a mission trailer. “In space, I think I will realize anew how small I am, how much more I have to experience.”
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But his star may fade after SpaceX’s first all-civilian mission, to launch later this year, for nobody remembers space travelers unless they did something first up there. My colleague Tom McKay might urge Maezawa to cement his relevance as the first man to blow up the moon, which is madness, but would at least head off the inevitable global moon colonization Cold War.
Elon Musk may have sent Dogecoin’s stock plummeting after he bombed on Saturday Night Live on May 8, but that doesn’t mean the Tesla and SpaceX CEO isn’t doing his part to boost the volatile cryptocurrency.
On Monday, CNN reported that SpaceX had committed to accepting a payment solely comprised of Dogecoin from the Canada-based Geometric Energy Corporation in order to confirm that company’s spot for an 88-pound satellite aboard an upcoming space mission.
“This is not a joke,” Geometric Energy Corporation CEO Samuel Reid told CNN of the planned payment, without getting into specifics about how or why the deal had come to pass.
The mission in question — fittingly called Doge-1 — is scheduled to take off in early 2022. According to Geometric Energy Corporation’s vice president of commercial sales, Tom Ochinero, the transaction is intended to “demonstrate the application of cryptocurrency beyond Earth’s orbit and set the foundation for interplanetary commerce.”
“Indeed, through this very transaction, DOGE has proven to be a fast, reliable, and cryptographically secure digital currency that operates when traditional banks cannot and is sophisticated enough to finance a commercial Moon mission in full,” Ochinero said in a statement. “It has been chosen as the unit of account for all lunar business between SpaceX and Geometric Energy Corporation and sets precedent for future missions to the Moon and Mars.”
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The announcement comes on the heels of a mass sell-off of the cryptocurrency that saw shares of the coin drop by more than 40% after Musk referred to it as “a hustle” during his dismal Saturday Night Live performance. But rather than reflecting a genuine anxiety among investors, the sudden dip in share prices was more likely triggered by trigger-fingered investors hoping to use Musk’s much-hyped SNL appearance to make a quick buck off of what is already known to be an extremely mercurial crypto.
In the days leading up to Musk’s hosting duties, shares of Dogecoin had traded so furiously on the popular brokerage app Robinhood that the company issued a statement on Sunday morning to say that it was working to resolve processing issues of the cryptocurrency.
One of the most anticipated and hyped moments of Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s appearance on Saturday Night Live this weekend was the possible, and highly probable, mention of Dogecoin, the meme cryptocurrency the tech billionaire has helped inflate to record highs. Never one to disappoint his adoring fanboys, Musk gave them what they wanted.
Musk, who hosted the internationally broadcast show on Saturday, talked about Dogecoin in a “Weekend Update” sketch in which he played financial expert Lloyd Ostertag. Almost immediately, Musk also introduced himself as the “Dogefather,” a reference to one of his recent tweets, which itself is a riff on The Godfather. The self-proclaimed Dogefather then proceeds to describe how cryptocurrencies work and states that, lately, prices for cryptocurrencies, especially Dogecoin, have been soaring.
Weekend Update co-anchor Michael Che then presses Musk to explain what Dogecoin is, a question many of us have asked ourselves in recent months. The tech billionaire states that Dogecoin started out as a joke based on an internet meme, but it’s taken off in a real way. Not satisfied, Che, along with co-anchor Colin Jost, asks again for Musk to explain what Dogecoin is. And repeats the question again. And again.
After a bit of back and forth, Musk finally appears to break down Dogecoin in a way the anchors on the Weekend Update can understand.
“I keep telling you, it’s a cryptocurrency you can trade for conventional money,” Musk said.
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“Oh, so it’s a hustle,” Che said.
“Yeah, it’s a hustle,” Musk admitted.
Although it was a comedy sketch, Musk finally seemed to recognize what (real) financial experts have said about Dogecoin all along. (This week, Musk himself said that cryptocurrency is promising but also warned his followers to invest with caution). Ironically, but not unsurprisingly considering that cryptocurrencies are volatile, Dogecoin was down 40% early Sunday, or as low as 44 cents according to CNN, after the Dogefather talked about it on SNL.
Besides mentioning Dogecoin, it was highly likely that Musk would talk about another one of his many obsessions, Mars, especially considering SpaceX’s recent Starship success this past week. On Wednesday, the company successfully landed a prototype of the Starship rocket it will use to take astronauts back to the Moon and one day take humans to Mars. It has been the only prototype that hasn’t exploded.
In this sketch, set in the near future, Musk has apparently already built a colony on the Red Planet. However, it has been hit by a solar storm, which has affected the life support systems, specifically the oxygen supply. Musk oversees a brave but absent-minded colonist named Chad (Pete Davidson) outside of the colony to turn on the backup oxygen circulator.
“Chad, I want to make sure you understand that you won’t survive this mission,” Musk said. “To save your fellow colonists, you have to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
“Hm, sick,” Davidson said.
The sketch also includes Miley Cyrus, the episode’s musical guest, and is set to dramatic music one would expect in space movies. Chad is ultimately successful in his mission but meets a tragic end.
“Well, I did say people were going to die,” Musk said, another reference to statements he’s made about going to Mars. “I was never here.”
Residents of Boca Chica Village are facing pressure from SpaceX and local officials to sell their property, ostensibly so CEO Elon Musk can realize his dream of creating a modern-day company town around SpaceX’s launch facility nearby, according to the Wall Street Journal.
SpaceX has purchased more than 112 parcels of land in the area so far, public records show, which it mostly uses to house its workers. Several residents the Journal spoke with said SpaceX has repeatedly offered to buy their property. Some folks accepted the money, while others refused to give up their dream homes.
SpaceX’s buying spree in Boca Chica started in 2012, two years before it broke ground on its launchpad, and has significantly ramped up since 2019, according to the outlet. That’s when SpaceX began expanding its operations and developing a large new rocket, the Super Heavy, designed to ferry people to the Moon and Mars. Musk has expressed a desire to turn the entire area into “the city of Starbase, Texas,” as he tweeted in March, by legally incorporating the town.
Roughly 14 people not connected to SpaceX currently live in Boca Chica Village and the surrounding area, according to the Journal. One local, Celia Johnson, told the outlet she started having issues with SpaceX employees after rejecting the company’s offer to purchase her two properties located near the launch facility. One of her homes, a rental property, had a 1,600-gallon water tank suddenly vanish in 2019. A few months later, she arrived to find its window shattered by a brick and evidence suggesting that someone had been sleeping there. When she and her neighbors accused SpaceX workers of being the culprits, the company denied responsibility but reimbursed her in both cases.
“SpaceX bullied us from the beginning,” Johnson said in an interview with the Journal. “SpaceX employees did what they wanted.”
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Two other locals, Mary and Harvey Bloomer, said they received an email from SpaceX’s senior director of finance David Finlay in September 2020 offering them $149,700 for their home. In the email, which was reviewed by the Journal, he warned that their property would frequently fall into a hazard zone “in which no civilian would be permitted to remain.” SpaceX’s launch facility has been the site of several explosivefailedtests over the years.
Yet another resident, Rosemarie Workman, who retired with her husband to their Boca Chica Village home in 2004, told the outlet she received a letter from SpaceX in 2019 offering her $155,700 for her home—a non-negotiable deal that the letter claimed was three times the house’s market value. When she declined, SpaceX sent at least three additional offers. The last one, which was for $210,600, was accompanied by a call from Finlay, who told the couple they had a week to decide or the company would pursue a “different route.” He declined the Journal’s request for comment.
An appraiser Workman hired around the time of these offers valued her home at $194,000, she said. Cameron County, which oversees the Boca Chica community, appraised the home for $34,473 when SpaceX initially made its offers, but according to the county’s website that appraisal shot up to $141,573 for 2021, the Journal reports.
This seems to fall in line with residents’ claims that they also feel pressured by county officials to fork over their land to SpaceX. State and local officials have historically bent over backward to satisfy SpaceX’s demands—no doubt to keep the boss man happy so he doesn’t throw a tantrum and uproot his company’s operations. The state of Texas has provided roughly $20 million in incentives for SpaceX to expand its presence in the state. And Musk appears to be returning the favor: In March, he tweeted a pledge to donate $20 million to Cameron County schools and $10 million to the county’s largest city, Brownsville, to revitalize its downtown area.
However, in the meantime, Boca Chica Village residents are apparently getting screwed. Explosions from failed rocket tests have broken home windows, rained down debris, and started brush fires, according to residents who spoke with the Journal. Leading up to launches, locals say SpaceX workers leave them fliers advising them to vacate their homes in case of a potential malfunction. The company has even offered to put them up in a hotel during launches, albeit one 40 miles away (gas and food expenses not included).
When a launch is scheduled, county officials shut down several beach-access points to protect public health and safety. This includes a roughly 8-mile-stretch of public beach, a National Wildlife Refuge, and the only road that leads to Boca Chica. Residents told the Journal that launch-related closures have left them stranded at checkpoints for hours and SpaceX security personnel have followed them in vehicles to their homes.
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño told the Journal the county was “not working and would never work with SpaceX to harass any of the residents to leave the Boca Chica area.”
“We want SpaceX to succeed, but not at the expense of the community,” he continued. “If they think they’ll be able to take over the highway or the beach, they’re mistaken.”
Still, the county has considered invoking eminent domain to ensure the safety of Boca Chica Village’s remaining residents, he said in an interview with the outlet.
“You don’t want individuals near rocket ships being tested and landing. We don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Treviño told the outlet.
According to Texas law, to incorporate Boca Chica Village, SpaceX would have to prove to the state that more than 200 people lived in the area and secure a majority vote. If successful, SpaceX officials would secure the power of eminent domain, which it could use to eject the remaining holdouts and, yes, build Musk his modern-day company town. The man’s already suggested using interplanetary indentured servitude to realize his dreams of life on Mars, so who cares if a few Earthlings get crushed in the process?
New Starlink data out today shows where in the U.S. Elon Musk’s ambitious satellite internet service is exceeding expectations—and where it’s falling short.
According to Ookla, the company behind a Speedtest app and website that lets anyone test the speed of their broadband and mobile connections, Starlink speeds vary greatly depending on where you live.
Starlink is currently available throughout the U.S. and Canada, and has reportedly racked up more than 500,000 preorders. (I placed a preorder a few months ago, but I have yet to receive the equipment.) But users living in certain places within those two countries will get a better connection than others. Broadly, Ookla says median Starlink download speeds in the U.S. ranged from 40.36 Mbps in Columbia County, Ore. to 93.09 Mbps in Shasta County, Calif., during the first quarter of the year.
These may seem like OK speeds, but while in some places they were a vast improvement over fixed broadband providers (545.6% faster in Tehama County, Calif., for instance), others saw a disappointing drop (67.9% slower in Clay County, Mo.).
Looking at a map Ookla provided of Starlink speeds compared to fixed broadband speeds in the U.S., users living in the northern parts of California, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, the border between Oregon and Washington, and a small pocket in the north of Vermont saw the greatest increase in download speeds. But a smattering of pockets across the same states and in other states like Wisconsin and Michigan saw a decrease in download speeds compared to fixed broadband in the area.
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When you overlay Ookla’s map with a regular map of the U.S., the areas with worse performance than fixed broadband appear to be clustered around major cities and large metropolitan areas. It’s not surprising that users in or around Los Angeles, for instance, would see slower speeds compared to other ISPs in those areas. A bad satellite connection can happen for a lot of different reasons, but the perhaps the biggest factor is obstructions. Buildings, trees, bad weather—the list goes on. The ideal use case for Starlink and other satellite internet providers is to provide a fast internet connection in the countryside, with wide open spaces for miles. That doesn’t always exist in urban and suburban areas.
A place like Tehama County, Calif., where the largest city is Red Bluff (with just over 14,000 people), is an ideal place for Starlink.
Customers in both the U.S. and Canada experienced astronomically higher latency compared to fixed broadband customers in the same areas, up to 486% higher in the U.S. and up to 369% in Canada. Latency in the U.S. ranged from a low of 31ms in Kittitas County, Wash., up to 88ms in Otsego County, Mich. Median latency from all other fixed broadband ISPs combined were between 8ms and 47ms.
Starlink is still in its early beta days, but it seems like a viable solution for many rural residents who currently lack reliable access to the internet. As SpaceX sends up more satellites into orbit and increases Starlink’s network capacity, it should be able to offer the same speeds to more people living in rural areas.
Internet data usage is skyrocketing these days, to no surprise.
In 2020, the average amount of internet data usage for an individual household was 483GB per month. By the end of this year, the average broadband consumption per household per month could hit 600-650GB, according to Mark Trudeau, CEO of OpenVault, a broadband data and analytics solutions company. It makes sense that broadband consumption increased drastically during the pandemic since millions of people were working or attending school from home.
But there’s a huge problem. If the U.S. is to keep pace with domestic broadband demand and also remain competitive with other countries that have more robust internet infrastructure, it needs to stop giving subsidies to the big internet service providers and invest in government-run and local networks instead.
Unlike major ISPs such as AT&T, Comcast, and Charter, these smaller, local providers are not beholden to shareholders with their sights on short-term investments—a big reason why the big companies have not done more over the years to replace old DSL lines with cable or fiber lines, or provide more last-mile service. (You shouldn’t have to take out a $10,000 newspaper ad just to get AT&T to connect that last-mile service to your house.)
President Biden’s plan would also look for other ways to bring down the cost of internet services instead of continuing to give ISPs subsidies so they charge consumers less. The existing Connect America Fund (CAF),for instance, is not funded by the ISPs but by regular ol’ taxpayers—the fund shows up as a fee on phone and internet bills. And according to the Technology Policy Institute, universal service subsidies like the CAF have little to no effect on expanding broadband coverage in rural areas.
“We should take this opportunity to expect better results from universal service and continue the FCC’s newer and better ways of promoting coverage where it does not exist so that subsidies truly benefit consumers and not just rural ISPs,” wrote the TPI.
Unsurprisingly, Republican lawmakers and lobbyists are strongly opposed to Biden’s plan. Michael Powell, CEO of the Internet and Television Association (NCTA) and a former Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 1997 to 2005, recently told Axios he believed “the idea that the private sector and profit incentives are intrinsically unsuited to do the job is ‘surprisingly Soviet,’” and that the faith many had in the government to build and run nationwide broadband networks was “unfounded.” It seems like an ironic position to take considering some of the NCTA’s core values include closing the digital divide and maintaining an open internet. But then again, the NCTA did receive donations from various persons affiliated with major privately-owned ISPs in 2020.
Creating government-run broadband, or even just investing in nationwide last-mile fiber infrastructure, will “create jobs in both urban and rural areas and provide a clear, tangible benefit to millions of Americans,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Not only does the CFR support Biden’s internet plan, but the organization also believes the internet should be considered a utility.
“Like electricity, water, and sewer services, high-speed, fiber-based internet access lines should be considered a utility that needs to be connected to every home. Once constructed, this network should operate under an open access policy, overseen and enforced by the government, that allows any ISP to access the infrastructure at reasonable, nondiscriminatory prices to offer its services,” said the CFR.
After years of delays, Blue Origin says it’s finally ready for a crewed launch of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle. Founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the company is aiming for launch in July, and an auction will be held to choose a member of the crew.
On April 14, Blue Origin successfully performed a suborbital test along with an astronaut dress rehearsal of an uncrewed New Shepard rocket. I had an inkling at the time that this would be the final uncrewed test flight, and it appears my suspicions were correct. Blue Origin has now penciled in July 20 as the date for the first crewed launch of New Shepard.
Few details were given, such as the composition of the inaugural crew, but we do know this: One member of the crew will be the winner of an online auction. (Blue Origin has not immediately responded to a request for further details about the launch.)
As of today, anyone with an interest in joining the flight can place a bid at the Blue Origin website. I couldn’t resist, so I placed a modest bid of $50, which is clearly far from the maximum bid allowed by “non-verified” bidders. Space, it’s fair to say, will remain far out of reach for your humble science reporter for the foreseeable future.
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And by “space” we’re actually referring to a region slightly beyond the Karman Line, as the 60-foot-tall (18.3-meter-tall) New Shepard rocket will not actually go into Earth orbit. Instead, the vehicle will ascend to a height exceeding 62 miles (100 kilometers), which technically qualifies as being in space. Total time in space will amount to around 11 minutes, followed by a parachute-assisted landing of the New Shepard crew capsule on the surface. The reusable main stage will perform a vertical landing at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in Van Horn, Texas.
Proceeds from the winning bid will be donated to Club for the Future, a Blue Origin foundation with the stated goal of inspiring “future generations to pursue careers in STEM and help invent the future of life in space.” That may be so, but the company is clearly using the auction to generate hype.
Blue Origin has not yet disclosed the price of each seat for future flights, but estimates range from $50,000 to $250,000—and possibly even as high as $500,000. The NS-15 crew capsule can accommodate up to six passengers. The company was hoping to fly people back in 2019, but the testing stage took longer than expected.
On Wednesday afternoon, SpaceX will attempt a high altitude test of SN15—the first of the next generation of Starship prototypes. You can watch the launch live right here.
Update: 6:41 p.m. EDT: Elon Musk tweets:
Update: 6:38 p.m. EDT: Starship prototype SN15 managed to stick the landing. As the case with SN10, a fire broke out at the base shortly afterwards, but this time a fire suppression system managed to douse the flames, in a process that took about 10 minutes. And unlike SN10, SN15 appeared to make a very gentle landing. By all appearances, this appears to be a major success for SpaceX and the Starship program.
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Update: 6:05 p.m. EDT: Launch of SN15 should happen shortly after 6:20 p.m. EDT. A live feed of the launch from SpaceX is now available below.
Update: 5:15 p.m. EDT: Tank farm activity has begun, which means launch could be as few as 35 minutes away, but realistically between 5:45 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. EDT. Expect things to move quickly from here.
Update: 4:56 p.m. EDT: Yay, the pad has been cleared yet again. At this point, I’m guesstimating a launch between 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. EDT (launch window closes sharply at 9:00 p.m. EDT).
Update: 4:20 p.m. EDT: SpaceX teams are returning to the launch pad, for reasons unknown—hopefully for something minor. Accordingly, the checklist is being walk-backed. The launch appears to be going ahead as planned, though possibly later than my estimate from earlier. The window closes today at 9:00 p.m. EDT.
Update: 3:55 p.m. EDT: The checklist towards launch continues to get shorter, and final checkouts are currently taking place. If I were to guess, launch could happen between 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. EDT. Again, we’ll update once we learn more.
Original post follows:
The window for Tuesday’s launch opened at 1:00 p.m. EDT (or 12:00 p.m. CDT, which is local time), and it will close at 9:00 p.m. EDT (8:00 p.m. CDT). We don’t know the exact time for the high-altitude hop and attempting landing, but we’ll update this post once we learn more. You can watch the launch at any of the live feeds provided below.
There’s added pressure on the Starship tests given that NASA has asked SpaceX to build a lunar lander for the upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon. Well, to be fair, the contract is now on hold as both Blue Origin and Dynetics have formally protested NASA’s decision, requiring the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review.
According to the latest plan, a future version of Starship will be sent to lunar orbit, where it will await rendezvous with an Orion capsule carrying the Artemis astronauts. Once the astronauts are on board, the rocket will make a vertical landing on the Moon, and then return the team back to Orion once they complete their explorations on the lunar surface.
As is the pattern for high-altitude tests, the 165-foot-tall (50 meters) rocket won’t go into space, instead reaching a maximum height of around 6 miles (10 kilometers). The Raptor engines will shut down in sequence, followed by an aerodynamic descent. The SN15 prototype will then attempt a vertical landing at SpaceX’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas. To date, no Starship prototype has survived the landing, though SN10 came very close (it exploded several minutes after an awkward landing).
Should a launch occur, it will mark the fifth high-altitude test of a Starship prototype, the previous being SN8, SN9, SN10, and SN11. SpaceX has decided to skip ahead a little bit and jump right into SN15. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk declared in a late March tweet that the new version features “hundreds of design improvements across structures” involving flight software and the Raptor engine.
After this latest generation of Starship rockets gets tested, SpaceX will then turn to the SN20+ series, which will be capable of going into orbit, but these vehicles “will probably need many flight attempts to survive Mach 25 entry heating & land intact,” added Musk.
SpaceX plans to use Starship as a vehicle to transport cargo and passengers to Earth orbit, the Moon, and Mars. The rocket is meant to work either as an independent rocket or as the second stage of a reusable launch system.