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Near and far – TechCrunch

Hello and welcome to Max Q.

In this problem:

  • Astra’s long game in the small launch market
  • The supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy
  • News from Virgin Orbit, SpaceX and more

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I caught up with Chris Kemp, CEO of Astra, and Benjamin Lyon, Chief Engineer, to learn more about the company’s philosophy and trajectory.

“I think a lot of people expect every launch to be perfect,” Kemp told TechCrunch. “I think what Astra needs to do, really, is we need to have so many launches that nobody thinks about it anymore.”

How many launches? Ultimately, Astra wants to achieve a daily launch rate; in the meantime, the company is aiming for weekly launches as early as next year. It’s a critical part of how the company aims to win among an increasingly crowded group of small launch developers – not by being flawless, but by being so inexpensive and large that the relative risk of a few catastrophic failures cease to matter.

Next up for Astra is a trio of launches for NASA as part of the agency’s TROPICS program. When Kemp discussed the launches with NASA’s Will McCarty at Astra’s Spacetech Day, he reiterated Astra’s take on reliability, even though it almost sounded like a hedge: “I know the team will do everything in their power to ensure that all three launches and all of your satellites are deployed, but it’s good to know that the price of three launches allows NASA to enable a mission where even if only two succeed […] it’s good to know that even NASA designs constellations so that overall constellation performance is the end goal, without thinking about every satellite, every rocket launch.

Picture credits: Astra / John Kraus

World, meet Sagittarus A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. The black hole has been captured in an image for the first time, a landmark scientific achievement that has garnered much media attention. But the role of simulations and synthetic data in the process has been massively overlooked.

TechCrunch’s Devin Coldewey explains how scientists used synthetic datasets and simulations to piece together the picture of the black hole, “despite its relative proximity and interference from dust light years away, nebulae and other vagaries of the void”. Click the link above to learn more about how scientists did it.

I feel like this is the only time I can slip in a quote from Nietzsche, so allow me the indulgence: “He who fights with monsters might take care that he does not thus become a monster. And if you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks at you.

Near and far – TechCrunch

Picture credits: ISE

More news from TC and beyond

  • blue origin announced the next group of customers who will fly on the New Shepard rocket, the fifth space tourism mission for the company and the 21st launch overall. The mission will take off on May 20.
  • Boeing says it’s everything is ready to go for Starliner spacecraft launch test. This is a highly anticipated flight. You can watch it live on May 19 on Boeing’s website. Speaking of Boeing, apparently and Aerojet Rocketdyne are reinforced by issues involving the Starliner’s fuel valves.
  • Canou, an electric vehicle company, has issued a “going concern” warning to shareholders that it may not have enough funds to continue operating. Why is it included in Max Q? The company has just won a contract with NASA to transport Artemis astronauts to and from the launch pad. Oy vey.
  • Federal Aviation Administration issued a license to the Huntsville-Madison Airport Authority in Alabama to operate the facility as a space re-entry site. Sierra Space asked to land its Dream Chaser space plane up to eight times between 2023 and 2027.
  • Orbex unveiled the first full-scale prototype of its space rocket, called “Prime”. The micro-launcher is around 62ft long and could be the first rocket to be launched from the UK.
  • rocket lab will launch NASA’s CAPSTONE spacecraft to the Moon May 31 at the earliest. The CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) mission will test a new orbit as a guide for future lunar outposts.
  • Russia is responsible for the hack that affected viasat Internet connectivity service, said governments like the United States, Canada and the European Union.
  • SpaceX launched 53 Starlink satellites into orbit on Friday. This was the fifth flight of this particular first-stage booster.
  • Stellar Link the service will reach 10,000 homes in Quebec, thanks to $50 million in government funding to bring broadband to rural homes in the province.
  • Great Britain has selected pristine orbit to launch Prometheus-2, a government mission to launch two cubesats into space from British soil this summer. Virgin will use its LauncherOne system for the mission.
  • Scientists from the University of Florida grew plants in the lunar soil. You read that right, plants! In lunar regolith! The soil was collected during the Apollo missions. This is quite notable ahead of the Artemis missions planned later this decade…
Near and far – TechCrunch

Several Arabidopsis plants growing from the lunar soil. The seedlings were then thinned to one plant per well. Picture credits: UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

  • Galactic Virgo said it would begin commercial service for its orbital spaceplanes, VSS Imagine and VSS Unity, in early 2023, a timeline that pushes commercial debuts back by at least a quarter.

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