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SpaceX to offer Starlink public beta in six months, Musk says – Ars Technica

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Enlarge / SpaceX CEO Elon Musk at the Satellite 2020 Conference in Washington, DC, on Monday, March 9, 2020.

SpaceX will start testing Starlink broadband service in a private beta in about three months and make it available in a public beta about six months from now, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter yesterday. The first beta trials will occur in high latitudes, he wrote.

When asked by a Twitter user if Germany counts as a high-latitude area for purposes of the beta trial, Musk answered “yes.” Parts of the US would presumably be included in beta trials, given that SpaceX has said it plans to make Starlink service available in parts of the US this year.

The private beta would “almost certainly be reserved for SpaceX and Tesla employees and their families,” according to a Teslarati article. “Just like Tesla currently trials early software builds on employee cars, those customers would serve as much more regimented guinea pigs, likely offering detailed feedback throughout their trial of Starlink Internet.”

Meanwhile, SpaceX launched another 60 Starlink satellites yesterday. The launch, as Musk noted, gives SpaceX “420 operational Starlink satellites.”

SpaceX cuts orbital altitude in half

Meanwhile, SpaceX has asked for permission to operate thousands of Starlink satellites at much lower altitudes than originally planned, saying the change will result in better broadband coverage and less orbital debris.

SpaceX in 2018 got Federal Communications Commission approval to launch up to 4,425 low-Earth-orbit satellites at several different altitudes between 1,110km to 1,325km. In April 2019, SpaceX won FCC approval for a license modification to cut the orbital altitude in half for 1,584 of those satellites.

Now, SpaceX wants the FCC’s OK for another license change that would lower the altitude for the rest of the satellites and slightly reduce the total number. SpaceX told the FCC in a filing last week:

Specifically, SpaceX seeks to relocate 2,824 satellites that were previously authorized for operation at altitudes ranging from 1,100km to 1,330km to new altitudes ranging from 540km to 570km. Because of the increased atmospheric drag at this lower altitude, this relocation will significantly enhance space safety by ensuring that any orbital debris will quickly re-enter and demise in the atmosphere. And because of its closer proximity to consumers on Earth, this modification will allow SpaceX’s system to provide low-latency broadband to unserved and underserved Americans that is on par with service previously only available in urban areas. Finally, this modification will improve service to customers—including Federal users—in otherwise impossible to reach polar areas.

SpaceX now plans 4,408 satellites instead of the original 4,425. This number does not include an additional 7,518 broadband satellites that would operate at even lower altitudes from 335km to 346km. SpaceX has also floated plans for another 30,000 satellites, but it’s not clear how likely that is to happen.

Last month, SpaceX received FCC approval to deploy up to 1 million user terminals in the US.

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SpaceX prototype Starship rocket explodes after test in Texas – CNBC

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A fourth prototype of SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket exploded Friday after a test at the company’s development facility in Texas.

The company was conducting a trial of the rocket’s engine, in a test on the ground known as a static fire. A few minutes after the test, which initially appeared successful, the Starship prototype identified as Serial Number 4 ruptured in a fiery explosion.

This prototype is distinct from the company’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft, which this weekend is set to launch NASA astronauts from Florida. That rocket system has previously launched satellites and cargo to space successfully dozens of times, after years of development and testing.

The rocket is called Starship, which the company is developing with the goal of launching people and cargo to the moon and Mars. The rocket is designed to be reusable so SpaceX can launch and land it multiple times, like a commercial airplane. Starship’s shiny external appearance is because of the type of stainless steel that SpaceX is using to build the rocket.

This latest Starship prototype is the fourth that SpaceX has built. While it made it the furthest along in tests, passing several critical milestones, the company has yet to begin flight testing its most recent design. A previous iteration, known as Starhopper, completed a short launch and landing flight test in October.

The SN4 prototype had passed several critical milestones during development, including a pressurization test that had foiled previous version of the rocket. So far SpaceX has built and destroyed four Starship prototypes, due to a variety of different failures during testing. SpaceX has been aggressively developing Starship, with the company’s leadership setting the goal of reaching space later this year – and the moon by 2022.

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Take two for SpaceX's 1st astronaut launch with more storms – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX pressed ahead with its second attempt to launch astronauts for NASA – a historic first for a private company – but more stormy weather threatened more delays.

Elon Musk’s company came within 17 minutes Wednesday of launching a pair of NASA astronauts for the first time in nearly a decade from the U.S., before the threat of lightning forced a delay.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said managers were debating whether to bump the next launch attempt from Saturday to Sunday to take advantage of a slightly improved forecast at Kennedy Space Center.

At an outdoor news conference Friday, Bridenstine stressed the need for safety for astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken – no matter how many times it takes to launch them in a SpaceX Dragon capsule atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station.

“We cannot forget this is a test flight. This – is – a – test – flight,” he repeated. “We will go when everything is as safe as we can possibly make it.”

Forecasters put the odds of acceptable weather conditions Saturday at 50-50, with the outlook improving to 60% favourable on Sunday. Rain and clouds were the main concerns for both days.

Hurley and Behnken, veterans of two space shuttle flights, said they’ve both faced launch delays before. In a tweet Friday, Hurley said his first shuttle flight was scrubbed five times for weather and technical issues.

“We’re ready for the next launch opportunity!” Behnken tweeted.

While NASA urged spectators to stay home Wednesday because of the pandemic, prime viewing spots at area parks and beaches were packed. A weekend launch could draw even bigger crowds. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex reopened Thursday, after a 2 1/2-month shutdown, and within a few hours, all 4,000 tickets were snapped up for Saturday’s launch attempt.

President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence were expected to return Saturday to watch from inside Kennedy. The number of employees, journalists and guests allowed inside the space centre remained extremely limited because of the pandemic.

Whether an attempt is made Saturday or Sunday, “There will be no pressure. We will launch when we’re ready,” Bridenstine said.

The last time astronauts launched to orbit from the U.S. was in 2011 when Atlantis closed out the 30-year space shuttle program. Hurley was on that mission as well.

NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to get the ball rolling again – kicking off a commercial revolution for getting people to low-Earth orbit, according to officials. In the meantime, NASA has spent billions of dollars to buy seats on Russian Soyuz capsules for U.S. astronauts, in order to keep the space station staffed.

Boeing’s first astronaut flight, on the company’s Starliner capsule, is not expected until next year.

Bridenstine offered high praise for Musk on Friday and all his personal touches: spiffy spacesuits, Tesla rides to the launch pad, a colour-co-ordinated rocket and capsule – and more.

Musk has brought “vision and inspiration” to the American space program, Bridenstine said. While there’s occasionally a little tension between NASA and SpaceX, “he gives me a commitment and he delivers on that commitment. That has happened every single time.”

The California-based SpaceX is also developing a rocket and spaceship designed to go to the moon and Mars.

On Friday, a prototype of its Starship exploded while undergoing a routine engine test at the company’s Texas site. The ship vented large amount of gases and was engulfed in a tremendous fireball.

SpaceX did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

NASA, which has a contract with SpaceX to develop Starship for its lunar landing program, has no problems going ahead with this weekend’s unrelated launch of astronauts from Cape Canaveral, agency spokesman Bob Jacobs.

“That’s a test program. That’s why they test,” Jacobs said.

AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland, contributed to this report.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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COVID-19: Fanshawe team studies possible way to stop virus's spread in body – London Free Press (Blogs)

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Fanshawe College researchers in London are studying a process that could lead to an effective treatment for COVID-19.

“When a virus enters the body, its ability to produce devastating effects is due to its capacity to make copies of itself while evading the body’s immune system,” said Abdulla Mahboob, manager of Fanshawe’s Centre for Applied Research and Innovation in Biotechnology (CARIB) labs, where the study is underway.

The college team is testing a custom inhibitor they hope will block virus proteins from binding together to help the virus’s genetic material get past cell defences, he said. “If we stop the proteins from binding together, we can expose the virus to the cell’s immunity, which in turn will stop the spread of the virus itself in the patient.”

Scientists are testing the inhibitor using mammalian cells containing the specific proteins targeted in the study, with promising results, the college said.

If effective, the inhibitors would then be tested on the virus in lab-grown cells and work would begin to turn it into a viable treatment for the respiratory disease.

It’s the latest in a number of studies by college scientists, including one looking at the potential benefits of cannabis extract in treating blood clots and inflammation in life-threatening COVID-19 cases.

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