Three lunar missions, commercial spaceflight milestones, the first all-woman spacewalk -- 2019 was a busy year in space for public and private entities alike. NASA looked forward to new moon landings while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. SpaceX launched its first commercial crew spacecraft and lofted a miniature prototype of its massive Starship vehicle. Planetary missions began and ended, sometimes much sooner than planned.
It has been a quiet fall for SpaceX, which launched a Falcon 9 rocket early August before taking a break to prepare for future missions. Now, SpaceX has successfully deployed a new batch of Starlink internet satellites, and the Falcon 9 that delivered them made history in the process.
When the company launched its first set of Starlink internet satellites in May, those with their eyes attuned to the night sky immediately realized that the objects were incredibly bright. Professional astronomers worried the satellites would interfere with scientific observations and amateur appreciation of the stars.
By escaping the launchpad--where a disaster like a rocket explosion could theoretically take place--and touching down nearby, the company's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft passed a crucial flight test Monday morning. It was one of two major remaining trials before NASA can certify the vehicle ready to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
SpaceX wants to add 30,000 Starlink broadband satellites to the 12,000 it already plans to put into orbit, despite concerns being raised about 'space junk' trapping us on Earth. Elon Musk's company recently filed the request with the International Telecommunication Union. Starlink is a project that intends to put over 12,000 satellites into the Earth's orbit so they can provide cheap WiFi to the entire world.
NASA wants private American vehicles to end this dependence and has been encouraging their development via its Commercial Crew Program. In September 2014, NASA awarded $2.6 billion to SpaceX and $4.2 billion to Boeing to finish work on their astronaut taxis -- capsules called Crew Dragon and the CST-100 Starliner, respectively. At the time, NASA officials said they wanted at least one of these vehicles to be up and running by the end of 2017.
SpaceX has never flown a person into space in its Crew Dragon, its first crew-capable spacecraft. But already the company is showing off its much bigger, much shinier cousin: the Starship, built in Boca Chica, a coastal village at the southeastern tip of Texas, as part of a plan to carry giant crews into deep space. And NASA's administrator is bristling.
Elon Musk has a Starship, and one day he expects it will help SpaceX reach other worlds. Standing beneath a towering Starship Mk1, a prototype for SpaceX's massive reusable launch system, Musk laid out his plan for interplanetary travel at the company's South Texas test site here on Saturday (Sept. 28) -- the 11th anniversary of the first successful orbital launch of SpaceX's first rocket, the Falcon 1.
NASA announced agreements worth a combined $43.2 million with 14 commercial partners Friday -- including Blue Origin and SpaceX -- to fund experiments in propellant and power generation, in-space refueling, efficient propulsion systems, and lunar rover technology.
This second and final test flight represents the most significant trial yet of the company's Raptor engine. While the trial frustrated residents in Boca Chica, many of whom evacuated their homes for safety concerns, it encouraged aerospace enthusiasts with its demonstration of a new type of rocket that runs on methane--an essential feature for a space program targeting the moon and beyond.