Elon Musk reportedly ghosted the Kremlin after inviting Putin to a Clubhouse chat

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Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

  • Elon Musk reportedly didn’t respond to a follow up about chatting with Vladimir Putin on Clubhouse.
  • Musk tweeted at the Kremlin last month, inviting Putin to join him on the popular audio app. 
  • A Kremlin spokesperson said Musk didn’t respond and called the situation a “misunderstanding.”
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Elon Musk appears to have had second thoughts about his offer to chat with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Clubhouse. 

Last month, Musk tweeted at the Kremlin’s Twitter account, asking if Putin would join him for a conversation on the popular audio app. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters at the time that “It’s undoubtedly a very interesting offer, but we need to know what he means, what’s he’s proposing.” 

But it appears that Musk never responded to follow-up questions about the proposed chat, Bloomberg’s Ilya Arkhipov and Andrey Biryukov reported on Tuesday. 

“Apparently there was some kind of misunderstanding. Most likely, this matter is exhausted,” Peskov told reporters, according to Bloomberg. 

Clubhouse is an invitation-only social media app that launched last year. The app relies on audio-based social networking where users can join dedicated rooms to discuss topics like business or sports. In recent weeks, Clubhouse has hosted high-profile users including Mark Zuckerberg and Oprah Winfrey.

Clubhouse has raised $110 million from investors including Andreeseen Horowitz and is now valued at around $1 billion

Musk has been active on Clubhouse, interviewing Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev in a bizarre and wide-ranging conversation following the GameStop stock saga last month. Thousands of people tuned in to see the discussion, which was hosted by a Clubhouse talk show called “The Good Time Show,” which is formatted similarly to a live podcast. 

Musk also said last month that he and longtime friend Kanye West would participate in an interview on Clubhouse. A host from “The Good Time Show” later tweeted that the show was working on scheduling an upcoming interview with Musk and West. 

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Mars Rover, SpaceX launches, and the Hope Probe – these are some of 2021’s biggest space stories so far

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A screengrab from a NASA press conference of the Perseverance rover.

  • NASA’s Mars Rover’s daring landing on Mars is among the key space stories of 2021.
  • The red planet is also an important destination for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the UAE, and China.
  • Blue Origin and Zero 2 Infinity are among other space companies commanding attention. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The year has already got off to a winning start, with many key developments in the new space race.

The most notable is the impressive – and terrifying – landing of NASA’s Perseverance Rover on Mars. It successfully touched down on the red planet on February 18 and landed in a deep crater called Jezero. 

The result was deeply satisfying for those who have been tracking the progress of the rover, which had been travelling to its destination for nearly seven months. The rover has been continuing to beam back photos of its descent to Mars. 

Elsewhere, the UAE space agency released the first photo of Mars taken by its Hope Probe, while China’s Tianwen-1 mission successfully maneuvered into orbit around Mars earlier this month. 

Meanwhile, Spanish startup Zero 2 Infinity has big plans to send humans into space in giant helium balloons for a cost of $132,000.

The comparatively cheaper price may lure some prospective travellers away from SpaceX’s Mars mission, which aims to send humans to the planet by 2026. Some experts have called into question whether this will really happen, however. 

SpaceX has also been busy launching many more satellites. It recently sent 60 into orbit but the Falcon 9 rocket’s booster did not successfully complete its landing on February 16. 

The S.S. Katherine Johnson, a space supply ship carrying cargo to the International Space Station, blasted off from Virginia on February 20. The ship is named after the brilliant mathematician whose story was depicted in the 2016 film ‘Hidden Figures.’ It arrived at its destination on February 22. 

Finally, space fans can expect Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin to start commanding more attention. When the Amazon CEO announced he was stepping down from the role later this year, he said he planned to dedicate more time to the company.

Blue Origin’s website states: “We’re committed to building a road to space so our children can build the future.” 

 

Perseverance landed on Mars in dramatic style

perseverance mars rover landing photo
A photo of NASA’s Perseverance rover just feet above the Martian surface – part of a video several cameras recorded of the landing on February 18, 2021.

Perseverance’s first color photo

perseverance mars rover color image
The rover has been capturing stunning images like this since it touched down on Mars

The UAE Space Agency is also making Mars a priority

Mars from UAE Hope Probe.JPG
The UAE’s first photo of Mars taken by its Hope Probe.

Zero 2 Infinity …and beyond

Zero 2 Infinity
The company wants to eventually offer hours of flight time for space tourists who travel in the giant helium balloons

SpaceX’s Starlink launches

elon musk spacex starship sn8 serial number 8 steel rocket ship prototype boca chica south texas sunset sunrise getty 4x3
Elon Musk’s company successfully launched 60 satellites just before 11pm (EST) on Monday, February 16. A rocket booster was lost in the process, however.

Blue Origin’s bold vision

Jeff Bezos Blue Origin
Jeff Bezos announced plans to devote more time to his Blue Origin rocket company after he steps down as Amazon CEO.

China’s Tianwen-1 mission

china mars global remote sensing and small rover tianwen hx 1 martian mission spacecraft illustration rendering cas xinhua
China’s Tianwen-1 mission maneuvered into orbit around Mars earlier this month. This illustration shows it departing Earth. It’s the first mission that has ever tried to deliver an orbiter, lander, and rover all at the same time.

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SpaceX’s Starlink: Everything you need to know about Elon Musk’s internet service

Elon Musk
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

  • Starlink is SpaceX’s broadband service that beams down internet from satellites launched into orbit.
  • Since its launch in October, it has more than 10,000 users and operates in more than six countries.
  • Here’s everything you need to know about Elon Musk’s Starlink.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Elon Musk is inching ever closer to fulfiling his dream of creating super-fast internet around the world, which beams down from satellites in orbit to Earth.

In the past two weeks, SpaceX’s Starlink internet has reached more than 10,000 users worldwide and started offering $99 preorders of the service to more countries and cities on a global scale.

Starlink’s public beta test, known as “Better Than Nothing Beta,” launched in October and has been a big hit with those living in remote areas of northern US, where it was first rolled out.

What’s the hype about Starlink?

SpaceX is building an expansive satellite internet network in space called Starlink

The aerospace company launched its first batch of Starlink satellites into orbit in May 2019. Now, it has over 1,000 working satellites prepped for the service. The goal is to have up to 42,000 satellites in orbit by mid-2027.

The satellites are strapped onto the top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and blasted into orbit, usually releasing 60 satellites per launch.

The goal is to create a high-speed broadband system generated by satellites which envelope Earth and provide internet to people especially in rural areas without connection.

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Spectators watch from Canaveral National Seashore as a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 60 Starlink satellites launches.

Starlink isn’t cheap

A subscription to the beta is currently $99 a month. It costs a further $499 for the Starlink kit, which includes a mounting tripod, a WiFi router, and a terminal to connect to the satellites.

On Monday, the company began offering preorders of Starlink to other countries so users can now put down a $100 deposit to get their hands on the service once it becomes available. The deposit will be applied to the amount due on the Starlink kit.

Overall users will be paying $600 upfront for Starlink.

Users the UK are paying £439 for the kit and £89 for the subscription fee. Compared to other internet providers that charge £79 per month for speeds of up to 516 Mbps, this isn’t cheap.

On the SpaceX side, the company in December won $885 million in federal subsidies to expand Starlink, but small internet service providers say this shouldn’t be allowed because Musk’s firm is using “unproven” technology.

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A photo of SpaceX’s Starlink user terminal, or satellite dish, installed on a roof. Company founder Elon Musk has called such devices “UFOs on a stick,” and they’re designed to connect to the internet via a fleet of orbiting spacecraft.

The fastest speed recorded so far is 215 Mbps

SpaceX said in an email to Starlink beta test subscribers in October that they should expect speeds between 50 and 150 Mbps, with intermittent outages. But some users are hitting much higher speeds.

A list compiled by Reddit’s Starlink community shows the fastest download speed so far was 209.17 Mbps, recorded in New York. One person in Utah recorded in December their speed test showing 215 Mbps.

Starlink has even reached speeds of 175 Mbps in freezing temperatures, high winds and snow. Users have been impressed with the terminal heating up enough to melt any snow or frost on top of it.

Snow is melting on the Starlink user terminal
Snow melting on Starlink terminal.

It’s available to preorder in six countries

Starlink was initially operating in parts of the northern USsouthern Canada, and, most recently, in the UK.

On Monday, Starlink began opening up preorders to other parts of the world. 

People in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and parts of the US and Canada – where Starlink is not yet up and running – confirmed on Twitter and Reddit they were able to put down a deposit to get the internet service in mid to late 2021.

Read more: Here’s how many millions of users Starlink may need to break even if it loses $2,000 for every satellite dish it sells, according to experts

More countries could green-light Starlink this year, including Spain, Italy, India, Japan and the Caribbean, according to a report from Teslarati

Insider explained Tuesday how to sign up for the service which works on “first-come, first-served basis.”

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A photo illustration of a satellite-tracking app showing one of SpaceX’s Starlink internet-beaming spacecraft on a map of Earth.

Starlink has helped rural communities get online

SpaceX agreed in October to provide internet to a rural school district in Texas next year via Starlink. A total of 45 families will get internet access in the area, followed by an additional 90 families later on.

Scott Muri, the district’s superintendent, told Insider he agreed to the deal because so many students’ families have “zero internet” and no conventional way to get it.

Then in December, SpaceX connected up Pikangikum First Nation, a remote 3,000-person indigenous community in north-western Ontario, to Starlink. Before the internet service, Pikangikum couldn’t offer higher education or healthcare, and struggled with high suicide rates. Now, they’re able to access everything.

Dave Brown, CEO of FSET, the company that linked up SpaceX and Pikangikum, said in an interview with Insider: “We took a community that was one of the most technologically disadvantaged anywhere in the world. They’ve now become one of the most technologically advanced, yet are still remote, living where they are and not having to move.”

Have you setup Starlink recently? How are you finding it? Get in touch with this reporter via email: kduffy@insider.com.

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SpaceX is about to reattempt a high-altitude flight of its Starship rocket. The last 2 prototypes blew up.

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SpaceX’s Starship SN9 prototype failed to ignite one of its engines upon landing, so it slammed into the ground and exploded on February 2, 2021.

SpaceX is preparing to rocket its latest Starship prototype tens of thousands of feet into the air as early as this week.

The challenge is landing it back on the ground – that maneuver has ended in explosion both times the company previously attempted it. This time around, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that the prototype has a 60% chance of a successful landing.

The prototype represents the upper stage of a two-part system: Eventually, a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit. Musk’s long-term vision is for the system to one day fly astronauts to the moon and power hypersonic travel on Earth. He has said he plans to build 1,000 Starships in order to carry people and cargo to Mars.

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The SN10 prototype at SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas.

But first, SpaceX has to figure out how to land the rocket, since that is critical to making the system reusable. Full reusability could help Starship slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold.

The newest prototype is called Starship serial No. 10, or SN10. It’s not yet clear precisely when SpaceX plans to attempt its test flight, but Musk said on Sunday that there’s a “good chance” of launch this week.

When that happens, SN10 will roar tens of thousands of feet above SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. One by one, it should shut off its engines as it nears the peak of its flight, then flip sideways and plummet back to Earth in a controlled belly flop. As it nears the ground, the rocket should fire its engines once again to flip itself upright in time to slow its descent and touch down gently on the landing pad.

The last two times SpaceX conducted such a flight, the prototypes slammed into their landing pads and exploded.

SPadre.com captured the second incident from a camera on top of a building about 6 miles away:

Before this upcoming launch, SpaceX needs to conduct a static fire to test the rocket’s engines, but the company appears to have all the government clearance it needs for launch. That includes a launch-license approval, local road closures, and airspace closures.

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued airspace-closure notices for the area from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. CT on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Cameron County, Texas, has also issued a Boca Chica road-closure notice from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT for Thursday. However, road and airspace closures can be canceled and rescheduled over and over until SpaceX is actually ready to launch.

We will update this post once SpaceX confirms the timing of its launch attempt.

SpaceX faces regulatory hurdles to get Starship to orbit

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The nosecone of the Starship prototype SN8 after it exploded during a test flight, December 10, 2020.

SpaceX’s two previous test flights – those of prototypes SN8 and SN9 – were considered successes despite their explosive endings. That’s because they demonstrated that Starship is capable of rocketing to suborbital heights and then controlling its fall.

However, those flights both resulted in FAA investigations, since the agency wanted to determine the cause of the explosions. It turned out that SN8 had fallen victim to low pressure in a propellant tank, which caused the spaceship to fall too fast and slam into its landing pad. An additional issue with that attempt was that SpaceX hadn’t gotten the proper FAA approval, violating its launch license.

This triggered its own investigation, which then held up the SN9 flight. Once that prototype did fly, one of its three Raptor engines failed to relight as the rocket neared the ground.

All those investigations have been closed, an FAA spokesperson told CNN reporter Jackie Wattles. And the launch-license updates for the SN10 flight are approved, according to Washington Post reporter Christian Davenport.

Eventually, SpaceX will want to rocket a Starship into orbit to test its ability to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. That will require a different type of FAA license, but obtaining it means clearing many regulatory hurdles, including a thorough environmental assessment. (The environmental impact statement SpaceX previously completed for Boca Chica launches focused on the company’s smaller rockets, rather than its much larger Starship-Super Heavy system.)

The company is now waiting to start that environmental assessment, but depending on the findings, it’s possible SpaceX may need to conduct a new impact statement, which could take up to three years. Complicating matters is a leaked FAA draft document, obtained by Insider, which revealed that SpaceX plans to dig natural gas wells in Boca Chica to fuel Starships and power plants. Such plans could also affect SpaceX’s environmental review process.

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Elon Musk appeared to make another dig at rival Jeff Bezos over a report that Musk’s attention is drifting away from Tesla

Jeff Bezos Elon Musk
Jeff Bezos, left, and Elon Musk.

  • Elon Musk appeared to make another jab at one of his main rivals, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
  • “Give my regards to your puppet master,” Musk told The Washington Post.
  • The remark seemed to be in reference to Bezos’ ownership of The Post, which Trump also criticized. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

It appears that the Elon Musk-Jeff Bezos feud it still raging on. 

The two tech moguls have been flip-flopping for title of the richest person in the world over the past several weeks, but they also have a yearslong feud that began over their competing outer space ambitions. It seems Musk hasn’t forgotten, as evidenced by a recent dig at Bezos. 

The Washington Post’s Faiz Siddiqui published a report on Tuesday about how the demands on Musk’s time – including his travel schedule, personal life, and focus on SpaceX, the rocket company he also runs – are beginning to impact Tesla, leading to what some critics view as missteps in his management of the business. 

While reporting the story, which The Post said features interviews with a dozen current and former Tesla employees, investors, and analysts, the publication reached out to Musk by email and received a brief response in return. 

“Give my regards to your puppet master,” Musk said in response to The Post’s request for comment. 

The comment appears to be in reference to Bezos’ ownership of The Post – he bought the paper in 2013 for $250 million in cash. Both Bezos and The Post have said repeatedly that the Amazon CEO has no influence on The Post’s editorial decisions.

But that hasn’t stopped critics from conflating the billionaire tech founder and the nearly 150-year-old publication, most vocal among them former President Donald Trump. Trump made Bezos and The Post a frequent target during his administration, tweeting that the paper spread “fake news” and served as Amazon’s “chief lobbyist.”

With this latest barb, Musk is adding fuel to a rivalry with Bezos that dates back to at least 2004. Over the last 15 years, Musk has leveled a string of criticisms at Bezos and his rocket company, Blue Origin, including calling Bezos a copycat over some of his business ventures, describing Amazon as a monopoly, and appearing to make some digs about Bezos’ age.

For his part, Bezos has repeatedly critiqued SpaceX and Musk’s main goal, which is to send humans to Mars – Bezos has described the idea as “un-motivating.”

“Go live on the top of Mount Everest for a year first and see if you like it, because it’s a garden paradise compared to Mars,” Bezos said in 2019.

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A 29-year-old woman who survived cancer as a child was just selected to fly to space aboard SpaceX’s rocket

SpaceX NASA
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39-A at Kennedy Space Center. Joe Burbank/Orlando

  • 29-year-old childhood cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux is set to board a SpaceX flight later this year.
  • Arceneaux will be joined by three others as part of the first-ever all-civilian crew to enter space.
  • Billionaire Jared Isaacman is chartering the flight and will select two more to join. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

29-year-old Hayley Arceneaux, who survived cancer as a child, is the newest member of an all-civilian crew headed to space aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. 

Arceneaux had bone cancer as a child, but she had a list of life goals: beat cancer, learn Spanish, travel the globe, help other children with cancer, and someday, go to space, the Today Show reported. Arceneaux, now a physician assistant at St. Jude Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, has checked off almost every goal. Now she’s set to achieve the last one after billionaire Jared Isaacman selected her to take one of four seats on a SpaceX flight he chartered for later this year. 

Isaacman founded payments company Shift4Payments. When he chartered the flight, he planned to fill the seats with himself, a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital worker, and a Shift4Payments customer. The fourth seat is being raffled off to benefit childhood cancer research at St. Jude’s, for which Isaacman hopes to raise $200 million and donate $100 million out of his own pocket. The mission, called Inspiration4, will be the first to take off with an all-civilian crew and no professional astronauts. 

On Facebook, Arceneaux said, “I am so grateful for this incredible, once in a lifetime opportunity and honor, and I cannot WAIT to show the world what cancer survivors can do.”

SpaceX did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

As a child, Arceneaux was treated for bone cancer at St. Jude’s, where she had metal rods replace parts of the bones in her left legs, The New York Times reported. That will make her the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space, as well as the youngest American, the Times said. 

In a news release, Richard C. Shadyac Jr., head of the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude, said Arceneaux “will be an incredible ambassador through this mission and inspiration to children fighting cancer and survivors worldwide.” Others who will join Arceneaux and Isaacman will be announced in the coming weeks. 

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Elon Musk set up a COVID-19 antibody study at SpaceX and got 4,300 employees to take part, according to reports

elon musk space x SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk speaks in front of Crew Dragon cleanroom at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California on October 10, 2019. (Photo by Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

  • Elon Musk’s company SpaceX has been regularly testing a group of employees for COVID-19 antibodies.
  • 4,300 employees signed up for a study looking at possible links between antibodies and immunity.
  • “People can have antibodies, but it doesn’t mean they are going to be immune,” said one of the study’s authors.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Elon Musk’s space exploration company SpaceX has been using its employees to run a COVID-19 antibody study, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

The results of the study were made public in a peer-reviewed paper published in Nature Communications, which lists Elon Musk as a co-author.

According to the study, SpaceX sent an email round to staff asking for volunteers to participate in a regular antibody study to study COVID-19. After that email was sent, 4,300 SpaceX employees signed up to give monthly blood samples so they could be tested for antibodies.

According to the Journal, Musk and SpaceX’s top medical executive Anil Menon worked to bring on various doctors and academics to design the study.

The published study includes data spanning from April – when the testing  started – and June, although regular testing is still ongoing according to the Journal.

The study provides more information in the ongoing efforts to understand how COVID-19 works, and whether a certain number of antibodies could provide a level of immunity.

The study’s findings suggest that people who had only mild COVID-19 symptoms developed fewer antibodies, which might mean they are less likely to have long-term immunity and could therefore get reinfected.

Researchers still working on the study told the Journal they have already observed some instances of reinfection in workers who previously were found to have low numbers of antibodies.

“People can have antibodies, but it doesn’t mean they are going to be immune,” Dr. Galit Alter, one of the study’s co-authors and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told the Journal. “The good news is most of the vaccines induce [antibody] levels way higher than these levels,” Dr. Alter added.

Scientists are still researching whether catching COVID-19 provides any form of lasting immunity.

Dr. Alter also told the Journal Elon Musk took a personal interest in the research and had the study’s authors brief himself and SpaceX executives on how vaccines and antibodies work.

SpaceX was able to repurpose medical facilities it had already set up before the pandemic, and recruited interns from nearby hospitals to help draw the volunteers’ blood. Out of 4,300 volunteers 120 who tested positive for COVID-19 had their blood carefully examined to see how many antibodies they’d produced. Out of this 120, 61% reported no symptoms.

Out of that 120-strong sample 92% were male and the median age was 31. The larger sample was 84.3% male with a median age of 32 – although the age range spanned from 18 to 71.

Elon Musk himself said he’d tested positive for coronavirus in November last year, and in the early months of the pandemic the billionaire repeatedly vented his frustration at lockdown measures calling them “fascist.” At one point he defied a shelter-in-place order to open his Tesla factory in Alameda County, California, – after which several employees tested positive for coronavirus.

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From the Mars Rover landing to SpaceX satellite launches, these are some of 2021’s biggest space stories so far

perseverance rover mars landing first images nasa
The first (left) and second (right) images that the Perseverance rover took seconds after landing on Mars, February 18, 2021.

  • Nasa’s Mars Rover’s daring landing on Mars is among the key space stories of 2021.
  • The red planet is also an important destination for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the UAE, and China.
  • Blue Origin and Zero 2 Infinity are among other space companies commanding attention. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The year has already got off to a winning start, with many key developments in the new space race.

The most notable is the impressive – and terrifying – landing of NASA’s Perseverance Rover on Mars. It successfully touched down on the red planet on Thursday afternoon (EST) in a deep crater called Jezero.

The result was deeply satisfying for those who have been tracking the progress of the rover, which had been travelling to its destination for nearly seven months.

In other recent developments, the UAE space agency released the first photo of Mars taken by its Hope Probe, while China’s Tianwen-1 mission successfully manoeuvred into orbit around Mars earlier this month. 

Meanwhile, Spanish startup Zero 2 Infinity has big plans to send humans into space in giant helium balloons for a cost of $132,000.

The comparatively cheaper price may lure some prospective travellers away from SpaceX’s Mars mission, which aims to send humans to the planet by 2026. Some experts have called into question whether this will really happen, however. 

SpaceX has also been busy launching many more satellites. It recently sent 60 into orbit but the Falcon 9 rocket’s booster did not successfully complete its landing on February 16. 

Finally, space fans can expect Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin to start commanding more attention. When the Amazon CEO announced he was stepping down from the role later this year, he said he planned to dedicate more time to the company.

Blue Origin’s website states: “We’re committed to building a road to space so our children can build the future.” 

 

The Mars Rover’s first color photo

perseverance mars rover color image
Perseverance has been capturing stunning images like this since it touched down on Mars

The UAE Space Agency is also making Mars a priority

Mars from UAE Hope Probe.JPG
The UAE’s first photo of Mars taken by its Hope Probe.

Zero 2 Infinity …and beyond

Zero 2 Infinity
The company wants to eventually offer hours of flight time for space tourists who travel in the giant helium balloons

SpaceX’s Starlink launches

elon musk spacex starship sn8 serial number 8 steel rocket ship prototype boca chica south texas sunset sunrise getty 4x3
Elon Musk’s company successfully launched 60 satellites just before 11pm (EST) on Monday, February 16. A rocket booster was lost in the process, however.

Blue Origin’s bold vision

Jeff Bezos Blue Origin
Jeff Bezos announced plans to devote more time to his Blue Origin rocket company after he steps down as Amazon CEO.

China’s Tianwen-1 mission

china mars global remote sensing and small rover tianwen hx 1 martian mission spacecraft illustration rendering cas xinhua
China’s Tianwen-1 mission maneuvered into orbit around Mars earlier this month. This illustration shows it departing Earth. It’s the first mission that has ever tried to deliver an orbiter, lander, and rover all at the same time.

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A Spanish startup is offering trips to space in helium balloons as a cheaper alternative to SpaceX

Zero 2 Infinity
Setting off from Andalucia in the south of the country, the space trip will take six hours.

  • Spanish startup Zero 2 Infinity will soon be launching operational helium balloon space flights.
  • Tourists will be taken 40 kilometers above Earth, allowing them to enjoy the “overview effect.”
  • As well as being lower cost, it’s a lower risk operation than more ambitious missions like SpaceX.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Founded in 2009 by Jose Mariano Lopez-Urdiales, Spanish startup Zero 2 Infinity wants to launch passengers 40 kilometers into space using helium balloons.

Setting off from Andalucia in the south of Spain, the trip will take six hours.

The ascent will take three hours, while two hours will be spent floating in space, and a further hour will be spent on the descent.

Lopez-Urdiales was first struck by the idea while helping his astrophysicist father to float helium balloons to the threshold of space, he told Sifted.

The aim of the 40km flight is to allow passengers to experience the “overview effect,” allowing them to experience the blackness of space, the roundness of the earth, and its blue color – all without actually entering space itself, which is at around double the distance from Earth at 80 kilometers.

For the landing, the capsule containing the passengers detaches from the helium balloon and lands with a very large parachute, Lopez-Urdiales told El Economista.

He also highlighted that the space flight didn’t produce any noise or CO2 emissions, nor did it bring with it any risk of explosion.

The company previously carried out a test in 2012 sending a humanoid robot up to an altitude of 32 kilometers.

At the time they said they wanted to eventually offer hours of flight time so people could experience longer periods in space.

They conducted a further test in 2017 launching a prototype consisting of a balloon and a rocket to a height of 40 kilometers, Phys.Org reported.

SpaceX NASA
Through SpaceX, Elon Musk wants to get humans to Mars by 2026.

Zero 2 Infinity the only Spanish startup in the space tourism market. EOS-X Space, founded by Kemel Kharbachi, is exploring a very similar concept and plans to launch its first commercial flight in 2023.

Lopez-Urdiales accused Kharbachi of copying the company’s concept after he worked with them on a funding deal that fell through. However, Kharbachi has denied the accusations.

Other space tourism concepts entail entering space itself at a high altitude. One landmark moment was when Space Adventures launched businessman Dennis Tito up to the International Space Station for eight days.

The Richard Branson-headed Virgin Galactic also aims to launch flights into space. In 2019, it became the first space tourism company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX wants to go even further, getting humans to Mars by 2026 and eventually building colonies on the red planet.

Zero 2 Infinity’s concept comes at a much lower price than the other options, at just over $130,000. However, Lopez-Urdiales says the transport still has to be tested out by professionals, who are scheduled to do so later this year.

The company also still needs to secure another $2.4 million in funding, despite having already raised around $7.2 million.

“We already have the capsules, the permits, the insurance, and the flight center,” Lopez-Urdiales said. “It’s now just a question of securing the remaining funding.”

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SpaceX says its Starlink satellite internet, still in beta, now has more than 10,000 users worldwide

Elon Musk
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

  • SpaceX said in a public filing Thursday that Starlink has more than 10,000 users in the US and abroad.
  • Elon Musk’s aerospace company launched the Starlink public beta in October.
  • In the filing, SpaceX requested that it be made eligible for federal cash to expand Starlink.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service has amassed more than 10,000 users across the world, just four months after entering beta, Elon Musk’s aerospace company said in a filing Thursday.

SpaceX said in a petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that “over 10,000 users in the United States and abroad are using the service today.”

In the petition, SpaceX asked the FCC to be designated an “Eligible Telecommunications Carrier” (ETC), making it eligible for federal cash, including the money from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF) that it won in December. 

The RDOF is a $20.4 billion effort to spread high-speed internet across America, particularly to rural regions.

Read more: SpaceX is finalizing a massive new funding round. Here’s why investors are clamoring for one of the world’s most valuable startups.

The FCC in December awarded SpaceX nearly $900 million to expand Starlink in the US as part of the first phase of the RDOF.

But SpaceX didn’t immediately get the money. It must clear more hurdles and provide more detail on its plans – the ETC is part of this.

SpaceX said the ETC would help it quickly expand its service to new areas, specifically Alabama, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

The petition noted that the space firm won access to those areas under the RDOF.

SpaceX’s award under the RDOF has annoyed small internet service providers, who said on Thursday that the company, as well as other large firms, used “unproven” technology and called on the FCC to “aggressively” vet winning applications.

The Starlink public beta test, called “Better Than Nothing Beta,” now operates in the northern US, Canada, and parts of Europe. UK regulators approved Starlink in January and Insider spoke to one of the first British users to receive the Starlink kit.

Speeds vary from 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps, SpaceX said in an email to subscribers when the beta launched. Access costs $99 a month, plus $499 upfront for a kit with a tripod, a WiFi router, and a terminal to connect to the satellites.

So far, the company has launched more than 1,000 working satellites into orbit via its reusable Falcon 9 rocket. The most recent launch was on Thursday, when the Falcon 9 delivered 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. 

The goal is to build a high-speed internet service which stretches across the world. SpaceX wants to launch up to 42,000 satellites by mid-2027.

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