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SpaceX and OneWeb face off in quest for internet domination


>>Sreenivasan: FROM SATELLITE LAUNCHES TO NEW SPACE EXPLORATION, IT’S BEEN A BUSY YEAR IN SPACE SO FAR. LOREN GRUSH IS SENIOR SCIENCE REPORTER AT “THE VERGE” AND IS HERE WITH ME NOW TO DISCUSS IT ALL. SO, MOST OF US WERE PAYING ATTENTION TO IOWA POLITICS, BUT YOU WERE PAYING ATTENTION TO A VERY BUSY WEEK IN ALL SPACE-RELATED NEWS.>>RIGHT.>>Sreenivasan: IT STARTED OUT WITH CHRISTINA KOCH, ASTRONAUT, COMING BACK. SHE’S GOT A COUPLE OF RECORDS. BUT WHAT SHE’S DONE IN SPACE IN ALL THAT TIME THAT SHE SPENT IS PRETTY IMPRESSIVE.>>RIGHT. SHE SPENT A TOTAL OF 328 DAYS– SO, NEARLY A YEAR– UP IN SPACE. AND WHILE SHE WAS THERE, SHE MADE HISTORY WITH HER BEST FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE, JESSICA MUIR. THE TWO OF THEM ARE CREDITED WITH DOING THE FIRST ALL-FEMALE SPACEWALK IN HISTORY, IN SPACEFLIGHT HISTORY. I MEAN, THAT’S PRETTY INCREDIBLE.ANDTHEY DID THREE TIMES. SO, I THINK SHE’S DEFINITELY HAS QUITE A LOT OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS UNDER HER BELT WHEN SHE COMES HOME.>>Sreenivasan: AND NOW, I MEAN, YOU SEE THESE IMAGES OF HER RETURNING TO EARTH AND KIND OF ACCLIMATING, AND SHE WAS PSYCHED. I MEAN, SHE TOOK THE HELMET OFF, SHE’S LIKE, “ARRRGH!”>>I ACTUALLY SAID TO MY FRIEND, I THINK I KIND OF WANT TO GO TO SPACE JUST SO THAT I CAN HAVE THAT FEELING OF COMING BACK TO EARTH BECAUSE IT’S GOT TO BE EXHILARATING.>>Sreenivasan: YEAH. SO, LATER IN THE WEEK, WE ALSO HAD KIND OF AN UPDATE TO SOME OF THE THINGS THAT PEOPLE WERE FIGURING OUT ABOUT THE STARLINER PROJECT. WHAT WAS HAPPENING?>>RIGHT. SO, RIGHT NOW, THERE ARE TWO COMPANIES THAT ARE CREATING THESE NEW VEHICLES TO TAKE ASTRONAUTS TO AND FROM THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION, AND THEY’RE GETTING REALLY CLOSE TO ACTUALLY PUTTING PEOPLE ON THOSE VEHICLES. BUT BEFORE THEY DO THAT, THEY HAVE TO DO THESE UNCREWED FLIGHT TESTS. AND BOEING DID ITS UNCREWED FLIGHT TEST IN DECEMBER, AND IT DIDN’T REALLY GO ACCORDING TO PLAN AT THE TIME. A SOFTWARE GLITCH PREVENTED THE CAPSULE FROM GETTING INTO THE RIGHT ORBIT. SO, IT DIDN’T ACTUALLY GO TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION LIKE IT’S SUPPOSED TO. BUT NOW, WE’RE LEARNING THAT THERE WAS ACTUALLY A SECOND SOFTWARE GLITCH THAT WAS CORRECTED AT THE TIME. BUT IF IT HADN’T BEEN CORRECTED, IT COULD HAVE BEEN A CATASTROPHIC FAILURE FOR THE SPACECRAFT, AND IT COULD HAVE MAYBE BEEN DESTROYED WHEN IT RE-ENTERED EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE. WE DON’T KNOW BECAUSE, FORTUNATELY, THEY FIXED IT. BUT IT IS KIND OF HIGHLIGHTING THAT BOEING IS HAVING THESE– THESE CODING PROBLEMS, AND NASA IS REALLY DOING A DEEP INVESTIGATION INTO THAT.>>Sreenivasan: AS THE STARLINER PROJECT IS HAPPENING, YOU ALSO HAVE THE SPACE-X PROJECT THAT’S KIND OF WORKING IN PARALLEL, AND THAT IS PLANNING ON PUTTING PEOPLE INTO ORBIT.>>RIGHT. SO, INITIALLY, WHEN THEY CHOSE THESE TWO PROVIDERS, IT WAS SUPPOSED TO SPARK COMPETITION. AND, MAN, SINCE THEN, THAT COMPETITION HAS REALLY HEATED UP. THEY DEFINITELY ARE CONSTANTLY GOING BACK AND FORTH WITH ONE ANOTHER AND TRYING TO PROVE AND BEAT OUT THE OTHER– THE PROVIDER. SO FAR, I MEAN, SPACE-X HAS HAD ITS OWN PROBLEMS. LAST YEAR, ONE OF ITS “CREW DRAGON” CAPSULES EXPLODED DURING A TEST ON THE GROUND. BUT SINCE THEN, THEY’VE KIND OF OVERCOME THAT FAILURE. THEY DID A REALLY CRUCIAL TEST THIS JANUARY WHERE THEY TESTED OUT THE EMERGENCY ABORT SYSTEM ON THE “CREW DRAGON,” WHICH IS A REALLY CRUCIAL PIECE OF HARDWARE THAT’S NEEDED TO SAVE THE LIVES OF ASTRONAUTS IN CASE THERE’S AN EMERGENCY DURING THE LAUNCH. AND THEY WERE ABLE TO PROVE THAT SYSTEM SUPERBLY. IT WENT, YOU KNOW, EXACTLY AS PLANNED. SO, NOW, WE’RE KIND OF IN THIS WAITING PERIOD OF, OKAY, WHEN WILL ASTRONAUTS BOARD THE “CREW DRAGON”? AND THAT COULD COME IN THE SECOND QUARTER OF THIS YEAR. THAT’S WHAT SPACE-X C.E.O.’S ELON MUSK HAS SAID.>>Sreenivasan: ALL RIGHT. TWO OTHER THINGS– IF THAT WASN’T ENOUGH THIS WEEK, TWO OTHER THINGS THAT WERE HAPPENING. ONE COMPANY HAD PUT UP, WHAT, ANOTHER 30 MORE SATELLITES?>>34 SATELLITES.>>Sreenivasan: 34 MORE SATELLITES.>>RIGHT.>>Sreenivasan: IN ONE LAUNCH, AND THEY’RE PLANNING TO PUT OUT MORE AND MORE SATELLITES EVERY COUPLE OF MONTHS TO DO WHAT?>>SO, THIS IS THE YEAR OF LAUNCHING LOTS AND LOTS OF SATELLITES TO CREATE INTERNET FROM SPACE. SO, THE COMPANY IS ONEWEB, AND THEY HAVE THIS VISION OF LAUNCHING OVER 600 SATELLITES TO CREATE THIS KIND OF GLOBAL CONSTELLATION TO BEAM INTERNET COVERAGE DOWN TO THE EARTH BELOW. AND THEY NEED THAT MANY SATELLITES BECAUSE THEY’RE PUTTING THEM INTO, LIKE, A LOW- TO MID-EARTH ORBIT SO THAT THEY CAN– THE LATENCY BETWEEN THE SIGNALS IS VERY LOW, BUT YOU’LL NEED A LOT OF SATELLITES SO THAT THEY CAN COVER THE ENTIRE GLOBE.>>Sreenivasan: AND FINALLY, WHAT COULD BE THE MOST INTERESTING THING– AND WE WILL HAVE TO WAIT YEARS TO SEE IF THIS PLAYS OUT– BUT IS A LAUNCH THAT’S HAPPENING TOMORROW, A SOLAR ORBITER. WE’RE SENDING A SATELLITE. NOW, WE HAVE HAD– SENT SATELLITES BEFORE TO KIND OF LOOK AT THE SUN. WHAT’S THIS SATELLITE THAT WE’RE SENDING TOMORROW GOING TO DO THAT’S DIFFERENT?>>SO, THIS SATELLITE IS GOING TO GO TO A PLACE AND SEE A VANTAGE OF THE SUN THAT WE JUST REALLY HAVEN’T SEEN BEFORE. IT’S THE SUN’S POLAR REGIONS. SO, JUST LIKE ON EARTH, THE SUN HAS POLES, TOO. BUT, NORMALLY, WHEN WE SEND SPACECRAFT TO GO STUDY THE SUN, THEY ORBIT IN LINE WITH THE PLANETS. SO, THE PLANETS ALL ORBIT IN THE SAME PLANE, LIKE A FLAT DISK. BUT GETTING TO THE POLES IS REALLY HARD BECAUSE THEY’RE, YOU KNOW, AT AN ANGLE. SO, THIS– THIS PARTICULAR SPACECRAFT IS GOING TO GET IN THE– IN THAT ANGULAR ORBIT AND REALLY GET THE FIRST UPCLOSE LOOK OF THE POLES THAT WE’VE EVER SEEN ON THE SUN.>>Sreenivasan: LOREN GRUSH FROM “THE VERGE,” THANKS SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.>>THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

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