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SpaceX faces NASA hurdle for Starship backup launch pad

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© Reuters. Starship prototypes are pictured at the SpaceX South Texas launch site in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., May 22, 2022. Picture taken May 22, 2022. REUTERS/Veronica G. Cardenas

By Joey Roulette

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – NASA wants Elon Musk’s SpaceX to ensure its plan to launch its next-generation Starship rocket from Florida would not put at risk nearby launch infrastructure critical to the International Space Station, a senior space agency official told Reuters.

The new hurdle further complicates and could potentially delay the launch plan for the rocket, which faces an already protracted regulatory review of its primary launch site in Texas. Musk wants to show customers that Starship, which he sees as humanity’s path to Mars, can successfully reach orbit, a long-delayed pivotal milestone in the rocket’s development.

SpaceX’s proposals to address NASA’s concerns, which include a plan to be able to launch U.S. astronauts from a different launchpad in Florida, could take months to get agency approval.

SpaceX last year accelerated construction of an orbital Starship launchpad at its facilities in Cape Canaveral, Florida, as an alternative to the rocket’s primary test launch and development site in Boca Chica, Texas, which has been subject to a lengthy regulatory review set to conclude next week.

But one of SpaceX’s existing Florida facilities, called Launch Complex 39A, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the coast of Cape Canaveral, is the only pad approved to launch the company’s Crew Dragon capsule. NASA depends on that spacecraft to ferry its astronauts to the International Space Station.

NASA officials in recent months have told SpaceX that a Starship explosion at Launch Complex 39A could effectively cut off the space agency’s sole means of launching U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station.

“We all recognize that if you had an early failure like we did on one of the early SpaceX flights, it would be pretty devastating to 39A,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s space operations chief, said in an interview of the agency’s discussions with SpaceX.

SpaceX did not return a request for comment.

SpaceX has already invested heavily in building a Starship pad some hundreds of feet from pad 39A’s launch tower. It has responded by pitching NASA on a plan to outfit its other Florida pad – Launch Complex 40, five miles away on Space Force property – with the means to launch U.S. astronauts, according to a person familiar with the plans.

The company is also studying ways to “harden” 39A, or make the launchpad more resilient to both an explosive Starship accident and the immense forces emitted from a successful Starship liftoff, Lueders said.

Hardening the 39A pad and launching humans from pad 40 would both require agency approval.

“SpaceX is working with us on those things,” said Lueders. “Because it’s also in their best interest to not have what is a pretty steady source of income for them become interrupted.”

Part of SpaceX’s challenge is to show that 39A will not be damaged by Starship’s novel liquid oxygen and methane fuel – a combination of propellants that NASA and U.S. regulators are not familiar with.

“The problem is the explosive potential for that combination is not well known,” said Randy Repcheck, a deputy manager in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which oversees launchpad safety.

Starship is a two-stage reusable rocket system designed to launch commercial satellites to Earth orbit and humans to the moon and Mars. NASA last year picked SpaceX to use Starship for the agency’s first launch of U.S. astronauts to the lunar surface since the days of the Apollo program.

The rocket’s next big test, a complex task of launching to orbit for the first time, has been delayed in part by the regulatory review of the Texas compound’s environmental impact, which has precluded the FAA from granting SpaceX its orbital launch license.

Set to conclude Monday, the review is expected to place conditions on SpaceX that could add delays to its Starship program. That prospect led Musk to double down last year on construction of Starship’s launchpad at 39A in Florida at Cape Canaveral.

“We do have the alternative of the Cape, and we actually applied for environmental approval for launch from the Cape a few years ago and received it,” Musk said at a “Starship Update” event in February, estimating it would take “six to eight months to build up the Cape launch tower and launch from there.”

Economy

Large US companies by market cap begin to think more about cutting investments and staff – survey

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biggest us companies by market cap

The chief executive officers (CEOs) of the largest US companies by market cap are revising downward their plans for hiring and investment amid a worsening outlook for the US economy, a quarterly Business Roundtable (BRT) survey showed.

That’s because of high inflation and rising costs, said the association, which includes dozens of major U.S. corporations. The S&P 500 and U.S. 100 indices are also declining amid the developments.

The index, which gauges the economic outlook, fell 11 points this quarter, to 73 points. The indicator is still above the 50-point mark, indicating that the economy is growing. However, it fell below the long-term average of 84 points for the first time since the third quarter of 2020.

The index of planned investments fell 7 points to 68 points and expected sales fell 8 points to 91 points, according to the BRT report.

What will the biggest U.S. companies do by market cap?

About 39% of CEOs plan to increase the number of employees at their companies in the next six months, while 28% of respondents intend to downsize. Last quarter, those numbers were 47% and 19%, respectively.

Nearly half (49%) said that labor costs are a major expense at their company. Twenty-one percent of CEOs plan to reduce capex in the next six months and 40% plan to increase it. In the third quarter these proportions were 18% and 43%, respectively.

U.S. CEOs on average forecast that U.S. GDP will increase by 1.2% in 2023. 142 CEOs participated in the BRT survey, which ran from October 31 to November 28.

Earlier, we reported that Saxo Bank presented “shocking predictions” for the next year.

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Saxo Bank predictions 2023: Saxo Bank presents “shocking predictions” for the next year

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Analysis Saxo Bank

Saxo Bank predictions 2023: The Danish Bank has published ten “shocking predictions” for 2023. They concern a series of unlikely and underestimated events because of which, however, “the world markets can be covered with a powerful shock wave”..

Saxo Bank analysis – what’s going to happen next year?

Against the backdrop of rising energy prices, leading U.S. technology companies and “billionaire technophiles” will create a multi-billion dollar project aimed at exploring new opportunities in the energy sector, the bank predicts. According to the bank, this project will be comparable to the “Manhattan Project” to study atomic energy and the creation of the nuclear bomb, and investments in the new project will be about $1 trillion.

Inflationary pressures and geopolitical instability will continue to affect not only the global economy but also the financial markets, says the Danish bank. Against this background, states will take a more conservative policy, reducing investments in more complex financial instruments, and investing in traditional assets such as gold. And traders at the same time are considering Gold Futures.

Increased demand for gold in 2023 will, according to Saxo Bank, cause its price to rise from the current $1,800 to $3,000 per ounce.

Earlier, we reported that Apple has postponed the release date of an unmanned electric car for a year.

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Apple postponed the release date of Apple’s electric car by a year

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Apple's electric car

U.S. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has pushed back the release date of Apple’s unmanned electric car by a year to 2026 and somewhat tempered its ambitions about the extent of its self-driving capability, Bloomberg reported, citing sources.

Earlier, Apple announced electric cars. According to the sources, the Titan project has been in limbo for the past few months because top executives at Apple have concluded that their vision of a fully self-driving car with no steering wheel and no pedals can’t be realized with existing technology. The APPLE Price Chart showed a slight decline amid this news. 

In this regard, the company has decided to adjust the project and now plans to create a less autonomous car, with a steering wheel and pedals, with the possibility of fully unmanned driving on highways, sources said.

The driver of the car is expected to be able to do his or her own thing while driving on the highway, such as watching a movie or playing a game, and will receive advance notifications to switch to manual control when approaching city streets or deteriorating weather conditions.

Apple shares fell 2.5 percent in trading Tuesday. Since the beginning of this year, their value has fallen by 19.5%.

We previously reported on World Economic News now through the morning of Dec. 6.

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