This week SpaceX posted two new jobs for “offshore operations engineers” in Brownsville, Texas.
- Elon Musk, who founded the aerospace company in 2002, all but confirmed in a tweet on Tuesday that the jobs are to help build “floating, superheavy-class spaceports” for its next-generation Starship vehicle.
- Ocean-platform launches as a concept is not new, as Musk first detailed SpaceX’s in October 2017. A company called Sea Launch also demonstrated the idea in March 1999 with an orbital rocket launch.
- Safety is likely driving the work, since SpaceX’s new launch system may carry about 9 million pounds of liquid fuel and would create sonic booms when its Super Heavy boosters or Starship spaceships land.
It’s no secret that SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, wants to launch and land its next-generation Starship rocket system over water.
One of the first detailed mentions of the plan emerged during an October 2017 talk Musk gave , in which he updated the world on SpaceX’s plans to build cities on Mars and populate them with a million people or more.
During the presentation, Musk shared a video of Starship (then called the Big F—ing Rocket) rocketing passengers from an ocean platform near New York City, then landing them 39 minutes later on a similar floating spaceport near Shanghai. Musk called the high-speed transportation concept ” Earth to Earth .”
However, plans to actually build ocean launch platforms seemingly lacked teeth for years. That is, until this week: when the aerospace company posted two jobs for engineers who will help “design and build an operational offshore rocket launch facility.”
Neither posting mentions “Starship,” but both are located in Brownsville, Texas. The city sits about 30 minutes west of the state’s southeastern tip, which is where SpaceX is building and testing Starship rocket prototypes (sometimes to explosive effect ) amid a community of retiree-age homeowners called Boca Chica Village .
Business Insider first saw the job listings in a tweet by user “Cowboy” Dan Paasch, who lives in Forth Worth and follows SpaceX’s activities. Musk later quoted a tweet by another user about the job postings.
“SpaceX is building floating, superheavy-class spaceports for Mars, moon & hypersonic travel around Earth,” Musk tweeted on Tuesday.
Musk: Starship ‘not subtle’ when it launches or lands, necessitating a floating spaceport
spacex starhopper starship nasa saturn v apollo mk1 height comparison graphic illustration chartSamantha Lee/Business Insider
The concept of ocean-platform launches is not new. A company called Sea Launch, for example, first launched an orbital-class Zenit rocket from a platform in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in March 1999 . (The company used to be managed by Boeing but is now owned by a Russian airline .)
Though SpaceX lacks operational experience launching rockets from ocean platforms, it has landed more than four dozen first-stage rocket boosters the most expensive part of a launch system, given the numerous complex engines attached to their base and landing them on drone ships. The boosters are then refurbished and reused, saving SpaceX millions of dollars per use and allowing the company to be price-competitive.
When a Twitter user brought up Sea Launch and its Zenit rocket, Musk responded : “Zenit is an order of magnitude smaller than Starship system & doesn’t come back & land.”
Now it seems SpaceX is ready to make the leap, with safety as a driving factor.
Homeowners who attended a private meeting with Musk in September 2019 told Business Insider that the entrepreneur described long-term plans to move away from land-based launchpads and instead use offshore platforms near Boca Chica Beach to fly Starship with less risk to the ground.
Starship is divided into two sections: the first-stage Super Heavy booster, which may stand about 22 stories tall, and the upper-stage rocket ship called Starship, which Musk said could ferry up to 100 people to Mars at a time (though presumably more in an Earth transportation design).
spacex starship mars rocket rendering illustration launch flying earth orbit boca chica texas youtube september 2019 00003SpaceX/YouTube
A fully stacked Starship-Super Heavy vehicle could weigh more than 9 million pounds, mostly in fuel, and each section returning to Earth would create deafening sonic booms, perhaps three times per day per rocket, or 1,000 launches per year .
“We need to be far enough away so as not to bother heavily populated areas. The launch & landing are not subtle. But you could get within a few miles of the spaceport in a boat,” Musk tweeted on Tuesday, adding that a jet-powered Incat ship may be suitable for land-to-platform transportation.
A crash program to develop Starship in South Texas
spacex illustration starship spaceship moon lunar surface landing artemis program nasaSpaceX
SpaceX is currently in the midst of a crash program to develop Starship into a safe and fully reusable launch system.
If it works as Musk envisions, the system could launch several times a day unheard of in this history of spaceflight and reduce the cost-per-pound to launch something to space by 1,000-fold or more.
To that end, Musk has told his staff to make Starship ” the top SpaceX priority ” and has enlisted about 1,000 staff to work on a production facility for the vehicle in Boca Chica what the CEO sees as the key to making a viable, low-cost system. The company expects the vehicles to fail during tests at its private spaceport, and they often do, but Musk thinks SpaceX may be ready to fly to orbit by the 20th version or so .
SpaceX also recently won a NASA contract to develop Starship into a lunar-landing vehicle. The company also aims to fly Japanese fashion billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon in 2023 , then fly the first people to Mars in 2024, Musk reconfirmed in a June 4 tweet .
Amid that work, SpaceX is hoping to get its high-speed Earth transportation system up and running. The ultimate goal with the scheme may be to replace grueling long-haul airplane flights perhaps to the tune of 1 million to 15 million per day Caryn Schenewerk, the senior legal counsel for SpaceX, said in January at the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) 23rd annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference .
“There will be many test flights before commercial passengers are carried,” Musk tweeted on Tuesday. “First Earth to Earth test flights might be in 2 or 3 years.”
The first HarmonyOS-powered phone from Huawei to arrive in 2021
Huawei’s HarmonyOS was unveiled last year during the Huawei Developer Conference and there’s a report claiming that this year’s conference on September 10 will bring the HarmonyOS 2.0. Interestingly, the rumor cites Richard Yu himself, the company’s CEO. And the first phone with the in-house operating system will launch as early as next year.
A smartphone running the said OS already exists and will likely hit the market next year along with a number of new devices including PCs, tablets, smart wearables and other IoT products. In fact, the first smartwatch running HarmonyOS is expected to make a debut until the end of this year.
iPhone XR will reportedly be replaced by iPhone 12s in Q2 2021
Previously, conflicting information had emerged about iPhone XR’s future. We now seemingly know when it will be discontinued and which phone will replace it.
The iPhone 12s will supposedly be LTE-only
Samsung, LG experiment with virtual demo rooms of the future amid IFA conference
Tech events so far this year have made something clear — it’s not tough for giants like Apple and Samsung to go all-virtual with their launches. But one aspect of a typical tech event doesn’t translate to a computer or phones screen: the demo room. Samsung thinks it’s found a possible solution.
The company on Wednesday hosted a virtual Life Unstoppable event that coincided with the IFA electronics show in Berlin. It wasn’t a typical press conference like the company’s two Unpacked events held over the past month. Instead, Samsung used Epic’s Unreal Engine for games to build a virtual, 3D tour experience — a sort of choose-your-own adventure digital demo — for the media and its partners.
“Would we have done it if COVID wasn’t around? I’m not sure,” Benjamin Braun, Samsung’s head of marketing for Europe, said in an interview. “That is a different way of presenting new products that no one’s done before.”
The novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 25 million people around the globe, has caused companies to rethink their product launches. GSMA canceled Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest mobile show, a week before journalists arrived in Barcelona in late February. Instead of phone launches over the past several months, Apple, Samsung, Huawei and OnePlus all held digital events or introduced devices via press release.
IFA, taking place in Berlin from Sept. 3 to 5, is the only big tech conference with an in-person component this year. But only 5,000 people can attend, far below last year’s level of 200,000. While Samsung isn’t attending IFA, it’s still hosting events, like Life Unstoppable, that coincide with the shortened convention.
Samsung’s virtual house
Participants of Life Unstoppable will navigate around a digital house that contains about two dozen different Samsung devices, ranging from its $3,500 waterproof, outdoor Terrace TV to its updated Galaxy Z Fold 2 foldable phone. The visit revolves around a 45-minute guided tour, but participants are able to branch off on their own to look at the back ports of a TV or circle back to the kitchen to check out the appliances.
Samsung noted that “every detail,” from the home’s artwork to the furniture’s fabric, “was carefully selected following meticulous research into the type of guests that would be visiting Samsung House, resulting in a truly immersive home environment.”
There’s also an augmented reality component that lets people see what the new products, like TVs, will look like in their own homes. And Samsung noted that immersive 8D audio makes visitors feel like they’re really in the home
During Life Unstoppable, Samsung unveiled a host of new products, ranging from a smart video projector called The Premiere to its Wireless Charging Trio pad that can charge a phone, watch and earbuds at the same time. Samsung also introduced a new fitness band, the Galaxy Fit 2; a low-priced 5G smartphone, the Galaxy A42 5G; and the budget Galaxy Tab A7 tablet.
While Samsung determined Life Unstoppable was the best format for IFA, Braun said, it may go a different route with CES and other trade shows.
“We constantly need to force evolution, force innovation, not only in our products but also in the way we present ourselves,” Braun said. “At some point, once COVID is under control and we’re back to potentially physical [events], then we need to rethink them as well. How do we merge the two?”
LG’s ‘virtual exhibition’ and IFA’s ‘Xtended Space’
Samsung isn’t the only company trying to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation by creating a virtual experience for regular show attendees to enjoy in lieu of IFA this year.
On Tuesday, LG launched its IFA “virtual exhibition,” demonstrating its latest product lineups within a realistic rendering of its usual IFA home — the Berlin Messe’s Hall 18.
First impressions show this to be an improvement to the usual in-person experience. No longer must you spend upwards of 30 minutes attempting to navigate the labyrinthine convention center with its many entrances and exits to reach the LG booth, and gone are the hordes of people that usually delay your journey even further.
But as you click through the virtual exhibition, you start to remember why attending these shows in person was important in the first place.
The cinema screening room in which you are supposed to be able to enjoy the deep blacks of LG’s latest screen technology doesn’t have quite the same impact when you’re viewing it through your own laptop or phone screen. The same is true when testing the sound quality of LG’s speakers and headphones in its virtual audio booth.
It’s hard to say how cool and effective LG’s rollable TV is without being able to examine it from all angles. Maybe it would help if you could navigate the exhibition in VR, which would allow for a more immersive, less static experience. Samsung said its Life Unstoppable home could be viewed in VR, but it was mostly designed for PCs, phones or tablets.
While LG and Samsung are offering their own takes on the virtual trade show, the wider event is also going online this year via a digital platform it’s calling IFA Xtended Space.
All the new phones, laptops, smart home gadgets and more from IFA 2019
Through an online hub, virtual attendees will be able to join live streams of keynotes, press conferences, panel sessions, presentations and virtual exhibitor presentations and match-making opportunities that will allow them to establish new business contacts. New products will even be presented in 3D, although it remains to be seen how easy it is to form a proper first impression of new tech without being able to touch it or hold it in your hands.
IFA’s organizers acknowledge that this year’s show won’t replicate the experience most regular attendees are accustomed to, but they believe its digital platform will offer something novel to people — whether they’re using it to supplement their in-person visit to the show, or to attend remotely.
“A digital platform can hardly compensate for a true on-site experience,” IFA Executive Director Jens Heithecker said Tuesday in a press release. “However, the IFA Xtended Space enables all those who are interested to know even more and those who cannot join the IFA 2020 Special Edition physically in Berlin to have a truly unique virtual experience.”
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