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SpaceX’s spacefaring Tesla Roadster has made a full trip around the Sun

SpaceX’s spacefaring Tesla Roadster has made a full trip around the Sun

August 20, 2019


Somewhere in space, a mannequin wearing a SpaceX spacesuit and driving a cherry red original Tesla Roadster that once belonged to Elon Musk is celebrating its first trip around the Sun. The absurd “Starman” and Roadster combo was launched last year aboard the first Falcon Heavy test flight from Kennedy Space Center, and has now completed a full orbit of the Sun, based on tracking info monitored by the site whereisroadster.com (via Space.com).

The Roadster and its fake driver were selected by SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk as the payload for the Falcon Heavy’s first flight in part because there was more than a decent chance that whatever was sent up on that first trip was going to end up little more than ash or fiery debris, but the launch actually went very smoothly — despite warnings to the contrary by Musk himself.

When it left Earth’s orbit, the Roadster’s radio was playing David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” set on repeat, and on-boards cameras were broadcasting via internal power (you can check out the recorded version of the live stream below to see how that went).

In case you were wondering about the Roadster’s maintenance information, it’s now out of warranty more than 21,000 times over based on miles traveled, and it’s gone far enough to have traveled the entire world 33.9 times. Take that, range anxiety.

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Tesla pitches a solar rental program to boost its renewable energy business

Tesla pitches a solar rental program to boost its renewable energy business

August 18, 2019

Tesla is pitching customers on a new rental offering for solar power as a way to revive the flagging fortunes of its renewable energy business.

Once among the largest installers of renewables in the country through SolarCity, Tesla has seen its share of the market decline significantly since its acquisition of SolarCity three years ago. In the second quarter Tesla deployed only 29 megawatts of new solar installations, while the number one and two providers of consumer solar, SunRun and Vivint Solar installed 103 megawatts and 56 megawatts respectively.

That’s likely one reason why Elon Musk took to Twitter early Sunday morning to pitch the new solar rental program.

According to Musk, the new program is “like having a money printer on your roof” for potential customers who live in states with high energy costs. “Still better to buy,” Musk exhorted, “but the rental option makes the economics obvious.”

Unlike SunRun and Vivint, which both used partnerships with homebuilders and retailers like Home Depot, BJ’s Wholesale, Costco and Sam’s Club to acquire customers, Tesla slashed ended door-to-door marketing and abandoned its partnership with Home Depot. The company began relying almost entirely on direct sales to power its solar business and eschewed the no-money-down lease model, which SolarCity had used so effectively.

Under the new system, Telsa is offering customers the option to rent solar systems for anywhere from $65 for a small installation to $195 for its largest installation. Customers only need to pay a fully refundable $100 charge.

Tesla said the contract can be canceled any time, but it would charge users $1,500 to remove the system once it has been installed.

Tesla did not …

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Elon Musk: Spotify is ‘coming’ to Tesla vehicles in North America

Elon Musk: Spotify is ‘coming’ to Tesla vehicles in North America

August 15, 2019

Tesla owners in the U.S. and Canada may finally get that free Spotify Premium integration they’ve been requesting.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted late Wednesday night that Spotify premium integration is “coming.” Musk, who has talked about bringing Spotify to owners in North America before, did not provide a timeline. In other words, the music streaming service could be integrated next week or six months from now.

But still, it’s a moment of celebration for many Tesla owners who have complained about Slacker Radio, the streaming music service integrated into all vehicles in the U.S. and Canada. Owners in Europe, Australia and Hong Kong have had Spotify Premium in their vehicles since late 2015.

Slacker Radio, which launched in 2007, has customizable radio stations based on the listener’s personal music tastes. The free and subscription-based service also tried to differentiate itself from the likes of Spotify and Pandora by using DJs to curate programs and, at one time, even sold a portable music player. Despite its efforts, Slacker has been overshadowed by Spotify, which had 232 million monthly active users and 108 million paying subscribers at the end of June 2019.

Slacker was acquired in 2017 for $50 million in cash and stock by LiveXLive, an entertainment and streaming service that focused on live music performances.

Last year, LiveXLive announced a partnership with Dash Radio, a digital radio broadcasting platform with more than 80 original live stations. Under the deal, Dash channels will be available across Slacker Radio, a move meant to bring more live radio to the streaming service.

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SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA and Northrop Grumman bid for US national security launch contract

SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA and Northrop Grumman bid for US national security launch contract

August 12, 2019

The U.S. Air Force is looking to lock in its launch providers for national security satellite missions to take place between 2022 and 2026, and the bids for this so-called “Phase 2” procurement contract are now in. The field of competitors looking to become one of the two companies chosen is a who’s who of U.S. commercial launch providers at the moment, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA and Northrop Grumman.

Both Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin are new entrants in this particular launch contracting area, while SpaceX and ULA are existing providers that handle U.S. national security missions. SpaceX additionally has a bit of a head start, since its Falcon rockets are the only proven, certified launch vehicles included in the bids submitted, while ULA has offered up its new Vulcan Centaur, which is tailor-made for the job but not yet certified and flight-proven; the others are still seeking certification.

“SpaceX means to serve as the Air Force’s long-term provider for space launch, offering existing, certified and proven launch systems capable of carrying out the full spectrum of national security space launch missions and requirements,” said SpaceX COO and president Gwynne Shotwell in an emailed statement, regarding this new bid.

SpaceX clearly sees its Falcon launch system as a key competitive advantage, as it’s flying currently for USAF and national security missions — the company says that this represents the lowest risk for the government overall in terms of providers for this mission, and with known costs, as well.

The Air Force will make its final selection about the two winning providers in 2020.

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SpaceX will now offer dedicated ‘rideshare’ launches for small satellites

SpaceX will now offer dedicated ‘rideshare’ launches for small satellites 2.6 (7)

August 5, 2019

SpaceX is expanding its launch offerings with a new, more affordable and consistent option for small satellite operators looking to put lighter payloads into orbit. The new service offering is designed to work for customers who can take advantage of a “rideshare” launch, sharing space on a Falcon 9 with other small satellites being sent up.

The rideshare option will be offered on a regular, defined schedule, and SpaceX says that it’s designed for flexibility, offering customers the ability to pre-book a spot, and ensuring that if they’re ready to launch when their rideshare comes up, the rocket will indeed go up — with or without other payloads also booked that may not be ready in time.

One of the biggest issues with rideshare missions today is being reliant on the timing and readiness of the main payload customer. Typically, one or two big-ticket payloads cover most of the bill for the launch, even if there are smaller satellites also going up on the same ride. The issue is that if that large customer has to delay for any reason, the smallsat ridealongs are basically at their whims.

SpaceX’s new service is designed somewhat like rideshare programs here on Earth: Passengers who are ready get to ride, and the company looks to fill seats by offering bookings both in advance (12 or more months out) and much closer to launch time (between 12 and 6 months out) with a possibility of even tighter turnaround, though SpaceX hasn’t publicly posted pricing for that option, which means it’ll probably be costly.

As for those with plenty of notice, they get …

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Tesla brings back free unlimited supercharging for the Model S and X

Tesla brings back free unlimited supercharging for the Model S and X

August 3, 2019

Tesla is resurrecting a popular benefit that CEO Elon Musk once called “unsustainable” as it attempts to boost sales of its more expensive electric vehicles.

Tesla announced Saturday that all new Model S sedans and Model X SUVs will come with free unlimited access to its network of electric vehicle chargers known as superchargers.

The move comes on the heels of a second quarter of wider-than-expected losses of $408 million despite record deliveries of its electric vehicles.

The automaker reported in July it delivered a record 95,200 of its electric vehicles in the second quarter, a dramatic reversal from a disappointing first period. The company generated $6.3 billion in revenue in the second quarter from those sales, the bulk of which came from its lower margin and less expensive Model 3 vehicles.

Meanwhile, sales of the Model S and Model X have slowed. Of its 95,200 deliveries, just 17,650 were Model S and X vehicles. Tesla doesn’t separate delivery or production figures for the S and X.

In its early days, free unlimited supercharging was part of the package of buying a Tesla vehicle.

Tesla began phasing out free unlimited access to its supercharger network when it announced that customers who buy cars after January 1, 2017 will have 400 kilowatt-hours, or about 1,000 miles, of free charging every year. Once owners surpassed that amount, they would be charged a small fee.

Tesla then narrowed the free unlimited access to superchargers through a referral program and only to …

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Elon Musk says The Boring Company will launch in China this month

Elon Musk says The Boring Company will launch in China this month

August 3, 2019

Elon Musk wants to drill holes in China. The Tesla founder has tweeted to reveal that his tunnelling and transportation startup, The Boring Company, will be launch in China later this month.

Musk is due to speak at an AI conference, called the World Artificial Intelligence Conference, taking place in Shanghai on August 29-31. Replying to a tweet about the event he announced: “Will also be launching The Boring Company China on this trip.”

Another Twitter user chipped into the conversation to ask whether the company would also do underwater tunnels — to which Musk replied simply “yes“.

A securities filing last month revealed that the The Boring Company had raised its first outside investment via the sale of $120M in stock. So the company has some extra cash sloshing around to plough into new ventures.

It also recently landed its first commercial contract: $48.7M to build and operate an underground “people mover” in Las Vegas, focused on the Las Vegas Convention Center.

This underground ‘people mover’ is not, as you might imagine, a tried and tested metro train system. The plan apparently involves building two tunnels: One for vehicles (Musk does also sell electrics cars) and a second tunnel for pedestrians who will be carried in (modified) Tesla cars. The latter fully autonomous, under the plan.

Current generation Teslas are not capable of driving themselves, merely offering driving assistance features to humans. But autonomous driving inside a tunnel is about as much of a controlled environment you could hope for — without, y’know, sticking cars together on rails and making a driverless train (like the one that’s been serving London’s Docklands area since 1987).

The Las Vegas contract specifies …

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SpaceX details launch and landing plans for Starship and Super Heavy in new document

SpaceX details launch and landing plans for Starship and Super Heavy in new document

August 2, 2019

SpaceX has prepared a draft environmental assessment around its plans for the new Starship and Super Heavy spacecraft launches it intends to begin, in a test capacity, very soon. Preparing and finalizing this environmental assessment is a key ingredient in actually launching both Super Heavy, the first stage for SpaceX’s forthcoming fully reusable, high-capacity launch system, and Starship, the second-stage spacecraft component of said system.

Already, SpaceX is working toward getting a prototype of Starship in the air, with planned launches coming in just “2 to 3 months,” if SpaceX CEO Elon Musk manages to meet his optimistic timeline. It recently completed an untethered “hop” low-altitude test flight of StarHopper, a sub-scale demonstration version of the Starship design meant to help it test that craft’s Raptor engine. But SpaceX must also show that it has fully considered the potential consequences that its planned launch operations will have on the surrounding environment.

Starship and Super Heavy will launch from Florida, with the current plan to build a second launch mount at its current LC-39A launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, which it leases from NASA and currently uses for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. After launching from LC-39A, the current plan is to have Starship return to Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1), which is SpaceX’s current landing area for Falcon first-stage boosters at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Super Heavy would land downrange, aboard a drone barge ship, like the twin “Of Course I Still Love You” and “Just Read The Instructions” ships that SpaceX uses now, depending on mission conditions on both its East and West coast launches.

Eventually, SpaceX hopes to also be able to build a landing zone within the existing confines of its LC-39A launch pad area, with the intent of landing Starship back …

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It’s fight night in Las Vegas: Elon Musk’s Loop vs the Monorail

It’s fight night in Las Vegas: Elon Musk’s Loop vs the Monorail

August 1, 2019

The latest bout in Las Vegas is not taking place in a raucous casino boxing ring, but in the hushed rooms of planning committees. The reigning champion, the Las Vegas Monorail, is facing upstart challenger The Boring Company, in a fight to decide the future of Sin City’s urban transportation.

In May, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority approved a $48.7 million contract for The Boring Company (TBC) to design and build a short underground transit system at the city’s Convention Center, using Tesla electric vehicles running through narrow tunnels. 

The ambitious contract calls for the system, called the LVCC Loop, to be up and running in time for the city’s biggest trade show, CES, in January 2021. Over the next 18 months, TBC has to construct one pedestrian tunnel, two 0.8-mile vehicle tunnels and three underground stations, as well as modify and test seven-seater Tesla cars to carry up to 16 people. 

TBC has already submitted detailed construction plans to the city for review, which TechCrunch has obtained, and recently raised $120 million in funding. The company hopes to start construction later this summer. 

But TBC’s tight deadlines — and the payments it receives by meeting them — could be jeopardized by the Monorail’s concerns that the new tunnels could undermine its own system. To connect two parts of the Convention Center, the Loop will have to burrow directly beneath the Monorail’s elevated tracks.

Fear of Monorail damage

“The proposed underground people mover system intersects our existing system route, and it appears the presented tunnel alignment interferes with our existing columns for the Las Vegas Monorail system and creates significant concern regarding both vertical and lateral loads,” Monorail CEO Curtis Myles wrote in a letter to Clark County planning officials in June.

Chris Kaempfer, a lawyer representing …

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Tesla will deliver in-car YouTube and Netflix video streaming ‘soon’

Tesla will deliver in-car YouTube and Netflix video streaming ‘soon’

July 29, 2019

Tesla is getting ready to “soon” deliver the in-car video streaming services that CEO Elon Musk suggested would eventually come to the automaker’s cars. Musk shared this (somewhat vague) updated timeline on Twitter over the weekend, after noting earlier in June at E3 that Tesla’s infotainment displays would eventually be getting YouTube and streaming video support.

This is also the first time Musk has specifically said that both YouTube and Netflix would be coming, after previously noting that version 10 of the in-car software would support video streaming generally in reply to a question from a fan on Twitter. Musk added that these would be available to stream video only while the vehicle is stopped — but the plan is to change that once full self-driving becomes a reality.

Once full autonomous driving capabilities are “approved by regulators,” Musk said, the plan is to turn on the ability to stream video in the vehicle while it’s in motion. This plan likely extends to Tesla’s in-car gaming features, too — though that’s a separate level of distraction as you’re actually interacting with what’s happening on the screen, which may not be the best idea for initial roll-out of autonomous features where a driver might be required to take over manual control in case of any incidents.

The Tesla CEO said the experience of watching video on Netflix and YouTube in a Tesla vehicle is akin to “an old-school drive-in movie experience, but with much better sound” and that it has an “immersive, cinematic feel” thanks to the surround audio available via the Tesla’s audio system and its “comfy seats.”

It may seem like a weird software update priority for a car, but it’s entirely possible Tesla owners spent so much on their vehicles that they don’t have spare cash for …

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