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Max Q: SpaceX and Boeing gear up for commercial crew mission tests

Welcome back to Max Q, our weekly look at what’s happening in space and room startup news. This week was a bit more quiet than usual coming off of the amazingly over-packed International Astronautical Congress, but there were still some big-hearted moves that promise a lot more action to come before they year’s over- particularly in the race to fly American astronauts to space on a rocket launched from American soil once again.

There’s also startup news, including how an entirely different kind of race- one to shape stuff in space- could be a foundational minute that opens up entirely new areas of opportunity for entrepreneurs big and small.

1. SpaceX’s crucial parachute experiments are going well

SpaceX needs to nail one key ingredient before its Crew Dragon missions can continue apace with people on board. Actually, it has to nail quite a few, but parachutes are a crucial one, and it has been developing the parachutes that will help Crew Dragon float back safely to Earth for years not.

The third iteration is looking like the one that will be used for the firstly Crew Dragon missions with cosmonauts, and luckily, that version three structure has already been completed 13 successful tests in a row. That’s approaching the kind of reliability it needs to show to be used for the real thing, so this is good news for the current goal of putting cosmonauts on board early next year.

2. SpaceX and Boeing ready key milestone tests

SpaceX has another key test for Crew Dragon coming up as early as this week- a static fire of its capsule abort engines. This is a key test because the last one didn’t travel so well. Likewise, Boeing will be doing their pad abort experiment as early as this week as well, which gives things up nicely for a busy time next year in crewed spaceflight.

3. How in-space manufacturing could stimulate a space business boom

Launching stuff to space is expensive and really limits what you can do in terms of designing spacecraft and constituents. There’s been tries made to reduce the costs, including SpaceX and Blue Origin pursuing reusable rocketry, but just constructing stuff up there instead of launching it could unlock much deeper cost savings- and brand-new technological possibles.( ExtraCrunch subscription expected)

4. Changing the economics of satellite propulsion

Satellite propulsion has, until very recently, been almost entirely a bespoke affair, which is in accordance with expensive and generally not accessible to startup corporations who actually have to worry about stuff like scorch rates. But Morpheus Space has a new “Lego-like” system for offering affordable, compact and scalable propulsion that can serve pretty much any spacecraft needs.

5. Dev kits for small-minded spacecrafts

Small satellite business is booming, and Kepler wants to make sure that developers are able to figure out what they can do with smallsats, so it’s offering a developer kit for its toaster-sized IoT communications satellites. Cooler than the Apple TV dev boxes that were on offer once upon a time.

6. Northrop Grumman launches ISS resupply mission

The ISS is getting a shipment of renders and scientific substance courtesy of a resupply shipment capsule launched by Northrop Grumman on Saturday. One thing on board is twelve receptacles of read wine-colored, courtesy of startup Space Cargo Unlimited. I’ll have more info about that on Monday, so stay tuned.

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