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The race between SpaceX and NASA to get their monster rockets into space tipped in the government's favor this week, with the Space Launch System (SLS) finally thundering off the launch pad – putting more pressure on Elon Musk's company to get Starship off the ground.
Hours before SLS took off, NASA announced an additional Starship award under the lunar Artemis program. SpaceX is now on tap for about $4 billion worth of Starship flights for NASA – an uncrewed demonstration mission and the two crewed landings during Artemis 3 and 4 – and it's clearly crunch time for the company.
It's been more than two years since Musk declared Starship the company's top priority, and he's repeatedly set ambitious goals for the rocket's development. But a recent shake up in Starbase leadership gives away that the rocket's development is so far neither fast nor good enough for Musk.
Two of the most influential executives at the company – COO Gwynne Shotwell and VP Mark Juncosa – are now on the scene, and SpaceX is offering a menu of financial incentives to build out its south Texas workforce.
SpaceX has more than just technical work remaining too: A Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson told CNBC this week that the company still owes the agency information on the environmental mitigations that the regulator outlined in June.
The FAA further said that not all of the 75-plus mitigation steps that SpaceX needs to complete around a potential launch of its towering rocket have been checked off, noting that "some measures must be completed prior to launch while others are designed to occur during post-launch activities or following a mishap event."
"The FAA will make a license determination only after SpaceX provides all outstanding information and the agency can fully analyze it," the spokesperson said.
For now, we can revel in NASA's Orion capsule zipping its way to the moon. While the aerospace contractors behind SLS breathe a sigh of relief, the Artemis 1 mission sends a clear message to the most influential company in the space industry: It's go time.
- NASA's Artemis 1 mission on its way to the moon: After months of delays, the agency's SLS rocket is officially the most powerful in operation, after successfully launching the Orion capsule on the uncrewed demonstration flight that will pass near the lunar body. – CNBC
- Former SpaceX employees file federal complaint against the company, citing retaliation. Charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of eight workers allege that SpaceX illegally fired them for being critical of Musk and the company's response to sexual harassment allegations against the CEO. – The New York Times
- AST SpaceMobile deploys the wide antenna of its BlueWalker 3 test satellite. The satellite-to-smartphone venture passed a key milestone in deploying the antenna array, as AST works to build a global network to provide 5G broadband service from space. – CNBC
- NASA's CAPSTONE mission arrives in lunar orbit. The low-cost spacecraft entered into the planned "Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit" (NRHO), making it the first cube satellite to fly to and operate around the moon. The experimental mission aims to demonstrate the NRHO is suitable for NASA's planned Gateway space station. – Advanced Space
- Classified reusable spaceplane returns after 908 days in orbit: The Space Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle completed its sixth mission to date, landing on the runway of NASA's Kennedy Space Center, after setting a new record for amount of time in space. – SpaceNews
- SpaceX deploys Intelsat pair with a Falcon 9 rocket booster that made its final launch. Due to the requirements of the Intelsat mission, the company did not land the reusable booster after launching it for the 14th time. – SpaceX
- Jeff Bezos' partner Lauren Sanchez hopes to fly on Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket in 2023: While she said Bezos, who flew on the company's first crewed launch, will not be joining her, she expects to fly with "a great group of females." – CNN
- Japanese lunar lander company ispace plans first mission launch for no earlier than Nov. 28, with the M1 flight launching on SpaceX's Falcon 9.– ispace
- Pennsylvania lunar lander company Astrobotic ships its Peregrine spacecraft for final acceptance testing, ahead of the planned launch on ULA's Vulcan rocket in the first quarter. – Astrobotic
- Apple rolls out iPhone emergency satellite feature in the U.S. and Canada, with plans to expand the service to France, Germany, the U.K., and Ireland in December. – The Wall Street Journal
- Terran Orbital CTO and VP leave company after management disagreements: The company confirmed that Chief Technology Officer Austin Williams, Vice President of Engineering Adam Thurn and senior technology fellow John Abel resigned after Terran decided to focus on military satellites. – SpaceNews
- The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency doubles value of previously awarded BlackSky contract, to $60 million from $30 million. – BlackSky
- Space Force orders second weather satellite from Ball Aerospace. The military branch exercised an option to add a second environmental satellite from the company, with each satellite estimated to cost $511 million. – SpaceNews
- Nov. 17 – ABL attempting first RS1 rocket launch from Alaska.
- Nov. 21 – SpaceX launching the CRS-26 cargo mission for NASA.
- Nov. 21 – Artemis 1's Orion makes closest approach to the moon.
- Announced this week: Morgan Stanley hosting fifth annual "Space Summit" in NYC on Dec. 6, with participating companies including Blue Origin, AST SpaceMobile, Iridium, Maxar, OneWeb, Planet, Spire Global and more.