Category Archives: Rockets

Space transport roundup – Jan.17.2020

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):

[ Update  3:35 pm:  Here is a video of the pre-test briefing at Kennedy held this afternoon at KSC:

  • Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program
  • Benji Reed, director, Crew Mission Management, SpaceX
  • Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer 45th Weather Squadron

More resources:

Update 10:50 am: The SpaceX webcast  page is now configured for tomorrow’s schedule in-flight abort test and it offers the SpaceX IFA press kit (pdf). The webcast will go live about 20 minutes before lift off.

Other resources:


** SpaceX aims for two Falcon 9 launches in next three days starting with the in-flight abort (IFA) test on Saturday morning. On Monday there will be another batch of 60 Starlink satellites sent into low earth orbit.

The IFA window opens at 8:00 am EST:

The Starlink 3 launch is set for 12:20 pm EST (1720 GMT) on Monday. See also

More SpaceX items below.

** An Ariane 5 rocket sent two satellites to GEO transfer orbits on Thursday. The spacecraft were the EUTELSAT KONNECT for the telecom operator Eutelsat and GSAT-30 for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

** Construction of Blue Origin facilities at Cape Canaveral making rapid progress according to Florida Today space reporter Emre Kelly:

An image of the New Glenn launch pad construction:

** Boeing Starliner returns in good shape to KSC after orbital test mission:  Boeing expects ‘minimal refurbishment’ on reusable Starliner crew capsule – Spaceflight Now

** Boeing releases a video taken inside Starliner during the test flight: Boeing releases in-cabin video from Starliner’s orbital test flight – Spaceflight Now

Boeing caption:

Take a look inside the #Starliner on its Orbital Flight Test. Four interior cameras captured the mission, and this video covers nearly every dynamic event during the flight, including launch, separation events, on-orbit maneuvering, re-entry and landing. This is just a preview of what’s to come from the Dec. 20-22 flight as we prepare to release all our onboard mission footage.

** China successfully launched remote sensing satellite Jilin-1  on a Long March-2D rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the northern province of Shanxi on January 15.

** New funding moves SpinLaunch closer to first test of catapult launch system:

The responsive launch system utilizes a large mass accelerator to provide on demand launches of small satellites in virtually any weather at an order of magnitude lower cost and higher frequency than any existing or proposed launch system.

Investors include Airbus Ventures, GV, KPCB, Catapult Ventures, Lauder Partners, John Doerr and Byers Family. The funds from this investment will be used to scale the SpinLaunch team and technology and continue to build out SpinLaunch’s new corporate headquarters in Long Beach, California, and complete the flight test facility at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

“Our team at SpinLaunch greatly appreciates the continued support of this formidable syndicate of investors, who share our vision of enabling low-cost and frequent launch of imaging and communications constellations that will protect our planet and humanity.” said CEO Yaney. “Later this year, we aim to change the history of space launch with the completion of our first flight test mass accelerator at Spaceport America.”

In January 2019, SpinLaunch relocated to a new 140,000 square foot facility in Long Beach, California, and funds will be used for the buildout of this corporate headquarters and investing in equipment and machinery to be a world-class R&D manufacturing facility. In addition, the company is hiring additional talent for both its Long Beach headquarters and Spaceport test facility. First flight test is expected later this year.

Prototype SpinLaunch module. Credit: New Mexico Economic Development Department

** Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship to stay longer in orbit after departing from the ISS: NASA, FCC approve Cygnus NG-12 post-Station mission extension –

Coming two weeks before the NG-12 Cygnus is scheduled to depart the International Space Station on 31 January 2020, NASA’s Johnson Space Center officially requested, and the Federal Communications Commission approved, a post-Station mission extension for the craft. 

For this mission, Cygnus had a pre-flight approval to perform two weeks of solo flight operations after leaving the Station before destructively re-entering.  That solo flight operation has now been extended to 31 days in large part due to the planned 9 February launch of the NG-13 Cygnus from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia.

** Generation Orbit tests Ursa Major Technologies propulsion system for X-60A hypersonic project: X-60A program conducts integrated vehicle propulsion system verification test – Wright-Patterson AFB

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s X-60A program recently achieved a key developmental milestone with the completion of integrated vehicle propulsion system verification ground testing.

The X-60A is an air-launched rocket designed for hypersonic flight research. It is being developed by Generation Orbit Launch Services under an AFRL Small Business Innovation Research contract. The goal of the X-60A program is to provide affordable and routine access to relevant hypersonic flight conditions for technology maturation. This test included both cold flow and hot fire testing with the Hadley liquid rocket engine developed by Ursa Major Technologies. Flight-like hardware was tested using flight-like operational procedures. The test runs covered full duration burns, engine gimbaling for thrust vector control, and system throttling.

“This test series was a critical step in reducing risk and gathering necessary system integration data in preparation for our upcoming flight tests,” said Barry Hellman, AFRL X-60A program manager. “When we go to flight later this year, we hope to demonstrate the capability of the X-60A to provide affordable access to hypersonic flight conditions, which will position AFRL to deliver an innovative test capability for the Air Force and other DoD organizations.”           

X-60A is a single-stage liquid rocket primarily designed for hypersonic flight research and is launched from a modified business jet carrier aircraft. It is capable of testing a wide range of hypersonic technologies including airbreathing propulsion, advanced materials, and hypersonic vehicle subsystems. The vehicle propulsion system utilizes liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions above Mach 5.

During the upcoming flight tests based out of Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, FL, the X-60A will fly at relevant conditions necessary for technology maturation. Data will be collected to validate the overall vehicle design functionality as well as performance predictions.

“A recent X-60A hot fire test, conducted at Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida. The X-60A, developed through an Air Force Research Laboratory Small Business Innovation Research contract, is an air-launched rocket designed for hypersonic flight research. (U.S. Air Force photo)”

** Lots of private space launch activities expected in 2020: This year may finally fulfill the promise of private human spaceflight | Ars Technica

This year could see the fulfillment of a number of long-promised achievements in human spaceflight. For the first time, private companies could launch humans into orbit in 2020, and two different companies could send paying tourists on suborbital missions. The aerospace community has been watching and waiting for these milestones for years, but 2020 is probably the year for both.

We may also see a number of new rocket debuts this year, both big and small. A record number of missions—four—are also due to launch to Mars from four different space agencies. That’s just the beginning of what promises to be an exciting year; here’s a look at what we’re most eagerly anticipating in the coming 11.5 months.

** SpaceX:

**** Falcon 9 up closeSpaceX Falcon 9 rocket shown off in unprecedented detail ahead of next US Air Force launch – Telsarati

The octaweb end of the Falcon 9 first stage that will launch the Air Forces’s GPS III SV03 satellite. Credits: USAF

**** More about SpaceX’s plans to build new mobile tower at Pad 39A for vertical installation of military satellites: SpaceX’s Falcon rockets might need a giant tower on wheels for US military launches – Teslarati

SpaceX reportedly plans to build a massive mobile gantry – effectively a tower on wheels – at one of its two Florida launch pads, a bid to meet obscure military launch criteria needed to secure highly lucrative Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch contracts from the US government.

Although this is not the first time that SpaceX and vertical integration have been thrown around in the same sentence, it is the first time that the company is reportedly close to actually finalizing its plans along those lines and constructing a real solution at one or more of its three orbital-class launch pads.

**** Starship

****** Construction of Starship SN-1 ramping up. Here is a new tweet from Elon:

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Deconstruction

At SpaceX Boca Chica, engineers have begun dismantling the test tank (“Bopper”), the UFO Steel Rings and an old bulkhead, while the Starship SN1 Nosecone gained a friend in the Windbreak. Muted due to high wind noise conditions. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – More Buildings, Test Tank Dismantled, Starship

A very busy SpaceX Boca Chica video, as more buildings are constructed, steel rings are mated and Test Tank “Bopper” is literally pulled apart. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF with additional photos from NSF Member Nomadd (@@nomadd13)

****** Boca Chica operations receive deliveries from Florida facility: SpaceX Transports Starship Hardware with Addition of New Ship –

SpaceX’s GO Discovery ship has arrived in Texas to deliver more Starship hardware to Boca Chica, a facility that continues to expand. A Jobs Fair was held today, showing SpaceX’s expansion intent. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

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Frozen Orbit

Space transport roundup – Jan.13.2020

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):

** SpaceX test fired Falcon 9 on Pad 39A on Saturday in preparation for the in-flight abort (IFA) test of the Crew Dragon space. The test is currently set to lift off on January 18th at 8 am EST.

The test starts at around 24:40 into this video:

NASA previews the test: SpaceX, NASA Gear up for In-Flight Abort Demonstration | NASA

And posts this animation:

See also Elon Musk says a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is about to be “destroyed in Dragon fire” – Teslarati.

More SpaceX items below.

** Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo nears completion: Second Spaceship in Virgin Galactic’s Fleet Completes Major Build Milestone – Virgin Galactic

See latest Space Tourism Roundup for more about this and other Virgin Galactic news.

** Arianespace heads for a busy year in 2020 with multiple types of rockets lifting off from Kourou, Kazakhstan, and Russia: Arianespace could launch record 22 missions in 2020 –

Half of the European launch provider’s 2020 manifest is comprised of OneWeb launches — 10 Soyuz missions and the inaugural launch of the Ariane 62 rocket. 

Arianespace also has two launches scheduled for its smallest rocket, Vega, and two for the larger next-generation Vega C, Stéphane Israël, Arianespace’s chief executive, said in a Jan. 7 interview.

Of the 22 missions, 14 are planned from Europe’s spaceport, the Guiana Space Center, on the coast of South America, Israël said. The remaining eight are Soyuz missions the company expects will be split about even between Russia’s spaceports, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East, near China, he said. 

Arianespace’s record is 12 launches in one year, set in 2015.

** Sierra Nevada gives an update on development of Dream Chaser cargo and crew variants:Dream Chaser on Track for 2021 Cargo Mission, Crew Within 5 Years –

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is on track for the first cargo flight of its Dream Chaser spacecraft next year.  Looking like a small space shuttle, Dream Chaser lost out on a contract for NASA’s commercial crew program, but was selected in the second round of commercial cargo contracts.  SNC still plans to use Dream Chaser for crewed missions for other customers and expects the first within 5 years.  SNC also is bidding on contracts for NASA’s Artemis program, including as part of a Dynetics team for the Human Landing System.

Steve Lindsey, a former NASA astronaut who is now SNC’s Senior Vice President of Strategy for Space Systems, and other SNC officials gave updates on Dream Chaser and other space activities during a media telecon today.

SNC has “never stopped working” on the crewed version of Dream Chaser, Lindsey said. While the company’s focus right now is getting the cargo version ready for its first flight on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan-Centaur rocket next year, the first crewed flight “absolutely” will take place within 5 years.

** ABL Space Systems to use Air Force facilities to test components for the RS1 launch vehicle for smallsat orbital deliveries: Small launch startup ABL Space Systems to test rocket hardware at Edwards Air Force Base –

Based in El Segundo, California, ABL was founded by former SpaceX engineers in 2017 to develop low-cost launch vehicles for the small satellite industry. The company’s RS1 vehicle was designed to lift 1,200 kilograms into low Earth orbit at a price of $12 million per launch.

ABL announced on July 22 — just days after signing the cooperative agreement with AFRL — that Lockheed Martin Ventures would become an investor in the company.

Nils Sedano, technical adviser on rocket propulsion systems at AFRL, told SpaceNews Jan. 9 that ABL has “come in and established their presence at area 1-56 of the AFRL rocket propulsion division.”

AFRL is the primary rocket propulsion scientific research and development center for the U.S. Air Force.

** China’s Galactic Energy reaches $43M in total funding for rocket development: Chinese launch firm Galactic Energy raises $21.5 million – The latest funding round

was led by Puhua Capital and Huaqiang Capital with six further investors. The funding was secured in October and announced by Galactic Energy late December (Chinese). The funds will be used for the first launch of the Ceres-1 solid rocket in the first half of 2020.

Ceres-1 will consist of three solid stages using Hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene fuel and a liquid propellant upper stage. The launcher will be capable of carrying a 350-kilogram payload to low Earth orbit. 

Galactic Energy’s investors.

The company’s full English name is Beijing Xinghe Dongli Space Technology Co. Ltd.

** An update from the Planetary Society on LightSail-2, which launched last summer on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy:

High above Earth, The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft is still sailing on sunbeams. During the 5 months since LightSail 2 deployed its solar sail on 23 July 2019, the spacecraft has continued to demonstrate the first controlled solar-sailing flight in Earth orbit. 

The LightSail 2 team is releasing a paper today that describes new results from the mission. Purdue University’s Justin Mansell is also presenting the results at the 30th Space Flight Mechanics Meeting in Orlando, Florida. The paper recaps mission events through late November, discusses the performance of the solar sail and attitude control system, and describes how the spacecraft’s orbit has changed. 

LightSail 2 flies at a higher altitude than most satellites in low-Earth orbit. While the International Space Station orbits Earth at an altitude of about 400 kilometers, LightSail 2 orbits at about 720 kilometers. Since fewer spacecraft orbit at LightSail 2’s altitude, there wasn’t enough data on Earth’s atmospheric density to reliably predict how much atmospheric drag would slow down the spacecraft. We now know for certain that the atmosphere at 720 kilometers is dense enough to overcome the thrust imparted by solar sailing.

LightSail 2 near the Middle East: LightSail 2 captured this image of the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf on 14 December 2019. The sail appears slightly curved due to the spacecraft’s 185-degree fisheye camera lens. The image has been color corrected and some of the distortion has been removed.” Credits: Planetary Society

** Rocket Lab prepares for next Electron launch:

** Secretive Astra Space aims for three launches from Alaskan spaceport this year: FCC Filing Confirms Final Contestant in DARPA’s $12 Million Satellite Launch Challenge – IEEE Spectrum.

Astra Space (previously named Ventions) is developing a small payload orbital launch system and is competing in the DARPA Launch Challenge, which requires a demonstration of a quick response (30 days) to a request for the launch of a smallsat. While the company refuses to answer press queries, applications for launch and communications licenses provides some info on what they are doing:

The company carried out two suborbital launches from PSCA in 2019 but the rockets appeared to have problems shortly after liftoff. According to the FAA license, this year Astra will attempt three orbital flights from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) on Kodiak Island. They may also do a flight from the commercial launch facility at Wallops Island but a separate FAA license will be required.

** A compilation of recetn rocket news from Eric Berger: Rocket Report: SpaceX goes vertical, smallsat launch dates slip | Ars Technica

** SpaceX:

**** Falcon 9 booster (B1049.4) for Starlink 2 launch returns to port:

B1049 looks great!! We are a US disabled veteran run, non-profit video production company whose mission is to bring other disabled US Veterans to witness a launch, experience US Space History and become part of our report. Our nonprofit 501(c)(3) is 100% tax deductible, just go to our webpage which is merged with and find our Donate button. You can help change the life of a US Veteran. Thank You

[ Update: The group at offers a video scenes of the processing for the booster from the Starlink 2 launch:


** SpaceX Cargo Dragon for CRS-19 mission to the ISS recovered after splashdown:

**** Starship

****** Assembly of propellant tank for pressure testing to destruction. Last week, the primary focus at Boca Chica was completing the assembly of a propellant tank and then pressure testing to destruction. The goal was to determine if  techniques for tank construction have improved to the point that the stainless steel tanks are flight worthy.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Test Tank (Bopper) and Buildings, Jan 8, 2020 –

All hands on deck at SpaceX Boca Chica as buildings continue to be completed while the test tank (we’re lovingly calling “Bopper”) undergoes final welding ahead of its transportation. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Test Tank transported to Launch Site, Jan.9.2020 –

SpaceX’s Starship Test Tank “Bopper” was transported to the Boca Chica launch site for a positive pressure test. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Mostly muted due to really strong wind noise and timelapsed to get all events in without it being a one hour video.

****** SpaceX Hoppy Poppy Jr Pressure Test To Failure, Jan.10.2020 – LabPadre

01.10.2020 At 5:45 AM the pressure testing to failure on Hoppy Jr at SpaceX Boca Chica, Texas. Video is not the best quality but it gets the picture across. Thanks for watching. All live images are explicitly owned by LabPadre Media. Filmed on location at Pointer Property.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Test Tank Before and After Test – Timelapse, Jan.10.2020 –

At SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site, the test tank underwent a planned and successful/useful data overpressure test event. Timelapse video show the tank (nicknamed Bopper) before and after the test. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Muted due to really strong wind noise and timelapsed to get all events in without it being a one hour video.

**** Comments from Elon Musk on the tank pressure test:

See also SpaceX just blew up a Starship tank on purpose and Elon Musk says the results are in – Teslarati.

**** Post pressure test activity

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Preparing for Starship SN1 bulkheads – Facility Construction, Jan.12.2020 –

Following the successful “pressurization to failure” test on the “Bopper” test tank, SpaceX Boca Chica is busy working on the additional facilities and setting up to build new bulkheads that will be for Starship SN1. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 Bulkhead/Rig Transported To Big Tent, Jan.12.2020 –

The new Big Production Tent at SpaceX’s Boca Chica received the Starship SN1 Bulkhead and Rig after they were transported from the Windbreak building. This will allow for welding ops to be protected from the elements. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. A lot of timelapsing at 6x and 4x to condense several hours of footage.

**** Florida Starship facility status:

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Space transport roundup – Jan.7.2020

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):

** SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites: The Falcon 9 with the second batch of operational Starlink satellites lifted off from Cape Canaveral on Monday night and an hour later the upper stage released them into orbit. The first stage successfully landed but a fairing half-shell was not caught in a net as hoped. Fairings lifted out of the water, however, have been reused a couple of times so far.

More John Kraus photos of the Falcon 9: Starlink Mission.

** CRS-19 Cargo Dragon left the ISS this morning and later successfully splashed down in the Pacific:

This video shows the release and departure of the spacecraft from the station.

More SpaceX items below.

** Blue Origin opens new HQ facility: Blue Origin Opens New Headquarters in Kent, Washington- Blue Origin

We named this building the O’Neill Building after Gerard O’Neill, a physicist who envisioned millions of people living and working in space for the benefit of Earth. Gerard O’Neill was one of the visionaries who thought about how we go out into space in a quick and sustainable way so that we can preserve our planet.

For those of you that are Washington State residents, what is exciting is we’re going to be doing all this work from a headquarters based here in Kent. It’s a remarkable statement to say that we’re going to fly humans to space, we’re going to build and design large engines and a large orbital rocket, and we’re going to go back to the Moon – all through work centered here.

We’re excited to continue to see this growth in this new facility. We broke ground on this facility in January of 2019 and it came up in just 11 months. It houses approximately 1500 people. The building sits on a 30-acre plot of land, and we’re using 13 of those acres for a wildlife habitat and flood storage, as well as protecting against invasive species. This is a very sustainable building with better insulation and better energy consumption than a traditional building. And it all came together very quickly.

This couldn’t have been done without our great partners. Thanks to Sprung Instant Structures, our architect Nelson, our general contractor Sierra Construction, civil engineering group Barghausen Consulting Engineers and our environmental consultants Soundview Consultants.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith told GeekWire that the new HQ was required because “we’re growing like crazy.”

“We’ve grown a third in just the past year,” Smith said during an interview on the mezzanine of the U-shaped building. “So we’re now north of 2,500 people here.”

The new structure, built on a 30.7-acre site that the company purchased a little more than two years ago for $14 million, is built to accommodate 1,500 of those employees. Hundreds more are based elsewhere in the Kent area, south of Seattle, as well as at Blue Origin’s suborbital launch site in West Texas, the Florida rocket factory where Blue Origin’s New Glenn orbital-class rocket will be assembled, and at the site of its future BE-4 rocket engine factory in Alabama.

** Sea Dragon plays a part in Apple TV’s For All Mankind series:

The gigantic Sea Dragon was designed by the late Robert Truax in the early 1960s. See also Sea Dragon Launch – The Unwanted Blog.

While Truax’s concept was at the extreme, there is in fact a big advantage in big rockets: the margins can be big.

Conventional rockets are notoriously sensitive to small shortcomings in the performance of the engines and other systems and structures. However, to get payloads of useful size into orbit, rocket designers must necessarily push those components to their limits, aiming for maximum performance at minimum mass. This results in reliability and safety issues. With a giant rocket,  some percentage of the giant payload can be sacrificed to obtain highly reliable systems and robust structures while still getting lots of payload to orbit.

We see signs of this approach in the huge SpaceX Starships. Multiple Raptor engines will provide enough performance to allow for wide margins in component systems and structures. They can be built like ocean liners out in the open in shipyard-like environments rather than like fine watches built in tightly confined workshops.

** At the other extreme, several new small rockets will start flying this year: Small Satellite Launchers Poised for Big 2020 –

In 2019, American companies reached crucial milestones on the path towards launching small satellites. Firefly Aerospace and Virgin Orbit both secured partnerships and accomplished test objectives ahead of their respective rockets’ first flights this year. Concurrently, Rocket Lab improved its launch cadence and began evolving their Electron rocket as they look towards expanding their capabilities in 2020.

Firefly is now aiming the first Alpha launch for April: Firefly Aerospace Preps for Debut Flight of Its Alpha Rocket in April –

** China launches TJSW-1 military satellite on Long March 3B rocket: Long March 3B launch opens China’s busy 2020 schedule –

After the successful return to flight of the powerful Long March 5 closing the orbital launch activities for China in 2019, the country launched another secretive Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing (TJSW) satellite on January 7, opening what could be a record-breaking year. The launch took place at around 15:20 UTC using the Long March 3B/G2 (Y64) ‘Chang Zheng-3B/G2’ launch vehicle from the LC2 launch complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

As with the previous launch of Communications Engineering Test Satellites, there is very little information regarding the new satellite.

** SpaceX:

**** In-flight abort flight test slips to no-earlier-than Jan. 18th: SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test Launch Date Update – Commercial Crew Program/NASA

NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Saturday, Jan. 18, for an In-Flight Abort Test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, pending U.S. Air Force Eastern Range approval. The new date allows additional time for spacecraft processing.

The demonstration of Crew Dragon’s in-flight launch escape system is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and is one of the final major tests for the company before NASA astronauts will fly aboard the spacecraft.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft for the In-Flight Abort (IFA) test. Credits: NASA

[ Update: More about the IFA preparations: SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft shown off in photo ahead of next launch – Teslarati.]

**** Starship

****** Asking Elon to name a Starship after Vernon Estes: Sign the petition here.

Vern Estes founded his namesake model rocket company, and helped start the National Association of Rocketry. Many areospace professionals started with launching Estes rockets as a first step along the road to their helping launch Falcon, Delta, Titan, and Space Shuttle etc.

As Vern’s 90th birthday was January 4, 2020, it would be fitting to have one of the first experimental Starships named after him, especially since he is still able to enjoy the honor.

See also Model rocket pioneer, Vern Estes, celebrates his 90th birthday – Boing Boing.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Bulkhead/Dome Flipped/Installed on Stand [Jan.7.2020]NASASpaceflight

Starship development: The first dome/bulkhead was lifted, flipped and installed on to the stand/rig as the team prepares to build what we believe will be a Starship tank for a tanking test. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF (Many thanks to her for spending all night filming this). Several hours timelapsed.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Preparing for Tank Testing – Jan 6, 2020 – NASASpaceflight

Work continues on Starship SN1’s domes as the RollLift arrives, likely to transport the soon-to-be-assembled domes/rings for a tanking test (per road closures). Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica 1/6/20SPadre

Panoramic 4K video of SpaceX Boca Chica launch pad, Starhopper, and Starship assembly area.

****** Florida Starship assembly facility currently focused on supporting Boca Chica activity:  SpaceX’s Texas Starship factory set to receive more parts from Florida – Teslarati

After successfully delivering Starship hardware and manufacturing tools to SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas rocket factory and launch facilities, the company has begun preparing a second load of parts to be shipped from Florida to Texas in the near future.

This is the latest chapter in a saga that began when SpaceX revealed that it would effectively pause its Florida Starship manufacturing operations and reassign most of its affected employees. Since SpaceX’s early-December confirmation, the company’s Cocoa, Florida Starship production hub has been more or less at a standstill, only interrupted once and awhile by efforts to either scrap hardware that is no longer needed or send it to Texas, where SpaceX has redoubled efforts to build the next series of Starship prototypes.

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Space transport roundup – Jan.3.2020

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):

[ Update Jan.4.2019 #2: SpaceX confirms the static test went well and they are on track for Monday’s launch:

Update Jan.4.2019: The Falcon 9 with the Starlink 2 satellites was rolled to the SLC-40 pad this morning and they soon complected the static firing test: Live coverage: Falcon 9 test-fired at Cape Canaveral – Spaceflight Now. More about the mission in the SpaceX section below.

Here’s also another SpaceX item about a mobile gantry addition to the Pad 37A facility to enable vertical installation of military satellites: SpaceX drawing up plans for mobile gantry at launch pad 39A – Spaceflight Now.


** Counting the number of launches in 2019 and estimating the number in 2020:

** Everyday Astronaut Tim Dodd selects his “Best Spaceflight & Space Science Events of the Year“:

Welcome to the 2019 Astro Awards!!! A time where we reflect on all the exciting things that happened throughout the year in spaceflight and space discoveries. Now of course, these are nothing official… for now… , just a time to look back on the awesome science, discoveries, engineering and achievements made in the past year. We took polls here on YouTube, Twitter and Reddit for your favorite missions and now we get to soak them all in! We do put these in an order and I put the most weight on how you voted in the polls, BUT at the end of the day, I get final say on what goes where because I said so 😉

** Firefly Aerospace shows off the business end of the Alpha rocket first stage:

** More about the upcoming first flight of Virgin Orbit‘s LauncherOne rocket: Virgin Orbit plans orbital launch in early 2020 –

After falling short of plans to begin launches in 2019, Virgin Orbit now expects to perform its first orbital launch attempt in early 2020, a key year for the burgeoning small launch vehicle industry.

In a Dec. 19 statement, Virgin Orbit says it is now in position to perform an “imminent orbital demo flight” some time in early 2020 as it completes rehearsals of launch preparations at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

** The fifth launch of an Interstellar Technologies suborbital MOMO rocket in Japan has been postponed to deal with an avionics issue. Doesn’t appear that a new target liftoff date has been announced yet.

MOMO-5 suborbital rocket on the pad. Credits: Interstellar Technologies

** SpaceX:

**** A Falcon 9 launch is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 6th with the Starlink-2 batch of 60 operational broadband Internet satellites. Liftoff is set for 9:19 pm EST  (0219 GMT Tuesday) from Cape Canaveral. Likely that the on-pad test firing will be with the satellites on the rocket and the rocket will stay on the pad rather than roll back to the hanger. This will be another step in speeding up launch rates.

**** Should be a busy year for SpaceX rockets:

**** The in-flight abort (IFA) test of the Crew Dragon is currently set for no earlier than January 11th. Here’s an explanation of the test:

Find updates on the test at

** Time-lapse satellite imagery showing construction underway at SpaceX’s facilities in Florida and Texas and Blue Origin’s facilities in Florida:

An excellent collection of timelapse satellite views of the new Blue Origin and SpaceX facilities for their next-generation rockets, New Glenn, Starship and Super Heavy Collated by Harry Stranger (@HarryStrangerPG) for NSF. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data processed by Sentinel Hub. The satellite provider is Copernicus via ESA and the satellites are Sentinel-2A & Sentinel-2B.

*** Starship

**** Views of Boca Chica

[ Update: This video was uploaded soon after this item was posted:


****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 Dome Lift – MK1 remains

At SpaceX’s Boca Chica site, the impressive new dome (bulkhead) for Starship SN1 was lifted towards the windbreak, while work continues around the site and the Mk1 remains departed the area. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Preparing the Starship SN1 Launch

While work continues on multiple Starship bulkheads (domes), preparations around the launch site have picked up again ahead of SN1’s arrival. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Video is muted when wind noise becomes too annoying.

****** Remembering StarPopper – Timelapse of SpaceX Starship

Remembering Starship Mk1 at Boca Chica. Was to fly 20km, but popped her bulkhead during a pressurization test. Some believe the design of Mk1 (and Mk2) was already deemed as below requirements so the pressurization test was pushed to extremes to gain some data before scrapping the vehicle. The refined design of Starship SN1 (Mk3) is now being constructed. Timelapse of footage from Mary (@bocahicagal) for NSF with a few clips from SpaceX’s presentation event, edited by Jay DeShetler.

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Space transport roundup – Dec.31.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):

** China’s Long March 5 heavy lift rocket placed a satellite into geostationary transfer orbit last Friday in a successful return to flight following a failure on the second launch of the system in 2017.

China can now proceed with a series of important launches including a Mars rover in July, a new crew spacecraft in September, and the Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission in late 2020. The LM-5 is also needed for the  launch of modules for a new space station that begins assembly in 2021.

** Interstellar Technologies to carry out the fifth launch of an suborbital MOMO rocket in Japan. The liftoff planned forlast  Saturday was scrubbed:

MOMO-F5 sounding rocket countdown has been halted due to range safety and technical issue. Launch is scrubbed for this window.

Next launch attempt is currently set for January 1st. Get updates on the next launch attempt at Interstellar Technologies, Inc. (@natsuroke) | Twitter

MOMO-F5 on pad

The event will be live-streamed.

** Boeing Starliner Calypso returned unscathed by launch and reentry:

Boeing emphasized the good condition of the spacecraft, which showed “little scorching” from reentry and used only a fraction of its onboard propellant reserved for reentry, which the company said confirmed aerodynamic models of the spacecraft. The interior of the Starliner cabin appeared the same after landing as it did before its Dec. 20 launch from Cape Canaveral, the company noted, evidence that “the Starliner’s fully operational life support system functioned as intended and the layout of the interior is well-suited to support crew members in the future.”

The statement, though, provided no updates on the timer problem that turned what was originally an eight-day mission into a two-day one without a planned docking at the International Space Station. The spacecraft’s mission elapsed timer, which is set by communicating with its Atlas 5 rocket prior to liftoff, was off by 11 hours. That caused the spacecraft to think it was on the wrong phase of its mission after separation from the rocket’s upper stage, triggering thruster firings that used excessive amounts of fuel until ground controllers could take over and turn off the thrusters.

Starliner “Calypso” after landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

** Virgin Orbit nears first flight of the LauncherOne rocket: In One Year and Out the Other | Virgin Orbit

Now, we’re getting ready to shift all of our operations to the customized 747 that serves as our fully mobile launch site. Parked at “the hammerhead,” a part of the taxiway adjoining the primary runway at the Mojave Air and Spaceport, we’ll do the final mate of the rocket to Cosmic Girl and run through our rehearsals again. 

In January, we plan to have Chief Test Pilot Kelly Latimer and the rest of our flight crew guide us through one more taxi test with the mated rocket and an additional captive carry test with our orbital flight hardware. Then, we’ll be ready to light this candle and conduct our launch demonstration. 

For years, everything’s been building: our team, our market, our technical expertise, and our enthusiasm. As 2019 draws to a close, we’re stronger and smarter than we’ve ever been before, and feeling ready to rock. To stay in the loop, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.

** Firefly Aerospace also nearing debut of the Alpha smallsat launcher:

** The Chinese SIASAIL-I sail passes deployment tests following launch last September. The sail, developed by the Shenyang Institute of Automation (SIA), was packed within a CubeSat and successfully deployed in orbit. Although structurally the same as a solar sail, this sail test  is apparently aimed not at demonstrating net solar propulsion but at acceleration of spacecraft de-orbiting by increasing the drag through the minute amount of atmosphere  in low earth orbit.

From China Daily:

[Liu Jinguo, deputy director of the SIA Space Automation Technology Research Office, ]l  said that they managed to fold the flexible membrane and put it into the deployment machine, which is smaller than a billiard ball.

After the satellite platform is put into orbit, scientists carry out technical verification through two-stage deployment. At the first stage, the solar sail body is pushed out of the satellite platform and turned 90 degrees. The second stage is to erect masts and gradually spread the sail. The unfolded solar sail is about 0.6 square meters, which is equivalent to the size of eight Macbook airs laptop computers.

Illustration of SIASAIL-1 before and after sail deployment. Credits: SIA & China Daily.

** LightSail 2: Fulfilling a DreamPlanetary Society – This solar sail did demonstrate net solar propulsion.

Carl Sagan dreamed of solar sailing before founding The Planetary Society in 1980. Now our members have helped us fulfill that dream.

** Bob Zimmerman reviews the rocket industry in the past year: The state of the global rocket industry in 2019 | Behind The Black

First and foremost 2019 showed a decline in total launches from 2018, with global launches dropping from 111 to 97. The 2019 totals were also about 30% below the number of launches predicted by the various countries and launch companies that are now active.

Does this drop in launches mean that the rocket industry is in decline? Not at all. The 97 launches last year were also the most launches in a single year since 1990, when the Soviet Union existed and routinely puffed up the totals each year with many unnecessary launches prompted by their bloated communist bureaucracy. (See last year’s graph for the yearly numbers going back to 1980.)

More important, the numbers this year are based on a much more robust launch industry, made up of many more sound competing constituents, both public and private.

And he concludes:

Thus, it appears that 2020 could herald the beginning of a very aggressive worldwide space industry, achieving more launches each year than ever accomplished in any year since Sputnik launched in 1957.

** A video roundup of launches in 2019 from Cape Canaveral

** Global rocket launch scores for 2019:

** Solar electric propulsion for the Gateway station: The Maxar Power and Propulsion Element: Third Generation Commercial Solar Electric Propulsion, Scott Tilly & Ty Lee , MAXAR Technologies – Future In-Space Operations (FISO), Slides (pdf)

** A compact history of the Ariane family of rockets from Scott Manley:

** SpaceX:

**** Falcon 9 launch of Starlink 2 with the second set of 60 satellites is set for this Friday, Jan. 3rd at 10:24 pm EST (0324 GMT on 4th from Cape Canaveral. It appears that the static firing test on the pad may happen on the day before rather than the usual several days prior. This is consistent with their efforts to speed up the launch pace. The company hopes to do Starlink launches about twice a month in 2020.

**** SpaceX is trying the make the Starlink satellites less bright so as to ameliorate their impact on astronomy: SpaceX set to launch less reflective Starlink satellite – Orlando Sentinel.

A launch planned for Friday from the Space Coast will test a possible solution. SpaceX will experiment with a non-reflective coating on the bottom of one satellite in its next batch of 60, scheduled to lift off from launch complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 11:20 p.m.

The Astronomical Society has had numerous conversations with SpaceX since the first Starlink launch, on May 23, to discuss how to make the satellites less intrusive. Even now, at their operating altitude of about 550 kilometers, they are still right on the edge of visibility to the unaided eye.

But for research-grade telescopes? They’re “ferociously bright,” Hall said. That means they’re getting in the way of data collection, with the streaks of light ruining the scientific quality of images.

**** CRS-19 Cargo Dragon set to depart from the ISS next Sunday, Jan. 5th. will broadcast the departure starting at 9:15 p.m. EST.

The CRS-19 Cargo SpaceX Dragon approaches the International Space Station on Dec. 8, 2019. Credits: NASA

**** Elon linked on Twitter to a SpaceX-made Falcon 9 Crew Dragon simulation from 2011 that I posted on Youtube:

Unfortunately, I believe the licensees of the Muse soundtrack will benefit from the big bump in views rather than I.

**** Elon pointed to a new animation of a Crew Dragon mission to the ISS released this week:

**** Crew Dragon with astronauts on board could launch as soon as February but NASA reviews will take months (and that’s assuming the in-flight abort test goes well):

See also SpaceX’s Crew Dragon astronaut launch debut schedule revealed by Elon Musk – Teslarati.

**** Starship

****** Elon posted a lot of info on development of the Starship on Tweeter in the past few days. Here’s a sampling:

Orbital vehicle in Texas:

The next vehicle, which will be referred to as SN1 rather than Mk.3, could be flying by March:

See also SpaceX’s Elon Musk works through holidays on Starship’s “most difficult part” – Teslarati.

Forming and attaching stainless steel structures:

Pressurizing the tanks to push propellants into the turbo-pumps:

Autogenous refers to using a gaseous form of a propellant itself for pressurizing the tank rather than using a separate inert gas like helium. The high pressure composite pressure vessels (COPVs) to hold helium were involved in both Falcon 9 explosions. Helium is also quite expensive now.

Controlling the side flaps on the Starship as it returns through the atmosphere.

**** Boca Chica viewing

****** New structures in construction: SpaceX borrows Tesla’s tent factory strategy for new Starship production HQ – Teslarati

Confirmed yesterday morning by CEO Elon Musk, SpaceX has copied Tesla’s approach to factory expansion and is building a giant tent to upgrade its South Texas Starship production facilities.

A big step towards more traditional aerospace-style manufacturing facilities, SpaceX has contracted the same company used by Tesla to create a fourth general assembly line (GA4) in a giant tent outside its Fremont, CA factory in 2018. Instead of Model 3s, however, Sprung Instant Structures (Sprung for short) is rapidly raising a large tent that will eventually allow SpaceX to fabricate and weld more Starship parts and sections in an enclosed environment, an improvement from the current practice of building prototypes out in the harsh environment of coastal Texas.

In typical fashion, Musk believes that the new enclosed production facilities – just a collection of shipping crates as of December 18th – could be ready to begin manufacturing Starship parts as early as next month, and the progress Sprung has made makes it unusually hard to fault his optimism.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Domes – Hopper attention – December 30, 2019 – –

More views of the Starship Domes (Bulkheads) while the facilities continue to grow and even Hopper gains some attention at the launch site. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Big Tops and Bulkheads – December 29, 2019 –

More work is taking place on the Starship SN1 Bulkheads as assembly of additional “Big Top” production facilities continues. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Opens with some photos taken from Sam Sun (@birdsnspace) plane flyover.

****** Flyover on Dec. 27LabPadre

12.27.2019 The long awaited SpaceX Boca Chica Flyover. Excellent over head close ups of Rocket Shipyard and Landing/Launch site.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica, Texas 2019 review – LabPadre

This video is brought to you by Isla Grand Beach Resort, Sapphire Condominiums, and Orbital Media Networks. All images are filmed at the Pointer property and are explicitly owned by LabPadre Media.

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