Category Archives: Rockets

Videos: SpaceX Starhopper’s 150m test flight a success

SpaceX‘s Starhopper,  a low altitude prototype of the Starship vehicles, made a successful short flight this evening at Boca Chica Beach, Texas. The single Raptor LOX/Methane engine powered the vehicle up to 150 meters (max alt allowed by FAA for this test) and sideways for a couple hundred meters.

Starhopper Test Flight - Aug. 27, 2019Elon Musk has said this will be the last flight of the Starhopper. The two Starship orbital demo vehicles under construction at Boca Chica and in Cocoa Beach, Florida, are expected to begin flights in the coming months. The Starhopper will be used for ground static test firings of Raptor engines.

Here are various views of the test, starting with a SpaceX video, which mostly shows the flight as seen by a drone:

[ Update: Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, gets pretty excited with the flight of the Starhopper (starts at around 1:58:05 into the video):

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See also:

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The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos,
and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos

Space transport roundup – Aug.21.2019

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

** 8th Electron launch a success for Rocket Lab on August 19th. Four satellites were successfully deployed.

From Rocket Lab:

A Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle successfully lifted off from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula at 12:12 am, 20 August 2019 NZST (12:12 pm, 19 August 2019 UTC). The mission, named ‘Look Ma, No Hands,’ included the first satellite in a new maritime surveillance constellation for UNSEENLABS. The launch also saw satellites deployed for rideshare provider Spaceflight, including the BlackSky Global-4 satellite and two United States Air Force technology demonstrators.

At approximately 54 minutes after lift-off, all payloads were successfully deployed by Electron’s Kick Stage to a 540 x 540 km orbit at a 45-degree inclination. The mission was Rocket Lab’s eighth launch overall and the company’s fourth launch for 2019, taking the total number of satellites deployed by the company to 39. The launch also continues Rocket Lab’s track record of 100% mission success for customers, further cementing the company’s status as the global leader in dedicated small satellite launch.

The launch vehicle also carried critical instrumentation to inform development efforts for Rocket Lab’s recently announced plans to recover and re-use of Electron’s first stage.

** Scott Manley discusses Rocket Lab’s plans for recovering and re-flying the Electron boosters:

** Long March 3B launches comm-sat but then the spacecraft failed shortly after deployment from the rocket’s upper stage:

** Three smallsats launched August 17th by new Chinese rocket developed by a “commercial” subsidiary of the  government’s primary organization for launch systems, China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT).

From SFN:

The Jielong 1 rocket was developed by China Rocket Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of CALT, a government-owned enterprise. CALT builds most of China’s workhorse Long March rocket family, which includes the country’s oldest and most-flown launchers.

In a statement after Saturday’s launch, which Chinese officials did not publicize in advance, CALT said the Jielong 1 rocket measures 64 feet (19.5 meters) tall and nearly 4 feet (1.2 meters) in diameter. At takeoff, the rocket weighs around 51,000 pounds, or 23.1 metric tons.

The new rocket can lift up to 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of payload into a 310-mile-high (500-kilometer) sun-synchronous orbit, according to CALT.

The Jielong 1 rocket is the fourth new Chinese solid-fueled smallsat launcher to debut in the last 10 months. All have roughly the same carrying capacity to low Earth orbit.

** Last week Virgin Galactic invited media to see the inside of the terminal at Spaceport America, including the sections where the SpaceShipTwo flights will be controlled and a lounge and restaurant for the spaceflight adventurists and their families.

Regarding the flight test status of the SpaceShipTwo, Jeff Foust reports:

While WhiteKnightTwo is at the spaceport, the company’s existing SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity, is still in Mojave, having made its last flight to space nearly six months ago. Mike Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, said that work is continuing there to outfit the cabin interior for commercial flights, along with other upgrades, like the installation of a new digital flight control system.

The company didn’t say when VSS Unity will arrive here—when it’s ready WhiteKnightTwo will fly back to Mojave to pick it up—but when it does arrive Moses said the company will first perform a couple glide flights to test the new flight control system as well as get familiar with operations from a new spaceport.

After that, “we’ll be ready for rocket-powered flights,” he said. There are eight hybrid rocket motors stockpiled at the spaceport, he noted, although he didn’t commit to a specific number of test flights before commercial operations will begin. In documents filed last month in association with the company’s planned merger with holding company Social Capital Hedosophia, Virgin stated it expected commercial operations to begin in the first half of 2020 (see “A new path for space investment?”, The Space Review, July 29, 2019).

** EXOS Aerospace reviews latest flight of the reusable SARGE suborbital rocket, which had a guidance problem shortly after liftoff but managed to return for a soft landing. The SARGE Flight 3 – Mission 2 Recap | EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technologies, inc.

There was a goal in this recent launch (Saturday, June 29, 2019) of reaching the 80 KM altitude goal, but SARGE was unable to do so. If you were able to watch the YouTube launch, live, then you saw the rocket lifted off beautifully (our best launch, actually) and then a few nanoseconds and a few thousand feet into the launch, an anomaly occurred and the rocket began to “swim” back and forth. It did this a couple of times, and then the guidance and directional systems corrected it, and the rocket flew to about 14,000 feet and successfully deployed the drogue and then the parachute, and flew back to the launch site for a safe and soft landing. All payloads and the rocket were recovered in good condition. The rocket will be ready to fly again in October. The Exos team has since met to discuss what caused the anomaly, and what we have learned from it.

All lessons that may have been learned are prodded with the intent of making the rocket even better, and the next launch even higher. We considered this launch, in the end, to be a success, even though SARGE failed to reach our 80 KM altitude goal.  This is because the data received from the flight will help get the navigational and directional control systems perfected sooner than without this invaluable data.  Once navigation and control are balanced correctly, Exos should reach the 80 KM goal, expected in October.
If you would like to view the video recap of our latest launch, you can do so, here.

** ULA set to launch a GPS navigation satellite on a Delta IV from the Cape on Thursday. This will be the final flight of the Delta IV in the single core configuration. Liftoff is scheduled for 9:00 amd EDT (1300 GMT).

ULA Delta IV GPS III Mission Art

** ULA now has payloads for first two Vulcan Centaur rockets. Last week, Sierra Nevada announced that the Dream Chaser would make its first cargo trip to the ISS via a launch on a Vulcan (see previous Space Trans Roundup). This week, Astrobotic announced that the company’s Perigrine lunar lander will launch on the first Vulcan First launch expected in 2021.

** ULA starts transforming its manufacturing facilities for making Vulcan rockets : Atlas, Delta rocket factory begins transition to Vulcan Centaur – SpaceNews.com

** Boeing and SpaceX get ready for crucial test flights for Commercial Crew systems: Commercial crew providers prepare for fall test flights – SpaceNews.com

Boeing and SpaceX said Aug. 19 that they expect to carry out critical test flights of their commercial crew systems this fall, with SpaceX still hopeful of launching astronauts to the International Space Station this year.

** Misc. rocket items:

** SpaceX:

*** Elon’s presentation on Starship/Super Heavy Booster designs postponed so as to wait for milestone in the assembly of the orbital demo Starship under construction in Boca Chica Beach, Texas:

Note that Starship Mk 1 refers to the Starship orbital demonstrator under construction at the Boca Chica Beach, Texas facility. Mk 2 refers to the demonstrator being built in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

More at SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Starship presentation will have to wait a few more weeks – Teslarati.

Starship separates from Super Heavy Booster first stage
The Starship upper stage separates from the Super Heavy Booster first stage. The design may have changed from this most recent artist’s rendering released by SpaceX.

*** Starhopper’s hop to 200 meters still delayed by FAA permit request processing:

Previously expected to occur as early as August 12th, Starhopper – an ungainly testbed for SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft – remains grounded in spite of its apparent flight-readiness. News of the next hop test’s additional delays comes some four days before Elon Musk had planned to present an updated overview of Starship and Super Heavy in Boca Chica, Texas, and it seems that both events may have to wait.

Previously expected to occur as early as August 12th, Starhopper – an ungainly testbed for SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft – remains grounded in spite of its apparent flight-readiness. News of the next hop test’s additional delays comes some four days before Elon Musk had planned to present an updated overview of Starship and Super Heavy in Boca Chica, Texas, and it seems that both events may have to wait.

Recent views of activites at Boca Chica Beach:

*** Moving the Starship Mk.2 from construction site to KSC does not involve any hops: How SpaceX plans to move Starship from Cocoa site to Kennedy Space Center – ClickOrlando.com

Based on some basic analysis of recent photos of SpaceX’s East Coast Starship facility, situated in Cocoa, Florida, SpaceX has almost certainly begun fabricating and staging hardware that will eventually become part of the company’s first Super Heavy booster prototype.

This is by no means surprising but it does confirm the reasonable assumption that SpaceX is already working hard to ensure that the first Super Heavy booster(s) can be assembled as quickly as possible. Additionally, SpaceX appears to have started clearing brush in the process of preparing to transport the Florida orbital Starship prototype (“Mk2”) to SpaceX’s Pad 39A launch facilities, dozens of miles away.

*** Work on the Super Heavy Booster underway at Florida site: SpaceX’s first Super Heavy hardware is already being built at Florida Starship campus – Teslarati

Based on some basic analysis of recent photos of SpaceX’s East Coast Starship facility, situated in Cocoa, Florida, SpaceX has almost certainly begun fabricating and staging hardware that will eventually become part of the company’s first Super Heavy booster prototype.

This is by no means surprising but it does confirm the reasonable assumption that SpaceX is already working hard to ensure that the first Super Heavy booster(s) can be assembled as quickly as possible. Additionally, SpaceX appears to have started clearing brush in the process of preparing to transport the Florida orbital Starship prototype (“Mk2”) to SpaceX’s Pad 39A launch facilities, dozens of miles away.

*** A birds eye view of the Mk.2 assembly site: Cocoa Starship Flyby Aug 17, 2019 – YouTube

*** SpaceX finishing up investigation into explosion of Crew Dragon during a test last April: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon explosion investigation almost complete, says executive – Teslarati

Speaking at the 2019 AIAA Propulsion & Energy Forum, SpaceX Vice President of Build and Flight Reliability Hans Koenigsmann was significantly more confident that the company is just days or weeks away from wrapping up a serious Crew Dragon failure investigation.

On April 20th, flight-proven Crew Dragon capsule C201 experienced a catastrophic failure mode – largely a surprise to SpaceX – that completely destroyed the vehicle milliseconds prior to a planned static fire test. Given the obvious mortal danger such a failure would have posed to any crew aboard, SpaceX’s plans to conduct its first crewed Crew Dragon launch (Demo-2) in Q3 2019 were thrown out the window. Thankfully, Hans believes that SpaceX is just shy of concluding that investigation, “hopefully” permitting the launch of a critical abort test and Demo-2 before 2019 is out.

*** SpaceX bringing a sea landing platform from West to East: SpaceX’s West Coast drone ship begins Panama Canal transit on journey to Florida (or Texas) – Teslarati

The event marked the first time a fully integrated NASA and SpaceX team worked together on the ship to go through an end-to-end practice run of how the teams will recover and extract the astronauts when they return from the space station in Crew Dragon. Hurley and Behnken were taken out of the spacecraft, given a mock medical evaluation and then transported to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Skid Strip, or airport.

“We’re making sure that the team integrates together — that’s a key to any successful mission,” said Ted Mosteller, the NASA recovery director in charge of the agency’s team for the Commercial Crew Program. “We worked on successfully doing what we need to do to take care of the crew once they return to Earth.”

JRTI has two possible destinations: Port of Brownsville, Texas or Port Canaveral, Florida. Both options are roughly 1800 mi (3000 km) from the Panama Canal’s western mouth and, extrapolating from the first major leg of the journey, should take Alice C around 8 days to tow JRTI across the finish line. Barring mishaps, the drone ship should thus be able to arrive at its new home sometime in the final week of August – roughly August 27th to the 31st.

*** NASA astronauts rehearse operations for Crew Dragon return and splashdown in the Atlantic: NASA, SpaceX Coordinate Crucial Astronaut Recovery Exercise – Commercial Crew Program/NASA

The event marked the first time a fully integrated NASA and SpaceX team worked together on the ship to go through an end-to-end practice run of how the teams will recover and extract the astronauts when they return from the space station in Crew Dragon. Hurley and Behnken were taken out of the spacecraft, given a mock medical evaluation and then transported to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Skid Strip, or airport.

“We’re making sure that the team integrates together — that’s a key to any successful mission,” said Ted Mosteller, the NASA recovery director in charge of the agency’s team for the Commercial Crew Program. “We worked on successfully doing what we need to do to take care of the crew once they return to Earth.”

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The Race to the Moon Chronicled in Stamps, Postcards, and Postmarks:
A Story of Puffery vs. the Pragmatic (Springer Praxis Books)

Space transport roundup – Aug.14.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport:

** Chinese startup LinkSpace reaches highest altitude yet for the company’s VTOL rockets. RLV-T5 rocket flies to 300 meters and then returns for a powered landing.

** Video of SpaceX-like grid fins on a Long March-2C rocket’s booster. As reported in the previous round-up, the stage does not do a powered landing but the fins instead help steer the booster away from populated areas. The rocket is launched from an in-land spaceport and there are often reports of boosters landing near houses and towns.

** More about reusing the first stage of the Rocket Lab Electron rocket:

** As expected, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser cargo vehicle will launch on ULA Vulcan rocket: SNC Selects ULA for Dream Chaser® Spacecraft Launches – SNC

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader owned by Chairwoman and President Eren Ozmen and CEO Fatih Ozmen, selected United Launch Alliance (ULA) as the launch vehicle provider for the Dream Chaser® spacecraft’s six NASA missions to the International Space Station. The Dream Chaser will launch aboard ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rockets for its cargo resupply and return services to the space station, starting in 2021.

“Dream Chaser can launch from any conventional rocket so we had great options,” said SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen.  “SNC selected ULA because of our strong collaboration on the Dream Chaser program, their proven safety record and on-time performance. This is bringing America’s spaceplane and America’s rocket together for best-of-breed innovation and exploration.”

Under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract, the Dream Chaser will deliver more than 12,000 pounds of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the space station and remains attached for up to 75 days as an orbiting laboratory. Once the mated mission is complete, the Dream Chaser disposes about 7,000 pounds of space station trash and returns large quantities of critical science, accessible within minutes after a gentle runway landing.

ULA Vulcan with Dream Chaser - Exploded View
An exploded view of the ULA Vulcan rocket with the cargo version of the Dream Chaser inside the fairings.

Animation of the launch of a Dream Chaser by a Vulcan:

** Vector Launch goes into hibernation mode as finances run dry:

The lockout of employees came just a few days after the announcement for a USAF launch contract: Vector Launch awarded its first U.S. Air Force mission – SpaceNews.com

** Smallsat launch broker Innovative Space Logistics contracts Orbex for launch services: Orbex and Innovative Space Logistics Sign European Space Launch Agreement | Orbex

Innovative Space Logistics B.V. (ISL) and UK-based orbital launch services provider Orbex today signed a wide-ranging Cooperation Agreement at the 33rd Annual Conference on Small Satellites in Logan, Utah. The co-operation will include technical launch services including launch manifest coordination and payload integration. As part of the agreement, ISL will also procure orbital space launches from Orbex for a number of its smallsat customer missions.

Netherlands-based company ISL is one of the world’s leading players in smallsat launches, having executed or supported the launch of over 350 CubeSats into orbit over the past decade. ISL is focused on the provision of regular launches for CubeSats, nanosatellites and microsatellites and provides launch brokering services, technical consultancy, launch adapters and dispensers, flight certification testing and launch insurance services to a broad range of customers.

With $40 million in project financing, Orbex is the best-funded European private launch provider. In February 2019, Orbex publicly unveiled the engineering prototype of the Stage 2 of its reusable Prime launch vehicle, a dedicated smallsat launcher, which is up to 30 percent lighter and 20 percent more efficient than any other vehicle in the micro launcher category. Orbex Prime utilizes bio-propane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel that cuts carbon emissions by 90 percent compared to traditional hydrocarbon fuels. On August 1, 2019, Orbex’s partner, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) confirmed that it had signed a 75-year lease option with landowners, the Melness Crofters Estate, to build and operate a spaceport on its land.

Orbex plans to launch from Scotland: In-Space Selects Orbex For Scottish Launch in 2022 | Orbex

** Blue Origin demands opportunity to launch Defense Dept. payloads:

From The Verge:

On Monday, August 12th, aerospace company Blue Origin filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), arguing that the Air Force is running a “flawed” competition to pick the agency’s next round of launch providers for national security missions. There’s a good chance this last-ditch protest could change the terms of the competition before final selections are made, but shifting the rules in favor of Blue Origin won’t guarantee that the company is chosen in the end.

The day that Blue Origin filed the protest was the same day that proposals were due for the Air Force’s Launch Service Procurement program. The initiative aims to select two rocket companies that will launch all of the Air Force’s missions to space from 2022 to 2026. The Air Force wants one company to support 60 percent of the launches, and the second will handle the other 40 percent. The contracts for these missions are potentially worth billions of dollars combined and could ultimately give them an edge in future Air Force competitions. Being selected as part of this program is a matter of life and death for some launch providers.

** An interview with Blue’s CEO Bob Smith about the company’s lunar projects and other plans: Blue Origin CEO Talks Space Ambitions | Via Satellite

VIA SPACE: Firstly, Blue Origin created one of the highlights of SATELLITE week with the Blue Moon announcement. Given what the company is doing in launch, how important is the lunar exploration side of things for the company? What are the plans over the next 12 months — where do things go next?

Smith: At Blue Origin, we focus on two hard problems that keep us aligned to our vision of millions of people living and working in space: dramatically lowering launch costs and utilizing in-space resources. Our work on Blue Moon is aligned to that second hard problem and so, it is central to our company’s efforts. As for our progress, we recently had exciting news with the first firing of our lunar landing engine, the BE-7. It’s a big milestone for us. Over the next 12 months, we will continue to develop and mature that high-performing engine. We will also refine our mission sequences, our detailed lander designs, define our supply base and work with NASA to integrate our offering into their overall Artemis program.

** SpaceX:

*** Attempt to fly Starhopper to 200 meters set for this weekend: SpaceX settles on Friday for Starhopper’s next flight test milestone, FAA permitting – Teslarati

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has published Notices-to-Airmen (NOTAMs) for SpaceX’s next Starhopper flight milestone, a 200m (650 ft) hop now scheduled no earlier than Friday, August 16th.

During this upcoming test, the unusual Starship testbed and prototype will likely spend at least 30-60 seconds in the air, propelled by a lone Raptor engine producing up to ~200 tons (440,000 lbf) of thrust. Starhopper will then attempt to land a hundred or so feet east of its spartan launch mount on a dedicated landing pad. If successfully completed, CEO Elon Musk believes that either or both of SpaceX’s Mk1 and Mk2 Starship prototypes will be ready to begin their own series of more ambitious flight tests as early as September or October.

Permit processing appears to be the main issue: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says Starhopper’s next test flight is waiting for an FAA permit – Teslarati.

*** This might be Starhopper’s last flight. Parts will be used to speed up the final assembly of the Starship orbital demonstrator at Boca Chica.

*** Starhopper tanking test last Friday:

*** Huge crane erected at Boca Chica facility. Presumably this will be used to put the top half onto the bottom tank sections.

*** Rapid progress on the 2 Starship demo vehicles appears to be pushing Starhopper to the side.

*** No Falcon launches on public schedule for next two months currently but launches of 60 or more Starlink broadband Internet satellites are likely to help fill the gap:

*** Crew training continues in parallel with preparations of the Crew Dragon in-flight abort test and first Crew test flight:

SpaceX Dragon Crew Training
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley participate in crew training event for Crew Dragon missions.

*** After catching a single Falcon fairing twice, SpaceX aims to catch both fairings using 2 boats: SpaceX Now Has a 2nd Boat to Catch Rocket Payload Fairings Falling from Space | Space

The company will soon start employing a second net-equipped boat during orbital launches, in an attempt to snag both halves of its rockets’ payload fairings before they splash down in the ocean, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk confirmed via Twitter on Friday (Aug. 9).

The new boat, named GO Ms. Chief, will join forces with GO Ms. Tree, which has plucked falling fairing halves out of the sky twice in the past six weeks. (The team-up involves style as well as substance; both vessels’ names are groan-inducing puns.)

*** And the company may use a much larger nosecone for some big Defense Dept payloads: SpaceX may have signed an agreement with ULA supplier RUAG for bigger Falcon fairings

According to comments made to a member of the space industry by a RUAG spokesperson, the prominent aerospace supplier may have finally reached an agreement with SpaceX to manufacture a handful of larger payload fairings for future Falcon 9 and Heavy launches.

In the likely event that SpaceX is one of two contractors awarded a portion of several dozen US military launch contracts next year, the company will need to be able to cater to niche requirements, including accommodating unusually tall military satellites. Those satellites can be so tall that SpaceX’s own payload fairing – generally middle-of-the-pack relative to competitors’ offerings – may be too short, meaning that SpaceX will have to find ways around that minor shortcoming.

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Safe Is Not an Option

Space transport roundup – Aug.7.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport:

Artist's view of an Electron booster returning from space.
Artist’s rendering of an Electron first stage booster returning from space. Credits: Rocket Lab

** Rocket Lab to recover and reuse first stage of Electron rocket: Rocket Lab Announces Reusability Plans For Electron Rocket | Rocket Lab

Work on Rocket Lab’s Electron first stage reuse program began in late 2018, at the end of the company’s first year of orbital launches. The plan to reuse Electron’s first stage will be implemented in two phases. The first phase will see Rocket Lab attempt to recover a full Electron first stage from the ocean downrange of Launch Complex 1 and have it shipped back to Rocket Lab’s Production Complex for refurbishment. The second phase will see Electron’s first stage captured mid-air by helicopter, before the stage is transported back to Launch Complex 1 for refurbishment and relaunch. Rocket Lab plans to begin first stage recovery attempts in the coming year.  

A major step towards Rocket Lab’s reusability plans was completed on the company’s most recent launch, the Make It Rain mission, which launched on 29 June from Launch Complex 1. The first stage on this mission carried critical instrumentation and experiments that provided data to inform future recovery efforts. The next Electron mission, scheduled for launch in August, will also carry recovery instrumentation.  

Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive Peter Beck says reusing Electron’s first stage will enable Rocket Lab to further increase launch frequency by reducing production time spent building new stages from scratch.

Animation of snagging the stage with a helicopter:

A video of the press conference about the new scheme:

** Ariane 5 launches on Flight VA249 with the Intelsat 39 comm-sat and the EDRS-C “SpaceDataHighway” satellite, which will be the second node in the European Data Relay System (EDRS) for keeping remote sensing satellites in low earth orbit in constant contact with ground stations.

** Northrop-Grumman’s Cygnus cargo vehicle departs from ISS: NG-11 Cygnus departs Station for months of on-orbit free-flight tests – NASASpaceFlight.com

After 110 days at the International Space Station, the Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS) NG-11 Cygnus resupply vehicle has departed the orbital outpost. 

But in a significant change from previous missions, Cygnus will not perform a destructive re-entry within the next few weeks, instead remaining on orbit until the end of the year to test new systems aboard the craft that will aid NGIS in their ability to offer Cygnus as a free-flying science platform for ISS, non-Space Station, and future NASA needs.

After departing the International Space Station, the NG-11 Cygnus will – as is customary – deploy a series of Cubesats from both a forward hatch-mounted deployer and its standard CubeSat deployer mounted on its service module on the rear of the craft.

** Another step made in construction of the third SpaceShipTwo rocketplane:

** ULA set to launch Atlas V with USAF’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF 5) communications satellite:

Roll to Pad: Atlas V AEHF-5

ULA plans another launch later this month from Cape Canaveral. A Delta IV is to put a USAF GPS satellite into orbit on August 22nd: GPS satellite installed atop Delta 4 launcher – Spaceflight Now.

The GPS mission will be the last for the Medium configuration of the Delta IV rocket. A National Reconnaissance Office contract was announced today for a launch of the Delta IV Heavy for 2024. That might be the last flight for that very expensive vehicle. ULA receives contract for what could be the final Delta 4 Heavy mission – SpaceNews.com.

** Russia launches a Proton-M carrier rocket from the Baikonur space center with a Blagovest communications satellite: Russian military satellite launched from Baikonur reaches orbit – TASS

** An update on the Planetary Society’s LightSail-2 spacecraft in orbit: LightSail 2 Nears 2 Weeks of Solar Sailing – The Planetary Society

Scott Manley discusses the LightSail-2 demonstration mission:

See also:

** An update on Virgin Orbit from the company’s CEO Dan Hart:

** Blue Origin’s big BE-4 LOX/Methane engine reaches full power in tests:

See also Jeff Bezos touts full-power firing of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine – GeekWire

Getting the BE-4 into operation is crucial to Blue Origin’s space ambitions.

The rocket engine, which runs on liquefied natural gas and packs 550,000 pounds of thrust at liftoff, is destined for use on Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket. It’s also supposed to power United Launch Alliance’s next-generation, semi-reusable Vulcan rocket.

Both those rockets are currently scheduled to have their maiden launches in 2021.

** SpaceX

*** Falcon 9 successfully launches the AMOS-17 communications satellite:

A view from outside the Cape via www.USLaunchReport.com

The booster did not return for a soft landing but instead burned all its propellant to obtain maximum performance for this big payload going to GEO. However, one of the fairings was recovered:

*** SpaceX’s new Smallsat Program offers low cost launch opportunities starting in 2020:

From Ars Technica:

The announcement brings SpaceX squarely into the already-heated competition for the burgeoning small-satellite launch market. Although the number of large-satellite launch contracts has stagnated, customer demand for much smaller payloads to a variety of orbits has grown. As a result, a number of companies have been founded in the United States and elsewhere to develop small rockets for smallsat launch services. SpaceX’s entry into this market with the much larger Falcon 9 rocket (at a price of about $15,000 per kilogram) represents a threat to those companies both from a standpoint of securing launch contracts but also by attracting venture-capital funding.

However, Greg Autry, a professor who directs the Southern California Commercial Spaceflight Initiative, said he expects that payload integrators such as Spaceflight will be most hurt by this move. Other companies offering launches in the neighborhood of 150kg (including Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, and Vector) will retain the advantage of offering dedicated service on their much smaller rockets for a particular orbit.

*** Elon Musk to give an update on Starship/Super Heavy Booster design and development on August 24th: Musk will update the status of Starship development on August 24 | Ars Technica

In a series of tweets on Saturday night, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said he planned to provide an update on the development of the company’s Starship project on August 24. This new spacecraft will serve as both the upper-stage of a large rocket as well as a vehicle capable of propulsively landing on distant worlds and returning to Earth.

Musk said the update would take place in Boca Chica, an unincorporated area along the southern Texas coast near the border with Mexico. This is where the company recently flew a stubby prototype of Starship and is also building a full-scale version of Starship for suborbital tests called Starship Mk1. A separate team of SpaceX engineers is building a similar prototype, Starship Mk2, in Cocoa, Florida.

*** And Musk says a Starship orbital demonstrators will fly within a month or so: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says first orbital Starship prototype flight debut is just weeks away – Teslarati

According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, one or both of the company’s two orbital Starship prototypes could be “ready to fly” – or nearly so – by the end of August. Even if Musk is off by one or several months, it would still make for a spectacular achievement.

The focus of the conversation that led Musk to the classic Musk-time prediction was the topic of a long-promised presentation on SpaceX’s Starship program. Although just a few weeks shy of the usual schedule, 2019’s presentation – set for August 24th in Boca Chica, Texas – more or less follows an annual September update tradition that Musk has consistently followed since 2016. Each year, Musk has given the public a glimpse into the constantly evolving process of designing SpaceX’s next-generation Mars-bound rocket. Despite the tradition’s consistency, 2019 is simply different.

*** Outdoor assembly of Starship demonstrators in Florida and Texas quickens as the public watches from outside the fences: SpaceX’s Florida Starship hits growth spurt as Texas Starship begins bulkhead installation – Teslarati

In the last week alone, SpaceX’s twin orbital Starship prototypes have made some truly jaw-dropping progress. Onlookers have witnessed Florida’s Starship push through a rapid growth spurt, while the company’s Texas team has begun to install propellant tank bulkheads and work on a triple-Raptor thrust structure.

Meanwhile, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has suggested that one or both of the orbital-class Starship prototypes could be “almost ready to fly” by August 24th, the date of the CEO’s next official update on Starship (formerly BFR and ITS). Although the actual challenge of building a massive, orbital-class launch vehicle is far subtler than the visible steelwork needed to build its primary structure and pressure vessels, the veritable leaps forward made in both Texas and Florida in the last 7-10 days are extremely encouraging signs.

For example: SpaceX preps Texas Starship’s second tank dome for installation in latest milestone – Teslarati

Growing up in South Texas:

*** Everyday Astronaut Time Dodd talks

… about the SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy programs, his experiences in Boca Chica and what we can look forward to with SpaceX’s Moon and Mars plans.

*** Scott Manley reviews the enviro review for Starship facilities and operations at Kennedy Space Center:

*** The Crew Dragon may not launch with a crew until early next year: SpaceX’s crewed Dragon launch debut likely to slip into 2020 as NASA pursues “realistic” dates – Teslarati

In a recent blog post, NASA made it clear that changes happening to leadership within the agency – specifically within the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate – are impacting the timelines to return astronauts to the International Space Station(ISS) from US soil. Agency conflicts are just the latest of several setbacks that have impacted the schedule of SpaceX’s crewed Crew Dragon launch debut.

Initially, the SpaceX Demo-2 mission set to carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS was slated to occur in the summer of 2019. That demonstration flight has since dropped off of the NASA launches and landings schedule, at least through October. SpaceX is now targeting a Demo-2 launch no earlier than December 2019 but an array of critical milestones must be completed to achieve that goal and both SpaceX and NASA have been keen to express that a crewed Crew Dragon launch in 2019 is a huge stretch.

*** SpaceX will use a stripped down Crew Dragon for the next phase of the ISS cargo resupply contract with NASA: SpaceX to begin flights under new cargo resupply contract next year – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX is set to retire its current fleet of Dragon capsules, in use since 2010, next year and begin flying supplies to the International Space Station on a new variant of the Dragon spacecraft based on the model in development to carry astronauts.

After originally awarding SpaceX a cargo transportation contract in 2008 that eventually totaled 20 Dragon missions, NASA selected the company for a follow-on contract — known as Commercial Resupply Services-2 — in 2016 for at least six additional Dragon deliveries through 2024.

The changeover to SpaceX’s next-generation Dragon — called Dragon 2 or Crew Dragon — for cargo missions next year will come with several benefits, including a faster process to recover, refurbish and re-fly the capsules.

For cargo missions, SpaceX has designed a version of the Crew Dragon, or Dragon 2, spacecraft without SuperDraco abort engines. The launch abort system has been a stumbling block in the Crew Dragon program after a spacecraft exploded during moments before a ground test-firing of the abort engines in April.

*** An overview of the many projects SpaceX is pursuing simultaneously: SpaceX present to future: From retesting boosters to planning a Starship pad – NASASpaceFlight.com

SpaceX is busy on all fronts, from its bread and butter commercial satellite launches to planning its ultimate future of deep space transportation and multi-planetary colonization. A second static fire test was ordered – and completed for Falcon 9 B1047.3 ahead of next week’s AMOS-17 launch, while a key environmental report shed new details on the company’s plans for a Starship launch pad at its Kennedy Space Center (KSC) 39A complex.

*** A nice view of the Starhopper in the morning:

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The Case for Space:
How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up
a Future of Limitless Possibility

Space transport roundup – Aug.2.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport:

** LightSail-2 successfully propelled in low earth orbit by solar light: LightSail 2 Spacecraft Successfully Demonstrates Flight by Light | The Planetary Society

Years of computer simulations. Countless ground tests. They’ve all led up to now. The Planetary Society’s crowdfunded LightSail 2 spacecraft is successfully raising its orbit solely on the power of sunlight. 

Since unfurling the spacecraft’s silver solar sail last week, mission managers have been optimizing the way the spacecraft orients itself during solar sailing. After a few tweaks, LightSail 2 began raising its orbit around the Earth. In the past 4 days, the spacecraft has raised its orbital high point, or apogee, by about 2 kilometers. The perigee, or low point of its orbit, has dropped by a similar amount, which is consistent with pre-flight expectations for the effects of atmospheric drag on the spacecraft. The mission team has confirmed the apogee increase can only be attributed to solar sailing, meaning LightSail 2 has successfully completed its primary goal of demonstrating flight by light for CubeSats.

“We’re thrilled to announce mission success for LightSail 2,” said LightSail program manager and Planetary Society chief scientist Bruce Betts. “Our criteria was to demonstrate controlled solar sailing in a CubeSat by changing the spacecraft’s orbit using only the light pressure of the Sun, something that’s never been done before. I’m enormously proud of this team. It’s been a long road and we did it.”

Some follow-up, including some controversy on the orbital data: ‘Mission success’ declared after LightSail 2 solar sail raises orbit – GeekWire.

For LightSail related resources, see the LightSail Press Kit | The Planetary Society

** Russian rockets send cargo freighter to ISS and communications satellite to MEO.

*** Progress cargo vehicle launches on Soyuz and docks with ISS just 3 hours and 19 minutes later.

A Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle launched the Progress MS-12 spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station (ISS Progress 73 mission) on 31 July 2019, at 12:10 UTC (18:10 local time, 08:10 EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Stories about the mission:

*** Soyuz 2.1a rocket launches from far east Pletsetsk spaceport to send communications satellite to medium altitude Molynia earth orbit:

** First test flight of the Gilmour suborbital rocket falls short of target altitude when engien shuts down shortly after liftoff: One Vision statement

On Monday July 29, Gilmour Space Technologies attempted to launch our ‘One Vision’ suborbital rocket to flight test the company’s proprietary orbital-class hybrid rocket engine and demonstrate our mobile launch capability.

At T-7 seconds to launch, the test rocket suffered an anomaly that resulted in the premature end of this mission. Initial investigations show that a pressure regulator in the oxidiser tank had failed to maintain required pressure, and this anomaly resulted in some damage to the tank and rocket. There was no explosion due to the safe nature of hybrid rocket engines, and no observable damage to the engine. (We will share footage of the launch attempt when available.)

Despite failing to launch, our team successfully tested the mobile launch platform and mission control centre, which had journeyed over 1,800 km to the test site. The automatic ‘load-and-launch’ ground support system performed nominally through countdown, and switched to safe mode to dilute the oxidiser when the tank was compromised. With this mobile launch system, we believe we have the capability to launch a light orbital vehicle from anywhere in Australia.

** Interstellar Technologies MOMO suborbital rocket fails to reach its planned orbit as well:

The

onboard computer issued an emergency stop command. MOMO-F4 reached an apogee of around 13 km and splashed down of 9 km offshore in Launch Hazard Area.

The company has raised more funds to keep development going: Interstellar Technologies Inc. Raises ¥1.22 Billion [US$12.2M] in Series B – Interstellar Technologies  –  July.29.2019 (pdf)

** Update on the next SpaceShipTwo in construction at The Spaceship Company:

Virgin Galactic expects, according to a recent investor presentation, to have five SS2 vehicles in operation by 2023 to support around 270 flights per year.

** China:

*** First stage of Chinese Long March 2C rocket used grid fins similar to those on the SpaceX Falcon boosters. They were used to guide the first stage to an unpopulated area after the launch from an inland spaceport:

Grid Fins on Long March 2C.
Grid Fins on Long March 2C. Credits: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)

*** iSpace Hyperbola-1 first launch mimics SpaceX Falcon Heavy‘s launch of a Tesla Roadster:

iSpace Hyperbola-1 launch – weibo.com

** The 2019 International Space Elevator Conference will be held August 16-18 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA. The annual meeting is organized by the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC). Check out their latest update: ISEC Space Elevator Newsletter August 2019

** SpaceX:

*** Falcon 9 launch of AMOS-17 communications is delayed after a problem found during a static firing test on Wednesday:

The first stage booster has flown twice but will be expended on this launch.

Here is a video of the static test courtesy of www.USLaunchReport.com

*** Synchronized views of the Falcon 9 booster returning to the Cape after the CRS-18 Dragon launch: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posts uncut Falcon 9 landing video: reentry burn to touchdown – Teslarati

*** Legs of the recovered booster folded up rather than removed: SpaceX retracts Falcon 9 booster’s landing legs a second time after speedy reuse – Teslarati.

Following the Falcon 9 booster’s second successful NASA launch in less than three months, SpaceX recovery technicians have once again rapidly retracted B1056’s four landing legs, also reused from the booster’s May 2019 launch debut.

On the heels of Falcon 9 B1056’s first speedy, leg-retracting recovery, a repeat of the booster’s impressive landing leg retraction debut – using the same legs, no less – serves as an excellent sign that whatever hardware changes were implemented are on the right track. As part of SpaceX and CEO Elon Musk’s interim goal of launching the same Falcon 9 booster twice in 1-2 days, a speedy recovery is an absolute necessity, and landing leg retraction is just one of the dozens of ways the company will need to optimize recovery and reuse to lower average turnaround times from weeks to days.

*** Environmental impact of Starship/Super Heavy launches from Pad 39A outlined in Draft Environmental Assessment for the SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy  Launch Vehicle at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) – NASA  (pdf)

Pursuant to the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA), SpaceX currently operates its Falcon family of launch vehicles on KSC at Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A). SpaceX proposes to expand operations to include launch of Starship/Super Heavy vehicle from this complex. The fully reusable rocket system is being developed by SpaceX to take humans and cargo to Earth orbit and beyond, including to the Moon and Mars.

The launch vehicle is comprised of two stages; the Super Heavy booster is the first stage, and the Starship is the second stage. The booster would be powered by 31 Raptor engines and Starship spacecraft would be powered by seven Raptor engines. The propellant is composed of liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid methane (LCH4). SpaceX intends to eventually launch the Starship/Super Heavy approximately 24 times per year. The Starship/Super Heavy would include Lunar and Mars missions, satellite payload missions, and human spaceflight.

SpaceX would construct an additional launch mount for Starship/Super Heavy at LC-39A, adjacent to the existing mount used for the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. A LCH4 farm would be built near the existing Falcon Rocket Propellant-1 (RP-1) farm similar in structure to the existing LOX farm. Site improvements would also include an interior transport road leading from the pad entrance gate up to the launch mount as well as several new high pressure gaseous commodity lines. A deluge water system and water cooled flame diverter would be installed and comprised of new water tanks capable of delivering the necessary water pressure.

The Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) facility, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), would be used as a landing location for Starship, similar to its current use for Falcon booster landings. The Starship spacecraft is the second stage of the vehicle. Super Heavy is the first stage booster and would be landed downrange on a droneship (converted barge), similar to the downrange landings of Falcon boosters. SpaceX’s proposed action includes the construction of a landing pad for Starship land landings within the LC-39A boundary. The potential for land landings of Starship at LC-39A will require additional analysis to fully assess the potential impacts to NASA programs, facilities, personnel and operations.

The file includes also the report: Starship Noise and Sonic Boom Assessment for Flight and Static Test Operations at Kennedy Space Center – KBRwyle Technical Note TN 19-02.

*** The Starhopper moved back to its starting point after its first un-tethered flight:

The window for the next flight, which will go up to 200 meters, opens on August 12th.

*** Scott Manley analyzes the Starhopper’s hop:

*** A view from the sky of SpaceX facilities and activities at Boca Chica Beach:

*** Shots of the Starhopper and Starship demo vehicle under assembly at Boca Chica:

*** Misc. SpaceX items:

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The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos,
and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos