Space transport roundup – Feb.26.2019

A sampling of recent items related to traveling to and through space:

** EXOS Aerospace sets March 2 for the second flight of the SARGE reusable suborbital rocket. The launch will take place at Spaceport America in New Mexico: Launch Announcement: 03/02/2019 | EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technologies, inc.

“With a successful flight we will leave the testing phase, and focus on the engineering of our Jaguar reusable (first stage) LEO launcher” said John Quinn, EXOS COO. “We look forward to supporting space research, manufacturing, and educational opportunities for the world by providing frequent suborbital flights that provide fast and affordable access to space. Since the 36-foot tall 20-inch diameter SARGE rocket is designed for reusability, it is proving to be an excellent risk mitigation platform for our orbital technology development program. The software and technology we have developed is key to development of the reusable first stage of our planned Jaguar vehicle”.

SARGE and Jaguar will use NASA’s Morpheus flight code (acquired through a Space Act Agreement) that was modified by a team of Engineers from Exos Aerospace, Intuitive Machine, C-Squared Systems, Helios and XISP Inc.

** SpaceX Crew Dragon vs Boeing Starliner vs Soyuz vs Space Shuttle – Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, provides an interesting comparison of four crew-capable space transport systems: How SpaceX and Boeing will get Astronauts to the ISS. A comparison of the Crew Dragon, Starliner, Soyuz and Space Shuttle. – Everyday Astronaut



** China: The number of Chinese entrepreneurial companies involved in space transport reaches around ten according to these estimates: China’s NewSpace: Mapping of its 60+ Start-ups – The China Aerospace Blog.

** Arianespace prepares a Soyuz rocket for launch for tomorrow, Feb. 26th, at 4:37 p.m. EST (2137 GMT). The rocket will carry the first 6 satellites of the OneWeb broadband constellation, which will eventually comprise 900 satellites (the system becomes operational globally with 600).

** ESA tests a rocket engine designed for upper stages and in-space transport: 3D-printed storable-propellant rocket engine design tested – ESA

The recent hot firing of a full-scale rocket thrust chamber assembly takes us a step closer to proving 3D-printing for an engine design destined for rocket upper stages, in-orbit transportation applications (kick-stages and space-tugs), microlaunchers, and exploration spacecraft such as a lunar lander and ascent stage on the Moon.

Manufactured entirely by 3D-printing, this thrust chamber is designed for ‘storable propellants’, called such because they can be stored as liquids at room temperature. Rocket engines that are powered this way are easy to ignite reliably and repeatedly on missions lasting many months.

** Reusable launch technology development is (belatedly) underway in Europe: Europe unveils design of reusable rocket that looks a lot like a Falcon 9 | Ars Technica

Late last week, the European rocket maker Ariane Group and the French space agency CNES announced the creation of an “acceleration platform” to speed development of future launch vehicles. The initiative, called ArianeWorks, would be a place where “teams work together in a highly flexible environment, open to new players and internationally.”

As part of the announcement, the organizations released a promotional video for the group’s first step—a so-called Themis demonstrator. The goal of this project is to build a multiple-engine first-stage rocket that launches vertically and lands near the launch site. The rocket will be powered by Europe’s Prometheus engine, a reusable liquid oxygen and methane engine that may cost as little as $1 million to build.

** Raptor Aerospace Ltd is a UK-based company that provides suborbital sounding rocket flight services.

** Blue Origin: Jeff Bezos gave an update last week on New Shepard and New Glenn developments and once again promoted his vision of development of a large scale human civilization in space: Jeff Bezos critiques space rivals, shares vision in NYC interview – Business Insider

Some items of particular interest:

  • Bezos definitely expects to start flying people in the New Shepard this year.
  • New Shepard flies to 100 kilometers, not to orbit, but provides a great way to test the BE-3 hydrogen-fueled rocket engine and other technologies that will be needed for the New Glenn orbital system.
  • He believes suborbital spaceflight participants should fly to at least 100 kilometers to be considered fully legitimate space travelers. This is a dig at Virgin Galactic, whose SpaceShipTwo appears to max out at around 90 kilometers.
  • He sees large in-space habitats as the best way for humans to create an off-earth civilization rather than living on the Moon or Mars.

** United Launch Alliance (ULA) is making progress on development of the Vulcan rocket. Via Stephen Clark (@StephenClark1) | Twitter:

  • “Just finished a nice interview with @torybruno. The first flight hardware for Vulcan is now being produced at ULA’s factory in Alabama. First launch remains set for Spring 2021.”
  • “Critical design review for Vulcan should be completed soon, says @torybruno. Waiting on some final data from BE-4 engine tests. He says Blue Origin has completed dozens of hotfire tests to date on the BE-4, the most powerful methane rocket engine ever built.”

** SpaceX:

**** DM-1 countdown proceeds – The first Crew Dragon demonstration mission (DM-1) to the ISS is set for early Saturday morning, March 2nd at Cape Kennedy. Liftoff has an 1 second launch window at 2:49:03 am EST local time (0749:03 GMT).

There will be no crew on this flight but the vehicle will otherwise carry out a mission identical to that of a crew flight. This includes automated docking with the station rather than the berthing procedure used for the Cargo Dragons, which involves a station’s robotic arm grabbing the Dragon and bringing it up to the hatch for connection. The Crew Dragon will instead directly move with its own thrusters up to the docking mechanism and attach to it.

For more about DM-1, see the posting here and the article SpaceX given the go-ahead for Crew Dragon’s first journey into Earth orbit – Teslarati. Here is the NASA briefing last week about the approval to proceed with DM-1:

**** The landing platform “Of Course I Still Love Your” (OCISLY) departed Port Canaveral this morning and will head for the target location for the landing of the DM-1 booster.

OCISLY had just a two day turnaround time after returning with the Falcon 9 booster from last week’s launch of an Indonesian comm-sat and the SpaceIL Beresheet lunar lander: Scorched SpaceX rocket returns to port in Florida, ready to launch a fourth time – Spaceflight Now.

See SpaceXFleet Updates (@SpaceXFleet) | Twitter for the latest on OCISLY and the company’s other sea-going assets.

Here are videos of some of the activities at Port Canaveral dealing with the latest booster to return from space:

This booster made its third flight last week and will make a fourth flight this spring for an in-flight abort test of a Crew Dragon.

Here is a video of last week’s launch from outside the Cape Canaveral boundary:

**** Elon Musk comments on various aspects of spaceflight and the challenges of establishing a Martian base: Elon Musk Interview | SpaceX Mars Base – Popular Mechanics.

Elon has never seemed very enthusastic about human missions to the Moon but he now accepts that the Moon is likely to be a key steppingstone to Mars:

I think Starship will also be good for creating a base on the moon. We’ll probably have a base on the moon before going to Mars.

**** The new Raptor methane fueled engines will power the Starship and the Super Heavy booster. Tests of the first operational scale engine are underway at the company’s McGregor, Texas facility. The first engine’s performace was deliberately pushed to the breaking point: SpaceX’s first Starship engine suffers – Teslarati

**** StarHopper activities and launch pad construction continue at the Boca Chica Beach facility in South Texas as seen in these recent images and videos:


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