Category Archives: Rockets

Space transport roundup – Oct.17.2019

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

** Rocket Lab launches ninth Electron rocket with Astro Digital satellite: Rocket Lab successfully launches ninth Electron mission, deploys payload to highest orbit yet | Rocket Lab

The mission, named ‘As The Crow Flies,’ lifted off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula at 01:22 UTC, 17 October 2019 (14:22 NZDT). Approximately 71 minutes after lift-off, Electron’s Kick Stage deployed the payload to a circular orbit of more than 1,000 km – more than twice the altitude of any Electron mission to date. The mission successfully demonstrated recent upgrades to the Kick Stage’s 3D-printed Curie engine, including the move to a bi-propellant design for improved performance. Curie also serves as the propulsion system on Rocket Lab’s Photon satellite bus, and the flight-proven engine upgrades support enduring missions in LEO, as well as higher orbits.

This mission takes the total number of satellites deployed by Rocket Lab to 40 and continues the company’s track record of 100% mission success for customers.

The spacecraft on board was a Palisade technology demonstration satellite – a 16U CubeSat with on-board propulsion and next generation communications systems developed by Astro Digital, and software developed by Advanced Solutions Inc. including an advanced version of ASI’s MAX Flight Software.

This video of the webcast shows the liftoff at the 15:05 point. There are also interesting background stories about the company’s rocket making process, plans for reusing the first stage, the launch site, etc.

** Composite vehicle frame for Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser ready for full assembly and preparation for first flight in 2021:

…The structure is the largest piece of technology to make up Dream Chaser and the most advanced high-temperature composite spaceframe ever built.

The primary structure is a pressurized composite structure that will contain pressurized payloads heading to the International Space Station. The structure was manufactured by subcontractor Lockheed Martin and recently shipped from their Fort Worth, Texas facility to Louisville, Colorado, where Dream Chaser is being built and integrated by SNC.

Design highlights:

    • Uses advanced composite 3D woven assembly methods and represents the most advanced high-temperature composite spaceframe ever built.
    • Structure is about 30 feet long by 15 feet wide and approximately 6 feet high and weighs roughly 2,200 pounds.
    • Materials include carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRPs), more traditionally referred to as “composites.”
    • The use of CFRP materials instead of aluminum and titanium alloys, lowers manufacturing costs for creating a unique, aerodynamically complex spaceframe design.  
    • Composites decrease the amount of thermal protection required compared to an aluminum primary structure. 
    • Advanced 3D woven construction minimize penetrations to the hot lower aeroshell.
Dream Chaser Primary Structure
The primary structure for the Dream Chaser arrives at the Sierra Nevada Corp. Colorado facility. Credits: SNC

** South Korea’s Perigee Aerospace to launch from the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex on the southern Coast of Australia. The Whalers Way facility is a project of the Australian company, Southern Launch. 

** Launcher company Skyrora of Scotland opens a new facility and begins firing tests of a  30kN rocket engine: Scottish space explorer completes crucial first phase of tests – Business Insider

**Report  released on flight safety of the proposed Georgia spaceport. While waiting for FAA licensing process to be completed, Spaceport Camden management says that they have been working

… to determine a way to increase transparency about the project’s licensing information without complicating the agency’s ongoing review or releasing sensitive or export-controlled information that cannot lawfully be shared with the public. Pursuant to those goals, the County initiated the development of a publicly releasable report, prepared by The Aerospace Corporation, that describes the project’s flight safety analysis.

The report can be viewed at Flight Safety Analysis for Spaceport Camden County – CamdenCountyBOC – issuu

** Today China launched a Long March 3B with the TJSW-4 military satellite, whose capability and mission have not been publicized: Long March 3B launches TJSW -4 –

** China developing a second super heavy rocket in addition to Long March 9: Initial research on rocket ends successfully –

According to the report, the new rocket is being designed at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing. Its main body will be 87 meters tall, which means it will be almost twice as tall as the Long March 5, currently the biggest of China’s rockets.

The gigantic craft will boast liftoff weight of about 2,200 metric tons, nearly triple that of the Long March 5. This will enable the rocket to place a 25-ton spacecraft in a lunar transfer trajectory, the newspaper said.

The Long March 9 is expected to fly in 2030.

“But it is necessary for China to develop a new rocket for manned missions because such a rocket will offer us a new option, besides the Long March 9, for future explorations to the moon or other deep-space destinations,” he said.

“And compared with the Long March 9, it will have lower costs and can enter service earlier.”

According to the designers’ plan, a Long March 9 will be capable of lifting 140 tons of payload into a low-Earth orbit or a 50-ton spacecraft to a lunar transfer trajectory. The 100-meter colossal machine will also be able to ferry 44 tons of payload to a Mars transfer orbit.

** Indian RLV program to do a drop test of a prototype reusable spaceplane: Isro readies its Swadeshi space shuttle –

The Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV), for the first time, will be tested on land — the 2.2 km runway at ATR to be precise — with its under carriage in position after a freefall from a helicopter flying at an altitude of three km. The onboard computer will help the RLV to glide for some distance before touching down like an aircraft, scientists at Isro told Deccan Chronicle.

Indian spaceplanes in orbit
Artist’s view of reusable space planes in orbit, which is the goal of the Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstration program (RLV-TD) aims to develop.

** SpaceX:

*** NASA funding to assist development of in-orbit refueling of Starships: NASA shows interest in SpaceX’s Starship orbital refueling ambitions – Florida Today

The technology to dock spacecraft and transfer propellants or other necessities has a history in spaceflight, but doing so autonomously and in more modern ways has long been sought after by NASA, commercial satellite operators, and even the Department of Defense.

Having that ability could mean spacecraft such as Starship go on longer voyages; or it could help existing satellites in orbit around Earth stay in their positions longer without having to shut down due to fuel depletion. And it doesn’t have to just be fuel – such docking maneuvers could help pave the way for in-orbit repairs and servicing, too.

*** A new Starship/Super Heavy animation was posted by SpaceX this week. The in-orbit refueling starts at about the 1:15 point.

** More details on development of the vacuum version of the Raptor engine released by Elon Musk: SpaceX’s Starship Raptor Vacuum engine plans laid out by CEO Elon Musk

Elon Musk says that SpaceX Starship engine upgrades are on track to begin static fire tests of a Raptor Vacuum variant as few as a “couple months” from now.

Designed to enable more efficient performance in thin atmosphere or vacuum, Musk admitted that the first version(s) of Raptor Vacuum (RVac) will likely be a compromise between efficiency and speed of development. Nevertheless, the faster SpaceX can prepare Raptor Vacuum for flight, the easier it will be for Starship to begin serious (sub)orbital flight tests.

** Raptor vertical test stand under construction at McGregor, Texas facility:

According to CEO Elon Musk, SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy rockets are about to get a new test stand that will enable additional and more useful static fire tests of their Raptor engines.

These modifications could reportedly lead to a simplified engine design and will generally expand SpaceX’s ability to rapidly acceptance-test a huge number of Raptors – a necessity given that each Starship/Super Heavy pair will need up to 43 engines.

*** Latest on SpaceX efforts to buy out Boca Chica home owners:

*** Recent views of Boca Chica Beach facilities:

*** And of the Cocoa Beach Starship site:

Update: More about the start of construction of a third demo starship: SpaceX starts construction of another Starship rocket in Florida – CNBC

SpaceX now has three of its next-generation Starship rockets under construction, as aerial video shows the latest developments at the company’s facility in Florida.

The first bands of stainless steel for another Starship rocket were put on a stand Thursday, and were captured in a video taken from a flying drone. Former commercial pilot John Winkopp took the video and gave CNBC permission to use his footage.

*** SpaceX sea fleet grows to assist reusability.

— Two ships will now be deployed for satellite missions so that both nosecone fairings can be caught: SpaceX preparing to catch two Falcon 9 fairings at once with twin net-carrying ships – Teslarati.

— And another sea-going platform is being prepared so that both side boosters of a Falcon Heavy can land at sea: Elon Musk says SpaceX is still building a third drone ship – but is it for Falcon or Starship? – Teslarati

*** Lots of launches for Falcon 9 and Starship rockets: SpaceX could upgrade Starlink constellation with tens of thousands of satellites



Space transport roundup – Oct.12.2019

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

** Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL launched with ICON spacecraft. After nearly a year of delay due to various technical issues, the rocket was air launched from a L-1011 aircraft on Thursday off the coast of Florida. NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) will “study the dynamic zone in our atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather from above”.

** Northrop Grumman buys back two Pegasus rockets from Stratolaunch, which had puirchased them for air launch from the giant Roc aircraft. Stratolaunch now has other plans:  Rockets purchased by Stratolaunch back under Northrop Grumman control – Spaceflight Now

Phil Joyce, vice president of space launch programs at Northrop Grumman, said this week that the company is trying to sell the launches using the two remaining Pegasus XL rockets, and officials plan to keep the Pegasus rocket’s L-1011 carrier jet flying for at least five or 10 more years.

The airborne launch of NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, scientific satellite Thursday night off Florida’s east coast is the final scheduled flight of a Pegasus XL rocket. Variants of the solid-fueled Pegasus rocket have flown on 43 satellite delivery missions since 1990.

“We actually purchased those back (from Stratolaunch),” Joyce said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. “So they’re in a very advanced state of integration, which means they’re available for a very rapid response launch. We could launch one of those in six months, the second one probably in eight (months).

** Stratolaunch has new ownership and a new business plan:

See also Stratolaunch says it’s been sold by Paul Allen’s Vulcan to a new owner – GeekWire.

** Northrop Grumman’s satellite servicing spacecraft launched on Proton rocket along with a Eutelsat comm-sat. The MEV-1 (Mission Extension Vehicle 1) will reach the Intelsat IS-901 satellite in geostationary orbit in about 3 months. The IS-901 is running out of propellant to maintain its position and orientation. MEV-1 will attach to the apogee rocket nozzle on the satellite and use its own electric propulsion system to do the station-keeping duties for IS-901. In about five years, MEV-1 will park IS-901 in a higher, graveyard orbit and move on to another comm-sat nearing the end of its fuel and repeat the service.

** Rocket Lab gets FAA license that covers multiple launches over five years:

** Virgin Orbit working with Polish universities to send a CubeSat mission to Mars: SatRevolution, Virgin Orbit and Polish Universities Establish Mars Consortium | Virgin Orbit

Scientists and engineers from nearly a dozen Polish universities have teamed up with Poland-based satellite company SatRevolution and Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company Virgin Orbit to establish a new consortium to design and carry out the world’s first dedicated commercial small satellite mission to Mars. The parties established the consortium at a formal signing ceremony during the Impact Mobility’19 rEVolution conference in Katowice, Poland.

The consortium will jointly develop the first in a series of up to three Mars missions, with the initial launch expected as early as three years from now.

** Masten partners with AI experts: Masten partners with MSBAI for AI-Augmented Space Flight – Masten Space

Masten Space Systems announced a new partnership with MSBAI to integrate cognitive artificial intelligence capabilities for autonomous space flight applications.

** Using Earth’s upper atmosphere to replenish propellants for a debris removal spacecraft will be studied by John Slough, MSNW LLC, with a NIAC Phase I grant: Crosscutting High Apogee Refueling Orbital Navigator (CHARON) | NASA

An orbital vehicle that could utilize in-situ upper atmospheric resources would enable a host of missions, and in particular ADR [Active Debris Removal], that require extremely high delta-V in a fast, responsive, and repeatable manner. The concept proposed here, the Crosscutting, High Apogee, Refueling Orbital Navigator (CHARON) will provide such capability.

CHARON accomplishes this in the following manner: first it obtains fuel by scooping up and storing the low density N2 and O encountered during the low altitude perigee periods of the highly elliptical orbits. Incorporation of the ultra-lightweight, high thrust-to-power Electrodeless Lorentz Force thruster developed at MSNW enables CHARON to operate efficiently on stored gas in a variety of configurations depending upon mission requirements. As CHARON can thrust at apogee, it can achieve the extensive orbit lowering needed for ADR.

Additionally, CHARON can thrust at perigee to provide drag compensation for very low perigee refueling, stable non-Keplerian orbits, or rapid phase changes. CHARON requires only 5 kW of on-board solar power as energy collected during the higher altitude portions of its elliptical orbit can be stored for higher power operation later. Functioning in this manner CHARON can generate 1.2 N of thrust at 2500 sec of Isp for ADR. During a 10 year mission life, CHARON will process 5500 kg of propellant to ferry 80 spacecraft, perform 850 degrees of plane change, with over 100km/s of delta-V, all with a single spacecraft launch, and requiring no additional onboard propellant.

Crosscutting High Apogee Refueling Orbital Navigator (CHARON)
A diagram showing the steps taken by the Crosscutting High Apogee Refueling Orbital Navigator (CHARON) to carry out Active Debris Removal. John Slough won funding from NIAC for a Phase I study of the CHARON  concept. Credits: John Slough, MSNW LLC.

** Boeing sets dates for Starliner crew spacecraft tests: Boeing reveals target dates for initial Starliner test flights – Spaceflight Now

Boeing officials said Wednesday that the company is targeting Dec. 17 for the launch of the first unpiloted orbital test flight of the new Starliner crew capsule from Cape Canaveral on a week-long demonstration mission to the International Space Station, a precursor to a mission with astronauts next year.

Meanwhile, engineers in the New Mexico desert are readying a Starliner test vehicle for a pad abort test scheduled for the morning of Nov. 4, local time, during which the crew capsule will demonstrate its ability to escape an emergency on the launch pad, according to industry sources.

But officials did not say when the Starliner could be ready to launch with astronauts. The Starliner’s first crewed test flight will use a different spacecraft than the one set for launch in December.

** SpaceX

*** Commercial Crew program in the spotlight this week. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, California to check out the status of development of the Crew Dragon. An in-flight abort test is coming up

Some of the highlights of the event:

*** Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, interviewed Bridenstine after the news conference:

*** Tour the Hawthorne CCP facilities in this 360 degree VR video from NASA: NASA’s Commercial Crew Program VR 360 Tour: SpaceX Crew Dragon – YouTube

In Part 2 of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program VR 360 Tour, NASA Communications Specialist Joshua Santora takes you on a tour of SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California. This immersive, Virtual Reality experience exhibits the design and manufacturing of the SpaceX Crew Dragon. Visit for more STEM educational resources featuring NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Find more Commercial Crew Program VR 360 Tour videos at the Cape Kennedy Youtube  channel.

*** A Falcon 9 booster will be flown a fourth time for the first time when the next set of Starliner satellites are launched either late this month or in early November. SpaceX’s next launch to mark another incremental step in rocket reusability – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX next mission, slated to carry the company’s second set of Starlink broadband satellites into orbit, will be the first to fly with a reused Falcon 9 booster making its fourth launch when it takes off in the coming weeks.

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability, confirmed earlier this week the plan to use a thrice-flown booster on the next Falcon 9 launch.

“Currently we use our boosters 10 times, they’re designed for 10 times,” Koenigsmann said Monday during a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Engineering. “We’re going to start with a fourth time with the next launch, actually. Dragon has been used three times, Crew Dragon will be used up to five times (initially only for cargo missions). So all these things help because you don’t have to build something again. You have to inspect it, refurbish it where you need to refurbish it, but ideally you need to keep that really, really low.”

*** A Falcon 9 to head  due south from Cape Canaveral to put remote sensing satellite into a polar orbit: SpaceX to shift Falcon 9’s next West Coast launch to Florida, the first of its kind in decades – Teslarati

According to NASASpaceflight spaceflight reporter Michael Baylor and an Argentinian government website, SpaceX appears to have decided to move its next West Coast launch from California to Florida, signifying the first East Coast polar launch in half a century could be just four months away.

Initially expected to launch out of SpaceX’s Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) SLC-4E pad on a Falcon 9 rocket, the Argentinian space agency’s (CONAE) SAOCOM-1B Earth observation satellite was scheduled to lift off no earlier than February 2020. That launch window remains the same but Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) has somehow arranged approval to reopen the United States’ Eastern polar launch corridor. The story behind the corridor’s closure is a bizarre one.


Manned Lunar Landing and Return

Space transport roundup – Oct.8.2019

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

** Boeing buys into Virgin Galactic: Boeing To Invest In Human Spaceflight Pioneer Virgin Galactic

Boeing will invest $20 million in Virgin Galactic, a vertically integrated human spaceflight company. The companies will work together to broaden commercial space access and transform global travel technologies.

“Boeing’s strategic investment facilitates our effort to drive the commercialization of space and broaden consumer access to safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible new forms of transportation,” said Brian Schettler, senior managing director of Boeing HorizonX Ventures. “Our work with Virgin Galactic and others will help unlock the future of space travel and high-speed mobility.”

To date, Virgin Galactic has invested more than $1 billion of capital to build reusable, human spaceflight systems designed to enable significantly more people to experience and utilize space. In July, the company announced its intent to become a publicly-listed entity via a business combination with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. The Boeing investment will be in return for new shares in Virgin Galactic and is therefore contingent on the closing of that transaction, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019, and any such investment will be in the post-business combination company.

“VSS Unity Rockets to Space on Historic First Spaceflight.” Credits Virgin Galactic

** Italian Air Force buys a Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo flight for microgravity research: Virgin Galactic and Italian Air Force Announce World First Government Contract for Human Tended Research Flight

Virgin Galactic has announced a new contract with the Italian Air Force for a research flight on the company’s SpaceShipTwo system during which Italian researchers will actively conduct experiments while they are in space.

The contract marks the first time a government department has funded a human-tended research flight on a commercial space vehicle. The mission, set to take place as early as 2020, will fly three Italian payload specialists and a rack of research payloads. The Italian Air Force payload specialists and Virgin Galactic’s payload team are working with the Italian National Research Centre (CNR) on the design of the experimental payloads.

Human-tended research onboard SpaceShipTwo allows a dynamic approach to space-based science with researchers able to engage actively with their experiments, responding to developments in real time, optimizing the effectiveness of the research. Experimentation with humans-in-the-loop may also improve reliability by removing the unneeded complexity of building automation in. Virgin Galactic will be able to provide these benefits to the research community at levels of repeatability, affordability and quality of microgravity which have been historically unavailable in human spaceflight.

** Virgin Galactic ticket prices will rise above $250k and Blue Origin’s will start at a few hundred thousand until flight rates rise significantly:  Blue Origin’s CEO says first space trips on New Shepard will cost ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ – GeekWire

This week, the Australian Financial Review quoted Virgin Galactic’s commercial director, Stephen Attenborough, as saying that customer flights would begin in 2020, and that the price tag would rise once the company starts flying the more than 600 people currently on its reservation list.

Attenborough said he hoped the price would eventually come down, as the frequency of flights goes from once or twice a month to a few times a week.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith wouldn’t give the exact ticket price but just gave a range:

“Any new technology is never cheap, whether you’re talking about the first IBM computers or what we actually see today,” Smith said. “But it’ll be actually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for people to go, initially.”

Smith added that over time, “we’re going to get this down to the point where middle-class people” can afford a ticket to space.

** China maintains a high mission rate with the launch of a Long March 4C with a remote sensing satellite:

**Rocket Lab prepares for ninth Electron rocket launch. The two week launch window opens on October 15th.

The payload customer is Astro Digital:

The mission is named ‘As The Crow Flies’ in a nod to Astro Digital’s Corvus Platform, which provides flexible and cost-effective solutions across a wide range of applications and mission profiles on bus variants ranging from 6U and 16U CubeSats to ESPA Class. Corvus is also a widely-distributed genus of birds which includes crows.

** Relativity Space raises big money for building small rockets with big 3D printers:

Relativity Space, the company building the world’s first autonomous rocket factory and launch services for satellites, today announced that it has closed a $140 million Series C funding round led by Bond and Tribe Capital.

 With this $140 million funding round, Relativity is fully funded to become the first company in the world to launch an entirely 3D printed rocket to orbit and enter commercial service in early 2021. The Series C round includes participation by new investors Lee Fixel, Michael Ovitz, Spencer Rascoff, Republic Labs, and Jared Leto, with participation from current investors Playground Global, Y Combinator, Social Capital, and Mark Cuban.

 “Relativity was founded with the long term vision of 3D printing the first rocket made on Mars and expanding the possibilities for human experience in our lifetime. With the close of our Series C funding, we are now one step closer to that vision by being fully funded to launch Terran 1 to orbit as the world’s first entirely 3D printed rocket,” said Tim Ellis, Cofounder and CEO of Relativity Space. “Bond and Tribe are unrivaled partners in leading this funding round, and we are excited to build this important future together with our entire team.”

** LAUNCHER is progressing on 3D printing of their engine designs:

** Ursa Major designs and builds advanced rocket engines for small rockets. Here is a brief update and a clip of a recent test:


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** Firefly test fires four Reaver engines altogether in the configuration used on the Alpha rocket  first stage:

** Space Access: Transport and Logistics panel discussion at the recent Space Studies Institute conference in Seattle.

  • Henry Vanderbilt starts with a beginner’s guide to the Rocket Equation (00:17:56)
  • John Schilling of Aerospace Corporation
    • Near-Term Partially Reusable Launch Vehicles (00:38:20)
    • A Possible Cislunar Transportation Architecture Compatible with Near-Term NASA Requirements (00:54:00)
  • Dallas Bienhoff of Cislunar Development Corp – Evolving Reusable Cislunar Transportation Architecture (01:17:50)
  • Audience Q&A ( 01:35:50).

** Human Spaceflight  panel at the 2019 National Academy of Engineering Annual Meeting. Panelists included former NASA astronaut Robert Crippen, former NASA Administrator and astronaut Charles Bolden, former NASA astronauts Lt. Gen. Tom Stafford (USAF, Ret.) , SpaceX VP Hans Koenigsmann,  and Boeing (and former NASA) astronaut Chris Ferguson.


** Latest on space elevators: October 2019 Edition of the ISEC Newsletter

The tether will likely be constructed of either carbon nanotubes (CNT) or sheets of single-crystal graphene (SCG). Production of these materials has advanced in recent years, with both CNTs and SCGs reaching lengths of 50 cm in the laboratory. The specific strength (tensile strength divided by density) of either material is already sufficient for space elevator needs. Concepts are now being developed for mass production of both of these materials. The mass of the tether will vary depending on its taper (cross sectional area as a function of length), the tether material and construction. Current estimates are around 1000 MT for the tether and 400 MT for the Apex Anchor.

** SpaceX

*** Dedicated SpaceX Starship web page includes lots of interesting info and cool imagery.

“The Starship payload fairing is 9 m in diameter and ~19 m high, resulting in the largest usable payload volume of any current or in development launcher. This payload volume can be configured for both crew and cargo.”

*** Construction underway of Starship launch/landing facilities at Kennedy Space Center:


The construction of the new Starship launch and landing facility at Pad 39A is in full swing as heavy equipment lays the foundations at the iconic Kennedy Space Center pad complex. Built alongside the 39A ramp, a new launch mount will be installed for what will be the maiden launch of SpaceX’s Starship Mk2 prototype rocket. The facility also includes a landing pad that will be eventually used for returning vehicles.

*** Hardware detail work makes Starship & Super Heavy seem real rather than just research projects:

For the first several years of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy booster recovery operations, SpaceX built grid fins – used for maneuvering the rockets at high speeds – out of aluminum. With Falcon 9 Block 5, aluminum grid fins were phased out entirely in favor of larger titanium fins, necessitated by exceptionally high-speed reentries that nearly melted through the aluminum fins on several occasions. Now, SpaceX wants to move from titanium to steel fins for its next-generation Starship launch vehicle.

Super Heavy grid fins are shown in this model of the space transport system shown on the SpaceX Starship site.

Noted multiple times over the years (and in recent days) by both SpaceX and CEO Elon Musk, an extremely robust and reliable method of orbital refueling is essential to the success of Starship’s current designed – perhaps more so than any other single aspect of the next-generation launch vehicle. Although Starship-Super Heavy will likely offer respectable performance in single-launch mode, the implicit need to recover and reuse both booster and spacecraft takes a big chunk out of the rocket’s potential capabilities.

*** Time Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, talked with Elon Musk after his Starship presentation in Boca Chica Beach on Sept. 28th:

*** Some other items about the presentation:

*** Latest drone view of Cocoa Beach Starship facility:

*** Crew Dragon news:

Despite all of the technical work ahead, Musk said he expected both the rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for the first crewed mission to arrive in Florida at the company’s launch facilities within about 10 weeks. Within that time frame, he said testing on hardware should also be completed.

If this is the case, the ball would move to NASA’s court to review all of the company’s paperwork and procedures and sign off on a crewed mission. One source said it was possible this could be done in time to support a flight early in the spring of 2020—but no one is offering launch guarantees at this point.

A decision to extend the duration of the Crew Dragon test flight with Behnken and Hurley, designated Demo-2, is one of several options under consideration to ensure the space station remains staffed with U.S. astronauts after NASA’s agreement to procure seats on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft expires next year.

In an interview with CNN last week, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency is also looking at purchasing more Soyuz seats from Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

The final round-trip Soyuz seat procured by NASA will launch in March 2020 on the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft, a mission also designated Soyuz 62S in the space station’s sequence of visiting vehicles. The crew member flying in that seat has not been announced, but a U.S. astronaut and a Japanese astronaut have been training to potentially fly on a Soyuz mission in early 2020.

As part of continued preparations ahead of SpaceX’s Demonstration-2 mission (DM-2) that will debut Crew Dragon’s ability to support astronaut flight, SpaceX and NASA have successfully tested crew emergency egress (escape) systems at SpaceX’s primary crew launch facilities located at Launch Complex 39-A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The successful verification tests have proven that SpaceX is ready to support crewed launches and preserve human life with effective escape methods, including a zipline mounted basket system that will whisk astronauts away from Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 in the event of a launch pad anomaly.

*** Intuitive Machines to launch  Nova-C lunar lander on Falcon 9:

Houston-based Intuitive Machines selected SpaceX to launch its lunar lander, Nova-C, to the Moon in 2021 on a Falcon 9 rocket.

“Intuitive Machines is thrilled to sign with SpaceX to take Nova-C on its first mission to the moon,” said Intuitive Machines President and CEO, Steve Altemus. “SpaceX’s ability to make low-cost quality lunar transport is paramount to completing NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract and Intuitive Machines becoming the first commercial company to land on the Moon.”

Powered by the liquid methane main engine, Nova-C can deliver at least 220 pounds of space technology and instrumentation cargo to anywhere on the lunar surface. On its maiden mission in 2021, Nova-C will carry 5 NASA CLPS payloads to the lunar surface and transmit scientific data back to Earth during 13.5 days of activity on the moon. Intuitive Machines is in the process of adding additional payloads from other customers to the 2021 mission to fill out the available cargo manifest. Credits: Intuitive Machines


Space 2.0: How Private Spaceflight, a Resurgent NASA,
and International Partners are Creating a New Space Age

Space transport roundup – Sept.30.2019

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

** SpaceX:

*** Elon Musk presents plans for rapid development of Starship/Super Heavy Booster space transport system while standing in front of first assembled Starship demonstrator on Saturday evening.

Some of the highlights from his remarks:

  • Starships Mk.1 and Mk.2 (Cocoa Beach, Florida) are just the first vehicles off the assembly lines.
    • Expect to complete a new vehicle every few months
    • Each will incorporate lessons learned from the previous vehicles.
  • Switching from composite to stainless steel brought multiple advantages:
    • Enables fast prototyping
    • Excellent strength and thermal properties
    • Much cheaper than composites
  • Mk.1 to fly to 20 kilometers in 1 to 2 months from now.
  • Doesn’t expect big regulatory problems with test flights and landings.
  • Before assembling first Super Heavy Booster (SH), need to ramp-up Raptor engine production.
  • Need about 30 engines for first SH.
  • SS Mk 4 or Mk.5 with first SH could launch to orbit by next year
  • Full reusability with rapid turnaround will enable multiple test flights in a short period.
  • Will fly crews within a year or so.
  • Will fly SS/SH from both Boca Chica and Kennedy Space Center launch sites.

*** Sampling of articles and responses to the presentation:

*** Time lapse of stacking of the Starship Mk.1 – LabPadre:

*** Scott Manley’s view of the presentation:

Reports leading up to the presentation:

*** A drone view of the Cocoa Beach facility where the Starship Mk.2 demonstrator is under construction:

*** Elon believes the Starships will enable large space settlements on the Moon and Mars. Some of the artwork shown:


*** SpaceX Crew Dragon developments:

Musk estimated that Crew Dragon capsule 03 (C203) and its expendable trunk would be sent from SpaceX’s Hawthorne, CA factory to Cape Canaveral, FL as early as October. Crew Dragon capsule C204 is then expected to follow around one month later, arriving in Florida for preflight preparation as early as November

SpaceX has applied for an FCC Special Temporary Authority license to authorize rocket communications during what is likely Crew Dragon’s In-Flight Abort (IFA) test, now scheduled to occur no earlier than November 23rd.

In line with recent comments from SpaceX executives, a November or December In-Flight Abort test would almost certainly preclude Crew Dragon from launching with astronauts in 2019, pushing the Demo-2 mission into the Q1 2020. Nevertheless, it would serve as a good sign that Crew Dragon remains on track if SpaceX can complete the critical abort test – meant to prove that Dragon can whisk astronauts away from a failing rocket at any point during launch – before the year is out.

NASA and SpaceX conducted a formal verification of the company’s emergency escape, or egress, system at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida on Sept. 18, 2019. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Shannon Walker participated in the exercise to verify the crew can safely and swiftly evacuate from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency before liftoff of SpaceX’s first crewed flight test, called Demo-2.

NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, in front, and Bob Behnken participated in the exercise to verify the crew can safely and quickly evacuate from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency before liftoff of SpaceX’s first crewed flight test, called Demo-2. During the escape verification, Walker and Behnken pass through the water deluge system on the 265-foot level of the crew access tower. Photo credit: SpaceX
NASA: “NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, in front, and Bob Behnken participated in the exercise to verify the crew can safely and quickly evacuate from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency before liftoff of SpaceX’s first crewed flight test, called Demo-2. During the escape verification, Walker and Behnken pass through the water deluge system on the 265-foot level of the crew access tower.”Photo credit: SpaceX

**  Japanese HTV-8 launched last week docked with the ISS on Saturday:

** Latest Ariane 6 news: Ariane 6’s core engine completes qualification tests – ESA

Ariane 6, Europe’s next-generation launch vehicle, has passed another key development milestone. Its Vulcain 2.1 liquid-fuelled engine has now completed its qualification testing, which means combined tests can now begin.

The main stage Vulcain 2.1 engine will deliver 135 t of thrust to propel Ariane 6 in the first eight minutes of flight up to an altitude of 200 km.

** Russia launches 2nd Soyuz in two days. Puts missile warning satellite into low earth orbit: Soyuz 2-1B launches latest Tundra satellite –

Russia’s Soyuz rocket has made its second launch in less than twenty-four hours, delivering a missile detection satellite to orbit Thursday in a military launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Soyuz lifted off at 10:46 Moscow Time (07:46 UTC), placing the Tundra satellite into its planned orbit with the aid of a Fregat upper stage.

Tundra plays a significant part in Russia’s national security arrangements, monitoring the Earth for potentially hostile missile launches so the Russian Government can react as necessary. It forms part of the Edinaya Kosmicheskaya Sistema (EKS) or Unified Space System which is being introduced to replace the earlier Oko system that Russia inherited from the Soviet Union. Thursday’s launch deployed the third such satellite.

** Reports of the death of Stratolaunch appear to have been exaggerated: Stratolaunch rebuilds team for world’s biggest plane – GeekWire

Representatives of the Allen family’s Vulcan holding company have insisted that Stratolaunch remains operational. LinkedIn listings indicate that Jean Floyd is still president and CEO, although three company vice presidents left in July.

Now Stratolaunch is posting 11 job openings, including listings for two test pilots. “As a test pilot on the history-making Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft, the world’s largest-wingspan aircraft, you will have the opportunity to accomplish new milestones in aviation,” the company says.

** Rocket Lab prepares launch facility at Wallops Island, Virginia: Rocket Lab Readies Launch Complex 2 for Electron Launches From U.S. Soil | Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab, the global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, and Virginia Space at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), have completed a major construction milestone ahead of the first Electron launch from U.S. soil. The recent installation of the launch platform at Rocket Lab’s second launch site, Launch Complex 2, marks one of the final steps in the construction of the new pad being built by the Rocket Lab and Virginia Space teams.

Construction on Launch Complex 2, located at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia, began in February 2019. In the few months since then, more than 1,400 cubic yards of concrete have been poured to create the pad on which Electron’s launch platform is mounted. The 66 ton launch platform was installed into its final position this month, ready for the 44 foot, 7.6 ton strongback to be mounted to the platform in coming weeks. Both the launch platform and strongback were built by Steel America in Norfolk, Virginia. The launch site largely mirrors Rocket Lab’s first launch location, Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, where the Electron launch vehicle transports horizontally down the launch ramp, and then is lifted vertically by the strongback to be ready for launch.

In the coming weeks, work will focus on final build and integration of various launch pad systems that will process, load propellant into, and launch Electron. The final step in the completion of the site is integration and test activities, which is expected to be complete by December 2019. Once the site is complete, work begins on testing, commissioning, and integration at the launch site in preparation for the first Electron launch from U.S. soil in early 2020.

** Blue Origin plans to start  flying New Shepard with people on board after two more uncrewed test flights. However, the test flights won’t happen before November.

From CNBC:

The company is developing the New Shepard rocket system for its space tourism business. Blue Origin is still hoping to fly people on New Shepard this year, although the company noted in a meeting with reporters on Tuesday that 2019 is quickly coming to an end, so those plans may move to 2020.

Blue Origin also filed an application for its next test flight with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday. The filing is “for Flight #12 of the New Shepard space launch booster and capsule” and has an operational window beginning in November. To be clear, that’s not necessarily when Blue Origin will next launch New Shepard, but rather the earliest time they could with federal approvals.



Space transport roundup – Sept.25.2019

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

[ Update: Great views of the Starship Mk.1 coming to together at Boca Chica Beach:


** Today a Russian Soyuz launched 3 new ISS crew members including the first astronaut from the UAE. This was the final flight for the Soyuz-FG version of the rocket. The modernized Soyuz-2 will now become the standard crew launch version of the Soyuz family of rockets. The Expedition 61 crew includes Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, United Arab Emirates guest cosmonaut Hazzaa Ali Almansoori. The launch was timed for a fast rendezvous with the station and the spacecraft is set to dock today at 3:45 p.m. EDT (1945 GMT).

** A Japanese H-IIB rocket launched a HTV cargo module to the ISS on Tuesday. Following a scrub on Sept. 10 due to a launch pad fire, the H-IIB successfully lifted off yesterday from the Tanegashima Space Center with the eighth HTV (H-II Cargo Vehicle) to go to the ISS. The spacecraft will take 4 days to reach the station with its load of over 4 tons of supplies and equipment, including several new lithium-ion batteries  to replace aging nickel-hydrogen batteries for part of the station’s power system.

** Three rocket launches took place in China in the past week including a Long March 2D today carrying a Yunhai remote sensing satellite:  China launches environmental monitoring satellite – Spaceflight Now

*** Long March 3B rocket on with two Beidou navigation satellites launched on Sept. 22th:

*** A Long March 11 launched on Sept.19th with five satellites for the private company Zhuhai Orbita Aerospace Science and Technology Co., Ltd. The group of satellites included four with hyperspectral imaging systems and one with video imaging.

** Virgin Orbit shipped out the first operational LauncherOne rocket for tests in prep for launch by end of the year: LauncherOne: Shaping Up and Shipping Out | Virgin Orbit

This week, after a very hard drive by our teammates in our Long Beach factory, we waved good-bye to our latest test rocket. Our previous LauncherOne served valiantly through a battery of tests highlighted by several captive carry flights and especially by our flawless drop test. Our latest rocket — which has already been fully integrated, tested, checked, re-checked, analyzed, and triple-checked — is destined for a rigorous crucible of engineering demonstrations and tests of its own. The final demonstration for this rocket will also be the biggest test we’ve attempted as a team: during that test, we’ll fire up LauncherOne’s engine in flight and head for space for the first time.

Virgin Orbit LauncherOne
This will be the first Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket to attempt to put a payload into orbit.

** Firefly Aerospace is posting updates on preps for the first launch of an Alpha rocket next year.

** The small company LAUNCHER pushes 3D printing technology to make its  rocket engines more efficient:

** Blue Origin targets November for next New Shepard flight:

** An update on research on bleeding-edge propulsion concepts: Marc Millis: Testing Possible Spacedrives – Centauri Dreams

Marc Millis, former head of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics project, recently returned from another trip to Germany, where he worked with Martin Tajmar’s SpaceDrive project at Germany’s Technische Universität Dresden. Recent coverage of the ongoing experimental work into spacedrives in both the popular and scientific press has raised public interest, leading Millis to explain in today’s essay why and how the techniques for studying these matters are improving, and how far we have to go before we have something definitive. Millis is in the midst of developing an interstellar propulsion study from a NASA grant even as he continues to examine advanced propulsion concepts and the methodologies with which to approach them.

See also Just How Feasible is a Warp Drive? – Universe Today.

** SpaceX

*** Assembly of the Starship Mk.1 orbital demonstrator accelerated at even a faster pace in the past week at Boca Chica Beach. It appears that some staff from the Mk.2 project in Cocoa Beach, Florida came to help out in Texas so that a complete Starship can provide a dramatic backdrop to Elon Musk’s update presentation on the project this Saturday, Sept. 28th.

*** Elon gives some pre-presentation hints on the latest Starship design and operation concepts:

*** Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, gives an overview of the new design for the fins:

*** Scott Manley also gives his thoughts on the design changes: Scott Manley: New Details Revealed About SpaceX’s Stainless Steel Starship as Prototype Nears Completion : spacex/

*** Some synergy at last between SpaceX and Tesla: SpaceX’s Starship Mk1 rocket shares a surprising connection with Tesla EVs – Teslarati

These battery packs were spotted by an eagle-eyed forum user who was first to recognize the hardware for what it likely was. Per the above photo, SpaceX appears to have joined two self-contained Tesla battery packs into single units that were then installed on a header tank. Knowing that the highest capacity Tesla offers is ~100 kWh, the 2×2 packs could store up to 400 kWh and offer instantaneous power output (ignoring thermal limitations) well into the megawatt (MW) range.

The Tesla batteries are needed to run the motors that move the fins:

*** Yusaku Maezawa raises a few billion dollars from selling stock in his clothing company. This will provide him additional money to fund his Starship flight around the Moon with artist friends. He may also take a preliminary flight to space on a Crew Dragon.


While acknowledging his mistakes at a two-hour press conference, he said there were two personal reasons for his resignation: Preparing for the 2023 lunar mission, including going into space once before that, and wanting to feel the “rush” of building a company from the ground up again.

“Training to go into space will to take up much of my time,” he said, flanked by his successor at Zozo, Kotaro Sawada, and the president of Yahoo Japan.

*** Falcon 9 launch rate to accelerate in coming year as SpaceX ramps up deployment of the Starlink broadband Internet constellation: Starlink to fill lion’s share of SpaceX near-term launch manifest – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX plans as many as 24 launches next year to build out the company’s Starlink network to provide broadband Internet service from space, following up to four more Starlink missions before the end of this year, according to SpaceX’s chief operating officer.

The rapid-fire launch cadence for SpaceX’s Starlink fleet will take up the majority of the company’s launch manifest next year with a series of missions taking off from Florida’s Space Coast, adding new nodes to a network that could eventually contain nearly 12,000 small satellites.

** After a two month break, the next Falcon 9 launch looks to happen in mid-October but not clear yet if it will be a Starlink payload or a customer satellite  SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 launches get a bit closer as hardware arrives in Florida – Teslarati

SpaceX completed its last orbital launch on August 7th, placing the AMOS-17 communications satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) on an exceedingly rare expendable Falcon 9. As of then, SpaceX’s next launch – an internal Starlink mission – was already expected no earlier than October and has since settled towards the end of the month. First reported by, the first Starlink v1.0 mission (AKA Starlink-1) is tentatively scheduled to launch no earlier than (NET) October 17th, followed by Starlink-2 NET November 4th and Starlink-3 NET late-November.

Of note, there have been whispers in the last few days that SpaceX’s next launch is not, in fact, a Starlink mission. Reading between the lines, only two possible spacecraft – JCSAT-18/Kacific-1 or South Korea’s ANASIS – are next on SpaceX’s manifest, the former of which is scheduled to launch no earlier than November 11th and the latter of which does not yet have a firm date.

*** Crew Dragon program continues to move along with progress on parachutes, finalizing the April explosion investigation, and targeting late this year for the in-flight abort test: