Category Archives: Space transport roundup

Latest on all means of traveling to, from and in space.

Roundup: Reusable rocket vehicles

Significant progress is being made towards space transportation systems that operate repeatedly rather than just fly once and then discarded. Reusable rocket powered vehicles will eventually lower the cost of access to space by orders of magnitude from expendables when the vehicles can fly  hundreds of times with only brief refurbishment between flights.

While the Space Shuttle program aimed for cost-effective reusablity, the extensive refurbishment, if not rebuilding, after each flight prevented the Shuttles from making any progress towards lower cost space access.

The multiple recoveries and reuses of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stages have proven that lower cost launch can be attained even with partial reuse. The per kilogram to orbit cost is about $2000, which is roughly a factor of 10 lower than conventional expendables were when the program started.

Below are updates on the SpaceX vehicles as well as several other reusable rocket systems in development including suborbital and long distance point-to-point vehicles.

Liftoff for the first test flight of a Starship with Booster B7 and upper stage SN24 on April 20, 2023. Credits: SpaceX

** SpaceX StarshipSecond orbital flight test soon.

[ Update Nov.21.2023: SpaceX released a statement summarizing the second flight tests: Starship’s Second Test Flight – SpaceX – Nov.21.2023.

The statement basically restates the same positive and negative aspects of the flight listed in the update below. However, one difference is that the destruction of the booster was due to “a rapid unscheduled disassembly“, i.e. an explosion in the vehicle’s systems, rather than a deliberate detonation by the flight termination system. The upper stage, on the other hand,  was definitely destroyed by the FTS:

The flight test’s conclusion came when telemetry was lost near the end of second stage burn prior to engine cutoff after more than eight minutes of flight. The team verified a safe command destruct was appropriately triggered based on available vehicle performance data.

The statement provides no information or speculation on what might have led to the destruction of the stages.

Update Nov.20.2023: The second flight test lifted off on Nov.18th within a tight 20 minute window. The test demonstrated that the major issues that afflicted the first flight in April had been resolved.

  • No significant damage to the launch pad. The steel plate and water deluge system worked to protect the launch mount and the ground area beneath it. Elon Musk: “Just inspected the Starship launch pad and it is in great condition! No refurbishment needed to the water-cooled steel plate for next launch…
  • No engine failures or engine compartment fires this time on the Super Heavy Booster. All 33 engines performed well from launch till staging.
  • Hot staging, a major design change implemented since the first test, appeared to work well.
  • The six engines on the Starship upper stage started up at staging and powered the stage to 148 kilometers, thus reaching space.

There were, however, two significant shortcoming to the test:

  • After separation, the booster began maneuvering for the boostback burn, which would have led to a soft landing on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. However, the flight termination system soon destroyed the vehicle. SpaceX has not yet reported what led to  the abort. It’s possible that the hot staging resulted in sloshing of propellants, which could have caused one or more of the engines to shut down.
  • After the upper stage engines burned for 6 minutes of the planned 6.5 minute thrust time, the flight termination system destroyed the stage. SpaceX has not yet indicated what caused the abort just 30 seconds before scheduled engine cutoff.

Both of these problems will probably have straight-forward fixes and won’t significantly delay the next test flight. The most important component of the Starship system yet to be tested is the heat shielding on the upper stage. This test flight would have had the upper stage reach just short of orbital velocity and reenter near Hawaii. Hopefully, the next flight will achieve this goal.

Elon Musk has indicated that a Starship for the next test flight could be ready in 3 to 4 weeks. However, before a FAA license can be approved, SpaceX must show that it understands the problems with this flight and has implemented solutions.

See also:

Some videos of the launch:


SpaceX has designed Starship for recovery of both stages after each mission and re-flight after a rapid turnaround. If this goal is achieved,  Starships should allow the cost of access to orbit to drop by another factor of 10 over the Falcon 9. The cost could go even lower if the flight rate can rise to a very high level.

A series of test flights are planned to achieve the operational goals for the vehicle. Meanwhile, the factories at Boca Chica Beach, Texas are churning out boosters and upper stages for the tests.

As of the time of this post, the second Starship flight test is set for November 18th. Beyond simply testing as many components and systems as possible, the end goal is to send the upper stage nearly  into orbit and have it reenter the atmosphere over the Pacific and survive the tremendous heating during reentry. It will splashdown in waters near Hawaii. For this test there will be no attempt at a powered landing. The booster, however,  will attempt a soft landing onto the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Presumably, the stage will be retrieved if it floats.

The first orbital test flight on April 20, 2023 succeeded in testing many systems in the first stage booster and it showed in a rather spectacular manner that major fixes and improvements were needed for many of those systems. Most notably, the launch mount and its ground substructure were badly damaged, with debris and dust hurled over a wide area. There were also Raptor engine failures as well as fires in the engine compartment that eventually severed control of the booster and prevented separation of the stages. Thus there was essentially no testing at all of the Starship upper stage.

SpaceX has spent the past several months implementing those fixes and improvements. The launch mount has undergone a major overall that included the installation of metal flooring that implements a water deluge system to handle the enormous heat and blast produced by 33 Raptors firing at liftoff. The engine compartment was also modified to better prevent fires and to isolate a fire if one does occur. Using electric actuators instead of hydraulics to power the thrust vector control for the 13  inner engines (i.e. change the angle of the thrust) will eliminate a common source of problems and significantly reduce TVC related hardware.

A major design change to the vehicle will also get its first test on this flight. A vented ring was added between the stages to  allow engines on the Starship to start firing while the stages are still connected. This “hot staging” should increase the payload capability by about 10%. This technique has been used on Soviet/Russian launch systems but never before on America launchers.

The Starship program is attracting massive coverage from a wide array of professional and volunteer reporters. Here are links to some articles of interest and video report sites.

See also the SpaceX Starship report, which is published by NewSpace Global and for which I was the primary author. The initial version came out in March 2023 and then we updated it in May to include coverage of the first flight test.


** SpaceX Falcon 9Currently aiming for 20 flights per booster

The Falcon 9 (F9) has become one of the most successful launch systems ever developed. As of the date of this posting, there have been 282 total F9 launches starting with the first flight in 2010. F9 and the Super Heavy have flown 83 times so far in 2023 and may reach close to 100 for the year. The goal for 2024 is 144 flights, or 12 per month.

Reusability has played a big role in its success. In those 282 launches, the booster has landed 245  times and 217 used a first stage booster that had flown previously.

So far, a F9 booster has achieved 18 flights and should fly at least 20. SpaceX appears to have followed a pattern in which after achieving each additional set of five flights, a  deep examination of the vehicles is made to check for any signs of fatigue and degradation in the structures and components. Whether booster reuse will extend beyond 20 will depend on another such evaluation.

A Falcon 9 first stage booster landed on the A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship following the launch of Starlink satellites on Nov.3.2023. This was the 18th launch and landing of the booster. Credits: SpaceX

A F9 payload is protected during launch by a nosecone composed of two fairings that split and fall away shortly after stage separation. The F9 fairings are now routinely recovered and reused after parachuting back to the sea. Initially, SpaceX aimed to catch fairings in a large net extended above a ship but this turned out to be more difficult than hoped. Fortunately, fairings recovered after floating on the sea showed far less damage from salt water than expected. After some design modifications to fully eliminate water effects, fairings are now routinely recovered from the ocean, refurbished and reused, saving several million dollars over construction of a new set of fairings.

SpaceX recovery vessel Doug retrieves a fairing half from Atlantic waters following a launch of Starlink satellites on Nov.3, 2023. The fairing was on its 13th mission. Credits: SpaceX

Note also that Dragon Crew/Cargo space capsules have also been reused. The current Dragon II capsules have been designed to re-fly up to 15 times.

** Stoke SpaceSecond stage prototype successfully hops.

Stoke is developing an fully reusable two stage vehicle called Nova that will carry 7 ton payloads to LEO. Though much smaller than Starship, the goal is to achieve low cost to orbit via 24 hour turnaround and a high number of flights per vehicle. To accomplish this goal, their vehicle design uses an innovative approach to the most difficult challenge of full reusability: a second stage that can take a substantial payload to orbit and then reenter the atmosphere and execute a powered soft landing.

A space capsule like a SpaceX Dragon uses a heat shield over its “bottom” to protect the vehicle from the high temperatures generated as it is slowed by atmospheric drag. The capsule’s gumdrop shape and low center of mass keep the shield facing forward and no dynamic piloting is required. Eventually the capsule slows to the point that it simply falls through the lower portion of the atmosphere. The capsule deploys parachutes for the final phase of the descent and landing. (The Shuttles similarly used heat shields but employed their aerodynamic surfaces, i.e. the wings, to help reduce speed and glide to a landing.)

The Stoke second stage also uses a capsule-like heat shield during re-entry. Unlike the ablative materials typically used for capsule shields, the Nova upper stage will use an actively cooled metallic shield. In addition, rather than deploying parachutes for the final phase of speed reduction and landing, the vehicle is slowed and landed via the thrust of an array of combustion chambers set along the outer rim of the shield. During ascent, these same thrusters fire to send the upper stage into orbit after it separates from the first stage booster.

Stoke recently carried out a successful test vertical-takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) “hop” of a second stage prototype: Update on Hopper2: The Hopper Has Landed | Stoke Space – Sept.17.2023.

And the company subsequently obtained a substantial investment that will enable development of the first stage of Nova: Stoke Space Announces $100 Million in New Investment | Stoke Space – Oct.4.2023.

The goal for the debut of Nova is 2025: Stoke Space hops its upper stage, leaping toward a fully reusable rocket | Ars Technica – Sept.18.2023.


Check out the
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for news and analysis of key developments in NewSpace

The latest issue:
A Starship Waits, Chandrayaan-3, Private Spaceflight Paths
Vol. 18, No. 3, Oct.23, 2023

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** Relativity Space –  Terran-R with reusable first stage to fly in 2026

Relativity Space aims to begin launching the mid-lift Terran R from Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral in 2026. The vehicle design resembles the Falcon 9 with a reusable first stage that lands downrange on a sea platform and an expendable upper stage. Initial goal is 20 flights per first stage unit. The vehicle will take as much as 23,500 kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

On left stands a stacked Terran R rocket with both stages and nosecone fairings. On left is the reusable first stage alone. Credits: Relativity Space

A September update marked  the following milestones :

Broke new ground at the A-2 test stand
Completed our fifth Aeon R thrust chamber assembly campaign, bringing us to 43 hot fires to date.
Shipped and mounted our Aeon R powerpack: the first integrated test article that will be hot-fired on our new dual bay stand.

** Rocket LabElectron first stage recovered from launch; Neuron development underway

Rocket Lab is pursuing two reusability projects. They are progressing with a reusable first stage for the Electron small payload launch system while in parallel they are developing the reusable Neutron launch system for larger payloads.

Initially, Rocket Lab intended for a helicopter to use a hook to grab the parachute of an Electron booster and return it to land, preventing any contact with the sea. One attempt to do this briefly succeeded in snagging a booster’s parachute but it was then quickly detached due to signs of excessive stress. The booster went into the ocean but it floated and was recovered. Similar to the SpaceX experience with fairings, Rocket Lab found little sea water damage to stages and decided to eliminate the helicopter snag and let the boosters fall softly into the water. In July of 2023, Rocket Lab successfully recovered an Electron rocket booster after it was deliberately landed onto the sea.

See this video for a description of a Electron booster’s return and recovery.

So far, no booster has re-flown but they did successfully reuse an engine from a recovered booster.

Progress on development of the reusable Neutron rocket vehicle is proceeding well according to the company. The Neutron has a reusable first stage with an alligator style nosecone with hinged fairings that open to release the payload.  An expendable second stage is attached to the payload for reaching orbit. The hinges close and the stage returns for a powered landing. The Neutron will place up to 13,000 kg into LEO.

An artist rendering of a Neutron rocket first stage deploying a payload attached to a propulsion stage to reach orbit. Credits: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab will use a former Virgin Orbit facility in Long Beach, California to build the Neuron rockets.

First launch of Neutron could be as early as 2024: Peter Beck pushes toward a Neutron debut in 2024, but acknowledges challenges | Ars Technica – Aug.18.2023.

** Blue Origin New GlennLots of work underway at the Cape

Blue Origin seldom provides updates on the progress in development of the heavy-lift New Glenn launch system. However, outside observers (e.g. here) have reported that a great amount of activity has been happening this year at the Blue Origin facilities at Cape Canaveral. These facilities include a large factory complex, testing sites, and Launch Complex 36 (LC-36).

The first-generation NG will consists of a reusable booster and an expendable upper stage. For the longer term, a reusable upper stage is in development. The seven-meter diameter and 98-meter height will make it one of the largest rockets ever built. The first stage is powered by seven BE-4 engines burning liquid natural gas and oxygen propellants. BE-4 engines also power the ULA Vulcan rocket’s first stage. The NG booster will land on a ocean platform.

The upper stage has two BE-3U engines, which are vacuum optimized variants of the BE-3 engines used on the suborbital New Shepard vehicle (see below). These engines use liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellants.

It’s believed that Blue is aiming to fly the first New Glenn by late 2024 but this obviously could slip.

** Sierra SpaceAssembly of first Dream Chaser cargo vehicle completed

The first of the reusable Dream Chaser lifting-body vehicles has been assembled and will soon “ship to NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio for environmental testing“: Today Sierra Space Introduces Tenacity | Sierra Space – Nov.2.2023

A Dream Chaser will launch atop an expendable ULA Vulcan rocket for missions to low earth orbit (LEO). After servicing the ISS or carrying out other tasks, the Dream Chaser will return in a manner similar to the Space Shuttles:

Harnessing cutting-edge technology, Dream Chaser showcases its mettle by safely withstanding temperatures exceeding 3,000 degrees during re-entry, all while being cool to the touch mere minutes after landing. The incorporation of the most advanced autonomous flight system, ensuring a minimum 15-mission lifespan, marks a monumental leap forward in space transportation.

The company currently has a contract with NASA for 7 cargo resupply missions. These include carrying experiment materials, waste, and other items back to earth.

Development of crew capable versions of Dream Chasers, referred to by the generic name DC-200, appears to be a long term priority for Sierra. These could carrying people to and from the ISS as well as commercial space stations such as Orbital Reef, for which Sierra is a co-developer.

See also

** Suborbital space tourismVirgin Galactic and Blue Origin updates

There are currently two reusable suborbital rocket systems that have flown paying “spaceflight participants“.

*** Virgin Galactic on November 2, 2023 flew the VSS Unity reusable rocket plane on its fifth operational commercial flight: Virgin Galactic Completes Sixth Successful Spaceflight in Six Months | Virgin Galactic – Nov.2.2023.

The flight carried three paying participants, two pilots and an “Astronaut Instructor”. Two of the participants, Alan Stern and Kellie Gerardi, were scientists who each carried out some experiments during the 3 minutes of weightlessness.  See Stern’s reports about the project and the flight. This article describes the tests they did: Virgin Galactic Flies Science Experiments to the Edge of Space | Universe Today – Nov.15.2023.

Such flights begin with the White Knight vehicle carrying the space plane to an altitude of about 16 kilometers and then releasing it. The space plane fires its hybrid rocket motor, which can send the vehicle to an altitude of 85 to 90 kilometers. This exceeds the 80 km border to space as defined by the USAF.

Previously, the company had said it would fly Unity monthly while developing in parallel the next-generation Delta class vehicles. However, the company recently announced that it would phase out the current flight program in 2024 and focus its limited manpower and resources on development of the Delta-class vehicles. About 15% of the workforce was laid off. The  much higher flight rate enabled by the Delta vehicles is essential if the company is to remain financially viable.

The Delta-class vehicles can carry up to six customers, fly twice per week, and require lower maintenance costs than the current vehicle. The company is aiming for flight operations by 2026.

*** Blue Origin developed the New Shepard rocket to learn how to do vertical takeoff and landings and to use it for suborbital tourism and science missions. The vehicle includes a capsule atop a booster stage, which is powered by the liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen BE-3 engine. The booster’s engine fires for about 110 seconds and then the booster and capsule separate at around 40 kilometers in height. Both continue upwards  and exceed 100 kilometers before they begin to fall back to earth. The booster restarts its engine and makes a powered soft landing. The capsule returns for a soft landing with parachutes. A solid rocket fires just before touching down to soften the impact.

Following a series of test flights over several years, the first crewed flight happened on July 20, 2021. This was followed by an uncrewed flight with commercial payloads aboard and then there were 5 flights with paying passengers by August 4, 2022.

A New Shepard booster failed during a flight on Sept. 12, 2022 . The capsule payload included a set of experiments but no people. The capsule successfully fired its abort motor to separate from the booster and then landed safely with its parachutes. Blue Origin announced in March 2023 that the failure had been traced to a structural fatigue flaw in the nozzle of the New Shepard’s engine. They were implementing a fix and  expected “to return to flight soon, with a re-flight of the NS-23 payloads“.

However, as of November 2023, flights have not resumed. No explanation for the delay has been given and there is speculation that the company may discontinue the service to focus its manpower and resources on development of the orbital New Glenn rocket: How long will Jeff Bezos continue to subsidize his New Shepard rocket? | Ars Technica – Nov.3.2023.

** PLD Space – Successful suborbital test flight

The PLD Space Miura-1 suborbital lifts off on Oct.7.2023. Image credits: PLD Space.

This Spanish company has been developing a reusable launch system for several years. On October 7, 2023 the company carried out their first successful test flight of the  prototype suborbital rocket,  MIURA 1. The rocket flew the planned trajectory to an apogee of 46 kilometers. (Range safety issues led to lowering the apogee from a previous goal of 80 km.) A payload of memorabilia items was released and the rocket’s parachute opened as planned. The vehicle reached the sea service in one piece but high lateral winds caused the vehicle to hit the water at an excessive speed that “caused one of the two main tanks to rupture, filling with water and sinking the vehicle“.

Based on lessons learned from this test, the company will proceed with development of MIURA 5, “which will make its first flight in 2025 from the European spaceport CSG, in Kourou (French Guiana), and will place satellites of up to 500 kg in polar orbit and up to one ton in equatorial orbit“. The first stage of Miura 5 will be recovered via parachute return and be reused. Commercial operations will then begin in 2026 and their goal is to average 30 launches per year subsequently.

More details at

Below is a video of the launch and a press conference.

** Pangea AerospaceDeveloping aerospike engines

Pangea is a Spanish company developing reusable aerospike propulsion systems. Aerospike engines can provide stable, efficient thrust at full atmospheric pressure and in vacuum while conventional engines need different nozzles for the two regimes. So theoretically aerospike engines would be ideal for single-stage-to-orbit vehicles but this has yet to be proven in practice.

Pangea has demonstrated a Methane-Liquid Oxygen aerospike engine:

Check out their collection of videos providing an introduction to aerospace propulsion.

** Jess SponableRLV history and a new P-2-P hypersonic rocket vehicle project

Jess Sponable discussed the history and current state of reusable rocket vehicles on a recent episode of The Space Show. While with the Air Force, DARPA, and other organizations, Sponable participated in several reusable rocket vehicle projects including the DC-X, X-33, and X-34.

Sponable also discussed his recent work with New Frontier Aerospace (NFAero), a startup company developing a rocket powered lifting body vehicle for long distance, point-to-point flights at Mach 8. The vehicle takes off and lands vertically and can reach any place on earth within two hours. It will be powered by the Mjölnir, a “3D-printed, full-flow staged combustion engine“.

Mojlnir full flow staged combustion engine. Credits: NFAero and PRLog

More about Mjölnir amd MFAero:

** Venus Aerospace Hypersonic flight with rotating detonation rocket engine

Venus is another company pursuing global hypersonic transportation. They say their Stargazer would reach anywhere in the world in one hour. It would be powered by a rotating detonation rocket engine (RDRE) currently in development.

Stargazer will take off from a primary airport with jet engines, then when away from city-center, our rocket engine will propel passengers gently to 170,000 feet and Mach 9, crossing 5000 miles in 1 hour. San Francisco to Japan. Houston To London. All with a 2-hour turn-around.

The company has raised more than $20M and investors include Airbus, Draper Associates, and several other firms.

See this video for a good intro to RDRE: How NASA Reinvented the Rocket EngineReal Engineering.

** Astrobotic Zodiac flies again.

Astrobotic acquired Masten Space last year after it ran into a cash flow crisis that resulted in bankruptcy: Astrobotic Acquires Masten Space Systems | Astrobotic – Sept.13.2022.

Astrobotic promise to

continue to offer and develop [Masten’s] unique test capabilities, including providing VTVL test flights for commercial and government customers. Astrobotic plans to expand these test flight offerings with the development of the next-generation Xogdor rocket, which will offer higher altitudes, longer missions, and supersonic flight for suborbital payload testing.

NASA’s Flight Opportunities has sponsored a number of projects that took advantage of VTVL flights for applications such as testing lunar landing sensors and guidance systems. In October the first flight campaign since the Astrobotic acquisition was successfully carried out with the Xodiac rocket, which has flown over 150 times. The flight test experiments were funded by NASA.

Astrobotic, a leader in vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing (VTVL) reusable rockets, successfully completed a flight test campaign for the University of Central Florida (UCF) last week at the company’s facility in Mojave, CA. The campaign consisted of four flights aboard Astrobotic’s Xodiac VTVL rocket to test UCF’s Ejecta STORM laser sensor, which was developed by Dr. Phil Metzger to study plume-surface interactions (PSI) between a rocket plume and lunar regolith. This test campaign will provide valuable data for researchers, including Dr. Metzger, as they seek to better understand PSI for humanity’s return to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis program.

Here is a  video of the test.

University of Central Florida researchers tested an instrument designed to measure the size and speed of surface particles kicked up by the exhaust from a rocket-powered lander on the Moon or Mars. The four tethered flights on Astrobotic’s Xodiac rocket-powered lander took place in Mojave, California, from Sept. 12 through Oct. 4, 2023. Researchers tested the Ejecta STORM technology’s integration with a lander and operation in flight conditions that simulated the plume effects of a lunar lander.

** Exos AerospaceTests engine for suborbital vehicle to fly in 2024

Exos Aerospace, a descendant of John Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace, continues to develop reusable suborbital vehicles. The company is based in Greenville, Texas and recently test fired an ethanol engine mounted in a tethered rocket. A Purdue student group collaborated in the test:

Exos Aerospace BLK3 Engine Tests with Purdue University Sept 13 2023:
“Exos Aerospace, a Greenville-based company, tested an engine for a rocket as they prepare for a launch in 2024.”

“a team from Purdue University was on hand for the rocket test Wednesday, performing a lunar lander thermal experiment as part of the test.”

““This is a reduced throttle run,” said John Quinn, co-founder and CEO of Exos Aerospace, according to NBC 5 DFW. “It’ll be 60% throttle on the first test and 70% on the second test”

North Texas commercial spaceflight tests rocket engine (Article and video)…

Other Exos news items:

Exos Aerospace BLK3 Hold Down Test and Hover Test.
0:01 BLK3 Tether Test
0:45 BLK3 Hover Test

We’re your expedited space delivery expert! You can find us at:
Booking now, SPACEavailable…
Exos Aerospace is a Preferred Partner with Precious Payload Inc. to facilitate booking.…

** Chinese RLV development iSpace Hyperbola-2 rocket does vertical takeoff and landing flight

The Chinese government program and several Chinese companies are pursuing rocket reusability. Some of these projects include:

On November 2nd, iSpace flew its Hyperbola-2 methane fueled test stage to 178 meters and then came back down for a soft landing: China’s iSpace launches and lands rocket test stage – SpaceNews. Such VTVL tests were flown by the DC-X in the early 1990s, by Masten and Armadillo in the 2000s, and by SpaceX with the Grasshopper vehicle to master vertical takeoffs and landings.

The company is aiming for a SpaceX Falcon 9 type of system with a reusable first stage and expendable upper stage.

** Other reusable rocket related projects:

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Space transport roundup: Part 3 – SpaceX – Oct.27.2021

This roundup provides a sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here). The roundup is split into three postings:

  • Part 1: Orbital launches
  • Part 2: Light orbital lift development, suborbital, space transport articles, news, videos, etc.
  • Part 3: SpaceX Falcon 9, Dragon, and Starship

Falcon  9 and Dragon

The SpaceX Falcon 9 launch rate slowed considerably this past summer. There were 20 missions flown from January through June but none in July and just three from August till the middle of October. There were several factors leading to the slowdown, the primary one being the completion by June of the initial phase of the Starlink constellation buildup. (See links at bottom here for latest info on the Starlink project). Thirteen of those 20 missions each sent 50+ Starlink satellites into low earth orbit. Those Starlinks went into +/- 55 degree inclination orbits where they can provide Internet services to people living in the mid-latitudes.

The next phase of the Starlink project requires launching satellites to polar orbits to enable full global coverage. It appears most of these polar missions will be launched from Vandenberg AFB in California.  The first polar orbital launch lifted off on September 14th (see below).  These second-phase satellites carry laser communications systems that enable in-space intra-constellation links, greatly reducing the latency of packets transmitted between far distant points on the globe. Completing development of the laser system and ramping up its production took extra time, which also contributed to the delay in launches.

The F9 launch rate is now picking up again with ten missions scheduled for the remaining months of 2021. A NASA crew of 4 is set to head for the ISS this Sunday, Oct.31.2021.

Here are items about the three F9 missions for August and September:

** Sept.16: Inspiration4 mission success. The first all-civilian spaceflight mission successfully sent four non-professional astronauts into orbit for four days and returned them safely to Earth. It was very successful at public outreach as well. The mission gained widespread media attention, most of which seemed quite positive.  A five episode special series on Netflix presented captivating profiles of the space travelers and followed their activities during training, the launch, in-orbit and through the return to a splashdown and recovery at sea. Funded by Jared Isaacman, the project surpassed his goal of raising $200M for St. Judes Children’s hospital. (Helped by a $50M contribution of Elon Musk and by Issacman’s own $100M.)

Reports, articles, and commentary:

** Inspiration4 inspires plans for multiple civilian flights per year on SpaceX vehicles.

*** Sept.14: Falcon 9 launches first Starlink mission from Vandenberg. The first stage booster successfully landed after its 10th flight. The 51 satellites deployed by the upper stage will go into orbits at 70 degree inclination with respect to the equator. Over 1700 satellites of the initial Starlink shell were launched from Cape Canaveral into 53 degree inclinations that allow Internet service to a band of the earth between +/- 55 degrees latitude. This West Coast launch began the filling of a second shell that will provide coverage to the polar regions. These are the first Starlink satellites to carry laser systems for in-space communications. This will allow the sats to connect directly with each other. Ground stations are few and far between in the polar regions so a laser network will provide for in-space data transfers to whichever satellite is currently above a ground station. Eventually lower latitude shells will also be replaced with sats equipped with laser-comm systems since in-space comm is faster than transversing optical fibers and multiple routers to reach a particular destination.

** Aug.29: SpaceX Falcon 9 launches Cargo Dragon to the ISS with nearly 2180 kg of supplies, equipment, and research materials. The rocket lifted off at 3:14 am EDT from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The booster B1061, on its fifth flight, landed successfully on the new ocean platform named, Shortfall of Gravitas. The spacecraft docked to the station on the morning of Aug.30th.

** Third SpaceX Commercial Crew Mission set for end of October. Crew 3 includes NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and Raja Chari and German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer.  This  mission will actually be the fifth Crew Dragon flight with people on board when one includes the CCP demonstration mission plus the Inspiration 4 civilian flight discussed above.

** New ocean-going ships added for Crew Dragon recovery ops and for first stage landings:


Though there were no Starship test flights since the previous roundup at the end of July,  a tremendous amount of activity has taken place at the Boca Chica production and launch facility  in preparation for future Starship missions. These activities can be divided among the following sites and hardware systems:

  • Orbital Launch Site (OLS):
    • The OLS includes a launch integration tower (note that a second one is planned as well), a launch mount, and a vast ground infrastructure that includes huge upright cryogenic fluid tanks, a maze of piping, multiple fluid handling and cooling systems, electrical power distribution systems, etc. Substantial progress has been made in all of these areas.
    • Orbital Launch Integration Tower (OLIT):
      • Fitting out of the OLIT has continued night and day since the final segment was set in place by a huge crane in July. The OLIT will not only provide propellants and power to the Starship and Super Heavy booster but it will also stack the former onto the latter for launch and then catch each of the two during landings.
      • Quick Disconnect arm (QD) was installed at a level near the joint between the Starship and the Booster. It will be used to transfer propellants to and from the vehicle as well as stabilize the combo during high winds.
      • Mechazilla, as tagged by Elon Musk, was installed this past week onto the OLIT. This mechanism includes long arms  and moves up and down on the OLIT. It will lift, raise and stack a booster onto the Launch Mount and then stack a Starship on top of the booster.  It also will work with the QD to hold the combo in place. Furthermore, the “Chopsticks” will catch a booster during its landing and then catch a Starship to stack upon the booster.
    • Launch Mount:
      • The Starship/Booster combo will sit atop the Launch Mount until the 29 Raptor engines (33 on a later design) fire and send it into space. The Launch Mount consists of a circular structure atop six tall heavy pillars. The mounting structure provides a number of important duties including the feeding of propellants up till the moment of liftoff when the feed-lines must quickly disconnect, hold-downs to keep the rocket securely upright until liftoff when they must quickly and uniformly let go of the booster, electric power connections, etc. Work on the circular mount structure has been going on continuously from the time it was at the production site to the current position at the launch site, where it is enveloped in metal tubular scaffolding.
    • Orbital Tank Farm:
      • The tank farm consists of eight vertical tanks for storing liquid oxygen, liquid methane, and water. The tanks were built by SpaceX in a manner very similar to the booster and Starship from cylinders of stainless steel. Each of the eight tanks has now been encapsulated by an insulating shell, also built by SpaceX.
      • There are also several other tanks on the OLS for additional fluid handling and storage.
“Starbase under construction” – Elon Musk, Oct.22.2021
  • Starship 20:
    • Thermal protection tiles:
      • Black ceramic tiles for thermal protection during reentry from orbit were installed on the “belly” side of Starship 20 while it was in the High Bay but many were marked with tape to indicate that they needed adjustment, replacement, and/or testing. After the vehicle was moved to a mount at the launch site, these problem tiles were dealt with by workers lifted via mobile elevated work platforms. This was the first time a complete set of tiles were attached to a Starship. A handful of tiles have fallen off during tank pressure and engine tests but Elon has indicated such problems were expected.
    • Raptor installation:
      • Raptor engines, both the sea-level and vacuum optimized types, have been installed, removed, and re-installed a few times. (The Starship uses three Raptors optimized for sea-level pressure and three for vacuum.)
    • Tests:
      • Pressure testing of the propellant tanks.
      • Structural test with hydraulic actuators pressing on the bottom of the vehicle during pressurization of the tanks.
      • Firing tests of the sea level and vacuum Raptors (see video below).
      • On October 21st, a vacuum-optimized Raptor was fired for the first time outside of the company’s McGregor, Texas engine test site.
  • Super Heavy Booster 4:
    • Preparation of Booster 4 has been quite intense. After the booster and Starship were briefly mounted atop one another on the Launch Mount, the booster was moved back to the Build Site for additional work and then returned to the OLS where it currently sits atop a temporary mount.
    • Engines on Booster 3 were test fired back in July but there has not yet been a test firing of engines installed on Booster 4. (Booster 3 was partially disassembled and the lower portion currently remains standing at the launch site.)
  • Build site:
    • Starship 21:
      • Stacking of the segments is nearly complete in the Mid-Bay hangar.
    • Starship 22:
      • Several of the segments have been assembled and await stacking.
    • Boosters:
      • Stacking of Booster 5 is nearly complete in the High Bay hangar. Segments for Booster 6 have been observed.
    • New Wide Bay:
      • Construction of a third hangar is proceeding apace with the first metal frame pillars for the walls are being put in place following the completion of the foundation.
      • This hangar will be as tall as the high bay but roughly twice as wide.
    • High Bay:
      • The penthouse dining/bar facility on top appears nearly complete with the installation of large clear glass walls to allow visitors to see the facilities and watch launches and landings.
      • Staircase segments have been built and will apparently be stacked along the side of the building and will probably enclose the elevator, which currently rises in the open air.

To help meet all of these goals for Boca Chica, the company initiated a surge of workers by bringing them in from other facilities:

** SpaceX Starbase, Tx Flyover (October 18, 2021)RGV Aerial Photography.  A recent view from above the Boca Chica site; includes helpful labels on the many features of interest.

***** Aug.1: Starbase – July 2018 vs Aug.2021RGV Aerial Photography – A look at how the Boca Chica site has changed in the past three years.

** Status of development of Starships and boosters is displayed in this infographic posted by Brendan Lewis:

** SpaceX video shows highlights of activities at the Boca Chica spaceport:

** A timeline for Starship 20 and Booster 4:

** Date of first Starship orbital test flight remains uncertain. The intense effort at Boca Chica has paid off in terms of preparation for a test launch. Elon Musk on Twitter:

If all goes well, Starship will be ready for its first orbital launch attempt next month, pending regulatory approval

However, as he indicates, the FAA may not license a launch for at least a few months (see FAA environmental review discussion below). A NASA project to use special cameras to observe a Starship’s thermal protection surface during reentry is expecting a launch in March. Whether this will be the first Starship orbital launch is not said.

** Pace of Starship development now depends on the FAA. The Commercial Space Transportation wing of the FAA is currently reviewing whether the environmental impact study (EIS) that was approved several years ago for the SpaceX launch facility at Boca Chica Beach, Texas remains valid. The earlier EIS was based on Falcon 9 launches from the site while SpaceX subsequently switched the spaceport completely to Starship/Super Heavy Booster operations.

The FAA could decide that no revisions are needed, or that some revisions are needed, or that a new enviro study must be completed from scratch. A whole new study could means years of delay. However, from a draft assessment released in September (see links below), such an option seems unlikely. If the FAA instead requires that some number of elements of the old study must be redone or that some elements must be added, that might still mean months of delay before any test flights can be carried out.

Recently, the FAA held hearings in which members of the public could express their views on the Boca Chica project. The pros greatly out-weighed the cons but we won’t know for weeks or months whether issues brought up at the hearing motivated additional requirements on SpaceX.

Links to items about the FAA regulatory situation:

Note that according to the FAA draft reviews, the number of Starship/Super Heavy launches from Boca Chica would be limited to five per year. So SpaceX’s goal of eventually making daily Starship flights to orbit will await the completion of the two offshore launch/landing platforms, Phobos and Deimos.

** Meanwhile, firing tests of the Raptors on the Starship, and presumably soon the Booster, have started:

*** Full set of 29 Raptors have been installed on Super Heavy Booster #4:

Since August some engines have been removed and others installed.

*** Supplying propellants to ravenous Super Heavy Booster engines requires a monumental maze of piping and control lines:

**** Starship SN20 stacked atop Super Heavy Booster #4. The stacking lasted only few hours for fit checks and a photo op. However, it was a great milestone on the road to eventual launch. Later, Booster 4 was moved from the Launch Mount to a separate stand so that work could continue on the Mount.

More Tweets from Elon:

  • Aug 6: “An honor to work with such a great team
  • Aug.6 – Michael Scheetz: “Nice! How many heat shield tiles does Starship 20 need in total to survive reentry?
    • Elon: “It is ~98% done, but the remaining tiles are unique shapes requiring machining

  • Aug.6: “There is a reason no fully reusable orbital rocket has been built – it’s an insanely hard problem. Moreover, it must be rapidly & completely reusable (like an airplane). This is the only way to make life multiplanetary. Efficiencies of scale is why Starship is so large.

  • Aug.6: Elliott – “Will the tanks of the Ship and Booster be stretched over time, like how Falcon 9’s were?
    • Elon: “Inevitably
  • Aug.6: “Over time, we might get orbital payload up to ~150 tons with full reusabity. If Starship then launched as an expendable, payload would be ~250 tons. What isn’t obvious from this chart is that Starship/Super Heavy is much denser than Saturn V.
  • Aug.6: Sheetz – “What’s next after destacking? Pressure tests?
    • Elon: “4 significant items:
      – Final heat shield tiles for ship
      – Thermal protection of booster engines
      – Ground propellant storage tanks
      – QD arm for ship
      2 weeks.

  • Oct.20: Pranay Pathole – “How much tons of payload could Starship deliver to orbit if it were to do an expendable launch? Could it deliver ~300 tons to orbit expendable? That’d be like double of Saturn V!
    • Elon: “Well-optimized Starship would do ~250 tons to orbit as expendable & ~150 tons fully reusable
  • Oct.21 : Toby Li – “Looks like some TPS tiles fell off during the static fire. Do you think this will be a major issue for the orbital launch or does the team already have a solution?
    • Elon: “No, we expect some tiles to shake loose during static fires

*** Elon Musk interview and tour of Boca Chica facility with Tim Dodd, the “Everyday Astronaut. Below are the three videos in which Musk talks with Dodd as they first walk around the build site and then the launch site. Notes on Musk’s comments are available at Starbase Tour and Interview with Elon Musk | Everyday Astronaut.

** Vertical powered landing can be made safe enough for human passenger flights. Here’s a discussion of whether a vertical landing rocket vehicle like the Starship can be safe for human passengers:  Will Starship Landings Ever Be Safe Enough? — Part 1: Engine Reliability

With three engines lighting on each landing, the required engine reliability could be demonstrated with a high degree of confidence with a string of fewer than 100 nominal landings following fixes addressing engine failures on early flights.

Note that this does not take into account the fact that early crew flights will have a small enough complement that landed mass will be low enough for single engine landings, further reducing engine reliability requirements.

All this suggests that however hard other aspects of Starship may be to human-rate, the landing method is not likely to be a blocker to NASA astronauts landing on Earth with Starship this decade.

Orbital tourist flights with small complements require a similar degree of safety. Passenger counts are likely to increase over time as the system is refined and proven out. Eventual airliner-like reliability may or may not happen, but if it doesn’t, the engines, at least as far as soft failures are concerned, are highly unlikely to be bottleneck.

I imagine that somewhere between a 1:100k and 1:1 million whole flight fatality risk would be low enough for most people to feel comfortable using Starship for point to point transport — the most ambitious use case, in terms of required safety.

This would likely call for somewhere between a 1:3 million and 1:300 million risk due to soft engine failures on landing. On the low end, this calls for engine reliability comparable to the Merlin engine. On the high end, we’re looking at less than an order of magnitude improvement in reliability.

** Recent video reports on Boca Chica activities:

*** Hydraulic Actuator Lifted For Fit Checks on Mechazilla’s Chopsticks | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

A hydraulic actuator, used to move the Chopstick arms, was lifted for fit checks. Meanwhile, thermal insulating foam was spotted on Booster 4 around its QD plate and COPVs. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and Nic (@NicAnsuini). Edited by Jack (@theJackBeyer).

*** Oct.25: Booster 6 Aft Dome Ready for Sleeving | SpaceX Boca Chica NASASpaceflight – YouTube

The aft dome for Booster 6 was readied for sleeving as crews continue to work on Ship 21. Meanwhile, Perlite expansion furnaces were spotted at the launch site. Perlite is used as an insulator between the cryo shells and GSE tanks. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and Nic (@NicAnsuini). Edited by Derek “DK” Knabenbauer (@DKlarations).

*** Oct.24: Ship 21 Nosecone Rolled Out of Production Tent Ahead of Stacking | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

Ship 21’s nosecone rolled out ahead of it being stacked atop its barrel section. Booster 9’s thrust puck was delivered, along with a booster methane transfer tube (aka downcomer). Meanwhile, work on Booster 5, the B2.1 test tank, and Mechazilla’s chopstick arms continued. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack (@theJackBeyer).

**** Oct.23: SpaceX Starship fires up & tower arms go on, NASA to select second HLS, SLS Fully Stacked Marcus House

**** Aug.8: How SpaceX Designed A Heat Shield For The Largest Spacecraft Ever BuiltScott Manley

For the first time we saw the fully assembled Starship/SuperHeavy stack assembled on the pad. This is all designed to put Starship, the largest spacecraft ever built, into orbit, but we also got a really good look at a near complete thermal protection system, and that’s critical to bringing the Starship back from orbit safely.


Check out the
The Lurio Report
for news and analysis of key developments in NewSpace

The latest issue:
Space Suit Opportunities, Inspiration4, FAA & Starship
Vol. 16, No. 6, September 22, 2021

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


*** Misc SpaceX news, articles, reports, etc.:


Continue to Roundup Part 1.

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Space transport roundup: Part 2 – Light orbital lift, Suborbital, News, etc. – Oct.27.2021

A sampling of articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport from late July till today (find previous roundups here). The roundup is split into three postings:

  • Part 1: Orbital launches
  • Part 2: Light orbital lift development, suborbital, space transport articles, news, videos, etc.
  • Part 3: SpaceX Falcon 9, Dragon, and Starship

** USA – Oct.13: Blue Origin flies William Shatner and three others to suborbital space. The second flight of a New Shepard vehicle with people on board went quite well. The crew included actor William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek series, Dr. Chris Boshuizen, a former NASA engineer and co-founder of Planet Labs, Glen de Vries, Vice-Chair, Life Sciences & Healthcare, Dassault Systèmes and co-founder, Medidata, and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s Vice President of Mission & Flight Operations.

Shatner was deeply affected by the experience as indicated by his emotion-laden comments just after emerging from the capsule. Check out this transcript: Speech of William Shatner after flying to space on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin capsule · GitHub. For example,

What you [Bezos] have done… everybody in the world needs to be in this [capsule]. Everybody in the world needs to see [in tears] … it was unbelievable, unbelievable.”

“William Shatner looks out of the New Shepard windows on NS-18.” Credits: Blue Origin

More about the flight:

**** USA – Aug.26: Blue Origin launches an uncrewed New Shepard to suborbital space. This was the seventeenth flight of a New Shepard vehicle, the fourth in 2021, and the eighth for this particular vehicle.

The vehicle carried

“… a NASA lunar landing technology demonstration a second time on the exterior of the booster, 18 commercial payloads inside the crew capsule, 11 of which are NASA-supported, and an art installation on the exterior of the capsule“.

**** Blue Origin developing reusable second stage for New Glenn heavy lift rocket.

Although Blue Origin has not publicly discussed this effort to build a reusable upper stage for the New Glenn rocket, sources said the company’s primary goal is to bring down the overall launch cost of the New Glenn rocket. The vehicle’s large upper stage, which has a 7-meter diameter and two BE-3U engines, is costly. Making New Glenn fully reusable is necessary for Blue Origin to compete with SpaceX’s Starship launch system.

The tank project is one aspect of the reusable upper stage program, and the other aspect is selecting and finalizing a design for the second stage. Both of these projects, operating within Blue Origin’s Advanced Development Programs unit, are making progress.

Project Jarvis encompasses the tank program, which is intended to rapidly prototype a propellant tank to withstand the rigors of multiple launches and re-entries. The company’s engineers are studying the use of stainless steel as a material for these tanks, as SpaceX has chosen to do with its Starship booster and upper stage. Stainless steel is cheaper and better able to withstand atmospheric heating during re-entry, but it’s about five times heavier than composites.

**** Video updates on New Glenn rocket and the BE-4 engine:

**** Other Blue news:

** Virgin Galactic postpones next SpaceShipTwo flight till mid-2022 to provide time for fixes and enhancements to the vehicles. Virgin Galactic Begins Planned Vehicle Enhancement and Modification Period; Unity 23 Test Flight Rescheduled to Follow Completion of This Program – Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic today announced that it will now begin its planned enhancement program for VMS Eve and VSS Unity and will conduct the Unity 23 test flight after this work is complete.

The enhancement program is designed to improve vehicle performance and flight-rate capability for VMS Eve and VSS Unity. In preparation for this work, Virgin Galactic has been performing routine tests and analyses to update its material properties database. This data predicts how materials are expected to perform under certain load and environmental conditions and is used to inform the design and manufacturing enhancements that will support increased flight frequency. One of these recent laboratory-based tests flagged a possible reduction in the strength margins of certain materials used to modify specific joints, and this requires further physical inspection.

As is standard in aerospace test and evaluation practices, Virgin Galactic ships are designed to withstand forces that are substantially higher than those experienced in regular use, providing additional margin and layers of safety. The enhancement program is designed to further increase margins that will enable improved reliability, durability and reduced maintenance requirements when in commercial service. While this new lab test data has had no impact on the vehicles, our test flight protocols have clearly defined strength margins, and further analysis will assess whether any additional work is required to keep them at or above established levels. Given the time required for this effort, the Company has determined the most efficient and expedient path to commercial service is to complete this work now in parallel with the planned enhancement program.

Following the enhancement period, the Company intends to complete the vehicle testing program for VMS Eve and VSS Unity, including the planned research test flight with the Italian Air Force, before starting commercial flights.

**** Virgin Galactic raises ticket prices to $450k for a ride to space. The first commercial flight is now delayed till the second half of 2022 due to a various upgrades for the two SS2 vehicles (“VSS Unity” and “VSS Imagine“) and the WhiteKnightTwo “VMS Eve” carrier aircraft. The modificiations will enable a higher flight rate for the rocketplanes (roughly one month turnaround between flights rather than two months). With the changes, Eve will need major refurbishment every 100 flights rather than every 10.


Virgin Galactic will also begin test flights in the second half of 2022 of VSS Imagine, its first SpaceShipIII vehicle that the company unveiled in March. Colglazier said that work on a second SpaceShipIII vehicle, VSS Inspire, is on hold to focus resources on VSS Imagine, VSS Unity and VMS Eve.

The company is betting its long-term sustainability on a future “Delta class” of suborbital spaceplanes, which would be air-launched from a next-generation aircraft that replaces WhiteKnightTwo. It expects those vehicles to fly more frequently and affordably that current vehicles, allowing the company to increase its flight rate and turn toward profitability.

“The key to our ramp up is really leaning heavily into the Delta class as well as getting motherships that will carry all those spaceships,” he said, declining to provide specifics on production plans and schedules for those vehicles. “Delta class and the new mothership program clearly are important new programs for us as a company and we’ll be aligning our energy towards them.”

Here is a new promotional video:

An extraordinary spaceship design fit for an out-of-this-world experience. Learn how Virgin Galactic’s flight technology is revolutionizing space travel.

*** Controversy arises over an anomaly during SpaceShipTwo Unity’s flight back from space in July when Richard Branson was on board.

**** A possible defect flagged by a a third-party supplier was investigated. The company said on Oct.14th that the issue has been resolved.:

… the Company’s recent inquiry into a potential defect in a supplier component announced on September 10, 2021, […] has been successfully resolved. While the supplied component in question was not on either VMS Eve or VSS Unity, in accordance with safety protocols, Virgin Galactic completed detailed inspections and scans which found all components met quality and safety standards and were ready for flight. The enhancement period is now beginning approximately one month later than anticipated, and commercial service is now expected to commence in Q4 2022.

See also:

** Relativity Space prepares for first launch of Terran 1 rocket. Lift off from Cape Canaveral now set for early 2022.

We’re excited to share that Terran 1 Stage 2 just passed cryo pressure proof and hydro mechanical buckling test on our structural test stand. Up next: Stage 1 structural testing!

Here at Relativity, we’re often focused on the future, but we’re taking a beat to recognize our team’s hard work getting to this critical pre-launch phase. In 12 months, we’ve finalized Terran 1’s architecture, developed a brand new engine, upgraded its material, and grew from 150-500+ employees, all while keeping everyone’s safety a top priority.

Terran 1’s demonstration launch is now set for early 2022 from Cape Canaveral LC-16. While we recognize the wins of today, we will continue working at a breakneck speed, and provide updates along the way—as we prepare to launch the world’s first entirely 3D printed rocket.

To stay up-to-date on the latest Terran 1 updates and exclusives, sign up for our newsletter here:

Another video update: September 2021: Progress at Cape Canaveral

Other Relativity Space items:

** Masten Space begins development of high altitude reusable Xogdor rocket vehicle. The goal for the vertical takeoff and vertical landing (VTVL) vehicle is to start flying by early 2023. The Xogdor will enable more elaborate tests of rocket vehicle landings on Mars and other celestial sites than with Masten’s current low altitude VTVL rockets. Masten Kicks Off Development of Xogdor, our Newest Rocket with Supersonic Speed – Masten Space

Higher altitudes & faster speeds: Xogdor will be our fastest rocket yet! It will test descent and landing technologies at high subsonic speeds up to 200 meters per second (447 miles per hour).

Based on customer needs, Xogdor will also be capable of supersonic speeds to fly to the edge of space on a suborbital trajectory. Why is this important? Supersonic speeds of approximately Mach 3.5 are required to cross the Karman Line (100 km above Earth’s mean sea level). By deploying these speeds on Xogdor, we can test payloads in upper atmosphere and near-space environments with reduced gravity.

Ultimately, the closer we can simulate the lunar and Martian environment, the more accurately we can reduce risks and enable mission success with our test flights.

More payload accommodations: Xogdor will have payload capacity of at least 200 kg with accommodations that include power, data storage, thermal control, and ground telemetry. Xogdor can also provide a fully pressurized or vacuum environment for payloads. Since Earth has a thicker atmosphere than the Moon and Mars, Xogdor will have a layer in the control system that minimizes the effects of the atmosphere, such as lift and drag, from the technologies being tested.

The vehicle will also enable studies of long range point-to-point travel:

With the ability to fly longer ranges, Xogdor also offers more flexibility when it comes to the launch and landing location. That means we don’t necessarily have to launch and land at our Mojave test site. For example, based on a customer needs, we could launch Xogdor at another test site, such as Spaceport America, and land back in Mojave or vice versa. This opens the door for point-to-point payload transportation.

A new video about the company’s many projects:

See also

** Dawn Aerospace begins test flights of of the Mk-11 Aurora Spaceplane. Aurora, which is just 4.8m long and has a 75kg dry weight, currently uses a jet engine rather than the rocket that will power the vehicle to 100 km in altitude. It will carry a payload of 4kg. Dawn Aerospace Mk-II Spaceplane Flight Testing Commences – Five Flights Complete — Dawn Aerospace

Dawn Aerospace, a New Zealand-Dutch space transportation company, has conducted five flights of the company’s Mk-II Aurora suborbital spaceplane. The flights were to assess the airframe and avionics of the vehicle, and were conducted using surrogate jet engines.

The campaign was run from Glentanner Aerodrome in New Zealand’s South Island. Taxi testing commenced in early July and five flights occurred between the 28th and 30th of July, reaching altitudes of 3,400 feet.

Dawn is creating reusable and sustainable space technologies – suborbital and orbital rocket-powered planes – that operate much like a fleet of aircraft, taking off and landing horizontally at airports.

Mk-II is a suborbital plane designed to fly 100 km above the Earth, and aims to be the first vehicle to access space multiple times per day. The vehicle serves as a technology demonstrator for the two-stage-to-orbit-vehicle, the Mk-III. Mk-II will also be used to capture atmospheric data used for weather and climate modelling, and to conduct scientific research and technology demonstrations.

See also Dawn Aerospace runs test flights from Glentanner near Aoraki/Mt Cook – NZ Herald.

** Rocket Factory Ausburg (RFA) pressure tests booster to destruction. The successful test of the steel structure marks an important milestone in the German company’s march towards a debut launch of the RFA One rocket in 2022 from Norway’s Andøya space port. The company recently announced progress with engine tests in Kiruna, Sweden. The booster will use nine full-scale staged combustion engines that burn kerosene and liquid oxygen. A second stage will use one of the same engines. An orbital third stage will place payloads into the desired orbit. The rocket will put up to 1600 kilograms into low earth orbit. The company says the first stage will be recovered and reused but has not given details on how this will be implemented.

More details of RFA rocket development: German startup Rocket Factory Augsburg successfully performs critical tests ahead of 2022 debut –

A video of the test:

You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs! With our burst test, we pushed the limits of our first stage and successfully tested several systems and processes. A new first stage is already being built. On we go!

** A June update on Skyrora small lift rocket developer in Scotland:

In this week’s episode we chat with Skyrora’s Business Operations Manager Derek Harris. We discuss how Skyrora have been doing through the UK lockdown, ESA Boost Initiative funding, updates on Skyrora’s 2021 test launch and other exclusive updates! Skyrora designs, manufactures and deploys rockets to clear the way for small satellite manufacturers looking to access Space. Headquartered in Edinburgh, and with facilities across Europe, Skyrora is developing launch vehicle technology to ensure that the life-changing benefits of space are realised here on earth.

** Light-lift rocket company Isar Aerospace of Germany gains payload contracts:

Here is an interview with the CCO of ISAR: The Space Cafe Podcast #036: Stella Guillen: CCO of ISAR Aerospace, Europe’s hottest stock in the launcher segment – SpaceWatch.Global

** ChinaDeep Blue Aerospace vertical-takeoff and landing (VTOL) rocket makes a short hop: Chinese space firm launches and lands small test rocket – SpaceNews

*** Deep Blue Aerospace flies vertical takeoff and landing rocket to 100 meters. Deep Blue Aerospace conducts 100-meter VTVL rocket test – SpaceNews

See also this earlier report: Chinese space firm launches and lands small test rocket – SpaceNews

** Gravitilab Aerospace offers low cost reusable sounding rockets for microgravity research services. The company recently carried out a commercial sounding rocket launch from the Spaceport 1 site in the Outer Hebrides: Gravitilab makes history by launching the first commercial rocket in the UK with the Spaceport 1 team – Gravitilab

A historic UK first has taken place in the Outer Hebrides today (Thursday 26th August) with a unique commercial space launch conducted by a wholly-owned British company and a Scottish spaceport team.

Spaceport 1 joined forces with East Anglian firm Gravitilab Aerospace Services on the sub-orbital launch of flight test vehicle ‘ADA’, named after Ada Lovelace, the 19th century English mathematician who is considered the world’s first computer programmer.

ADA took off from Benbecula marking a successful launch for Spaceport 1, the consortium led by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), which aims to open at Scolpaig, North Uist, in 2022. From this base, commercial sub-orbital space launches will begin to take place from within the UK.

The landmark launch moment represents a key milestone for this unique commercial partnership between Spaceport 1 and Gravitilab, providing proper physical evidence of how companies can work together commercially under the new Government space framework to deliver a successful rocket launch from the UK.

Gravitilab ADA suborbital rocket launches from the Outer Hebrides Spaceport 1 site.

The company has several other suborbital rockets in its fleet. A drop-pod system using a drone is also available:

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Check out the
The Lurio Report
for news and analysis of key developments in NewSpace

The latest issue:
Space Suit Opportunities, Inspiration4, FAA & Starship
Vol. 16, No. 6, September 22, 2021

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** Space transport briefs:


** T+196: Checking In on Small Launch with Firefly Alpha, Astra LV0006 – Main Engine Cut Off

Last week, Firefly made their first flight attempt of Alpha, and Astra launched their latest vehicle, LV0006. Though both ended in failure, it’s a good time to check in on them and other small launchers that will debut soon like, ABL’s RS1 and Relativity’s Terran 1, and how they may all compete with each other.

** Space Policy Edition: Mars via the Nuclear OptionPlanetary Society

Can nuclear propulsion fundamentally transform our ability to send humans to Mars? Bhavya Lal, a policy and nuclear engineering expert now working at NASA, helped write a new report on the topic for the National Academies of Sciences. She joins the show to talk about the advantages of various types of nuclear propulsion, the engineering and policy challenges that face them, and the role of government versus the private sector in developing and deploying transformational technologies.

** Tuesday, Aug.24.2021Stephanie Thomas talked about “Princeton Satellite Systems fusion development program, R&D plus fusion fuels, R&D, the fusion industry overview, fusion reactor performance specs and timelines, funding fusion and much more“.

** Two Scientists Are Building a Real Star Trek ‘Impulse Engine’ – Bloomberg

See also MEGA Progress | Space Studies Institute

** NSS Space Forum – Rocket Summer: The Adventures of Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin GalacticNational Space Society

It’s rocket summer! There has never been a summer like this in the history of commercial space. Virgin Galactic has just made a successful flight with Sir Richard Branson on board as one of the passengers. Blue Origin flew a crew of four to space on July 20 aboard its New Shepard vehicle, with Jeff Bezos as one of the passengers. SpaceX’s Starship may be making its first full-up orbital test flight later this summer. NSS Space Ambassadors Loretta Hall, Bruce Mackenzie, Casey Steadman, and moderator Jim Plaxco provided an overview of these historic events and discussed their larger implications for the development of commercial space.

** Aug.13: Media Telecon: NASA, Boeing to Provide Update on Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test-2NASA Video

** How India Developed World Class Rockets From Humble Beginnings. – Scott Manley

** The Space Show – Sunday, Oct.3.2021Scott Truax talked about his father, Robert (Bob) Truax, and his father’s rocket engineering accomplishments.

** ULA Stops Selling Atlas Rocket LaunchesScott Manley

The Atlas rocket traces its ancestry back to the 1950’s, it’s been at the core of the US space capabilities, carrying historic payloads for NASA, the DoD and commercial partners. This week ULA made it clear that it has no more Atlas rockets for sale as it move to transition to Vulcan which is not reliant on engines from Russia. There are 29 launches left, which is likely more than some ‘new’ rockets, but this decade should see the final flights of Atlas, Delta and Proton – all historic vehicles with their roots in the cold war.

** Status of ISEC – Members Meeting Aug.14.2021International Space Elevator Consortium


Continue to Roundup Part 3: SpaceX Falcon 9, Dragon, and Starship.

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Space transport roundup: Part 1 – Orbital Launches – Oct.27.2021

A sampling of articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport from late July till today (find previous roundups here). The roundup is split into three postings:

  • Part 1 Orbital launches
  • Part 2: Light orbital lift development, suborbital, space transport articles, news, videos, etc.
  • Part 3 SpaceX Falcon 9, Dragon, and Starship

Note: My link roundups on space transport, weekly space policy, etc have gotten too big and time-consuming.
And reader interest/visit rate has been low.  So I’ve decided to discontinue them after this issue and instead focus
on short posts dealing with specific space policy, transport, public participation, and technology topics.

** USA – Oct.16: ULA Atlas V sends Lucy spacecraft on mission to the Trojan asteroids near Jupiter. NASA, ULA Launch Lucy Mission to ‘Fossils’ of Planet Formation | NASA

Over the next 12 years, Lucy will fly by one main-belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids, making it the agency’s first single spacecraft mission in history to explore so many different asteroids. Lucy will investigate these “fossils” of planetary formation up close during its journey.

About an hour after launch, Lucy separated from the second stage of the ULA Atlas V 401 rocket. Its two massive solar arrays, each nearly 24 feet (7.3 meters) wide, successfully unfurled about 30 minutes later and began charging the spacecraft’s batteries to power its subsystems.

Lucy sent its first signal to Earth from its own antenna to NASA’s Deep Space Network at 6:40 a.m. The spacecraft is now traveling at roughly 67,000 mph (108,000 kph) on a trajectory that will orbit the Sun and bring it back toward Earth in October 2022 for a gravity assist.

Named for the fossilized skeleton of one of our earliest known hominin ancestors, the Lucy mission will allow scientists to explore two swarms of Trojan asteroids that share an orbit around the Sun with Jupiter. Scientific evidence indicates that Trojan asteroids are remnants of the material that formed giant planets. Studying them can reveal previously unknown information about their formation and our solar system’s evolution in the same way the fossilized skeleton of Lucy revolutionized our understanding of human evolution.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Lucy spacecraft aboard is seen in this 2 minute and 30 second exposure photograph as it launches from Space Launch Complex 41, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Lucy will be the first spacecraft to study Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids. Like the mission’s namesake – the fossilized human ancestor, “Lucy,” whose skeleton provided unique insight into humanity’s evolution – Lucy will revolutionize our knowledge of planetary origins and the formation of the solar system. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Lucy’s Trojan destinations are trapped near Jupiter’s Lagrange points – gravitationally stable locations in space associated with a planet’s orbit where smaller masses can be trapped. One swarm of Trojans is ahead of the gas giant planet, and another is behind it. The asteroids in Jupiter’s Trojan swarms are as far away from Jupiter as they are from the Sun.

The spacecraft’s first Earth gravity assist in 2022 will accelerate and direct Lucy’s trajectory beyond the orbit of Mars. The spacecraft will then swing back toward Earth for another gravity assist in 2024, which will propel Lucy toward the Donaldjohanson asteroid – located within the solar system’s main asteroid belt – in 2025.

Lucy will then journey toward its first Trojan asteroid encounter in the swarm ahead of Jupiter for a 2027 arrival. After completing its first four targeted flybys, the spacecraft will travel back to Earth for a third gravity boost in 2031, which will catapult it to the trailing swarm of Trojans for a 2033 encounter.

** USA – Sept.27: ULA Atlas V launches Landsat 9 remote sensing satellite for NASA: NASA Launches New Mission to Monitor Earth’s Landscapes | NASA

A joint mission with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Landsat 9 lifted off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 3E. Norway’s Svalbard satellite-monitoring ground station acquired signals from the spacecraft about 83 minutes after launch. Landsat 9 is performing as expected as it travels to its final orbital altitude of 438 miles (705 kilometers).

… “Today’s successful launch is a major milestone in the nearly 50-year joint partnership between USGS and NASA who, for decades, have partnered to collect valuable scientific information and use that data to shape policy with the utmost scientific integrity,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “As the impacts of the climate crisis intensify in the United States and across the globe, Landsat 9 will provide data and imagery to help make science-based decisions on key issues including water use, wildfire impacts, coral reef degradation, glacier and ice-shelf retreat, and tropical deforestation.”

The first Landsat satellite launched in 1972. Since then, NASA has always kept a Landsat in orbit to collect images of the physical material covering our planet’s surface and changes to land usage. Those images allow researchers to monitor phenomena including agricultural productivity, forest extent and health, water quality, coral reef habitat health, and glacier dynamics. …

See also

** USA – Sept.2: Firefly‘s first launch of Alpha rocket fails due to engine shutdown shortly after liftoff. The rocket nevertheless flew for 145 seconds but then lost control and was destroyed via the flight termination system. The company sees the launch as a sucessful first test flight:

Firefly conducted the first flight test of our Alpha vehicle on September 2, 2021. Although the vehicle did not make it to orbit, the day marked a major advancement for the Firefly team, as we demonstrated that we “arrived” as a company capable of building and launching rockets. We also acquired a wealth of flight data that will greatly enhance the likelihood of Alpha achieving orbit during its second flight. In short, we had a very successful first flight.

More at:

**** Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut tours the Firefly facilities :Tour Firefly Aerospace’s Factory and Test Site With Their CEO, Tom Markusic“:

Join me as I walk through Firefly Aerospace’s Texas test site and factory with their CEO, Tom Markusic. This was a highly detailed tour where we got to learn a ton about their engines, their rockets, and rocket science in general. It was super fun chatting with Tom because he has a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, so I learned a lot!

See also

** USA – Aug.28: Astra Rocket 3.3 launch aborted in flight due to engine failure. One of the five first stage engines failed to ignite properly at liftoff. However, the rocket still managed to remain upright and gain altitude after sliding horizontally away from the launch pad. The rocket was nevertheless doomed by the engine failure and the flight was aborted at the time of the main engine cutoff.

The USAF contracted Astra for this mission and a second one later this year. The company says it expects to launch three times by the end of the year and has a 50 mission backlog. The rockets will lift off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska. So far, the company has yet to put a payload into orbit but came close earlier this year when a propellant mixture problem caused the upper stage to reach just short of orbital velocity.

**** October 12: Astra announced completion of the investigation of the August launch failure:

The issue we encountered was something we hadn’t seen before. Leading up to liftoff, the first stage propellant distribution system provides the rocket with fuel and oxidizer. We designed the system to quickly disconnect and seal when the rocket lifts off. On this launch, propellants leaked from the system, mixed, and became trapped in an enclosed space beneath the interface between the rocket and the launcher. Those propellants were ignited by the engine exhaust, causing an over-pressure event that severed the connection to the electronics that control the fuel pump, shutting down the engine less than one second after liftoff.

This is why the rocket hovered until it could take off with only four engines producing thrust. The vehicle then returned to a normal trajectory, passing through max-Q. After that point, the four remaining engines did not have sufficient power to enable the vehicle to make orbit.

Appropriate fixes have been implemented and October 27th is now set as the date of the next launch.

Other Astra news:

Astra’s rocket for the LV0007 launch.

** USA – Aug.10: Northrop Grumman launches Antares rocket with Cygnus vessel from Wallops Island commercial spaceport. Christened the S.S. Ellison Onizuka, the NG-16 Cygnus vehicle brought 3,723 kilograms of cargo to the ISS when it docked to the station on Thursday, Aug.12. The cargo includes scientific experiment materials, various equipment, food and supplies to support the crew, etc.

** USA/NZ – July 29: Rocket Lab Electron puts US military satellite into orbit in the first launch sinceing an upper stage failure on May. 15th. The smallsat Monolith, a project of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory, was initially going to be on the first Rocket Lab launch from Wallops Island, Virginia. However, delays in getting the launch termination system certified by NASA led to moving the launch to New Zealand.

**** Oct.20: Rocket Lab will attempt to recover the first stage on the next Electron launch. Rocket Lab to Recover Electron Rocket, Introduce Helicopter Operations During Next Launch | Rocket Lab

[Rocket Lab] will attempt a controlled ocean splashdown and recovery of the first stage of an Electron rocket during the company’s next launch in November. The mission will be Rocket Lab’s third ocean recovery of an Electron stage; however, it will be the first time a helicopter will be stationed in the recovery zone around 200 nautical miles offshore to track and visually observe a descending stage in preparation for future aerial capture attempts. The helicopter will not attempt a mid-air capture for this mission but will test communications and tracking to refine the concept of operations (CONOPS) for future Electron aerial capture.

The ‘Love At First Insight’ mission is scheduled to lift-off from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand during a 14-day launch window that opens on November 11, 2021 UTC. The mission’s primary objective is to deploy two Earth-observation satellites for global monitoring company BlackSky, with the secondary objective to splash down and recover Electron’s first stage to further validate Rocket Lab’s recovery operations and hardware.

In addition,

The ‘Love At First Insight’ mission will also include new recovery hardware developments to Electron including an advanced parachute to be deployed from the first stage at a higher-altitude, allowing for a slower drift back to Earth to test communications and tracking for future aerial recovery. Electron also features improvements to the first stage heat shield which protects its nine Rutherford engines while they endure up to 2200 °C heat and incredible pressure on the descent back to Earth. A team of Rocket Lab engineers and technicians will again be stationed at sea with their purpose-built Ocean Recovery and Capture Apparatus (ORCA) to retrieve the stage from the ocean and return it to Rocket Lab’s production complex in New Zealand for analysis and inspection.

The ‘Love At First Insight’ mission follows two previous ocean splashdown recovery missions; the ‘Return to Sender’ mission in November 2020, and the ‘Running Out of Toes’ mission in May 2021.

Other Rocket Lab news:

** Russia – Oct.14: Arianespace Soyuz launches 36 more OneWeb satellites. The constellation of Internet service spacecraft has now reached halfway to its final size of.

** S. Korea – Oct.21: The Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV)-I on inaugural launch reaches space but upper stage fails to achieve orbital velocity after premature shutdown. Also referred to as the Nari, the three-stage rocket was launched from Naro Space Center, a few hundred kilometers south of Seoul. The payload was a dummy mock-up of a satellite. Overall, this was a successful test of the first orbital rocket built with South Korean technology.

** Russia – Oct. 4: Soyuz sends three to the ISS including cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and actress Yulia Pereslid  and film producer/director Klim Shipenk. Shkaplerov will join the ISS crew for several months while the actress and director will spend 12 days filming nearly an hour of footage for a film titled, The Challenge. This will be the first feature film shot in space with a professional actor and film maker. Soyuz MS-19 launches film crew to Station amid tightened Russian space reporting regulations –

*** Oct.17: Shipenk and Pereslid return to Earth with cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, who had been in space for 191 days

** Russia – Sept.14: Soyuz 2.1b launches 34 OneWeb Internet communication satellites. Soyuz mission launches 34 OneWeb satellites to orbit –

** Russia – Sept.9: Russian Soyuz-2.1v launches Kosmos-2551 military reconnaissance satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

** Russia – Aug.21: Arianespace Soyuz 2.1B launches 34 OneWeb satellites from Baiknour Cosmodrome. Total number of OneWeb satellites in orbit reaches 288.

** Europe – Oct.24: Ariane 5 launches two telecommunication satellites from the Guiana Space Centre close to Kourou, French Guiana. The stacked SES-17 and Syracuse-4A spacecraft combined weighed a total of 11.2 tons, a new record mass for Ariane 5 launches into geostationary transfer orbits. The telecom company SES owns the SES-17 satellite and will use it to deliver broadband coverage over the Americas, the Caribbean and over the Atlantic Ocean. Commercial aviation will be a priority market. France’s DGA (Direction générale de l’armement) defence procurement agency arranged the launch of Syracuse-4A, which will provide secure communications for the armed forces of France and will support NATO and European-led operations. The next Ariane 5 launch will send the James Webb Space Telescope into a far orbit out past the Moon.

** Europe – Aug.16: Arianespace Vega rocket launches Pléiades Neo-4 earth observation satellite and four cubesat secondary payloads. The solid-fueled rocket lifted off from the European spaceport in French Guiana (South America).

This mission marked Arianespace’s 7th successful launch of the year and the second with Vega in 2021. It lasted one hour, 44 minutes and 59 seconds during which Pléiades Neo 4 separated on a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 625 km while the four auxiliary payloads separated at 551 kilometers. …

… Today’s mission’s primary purpose was orbiting Pléiades Neo 4, the second of the four satellites of the Pléiades Neo constellation, the first being launched with Vega on April 28, 2021. With 30cm-native-resolution, best-in-class geolocation accuracy and twice-a-day revisit capability, the four Pléiades Neo satellites unlock new possibilities with the ultimate in reactivity. The satellite was fully funded and manufactured by its operator Airbus.

Pléiades Neo 4 was the 133rd Airbus Defence and Space satellite to be launched by Arianespace. There are currently 18 Airbus satellites in Arianespace’s backlog 11 of which will be launched with Vega and Vega C launchers. The last two satellites of the Pléiades Neo constellation will be placed into orbit in 2022 thanks to the next generation launch vehicle, Vega C.

** Europe – July.30: Arianespace launches Ariane V with two satellites for GEO transfer orbit. Ariane Flight VA254 lifted off from the from the Guiana Space Center (CSG) with “Star One D2, built by Maxar Technologies for Brazilian operator Embratel, and EUTELSAT QUANTUM for Eutelsat, developed with Airbus Defence and Space and the European Space Agency (ESA)”. This was the first Ariane V mission in nearly a year due to the slowdown with the pandemic and a grounding to deal with an issue with vibrations in the fairings.

The Star One D2 carries

Ku-, Ka-, C- and X-band transponders, that will enable it to expand broadband coverage to new regions in Central and South America and add an updated X-band payload for government use over the Atlantic region

The QUANTUM is an

With its configurable software-based design, EUTELSAT QUANTUM will be the first universal satellite in the world that can be repeatedly adjusted to the customer’s requirements at any time. It is equipped with electronically steerable receiving antennae and operates in Ku-band with eight independent reconfigurable beams. This configuration allows the operator to reconfigure in-orbit the radio-frequency beams over the coverage zones, providing unprecedented flexibility in data, government and mobility services.

There will be one more Ariane V mission before the launch of the James Webb telescope:

** India – Aug.12: Indian GSLV launch fails due to third stage problem. The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk II (GSLV-F10), the most powerful rocket in the Indian stable of launch systems, lifted off with the EOS-03 earth observation satellite from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR in Sriharikota, India. This was was the fourteenth flight of ISRO’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and the eighth of the upgraded Mark 2 version. Shortly after separation from the second stage, the cryogenic third stage began to lose attitude control and the engine failed to ignite. The mission had been delayed since March 2020 due to technical issues and the pandemic.

** Japan – Oct.26: JAXA launches QZS-1R navigation satellite on H-IIA rocket built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The launcher lifted off from Tanegashima Island in southwestern Japan. The QZS-1R replaces an aging member of Japan’s current constellation of three satellites in GEO. Eventually, the constellation will reach a size of 7 satellites and will provide an independent home-grown navigation service for the entire country.


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The latest issue:
Space Suit Opportunities, Inspiration4, FAA & Starship
Vol. 16, No. 6, September 22, 2021

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** China – Oct.27: Kuaizhou 1A rocket sends Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F hi-res optical imaging satellite into low earth orbit. The launch was carried out by Expace, a wholly owned subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC), the government’s primary space organization. The Kuaizhou 1A is a four stage vehicle with solid fueled motors except for a liquid fueled top stage.

** China – Oct.24: Long March 3B launches space debris mitigation test satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province in southwest China. No details were provided about the capabilities of the satellite or what sort of tests will be made. Presumably, it will rendezvous with an existing debris object, e.g. a derelict spacecraft or upper stage, or it release an object to test purposes. It will then carry out some operation that demonstrates one or more methods for de-orbiting such objects. These sort of techniques could also be used by a military satellite to disable an opponent’s spacecraft so there will be broad international interest in this mission. Interesting that the satellite was sent into geostationary transfer orbit rather than low earth orbit for such a test.

** China – Oct.15: Long March 2F sends 3 new crew members to Tiangong space station. The rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert with the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft carrying with astronauts Zhai Zhigang (commander), Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu will reach China’s new space station. The rendezvous and docking took place about 8 hours later. This is the second crew to go to the station and they are expected to remain there about six months. The first crew stayed for about three months.

** China – Oct.14: China launches Long March 2D launches H-alpha Solar Explorer plus 10 smallsats.

** China – Sept.27: Classified Shiyan-10 satellite launched by Long March 3B. Just two hours after the KZ-1A launch discussed below, the LM-3B lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province. The satellite was inserted into a geostationary transfer orbit but apparently there followed a malfunction of some sort perhaps with the satellite’s onboard engine. However, the satellite eventually began to use its onboard thrusters to reach its target orbit.

** China – Sept.27: Kuaizhou 1A (KZ-1A) rocket puts Jilin-1 Gaofen-02D remote sensing satellite into polar orbit. The rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia. The number of Jilin-1 Gaofen-2 satellites in orbit now numbers five.

** China – Sept.20: Long March 7 rocket launches Tianzhou-3 cargo vehicle to the Tianhe space station. The rocket lifted off from the Wenchang spaceport in Hainan, an island in southeast of China. The vehicle docked to the station just 7 hours later. The cargo includes propellant to maintain the station’s orbit and various consumables and equipment. The next crew of three are set to launch to the station on October 13th.

** China – Sept.17: Shenzhou-12 crew returns from Tianhe space station. The three taikonauts -Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo – rode in the Shenzhou-12 return module as it parachuted onto the Gobi Desert, Inner Mongolia. The crew was the first for the new Tianhe space station, which currently consists of the core module and the Tianzhou-2 supply vehicle. During their 90 day mission, they prepared the core module for operation and for the arrival of additional modules later. The Tianzhou-3 uncrewed supply vehicle is set to launch to the station on Sept. 20th. A second crew is expected to go to the station in early October for a six month stay.

** China – Sept.9: Long March 3C rocket sends Zhongxing-9B direct broadcast satellite to geostationary transfer orbit. The rocket lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province in southwest China,

** China – Sept.7: Gaofen 5-02 Earth-observation satellite launched on Long March 4C rocket. The rocket lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China’s Shanxi province. The satellite, developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, uses hyperspectral imaging to monitor “air, water and environments”.

** China – Aug.24: China launches two rockets on same day. A Long March-3B rocket successfully inserted a new communication technology experiment satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit after liftoff from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province. Later in the day, a Long March-2C carrier rocket put three satellites into low earth orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. Two of these spacecraft are test satellites for a planned Internet services constellation.

** China – Aug.19: Chinese Long March-4B launches two Tianhui-2 earth observation satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. The Tianhui 2 series are a quasi-secretive group of Earth observation satellites

** China – Aug.5: Long March 3B launches military communication satellite. This was the fourth Chinese launch in the past 8 days, counting the failure of the iSpace Hyperbola 1 discussed below.

The Zhongxing-2E satellite, operated by China Satellite Communications, launched at 16:30 UTC onboard a Long March 3B/E rocket, or Chang Zheng 3B/E, from Launch Complex 2 (LA-2) of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China. It is the desired launch site of the country´s space program for launches beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).

China Satellite Communications is owned by the Chinese Government, and the line of Zhongxing satellites are used to provide general communication services for the military.

Zhongxing is suspected to be the fourth satellite of the Shentong-2 military communication satellite line. They are operated by the Chinese army and provide communication services for voice and text communications.

** China – Aug.4: Chinese Long March 6 launches 2 technology test satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi Province in northern of the country.

KL-Beta-A and KL-Beta-B were built by the Shanghai Institute for Microsatellite Innovation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and are operated by the German company KLEO-connect. The Beta satellites will help test new interference suppression technology for Ka-band mobile communications satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) and Geostationary orbit (GEO).

** China – Aug.3: Launch of commercial Chinese rocket fails. The Chinese company iSpace suffered the second failure in a row of the solid fueled Hyperbola rocket.

** China – July 29: Chinese Long March 2D launches Tianhui 1-04 earth observation satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern Gobi Desert.


Continue to Roundup Part 2: Light orbital lift, suborbital, space transport articles, news, videos, etc.

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Space transport roundup: Part 2 – SpaceX – July.28.2021

This roundup provides a sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here). Part 2 here focuses on SpaceX while Part 1 reports on activities and news of other space transportation companies and organizations around the world.

There were no Starship prototype flights since the last roundup on May 18th but a tremendous amount of activity continued at SpaceX regardless. The Starship section below describes the action in Boca Chica Beach. We start, though, with a look at Falcon 9 and non-Starship related activities:

  • Launch/Landing: A rapid F9 mission rate continued up till a pause in July due to a scheduled pause for launches to allow KSC/Cape Canaveral to carry out annual maintenance. There have been 20 F9 launches so far this year. Only one of the 20 booster landings failed.
  • Reuse of F9 boosters has reached as many as 10 flights. The max number could reach significantly more than that according to Elon Musk. So far, SpaceX has detected no need for retirement, or even major refurbishment, of boosters after 10 missions, which was the original target for the number of reuses with minimal refurbishment between flights.
  • Starlink constellation reached the initial operational size of nearly 1600 active satellites with the Starlink 28 v1.0 mission. Once all the satellites reach their final target orbits, uninterrupted global service between the polar circles will be available.
  • New customized droneship goes operational for landings on the Atlantic and a droneship arrives on the West Coast. Starlink launches into polar orbit will start this summer from Vandenberg AFB and a droneship is needed to provide for booster landings.
  • CRS-22 Cargo Dragon launched, docked, departed, and landed safely.
  • Crew-2 Dragon remains at the ISS but was moved to a new docking port to open the target port for the Boeing Starliner, which will be launched at the end of July for an uncrewed test mission: SpaceX crew capsule relocated outside space station before Boeing mission – Spaceflight Now

** May 26 : Starlink 28 v1.0 put 60 more satellites into orbit. With this launch, the total number of satellites fills the “first shell” needed to provide global coverage between +/- 53 degrees latitude. The first stage booster previously flew once before for the Sentinel-6A mission. The booster landed successfully on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. According to SpaceX, “One half of Falcon 9’s fairing previously supported four Starlink missions, and the other previously supported a Starlink mission and the Transporter-1 mission.”

*** June 3: Cargo Dragon launched to the ISS and docked two days later. The CRS-22 mission involves a brand new Dragon craft (denoted as C209) and the Falcon 9 used a a brand new Falcon 9 booster (denoted as B1067). Along with supplies and science materials, the Dragon delivered two new solar arrays for the ISS.

July 9: Cargo Dragon returns to earth following departure from the ISS on July 8th.

*** June 6: Falcon 9 launched SirusXM Radio satellite SXM-8, built by Maxar. The first stage booster landed successfully for the 3rd time. It previously flew for SpaceX’s Crew-1 and Crew-2 missions carrying astronauts to the International Space Station. The first stage landed on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, located in the Atlantic Ocean.

*** June.17: Falcon 9 launches GPS satellite for USAF. This was the fiirst national security satellite to launch on reused booster. The booster landed safely on a droneship platform in the Atlantic.

** June 30: SpaceX launches Transporter-2 Rideshare mission with 88 satellites on board. The first stage landed safely back at Cape Canaveral after its 8th flight.

*** Customized droneship for F9 booster landings unveiled: The new droneship, A Shortfall of Gravitas (ASOG), will soon provide a platform for boosters landings in the Atlantic. ASOG differs significantly from the older droneships –Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) and Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) – in looks and capabilities. Most of the support equipment is protected from the rocket’s flames within dark metal casings. The landing pad is somewhat smaller. ASOG also has its own propulsion system so it doesn’t need towing to and from the recovery location. Combined with the robotic Octagrabber robot that secures the booster after it lands, the ship will eventually allow for recovery and transport to port to be controlled remotely with no need for workers to come on board.

July 9: The “Of Course I Still Love You” (OCISLY) droneship arrived on the West Coast after a long trip from Florida aboard the semi-submersible ship “Mighty Servant 1“. OCISLY will provide a landing platform for boosters launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base that cannot return to the launch site for landing.


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Vol. 16, No. 4, June 8, 2021

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*** Starship

The primary focus of the Starship program since the successful SN15 flight on May 5th has been the construction of the orbital launch and landing facility at Boca Chica Beach plus assembly and testing of two Super Heavy Booster prototypes. The goal of all this work is to carry out an orbital test flight of a  combined Starship/Super Heavy booster as soon as possible. (See the animation below of the orbital test, which would have the Starship reenter and land on the ocean near Hawaii, short of a complete orbit.)

Here is a diagram showing the status of development of elements of the Starship/Super Heavy booster vehicles and the related facilities:

This comparison of images illustrates the dramatic rate of change at Boca Chica in the past three years:

Yet an even bigger hangar assembly building is coming:

*** A selection of Starship related tweets from Elon:

** Lots of Raptor engines will be needed for the 100s of StarShips (6 engines) and Super Heavy boosters (33 engines) rolling off the assembly line in the coming years. SpaceX has already produced a good sized flock of Raptors:

** USAF program studying use of Starship-class vehicles for fast global transportation. The Air Force is requesting $47.9 million in the 2022 budget for a study of “Rocket Cargo“. (The US military is starting to get really interested in Starship | Ars Technica.) Since the 1960s there have been occasional studies by the military into using suborbital rocket transports for super-fast global delivery of supplies and troops to crisis spots. The emergence of the fully reusable, vertical takeoff and landing Starship has clearly generated renewed interest in such technology, which is no longer just theoretical. From the start, SpaceX has a promoted the Starship as capable of suborbital, point-to-point transport in additional to orbital and deep space missions. This was presented in the context of civilian passenger flight services but clearly military transport is an option as well.

Although the budget request aroused major media attention in the past few weeks, the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) actually announced last fall that it was partnering with SpaceX and Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc) into looking at the feasibility of such systems: USTRANSCOM Announces the Next Frontier for Logistics – Space – United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) – Oct.7.2020

While speaking at the National Defense Transportation Association’s Fall Meeting on Oct. 7, U.S. Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, commander, U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), announced USTRANSCOM is looking to space to quickly move critical logistics during time-sensitive contingencies or to deliver humanitarian assistance, helping to project and sustain the Joint Force in support of national objectives.

Speaking at the virtual meeting from the command’s headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, on Oct. 7, Lyons told the audience about USTRANSCOM’s partnership with Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) and Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc) to explore this emerging capability of rapid transportation through space.

Visualization of a suborbital rocket powered vertical takeoff and landing vehicle for fast global military transport. Credits: Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc).

“Think about moving the equivalent of a C-17 payload anywhere on the globe in less than an hour,” Lyons asked the virtual audience. “Think about that speed associated with the movement of transportation of cargo and people. There is a lot of potential here and I’m really excited about the team that’s working with SpaceX on an opportunity, even perhaps, as early as 21, to be conducting a proof of principle.”

Logistics traditionally labors under the tyranny of distance and time, and global access. For example, operations in the Pacific Ocean theater may transit 10,000 miles—one way.

“For the past 75 years or so, we have been constrained to around 40,000 feet altitude and 600 miles per hour in our very fastest method of logistics delivery—airlift,” said USTRANSCOM deputy commander, U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Dee Mewbourne, who leads the command’s effort in this area.

Current space transportation is also more weight- and volume-constrained than airlift, and faces challenges in positioning, launching, and recovery operations. As industry advances to overcome these challenges as well as increase its pace of launches to decrease costs, a space transportation capability to put a crucial cargo quickly on target at considerable distances makes it an attractive alternative.

XArc described the goals of the USTRANSCOM Global Space Transportation study:

The XArc CRADA [Cooperative Research and Development Agreements] tasks are to determine global spaceport basing criteria for Point-to-Point space transportation and delivery, and assess the ground support and logistics requirements needed for integrating a spacelift capability. The research study evaluates ground support infrastructure requirements with regard to support facilities, cargo standardizations and logistics for materiel handling, mission dedicated equipment, supplies, materiel and personnel, and intermodal cargo transfer. International regulatory issues of air and space law are also addressed, as well as infrastructure security considerations.

The goal is to establish a seamless integration of air and space transport modalities to work through a variety of possible contingencies. The study considers a variety of emerging space transportation technologies in development by commercial service providers, and also considers Orbital Depots to determine viability of “space drop” supply logistics.

A press briefing on June 4th by the US indicated that the Rocket Cargo Program is a serious initiative and intended to be more than just another paper study: Yes, the military is serious about rocketing supplies around the planet | Ars Technica

It seems clear that defense leaders are eager to be an early adopter of these technologies. Officials said the Department of Defense would even consider buying initial launches at a reduced price to both support the companies’ test programs as well as to test logistics materials and procedures.

And while, initially, cargo-carrying rockets probably would land at existing spaceports or runways, that need not always be the case. One day, such urgent rocket deliveries might land anywhere on the planet, rugged terrain or not, Spanjers said. He noted that rockets, after all, have landed on the Moon.

“If they can land in those places, we’re interested in knowing to what extent we can extend that to a larger range of terrains on Earth, so that we can do immediate cargo transports to basically anywhere on the planet quickly,” he said.

Artist’s view of a delivery of emergency cargo via a VTOL rocket vehicle. Credits: USAF/Ars Technica

See also:

**** Starship orbital flight animation

With suborbital Starship tests seemingly complete with SN15’s successful landing, all eyes are on the first orbital test flight of a full Starship-Super Heavy stack. This test, scheduled to take place only in a few month’s time, will feature the world’s tallest and most powerful rocket ever built taking flight for the first time. This animation shows the proposed flight plan of that first orbital test flight. NOTE: Some aspects of this animation are inaccurate or out of date. During the production many new pieces of information were revealed that weren’t known at the time certain scenes were animated.

*** Sampling of daily video reports from Boca Chica:

*** July.20: Super Heavy Booster 3 Static Fires for the First Time | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX performs a full duration static fire of Super Heavy Booster 3. This is the first prototype booster to be fueled and ground tested. Booster 3 has three Raptor engines installed though Elon Musk stated they may try to fire it with nine engines in the future. Video from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and the NSF Robotic Camera Team. Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist)

*** July.21: New Raptor Boost Engine “R2B2” Delivered for Super Heavy | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

As crews inspect Booster 3 after its successful static fire, more Raptor engines for a Super Heavy booster are delivered. Dubbed “R2B2” by McGregor crews, Raptor Boost 2 (RB2) may be mounted on the outer engine ring of a Booster prototype in the coming months. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and the NSF Robotic Camera Team. Edited by Nathan Shields

*** July.20 SpaceX Starbase, Tx FlyoverRGV Aerial Photography

** July 23: Raptor Engine Removed from Super Heavy Booster 3 | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

Raptor engine RC59 was removed from Super Heavy Booster 3, work started on the 9th section of the Launch Tower, and a Super Heavy Aft dome was spotted being worked on inside one of the production tents. Video and Pictures from Steven Marr (@spacecoast_stve). Edited by Nate Shields.

*** July.27: Three Raptor Engines Delivered – Booster 4 Methane Transfer Tube Installed | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

Three Raptor engines were delivered, Super Heavy Booster 4’s Methane Transfer Tube (also known as the downcomer) was installed, and work on the orbital launch table continued. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and the NSF robots. Edited by Nate Sheilds.

*** Other Starship and space transport videos:

*** July.26: Starship Tests Payload Bay Design, Booster 3 Static Fire, New Test Rig Built | This Week in StarbaseNASASpaceflight – YouTube

As SpaceX pushes toward the Orbital Test Flight, critical pieces needed to support the flight start to fall into place. Ian Atkinson walks you through the progress being made at Starbase. Hosted by Ian Atkinson (@IanPineapple).

*** July.21: SpaceX working on design for Starship 2.0!What about it!?

Today we’ll talk Starship 2.0. SpaceX’s latest design changes that will be present on the orbital flight. We’ll also talk about the lead theory for the mystery structure, and we’ll talk about the Super High Bay. SpaceX’s even larger Starship high bay to begin construction soon! Let’s find out!

*** July.24SpaceX’s Mechazilla Rises, Starliner Prepares, Nauka Launch, Wally Funk’s flight to Space Marcus House

Not only did we see Raptor action this week with SpaceX’s record-sized rocket booster, but we witnessed the launch of Russia’s Nauka Laboratory for the International Space Station. Better late than never. We have updates on Hubble’s Trouble and Rocket Lab’s anomaly review. The Dragon has been tamed yet again, and of course, we had the first crewed flight of New Shepard with Wally Funk’s long-awaited ride to space. Quite the action-packed week right there!

*** July.27: SpaceX’s Mechazilla Rises, Starliner Prepares, Nauka Launch, Wally Funk’s flight to Space – Marcus House

Today, we’ll have a closer look at how NASA and SpaceX might fly to the Moon. We already teased the scenarios in the last video talking about SpaceX’s Human Landing System and what mission options could be possible, but today, we want to add some numbers. True, there are lots of official numbers missing but we have found some clues on how it might go. …

*** July.12: Why SpaceX Will Move To New Thrusters To Simplify StarshipScott Manley

Starship and SuperHeavy development continue, there hasn’t been any more test flights of Starship as they have decided to move on to testing the booster and putting Starship into orbit.

*** Other SpaceX news:

** WATCH: Elon Musk discuss Starlink Internet at MWC 2021 – Livestream – Interview on June 29th. See also the summary: Elon Musk interview: SpaceX, Starliink and his motivation and philosophy – CIS 471

** Sampling of dearMoon expedition applicant videosSpaceX moon mission billionaire reveals who might get a ticket to ride Starship – CNET


Continue to Roundup Part 1.

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