A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):
** A Soyuz launched a new ISS crew early this morning US time and the spacecraft reached the ISS just three hours later. A few hours later the crew, including NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov (Soyuz commander) and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov (flight engineer), entered the station. They expand the ISS contingent to a total of six.
- NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins, Crewmates Arrive Safely at Space Station | NASA
- Hatches Open, Station Crew Expands to Six – Space Station/NASA
- Expedition 64 Crew Blasts off on Express Ride to Station – Space Station/NASA
- Soyuz launch marks end of an era for NASA – SpaceNews
** Blue Origin flew a New Shepard vehicle on Tuesday Oct. 13th above 100 km for the 13th time, the 7th time for this particular vehicle. The flight had been postponed several times from the original target date of September 24th by a series of weather and technical issues. New Shepard Successfully Completes Mission with NASA Precision Lunar Landing Technology Onboard – Blue Origin
There were 12 payloads onboard including the Deorbit, Descent, and Landing Sensor Demonstration under the NASA Tipping Point partnership. The lunar landing sensor demo was the first payload to be mounted on the exterior of a New Shepard booster and tested technology designed to achieve high accuracy landing. This will enable long-term lunar exploration, as well as future Mars missions.
“Today’s flight was inspiring. Using New Shepard to simulate landing on the Moon is an exciting precursor to what the Artemis program will bring to America,” said Bob Smith, CEO, Blue Origin. “Thanks to NASA for partnering with us, and congrats to the Blue Origin team on taking another step toward returning to the Moon to stay.”
As indicated by the press release, the company focused on the dozen scientific and technology payloads tested during the flight, particularly the NASA lunar landing systems placed on the outside of the booster. NASA and the other payload owners paid for their rides in a commercial fee-for-service framework. This was not a NASA funded mission. For more info about the payloads, see New Shepard Mission NS-13 Launch Updates – Blue Origin.
This was the first flight of 2020. The 12th New Shepard launch took place last December. There was little info during the webcast regarding an increase in the flight rate or when flights with people on board will happen.
Liftoff is at around 37:16 into this replay of the mission webcast:
This video highlights the NASA funded technology tested during the flight:
On Tuesday, October 13, 2020, Blue Origin launched mission NS-13 to space and back. On this flight, New Shepard flew 12 commercial payloads, including the Deorbit, Descent, and Landing Sensor Demonstration with NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate under a Tipping Point partnership. This was the first payload to fly mounted on the exterior of a New Shepard booster, opening the door to a wide range of future high-altitude sensing, sampling, and exposure payloads.
- Blue Origin completes successful suborbital space shot – Spaceflight Now
- New Shepard returns to flight with successful suborbital mission – SpaceNews
** Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo vessel berthed to the ISS following launch on an Antares rocket from Wallops Island on October 2nd: Northrop Grumman Successfully Launches 14th Cargo Delivery Mission to the International Space Station | Northrop Grumman
The Cygnus arrived at the station October 5th and successfully berthed soon after:
- Cygnus Resupply Ship Attached to Station Unity Module – Space Station/NASA
- Cygnus supply ship reaches space station with titanium toilet – Spaceflight Now
- Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus Spacecraft Berths with International Space Station – Northrop Grumman
Northrop Grumman Corporation’s (NYSE: NOC) Cygnus spacecraft was successfully captured by Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA using the International Space Station’s robotic Canadarm2 at 5:32 a.m. EDT [Oct.5th] after its launch on the company’s Antares rocket on Oct. 2 from Wallops Island.
The S.S. Kalpana Chawla executed a series of thruster burns during its three day journey to the station. Once Cygnus was in close range, crew members grappled the spacecraft with the station’s robotic arm. Cygnus was then guided to its berthing port on the Earth facing side of the station’s Unity module and officially installed to the space station at 8:01 a.m. EDT.
Cygnus will remain berthed to the International Space Station for approximately three months while more than 8,000 pounds of cargo is unloaded and astronauts reload the vehicle with disposal cargo. Cygnus will then undock and complete its secondary mission of hosting both the Northrop Grumman-built SharkSat payload and the Saffire-V experiment. The SharkSat prototype payload is mounted to Cygnus and will collect performance data of new technologies in low Earth orbit. To learn more about these payloads, visit Northrop Grumman’s website.
The company is trying to raise a couple hundred million dollars to sustain itself until it reaches operational status: Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit Seeks $1 Billion Valuation in Fundraising – WSJ.
** ExoTerra Resource to develop a solar electric powered upper stage for Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket. The stage will enable payloads to reach GEO and lunar orbits and beyond. ExoTerra to develop upper stage for Virgin Orbit LauncherOne – SpaceNews
With ExoTerra’s Solar Electric Propulsion Upper Stage, LauncherOne customers could reach destinations including geostationary orbit, trans-lunar injection orbit, Earth-Moon Lagrange points and low lunar orbit, according to the ExoTerra news release.
“This win allows ExoTerra to begin development of an upper stage that will deliver up to 150 kilograms of payload to the moon,” according to the news release. The upper stage also could transport 180-kilogram payloads to geostationary orbit, the release added.
** Rocket Lab is also aiming for destinations beyond low earth orbit: #SpaceWatchGL Interviews – Peter Beck of Rocket Lab: “I don’t have 50 or 60 years to wait” – SpaceWatch.Global
Rocket Lab belongs to the top private launcher companies globally. With 14 launches and 55 deployed satellites, the company is one of the most vibrant actors in the space launcher market. SpaceWatch.Global Editor-in-Chief Markus Payer got the chance to talk to Peter Beck, Founder and CEO of Rocket Lab, to discuss Rocket Lab’s ambitions to go to Venus, its strategy, vertical integration and fundamental questions of humanity.
New Zealand is proud of the country’s rocket company: ‘Most successful startup since SpaceX’ – Americans hail Rocket Lab – NZ Herald.
The Firefly Alpha Flight 1 Stage 1 passed its Final Acceptance Test yesterday! After a final inspection, it will be transported to Vandenberg Air Force Base in preparation for launch. Great work by the over 300+ Firefly team to achieve this important milestone! pic.twitter.com/qTszFOnSnG
— Firefly Aerospace (@Firefly_Space) October 10, 2020
— Firefly Aerospace (@Firefly_Space) October 7, 2020
** Relativity Space advances 3D printing of large structures: Inside Relativity Space HQ: 3D printer rocket ‘factory of the future’ – CNBC
Relativity is currently building the first iteration of its Terran 1 rocket. But unlike other rockets, Relativity is using multiple 3D-printers, all developed in-house, to build Terran 1. The rocket is designed to have about 95% of its parts be 3D-printed, which allows Relativity’s rocket to be less complex, and faster to build or modify, than traditional rockets. Additionally, Relativity says its simpler process will eventually be capable of turning raw material into a rocket on the launchpad in under 60 days.
While Relativity had made progress testing its 3D-printing technology, the company’s 120,000 square foot headquarters will serve as the foundation for its manufacturing and launch business. Relativity is now on its third generation of 3D-printers, capable of manufacturing a single piece of metal up to 32 feet tall – as high as the new ceiling allows.
The first launch is targeted for late 2021. They are aiming for a price of $12M per flight.
** China launches another Gaofen observation satellite on a Long March-3B rocket. Liftoff was from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China:
- Long March 3B lofts Gaofen-13 – NASASpaceFlight.com
- China launches Gaofen-13 observation satellite towards geostationary orbit – SpaceNews
** A review of commercial launch in China: The English language podcast Dongfang Hour focuses on Chinese aerospace and technology. Here is a two-part program about the development and status of commercial launch industry in China:
**** China’s Long March to Commercial Launch
This week, we discussed the history of China’s commercial launch industry, and commercial space industry more generally. This included:
00:00 – Introduction 04:47 – The 1980s and the Origins of Chinese Commercial Launch
13:19 – From Encouraging Growth experience to a shift after multiple failures by Chinese launch vehicles: the 1990s
21:17 – Post-2000 China in the ITAR Export Control Environment
36:14 – Residual Deals between China and Western Countries: ITAR-Free Products and Services
39:38 – Digging Into China’s Family of Long March Rockets
43:06 – The future of Chinese commercial launch, including discussion on the plethora of commercial companies entering the market
**** What’s the Situation with Chinese Private Launch Startups ?
Last time we left off at the dawn of China’s private launch era. Having discussed the major state-owned companies and their respective rockets, we will now shift our attention to the plethora of privately-owned launch companies entering the Chinese market today. On today’s episode, we will discuss: Who are China’s private launcher companies, and what type of rockets are they building? What is the relationship between state-owned and privately-owned launcher companies in China? Who do the private launcher companies hope to sell their services to? What are some of the similarities and differences between Chinese private launcher companies and their western counterparts? The episode timestamps can be found below:
00:53 – Introduction
03:01 – Historical perspective
04:31 – Why has China allowed private companies to enter the launch industry?
09:51 – Two generations of private launch companies
17:03 – The founding teams
22:34 – Strong ties with provincial governments
25:00 – Propulsion technology and reusability
34:56 – Comparing Private and state-owned launch vehicles
37:55 – Is there enough market demand to sustain so many launch companies?
45:29 – Implication of Chinese tech companies in space