Category Archives: Spaceflight & Parabolic Flight

Space access roundup – Feb.6.2019

A sampling of space transportation related news and resource items:

** Ariane 5 launches two comm-sats on first mission of 2019:

Looks like a launch a month for Arianespace in 2019: Arianespace preps for first of up to 13 launches in French Guiana this year – Spaceflight Now

** Prometheus reusable engine – While Arianespace remains committed to single-use throwaway rockets, technology research into reusable hardware is happening. For example, here is the latest on the reusable Prometheus methane-fueled engine: Prometheus: Demonstrator of Future Engine passed its Definition Review – Ariane Group

The goal of the Prometheus demonstrator is to be able to build future liquid propellant engines in the 100 tons thrust class, for a cost ten times less than that involved in building an existing engine such as the Vulcain®2.

Rendering of a design for the reusable methane fueled Promethus engine.

The success of a technological challenge of this nature depends on a completely new design: over and above the change in the traditional Ariane propellant (switching from the liquid oxygen and hydrogen combination to liquid oxygen and methane), the demonstrator will entail major changes, including digitization of engine control and diagnostics. It also depends on the use of innovative design and production methods and tools, including construction using 3D printing in a connected factory environment.

** Speaking of reusable Ariane rockets: French auditor says Ariane 6 rocket too conventional to compete with SpaceX | Ars Technica

“This new launcher does not constitute a sustainable response in order to be competitive in a commercial market in stagnation,” the auditor’s report states. The Ariane 6 rocket design is too “cautious,” according to the report, relying on mostly traditional technologies.

** New Blue Origin video highlights the activities and future plans of the company:

** Momentus Water-Plasma propulsion for smallsat – While small satellites are growing into major sector of the space industry, cost-effective and technically practical in-space propulsion for small spacecraft remains a challenge, especially for those sized in the CubeSat scale of a few kilograms. The startup company Momentus offers propulsion modules that will attach to smallsats and and send them to the exact orbits after they are released from a rocket that takes them into space.

Momentus propulsion system uses water heated into a plasma state by microwaves. Water is obviously a safe fuel and this means that a spacecraft using it for propulsion will encounter fewer hurdles to integrating the craft into a launch system compared to using more energetic fuels.

Momentus Water-Plasma engine diagram.

Momentus just got its first contract with a $6M order from the German company Exolaunch to provide in-space propulsion for satellites that will be launched in 2020 and 2021:

There are longer term advantages to water propulsion as well. Water has been found to be abundant throughout the solar system. Water-based propulsion clearly offers significant advantages for in-space transportation with the Moon and asteroids providing filling-station services for spacecraft of all sizes.

** Commercial crew flight tests schedule: NASA, Partners Update Commercial Crew Launch Dates – Commercial Crew Program

The agency now is targeting March 2 for launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on its uncrewed Demo-1 test flight. Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is targeted for launch no earlier than April.

These adjustments allow for completion of necessary hardware testing, data verification, remaining NASA and provider reviews, as well as training of flight controllers and mission managers.

** SpaceX

*** The first operational full-scale Raptor LOX/Methane engine was tested at the company’s McGregor, Texas facility last weekend:

From SpaceX Instagram and Elon Musk tweet:

Completed a two-second test fire of the Starship Raptor engine that hit 170 bar and ~116 metric tons of force – the highest thrust ever from a SpaceX engine and Raptor was at ~60% power.

Check out the rocket cycles diagrams illustrating the flow of propellants through rocket engines, including the stage combustion cycles used on the Raptor.

*** Latest on the design of the SpaceX next-gen space transport systems: In new Starship details, Musk reveals a more practical approach | Ars Technica

*** Work continues on the StarHopper and construction of the Boca Chica Beach launch facility near Brownsville, Texas: SpaceX’s Starship prototype is looking increasingly rocket-like as hop test pad expands –

Some views of the activities there:

*** South Padre Island Information – Feb.5.2019 (opens with Raptor engine test video):

*** South Padre Island Information – Jan.30.2019

*** South Padre Island Info also offers a free webcam that includes views of the SpaceX site: Starship Cam views the Spacex Starship, the Launch Pad, Isla Blanca Beach Park which is the closest possible launch viewing area, and the beach at South Padre Island Texas. Enjoy free continuous live streams and recordings of all upcoming launches, and Starship launch schedules and the latest SpaceX Boca Chica news. Launches will begin soon, watch all launches live on Starship Cam. For launch schedule and South Padre Island information visit: Starship Cam hosted by South Padre Surf Company:

Update: Latest on the SpaceX launch schedule: As Falcon Heavy celebrates anniversary, SpaceX manifest aligns –


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Space access roundup – Jan.29.2019

A sampling of items regarding rockets, spaceships, etc:

** China’s Long March 5, the country’s largest heavy lift rocket, is set to launch again this year : China Plans Return-to-Flight of Long March-5 Booster –

An essential launcher for China’s future space station and Moon exploration plans is being readied for a July flight.

The third Long March-5 takeoff follows a mishap of this booster-class on July 2, 2017. An intensive investigation was carried out to identify why the rocket failed less than six minutes after liftoff.

China’s Xinhua news agency reports that Yang Baohua, vice president of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), that the cause of the failure had been found.

2019 will be another busy launch year for China: China will attempt 30-plus launches in 2019, including crucial Long March 5 missions –

And Chinese commercial launch companies are ramping up as well: Chinese companies OneSpace and iSpace are preparing for first orbital launches –

** The USAF’s X-37 reusable spaceplane is still in orbit after nearly a year and a half: U.S. Air Force Space Plane Wings Past 500 days of Earth Orbiting –

The secretive mission of a U.S. Air Force X-37B mini-space plane has winged past 500 days of flight. This robotic drone is performing classified duties during the program’s fifth flight.

This mission – tagged as Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-5) — was rocketed into Earth orbit on September 7, 2017 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

** Feb 19: An Arianespace Soyuz rocket will launch the first ten satellites of the OneWeb global broadband Internet constellation, which will eventually total over 900 satellites.

** Firefly Aerospace shows off an engine test:

** Vector Launch is testing as well:

** SpaceX:

*** A local TV news station reports on activity at the SpaceX launch facility near Brownsville, Texas:

*** The first Falcon Heavy commercial mission, and the second flight of the launch system, looks to happen in March and a third flight with mostly military payloads could happen in April: After government re-opened, SpaceX sought two Falcon Heavy permits | Ars Technica

Of potentially more interest are applications for two permits related to the launch of the next Falcon Heavy mission, Arabsat 6A, and the landing of two side boosters and the central core. These applications indicate that the launch of the Arabsat 6A mission will occur no earlier than March 7 from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. This is consistent with existing estimates for the current launch date.

The landing permit also confirms that SpaceX will seek to land the two side boosters at its landing zone along the Florida coast—setting up for a repeat of the dramatic side-by-side landings during the inaugural Falcon Heavy test flight last February. The company will also attempt to land the center core on an ocean-based drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean about 1,000km offshore. During the first test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket, SpaceX narrowly missed landing the center core.

There is a lot riding on these landings, as SpaceX intends to reuse both the side boosters and the center core for its third Falcon Heavy mission, Space Test Program-2. This flight could occur as early as April, although some slippage to the right seems likely, as a one-month turnaround of three boosters is ambitious. The payloads for this ride-share mission, bought by the US Air Force, include six weather research satellites, several demonstration missions, and academic projects.

See also:

*** Two Falcon 9 missions are set for February:

*** The Falcon 9 fairing catcher ship is traveling from the West Coast to Florida, where it will have more opportunities to use its net to snag nose-cone fairings ejected from the rockets during satellite launches: SpaceX fairing catcher Mr. Steven heads for Panama Canal after one last drop test –

Iconic fairing recovery vessel Mr. Steven appears to have quietly departed for SpaceX’s Florida launch facilities a few days after completing (successfully or not) one final controlled fairing catch test in the Pacific Ocean.

While bittersweet for those that have closely followed the vessel’s development and many attempted Falcon fairing recoveries, this move should ultimately give Mr. Steven around three times as many opportunities to attempt fairing recoveries thanks to SpaceX’s significantly higher East Coast launch cadence.

For updates on Mr. Steven, check out: SpaceXFleet Updates (@SpaceXFleet) | Twitter.

** Other items:


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Videos: New Shepard flight history + “Moon, the Eighth Continent” + “Coin Operated”

Today Blue Origin posted this video compilation of highlights of the test flights of the New Shepard:

From the caption:

The more we fly the better we get. Safety and reliability are paramount. Our rigorous test program with New Shepard is putting the vehicle through the paces. We have successfully completed several crew capsule escape tests showing that our astronauts will be safe in any phase of flight. In addition to our test program, our payloads program is driving more flights of the system as we iterate on operations and technology in preparation for human spaceflight. All the learnings from the New Shepard program are being flowed into New Glenn development as we scale up our capabilities to serve the orbital market. Visit us at to learn more.

Another flight is expected to happen very soon.


Moon, the Eighth Continent – A documentary about government and private efforts around the world to revitalize exploration of the Moon and to establish human bases and settlements there. (In French with English subtitles):

Major space agencies, and a few billionaires, are now launching a new space race to the moon. It’s the first step before heading to Mars.


An entertaining story of one guy’s lifelong pursuit of a ride to the Moon: Coin Operated on Vimeo

Written & Directed by Nicholas Arioli

Coin Operated is an award winning 5 minute short animation that spans 70 years in the life of one naive explorer. This film was proudly made by independent artists.

Facebook –


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On its 50th anniversary, Apollo 8 gets the appreciation it deserves

The Apollo 8 mission launched on Dec. 21, 1968 with astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr. and William Anders on board. About two and half hours after liftoff, the S-IV third stage fired for a second time and put their spacecraft on a trajectory to the Moon. The crew members became the first humans to fly beyond low earth orbit.

The S-IV soon separated from the Apollo command service module and the spacecraft reached the Moon on Dec. 24th, going into orbit after the firing of the service module engine while on the far side. The crew orbited the Moon for 10 hours and would have been stuck there forever if the engine had not re-fired as planned. It did fire and the crew made it back to earth for a safe splashdown in the Pacific on Dec. 27th. The extremely risky mission was a tremendous success and its accomplishments made it possible for the US to achieve the goal set by John F. Kennedy of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s.

I recently wrote about the audiobook version of Bob Zimmerman’s 1998 book, Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8: The First Manned Mission to Another World.  Today Bob reflects on the mission, his book, and the growing appreciation of the significance of the Apollo 8 mission, which had nearly been lost in the glow of Apollo 11: Apollo 8: Fifty years ago | Behind The Black.

What I find gratifying is that it appears my goal in writing the book in 1998 has been an unparalleled success. Today alone there have been three major stories celebrating Apollo 8 and its legacy, from the Washington Post, Scientific American, and New Atlas. In the past week there have another half dozen. I expect dozens more in the coming week. All so far have gotten their facts right, and have been able to tell the story correctly of this nerve-racking mission given 50-50 odds of success. More important, all have understood thoroughly the political and historical context of the mission, and the long term impact that it had.

Fifty years ago on Dec. 21, 1968, Apollo 8 launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center at 7:51 a.m. EST). NASA Image of the Day.


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New Virgin Galactic video about SpaceShipTwo spaceflight

In this video, Richard Branson tells his children about his own father and relates his father’s advice on living a good life to the recent SpaceShipTwo flight to the edge of space. The video includes some new footage of the flight: To my grandchildren | Virgin


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