Category Archives: Rockets

Space transport roundup – Part 2: Everybody Else – May.18.2021

Here is a sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here). Today’s Part 1 Roundup focused on  SpaceX. Part 2 here reports on other companies and organizations.

** Rocket Lab Electron second stage fails in launch attempt; First stage recovered from sea. Two BlackSky earth observation satellites were lost. The first stage made a soft landing upon the ocean and it was retrieved: Rocket Lab Progresses Flight Review, Recovers First Stage Following Successful Ocean Splashdown | Rocket Lab

On May 15, 2021, Rocket Lab experienced an anomaly almost three minutes into the company’s 20th Electron launch. Following a successful lift-off from Launch Complex 1, Electron proceeded through a nominal first stage engine burn, stage separation, and stage 2 ignition. Shortly after the second stage ignition the engine shut down, resulting in the loss of the mission.

Rocket Lab continued to receive good telemetry from Electron following the safe engine shutdown on stage two, providing engineers with comprehensive data to review as part of a robust review into the anomaly. The extensive data is being methodically scoured to enable the review team to accurately pinpoint the issue and implement corrective actions for future missions. Rocket Lab is leading the flight review with the support of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); a structure that ensures Rocket Lab maintains a high degree of control over its return-to-flight schedule.

Preliminary data reviews suggest an engine computer detected an issue shortly after stage 2 engine ignition, causing the computer to command a safe shutdown as it is designed to do. The behavior had not been observed previously during Rocket Lab’s extensive ground testing operations, which include multiple engine hot fires and full mission duration stage tests prior to flight. The vehicle remained within the pre-determined safety corridor during the flight.  The full review is expected to be complete in the coming weeks and Rocket Lab anticipates a swift return to flight. 

“We deeply regret the loss of BlackSky’s payload and we are committed to returning to flight safely and reliably for our customers,” said Rocket Lab founder and chief executive, Peter Beck. “We are methodically working through the review process to address the issue. After 17 successful missions and more than 100 satellites deployed to orbit prior to this mission, and with multiple launch vehicles currently in production, we are confident in a swift and reliable return to flight with minimal impact on our launch manifest this year.”

Flight data shows Electron’s first stage performed nominally during the mission and did not contribute to the flight issue. The first stage safely completed a successful splashdown under parachute as planned and Rocket Lab’s recovery team retrieved the stage from the ocean for transport back to Rocket Lab’s production complex as part of the company’s reusability test program. The new heat shield debuted in this flight protected the stage from the intense heat and forces experienced while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere and the program took yet another major advancement towards reusability of the rocket. The engines remain in good condition and Rocket Lab intends to put them through hot fire testing for analysis. Selected components from the recovered stage are also suitable for reflight on future missions. Rocket Lab’s program to make Electron a reusable launch vehicle is advancing quickly and the company intends to conduct its third recovery mission later this year.

See also:

Here is a pre-launch release from Rocket Lab with more details about the first stage recovery plan: Rocket Lab to Recover Electron Booster on Next Mission | Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab, the leading launch and space systems company, today announced that on its next mission the company will attempt to bring a rocket back from space, slowing the Electron launch vehicle down from speeds of >Mach 8 as it re-enter’s Earth’s atmosphere before splashing the rocket down in the ocean. The complex mission is the next major step toward making Electron the first orbital-class reusable small launch vehicle, enabling rapid-turnaround launches for small satellites.

Scheduled for launch in May 2021 from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, the ‘Running Out of Toes’, mission will be Rocket Lab’s 20th Electron launch overall and the second of three planned ocean splashdown recovery missions. The mission will see Electron deploy two Earth-observation satellites for BlackSky’s global monitoring constellation. While Electron’s second stage delivers the satellites to orbit, Electron’s first stage will undertake a series of complex maneuvers designed to enable the stage to survive the extreme heat and forces of atmospheric re-entry on the way back to Earth.

As the rocket reaches speeds of around eight times the speed of sound on its descent, the air around Electron heats up to 2,400 °C generating an extremely hot plasma that creates a red-orange glow around the re-entering stage. Because Electron will enter the atmosphere engines first, the nine 3D printed Rutherford engines on the first stage will bear the brunt of this extreme heating. To withstand the immense temperatures, this Electron features an evolved heat shield designed to protect the engines and direct the force of the plasma away from the rocket. After entering the atmosphere, Electron will deploy a drogue parachute to help begin the process of slowing the rocket down and stabilizing its descent. Once Electron is at subsonic speeds, a circular parachute is deployed to help further slow the rocket in preparation for a gentle ocean splashdown. A Rocket Lab vessel will then rendezvous with the stage in the splashdown zone, approximately 650 km from Launch Complex 1, and retrieve it for transport back to Rocket Lab’s Production Complex for inspection.

Recovered First Stage. Credits: Rocket Lab

See also these pre-launch reports:

A pre-launch interview with Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck: The First Private Space Mission to Venus | The Space Show – Motherboard

Rocket Lab, the private space company best known for launching small payloads into orbit, is poised to become the first private company to ever explore another planet. Founder Peter Beck shares his plans to put a probe into the atmosphere of the hottest planet in the solar system.

** May.18: ULA Atlas V rocket launches Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) reconnaissance satellite for the US Air Force. The initial launch attempt was scrubbed on Monday due to a problem with a valve in the propellant loading system. This is the first launch this year of an Atlas rocket and the second ULA launch overall for 2021 following the Delta IV Heavy launch mentioned below.

** May.5: Blue Origin announced an auction for a seat on the first New Shepard flight with passengers. No word yet on the prices for regular ticket prices for future flights..

On July 20th, #NewShepard will fly its first astronaut crew to space. We are offering one seat on this first flight to the winning bidder of our online auction. Starting today, anyone can place an opening bid by going to BlueOrigin.com. The winning bid amount will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and help invent the future of life in space. This seat will change how you see the world. #GradatimFerociter

A video released on May 6th:

#NewShepard has flown 15 successful consecutive missions to space and back above the Kármán Line through a meticulous and incremental flight program to test its multiple redundant safety systems. Now, it’s time for astronauts to climb onboard.

See also:

** Apr.12: Blue Origin successfully flew New Shepard in rehearsal of first flight with people on board.

Blue Origin successfully completed its 15th consecutive mission to space and back today and conducted a series of simulations to rehearse astronaut movements and operations for future flights with customers on board. This mission marked a verification step prior to flying astronauts.

For the first time, Blue Origin personnel standing in as astronauts entered the capsule prior to launch. These astronauts conducted a series of tests from within the capsule, including a comms check with the Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM), procedures for entering and exiting the capsule, and pre-launch preparations within the capsule. Following the crew capsule landing, the astronauts rehearsed post-flight procedures, hatch opening, and exiting the capsule.

Also onboard today was Mannequin Skywalker and more than 25,000 postcards from Club for the Future, the nonprofit founded by Blue Origin.

More videos from Blue:

Meet CrewMember 7

CrewMember 7 is a unique role at Blue Origin. There are two assigned to each astronaut flight for New Shepard—one is embedded with the astronauts to help them ingress and egress the capsule while the other serves as Capsule Communications (CAPCOM) during the flight. Learn more about their unique and important role in astronaut training and flight operations at Blue Origin.

Safety, Blue Origin’s Top Mission

Blue Origin has been flight testing the New Shepard rocket and its redundant safety systems since 2012. The program has completed 15 consecutive successful missions, including three successful tests of the crew escape system, showing it can activate safely in any phase of flight.

Blue Origin’s Launch Site One

Take a tour of Launch Site One, nestled in the Guadalupe Mountains in West Texas, where astronauts will fly to space and back onboard New Shepard.

An experience unlike any other

Flying to space on a fully reusable rocket is an experience unlike any other. Bid now for the very first seat on #NewShepard at BlueOrigin.com #LaunchLandRepeat

** Other Blue Origin items:

** May.6: China launched a Long March-2C with four satellites from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center located in the Sichuan Province in southwest China. The payload included three Yaogan-30 satellites, which will become members of a constellation used for “electromagnetic environmental detection and related technological tests”. The constellation is generally believed a Chinese military program. The fourth spacecraft was the Tianqi 12 commercial data relay smallsat built by the Chinese company Guodian Gaoke.

** Apr.30: China launched the Yaogan-34 remote sensing satellite on a Long March-4C rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. Note that, as usual with this rocket, it sheds insulation tiles as it lifts off: China successfully launches Yaogan-34 remote sensing satellite – Xinhua

** Apr.29: Arianespace Vega rocket sends Pléiades Neo-3 and five secondary payloads into orbit. Despite its name, the Neo-3 is the first satellite in orbit for the Airbus Pléiades earth observation constellation of four satellites, each with 30 cm resolution. The secondaries “included an observation microsatellite for the Norwegian space agency, Norsat-3, and four cubesats, for the operators Eutelsat, NanoAvionics/Aurora Insight and Spire”. The solid-fueled rocket lifted off from the ESA spaceport in French Guiana on its 18th mission.

** Apr.28: A Chinese Long March 5B heavy lift rocket put the first module of the Tianhe space station into orbit. The module is 16.6 meters long and has a max diameter of 4.2 meters. Including fuel, the Tianhe module weighs about 22.5 metric tons. This launch initiates a significant acceleration in the activity of China’s human spaceflight program. About 10 missions through 2022 will complete the station construction. These missions include additional modules as well as cargo and crews. When finished, the station will be comparable in size and design to the Soviet/Russian MIR station.

** Apr.27: ULA Delta IV Heavy launches spysat from Vandenberg. The NROL-82 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) successfully flew from the California spaceport early Tuesday morning. The payload is speculated to be an optical imaging satellite of the KH-11/Crystal line.

** Apr.27: Chinese Long March 6 launches nine satellites: The commercial satellites were from different companies and included missions involving remote sensing, radar imaging, technology testing such as orbital debris removal and near earth asteroid detection.

** Apr.26: Arianespace Soyuz launches 36 OneWeb satellites. These bring the total number of OneWeb satellites launched so far to 182. The company says it needs to reach a fleet size of 648 to achieve operational global service. The system aims to provide backbone connections to local IP providers rather than connect o individual users as with SpaceX’s Starlink system.

** Firefly Alpha rocket vertical on Vandenberg launch pad. First launch expected within a few months.

May.4: Firefly gains new investment: Space startup Firefly raises $75 million, studies public listing | Reuters.

Firefly Aerospace said on Tuesday it has raised $75 million in private capital, the first of two injections totaling up to $400 million that Chief Executive Tom Markusic anticipates will give his space startup a multibillion-dollar value by year-end.

Reuters reported last week that Firefly was close to announcing a capital infusion to fund development of its ambitious spacecraft portfolio, anchored by two carbon-composite rockets.

** Apr.17: Soyuz capsule lands in Kazakhstan with three ISS Expedition 64 crew members. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov returned to Earth after completing their six month stay on the International Space Station.

The crew departed the station in their Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft at 9:34 p.m. EDT Friday and landed safely under parachutes at 12:55 a.m. (10:55 a.m. Kazakhstan time) Saturday southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. It was the second spaceflight for Rubins and Ryzhikov and the first for Kud-Sverchkov.

Rubins will return to her home in Houston, and Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov will return to their homes and training base in Star City, Russia.

More at:

** Apr.9: Soyuz takes crew to ISS in brief 3 hour transit: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov launched to the station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday, April 9th. The very precise timing of the liftoff and alignment of the flight trajectory with the station’s orbit allowed them to rendezvous and dock to the station in little more than 3 hours.

** Apr.9: Chinese Long March 4B launches third Shiyan-6 experimental technology satellites into orbit.

** Apr.12: Northrop Grumman servicing vehicle docks to Intelsat communications satellite in GEO . The MEV-2 (Mission Extension Vehicle 2) becomes the second of NG’s MEV vehicles to mate to a Intelsat bird to provide station keeping services when the satellite’w fuel is depleted. Northrop Grumman and Intelsat Make History with Docking of Second Mission Extension Vehicle to Extend Life of Satellite | Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) and the company’s wholly-owned subsidiary, SpaceLogistics LLC, have successfully completed the docking of the Mission Extension Vehicle-2 (MEV-2) to the Intelsat 10-02 (IS-10-02) commercial communications satellite to deliver life-extension services. The docking was completed at 1:34 p.m. EST.

Northrop Grumman is the only provider of flight-proven life extension services for satellites, and this is the second time the company has docked two commercial spacecraft in orbit. The company’s MEV-1 made history when it successfully docked to the Intelsat 901 (IS-901) satellite in February 2020. Unlike MEV-1, which docked above the GEO orbit before moving IS-901 back into service, MEV-2 docked with IS-10-02 directly in its operational GEO orbital location.

“Today’s successful docking of our second Mission Extension Vehicle further demonstrates the reliability, safety and utility of in-space logistics,” said Tom Wilson, vice president, strategic space systems, Northrop Grumman and president, SpaceLogistics LLC. “The success of this mission paves the way for our second generation of servicing satellites and robotics, offering flexibility and resiliency for both commercial and government satellite operators, which can enable entirely new classes of missions.”

An image of Intelsat 10-02 taken by MEV-2’s
infrared wide field of view camera at 15m away.
Credits: Northrop-Grumman

According to Intelsat:

MEV-2 will provide five years of service to IS-10-02 before undocking and moving on to provide services for a new mission. IS-10-02 delivers broadband and media distribution services to Intelsat customers across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America; it is a key satellite in the Intelsat-Telenor Satellite 1˚ West video neighborhood, which distributes more than 900 channels to some 18 million TV households across Europe. Telenor Satellite own about half of IS-10-02’s Ku band payload, which it markets as THOR 10-02 and contributed to today’s successful mission.

The Mission Extension Vehicle is the first in Northrop Grumman’s lineup of satellite servicing vehicles, but following last year’s robotic servicing mission award from DARPA, the company is working with the agency on a mission that will feature the first-ever commercial robotic servicing spacecraft. This mission will expand the market for satellite servicing of both commercial and government client satellites with advanced robotics using the company’s Mission Robotics Vehicle (MRV) to conduct in-orbit repair, augmentation, assembly, detailed inspection and relocation of client satellites through robotics.

To further complement its on-orbit servicing portfolio, Northrop Grumman is leveraging model based systems engineering to develop its Mission Extension Pods (MEPs) which will also provide critical life extension services to aging satellites. The MRV will be used to install these pods on existing in-orbit commercial and government client satellites to extend their mission lives. The company is targeting 2024 for launch of both the MRV and the initial MEPs.

See also:

Northrop’s MEV dockings highlight arrival of reusable in-space transport systems. The era of reusability in space has begun | Ars Technica

It’s a win for Northrop Grumman as well. The company made history a year ago when its first mission-extension vehicle docked with another Intelsat satellite, moved it from a graveyard orbit, powered it on, and placed it back into active service. No two commercial spacecraft had ever docked in orbit before. The difference Monday is that the servicing vehicle docked with an active satellite in a busier orbit. Both of the mission-extension vehicles will detach from their Intelsat targets in 2025 and move on to other satellites and have a functional lifetime until 2035.

Northrop sold the first two mission-extension missions to a commercial customer, Intelsat. However, the company expects that much of its future business may come from governments seeking to protect and extend the life of their most valuable assets in space.

NG has a long term game plan for reusable in-space systems:

In 2024, Northrop plans to launch a “Mission Robotic Vehicle” that can provide basic inspection and repair services and deploy mission extension pods to satellites. After this, the company plans to develop refueling capabilities and debris removal from the vicinity of high-value satellites. Finally, in the 2030s, the company intends to begin in-orbit assembly and manufacturing capabilities.

Over the last decade, SpaceX has radically changed the paradigm of launch from that of expendable rockets to a future in which at least the first stages of such boosters are reused. This is lowering the cost of launch and allowing companies to put more and more satellites into various orbits around Earth. As this environment becomes more cluttered, the responsible thing is to more actively refuel, recycle, and dispose of satellites. Northrop Grumman has made meaningful progress toward such a future of satellite servicing. As a result, reusability is now moving into space.

** Sierra Nevada spins off Dream Chaser and other space systems into Sierra Space, a new standalone company.

FAA grants license for Dream Chaser landings at Cape Kennedy’s Shuttle runway. When cargo missions to the ISS begin in 2022, the Dream Chasers will be able to land directly at KSC just as the Space Shuttles did for many years.

SNC:

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader, has entered into a Use Agreement for Space Florida’s Launch and Landing Facility (LLF) to land the Dream Chaser spaceplane in support of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 (CRS-2) contract. Dream Chaser, America’s Spaceplane, will service the International Space Station (ISS) under the CRS-2 contract in 2022.

“This is a monumental step for both Dream Chaser and the future of space travel,” said SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen. “To have a commercial vehicle return from the International Space Station to a runway landing for the first time since NASA’s space shuttle program ended a decade ago will be a historic achievement.”

The Use Agreement makes SNC the first commercial user of Space Florida’s FAA Re-entry Site Operator License and provides the runway and support facilities needed during testing and landing. It also takes SNC one step further in applying for its own FAA re-entry license, something needed ahead of the first Dream Chaser mission next year.

** Latest from PLD Space of Spain, which is developing the MIURA 1, a reusable, liquid fueled suborbital sounding rocket.

** Virgin Galactic delays SpaceShipTwo flight to deal with problems with the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. The company had already suffered a delay in flying the SS2 VSS Unity due to an issue with electromagnetic interference (EMI) affecting the operation of a new flight control computer. Now the unspecified problem with the WhiteKnightTwo vehicle, VMS Eve, must be dealt with before Unity can return to space.  Aircraft issue could delay resumption of SpaceShipTwo test flights – SpaceNews

While Unity may be ready for flight, the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft that carries the plane aloft, called VMS Eve, may not. Moses said that after three flights of the plane from Spaceport America in the last two weeks, post-flight inspections revealed “a potential wear-and-tear issue as requiring further evaluation and analysis.”

Moses, in response to later questions from analysts, did not disclose the specific component of the aircraft that was at the heart of the issue, but described it as a “family of items that relate to fatigue and long-term stress” of the airplane. It was not an issue with the number of flights of VMS Eve, which first flew in 2008 and has made fewer than 300 flights since.

Engineers are currently examining the plane to determine if additional maintenance is needed now to correct that problem, with an update expected next week. Virgin Galactic had planned to perform work on the plane this fall during a downtime that would also include work on VSS Unity, but Moses said engineers are now looking at whether some of that work needs to be moved up.

Other Virgin Galactic reports:

The new book, Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut [Amazon commission link] gives the inside story of the SpaceShipTwo program, which is reaching 17 years in age:

See also: Virgin Galactic CIO Sees Key Role as Company Prepares for Commercial Operations – WSJ

** Virgin Orbit announces third LauncherOne mission set for June. Introducing Our Next Mission: Tubular Bells, Part One | Virgin Orbit

We’re proud to have retired our “Launch Demo” program and the corresponding mission names, and are delighted to share with you some details about our upcoming mission, which we have named “Tubular Bells, Part One.

Mission Manifest:

    • The U.S. Department of Defense, which is launching three CubeSat sets aspart of the DoD Space Test Program’s (STP) Rapid Agile Launch (RALI)Initiative. This launch, also known as STP-VP27A, was awarded to VirginOrbit subsidiary VOX Space by the DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), anorganization working to accelerate the adoption of commercial technologyinto the U.S. military to strengthen national security.
    • The Royal Netherlands Air Force, which is launching the Netherlands’ firstmilitary satellite, a CubeSat called BRIK II, built and integrated by InnovativeSolutions in Space, with contributions from the University of Oslo, the DelftUniversity of Technology, and Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre.
    • SatRevolution, which is launching the first two optical satellites, STORK-4and STORK-5 (A.K.A. MARTA), of the company’s 14-satellite STORKconstellation.

Virgin Orbit won a six satellite launch contract: Virgin Orbit to Launch Hyperspectral Constellation for QinetiQ, HyperSat | Virgin Orbit. The company was

selected by defense and security company QinetiQ and geospatial analytics company HyperSat to launch a series of six hyperspectral satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

The team selected Virgin Orbit as the launch provider in part because of the unparalleled agility, mobility, and responsiveness afforded by air-launch, which allows for shorter call-up times and more flexible scheduling for customers, as well as direct injection into precise target orbits. In addition to the value for commercial customers, this capability enables a major strategic advantage to government customers seeking to maintain unencumbered overhead intelligence.

The first launch no earlier than 2023

They have released an edited version of the webcast of their first successful launch:

In January 2021, the Virgin Orbit team made history with the first successful air launch of a liquid-fueled, orbital class rocket. As LauncherOne streaked through the atmosphere that day, Virgin Orbit teammates on the ground — those not in our Mission Control Center — had all eyes and ears tuned into an internal livestream hosted by their fellow colleagues. You can check out that livestream here, edited for length, to relive our most significant milestone to date! We’ll have more news to share soon about our next mission with LauncherOne. Join us as we continue our journey to provide frequent, reliable flights to space for satellite makers and operators around the world.

May.12: Another contract for Virgin Orbit: Virgin Orbit to Launch Quantum Encryption Satellites for Arqit | Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit, the California-based responsive launch company, today announced it has been selected by UK-based Arqit Limited, a leader in quantum encryption technology, to conduct two launches to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) beginning in 2023.

Arqit has pioneered a unique quantum encryption technology, QuantumCloud™, which makes the communications links of any networked device secure against current and future forms of hacking — even an attack from a quantum computer. Currently, Arqit’s system delivers an unlimited number of encryption keys using terrestrial communications systems, but by incorporating satellites, Arqit can further enhance the system.

Arqit’s satellites will use a new quantum protocol that will create a backbone of secure keys within the data centers of Arqit’s customers all over the world, and a quantum safe boundary protecting those data centers.

Virgin Orbit will provide launch services for the two satellites via its LauncherOne system. The companies are discussing a further set of launches after the initial program, as Arqit seeks to address its growing market of government customers. This could potentially include future launches from Spaceport Cornwall out of Newquay, UK, where Virgin Orbit will commence operations beginning in 2022, providing the UK with its first in-country launch capability.

See also Arqit raising $400 million with a SPAC to launch quantum encryption satellites in 2023 – SpaceNews.

==================

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

The latest issue:
Starships and Luna, Commercial LEO, Sen. Nelson
Vol. 16, No. 3, April 3, 2021

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism

==================

** Advanced Rockets Corporation aims for low cost access to space with a combined cycle propulsion system, a hybrid approach in which the engine is air-breathing during flight within the atmosphere and then switches to onboard oxygen once outside the atmosphere. Rocket based combined-cycle rockets have been a long sought goal. Reaction Engines, for example, has been developing the Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) for decades. The SABRE would power vehicles to space and enable hypersonic transports for point-to-point travel on earth.

ARC claims their LEAPS combined cycle design will power their DELV vehicle to space:

Our rocket based combined cycle propulsion system has a unique approach that allows us to use the same systems during air-breathing and rocket mode. This allows seamless and simple transitions between each operational mode and massively reduces dead weight. Our engines will be operational from Mach 0 – 10 with an estimated ISP of 1800 (Most traditional rocket systems operate around 300).

** Boeing’s Starliner set to launch uncrewed demo mission to the ISS on July 30th. Boeing and NASA Update Launch Target for Next Starliner Test Flight – Boeing

Boeing and NASA are targeting 2:53 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, July 30, for the launch of Starliner’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2, or OFT-2, mission to the International Space Station pending range approval. The updated launch target is supported by the space station visiting vehicle schedule and availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Boeing will continue preparing the Crew Flight Test vehicle for flight until launch activities involving the OFT-2 vehicle, such as loading cargo and fueling the spacecraft, are scheduled to begin. Boeing recently completed end-to-end testing of Starliner’s flight software by flying a five-day simulated OFT-2 mission with operations teams and the highest-fidelity hardware. Boeing will continue supporting NASA’s post-test reviews and has submitted all OFT-2 verification and validation paperwork. All actions recommended by the Boeing/NASA Joint Independent Review Team as a result of Starliner’s first test flight are complete and pending closure.

First crew mission may have to wait till February 2022. Lack of docking ports causing the delays: It now seems likely that Starliner will not launch crew until early 2022 | Ars Technica

The primary issue is the availability of space station docking ports fitted with an “international docking adapter,” which are used by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Cargo Dragon 2, and Starliner vehicles. There are presently two such ports on the station, and for NASA, the priority for access to these ports are crew rotations followed by supply missions. So the question becomes when the Starliner test flight can find an open slot on station.

The Crew-2 mission, carrying four astronauts on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle, is expected to launch on April 22 and remain attached to one of these ports for about six months. Then, on June 3, a SpaceX cargo supply mission (CRS-22) is due to launch and occupy the other port.

Thus, there will be no docking ports available this summer until about July 20, the approximate date when the CRS-22 Dragon will depart the station and return to Earth. This departure will open an approximately one-month window during which Starliner could make its test flight. Therefore, although NASA and Boeing have not yet made a target date public, we can expect this flight to take place no earlier than late July or early August.

** More launch industry links:

Podcasts/Webcasts:

** The Space Show – Friday, Apr.30.2021Greg Meholic of The Aerospace Corporation talked “about fusion, nuclear propulsion, Dr. Woodward and the Mach Effect, EMdrive and other forms of advanced propulsion“.

** Space Elevators Ready for Development — International Space Elevator Consortium – 10 videos from the International Space Elevator Consortium make the case that development of a space elevator from earth to GEO should now begin since “tether material has been shown to be strong enough and long enough” and should be ready by the time a space elector is ready to be built.

March 9th, 2021 represents a turning point in space elevator development. That day a series of ten video presentations demonstrated that the engineering development of the space elevator is ready to begin. This breakout event resulted from the coming together of several forces and the building of a tremendous body of knowledge sufficient to make the case that a space elevator not only can be built, but must be built. There is currently a large global momentum for humanity’s movement off planet and the space elevator provides the infrastructure for that movement. The videos were part of Blue Marble Week, an event run by the Space division of Foundation for the Future and co-sponsored by ISEC. In addition, the term Modern Day Space Elevator – 2021 represents movement into Engineering Development as the tether material has been shown to be strong enough and long enough and should be ready “in time for Space Elevator Development.” The four major thrusts for the present Modern Day Space Elevator focuses on the following statements:

    • Space Elevators are ready to enter Engineering Development

    • Space Elevators are the Green Road to Space

    • Space Elevators can join advanced rockets inside a Dual Space Access Architecture Strategy

    • Space Elevator’s major strength as a permanent transportation infrastructure is movement of massive cargo to GEO and beyond enabling new enterprises along the way.

See also Space Elevators: The Green Road to Space – Leonard David

Here are three of the 10 videos:

**** 1. Permanent Space Access Infrastructure

Dr. Peter Swan explains how space elevators are taking their first big step NOW. They are revolutionary in that they will enable a massive movement of cargo off-planet. This discussion compares many visions of how this can be done.

**** 6. Graphene Progress and It’s Promising Future for Space Elevators

Adrian Nixon and Rob Whieldon explain the state of the art in the development of the new 2D materials, specifically graphene. The current estimate is that graphene will be “long enough” and “strong enough” for space elevator requirements.

**** 10: Panel Discussion: Engineering the Future

Kevin Barry, William Briton, Michael Fitzgerald and Dennis Wright discuss the current arena of engineering testing and reached towards future successful operations. Several discussions differentiated economics and business, education and work force, and near term vs. long term visions and plans.

** Breakthrough Discuss 2021 – Breakthrough Initiatives – “The Alpha Centauri System: A Beckoning Neighbor

Proceed back to Space transport roundup – Part 1: SpaceX – May.18.2021

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Test Gods:
Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut

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Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days
That Launched SpaceX

Space transport roundup – Part 1: SpaceX – May.18.2021

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

** Multiple developments across the board at SpaceX since the last roundup on April 8th. Here is a list of some of the highlights:

  • Five Falcon 9 launches:
    1. April 23:  SpaceX Crew-2 mission sent Dragon Endeavor with four astronauts to the ISS. Both the Dragon and the F9 booster had flown previously.
    2. April 28: Starlink V1.0 L24 – 60 satellites to orbit and booster recovered after its 7th flight.
    3. May 4:  Starlink V1.0 L25 – 60 satellites to orbit. Booster lands safely after 9th flight. This was the 100th successful mission since the last in-flight F9 failure.
    4. May 9: Starlink V1.0 L27 – 60 satellites to orbit.  First stage booster flies for 10th time and lands safely.
    5. May.15: Starlink V1.0 L26 – 52 Starlink satellites to orbit plus rideshare for Capella radarsat and Tyvek smallsat with miniature telescope. Booster lands for 8th time.
  • Dragon reentry:
    • May 2: SpaceX Crew-1 mission astronauts return from ISS aboard Dragon Resilience for a rare night time splashdown at a spot near Florida’s Gulf coast.
  • Starship milestones:
    • April 16: NASA selects SpaceX Starship proposal as single winner for Artemis Human Landing System (HLS) funding. The $2.9B program would support development of the Lunar version of the Starship and fund two missions (uncrewed and crewed) to the Moon’s surface.
    • May 5: First successful landing of a Starship prototype after a flight to a high altitude.
    • May 14: Plan released showing primary features of the first “orbital” Starship mission, which could happen as early as this summer.
  • Other developments:

** May 14: Outline of Starship “orbital” mission released in FCC filing. Perhaps within a few months, the first launch of a Starship atop a Super Heavy Booster will lift off from Boca Chica Beach, ala Starbase, Texas. The primary goals of the mission are provided in a filing with the FCC, Starship Orbital – First Flight FCC Exhibit – FCC (pdf).

Flight Profile
The Starship Orbital test flight will originate from Starbase, TX. The Booster stage will separate approximately 170 seconds into flight. The Booster will then perform a partial return and land in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 20 miles from the shore. The Orbital Starship will continue on flying between the Florida Straits. It will achieve orbit until performing a powered, targeted landing approximately 100km (~62 miles) off the northwest coast of Kauai in a soft ocean landing.

The launch will thread the Starship between Cuba and other Caribbean islands while the Super Heavy will return for a water landing off the coast of Texas. Credits: SpaceX

So the Starship (SN20?) will reach orbital velocity but will fire its engines for reentry before completing a complete orbit.

Objectives
SpaceX intends to collect as much data as possible during flight to quantify entry dynamics and better understand what the vehicle experiences in a flight regime that is extremely difficult  to accurately predict or replicate computationally. This data will anchor any changes in vehicle design or CONOPs after the first flight and build better models for us to use in our internal simulations.

The Starship will fire make its de-orbit burn before completing a full circle of the Earth. The reentry trajectory will put the ship into the ocean near Hawaii. Credits: SpaceX

Unfortunately, the 28 Raptors on the booster and the 6 on the Starship (including 3 with large vacuum optimized nozzles) will likely be lost on this mission.  Even if production is nearing Elon’s goal of $1M per engine, it will be a significant loss down the ocean drain. For perspective, though, consider that each of the four Shuttle engines (de-rated from reusable to expendable) on a throwaway Space Launch System, will cost $146M, several times more than the combined cost of all those Raptors.

See also:

** May.5: SN15 becomes first SpaceX Starship prototype to fly to high altitude and survive landing. A small fire flared at the base for a few minutes after touchdown but did not lead to the destruction of the vehicle as happened with SN10.  Much of the flight was hidden from view by thick clouds but the takeoff and landing were visible to the thousands watching in person and via the various webcasts. SpaceX provided live video views from a camera in the rocket engine compartment and from one of a flap near the front.  While there were long breaks in the video transmission, telemetry indicated the flight was going well. Elon Musk tweeted after the fire was out, “Starship landing nominal!

Here is a highlights video released by SpaceX on May 13th:

On Wednesday, May 5, Starship serial number 15 (SN15) successfully completed SpaceX’s fifth high-altitude flight test of a Starship prototype from Starbase in Texas. SN15 ascended, transitioned propellant, and reoriented itself for reentry and a controlled aerodynamic descent. The Raptor engines reignited to perform the landing flip maneuver before touching down for a nominal landing on the pad. These Starship test flights improve our understanding and development of a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry crew and cargo on long-duration interplanetary flights, help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond.

High-res views from Cosmic Perspective:

Starship development is moving forward roughly in blocks of 5. The early prototypes SN1-SN4 had only the propellant tank sections and were used primarily for structural pressure tests. This involved implementing the various ground support systems and interfaces to the vehicle and gaining experience with preparing a vehicle for flight. SN5 and SN6 also had no nosecones but carried out short hop flights. The SN7 tag  was assigned to modules for testing the propellant tanks. The SN8 vehicle included the nosecone section and was the first vehicle to go to high altitude (~12km).  It and vehicles SN9-SN11 all flew to the 12 km range but either failed during landing attempts or, in SN10’s case, blew up a few minutes after landing. Some components and assembly steps  were observed for SN12 and SN13 but these were eventually junked in favor of jumping to the SN15 block.

SN15 reportedly involved many improvements over the previous vehicles, making it a significant step up from the SN8-13 design. Most of these improvements are internal and have not been detailed publicly. (Here is a guess at changes in the piping to the engines.)  However, to the outside observer the three Raptor engines installed on SN15 display a much neater and uniform arrangement of piping and cabling, indicating that the engines are transitioning from developmental prototypes to operational units.

Shortly after the landing, Elon said that the SN15 might fly again soon. It was later moved to the second suborbital launch platform. The SN16 prototype appears to be complete but no word on when and if it will be moved from the High Bay hangar to the launch site.

Some articles about the SN15:

**** More Starship related items below.

Falcon 9/Dragon

** May.15: Falcon 9 launches from Kennedy Space Center with 52 Starlinks plus two rideshare satellites. The booster landed successfully on platform at sea for the 8th time. The  rideshare satellites included a Tyvak smallsat with a miniature space telescope and Capella Space small synthetic aperture radar imaging satellite.

** May.9.2021: Falcon 9 launches 60 Starlink satellites and booster successfully flies for 10th time on Starlink V1.0 L27. The original goal of 10 booster flights and landings before a major refurbishment was reached with this mission. It appears, in fact, that refurbishment between flights is sufficient to keep a booster flying so this one will probably do another flight within the usual 1 to 2 month gap between booster flights.

** May.4: SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites on Starlink V1.0 L25 mission. Booster lands after its 9th flight.

** May.2: SpaceX Dragon “Resilience” splashes down in darkness with Crew-1 astronauts from the ISS. The SpaceX Crew-1 mission members – NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguch – completed their 6 month stay aboard the station and, after a few days delay due to bad weather in the recovery area in the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida panhandle, departed from the station on the evening of May 1st. This was only the third nighttime water landing in spaceflight history.

NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, left, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, right are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft onboard the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship shortly after having landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, Sunday, May 2, 2021. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission was the first crew rotation flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket with astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

*** Apr. 28: SpaceX Falcon 9 launches 60 more Starlink satellites. The first stage booster landed safely on its seventh flight.

*** Apr.23: SpaceX Crew Dragon launched with 4 new crew members for the ISS. The Falcon 9, with a previously flown first stage, lifted off early in the morning of April 23rd with a previously flown Dragon. The Crew-2 flight is the second operational Crew Dragon flight and the third Dragon flight with astronauts on board counting the Demo 2 mission that launched on May 30, 2020. The Crew-2 astronauts rode the same Crew Dragon Endeavour that flew on the Demo-2 mission. The F9 booster propelled the Crew-1 mission last November. The booster landed safely again on a floating platform in the Atlantic.

The Dragon rendezvoused and docked to the station early on April 24th:

An overview of the mission:

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station is ready to launch. Join NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) as they talk about the prospect of flying on a new spaceship, the six-month space mission they’ve been preparing for, and the future in space they’re helping to build.

*** SpaceX ends effort to catch Falcon 9 fairings in nets atop ships at sea. As explained by Scott Manley in this video, the percentage of successful catches was quite low while recovering the fairings from the water and refurbishing them for flight has become quite doable.

SpaceX has dismantled the massive nets on Ms Tree and Ms Chief which were used for catching fairings falling from space, but, they still have a large fleet of ships used for ocean recovery operations so this seems like a perfect opportunity to talk about this: More info on SpaceX’s Ships https://spacexfleet.com/

See also SpaceX has Given up Trying to Catch Rocket Fairings. Fishing Them out of the Ocean is Fine – Universe Today.

** A new Falcon 9 first stage arrives at Cape Canaveral. With the number of flights per booster steadily increasing, the demand for first stages has dropped significantly. The arrival of a new one has become an unusual event. SpaceX delivers new Falcon 9 booster for the first time in 8 months – Teslarati

** Eric Berger, Early Days of SpaceX – Here is a video of a presentation given at the symposium titled, NASA and the Rise of Commercial Space: A Symposium to Examine the Meaning(s) and Context(s) of Commercial Space. Berger is the author of Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX [Amazon commission link]. The

From activities in low-Earth orbit to the Artemis program, the commercial space industry is beginning to take on an increased role as innovator in both space access, commerce, and exploration. This growth of commercial space over the past decades offers the potential for a new paradigm for space exploration—one in which industry transitioned from supplier to partner. Still, many questions remain spanning from the most seemingly consequential “How will humanity explore the Moon and Mars?” to the more basic, “What is Commercial Space?” This virtually hosted symposium explores this transformation and examines the historical context for answering these questions.

** The Space Show – Tuesday, Apr.27.2021Eric Berger of Ars Technica discussed

his new book about the beginning phase of SpaceX, Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX [Amazon commission link]. Eric responded to multiple questions about Artemis, the recent NASA Human Lander Award and what might come next plus general Elon Musk and SpaceX questions.

** T+187: Eric Berger on Artemis, Starship, Amazon’s Atlas V Rides, and the State of Blue Origin – Main Engine Cut Off

Eric Berger of Ars Technica returns to the show to talk about NASA selecting SpaceX’s Starship for its Artemis landings, Bill Nelson’s nomination hearing, Amazon buying 9 Atlas V launches for Kuiper, and the state of Blue Origin.

==================

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

The latest issue:
Starships and Luna, Commercial LEO, Sen. Nelson
Vol. 16, No. 3, April 3, 2021

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism

==================

Starship/Super Heavy Booster

** Latest diagram showing status of Starship and Super Heavy Booster prototypes in construction and operation:

[ Update: The status and fates of all the prototypes so far:

]

*** SpaceX wins NASA contract for human missions to the Moon. NASA surprised the space world with the announcement that SpaceX was the sole winner of the initial Human Lander System contract. The company will get $2.9B for two StarShip missions to the Moon. The first will demonstrate a landing of an uncrewed Starship on the lunar surface and then lift off and return to orbit. The second mission will send a US crew to the surface for the first time since the Apollo 17 lunar excursion module left in 1972. Elon Musk believes these missions can be accomplished by 2024, the original date of the Artemis program, which many had come to believe was impossible with current funding for the program.

The contract was subsequently suspended until resolution of the award protests by HLS program competitors Blue Origin and Dynetics. The successful flight and landing of Starship prototype SN15 (see top item) boosts the claims by NASA and SpaceX that the development of the Starship systems are well ahead of the other bidders and on track for reaching the Moon by the mid-2020s if not by 2024.

Here is the Human Landing System Announcement Media Teleconference where the announcement of the selection was made. (The event starts at the 9:30 point into the video):

The Magic of SpaceX w/ Eric Berger  – David Lee on Investing (Ep. 310)  – An informative interview with Eric Berger about  Elon Musk and SpaceX on the day the company won the HLS contract:

*** Independent analyses of Starship/Super Heavy performance:

Casey Handmer discussed his studies of the Starship/Super Heavy capabilities in a recent interview on The Space Show: Broadcast 3686 Dr. Casey Handmer | The Space Show

Starship enables lunar activities and settlement on a sci-fi scale. Handmer shows that Starships could deliver hundreds of tons of cargo to the Moon per year at a cost well within NASA’s current budget: Lunar Starship and unnecessary operational complexity – Casey Handmer’s blog

It’s worth stating at the outset that Starship is in a league of its own in the current field of lunar landers. Within the HLS program, the NASA spec called for a capacity of at least 9 T, ideally 12 T, to the Lunar surface. Starship in its most basic configuration can do more than 200 T. One of these is not like the others.

The real strength of Starship is not in its transformationally large cargo capacity, but in its low cost of operations. Why fly 200 T once when we could fly it a few dozen times for less than the cost of the next cheapest vehicle?

A single Starship flight to the Moon can transport 25 [Tons] of mission-related cargo there and back, which is more than enough to support a crew of 10 for weeks, and give them a Moon rover each. Add to this the beginnings of an enormous lunar space station built inside an expendable Starship-based lander and not only is the Artemis program affordable, it’s also achieving something like an exciting science-fiction based vision for what a Moon base should look and feel like.

No NRHO [Near-rectilinear halo orbit] phasing requirements, no launch windows, no decades-long roll out of incredibly expensive deep space infrastructure. Just a vehicle built around the given task and committed to achieving it without compromises. A mission architecture capable of deploying a large lunar base for a cost comparable to the NSF’s new(ish) South Pole Station. With a budget of $1b/year, NASA could fly this mission (or variations on the theme) every 90 days – a big step change improvement over space access with the ISS.

** More about the impact Starships will have on space exploration and development:

** A vivid perspective illustrating the relative distance between the production area and the launch/landing facilities at Boca Chica Beach:

** NASA funding for SpaceX in-space cryogenic propellant transfer demo: Last year NASA announced plans to award $370M in funding for demonstrations of various “Tipping Point” technologies. The term tipping point here implies that a technology has reached an advanced level of development but needs one final demo boost to prove that it is ready for operational use.

SpaceX was one of several companies awarded funding for projects involving propellant transfer and storage in space. The $50M for SpaceX has now arrived, which will enable the company to carry out a demonstration in orbit of cryogenic propellant transfer by the end of 2022:

Transferring liquid methane and oxygen in orbit is a key factor in the Starship architecture. A Starship can reach low earth orbit from Earth but to go on to the Moon, Mars, and other deep space destinations, it will need to fill up on propellants delivered from earth.

** Some videos from Boca Chica Beach/Starbase, Texas:

*** May 7: SpaceX Starship SN15 & Starbase Tx FlyoverRGV Aerial Photography

*** May.15: New Starbase Sign Unveiled | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX unveils a new Starbase sign outside of the Propellant Production Site. SpaceX aims to incorporate the area as Starbase, TX as they push toward the first orbital launch. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and the NSF Robotic Camera Team. Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist)

*** May.16: Two Massive Cranes Assembled | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

As Starship SN15 is inspected for a potential second flight, SpaceX crews assemble two new massive cranes to assist in Orbital Launch Site construction. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist)

*** May.17New Crane for Orbital Site Construction Comes Together | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

The new Liebherr LR 11000 crane has the rest of its large components assembled, minus its full boom. Once complete it will assist Frankencrane in Orbital Launch Site construction. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist)

** More SpaceX related reports:

*** May.18: SpaceX Starship SN20 Orbital Flight Analyzed – Flight Plan released!What about it!?

*** May.15: SpaceX Starship development shifts focus to orbital flight with Super Heavy Marcus House

*** Apr.17: NASA Will Spend $2,941,394,557 On SpaceX’s Massive Lunar Starship Lander!!!Scott Manley

Many people were surprised yesterday when news leaked that NASA was awarding all the funding from the Artemis Human Landing System program to SpaceX with its massive Lunar Starship project. SpaceX’s price tag is about $2.9 billion with a commitment to fund half of it themselves. While most space watchers could see why SpaceX had made it to the final round most of us didn’t expect it to be the only choice because it was so unlike what NASA was asking for. However the HLS program only got 1/3 of the money it needed from Congress and with time marching on NASA had to make a decision and the only option with a price tag that fit was SpaceX.

** More SpaceX news & resources:

Now proceed to Space transport roundup – Part 2: Everybody Else – May.18.2021

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“Space in Miniature 3.1 – Space Shuttle” : Updated reference book for modelers now available

Mike Mackowski of Space In Miniature sent me the following announcement:

Space In Miniature 3.1 – Space Shuttle is Released

Challenger model. Credits: Space in Miniature

A complete revision of the third installment of the Space In Miniature (SIM) series of reference books for spacecraft modelers is now available. This book has all the information a modeler will need to build an accurate, detailed model of the Space Shuttle. Originally published in 1990, 24 pages have been added to this soft-cover book that now features color covers. Nearly all of the original material has been updated or replaced with new drawings and articles. Due to the increased page count, a few articles have been moved to an upcoming new SIM book on Shuttle payloads.

SIM #3.1 – Space Shuttle focuses on NASA’s reusable spaceplane, featuring scale drawings showing the various thermal protection patterns used on all six Orbiters and how they evolved over the entire 30+ years of Shuttle operations. The 61-page book also includes four detailed articles on building Space Shuttle models, and seven pages of kit reviews and a list of after market parts. There are a total of 78 drawings and photographs, plus several tables and the cover photos.

This book is printed in black and white on coated paper, and is available both as a hard copy as well as a full-color pdf file. This guidebook will be a unique resource for the serious space modeler. A hard copy of SIM #3.1 – Space Shuttle sells for $12 plus shipping, while a pdf download costs $10. A combination package of both the hard copy and digital version is available for only $15 plus shipping. To order, see www.spaceinminiature. com or send an email to mike@spaceinminiature.com. The other titles in the SIM series are still available.

SIM 3.1 – Space Shuttle

Space transport roundup – April.8.2021

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

** Apr.8: The Starship prototype SN15 moved to launch site. The vehicle has many upgrades according to Elon Musk. A test flight could happen within a week or two. I certainly hope it achieves the first successful landing of a Starship (without a post touchdown explosion) after rising to high-altitude (~10km).

** Apr.7: Falcon 9 puts another batch of 60 Starlinks into orbit. This is the tenth SpaceX Falcon 9 mission in 2021. The total number of Starlink satellites in orbit is increased to 1,378. The first stage booster made its 7th successful landing. And it makes for the 79th booster landing to date. Both fairing halves were also previously flown.

More at:

** Mar.30: Starship SN11 lifted off in dense fog, flew to 10 km, descended back into fog bank, and then exploded just before landing. The fog prevented the usual eruption of replays of a Starship explosion across the Web but also kept anyone from seeing exactly what happened. The SpaceX website offered this info:

On Tuesday, March 30, SpaceX launched its fourth high-altitude flight test of Starship from Starbase in Texas. Similar to previous high-altitude flight tests, Starship Serial Number 11 (SN11) was powered through ascent by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the vehicle reaching apogee – approximately 10 km in altitude. SN11 performed a propellant transition to the internal header tanks, which hold landing propellant, before reorienting itself for reentry and a controlled aerodynamic descent.

Shortly after the landing burn started, SN11 experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly. Teams will continue to review data and work toward our next flight test.

On Twitter, Elon initially provided some hints of what happened:

On April 5th, he revealed the results of subsequent analysis:

For the Falcon 9, SpaceX has always emphasized that the nine engines on the first stage are shielded from one another such that even a catastrophic failure of one will not affect the others and prevent destruction of the rocket. There have in fact been a couple of in-flight engine failures and the boosters continue to fly nonetheless. (The most recent case occurred in February and did prevent the booster from successfully landing.)  The Raptors do not appear to be shielded in the prototypes flow so far and perhaps this “hard start”, i.e. engine explosion, was so violent that no practical shielding could have prevented the obliteration of the vehicle anyway.

More about Elon’s comments:

Here is the SpaceX webcast video:

A view of the debris field:

Elon is already looking ahead to the next upgrades:

See also:

Find more news and info on the Starship program and other SpaceX activities below…

** Reusable orbital launch systems are now in development by several companies around the world. As demonstrated by the successful reuse of the Falcon 9 first stages, reusability is key to lowering launch prices significantly and competing successfully with SpaceX.

Some of the companies are even aiming to recover and reuse not only the first stage of their two stage rockets but the second stage as well. There is essentially a kilogram loss in payload mass for every kilogram added to enable the return and recovery of a second stage. SpaceX decided to pursue development of full reusability with the Starship system rather than reduce the F9’s payload capability with a reusable upper stage. As a rocket scales up in size, the impact on the total payload from reusability diminishes. Attaining full reusability with a small or a mid-range launch system and still offering a commercially viable payload capability is quite a challenge. The companies aiming for full reusability are currently keeping their design plans secret.

Here is a list of several companies aiming for reusable launchers:

** Will Blue learn vertical landing the SpaceX way? SpaceX’s success at landing F9 boosters remains an amazing feat to watch. Eric Berger talks about how this capability has changed his thinking on what is possible with rockets and spaceflight: SpaceX landed a rocket on a boat five years ago—it changed everything | Ars Technica.

SpaceX learned to do vertical landing with test hops of the Grasshopper demonstrator at their McGregor, Texas  facility and by setting stages down softly onto the ocean surface on Falcon 9 missions.

Blue Origin intends to land the first stage of its New Glenn rocket on a ship at sea. Blue recently announced that the first New Glenn flight would not happen before the end of 2022. I’m wondering, though, if in the meantime they will do some short hops of a first stage prototype like the Grasshopper. The ship will be sailing to provide what Blue claims will be more stable pad than the SpaceX stationary platforms. However, landing on a moving target still looks like a tough challenge, especially without any practice even with landing on solid ground.

** Mar.30: Virgin Galactic rolls out VSS Imagine, the first of the next generation SpaceShip III vehicles: Virgin Galactic Unveils VSS Imagine, The First SpaceShip III In Its Growing Fleet – Virgin Galactic

    • SS Imagine will commence ground testing, with glide flights this summer
    • Breakthrough livery design allows Imagine to mirror the surrounding environment as it moves from Earth to Space
    • Manufacturing ramps up on next SpaceShip III in the fleet, VSS Inspire

Virgin Galactic today unveiled the Company’s first Spaceship III in its growing fleet, VSS Imagine. The spaceship showcases Virgin Galactic’s innovation in design and astronaut experience. Imagine also demonstrates progress toward efficient design and production, as Virgin Galactic works to scale the business for the long-term. VSS Imagine will commence ground testing, with glide flights planned for this summer from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The breakthrough livery design, finished entirely with a mirror-like material, reflects the surrounding environment, constantly changing color and appearance as it travels from earth to sky to space. Along with providing thermal protection, this dynamic material is naturally appealing to the human eye, reflecting our inherent human fascination with space and the transformative experience of spaceflight.

Leveraging a modular design, the SpaceShip III class of vehicles are built to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate. This third generation of spaceship will lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles.

As VSS Imagine begins ground testing, manufacturing will progress on VSS Inspire, the second SpaceShip III vehicle within the Virgin Galactic fleet. The introduction of the Spaceship III class of vehicles is an important milestone in Virgin Galactic’s multi-year effort that targets flying 400 flights per year, per spaceport.

See also: Virgin Galactic unveils new suborbital spaceplane – SpaceNews

** Mar.25: Arianespace/Russian Soyuz puts 36 OneWeb satellites into orbit: The launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in northern Russia brings the total number of OneWeb satellites in low earth orbit to 146 . The goal is 648 satellites to provide Internet services globally. Flight ST30: Arianespace successfully deploys OneWeb constellation satellites – Arianespace

Arianespace has launched 146 OneWeb satellites to date. Soyuz successfully orbited the initial six from French Guiana during February 2019. In February and March 2020, Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate successfully launched 68 OneWeb satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome, as well as an additional batch of 36 satellites from the Vostochny Cosmodrome during December 2020.

Pursuant to an amended launch contract with OneWeb, Arianespace will perform 14 more Soyuz launches through 2021 and 2022. These launches will enable OneWeb to complete the deployment of its full global constellation of low Earth orbit satellites by the end of 2022.

Internet services above 50 degrees north latitude should be available by the end of this year.

See also:

Continue reading Space transport roundup – April.8.2021

Space transport roundup – March.7.2021

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

** SpaceX SN10 became the first Starship prototype to make a successful vertical landing on March 2nd. Unfortunately, a propellant leak of some sort led to a destructive explosion several minutes after the landing. Here’s the SpaceX webcast, which ended before the explosion. Here is the SpaceX webcast video:

An earlier attempt to lift off in the mid-afternoon was aborted just as the engines fired. Elon Musk said on Twitter, “Launch abort on slightly conservative high thrust limit. Increasing thrust limit & recycling propellant for another flight attempt today.” About three hours later the vehicle lifted off. The ascent to 10 kilometers, the sequential shutdown of the engines as the rocket reached apogee, the flip to the horizontal “belly-flop” orientation, and the  aerodynamic control of the vehicle during the descent, all appeared to go quite well.

The technique of bringing all three engines back to life at the start of the flip from horizontal to vertical also appeared to work well.  This differed from the previous two landings where two engines were fired up for landing. However, for the SN9 flight, one of the two engines failed during startup and this led to the explosive landing. Elon Musk subsequently (see transcript below) said they would start up all three engines to insure that at least two would operate for the landing.  This worked for SN10. After the vehicle was vertical and stable,  two of the three engines were shut off and the vehicle descended in a controlled hover via one engine.

Note that the Starship hovering capability differs from the Falcon 9 booster. The F9 booster’s Merlin engine cannot throttle down sufficiently to hover. If the engine did not shut down at the instant the vehicle touches the landing pad, the booster would accelerate back up. The greater power, efficiency, and deep throttling capabilities of the Raptor engines allow for hovering the Starship. This will also be true for the Super Heavy booster. (That’s one reason SpaceX  believes they can bring a Super Heavy directly into a catch mechanism on the launch stand. Hovering allows for much greater precision and gentler handling during the landing.)

The SN10 vehicle leaned somewhat after the landing. In closeup videos of the vehicle as it was descending, three of the legs can be seen dangling after deployment rather than in a latched position as intended. The vehicle then rested on the metal skirt surrounding the engines on the side where it should have been supported by legs.

During the final vertical descent, one can also see flames along one side after the two engines stopped firing.  After the engines were shut off, there was a fire along one edge along the ground near the same section. Perhaps a methane valve was stuck open or propellant line burst. A robotic water cannon soon began spraying the flames but after a few minutes stopped for some reason and before long the the explosion occurred.

The loss of the vehicle was disappointing but ultimately will be of little significance. These early prototype flights are providing important data on previously untried systems and maneuvers, especially the Raptor engines, the belly-flop descent and the flip to vertical maneuver. Perhaps this vehicle would have flown once more if the landing had gone perfectly but regardless it eventually would have been dismantled and sent to the recycling bin. It was never intended for space.

Everyday Astronaut provides hi-res video of the flight and explosion:  Starship SN10 [4k, Clean Audio & Slow Mo Supercut]

Scott Manley’s analysis: SpaceX’s Starship SN10 Successfully Lands After Amazing Flight. Dismantles Itself Spectacularly

Some articles and commentary:

Find more news and videos on the Starship  program and other SpaceX activities below…

** Rocket Lab going public through a SPAC arrangement that will bring in sufficient capital to fund development of the medium-lift Neutron launch system. The SPAC deal gives a value of about $4.1B for Rocket Lab and will produce about $750M in cash.

The Neutron represents a change in strategy for Rocket Lab and founder Peter Beck, who had previously stated the company had no interest in developing a rocket larger than their operational Electron smallsat launcher. The Neutron will enable the company to put large batches of smallsats into orbit as SpaceX does with the Falcon 9 for Starlink and Rideshare missions. Rocket Lab Unveils Plans for New 8-Ton Class Reusable Rocket for Mega-Constellation Deployment | Rocket Lab

Some features of the Neutron project:

  • First flight in 2024
  • $200M est. for development
  • Payload:
    • 8000 kg into low earth orbit,
    • 2000 kg to the Moon
    • 1500 kg to Mars or Venus
  • Reusable first stage via powered landing at sea
  • Propellants: LOX and Kerosene
  • Two stages
  • 40 meters tall
  • 4.5 meter fairing diameter
  • Initial launch site will be Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island, Virginia. (An Electron launch pad facility is nearly operational there.)
  • A factory to manufacturing the rocket will be placed near the launch site.
  • Engine development will be the biggest hurdle.
  • Human spaceflight capable eventually

** Feb.28: Russia launches first Arktika weather satellite on Soyuz 2-1b rocket: Russia’s Soyuz-2-1b launches Arktika-M No.1 weather satellite – NASASpaceFlight.com

The Arktika (Арктика, meaning “Arctic“) satellites will carry out a variety of missions to compliment other satellite constellations with additional coverage of Russia’s most northern regions. The Arktika-M component of this program focuses on meteorology, with its satellites carrying multi-spectral imaging payloads to help gather data for forecasting. These spacecraft are also equipped with a communications payload to relay data from remote surface-based weather stations and emergency signals.

Each Arktika-M satellite has a mass of about 2,100 kilograms (4,600 lb) and is designed to operate for ten years. Constructed by NPO Lavochkin, the Arktika-M spacecraft are based on the company’s Navigator platform. The spacecraft are three-axis stabilized and carry a pair of deployable solar arrays to generate power.

Original plans called for a pair of Arktika-M spacecraft to be launched, however Russia now plans to deploy at least five over the next four years. A follow-on Arktika-MP series is expected to begin launching in 2026.

See also: Russia launches Arctic weather satellite – Spaceflight Now

** Feb 27: Indian PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) carries Brazil’s Amazônia-1 remote sensing satellite and 18 secondary smallsats into sun-synchronous orbit: India, Brazil launch Amazônia-1 on PSLV rocket – NASASpaceFlight.com

The Indian Space Research Organization has launched their first mission of 2021 with a flight of their Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) to deliver Brazil’s Amazônia-1 satellite, along with 18 co-passengers, into Sun-synchronous orbit.

Liftoff from First Launch Pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, India, occurred Sunday, 28 February at 10:24 IST at the launch site — which is 04:54 UTC, or Saturday, 27 February at 23:54 EST.

Amazônia-1 is the first Earth observation satellite designed, built, tested, and operated completely by Brazil and is the first of three such satellites planned by the National Institute of Space Research (INPE), a Brazil’s space research and exploration company. 

See also:

** Feb.25: Blue Origin says first New Glenn launch now targeted for late 2022. This is something of a surprise since first launch had generally been assumed would happen in late this year or early 2022. New Glenn’s Progress Towards Maiden Flight – Blue Origin

As major progress is being made on the New Glenn launch vehicle and its Cape Canaveral facilities, the schedule has been refined to match the demand of Blue Origin’s commercial customers. The current target for New Glenn’s maiden flight is Q4 2022. The Blue Origin team has been in contact with all of our customers to ensure this baseline meets their launch needs.

This updated maiden flight target follows the recent Space Force decision to not select New Glenn for the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 Launch Services Procurement (LSP). 

New Glenn is proceeding to fulfill its current commercial contracts, pursue a large and growing commercial market, and enter into new civil space launch contracts. We hope to launch NSSL payloads in the future, and remain committed to serving the U.S. national defense mission. 

Recent milestones include completion of a New Glenn first stage mockup simulator, completion of a structural test facility, and hardware milestones for tanks, stage modules, and composite fairings.

In addition to program progress, more than 600 jobs have been created in the region. Blue Origin has invested more than $2.5 billion in facilities and infrastructure at all sites, including $1 billion invested in the rebuild of historic LC-36, which is nearing completion.

Blue also posted three videos about the status of the New Glenn facilities in development on Cape Canaveral:

See also:

** Blue Origin displays full-scale mock-up of lunar lander descent element, which is in development by the Blue-led National Team. aiming to win the NASA Artemis lunar program contract for the lunar landing system: Blue Origin shows off a test version of its cargo lunar lander – GeekWire

The company intends to have a cargo-only version of the descent element lander ready to take on a demonstration mission to the moon one year in advance of the first crewed landing for NASA’s Artemis program.

“That provides an enormous amount of risk reduction,” Blue Origin chief scientist Steve Sqyures — a veteran of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover missions — explained in the video. “We get to practice. … We can pre-position material, and it can be whatever you want it to be. We can begin to build up Artemis Base Camp.”

Sqyures said the cargo lander will have a crane system to offload a rover and other payloads. NASA’s Langley Research Center has already provided a crane for the pathfinder tests, and Sqyures said Honeybee Robotics is developing a payload-lowering davit system.

Here is a brief video update: Lunar Descent Element Demo Mission – Blue Origin

At our Huntsville, Alabama factory, we built a full-scale pathfinder of our Descent Element lander in preparation for our demonstration mission. This mission will happen a year before landing crew on the Moon. By proving out our technology and pre-positioning equipment, it will start America’s sustainable return to the Moon. To learn more about the Blue Origin-led HLS National Team, visit: www.blueorigin.com/blue-moon/national-team

** Jeff Bezos expected to spend more time with Blue Origin after stepping down as CEO of Amazon. In addition to the lunar lander development mentioned above, Blue needs to begin crewed suborbital New Shepard rocket flights and, as mentioned above, get the New Glenn heavy lifter into operation.

Continue reading Space transport roundup – March.7.2021