Category Archives: Rockets

Space transport roundup – March.31.2020

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

** SpaceX contracted by NASA for cargo delivery services to lunar orbit station: NASA Awards Artemis Contract for Gateway Logistics Services | NASA

Illustration of the SpaceX Dragon XL as it is deployed from the Falcon Heavy’s second stage in high Earth orbit on its way to the Gateway in lunar orbit. Credits: SpaceX

NASA has selected SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, as the first U.S. commercial provider under the Gateway Logistics Services contract to deliver cargo, experiments and other supplies to the agency’s Gateway in lunar orbit. The award is a significant step forward for NASA’s Artemis program that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 and build a sustainable human lunar presence.

At the Moon, NASA and its partners will gain the experience necessary to mount a historic human mission to Mars.

SpaceX will deliver critical pressurized and unpressurized cargo, science experiments and supplies to the Gateway, such as sample collection materials and other items the crew may need on the Gateway and during their expeditions on the lunar surface.

“This contract award is another critical piece of our plan to return to the Moon sustainably,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “The Gateway is the cornerstone of the long-term Artemis architecture and this deep space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars.”

NASA is planning multiple supply missions in which the cargo spacecraft will stay at the Gateway for six to 12 months at a time. These firm-fixed price, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts for logistics services guarantee two missions per logistics services provider with a maximum total value of $7 billion across all contracts as additional missions are needed.

Eric Berger talks with two NASA Artemis program managers about the benefits of the Dragon XL services for the Gateway: NASA officials outline plans for building a Lunar Gateway in the mid-2020s | Ars Technica

Ars: It seems to me that Dragon has some capability to really add some volume to Gateway. Can you talk a little bit about its capabilities?

[Mark Wiese, Deep Space Logistics manager]: We went back and looked at some of the lessons learned from Commercial Resupply Services (CRS), and the early missions of CRS really didn’t have the capability within the modules to support research. If you look at SpaceX’s first two or three missions and look at where we are on SpaceX’s 20th mission, the capabilities that Dragon offers for research are significantly improved, and so we took that into account.

[Dan Hartman, Gateway program manager]: We’re going to put payloads on the inside, and we’ve got quite a bit of power allocated from the Dragon XL for that. We’ve got upmass allocated for payloads inside and then we can also fly payloads on the outside with power and tied into their communication systems so we can get some research back down, real time on the way to the Moon, and while attached at the Moon. And then quite honestly, we don’t need the logistics mission up there for six months or a year just to support a lunar mission. But we wanted to take advantage of the extra volume, the extra research accommodations, where we could keep it attached, and we could run science. Dragon also has got the automated rendezvous and docking system that they will be using on their CRS-2 vehicles, very similar to their Crew Dragon. And so, the docking system, you can come and go. We were planning to do that remotely without crew in there. And so, we think we’re set up for a really good platform to conduct research for the long haul.

See also

** SpaceX released the Starship Users Guide V1 (pdf). At 6 pages, it is really just an initial outline of a UG but it is another step in convincing the world that the Starship is going to become a reality in the not so distant future.

See also: SpaceX releases a Payload User’s Guide for its Starship rocket | Ars Technica

Find more SpaceX items below

** Stratolaunch unveils hypersonic vehicle designs. The vehicles will be air launched from the company’s gigantic carrier aircraft, sometimes referred to as Roc.  The initial goal is development of Talon-A

Talon-A is a fully reusable, autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle with a length of 28 feet (8.5 m), wingspan of 11.3 feet (3.4 m), and a launch weight of approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 Kg). The Talon-A will conduct over 1-minute of hypersonic flight testing, and glide back for an autonomous, horizontal landing on a conventional runway. The vehicle will also be capable of autonomous take-off, under its own power, via a conventional runway.

Talon-A hypersonic text vehicle in flight. Credits: Stratolaunch

Following the death of founder and owner Paul Allen in 2018, the company announced that it was giving up on plans to become an orbital launch provider using rockets launched from beneath the Roc. There was talk the company would even close down after the first successful flight of Roc in April of 2019. Instead Stratolaunch was acquired by Cerberus Capital Management in the summer of 2019 and the company became focused on using Roc for hypersonic research.

Hypersonic propulsion and vehicle design have become top priorities for the US Air Force in response to heightened Chinese and Russian activity in these areas. While the military is focused primarily on hypersonic missiles and projectiles, development of hypersonic transports are also of interest.

Talon Z would be the follow-on hypersonic vehicle to the Talon-A. No details of its design have been revealed yet.

Company management has indicated that several years from now they expect  to return to the orbital space transport challenge with the development of  Black Ice:

Black Ice is a fully reusable space plane that enables advanced on-orbit capabilities and cargo return. Initial designs optimized for cargo launch, with a follow-on variant capable of transporting crew.

Black Ice is a design for a fully reusable plane. Credits: Stratolaunch

More about the company and its hypersonic plans:

** The ULA Atlas V launch of the USAF’s AEHF-6 satellite last week was a success. See the previous roundup for information on the launch and the satellite.

** China prepares crew spacecraft for April test flight: China Readies New Spaceship for April Liftoff – Leonard David

China’s prototype of a new-generation piloted spaceship is scheduled to launch with no crew in mid to late April on the maiden flight of the Long March-5B carrier rocket, a variant of the Long March-5.

**** China’s new crewed spacecraft is getting ready for launch – China Central Television (CCTV)

China’s new-generation crewed spacecraft is being prepared for launch at the Wenchang Space Launch Center, Hainan Province, China. Compared with the Shenzhou spacecraft, it is larger, designed to be reusable and it can carry both astronauts and cargo. The spacecraft (CMS) is scheduled to be launched in April. Yang Qing, chief designer of CMS, China Academy of Space Technology, explains the measures taken to ensure the work quality.

The docking hatch for China’s crew vehicle appears to be compatible with the ISS standard: China’s new crew spacecraft looks like it could dock with the International Space Station | Space.com

** Watching a big rocket firing up close:

** Rocket briefs:

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

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

The latest issue:
Starship Factory, Axiom’s Modules, Starliner Revelations
Vol. 15, No. 2, March 28, 2020

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism

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

** SpaceX:

** A Merlin engine on the first stage booster shut down prematurely during the latest Starlink launch. The two US agencies that rely on SpaceX rockets are involved in the company’s investigation into what happened with the booster, which was on its 5th flight:  NASA, U.S. military reviewing SpaceX engine malfunction – Spaceflight Now

** Astronaut selection for the first operational Crew Dragon mission has been announced: NASA Adds Shannon Walker to First Operational Crewed SpaceX Mission | NASA

NASA has assigned astronaut Shannon Walker to the first operational crewed flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station.

Walker will join NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover Jr., as well as Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), for a six-month expedition aboard the unique space laboratory.

This mission will be the first in a series of regular, rotational flights to the station following NASA’s certification of the new crewed system following completion and validation of SpaceX’s test flight with astronauts, known as Demo-2. This test is expected to take place in mid-to-late May as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Pending the successful Demo-2 test, Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi will launch aboard Crew Dragon on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That launch is targeted for later this year.

** The Demo-2 astronauts are busy with simulations of the mission, which could happen as early as mid-May: NASA, SpaceX Simulate Upcoming Crew Mission with Astronauts | NASA

Joint teams from NASA and SpaceX continue making progress on the first flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station by completing a series of mission simulations from launch to landing. The mission, known as Demo-2, is a close mirror of the company’s uncrewed flight test to station in March 2019, but this time with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Over the last several months, key members of flight control teams working from NASA’s Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers and SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, simulated different phases of the upcoming mission while the Demo-2 astronaut crew practiced procedures from inside a realistic simulator of Crew Dragon.

“The simulations were a great opportunity to practice procedures and to coordinate decision-making for the mission management team, especially with respect to weather,” said Michael Hess, manager of Operations Integration for CCP. “Simulation supervisors do a great job at picking cases that really make the team think and discuss.”

Recent simulations saw teams execute timelines from hatch closure to undocking with the space station — as well as a free flight in preparation for re-entry and splashdown. In March, the control teams and crew ran through a simulated mission starting at prelaunch and continuing through ascent and eventual rendezvous with the station.

This recent sim makes the excitement all the more tangible, especially for the greater NASA team.

“On Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20, SpaceX teams in Firing Room 4 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the company’s Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, along with NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, executed a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (front) participating in SpaceX’s flight simulator. ” Credits: SpaceX

**** Starship

**** The SN3 vehicle was moved to the launch pad site over the weekend. Pressure tests of the propellant tanks and firings of the Raptor engines are expected next week according to these road closures: Space X – Cameron County. Check out the series of videos below showing the recent rapid assembly of the SN3 and the building of the components for SN4.

More about the SN3 plan: SpaceX Preparing Starship SN3 for Ground and Flight Testing – NASASpaceFlight.com

**** Interesting new features in the latest Starship prototype such as an improved design for the legs: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s latest Starship photos reveal surprise landing legs – Teslarati

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 Pre-rollout, Launch Site preps, SN4 preps – Mar.27.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN3 prepares for its trip to the launch pad – which is also completing preparations ahead of SN3 testing – while parts of Starship SN4 wait in the wings. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** Starship SN3 Moves To Launch Pad Timelapse – Mar.29.2020 – LabPadre – YouTube

****** Starship SN3 Lifted to Test Stand at SpaceX Boca Chica Sunday – March 29 – SPadre – YouTube

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 prepares for proof testing – Mar.30.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN3 is being prepared for proof testing with LN2 at the Boca Chica launch site. A successful test will pave the way for a Static Fire (no sooner than) later in the week. Video and Photos by Mary (@BocaChicaGal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** Some shots of SN3 from Elon:

** Webcast rocket reports:

**** NSF Live: SpaceX Starship SN3 preps for testing, NASA selects Dragon XL, and moreNASASpaceflight – YouTube

NSF Live is NASASpaceflight’s new live show which will stream weekly at 5 pm Eastern. Each week we will rotate through various hosts and special guests. Topics for this week’s show:
– Starship SN3 is preparing for testing in Boca Chica
– Launch industry disruption
– Atlas V launches AEHF-6
– NASA, SpaceX reveal plans for Dragon XL
– Astra has an anomaly
– Crew Dragon parachute testing update
Episode #1 is hosted by John Galloway (Kerbal Space Academy), Chris Gebhardt (Assistant Managing Editor at NASASpaceflight.com), and Thomas Burghardt (Writer NASASpaceflight.com).

**** SpaceX Starship SN3 Ready for Testing, SpaceX Dragon XL announced

Download NordLocker Free at https://nordlocker.net/marcushouse. Use the coupon code “marcushouse” to get 32% off the 1 year premium plan. Another jam-packed week of news. The Starship SN3 is ready for testing and a huge news today with SpaceX Dragon XL announced. SpaceX development of the SN3 Starship is still steaming ahead with the main body now stacked and more news dropping every day. The lost booster from the Starlink #5 missions is getting a little more interesting now with NASA now involved in the investigation. We’re hoping that isn’t going to cause any new delays with the upcoming Crew Dragon mission. Also, some tough news for fans of Bigelow space and Oneweb among other things, so yes, it has been an interesting week. I’ve got to say though, the awesome news breaking with NASA announcing that SpaceX will be delivering cargo to the Lunar gateway using the mystery Dragon XL on a Falcon Heavy is really exciting.

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Space transport roundup – Mar.25.2020

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

** ULA Atlas V set to launch the sixth AEHF (Advanced Extremely High Frequency) communications satellite for the Air Force. The two hour launch window on Thursday opens at 2:57 pm EDT (1857 GMT).

The Atlas V ready for rollout on March 25, 2020 from the Vertical Integration Facility to the pad at Space Launch Complex-41 for the launch of AEHF-6. Credits: ULA

Mission profile:

United Launch Alliance will use an Atlas V 551 rocket to launch the sixth and final spacecraft in the Lockheed Martin-built Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) series for the U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center. AEHF satellites provide global, survivable, protected communications capabilities for strategic command and tactical warfighters operating on ground, sea and air platforms. Atlas V rockets successfully launched the first five AEHF satellites between 2010 and 2019.

** Air Force will keep Cape Canaveral open: Military officials committed to keeping Cape Canaveral open for launches – Spaceflight Now

The military-run Eastern Range at Cape Canaveral remains ready to support upcoming launches — including an Atlas 5 flight Thursday — amid the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Tuesday.

The next launch scheduled from Cape Canaveral is set to take off Thursday, when a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket carries a U.S. Space Force communications satellite into orbit. Preparations for that mission are on schedule, officials said Tuesday.

“We’re going to continue to do what we do best, which is provide assured access to space, while also taking care of our airmen and their families,” said Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, commander of the 45th Space Wing, which oversees Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Florida’s Space Coast.

Schiess told reporters Tuesday that the Pentagon has directed military commanders to protect their teams during the coronavirus pandemic, while continuing critical missions and supporting the government’s response to fight the spread of the virus.

** Soyuz 2.1B rocket successfully orbits 34 OneWeb satellites:

** China launches Long March-2C rocket with remote sensing satellites

After losing the first Long March-7A one week ago, China launched a new group of triplet satellites for the Chuangxin-5 (CX-5) constellation. Launched under the name Yaogan Weixing-30 Group-6, the three satellites were orbited by a Long March-2C launch vehicle from the LC3 Launch Complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The launch took place at 03:43 UTC.

Like the previous missions on the series, this mission is once again classed as involving new remote sensing birds that will be used to “conduct electromagnetic probes and other experiments.”

As was the case in previous launches of the Yaogan Weixing series, analysts believe this class of satellites is used for military purposes, in particular forming a high-revisit smallsat constellation for signal intelligence missions or imaging activities.

** Astra rocket damaged on pad in preparation for orbital launch from Alaskan spaceport this week: Astra rocket damaged in pre-launch tests – SpaceNews.com

In an email late March 23, Chris Kemp, chief executive of Astra, said the rocket had been damaged in prelaunch testing earlier in the day. “We’ll be rescheduling launch,” he said, but had not selected a new launch date. He did not elaborate on the damage the rocket sustained.

Local radio station KMXT reported March 23 that there had been an “anomaly” at the launch site on Kodiak Island that prompted an emergency response. There were no injuries reported, but the area was cordoned off.

“The area is still hazardous and should be avoided. There will be personnel on site overnight to monitor,” Mark Lester, chief executive of Alaska Aerospace, which operates the spaceport, told KMXT after the emergency response concluded.

Here is an earlier report on the launch plan: Astra readies for possible launch attempt next week – Spaceflight Now

After missing out on an opportunity to win up to $12 million in prize money through DARPA’s Launch Challenge earlier this month, Astra is gearing up for another possible orbital launch attempt next week from Alaska, the company’s chief executive said Friday.

Chris Kemp, Astra’s co-founder and CEO, said in an email Friday to Spaceflight Now that Astra is not planning to launch Monday, but the company is “working towards a possible launch attempt later in the week” from the Pacific Spaceport Complex at Kodiak Island, Alaska.

The company’s first small satellite launcher was scheduled to take off during a two-week window in late February and early March in a bid to win the DARPA Launch Challenge. But schedule delays and an aborted countdown on the final day of the Launch Challenge window March 2 kept Astra from winning a $2 million prize from DARPA, which would have allowed the company to proceed to a second mission later this month with a $10 million prize attached.

** Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut posts a video about rocket pollution: How much do rockets pollute? – Everyday Astronaut

** The Chinese startup launch company Galactic Energy plans to put a payload into orbit this summer: Galactic Energy Prepares Ceres-1 Rocket for First Launch – IEEE Spectrum

Galactic Energy, a low-key private Chinese rocket firm, celebrated its second birthday in February. That’s early days for a launch company, and yet the company is set to make its first attempt to reach orbit this June.

The rocket is named Ceres-1, after the largest body in the asteroid belt, and will launch from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. With three solid fuel stages and a liquid propellant fourth stage, it will be able to lift 350 kilograms of payload to an altitude of 200 kilometers in low Earth orbit.

The firm’s ability to move this quickly is due to a mix of factors—strong corporate leadership, an experienced team, and policy support from the Chinese state.

Galactic Energy illustration of a Ceres-1 rocket on the launch pad. Credits: Galactic Energy

** Rocket Lab’s next launch delayed due to coronavirus concerns: COVID-19 Update: Rocket Lab has postponed the launch of its next mission in response to the COVID-19 situation. | Rocket Lab

In response to the evolving COVID-19 situation, we have paused launch preparations for our next mission to protect the health and safety of Rocket Lab team members, our families, and the wider community.

The mission was scheduled to lift off from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on 30 March UTC. Launch preparations have been paused, however, following the New Zealand Government’s announcement on 23 March NZDT to implement the Level 4 COVID-19 response which requires most businesses to close and instructs people to stay at home. We commend the government for taking this drastic but necessary step to limit the spread of COVID-19.

** Briefs:

** SpaceX:

** On one of the final tests of the Crew Dragon parachute system there was a serious problem with the helicopter and the mockup used to simulate the spacecraft. This was unrelated to the performance of the parachute system itself: SpaceX reports problem during Crew Dragon parachute test – SpaceNews.com

SpaceX said March 24 that one of the final parachute tests for its Crew Dragon spacecraft went awry, a problem it blamed on the test setup and not a flaw with the parachutes themselves.

In a statement, SpaceX said that it attempted to perform a parachute test by dropping a test article from a helicopter. The company didn’t describe the test article, but in some past tests it has used a mockup of a Crew Dragon spacecraft.

** NASA joins effort to diagnose premature Merlin engine shutdown on the latest launch of Starlink satellites: NASA to participate in SpaceX engine anomaly investigation – SpaceNews.com

**** Falcon 9 launch of Argentine SAOCOM 1B radar satellite postponed due to coronavirus issues: Coronavirus concerns force postponement of SpaceX launch with Argentine satellite – Spaceflight Now

Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic have prompted officials to postpone the planned March 30 launch of Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B radar observation satellite from Cape Canaveral aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, officials said Tuesday.

Travel restrictions imposed by coronavirus to slow the spread of the COVID-19 viral disease, and restrictions on non-essential work, have hindered space activity around the world. CONAE, Argentina’s space agency, said the launch of the country’s SAOCOM 1B Earth-imaging spacecraft will be postponed.

CONAE did not announce a new target launch date for the SAOCOM 1B mission.

**** Starship

As usual for these roundups, there is yet more news from Boca Chica on the acceleration of Starship prototype construction. Local stay-at-home proclamations for coronavirus protection look to be the only way that the Starshp development will be slowed. Welders wanted: SpaceX is hiring to ramp up production of stainless steel Starship | Space.com

SpaceX is looking to hire lots of folks to help ramp up production and testing of its ambitious Starship Mars-colonizing architecture over the coming months — and the company recently issued a public recruiting pitch.

“The design goal for Starship is three flights per day on average [per ship], which equates to roughly 1,000 flights per year at greater than 100 tons per flight. This means every 10 ships would yield 1 megaton per year to orbit,” Jessica Anderson, a lead manufacturing engineer at SpaceX, said last week during the launch webcast for the company’s latest batch of Starlink internet satellites.

The following  videos show the fervent pace of progress in Starship building in south Texas:

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Nose Cone preps – Facility growth – Mar.20.2020 NASASpaceflight – YouTube

As work continues on further expanding the production area of SpaceX Boca Chica, engineers continued work on Starship SN3 and the nosecone (which may be for SN3 or at least SN4). Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 Engine Section Mated – Mar.21.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

The Starship SN3 Engine Section was mated on Saturday ahead of stacking with the rest of the vehicle (which is expected to take place in the VAB). Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 in final preps for full stacking – Mar.22.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

With the engine section heading into the big tent for final preparations, the stage is set for next week’s stacking of the entire SN3 Starship at SpaceX Boca Chica ahead of a Static Fire and test hop campaign. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN4 rings, SN3 preps, Launch Site readiness – Mar.23.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

As Starship SN3 continues stacking preps, the launch site is being readied and the first rings and domes for Starship SN4 were being worked on. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** SpaceX Boca Chica Starship Update March 23SPadre – YouTube

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Launch site preps underway as Starship SN3 nears completion – Mar.24.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

The Boca Chica launch site is being readied for the upcoming Starship SN3 test campaign which will see a static fire and potentially a short hop. Meanwhile, Starship SN4 construction is already well underway. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** Equipment from Florida delivered via SpaceX ship: SpaceX Texas Starship factory accepts third Florida hardware shipment – Teslarati

SpaceX support ship GO Discovery has successfully completed its third trip from Florida to Texas, ferrying additional rocket production hardware to the company’s fast-expanding South Texas Starship factory.

Captured on arrival by local spaceflight fan and observer SPadre (@SpacePadreIsle), the SpaceX ship entered Port of Brownsville on March 22nd, carrying a few minor pieces of equipment that SpaceX’s Starship factory will likely find helpful down the road. The company’s South Texas presence has undergone a meteoric period of growth in the last few months, hiring hundreds to staff a Starship factory that is now churning out rocket parts on the rugged South Texas Gulf Coast.

****** Marcus House provides frequent video reports on SpaceX activities. Here is a recent update:

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Space transport roundup – Mar.20.2020

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

** Falcon 9 launches 60 more Starlink satellites. A first stage engine shut down prematurely (just before staging) but had no effect on the mission as the other 8 engines made up the difference. The booster also failed to make a successful landing on a sea platform. This was the fifth flight of this booster.

The nosecone also used fairings recovered from a previously flight. The halves were recovered again today but after landing onto the water rather than into ship nets:

Scott Manley discusses the booster problems:

More about the launch:

Find more SpaceX items below

** This week a Chinese Long March 7A failed during its first launch. The rocket’s boosters uses kerosene/liquid oxygen propulsion rather than the highly toxic hydrazine-based propulsion systems used on most other Chinese liquid propellant rockets like the Long March 2F. The expectation is that the LM-7A will eventually become the workhorse launch system for China’s space program.

Little else has been disclosed about the incident including either the cause or nature of the failure, but footage of the launch published on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform by distant spectators, showed what appeared to be a sudden flaring within a few minutes after take-off, suggesting an explosion during, or soon after, second-stage separation.

Here is the Wiebo video mentioned in the Room article.

** Russia sent a Glonass-M navigation satellite to orbit this week on a Soyuz-2-1b rocket launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

** OneWeb plans to send third batch of Internet satellites to orbit on a Soyuz rocket this Saturday, March 21st, at 17:06 (GMT) / 1:06 PM (EDT) / 22:06 (local time) :

** United Launch Alliance (ULA) is preparing an Atlas V to launch the US Air Force’s  AEHF-6 satellite for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency military communications constellation. The launch window on Wednesday March 26th at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch pad is between 2:57-4:57 pm EDT (1857-2057 GMT).

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t stopping the first national security space mission for the U.S. Space Force, slated to launch March 26th aboard a United Launch Alliance rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“We are full steam ahead for the launch,” ULA spokesperson Julie Arnold told FLORIDA TODAY in a message Wednesday afternoon. 

AEHF-6 encapsulated in nosecone on way to integration with the Atlas V. Credits: ULA

** Blue Origin making progress on multiple projects despite the coronavirus disruptions: Blue Origin pressing on with rocket and engine development as industry copes with coronavirus – SpaceNews.com

Even tough travel is highly restricted and most employees are teleworking, Smith said Blue Origin plans to continue to conduct test flights of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle that last flew in December. The company has said the goal is to start flying people to the edge of space as early as 2020.

“We continue to make progress with the test program, going through the vehicle verification process,” Smith said. “We hope to be able to fly people by the end of the year.”

** Momentus offers space tug modules to expand orbit options for smallsats launched from Falcon 9 Rideshare missions: Momentus to Provide Unmatched Flexibility for SpaceX Rideshare Missions – Momentus

[SpaceX] has proven that the world’s first orbital-class reusable rocket can bring down costs for smallsat operators through regularly scheduled, dedicated Falcon 9 rideshare missions.

Still, many CubeSat and smallsat operators would prefer to be in custom orbits at different inclinations, in different orbit planes, or at different altitudes.

Today, we are announcing Momentus has purchased rides on six SpaceX SmallSat Rideshare Program missions, including five launches to Sun-Synchronous orbit (SSO) and one to mid-inclined low Earth orbit, which Momentus will use to allow its customers access to custom drop-off altitudes and orbits in space.

Customers already signed up for the 2020 and 2021 Vigoride flights include U.K. startup Steamjet Space Systems, NuSpace of Singapore and Aurora Propulsion Technologies of Finland. Additional customers have signed up for Momentus rides from the Falcon 9 drop-off to other destinations.

Artist’s rendering shows a Vigoride deploying a smallsat. Credits: Momentus

Check out the Vigoride Users Guide.

** Rocket Lab continues march towards Electron launch at the end of March: Rocket Lab launch preparations continue despite coronavirus travel restrictions – SpaceNews.com

Rocket Lab is continuing with preparations for a launch later this month despite the coronavirus pandemic, although another small launch company’s plans for a launch this month remain unclear.

Rocket Lab spokesperson Morgan Bailey said March 19 that the company was still planning to launch an Electron rocket from New Zealand later this month. The launch is currently scheduled for no earlier than March 30, a few days later originally announced.

That mission, called “Don’t Stop Me Now” by the company, will carry three payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office. It will also place into orbit ANDESITE, a cubesat built by students at Boston University and whose launch is being provided by NASA, as well as a cubesat from the University of New South Wales in Australia.

** Virgin Orbit, though, may delay till May: Virgin Orbit working toward first launch, schedule reassessed amid pandemic – SpaceNews.com

Virgin Orbit is reassessing the schedule for the first orbital flight demonstration of its LauncherOne vehicle, which had been scheduled for April.

“We’re mindful that COVID-19 is putting added burdens and stresses on our teams and leaders, so we are assessing things daily and keeping momentum up as best we can while doing everything we can to protect the health of our people,” Virgin Orbit spokesman Kendall Russell told SpaceNews March 19 in a statement.

LauncherOne rockets, made in Long Beach, California, will be air-launched from a modified 747-400 “Cosmic Girl” carrier aircraft. The vehicle is being offered to government and commercial customers as a flexible launch service that can operate from locations around the world.

The company earlier this month performed a taxi test at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It was a taxi test of the aircraft with a liquid-fueled LauncherOne vehicle attached to it, said Mandy Vaughn, president of Virgin Orbit’s sister company VOX Space. The next step before the orbital launch will be a captive carry test flight with the rocket attached to the plane.

** Briefs:

** SpaceX:

** The May time frame for first Crew Dragon flight with astronauts is firming up: NASA, SpaceX Invite Media to Crew Launch to Station from America | NASA

Media accreditation is open for NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 flight test, which will send two astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This mission will be the return of human spaceflight launch capabilities to the United States and the first launch of American astronauts aboard an American rocket and spacecraft since the final space shuttle mission on July 8, 2011.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will launch Crew Dragon, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the spacecraft, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA and SpaceX are currently targeting no earlier than mid-to-late May for launch.

** Some nice video of the recent Falcon 9 launch of CRS-20 Cargo Dragon to the ISS:

**** Starship

****** The Starlink 6 launch webcast included a segment about Starship development:

****** Starship SN-3 is coming together at Boca Chica as seen in the videos of activities there. The SN-1 vehicle should be the first of the full scale prototypes to do test flights, starting with low altitude hops.

 

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Stage Set for Starship SN3 Stacking – May 14 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceXers worked through the night and day to move SN3 sections and stands ahead of the expected stacking of the next Starship – while yet another new tent started to rise out of the Boca Chica ground. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Final Preps for Starship SN3 Stacking – May.16.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

All the chess pieces for the Starship SN3 are on the board and stacking operations are imminent at SpaceX’s Boca Chica production site. Video includes shots of the new thrust puck. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 Stacking: Nose cone and VAB work – May.17.2020

In SpaceX Boca Chica, Starship SN3 is now taking shape, with the nose cone stacking and several sections waiting to be mated – including two sections in the new VAB/Windbreak, which is also sporting its own internal elevator. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 begins Stacking Operations – May.18.2020

SpaceX’s Starship SN3 has entered stacking operations in Boca Chica! Segments were rolled and prepped, including stacking operations in the new VAB/Windbreak. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** Starship SN3 Construction Update at SpaceX Boca Chica – May.19.2020 – SPadre – YouTube

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 Stacks Another Section – May.19.2020

SpaceX Starship SN3 continues stacking operations with another segment added on Thursday inside the VAB/Windbreak, as work continues around the Boca Chica facility. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Starship assembly 24h timelapse 2020-03-19Rocket Frames – YouTube

A timelapse created from LabPadre’s live stream of the SpaceX Boca Chica Facility. Special thanks to Maria Pointer for mounting the camera on her property. This video was created in consent with LabPadre. All copyrights are owned explicitly by LabPadre.

****** SpaceX is gradually buying out the last of the private residencies near the Boca Chica facilities: Boca Chica residents take Elon Musk’s money, make way for SpaceX launches from Texas – HoustonChronicle.com

Maria Pointer held one final party at her home overlooking the SpaceX facility outside of Brownsville, with guests visiting from early morning until the stars twinkled goodnight and said farewell to the woman who shared her front-row seat of Elon Musk’s rocket activities in Texas.

“I cried three times, and then I laughed three times,” Maria Pointer said, “and then I opened up another bottle of wine and hugged a few more people.”

Her husband Rayford, however, couldn’t bring himself to attend the party, devastated by the way things played out. The Pointers purchased the property for its isolation and birdwatching. They spent years building their perfect retirement home.

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Space transport roundup – Mar.11.2020

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

** SpaceX planning for May launch of astronauts on Crew Dragon to the ISS: SpaceX aiming for May astronaut launch, will reuse Crew Dragon – CNBC

    • SpaceX is “gunning for May” to launch NASA astronauts on its first spaceflight with crew, president and COO Gwynne Shotwell said Tuesday.
    • She noted that the length of the mission is still under consideration, saying its “kind of TBD right now.”
    • Shotwell also noted that SpaceX is planning to reuse its Crew Dragon capsules, a decision that was in doubt previously.

Find more SpaceX items below

** Update from Boeing and NASA on Starliner problems during the uncrewed test flight: NASA Update on Orbital Flight Test Independent Review Team – Commercial Crew Program/NASA

The joint NASA and Boeing Independent Review Team formed following the anomalies during the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as a part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program has completed its initial investigation. The team was tasked with reviewing three primary anomalies experienced during the mission: two software coding errors and unanticipated loss of space-to-ground communication capability. During the investigation, the team identified several technical and organizational issues related to Boeing’s work. Separate from the independent team, NASA reviewed its role in the flight test and identified several areas where the agency can improve its level of participation and involvement into company’s processes.

While the review team, NASA and Boeing have made significant progress during the last month, more work will be required to inform the agency’s decision of whether Boeing will need to perform another uncrewed test flight of the Starliner system. NASA will determine if a repeat of the flight will be needed after Boeing has presented its detailed resolution and rework plan and NASA has independently assessed the thoroughness of that plan.

** China launches BeiDou navigation satellite on a Long March 3B rocket. Constellation nears completion.

China Launches Penultimate BeiDou 3 Navigation System Satellite – CCTV Video News Agency

China launched a new satellite of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) into space from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province at 19:55 Monday (Beijing Time), paving the way for its completion and full global coverage in May. The satellite, the 54th of the BeiDou family, was sent into a geostationary orbit as planned by a Long March-3B carrier rocket. It will go through the orbital transfer, in-orbit test, and test evaluation before it starts its service.

** Blue Origin releases more videos showing progress in New Glenn launch system development:

** Rocket Lab aims for late March for next Electron launch: Rocket Lab’s Next Mission to Launch Satellites for NASA, NRO and the University of New South Wales | Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab, a space technology company and the global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, has announced today that its next mission will deploy payloads for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra Space.

The launch will take place from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula, with a 14-day launch window scheduled to commence from 27 March 2020 NZT. The mission will be Rocket Lab’s 12th Electron launch since the company began launches in May 2017.

The rideshare mission will launch several small satellites, including the ANDESITE (Ad-Hoc Network Demonstration for Extended Satellite-Based Inquiry and Other Team Endeavors) satellite created by electrical and mechanical engineering students and professors at Boston University. The satellite will launch as part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) and will conduct groundbreaking scientific study into Earth’s magnetic field. Once in space, the ANDESITE satellite will initiate measurements of the magnetosphere with onboard sensors, later releasing eight pico satellites carrying small magnetometer sensors to track electric currents flowing in and out of the atmosphere, a phenomenon also known as space weather. These variations in the electrical activity racing through space can have a big impact on our lives here on Earth, causing interruptions to things like radio communications and electrical systems. The ANDESITE satellite follows on from Rocket Lab’s first ELaNa (Educational Launch of Nanosatellites) launch for NASA, the ELaNa-19 mission, which launched a host of educational satellites to orbit on Electron in December 2018. 

The mission also carries three payloads designed, built and operated by the NRO. The mission was procured under the agency’s Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract vehicle. RASR allows the NRO to explore new launch opportunities that provide a streamlined, commercial approach for getting small satellites into space, as well as provide those working in the small satellite community with timely and cost-effective access to space. This mission follows Rocket Lab’s first dedicated mission for the NRO, Birds of a Feather, which was launched on 31 January 2020 NZT from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1.

The ANDESITE and NRO payloads will be joined on the mission by the M2 Pathfinder satellite, a collaboration between the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra Space and the Australian Government. The M2 Pathfinder will test communications architecture and other technologies that will assist in informing the future space capabilities of Australia. The satellite will demonstrate the ability of an onboard software-based radio to operate and reconfigure while in orbit.

** Black Arrow Space Technologies in the UK obtains investment to fund launcher development program. Black Arrow

is a new British company developing spaceflight technologies designed to launch satellites into orbit. Black Arrow unique offer is their seaborne launch system – commercial rockets launched from their own Space Ship! This will enable Britain to offer a global service unavailable elsewhere in the world, bypassing many of the issues faced by land launches. Initially, the company aims to launch payloads of up to 500Kg into Polar Low Earth Orbit or 300Kg into Sun Synchronous Orbit. This will support a growing niche in the space market, currently under-served by the international ‘access to space’ sector. In time, the concept will be developed to enable much larger payloads to be launched to higher altitudes and more trajectories.

Black Arrow Space Technologies has negotiated an agreement with a major investor to fully fund the company development activities, up to the completion of the test launch phase of the project, which is anticipated to take between two and three years.

Design and development work will take place in the Oxfordshire area, with engine test stands and the ship fleet, including the launch vessel and support ships, based in South Wales. It is anticipated that around 300 high-skilled jobs will be created by the time that commercial launches begin. Initial launches are planned to take place from the Atlantic Ocean, South West of Ireland.

A Black Arrow rocket launches from a sea-going vessel. Credits: Black Arrow

More at:

** Rocket Fuel Injectors – Things Kerbal Space Program Doesn’t Teach – Scott Manley

Rocket Propellent Injectors are critical parts of the engine design, they take the propellents and mix them so that they can quickly burn in the combustion chamber. Injectors can make or (literally) break a rocket design, and over the years we’ve seen rocket engines move from injector plate designs to more efficient options as engineers have come to understand what works well. Thanks to Copenhagen Suborbitals for sharing some video of their injectors being tested, I hope get get to see some more flights with these: https://copenhagensuborbitals.com/

** Briefs:

** SpaceX:

**** SpaceX set to launch another batch of 60 Starlink satellites on March 14th. Liftoff time of the Starlink 5 mission is around 9:36 am EDT (1336 GMT). A static firing on Pad-39A probably will happen on Friday March 13th.

**** SpaceX Falcon 9 launched CRS-20 cargo mission with final Dragon 1 successfully on March 6th. Future cargo missions will use the Dragon 2 vehicles. The first stage booster made a successful landing back at the Cape. This marked the 50th successful landing of a F9 booster.

CRS-20 Mission

****** SpaceX Webcast

****** Watch SpaceX launch their LAST Dragon 1 Capsule for CRS-20Everyday Astronaut

****** SpaceX – CRS20 – The Last Dragon – Launch 4K 03-06-2020 – USLaunchReport

**** Cargo Dragon berthed to the ISS on the morning of March 9:

**** Elon Musk spoke about Falcon 9, Crew Dragon, Starship, Starlink, etc during an on-stage interview this week at the Satellite 2020 conference:

**** SpaceX raising more money for development projects: SpaceX raising $500 million in new funding for Elon Musk’s company – CNBC.com

SpaceX is raising half a billion dollars in new funding, according to documents seen by CNBC on Monday, as the Elon Musk company continues work on three ambitious projects.

The company authorized $500.06 million at a price of $220 per share, the documents show, and values SpaceX at around $36 billion — up from $33.3 billion last year. Notably, the round is about double the $250 million that SpaceX was looking to raise, as CNBC reported previously.

**** Starship

**** Following SN1 pressure test failure last week, a second propellant tank was built and tested over the weekend successfully:

Can now proceed with test flight vehicles:

See also: SpaceX’s latest Starship test was uneventful and that’s great news for its flight debut – Teslarati.

***** SN2 Tank Test – March 8 – SPadre – YouTube

******  SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN2 Test Tank Cryo Test – March.8.2020 – – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

At SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site, the Starship SN2 Test Tank underwent what appears to have been a successful cryo proof test under pressurization. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal).

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Post SN2 success, facility grows for more Starships – March.9.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

As SpaceXers prepare to remove SN2 from the launch site, Starship SN3 is being constructed amid a large scale work on growing production facility in Boca Chica. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal).

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Rings on the move amid more construction – March.10.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Lots happening at Boca Chica as SpaceXers lay the foundations for yet another new facility, while Starship rings dodge the concrete smoothers and SN3 continues to prepare for stacking. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal).

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Space transport roundup – Mar.5.2020

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

** SpaceX aims to launch Cargo Dragon on CRS-20 mission to the ISS this Friday evening (March 6th) at 11:49 pm EST (0449 GMT Saturday). This will be the final flight with an original Dragon 1 (i.e. Cargo Dragon) design. Subsequent cargo missions will use reconfigured Dragon 2 or Crew Dragon spacecraft. Initially, the Crew Dragon vehicles will fly astronauts only once so they will subsequently become available for uncrewed Cargo missions.

This will be the third flight for this Dragon 1: SpaceX’s first orbital spacecraft set to smash reusability record on last launch – Teslarati.

The CRS-20 Falcon 9 first stage was test fired on Pad 39A last Sunday: SpaceX test-fires rocket, preps for final flight of first-generation Dragon capsule – Spaceflight Now

The Falcon 9 booster for SpaceX’s next mission fired up briefly on a Cape Canaveral launch pad Sunday in a routine pre-flight test before a scheduled launch Friday night to kick off the final flight of the first version of the company’s Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station.

Nine Merlin 1D main engines at the base of the Falcon 9 booster fired up at 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT) Sunday at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad. Hold-down clamps kept the rocket firmly on the ground as the engines throttled up to produce 1.7 million pounds of thrust for several seconds.

There will be a briefing today (March 5th) at 3:00 pm EST on NASA TV about the science and technology payloads on the Dragon.

Find more SpaceX items below

** Blue Origin videos show completed New Glenn nosecone fairing:

Here’s an inside look at how a New Glenn 7 meter fairing is designed, and the capabilities it brings to commercial, civil and national security customers. https://www.blueorigin.com/new-glenn/

2020 is shaping up to be a busy year for the Blue team in Florida – starting with the completion of the first full scale New Glenn 7 meter fairing at our rocket factory in Cape Canaveral.

** Blue releases a video about construction of the New Glenn tanks:

** Roads on Cape Canaveral to be modified to accommodate delivery of New Glenn rockets to the launch site: Changes coming to KSC and Cape Canaveral for Blue Origin New Glenn rocket – Florida Today

Roughly 30 miles of roadways winding through Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station will soon see multimillion-dollar infrastructure changes, making room for the future transport of Blue Origin’s massive New Glenn rocket.

The journey for New Glenn first stages, which measure around 200 feet in length before attachment of the second stage and nose cone, will begin at the company’s factory just east of the KSC main gate. But in order to follow the 20-plus-mile trek to its pad at Launch Complex 36, changes will need to be made to road widths, light posts, fences, signs, and more.

** Blue may fly New Shepard this month: Blue Origin still plans to launch people this year – Axios

Blue Origin is planning to launch another test flight of its suborbital New Shepard space system as early as this month, with human test flights expected before the end of the year.

The big picture: The Jeff Bezos-backed rocket company pumped the brakes on its test flight program last year but is now gearing up to launch its next round of flights ahead of its first tests with human passengers.

“[We’ll have] about three to four more flights before we go fly people. So we’re still on target for this year for doing that, but there’s a lot of work to be done.” — Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith to Axios

** Astra fails to win DARPA Challenge award. The contest deadline passed on Monday after the company’s final attempt to launch from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska was scrubbed. Rocket 1 Of 3, Launch Attempt 1 – Astra

Today, Astra began countdown of the first orbital launch as the final remaining competitor in the DARPA launch challenge. Our team decided to hold the launch at T-53 seconds after a sensor reported unexpected data that could have impacted the success of the flight. Out of our commitment to safety, and to increase the probability of overall success of the three-launch campaign, we have decided to prioritize fully investigating the issue over attempting to win the DARPA challenge today.

We are incredibly grateful to our team who have worked many late nights and weekends for the past few months to prepare our launch system for our first launch. We would also like to thank the team at DARPA, the FAA, and the team at Pacific Spaceport Complex for making an orbital launch attempt possible within a few days.

We remain determined to reach orbit and plan to attempt another launch attempt as soon as possible.  Thank you for the continued support as we move forward in our mission to observe, connect and improve life on earth.

Astra rocket “1 of 3” on the pad on Kodiak Island: Credits: Astra

More about Astra:

** Virgin Galactic may fly Branson but not commercial customers this yearVirgin Galactic hints at more delays for start of SpaceShipTwo commercial flights – SpaceNews.com

Those projections [of profits] assumed the start of commercial operations in June 2020, but during the call George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, hinted that commercial service, already delayed by years, might slip again.

“We continue to focus on our top priority of the year, which is to fly Richard Branson into space on a commercial flight,” he said. Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, has long said he will be on the company’s first commercial flight.

However, there may be few, if any, additional commercial flights in the year. “While we would like to have some commercial revenue this year, the main focus for this year, from a company and engineering perspective, is working to get the vehicles, and our operations, prepared for long-term, regular commercial service,” Whitesides said. That includes completing the flight test program for SpaceShipTwo, optimizing the “end-to-end customer experience” that includes events before and after each flight, and readying the vehicles for long-term, high-flight-rate operations.

** Masten Space and Univ. of Central Florida study how rocket plumes could produce craters while landing on and launching from the Moon:

Masten Space Systems and University of Central Florida (UCF) collaborated on a NASA program to study the physics of how craters form. This work involved experimental tests to see how gravity, plume type, and air pressure affects crater formation during simulated landings.

** ULA making progress on  next-gen Vulcan rocket development:

** Virgin Orbit animation describes the LauncherOne project:

** Update on Relativity Space and 3D printed rockets: Relativity Space has big dreams. Is the company for real? – Ars Technica

… Giger and his company, Relativity Space, seek to create the most futuristic of rockets. To do so, they have come to the [Stennis] NASA center [in Mississippi] where rocket scientists tested the mighty engines that carried humans to the Moon half a century ago. Relativity has, over the last two years, steadily occupied more buildings and test stands here as part of its quest to build a rocket made almost entirely of 3D-printed parts. And if that goal were not fantastical enough, Relativity also seeks to automate as much of the rocket assembly and test process as possible, with the ultimate goal of additively manufacturing a rocket on the surface of Mars.

It is a wild, seemingly impossible dream—and yet it has captured the fancy of aerospace investors. Relativity has raised $185 million in four years and hired industry leaders like Giger. Now the program manager for the company’s Terran 1 rocket, Giger spent more than a decade at SpaceX, where he led development of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Today he superintends Relativity’s plans for launching its first rocket into space, perhaps as early as next year. So as we stood on top of the E-4 test stand in Mississippi last month, I tried to do more than simply admire the view.

I wanted very much to see if Relativity Space could possibly be for real.

Engine test at Stennis. “Our new injectors have to be test fired with a copper development article before they get replaced with our printed nickel chambers.” Credits: Relativity

The company also announced plans to locate its HQ in Long Beach: Relativity Space Secures New Headquarters Facility In The Heart Of Southern California’S Next-Generation Aerospace Community — Relativity Space

** DARPA attempts to kickstart development of in-space nuclear propulsion systems:

Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO), formerly known as “Reactor on a Rocket (ROAR)” — $21 million, up from an initial $10 million in 2020. DRACO “will develop and demonstrate a High-Assay LowEnriched Uranium (HALEU)uel for commercial light-water reactors when enriched to between 3 and 5 percent; the Navy’s nuclear reac nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system.” NASA is working on similar nuclear thermal propulsion rockets, which use low-enriched — between 5 and 20 percent — uranium-235 (U-235). U-235 is the basic nuclear ftors use U-235 fuel enriched to 90 percent. The new rocket would allow the US military to operate spacecraft in cislunar space, which DARPA’s budget documents call the “new high-ground” that is “in danger of being defined by the adversary.” DARPA budget documents say the Air Force is the targeted customer for DRACO.

** Briefs:

** SpaceX:

** SpaceX wins a NASA launch contract for a Falcon Heavy for the first time. In  NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for the Psyche Mission | NASA

NASA has selected SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Psyche mission. The Psyche mission currently is targeted to launch in July 2022 on a Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The total cost for NASA to launch Psyche and the secondary payloads is approximately $117 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.

The Psyche mission will journey to a unique metal-rich asteroid, also named Psyche, which orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. The asteroid is considered unique, as it appears to largely be made of the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet – one of the building blocks of our solar system.

Deep within rocky, terrestrial planets, including Earth, scientists infer the presence of metallic cores, but these lie unreachably far below the planet’s rocky mantles and crusts. Because we cannot see or measure Earth’s core directly, the mission to Psyche offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets.

**** Next Starlink launch set for March 14th:

**** The Falcon 9 for the Cargo Dragon mission got a replacement second stage courtesy of the F9 previously arranged for the Starlink mission: SpaceX’s Starlink launch ambitions just saved a space station resupply mission from big delays – Teslarati

**** Falcon 9 launches can’t keep up with Starlink satellite production: During an on-stage conversation at the Air Force Association’s 2020 Air Warfare Symposium (AWS2020), Elon commented on Starlink satellite production:

See also: SpaceX is building Starlink satellites faster than it can launch them – Teslarati

**** At the AWS2020 event, Elon Musk also emphasized the importance of fully reusable space transportsElon Musk participated in a fireside chat at Air Force Association’s 2020 Air Warfare Symposium – Tesmanian

Lt. General Thompson conversed about the new branch of the Air Force, the U.S Space Force among other related subjects with Musk. During today’s symposium Musk talked about SpaceX rocket reusability, he said that reusability in space is important. The company’s Falcon 9 rocket is a true innovation in the aerospace industry, the first-stage rocket booster has the capability of carrying payload into space then returning to land on autonomous drone ships at sea; performs a controlled landing powered by its own engines. No other aerospace company has achieved this level of control over their spacecraft. Recovering the Falcon 9’s first-stage rocket booster enables SpaceX to reuse it for up to 10 times, which reduces manufacturing and operational costs.

“When you have assured low cost access to space other technologies will be enabled. Many things are possible once the transport problem is solved . Establishing a self sustaining base on Mars opens opportunities.”

Musk calls reusability the “holy grail” of rocketry. Falcon 9 is partially reusable, today he mentioned that their next-generation rocket, known as Starship, has the potential for full reusability but that creating a reusable system at on a large production scale, “Volume production and volume launch of a reusable system is super super hard. Not reusable like the Space Shuttle. Has to be agile like an aircraft. Shuttle too expensive, Musk said.

“The vehicle we’re working on, Starship is the holy grail of which is full reusability.”

**** SpaceX plans for up to 70 F9/FH launches per year at Cape Canaveral AF Station & Kennedy Space Center: Draft Environmental Assessment for SpaceX Falcon Launches at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – SpaceX/FAA – Feb. 2020 (pdf)

SpaceX Falcon 9/Heavy launch rates in the past and estimated for the future. Credits: FAA and SpaceX

To handle Defense Dept. payloads that require vertical integration into the rockets, SpaceX will build a Mobile Service Tower.

Proposed design for a Mobile Service Tower for Pad 39A to integrate military satellites into Falcon 9/Heavy nosecone. Credits: FAA & SpaceX.

See also: FAA Environmental Assessment details SpaceX plans at Cape Canaveral – NASASpaceFlight.com

**** A year ago the Crew Dragon vehicle, with no astros aboard, took a test drive to the ISS:

On March 2, 2019, Falcon 9 launched Crew Dragon on its first demonstration mission, and the next day it became the first American spacecraft to autonomously dock with the International Space Station. After its stay at the space station, the spacecraft successfully splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, completing its mission and demonstrating SpaceX’s capabilities to safely and reliably fly astronauts to and from the space station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

**** An update on improvements to systems to deal with F9 booster landing and recovery: SpaceX eyes major drone ship fleet upgrades and a new rocket recovery robot – Teslarati

SpaceX has kicked off a series of major upgrades planned for its East Coast fleet of drone ships, centered around Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) and most recently culminating in the apparent fabrication of a second tank-like rocket recovery robot.

**** Starship

****** Eric Berger has posted an extended article about the Starship and the activities underway at Boca Chica Beach, Texas. He interviews Elon Musk who describes the efforts to create a production line that will enable rapid iterative improvements of the Starship design and eventually allow for making the massive number of vehicles he believes are needed to build and support a city on Mars: Inside Elon Musk’s plan to build one Starship a week—and settle Mars – Ars Technica

Yet Musk has not been spending so much of his time in South Texas just to build a Starship. Rather, he’s trying to build a production line for Starships. He wants to build a lot of them. And fast, always fast.

“Production is at least 1,000 percent harder than making one of something,” he said. “At least 1,000 percent harder.”

Musk should know. He lived through “production hell” at Tesla in 2017 and 2018, building up factories, changing processes, spending many sleepless nights and going through all manner of mental agony. Now, Tesla is making as many as 10,000 cars a week.

He wants to implement a similar system in South Texas. Musk, in fact, aims to reach a point where the company builds a Starship a week by the end of this year. And after that? Maybe they’ll go faster. SpaceX is designing its factory here to build a Starship every 72 hours.

Eric is answering questions about the article on Twitter.

****** The propellant tank section of the Starship SN1 prototype failed during pressure testing on Friday evening (Feb.28). Elon Musk later indicated that the welding for a plug section called the “puck” at the bottom gave way (see the Ars Technica article mentioned above for details). Earlier remarks (e.g. Elon Musk on Twitter: “Starship SN1 tank preparing for Raptor attachment & static fire”) had indicated that the SN1 was going to be a suborbital flight test vehicle.  OTOH, there had also been indications that the welding was not properly done for SN1 and would be improved for SN2, whose construction was already underway last week.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 cryo proof test failure – Feb 28, 2020

Starship SN1 was filled with LN2 for a cryo proof test on Friday evening at Boca Chica, before failing. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

***** SpaceX Starship Explosion/Implosion Wide View Time Lapse – Feb.28.2020 – LabPadre – YouTube

02.28.2020 10PM CST Starship suffered massive failure at Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX will build another.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Examining the remains of Starship SN1 – Feb.29.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Following Starship SN1’s pop during the cryo proofing test on Friday night, Mary took a look at the remains on Saturday morning. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN2 taking shape as SN1 remains removed – Mar.1.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN2 Sections Assemble – Mar.2.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

The next Starship – albeit one that will be mostly used for proof testing – is being assembled inside the Boca Chica windbreak. Some hardware – such as the new nosecone – will likely be allocated to SN3. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Constructing Starship SN2 inside a building under construction – Mar.2.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX’s Boca Chica Starship pace becomes obvious when the SN2 continues to be assembled inside a building (VAB/Windbreak) that is still under construction. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Taxi arrives as SN2 and SN3 continue production – Mar.4.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

The roll-lift that transports Starships to the launch pad has arrived, as SN2 continues to be assembled and sections of SN3 follow closely behind. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** A test stand at the McGregor, Texas facility has been upgraded to allow for vertical test firings of the powerful new Raptor engines: SpaceX’s new Starship test stand to make life a little easier for Raptor engine engineers – Teslarati

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