Category Archives: Rockets

Space transport roundup – Feb.19.2020

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

** Arianespace launches Ariane V with two spacecraft Tuesday evening:  the communications satellite JCSAT-17 for SKY Perfect JSAT Corp. and the environmental monitoring satellite Geo-Kompsat-2B for the Korea Aerospace Research Institute.

** Blue Origin opens a new engine manufacturing plant in Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, AL –  February 17, 2020 – Today, Blue Origin opened its rocket engine production facility in Huntsville, AL. The world-class engine manufacturing facility in The Rocket City will conduct high rate production of the BE-4 and BE-3U engines. These engines will undergo testing at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center on the historic Test Stand 4670. BE-7, our lunar landing engine, is also currently in test at NASA Marshall.

“At the core of every successful launch vehicle program are the engines that power those vehicles to space. Early on in Blue Origin’s history, we made a crucial decision to invest in developing the next generation of reusable rocket engines. And now, it’s an exciting time for Blue, our partners and this country –we are on the path to deliver on our promise to end the reliance on Russian made engines – and it’s all happening right here, right now, in the great state of Alabama. We couldn’t be prouder to call this our home for engine production,” said Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin.

Blue will add more than 300 jobs to the local economy with an investment of over $200 million in the facility.

The factory will build the big  BE-4 engine, seven of which will power New Glenn’s reusable 1st-stage booster, and two will be used on the 1st-stage of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle.

  • Manufacturing facility in Huntsville, Alabama is starting production of the engine.
  • ULA will get the first two production engines this year.
  • Currently carrying out full life-cycle firings on the test stand.
  • Starting development of an upgraded version.
  • Expect to achieve 25+ flights per engine with minimal maintenance between flights.
Diagram of Blue Origin’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueled BE-4 engine. Credits: Blue Origin

See also: Blue Origin opens Alabama engine factory and lays out production plan – GeekWire.

**** SpaceShipTwo Unity arrives at Spaceport America: Virgin Galactic Welcomes SpaceShipTwo Unity to Spaceport America, New Mexico – Virgin Galactic

VSS Unity, attached to the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, made the journey from Mojave, California, where the Company’s manufacturing facilities are based. The vehicle landed at 15:49MT, where it was greeted by an enthusiastic group of teammates who will operate the spaceship in New Mexico.

This captive carry flight provided an opportunity for engineers to evaluate VSS Unity for over three hours at high altitude and cold temperatures, a longer period of time than is experienced during missions to space. These environmental evaluations of system performance are difficult to replicate at ground level, making captive carry missions a vital component of VSS Unity’s flight test plan.

….

The relocation of VSS Unity to Spaceport America enables the Company to engage in the final stages of its flight test program. This will begin with a number of initial captive carry and glide flights from the new operating base in New Mexico, allowing the spaceflight operations team to familiarize themselves with the airspace and ground control. Once these tests are complete, the team will carry out a number of rocket-powered test flights from Spaceport America to continue the evaluation of VSS Unity’s performance.  During this phase, the final spaceship cabin and customer experience evaluations will also be concluded in preparation for the start of commercial spaceflight operations.

The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s design, testing and manufacturing arm, remains firmly rooted in Mojave, California.  While VMS Eve and VSS Unity are now based in New Mexico, they will make periodic journeys back to Mojave to support ground and flight tests of new spaceships, as well as for vehicle maintenance and upgrade activities.  There is significant progress being made on the next two spaceships, including achieving the Weight on Wheels milestone for the second spaceship and completing over 50% of the structural and system part fabrication for the third spaceship, which were announced in January.

**  Rocket Crafters rocket engine test goes bad and sends debris flying: Rocket engine test in Cocoa sends debris flying, starts fire – ClickOrlando.com

**  More about Astra‘s plans for low cost rocket launches for smallsats: Astra emphasizes rapid iteration in its quest for low-cost, rapid launch – SpaceNews.com

The launch window for Astra’s first orbital launch from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska now opens Feb. 25, according to a U.S. Coast Guard notice published Feb. 12. The company will have daily windows from 3:30 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern through March 3.

In a Feb. 13 interview, Chris Kemp, chief executive of Astra, confirmed that launch window but didn’t give a specific date when the company would make its first launch attempt. The rocket, dubbed “One of Three,” will be flying to the spaceport on Kodiak Island, Alaska, in a few days.

That launch, he confirmed, will be the first of two missions as part of the DARPA Launch Challenge, a competition by DARPA to demonstrate responsive launch capabilities. Astra is the sole remaining competitor in the challenge after the other two finalists, Vector and Virgin Orbit, dropped out last year.

** Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo vehicle berthed to the ISS on Tuesday following the launch on an Antares rocket from Wallops Island last Saturday. Cygnus Cargo Craft Attached to Station for Three-Month Stay – Space Station/NASA blogs

** SpaceX:

** A SpaceX Falcon 9 put 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit after a launch from Cape Canaveral on Monday. Unfortunately, the booster missed the landing platform floating in the Atlantic. No word yet on what went wrong. The two ships with nets failed to capture the nosecone fairings as they returned via parasails.

More at:

Scott Manley speculates on why the booster landing failure:

**** Parachute testing for Crew Dragon should finish soon: SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft nears last parachute tests before astronaut launch debut – Teslarati

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is likely just a few weeks away from its last few parachute drop tests, the successful completion of which should give NASA all the technical data it needs to okay its astronaut launch debut.

After facing several major failures during intentionally challenging drop tests both last year and the year before, SpaceX and supplier Airborne have been working relentlessly to better understand the complex physics behind parachutes and then design and build better ones with that information.

Most recently, SpaceX has been aggressively testing the latest Mark 3 (Mk3) parachute variant with great success and has completed some two-dozen consecutively-successful drop tests since October 2019. Now, NASA and SpaceX are working together to settle on a design for two final Crew Dragon parachute tests, the results of which will almost certainly determine when the spacecraft’s astronaut launch debut will occur.

**** Crew Dragon for first mission with astronauts aboard is now at KSC: SpaceX Crew Dragon Arrives for Demo-2 Mission – SpaceX/NASA blog

**** Starship

**** Robert Zubrin reports on a discussion with Elon Musk about Starship plans: The Space Show – Tue, 02/11/2020Dr. Robert Zubrin

Summary: Zubrin shares new info about Starship. : spacex/reddit

– employees: 300 now, probably 3000 in a year

– production target: 2 starships per week

– Starship cost target: $5M

– first 5 Starships will probably stay on Mars forever

– When Zubrin pointed out that it would require 6-10 football fields of solar panels to refuel a single Starship Elon said “Fine, that’s what we will do”.

– Elon wants to use solar energy, not nuclear.

– It’s not Apollo. It’s D-Day.

– The first crew might be 20-50 people

– Zubrin thinks Starship is optimized for colonization, but not exploration

– Musk about mini-starship: don’t want to make 2 different vehicles (Zubrin later admits “show me why I need it” is a good attitude)

– Zubrin thinks landing Starship on the moon probably infeasible due to the plume creating a big crater (so you need a landing pad first…). It’s also an issue on Mars (but not as significant). Spacex will adapt (Zubrin implies consideration for classic landers for Moon or mini starship).

– no heatshield tiles needed for LEO reentry thanks to stainless steel (?!), but needed for reentry from Mars

– they may do 100km hop after 20km

– currently no evidence of super heavy production

– Elon is concerned about planetary protection roadblocks

– Zubrin thinks it’s possible that first uncrewed Starship will land on Mars before Artemis lands on the moon

Elon later corrected Zubrin about the heat shield requirements:

***** Interesting diagram of Starship design and parts under construction:

***** Details on Starship facility at Port of Los Angeles : SpaceX’s California Starship factory plans detailed ahead of permitting decision – Teslarati

According to SpaceX’s updated 2020 Port of Los Angeles regulatory documents, the company has major ambitions for its resurrected California Starship factory. In simple terms, it really does want to build a true Starship factory instead of something smaller or more specialized. Specifically, SpaceX wants Berth 240 to be able to independently form Starship’s steel rings, stack and weld those rings together, outfit integrated barrel sections with all necessary access ports, plumbing, and flight-related hardware, and build any number of other Starship parts (likely fins, legs, noses, etc.).

****** Latest videos showing activities at Boca Chica Beach facilities:

SpaceX Boca Chica, Texas VAB Progress – Feb.16.2020 – LabPadre – YouTube

02.15.2020 Saturday’s progress on the new VAB with a few still shots for reference. Also Bulkhead stack work behind the onion tent. Lots of speculation on the height.

SpaceX Pops Out Starship’s Buckled Steel (Time Lapse) – Feb.17.2020 – LabPadre – YouTube

After a few tries SpaceX pulls a hat trick and fixes the buckle steel in the bottom stack. We have some skilled hands on site! This 24/7 stream is powered by LabPadre, in cooperation with Sapphire Condominiums and @BocaChicaMaria1 (Twitter) @SpaceXBocaChica (Facebook).

SpaceX LabPadre New Location Samples And North Side Shipyard Progress – Feb.18.2020 – LabPadre – YouTube

New camera location sample shots along with progress on the North side back end of the rocket shipyard along with Tesla Transport hidden goodies. Video credit: Maria Pointer on Twitter @BocaChicaMaria1

SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 into Stacking Operation – Feb.18.2020- NASASpaceflight – YouTube

At SpaceX Boca Chica, the stacking operations for Starship SN1 began this week as the vehicle enters preparations to be ready for rollover to the launch site for its Static Fire test. Filmed and edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer) for NSF.

SpaceX Boca Chica – SN1 tank sections welded together ahead of next stacking – Feb.18.2020- NASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX teams completed the welds between the two tank sections on Tuesday. Stacking of the next piece of SN1 is expected to begin shortly. Filmed and edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer) for NSF.

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Space transport roundup – Feb.13.2020

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

** The Antares launch of a Cynus cargo vehicle to the ISS is set for this Friday, Feb. 14th at 3:43 pm EST (2043 GMT). The original target liftoff date was last Sunday but there was a scrub at the last few minute due to a pad equipment malfunction. See the previous roundup here for links to info about the mission.

** Another SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of a batch of 60 Starlink satellites is set for Saturday, Feb. 15th at 1546 GMT (10:46 a.m. EST) from Cape Canaveral. There should be a test firing on the pad a day or two before Saturday.

More SpaceX items below

** Multiple launches in the past few days:

**** ULA Atlas V launches ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft: Liftoff for Solar Orbiter, ESA’s mission to face the Sun up close – ESA

Solar Orbiter lofted to space aboard the US Atlas V 411 rocket from NASA’s spaceport in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 04:03 GMT (05:03 CET) on 10 February 2020. An ESA-led mission with strong NASA participation, Solar Orbiter carries a set of ten instruments for imaging the surface of the Sun and studying the environment in its vicinity. The spacecraft will travel around the Sun on an elliptical orbit that will take it as close as 42 million km away from the Sun’s surface, about a quarter of the distance between the Sun and Earth. The orbit will allow Solar Orbiter to see some of the never-before-imaged regions of the Sun, including the poles, and shed new light on what gives rise to solar wind, which can affect infrastructure on Earth.

**** A Japanese H-IIA rocket built by Mitsubishi launched a military reconnaissance spacecraft on Feb.9th:

**** Soyuz launch of 34 OneWeb satellites from Baikonur:

** Update on construction of the Blue Origin facilities at Cape Canaveral:

Just below their tallest points, the skeletal forerunner of a massive hangar and processing facility is also taking shape here, designed to process New Glenn rockets before they roll out to the pad. Some 300 feet in height, New Glenn will rise over most structures at the complex, save for the launch tower and lightning towers.

But eyes gazing toward the tip of the Cape can’t miss one more soaring figure at Launch Complex 36: a 351-foot-tall water tower.

Designed to store hundreds of thousands of gallons of water for liftoff sound suppression and temperature control, the new tower’s gray exterior has yet to be painted, showing where teams joined its massive segments. Even from miles away, it’s visible to the naked eye.

** NASA and Boeing discuss additional problems on Starliner’s uncrewed test flight:

An audio recording of a press briefing by NASA and Boeing:

** More about the Astra rocket company : Astra unveils plans for frequent, low-cost launches – SpaceNews.com

Many in the space industry, though, had heard of Astra, which also went by the name of Astra Space in regulatory filings and Stealth Space Company in job listings. The company performed two suborbital test launches from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska in 2018, both of which the Federal Aviation Administration, which licensed them, classified as mishaps. On its website, Astra said the first mission was “launched successfully,” but notes the second launch “was shorter than planned” without elaborating.

Even before those launches the company’s activities were visible. Shortly before the first launch a traffic helicopter for a television station in San Francisco spotted one of the company’s rockets being tested on the tarmac of the former naval air station that’s home to Astra and its 250,000-square-foot factory.

The company is developing a small launch vehicle designed to place up to about 200 kilograms in low Earth orbit, according to the Bloomberg article, and do so frequently. Company executives said in the article their goal is to be able to perform hundreds of launches a year at a price per launch as low as $1 million.

** Update on the Danish Copenhagen Suborbitals organization, a non-profit, all-volunteer organization that is working methodically towards sending a rocket with a person on board to suborbital space:

** Rocket briefs:

** SpaceX:

** Components for the the first Crew Dragon mission with astronauts to go to orbit are reaching Cape Canaveral: SpaceX’s first astronaut-ready spaceship wraps up final factory tests before heading to Florida – Teslarati

Set to become the first commercial spacecraft ever to launch NASA astronauts, SpaceX has revealed that its newest Crew Dragon spaceship is in the midst of its final major factory tests, meaning that it could be just a matter of days before it ships to Florida.

Originally built to support SpaceX’s first operational NASA astronaut launch (PCM-1), an explosion that destroyed capsule C201 forced the company to shuffle its fleet and reassign that spacecraft (capsule C206) to an inaugural crewed test flight known as Demo-2. Thankfully, although C201 did explode during post-recovery static fire testing, the spacecraft had flawlessly completed an uncrewed test flight (Demo-1) the month prior, demonstrating a nominal Falcon 9 launch, space station rendezvous, docking, orbital reentry, and splashdown without a single visible hiccup. In short, Crew Dragon’s Demo-1 launch debut could not have gone better.

Ultimately, Crew Dragon C206, its Demo-2 trunk section, and Falcon 9’s booster and upper stage are all expected to be at SpaceX’s Florida processing and launch facilities by the end of the month.

A video of the Crew Dragon C206 during tests:

For the first time,  a realistic date is being targeted for the first crew flight:

**** SpaceX hires a former top NASA honcho:

From CNBC:

SpaceX is only a couple of months away from its first attempt at launching astronauts and the company has brought in one of the foremost experts in human spaceflight to help it do so successfully.

William Gerstenmaier, the former leader of NASA’s human spaceflight program, has now begun working at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, people familiar with his hiring told CNBC. In his new role Gerstenmaier is reporting to SpaceX vice president of mission assurance Hans Koenigsmann, those people said, as the company prepares to begin launching astronauts.

A SpaceX spokesperson confirmed that Gerstenmaier is a consultant for the company’s reliability engineering team.

**** Falcon 9 reusability operations are improving:  The  Op-ed | SpaceX’s adaptation to market changes – SpaceNews.com

SpaceX has been learning and experimenting with reusability for several years, and its progress has been relatively fast and linear. Euroconsult’s tracking of reused Falcon 9 boosters suggests that boosters with more recent serial numbers are seeing shorter turnaround times between launches, as SpaceX acquires experience and learns to optimize refurbishment. While roughly a year was necessary to refurbish and relaunch the B1021 booster for SpaceX’s very first re-use of a recovered first stage for commercial customer SES-10 in early 2017, only 82 days were necessary to recondition and relaunch the first stage that launched CRS-18 in 2019. This is a significant improvement in terms of turnaround time, which goes a long way to enable a launch rate increase, and thus a launch cost decrease via the amortization of overhead costs over a greater number of launches. The average turnaround time between the first and second reuse of a booster (i.e., between the second and third launches of a first stage) is 160 days, and as low as 118 days in the case of B1046.

The fastest turnaround time between two launches of the same first stage was achieved in 2018 when SpaceX used the B1045 to launch NASA’s TESS and CRS-15 missions 72 days apart. This year, SpaceX turned around a pair of boosters, B1052 and B1053, for two Falcon Heavy launches 74 days apart.

**** Starship

****** The fully reusable Starship, however,  is the true key to opening up space to development: Op-Ed: The Railroad To Space – SpaceWatch.Global

With vehicles like Starship, the price per kilogram to LEO may drop to something like a few hundred Dollars, even assuming the company does not proactively cut its gross margin. All in all, the drop in average launch cost in the near future vs. recent history may hence well exceed 90%.

This is significant. Industries do not stay the same when their cost drops by an order of magnitude – think e.g. about the internet dropping the cost of accessing consumers’ eyeballs. For a comparison more directly related to transportation (which is what space launches are in the end), we can look back approximately 150 years to the time when railroads were built out to the U.S. West. The railroads allowed far higher passenger and cargo volumes than the previous mode of transportation – stagecoaches – and dropped the cost of reaching the U.S. West by an estimated 85%. The effects were dramatic. California’s population increased from 92597 (first census, in 1850) to 1.485 million in 1900. The real GDP of the United States increased 8.5x over the same timeframe. Transportation stocks exploded to represent up to 60% of the total stock market capitalization in the U.S. The dramatically lower cost of accessing the U.S. West made this possible, by enabling e.g. large-scale settlement and agriculture.

****** SpaceX holds job fair at Boca Chica Beach as work activity expands to a round the clock rate: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk greets Starship Career Day hopefuls at festive event – Teslarati

At present, the SpaceX chief is focused on the construction and assembly of Starship, the new rocket that is intended to fly humanity into deep space. Earlier this week, Musk announced on Twitter that SpaceX will be holding a career day at its Boca Chica facility, with the goal of hiring full-time production staff that can cover four shifts for round-the-clock operations. Musk said he will be at the event himself.

SpaceX also filed an application with the FCC seeking permission to use radio frequencies to communicate with the Starship SN1 prototype on a planned test flight dated for any time between March 16 and September 16.

****** Some highlights of Boca Chica activities over the past few days:

******  SpaceX Boca Chica – VAB construction, Starship SN1 Rings on the MoveNASASpaceflight – YouTube – Feb.8.2020

SpaceX Boca Chica’s new VAB is continuing construction as preps continue on the new Starship SN1 bulkhead, all while rings continue to be staged around the site. Photos and Videos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 Bulkhead FlipNASASpaceflight – YouTube – Feb.9.2020

At SpaceX Boca Chica, the barrel section with bulkhead was flipped in preparation for stacking operations. Photos and Videos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – VAB construction, Starship SN1 Rings on the MoveNASASpaceflight – YouTube – Feb.10.2020

SpaceX Boca Chica’s new VAB is continuing construction as preps continue on the new Starship SN1 bulkhead, all while rings continue to be staged around the site. Photos and Videos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Walking a Starship Ring, SN1 Welds, VABNASASpaceflight – YouTube – Feb11.2020

At SpaceX Boca Chica an apparently scrapped Starship Ring was relocated while welding on the SN1 barrel section continued. More work – via a herd of cranes – on the huge VAB was also conducted. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 gains valves and pressurization systemsNASASpaceflight – YouTube – Feb12.2020

More progress on Starship SN1 as SpaceXers appear to install the opening elements of an autogenous pressurization system, along with valves and potentially thrusters. Meanwhile, the VAB begins work on Tier 3. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

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Space transport roundup – Feb.6.2020

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

[Update 23:00 EST: The OneWeb satellites were successfully deployed into the target orbits: OneWeb successfully launches 34 more satellites into orbit | OneWeb

OneWeb, the global communications company with a mission to bring connectivity to everyone everywhere, today announced the successful launch of 34 satellites, aboard a Soyuz launch vehicle from the historic Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

Lift-off occurred on February 06th at 21:42 pm UTC. The OneWeb satellites separated from the rocket and were dispensed in nine batches over a period of several hours.

This launch is the second successful launch in one of the largest civilian satellite launch campaigns in history. It will help build OneWeb’s phase one constellation of 648 satellites that will deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity, while addressing the world’s most pressing connectivity problems.

The communications company is on schedule to provide global coverage to customers in 2021, starting with the first commercial services in the Arctic this year. This follows OneWeb both securing global priority spectrum rights and successfully launching its first batch of satellites in 2019.

OneWeb’s network will provide a unique combination of high data throughput, low latency, true global coverage and a range of user terminals for multiple markets including maritime, aviation, government and enterprise.

Update 19:06 EST: The Soyuz launch of the OneWeb satellites reached orbit successfully this afternoon (US Eastern time). The Fregat-M upper stage is currently carrying out a series of burns that will culminate in the release of the satellites starting at around 20:30 this evening.:

Although the launch is on a Russian rocket from the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the launch is considered an Arianespace operation due to the collaboration with the Euro-Russian Starsem company. Starsem also launches Soyuz rockets from the Arianespace facility in Kourou, French Guiana.

More about the launch and OneWeb:

*** Transport from space to East Russia took place today as well with the return of a Soyuz capsule from the ISS with NASA astronaut Christina Koch, European astronaut Luca Parmitano, and Aleksandr Skvortsov. Koch set “a record for the longest single spaceflight in history by a woman”.

]

** Three rocket launches coming up soon:

34 OneWeb satellites mounted on deployer for launch on Soyuz rocket. Credits: OneWeb

** The previously launched Cygnus cargo vehicle left the ISS last week:  

**  Astra rocket company comes out of stealth mode as first orbital launch attempt approaches: A Small-Rocket Maker Is Running a Different Kind of Space Race – Bloomberg

Alongside its rocket test building, Astra has been assembling a 250,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that Kemp says will be able to churn out hundreds of rockets a year. “Our strategy is to always focus on the bottom line,” he says. “Nothing is sacred. We’re able to profitably deliver payloads at $2.5 million per launch, and our intent is to continue to lower that price and increase the performance of our system.”

See the timeline of the company’s milestones here.

** Rocket Lab successfully launches first Electron mission of 2020:

In addition to the successful placement of the NRO satellite into orbit, additional progress was made towards the goal of recovering and reusing the Electron first stage:

The re-entry test for ‘Birds of a Feather’ is the second time Rocket Lab has guided an Electron first stage booster down to sea-level, following on from the first successful re-entry test conducted on the ‘Running Out of Fingers’ mission in December 2019. Once again, initial analysis shows the stage made it back to sea-level intact following a guided descent, proving that Electron can withstand the immense heat and forces generated on re-entry.

To guide the stage to a planned splashdown, Electron’s first stage was equipped with on-board guidance and navigation hardware, including S-band telemetry and onboard flight computer systems. The stage was also equipped with a reaction control system to orient the booster 180-degrees for its descent and keep it dynamically stable for the re-entry.

Webcast:

** Virgin Orbit nears first flight of the LauncherOne rocket:

** Virgin Galactic‘s WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft returns to Mojave. The WK2 will to take  SpaceShipTwo Unity to Spaceport America in New Mexico where the SS2 will do some test flights before starting operational flights with paying customers

Here’s a video of the WK2 activities at Mojave via NASASpaceflight.com:

Virgin Galactic’s White Knight 2 mothership does 3 low approaches, 2 touch and go landings and then lands at Mojave Spaceport. Complete with tower audio so you can hear the pilots! With the return of White Knight 2, there will be for a brief time a total of 4 rocket launching planes at MHV, Northrop’s Stargazer, Stratolaunch’s Roc, Virgin Galactic’s White Knight 2, and Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl. If you like this video consider supporting me on Patreon for behind the scenes content, downloads, and more. https://www.patreon.com/jackbeyer

** Progress on construction of the Ariane 6 launch complex:   Ariane 6 launch complex at Europe’s Spaceport – ESA

Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana is gearing up for the arrival of Ariane 6, Europe’s next-generation launch vehicle. This aerial view taken in January 2020 shows the main elements of the new launch complex.

The 8200 tonne 90 metre-high mobile gantry will house Ariane 6 before launch. First in July then again in December 2019, the gantry was rolled along its rails to its prelaunch position over the launch pad. Platforms inside the gantry will allow engineers access to the rocket for integration and maintenance. The mobile gantry is retracted before launch.

Ariane 6 launch complex under construction at the Arianespace spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Credits: ESA

** Update on Firefly Aerospace from CEO Tom Markusic: A Conversation with Dr. Tom Markusic, CEO, Firefly Aerospace – SatMagazine

Firefly is currently completing qualification of the Alpha first stage, our final milestone before the flight vehicle will be prepared for launch. We are looking forward to sharing progress updates as we continue the qualification process, including video of the full mission duty of the Alpha first stage, which starts 2020 on the test stand undergoing final checkouts before hotfire testing begins. Our Vandenberg team is making excellent progress on the launch site and we will be sharing updates as they move into wet dress rehearsals at the launch facility. The first Alpha launch will take place in 2020 from SLC-2W at VAFB.

** Skyrora demos a rocket engine that burns a high-grade fuel made from waste plastics

The fuel called “Ecosene” provides a greener alternative to kerosene. Ecosene produces up to 45% less greenhouse emissions than normal kerosene. The fuel goes through a two step process which transforms the previously landfill waste in to useable fuel to help place earth observation satellites in to orbit to monitor the United Nations sustainability development goals.

** Update on PLD Space of Spain: PLD Space books first suborbital flight, nears resolution of engine setback – SpaceNews.com

Spanish launch startup PLD Space says [it has] secured a second customer for the maiden flight of its Miura 1 reusable suborbital rocket while tackling development issues that prevented the mission from occurring last year.

Pablo Gallego Sanmiguel, PLD Space’s senior vice president of sales and customers, said Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida will fly four student- and faculty-built experiments on Muira 1. Those payloads take the remaining commercial space on the mission, which will also fly two microgravity experiments for the Bremen, Germany-based Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity, also known as ZARM. Half the rocket’s payload space will carry sensors to study its first flight. 

PLD Space planned to launch Miura 1 in 2019, but delayed the rocket’s debut after a “series of test firing anomalies” during engine development, Gallego Sanmiguel said by email. 

** Mid-flight refueling of a spaceplane via another spaceplane to get the first one to orbit: Suborbital refueling: a path not taken – The Space Review

** An overview of options for getting your smallsat into orbit: Rocket Launch Trends Roaring into the 2020s – Planet.com

It’s never been easier to launch satellites into space, and things are only getting better for satellite operators. A multitude of launch vehicles and orbits are available to satellite missions ranging from Kickstarter-funded garage efforts to serious commercial endeavours. Today, we’re recapping some of the most important launch trends of the last decade and reflecting on how they’ll evolve in the 2020s.

A discussion of higher priced direct versus the lower priced indirect route to orbit : Rocket Lab points out that not all rideshare rocket launches are created equal | TechCrunch

** The International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) posts the latest developments and news on space elevators: February 2020 Edition of the ISEC Newsletter

See also this report presented at the IAC 2019 last fall about using space elevators as the key nodes in an interplanetary transportation network: Today’s Space Elevator: Space Elevator Matures into the Galactic Harbour, Peter Swan, Michael Fitzgerald – ISEC (pdf)

The purposes of Earth’s Space Elevators are to 1) deliver cargo to the Enterprises assembling along the geosynchronous belt near the Space Elevator’s GEO Regions; and 2) support interplanetary flights from the APEX Regions; to the Moon, to Mars, and elsewhere.

Since the interplanetary flights from the Apex will use the latent ΔV, (derived from Earth’s rotation – transformed into radial speed at departure from the Apex); Space Elevators are established around the Solar System as part of the Galactic Harbour transportation network. Elevators operate near the Moon, on Mars, on key asteroids within the asteroids belt and elsewhere. We see immense cargo craft moving from Elevator to Elevator bringing supplies and equipment; and returning with raw materials for processing in one of the several GEO regions and later to Earth. This is the third dimension of trade, commerce, transportation, and humankind.

** SpaceX:

** NASA awards contract to SpaceX for launch of the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission in December 2022: NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Earth Science Mission | NASA

NASA has selected SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission.

The total cost for NASA to launch PACE is approximately $80.4 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs. The PACE mission currently is targeted to launch in December 2022 on a Falcon 9 Full Thrust rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The PACE mission represents the nation’s next great investment in understanding and protecting our home planet. The mission will provide global ocean color, cloud, and aerosol data that will provide unprecedented insights into oceanographic and atmospheric responses to Earth’s changing climate. PACE will help scientists investigate the diversity of organisms fueling marine food webs and the U.S. economy, and deliver advanced data products to reduce uncertainties in global climate models and improve our interdisciplinary understanding of the Earth system.

**** SpaceX releases Rideshare Payload Users Guide (pdf). The Smallsat Rideshare Program provides payload space for small satellites on Falcon 9 launches. The a primary payload, typically a batch of the company’s Starlink satellites.

The prices are exceptionally low for smallsats, e.g. $1M for a 200kg satellite to sun synchronous polar orbit. The Rideshare website provides an interactive guide to estimating the cost for a smallsat mission. Reservations can also be made online.

The goal is to provide routine access to space.The launch opportunities will take place at regular intervals:

SSO missions approximately every 4 months.

So if a payload is delayed, it can ride on a subsequent launch.

If your payload is delayed, apply 100% of monies paid toward cost of rebooking on a future mission, subject to a 10% rebooking fee.

Artist’s rendering of the moment of fairing separation for a Rideshare Falcon 9 mission. The smallsat deployment structure has several smallsats attached. Credits: SpaceX

**** Total number of Falcon 9 launches will surpass 100 by end of this year if there are no major failures: SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket expected to reach major launch milestone in 2020 – Teslarati

Hours after SpaceX launched its 240th new Starlink satellite into orbit, Elon Musk took to Twitter to cryptically reveal that the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket could “reach triple digits this year” if everything goes according to plan.

Designed and built by SpaceX in the late 2000s, the Falcon 9 rocket launched for the first time in June 2010. Developed for the unfathomably low price of $300 million from clean-sheet design to first orbital launch, the original single-core Falcon 9 rocket – known as V1.0 – was about 48m (160 ft) tall, weighed 333 metric tons (735,000 lb) fully fueled, and was capable of launching almost 10.5 metric tons (23,000 lb) into low Earth orbit (LEO). Famously, when provided with Falcon 9’s basic specifications and characteristics, an independent NASA study estimated that the rocket’s development would have cost the agency anywhere from $1.7 billion to $4 billion to design and build.

**** Falcon 9 booster for the latest Starlink mission returns from the sea. The booster landed harder than usual but the legs absorbed the impact just fine.

Here is a view of the booster’s return from USLaunchReport:

B1051 is still in excellent shape. The landing legs did their job. Appears to be approx. 5ft lower than normal. Incredible when you think of the force the landing legs must absorb.

**** Starship

****** An overview of the Starship/Super Heavy Booster project presented by Gerald Black at the Mars Society conference held last October:

****** First SN-1 Starship test flight could happen in a couple of months: SpaceX requests permission to fly new Starship rocket on 12-mile-high test flight – The Verge

SpaceX is already planning the next big test flight of its future Starship rocket out of southern Texas. As early as mid-March, the company is hoping to fly a test version of the vehicle to a super high altitude and then land it upright on solid ground, proving the rocket can be reused and potentially touch down on other worlds.

The upcoming test is detailed in new paperwork SpaceX filed with the Federal Communications Commission, which provides licensing to aerospace companies that are hoping to fly their vehicles to space. Specifically, the FCC allocates which radio frequencies companies can use to communicate with their vehicles during flight.

SpaceX notes in its filing that it wants special authority to communicate with its Starship rocket while the vehicle flies to an altitude of 12.4 miles or 20 kilometers — nearly halfway to the edge of space. Starship would take off from SpaceX’s test facility at Boca Chica, Texas, and the company would attempt to land the vehicle near the launch site using the rocket’s Raptor engines. SpaceX also plans to send data of the vehicle’s trajectory to both the Air Force and NASA.

****** To achieve a SN-1 flight so soon, activities are ramping up at Boca Chica Beach. New tanks are being assembled, the stainless steel bands for the main fuselage of the SN-1 Starship are being produced and stacked, several new structures have gone up to protect manufacturing from the elements, the last of the private residents near the site are being bought out to make it less hazardous to carry out tests and launch activities, and new workers are being hired.

See also: SpaceX ramps Starship hiring as Elon Musk talks Texas rocket factory’s “awesome” progress – Teslarati

Here are a series of videos via NASASpaceflight YouTube showing the feverish activities of the past week:

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Test Tank 2 Aftermath – Jan.29.2020

Following what is understood to be a successful test of Starship Test Tank 2, the remains of the tank await removal from the Boca Chica launch site. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Removing the remains of Starship Test Tank 2 – Jan.29.2020

SpaceX engineers entered the launch pad area to begin removing the remains of the Starship Test Tank (2). Meanwhile, new SN1 rings and new construction continues to be on show in Boca Chica. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – New Starship Header Tank – Launch Site Repairs – Jan.29.2020

While the dismantling of the Test Tank takes place, along with launch mount repairs, a new Starship SN1 Header Tank was spotted in the assembly building. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Launch Site cleared for SN1 – Starship Fins Appearance – Jan.31.2020

ork on clearing the Boca Chica Starship launch pad is continuing with Test Tank 2 dismantling – including a surprise appearance from two Starship Fins (likely Mk1) – clearing the way for SN1. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 Ring Stacking – Huge Windbreak Construction – Feb.1.2020

Signs Starship SN1 is undergoing ring stacking observed at Boca Chica as SpaceX build a very tall assembly/windbreak facility and clear the launch pad of test hardware. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF, with additional photos from NSF’s Nomadd.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 Rings Mass Production – Feb.3.2020

A large number of monolithic steel rings are being produced at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility, ready to become part of the stack for the SN1 Starship. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 Welding – Launch Site Preps – Feb.4.2020

With Starship SN1 literally months away from a potential launch, SpaceX workers have been busy welding steel rings together and preparing the launch site for her arrival. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

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Space transport roundup – June.29.2020

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

** SpaceX successfully launched a fourth batch of 60 Starlink satellites today from Cape Canaveral. The first stage booster landed safely and one of the two nosecone fairings was caught in a net on a ship as well. The other fairing had a soft landing near a second ship and will probably be recovered for possible reuse.

See also

More SpaceX items below.

** Spinlaunch and its centrifugal catapult launch system are described in the most detailed public article released so far for the secretive company: Inside SpinLaunch, the Space Industry’s Best Kept Secret | WIRED

In SpinLaunch’s design, once a rocket is spinning at launch speeds, an exit port in the centrifuge will open for a fraction of a second, sending the rocket shooting out. According to patents filed by the company, a counterbalance spinning opposite the rocket gets released at the same time, preventing the tether from becoming unbalanced and vibrating into oblivion. The rocket coasts for about a minute and ignites its engines at roughly 200,000 feet. At that altitude, there’s hardly any atmosphere pushing against the rocket, so a minute-long engine burn is about all it takes to boost the vehicle to orbital speeds of around 17,500 miles an hour. Another burn, this one lasting just ten seconds, helps the rocket slide into orbit around Earth.

Or so [Spinlaunch founder and chief Jonathan] Yaney assures me. When I visited the company, the prototype centrifuge was still in pieces and Yaney wouldn’t show me any videos of it in action. Instead, he insisted the math of SpinLaunch engineers was solid. Major investors—including Airbus Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, and GV (part of Alphabet)—have given their blessing too, pumping $80 million into the company. And last year, the US Department of Defense awarded SpinLaunch a contract to help develop its centrifuge. Still, the scant public evidence that any of it works leaves much to the imagination.

** Blue Origin to use Air Force facility to test BE-7 lunar lander engine. Blue will fund major improvements to the site located on Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The Air Force Research Laboratory and Blue Origin are developing a new test facility for the Blue Origin BE-7 lunar lander engine at the AFRL rocket lab here.

Capital improvements, funded by Blue Origin, will allow BE-7 testing in a simulated space-like environment. Planned work includes adding liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant capabilities, along with other facility upgrades.

AFRL and Blue Origin signed a 15-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement Dec. 11, 2019 to develop a test facility for the Blue Origin BE-7 Lunar Lander Engine here. The CRADA was signed by Dr. Shawn Phillips, chief of the Rocket Propulsion Division, and Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin.

The BE-7 engine is a new, high performance 10,000 pound-thrust dual-expander cycle engine for in-space applications, including Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander. The new AFRL test capabilities will support various development, qualification, and production acceptance tests of the BE-7 engine under future Commercial Test Agreements, also to be funded by Blue Origin.

“The Altitude facility at Edwards Air Force Base, California, does tactical scale research on next generation rocket motor and engine components, propellant formulations, and subsystems; and high vacuum research on satellite components, subsystems, and systems. Research testing includes solid rocket motor testing at simulated altitudes up to 120,000 feet. The complex has been used for space simulation to validate thrust vector control systems, baseline a standard for solid rocket motor propellants, research extendable nozzle cones, and systems, and research space qualified ignition systems.” Credits: AFRL

** Rocket Lab set to launch Birds of a Feather mission with NRO smallsat during window that opens Friday, Jan.31st:

Rocket Lab’s 11th Electron flight – Birds of a Feather – will launch a dedicated mission for the United States National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The launch window is scheduled to open on 31 January NZDT and the mission will lift off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1.

The NRO competitively awarded the contract under the Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract vehicle. RASR allows the NRO to explore new launch opportunities that can provide a streamlined, commercial approach for getting small satellites into space.

See also

** An update on Exodus Space Corp and the Astroclipper orbital spaceplane:

AstroClipper first stage detaching from the upper stage. Credits: Exodus Aerospace

Space.com:

Startup Exodus Space Corp. plans to build a space plane to ferry cargo around Earth. Eventually, that cargo could include people, if the spacecraft is deemed safe enough.

The spaceship — called AstroClipper — will take off from a runaway, make a flight into space and then land again, plane-style. A heft booster at the space plane’s back end will help it get into orbit by giving AstroClipper the speed it requires to break out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Exodus is new and still raising money, but its team includes deep experience across the space industry. Principals at the company have worked at SpaceX, Lockheed Martin and NASA, among others. 

AstroClipper - Exodus Space
The flight sequence for the Exodus Space AstroClipper reusable launch system. Credits: Exodus Space

** A NASA KSC video highlights the Commercial Crew program:

NASA and Commercial Crew Program partners Boeing and SpaceX are preparing to launch astronauts from Florida’s Space Coast.

** Misc. rocket items:

** SpaceX:

**** Crew Dragon abort test flight accomplished all the primary mission goals according to results released so far: SpaceX releases preliminary results from Crew Dragon abort test – Spaceflight Now

Data from the Jan. 19 in-flight launch escape demonstration of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft indicate the performance of the capsule’s SuperDraco abort engines was “flawless” as the thrusters boosted the ship away from the top of a Falcon 9 rocket with a peak acceleration of about 3.3Gs, officials said Thursday.

The Jan. 19 test demonstrated the Crew Dragon’s ability to safely carry astronauts away from a launch emergency, such as a rocket failure, and return the crew to a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

**** Starship

****** SpaceX conducted multiple pressure tests on propellant tanks in the past several days at the Boca Chica Beach facility. These included tests on a prototype nosecone tank and on a second large main propulsion tank. (The nosecone header tank is used to keep the center of mass of the Starship positioned correctly as propellants are fed into the engines.) The tanks were each tested to the point of destruction so as to determine the margin of safety above their planned operating pressures. The latest large tank test used liquid nitrogen, whose cryogenic temperature strengthens the stainless steel structure. The tank did not burst until the pressure reached 8.5 bar, which Elon Musk said was the target level. The highest operating pressure will be 6 bar.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Test Tank 2 Destructive Cryo Test – Jan.29.2020 – NASASpaceflight.com

The second Starship test tank is tested to overpressure (8.5 Bar) at SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Nosecone Heads to Launch Site – Bulkhead Flip – Jan.23.2020 – NASASpaceflight.com

Ops are ramping up at SpaceX Boca Chica as the Test Tank bulkhead was flipped and the Starship Nosecone/Header Tank was transported to the launch site for its own proofing test. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Header Tank Pressurization Test – Jan.25.2020 – NASASpaceflight.com

SpaceX conducted a pressurization test of a Starship header tank on Jan. 24 at their Boca Chica launch facility. NSF’s BocaChicaGal (Mary) filmed the test for several hours. The footage has been compiled into a timelapse of the test.

****** A Starship lands on the Moon in this nicely made animation at Hazegrayart – YouTube:

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Space transport roundup – Jan.23.2020

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

** Space X set to launch Falcon 9 with 60 more Starlink satellites this week  but the launch day depends on the weather conditions at both the Cape and the area in the Atlantic where the booster will land. Keeping launch costs as low as possible is crucial for the economic viability of the Starlink enterprise, which will involve launching thousands of satellites. And that means recovering and reusing the boosters is very important. Today, SpaceX said they were now targeting Monday for liftoff:

The on-pad test firing of the engines took place successfully last Monday:

See also:

More SpaceX items below including the latest on Sunday’s successful in-flight abort test.

** Rocket Labs‘s next Electron launch will take a NRO spysat into orbit: Rocket Lab To Launch National Reconnaissance Office Mission – Rocket Lab

See also: Rocket Lab announces NRO mission as agency diversifies launch providers – NASASpaceFlight.com

Rocket Lab has announced its first mission of 2020 – a dedicated launch for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Their workhorse Electron rocket, launching from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, will loft the classified NROL-151 satellite to an unknown orbit. The mission was awarded by the NRO as part of their Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) program, with the goal of increasing the amount of small-lift launch providers they can choose from.

This mission will be Rocket Lab’s first launch for the NRO. The mission was nicknamed “Birds of a Feather”, likely referencing the Kiwi and Eagle, the national birds of the two involved countries.

Due to the classified nature of this launch, very few details have been made public. NROL-151’s purpose, orbit, size, and other specifications are unknown.

** A fuel leak during a static engine test by Firefly Aerospace resulted in a small fire at their Texas test facility but the company says there were no injuries or major damage to the pad or the Alpha rocket booster: Firefly confirms ‘anomaly’ and fire during first stage hotfire test – Spaceflight Now

Officials later clarified that no explosion occurred. Tom Markusic, Firefly’s CEO, told KXAN — the NBC television affiliate in Austin — that a fuel leak resulted in a small fire on the test stand.

Firefly was gearing up for the first in a series of full-scale first stage hotfire tests on a vertical stand in Briggs. The first stage of Firefly’s Alpha launcher, which the company previously said could be ready for a first flight this spring, is powered by four Firefly-built Reaver engines consuming kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants.

The company said Dec. 30 that qualification testing of the Alpha launcher’s first stage had started. The first stage is the last major piece of Firefly’s privately-developed launcher to undergo qualification testing, and the test campaign was expected to include multiple test-firings.

[ Update: More about the incident: Firefly Aerospace statement – Firefly Aerospace on LinkedIn

]

Here is a top down view of their Texas test facility:

And a recent photo of the booster on the pad:

Firefly Alpha first stage on test stand in Briggs, Texas. Credits: Firefly

** Boeing ends DARPA sponsored XS-1 reusable rocket project: Boeing drops out of DARPA Experimental Spaceplane program – SpaceNews.com

Boeing won the competition over teams led by Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems and Masten Space Systems to build a rocket vehicle with a reusable first stage that could put 3000 lbs (1360)  into low earth orbit and be prepared for another flight in a short time. The key program goal was to demonstrate that the vehicle could fly everyday for ten straight days. It would then be up to Boeing to continue to offer the vehicle for operational satellite launch missions.

Boeing’s Phantom Express entry in DARPA XS-1 program. The winged first stage could be re-flown after a one day turnaround. The expendable upper stage would place a smallsat into low earth orbit.. Credits: Boeing

The USAF procurement establishment has tried to bring in smaller companies like Masten to compete with the big legacy aerospace behemoths on this sort of modest sized technology project. And sometimes a small firm actually makes it to the second phase in the process. However, the legacy giant still almost always wins the final round since it gets the check-boxes marked for greatest depth of engineering talent, experience, and resources. Unfortunately, this ignores the fact that the project will be assigned a low priority by the giant. The opposite is true for the small company, which most likely needs the project to succeed if it is to stay in business.

See also DARPA says Boeing is pulling out of Phantom Express space plane program – GeekWire.

** Stratolaunch grows as it seeks markets for the company’s gigantic airplane:

As Stratolaunch ramps up operations after being sold last year, it says it remains interested in providing launch services as well as supporting hypersonic vehicles.

In a Jan. 21 statement to SpaceNews, Stratolaunch spokesperson Art Pettigrue confirmed the company was interested in “reliable, routine access to space” while also confirming the company was interested in hypersonics research.

“Stratolaunch is exploring the development of aerospace vehicles and technologies, including the need for reliable, routine access to space,” Pettigrue said. “This exploration includes the need to significantly advance the nation’s ability to design and operate hypersonic vehicles.”

** Dawn Aerospace expands from smallsat thrusters to smallsat launchers: Satellite propulsion startup Dawn Aerospace developing small launch vehicle – SpaceNews.com

Dawn Aerospace is commercializing thrusters that use nitrous oxide and propene instead of hydrazine. Its 5-pound-force thruster is produced without components restricted by U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations, according to the company. 

Wink said Dawn Aerospace built three flight-ready propulsion systems for cubesats in 2019, and eight larger thrusters for microsatellites. This year the company aims to build 50 cubesat thrusters and 100 microsat thrusters, he said. 

Dawn Aerospace is using revenues from those sales to develop a drone-launched rocket system. Rea said the uncrewed spaceplane would fly above 100 kilometers, reaching a speed of 4-kilometers per second. An expendable two-stage rocket would then vault “several hundred kilograms” into low Earth orbit, Wink said. 

** NASA and Boeing examining Starliner thruster performance on test flight: Starliner’s thruster performance receiving close scrutiny from NASA | Ars Technica

A NASA press release following the test discussed investigations into the timing issue that led to the failure to rendezvous with the ISS and into whether another uncrewed test flight was needed. The release

… did not mention thruster performance, but an agency source told Ars that engineers are looking closely at the performance of the Starliner propulsion system. In addition to four large launch abort engines, the service module has 28 reaction control system thrusters, each with 85 pounds of thrust and 20 more-powerful orbital maneuvering thrusters, each with 1,500 pounds of thrust.

During the post-flight news conference Jim Chilton, Boeing’s senior vice president of the Space and Launch division, said the service module thrusters were stressed due to their unconventional use in raising Starliner’s orbit instead of performing one big burn. As a result, the company had to shut down one manifold, which effectively branches into several lines carrying propellant to four thrusters. “We even shut down one manifold as we saw pressure go low ’cause it had been used a lot,” he said.

The NASA source said eight or more thrusters on the service module failed at one point and that one thruster never fired at all.

In response to a question about thruster performance, Boeing provided the following statement to Ars: “After the anomaly, many of the elements of the propulsion system were overstressed, with some thrusters exceeding the planned number of burns for a service module mission. We took a few cautionary measures to make sure the propulsion system stayed healthy for the remainder of the mission, including re-pressurizing the manifold, recovering that manifold’s thrusters. Over the course of the mission we turned off 13 thrusters and turned all but one back on after verifying their health.”

** UP Aerospace developing Spyder orbital rocket: Spaceport vertical launch area bustling with activity – Albuquerque Journal

UP expects to reach another milestone in February, when it conducts static ground tests on four different solid-propellant rocket motors it’s built at the spaceport to propel a new, four-stage, satellite-carrying rocket called the Spyder into low earth orbit, Larson said. Up has been developing Spyder for about five years in cooperation with NASA to offer a reusable, low-cost alternative to rapidly launch satellites.

“It will be a huge milestone for us when we static test all four motors,” Larson said. “We’ll lock up the technology and work out all the bugs.”

The orbital Spyder system won’t fly from the spaceport, because with four stages, some of the boosters could fall back to earth over potentially inhabited areas, Larson said. Rather, it will fly from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Virginia’s Wallops Island, where depleted stages can fall into the ocean.

But UP is also developing a suborbital version of the Spyder that will fly from the spaceport.

** History of the OTRAG clustered rocket concept:

** Here is a reminder of the single stage to orbit (SSTO) rocket from Pat Bahn of TGV Rockets and space analyst Tim Kyger: Op-ed | A Space Force needs spaceships – SpaceNews.com

In the 1990s, NASA identified three critical technology needed to make an SSTO spacecraft achievable:

(1) advanced composite materials;

(2) altitude compensating engines; and

(3) tri-propellant engines.

The required advanced composites materials have largely been developed over the past 25 years, as witness the improved aluminum alloys and more advanced carbon composites now available. The altitude-compensating engines are needed to so that one engine can both take off in the atmosphere and make orbit in a vacuum. NASA made progress on this with the one-third scale Lockheed Martin X-33 and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is currently investigating aerospike nozzles with the Affordable Responsive Modular Rocket (ARMR) Program. What has been lacking is the tri-propellant propulsion technology for SSTO-RLVs.

Entrepreneurial firms, such as TGV, have proposed novel approaches to the challenges of an SSTO-RLV. These innovations include new ways of approaching a tri-propellant engine, novel engine nozzles for altitude compensation, and new launch sites for more flexibility. Engineering for reliability, deep throttling, landing, and imaginative systems engineering are currently needed to improve the mass fraction and operability of a practical SSTO-RLV. These technologies are ready to be developed and brought into routine use in a reasonable time frame.

** SpaceX:

**** Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully escaped from a failing Falcon 9 booster shortly after launch from Pad 39A at KSC last Sunday. The in-flight abort (IFA) demonstration was the final major test flight before a Crew Dragon can carry astronauts to the ISS. There remain a couple of tests of the complete parachute system plus lots of reviews of IFA data, spacecraft and launcher systems, etc. The earliest that a Dragon will take a crew to the Station is late March but it might slip to late June.

Some videos of the IFA test:

Crew Dragon Launch Escape Demonstration

Crew Dragon Launch Escape Demonstration

Return of the Dragon:

The trunk was not expected to survive the long fall: SpaceX surprises after recovering spacecraft ‘trunk’ in one piece – Teslarati

Misc. articles:

**** The post-flight press conference:

**** SpaceX may eventually try to catch a Crew Dragon with a net as they are currently trying to perfect for the fairings during satellite launches:

More here: Elon Musk says SpaceX could catch Crew Dragon and NASA astronauts with a giant net – Teslarati.

This is not the first time Musk has mentioned such a plan. Back in February 2018, he noted that SpaceX ship Mr. Steven (now Ms. Tree), designed to catch parasailing fairing halves out of the air, “might be able to do the same thing with Dragon — if NASA wants us to, we can try to catch Dragon.” The motivation behind catching Dragon – instead of fishing it out of the Atlantic Ocean – is effectively the same reason that SpaceX is trying to routinely catch Falcon fairings: it’s much easier to reuse aerospace hardware that hasn’t been dunked and soaked in saltwater.

Of course, Musk cautioned that SpaceX would only pursue Dragon catches if NASA were open to the idea – the space agency’s conservatism is already largely responsible for the death of propulsive Crew Dragon landing, also intended to make spacecraft reuse much easier. Additionally, the CEO qualified his comments by noting that SpaceX would attempt to catch Crew Dragon only after Falcon fairing halves are being routinely and reliably caught.

**** Starship

****** Elon Musk comments on Starship plans during informal session with media following NASA’s press briefing on the abort test.

Items of interest:

  • Planned to fly later that day to Boca Chica to work with the team there.
  • Expects there to be a lengthy period of overlap with Starship, Falcon 9, Crew Dragon, and Falcon Heavy all operating.
  • Making very good progress on the Raptor engines.
    • Just finished the SN-20 unit.
    • Rate of production is increasing.
    • Each has incorporated improvements and expects these to continue up through SN-50
  • Structure development going more slowly. Will focus on that while at Boca Chica.
    • The tank domes might seem a trivial issue but attaching them such that they can withstand the required pressures is a terrifically difficult problem.
    • Listed various other structure items including the interfaces between the tanks, landing legs, heat shield, etc.
    • Orbital propellant refilling is a crucial capability and very difficult. Precision rendezvous and docking of two Starships is similar to docking two big space stations.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Feeding the Starship Ring Making Machine – Jan.20.2020 – NASASpaceflight Channel

With Elon on site and buildings continuing to rise out of the ground, Starship SN1 Steel Rings were again on show, some being scrapped while the monolithic machine was being fed with more steel. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Facility Expansion Continues – Jan.21.2020 – NASASpaceflight Channel

More new buildings are about to be added to SpaceX Boca Chica’s facilities, alongside current and under-construction buildings. Not only a launch site, this is also a rocket (Starship) factory. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Preparing for New Starship Tank Test (Bopper 2.0) – Jan.22.2020 – NASASpaceflight Channel

SpaceX Boca Chica has been relocating test stands and mounts ahead of the transportation of the new Test Tank (fan dubbed Bopper 2.0) to the launch site for proof testing. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Night Ops – Bulkhead Lift – Nose Cone Welding – Jan.23.2020 – NASASpaceflight Channel

SpaceX worked through the night to prepare the new test tank by moving the first bulkhead out of the new production facility, while welding ops continued on the Starship SN1 Nosecone. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** A place to build starships away from the weather:

See also SpaceX Starship factory churning out new rocket parts with Elon Musk’s help – Teslarati.

SpaceX’s South Texas team of Starship engineers and technicians – including CEO Elon Musk himself – are working around the clock to manufacture hardware that will likely become the company’s next Starship prototype in the near future.

Over the last few days, SpaceX has made quick progress churning out shiny steel rings and wrapping up propellant tank domes – the next round of full-scale Starship hardware. To better build the first flight and orbit-capable prototypes, not to mention hundreds or even thousands of Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy boosters in the years to come, SpaceX teams and contractors have spent the last two months aggressively expanding the company’s Boca Chica, Texas facilities. In fact, the very same company that built Tesla’s newest tent-based Model 3 assembly line – Sprung Instant Structures – has erected part of a massive, new Starship factory.

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