Category Archives: Chinese space

Roundup: Reusable Rocket Vehicles – March.2024

I’ve gathered here recent news and updates on reusable rocket powered vehicles in operation and in development. Check out previous roundups:

Rocket reusability will lead to space transports with aircraft-like operation. That is, orbital flight and return followed by rapid reflight with minimal preparation. Vehicles should fly thousands of times with only occasional refurbishment and, most importantly, spacefare should fall to levels similar to long distance airfare.

Reusable rocket powered vehicle designs fall roughly into the following five categories:

  1. Partially reusable orbital transport:
  2. Fully reusable orbital transport:
  3. Reusable spacecraft: (incl. space tugs, fuel depots, etc.):

  4. Fully reusable suborbital:
  5. Fully reusable hypersonic suborbital for long distance point-to-point transport:

Below are reports on several projects and programs that fall into at least one of these categories.

** SpaceX Starship –  Third test flight shows major progress

—- The third orbital test flight (OFT-3) successfully demonstrated several key Starship capabilities

On March 14th, SpaceX flew a Starship for the third time. The flight test fulfilled a number of goals beyond those accomplished in the previous two flights. See this SpaceX overview: Starship’s Third Flight Test | SpaceX – Mar.14.2024

OFT-3 highlights:

  • For second time, all 33 Raptor engines on the Super Heavy booster fired from liftoff through hot-stage separation.
  • The separation again went well, with the Starship upper stage successfully lighting its six Raptors and continuing towards orbit.
  • After the hot-stage separation:
    • The booster did a flip maneuver and completed a boostback burn to propel itself towards the splashdown target in the Gulf. In the second test flight, while the booster was orienting itself for the boostback burn, its engines began to turn off and one blew up, destroying the entire vehicle.
    • As the the booster neared the surface of the Gulf, it began to light up engines for a soft landing onto the Gulf waters and then sink to the bottom. At a few hundred meters above the surface, something happened and “the vehicle experienced a RUD (that’s SpaceX-speak for “rapid unscheduled disassembly”)“. As of the time of this posting, SpaceX has not revealed what caused the RUD.
  • Following the separation, the Starship upper stage continued firing its engines for the full duration and reached a near orbital velocity when the engines were shut down.
  • Video imagery via Starlink showed the vehicle rotating slowly around its long axis.
  • SpaceX planned to fire a Raptor to demonstrate a powered de-orbit  but they canceled the firing due to the rotation.
  • The orbit had a low perigee that brought it into the atmosphere and caused Starship to reenter over the Indian Ocean even without the de-orbit engine thrust.
  • As the vehicle entered the atmosphere, the video displayed the bright glow of the hot gasses around the vehicle.
  • The vehicle struggled to maintain its orientation and began tumbling. Eventually the video and data connection died and presumably the breakup of the vehicle began soon after.

During the coast phase in orbit, two important tests were carried out:

  • Opening and closing the Starship’s payload door, which will be needed for Starlink Gen 2 satellite deployments.
  • A propellant transfer demonstration.

—- FAA suspends Starship license until an investigation into the problems of this flight is completed. This happens automatically if there is any variation from the approved flight plan significant enough to be classified as a mishap:

The mishap investigation should not significantly increase the time to the launch of the fourth Starship since both stages achieved their primary goals and the problems were not as serious as for the first two test flights. SpaceX will actually do the investigating and the FAA will then evaluate the results. If they are deemed satisfactory, the FAA issues a statement about the completion of the investigation and sometime after that they issue a modification to the current launch license that approves another flight.

It should be pointed out that the Starship is basically operational now as an expendable launch vehicle. The boosters functioned properly through stage separation and the second stage on OFT-3 would have reached a full orbit with just a brief extension of the firing of the Raptors. Reusability, however, is key to SpaceX’s plans for the vehicle and it won’t be declared operational until the booster does a soft landing and the Starship stage survives reentry and makes a soft landing as well.

—- SpaceX expects to be ready for 4th test flight by early May: SpaceX planning rapid turnaround for next Starship flight | SpaceNews – Mar.19.2024

Speaking at the Satellite 2024 conference March 19, Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said the company was still reviewing the data from the vehicle’s third integrated launch March 14 but expected to be ready to fly again soon.

“We’re still going through the data” from the flight, she said when asked about the analysis of data from the mission. “It was an incredibly successful flight. We hit exactly where we wanted to go.”

“We’ll figure out what happened on both stages,” she said, not discussing what may have gone wrong with either, “and get back to flight hopefully in about six weeks,” or early May.

Shotwell doubted they would launch any Starlink satellites during the mission.

Speaking at the Space Capitol III event by Payload March 18, Kelvin Coleman, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said he did not anticipate that investigation to turn up any major issues that could significantly delay the next launch.

The FAA also hopes to move soon to a license that covers multiples flights

… Coleman said the agency wants to move to a process where the license is valid for “portfolio of launches” rather than individual ones. That is particularly important, he added, because SpaceX is planning six to nine more Starship launches this year.

That is part of a broader effort to streamline the launch licensing process to address criticism from industry and Congress that the FAA is moving too slowly on approving launch licenses under a new set of regulations known as Part 450. …

Preparations for the fourth test are underway: Following IFT-3 milestones, SpaceX prepares for fourth Starship flight | – Mar.22.2024

SpaceX is preparing to follow up its third flight of Starship – one that achieved another leap forward with the world’s largest rocket in history – with the IFT-4 mission. Potentially as early as May, the fourth flight is expected to pair Booster 11 with Ship 29, with the latter already back at the launch site for its Static Fire test campaign.

A static firing test of the 6 Raptor engines on Ship 29 took place on March 25th :

—- Another test firing, this time of only one engine, took place on March 27th. This presumably tests for a de-orbit firing.

—- OFT-3 Videos:

  • Launch through booster landing attempt and shutdown of Starship upper stage engines: Blastoff! SpaceX Starship launches to space on 3rd integrated test flightVideoFromSpace

  • Starship entry into the atmosphere: Wow! Watch SpaceX Starship re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in these incredible viewsVideoFromSpace

Enjoy this incredible audio and video from the launch pad and various locations of the most powerful rocket to ever fly, SpaceX’s Starship on its third integrated flight test, IFT3! 4K slow motion captured on various ZCam’s, BlackMagic 12K Ursa, RED Komodo X and G2 4.6K with SIGMA lenses and Meade Telescopes.

SpaceX’s third launch of Starship took place on March 14th, 2024, from Starbase, TX. Both the Super Heavy booster and the Starship upper stage completed their full duration burn placing them on nominal trajectories. However, neither survived their full reentry or landing tests.

A fresh view of flight three along with some imagery of the aftermath. Plus, a new barrel section for Booster 14 outside the Mega Bay and work on the segments of the second tower continues at the Sanchez lot.

More about the test:

—- Starship activity at Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center

There has been little activity visible in the past few months at the Starship launch tower built at launch complex 39A. However, in the past week or so there has been some work around the pillars of the orbital launch mount and one was taken down. No word yet on what is the plan for the mount.

—- More Starship related articles, reports, and other web resources.

For background on Starship see the SpaceX Starship report, which is published by NewSpace Global and for which I was the primary author. The initial version came out in March 2023 and then we updated it in May to include coverage of the first flight test.


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

The latest issue:
Starlink’s Progress, Vulcan, Moon Landing Attempts
Vol. 19, No. 1, February 2, 2024

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** SpaceX Falcon Rockets & Dragon Spacecraft

SpaceX Falcon 9 boosters have achieved 258 reflights and 288 landings as the morning of Mar.24.2024.

—- Overview of booster recovery at sea: Revolutionizing Rocket Reusability – SpaceX’s Mini NavyNASASpaceflight

The vital role of Autonomous Spaceport Droneships (ASDS) in revolutionizing rocket reusability. In this detailed video, we unravel the necessity of droneships for high-performance missions, the evolution of these marine marvels, and the unique technology that sets them apart from ordinary barges. Discover how SpaceX’s marine assets contribute to their mission success, defy conventional recovery methods, and what the future holds for these floating launch pads. Whether you’re a space enthusiast or curious about marine engineering, this video is packed with insights into the intersection of aerospace and maritime technology. Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe for more space exploration content!

—- Bahamas to host a SpaceX droneship used for F9 booster landings:   Ministry of Tourism, Investments & Aviation Secures Historic Agreement with SpaceX to Propel Bahamas into the Space Technology & Tourism Frontier | The Official Website of The Bahamas – Feb.16.2024

The LOA [Letter of Intent] establishes a strategic collaboration that positions The Bahamas as a global destination for witnessing booster landings.

SpaceX, a pioneer in space exploration, is currently finalizing mission designs where one of the company’s autonomous droneships will serve as a Falcon 9 landing location east of The Exumas, offering a spectacle that will be visible only in The Bahamas. This unique opportunity sets the stage for tourists to witness awe-inspiring space events from cruise ships, resorts, and various tourist hotspots, solidifying The Bahamas’ position as a key player in the emerging space tourism industry.

The exclusive visibility of rocket landings on an autonomous droneship from various Bahamian islands distinguishes this destination as the only one of its kind worldwide.

—- Polaris DawnDevelopment progress “heating up”

** Blue Origin New GlennFirst stage tank tests completed

—- Cryo tests of first stage tanks completed on SL-36 pad: New Glenn completes initial cryogenic testing at Launch Complex 36 | – Mar.6.2024

In late February and early March, Blue successfully carried out three cryogenic propellant filling tests of the New Glenn first stage on the pad at Launch Complex 36. This was the first time a full stack of first and second stages with functional hardware had been rolled to the pad.

After the tanking tests, the stack was rolled back to the integration facility to prepare for returning to the pad for static firing tests of the seven BE-4 engines on the first stage. Several upper stages are in development for the flight tests expected to start late this year.

Blue is planning for an initial fleet of four boosters, as each New Glenn first stage is intended to be reused at least 25 times. With experience gained from 22 successful propulsive landings of New Shepard’s propulsion module, it is not unreasonable that Blue will be able to achieve its goal of successfully landing New Glenn’s first stage on the maiden launch. However, a landing platform is yet to be seen after the company scrapped its Jacklyn ship in 2022 in favor of a more simplified barge-like system.

A reusable second stage appears to remain a goal:

Blue Origin recently filed updated site plans for LC-36 as part of a permit to upgrade the facility. Included in the plans was a new site at the northeast corner of the complex, referred to as an MKX Test Stand. With propellant lines running to this site from the pad’s main tank farm, this could be a new test stand to support the development of the company’s Clipper program, which aims to be a reusable second stage for New Glenn. It is also possible that the area may be related to Blue’s lunar lander program, as there are two variants of the Blue Moon lander — MK1 and MK2.

—- Reusablity a top priority:

—-  BE-4 engines tested in Huntsville on a famous test stand: Test Stand 4670: Building on a Legacy

Once a pivotal platform for the testing of Saturn V and Space Shuttle engines, Test Stand 4670 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, has witnessed the power of innovation and the spirit of exploration. Experience the transformation of Test Stand 4670 as this historic site has come back to life, blending the rich heritage of NASA’s golden era with the cutting-edge technology of today testing our BE-4 and BE-3U engines. The rumble is back in the Rocket City.

—- Crew vehicle Blue developing reusable crew transport vehicle

With the New Glenn moving towards its first launch this year, development of a crew vehicle to go to space on it is becoming a priority: Blue Origin is getting serious about developing a human spacecraft | Ars Technica

For a time, the crew project was on the back burner, but it has now become a major initiative within Blue Origin, with the company hiring staff to develop the vehicle.

The first public hint of this renewed interest came last June, when NASA announced that Blue Origin was one of seven companies to sign an unfunded Space Act Agreement to design advanced commercial space projects. Later, in a document explaining this selection process, NASA revealed that Blue Origin was working on a “commercial space transportation system.” This included a reusable spacecraft that would launch on the New Glenn rocket.

No debut date for the crew vehicle released yet but more information is likely to be released by Blue later this year.

** Sierra Space Dream Chaser in final tests before launch

—- Thermal vacuum testing in Ohio:

—- Vibration test report: Dream Chaser Spaceplane Environmental Test Campaign at NASA Armstrong Test Facility – Feb.27.2024

The Dream Chaser spaceplane is running through it’s environmental test campaign at NASA Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio. These critical tests will ensure Dream Chaser is ready for the launch pad later this year for the NASA CRS-2 Mission to the International Space Station.

** Rocket LabUpdate

Here are some recent items about Rocket Lab. The company still says the first Neutron launch will happen this year:

** Stoke SpaceFull scale second stage prototype propulsion system

—- Prototype second stage with 30 thrusters undergoing static firing tests: Stoke Space continues to test reusable second stage, looks ahead to full rocket | – Mar.7.2024

The upper stage of the Stoke fully reusable rocket, now named Nova, uses an innovative design combining a capsule-like heat shield with a ring of thrusters along the outer edge. Previously, a prototype with 15 thrusters underwent static firings and then powered a short flight of the Hopper 2 demonstrator.

The hydrogen fuel for the thrusters first travels through passages in the heat shield to cool it before going into the combustion chambers of the thrusters.  The company is now testing a ring of 30 thrusters as will be used on the operational stage.

Stoke Space also clarified, “Our heat shield is engineered for active cooling at multiple critical mission stages, ensuring optimal protection, performance, and mobility to, through, and from space.”

When asked whether there were any specific engineering issues with pumping the hydrogen through the longer-than-usual channels, the company responded, “We’ve encountered no significant challenges in this regard. Engine test and Hopper flight data validated analytical predictions made by our in-house tools, confirming the ability to manage these requirements.”

Differential throttling of the thrusters provides control of the orientation and direction of the vehicle:

“All of those thrusters have individual throttle control ability,” [Stoke CEO Andy] Lapsa said. “They actually have throttle control in two different places. One is with the pumps, so the bulk engine thrust can be throttled. Then the relative thrust from one side to the other can be managed by the individual thrusters.”

The goal is 24 hour turnaround between orbital flights of Nova. The company sees delivery of satellites and other payloads to space as a viable market and also the capture and return to earth of spacecraft at end of their working life or that have become derelicts.

** Relativity Space– Progress in Terran R development

—- Recent tests of thrust chamber for Aeon R engines that will power the Terran R rocket: Aeon R Thrust Chamber Assembly Testing | NASA StennisRelativity Space/YouTube – Mar.19.2024

2 weeks. 18 hot fires. 335 seconds of blue fire. The team closed out another round of Aeon R thrust chamber assembly (TCA) testing, screening 4 different injector designs and ramping up full-power high mixture-ratio (MR) testing.

Hats off to the crew for executing 2+ hotfires each day with precision, speed, and nimbleness.

—- Reusable engine turbopumps: A video about the development of the liquid oxygen and methane turbopumps for the Aeon engines to power the reusable Terran R rocket:  Relatively Speaking: Aeon R Turbopumps ExplainedRelativity Space/YouTube – Feb 27, 2024.

We’re taking a deep dive into Aeon R’s turbopumps, the heart of Aeon R. With additive manufacturing, we’re refining our turbopump design, reducing parts and enhancing efficiency. Hear directly from the team on our approach to design, testing, and iteration.

0:00 – 0:27 Turbopumps explained
0:28: -1:14 Dual Shaft system explained
1:15 – 1:29 What makes our turbopump unique
1:30 – 2:16 Long Beach Component Test Yard
2:17 – 2:42 Testing turbopumps
2:43 –3:01 Benefits of testing in our backyard
3:02 – 3:50 Collaborative teams

 Learn more about Aeon R:

** Introducing: Ascender H1 Variant Orbital AirshipJohn Powell

John Powell of JP Aerospace gives an update on the company’s long running Airship To Orbit (ATO) program:

This is the newest version of the Ascender orbit airship designed to carry cargo to space. It’s the final stage of ATO, the airship to orbit program. The H1 is the latest update in development of this class of vehicle and the directly result of decades of development and test flights. ATO is changing the very nature of space travel.

=== Hypersonic rocket vehicles – Long distance point-to-point

** Stratolaunch Talon A-1 hypersonic rocket vehicle flies successfully

Stratolaunch’s hypersonic test vehicle Talon A-1 (TA-1) was carried on March 9th by the company’s gigantic Roc aircraft over the Pacific to a point where it was dropped. The vehicle’s Hadley engine, built by Ursa Major Technologies, fired and accelerated the vehicle and made a sustained climb in altitude, before eventually exhausting its fuel and then made a controlled water landing.  The engine uses liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants and can produce 5,000 pounds-force of thrust. The exact top speed attained has not been released publicly but “reached high supersonic speeds approaching Mach 5” according to the company.

While the TA-1 was expendable and lost at sea, the next test flight later this year will be carried out by the reusable TA-2. A third vehicle, TA-3, is under construction and will also be reusable. The Talon vehicles are precursors to future operational hypersonic and space vehicles.

[ Update: Additional info and video released by Stratolaunch:

TA-1 First flight:

First steps are hard. They require careful planning, calculated risk, and most of all, courage. We took a daring first step earlier this month with the completion of TA-1’s first powered flight, reaching high supersonic speeds approaching Mach 5. The flight was a landmark moment on our path to providing our customers and nation a reusable and routine hypersonic test capability. Congratulations to the Stratolaunch team and our partners on this achievement! Stay tuned on our progress as we prepare to fly our first fully reusable Talon-A vehicle, TA-2, later this year.


** Venus Aerospace – Successful flight test of rocket powered drone

Venus Aerospace announced that their drone made a successful flight powered by a monopropellant rocket engine. This prepares them for the next stage of tests with a Rotating Detonation Rocket Engine (RDRE): Venus Aerospace Achieves Successful Inaugural Supersonic Drone Flight | Venus Aerospace – Mar.26.2024

Venus Aerospace’s supersonic flight test drone successfully completed its inaugural flight on Feb 24, 2024. The eight foot, 300lb drone was dropped at an altitude of 12,000 ft and accelerated to a top speed of Mach 0.9, flying for 10 miles. It was powered by a hydrogen peroxide monopropellant engine at 80% thrust in order to not exceed Mach 1. The test successfully demonstrated flight controls, stability, one leg of the ultimate Rotating Detonation Rocket Engine (RDRE) propulsion system, telemetry, ground operations, and air launch. “Using an air-launched platform and a rocket-with-wing configuration allows us to cheaply and quickly get to the minimum viable test of our RDRE as a hypersonic engine. The team executed with professionalism and has a wealth of data to anchor and tweak for the next flight,” says CTO & Co-Founder Andrew Duggleby.

“This is how you do hard things: one bite at a time. Up next is RDRE flight, and ultimately hypersonic flight, proving that the RDRE is the engine that unlocks the hypersonic economy,” says CEO & Co-Founder Sarah “Sassie” Duggleby.

These prototypes are to prepare for the development of the Stargazer hypersonic point-to-point transport vehicle.

Update: An article from Brian Berger: The company building a rotating detonation engine is pushing the tech forward | Ars Technica – Mar.27.2024

Based on the company’s latest tests, Duggleby said Venus is now increasingly confident that it will be able to combine its rocket engine with air-breathing technology—using the forward motion of the engine to ingest air for combustion—to create what is known as a rocket-based combined cycle engine. Such an engine, if it can be realized, will allow Venus to see excellent performance at a wide variety of altitudes and velocities. The idea has been largely theoretical until now, developed mostly in universities rather than pursued for commercial purposes.

“We’re now 100 percent compelled by this path,” Duggleby said. “I’m convinced that this is going to be the engine that unlocks the hypersonic economy.”

=== Europe

** MaiaSpace Funding from French government if orbit reached

MaiaSpace, which is developing a launcher with a reusable first stage, is one of four startup launcher companies receiving  contracts with the French government for funding if they achieve orbit by 2028: France Expected to Commit €400M to Support Four Launch Startups | European Spaceflight

The HyPrSpace OB-1 and Latitude Zephyr rockets will be the smallest of the lot and will be capable of delivering between 100 and 200 kilograms to low Earth orbit. The Sirius 1, Sirius 13, and Sirius 15 rockets will be capable of delivering between 175 and 1,100 kilograms to orbit. The Prometheus-powered Maia rocket is expected to be the most powerful, with a payload capacity of up to three tonnes when launched in its expendable configuration.

The agreement with the French state will see each company receive a small upfront payment to secure the flights. The bulk of the €400 million, which will be supplied through the France 2030 initiative, will, however, only be awarded if the companies manage to launch a maiden flight of their respective vehicles between 2026 and 2028. As a result, the actual development process will need to be funded through other public programmes or through private investment.

=== China

** China Accelerates Development of Two Large Reusable RocketsCCTV Video News Agency

China is accelerating the development of both 4-meter-diameter and 5-meter-diameter reusable rockets, with their inaugural flights scheduled for 2025 and 2026, respectively.  CCTV article.

** LandSpace update: A Reusable Chinese Stainless Steel Rocket in 2025?Dongfang Hour

As one of the leading Chinese commercial launch companies, Landspace is currently operating the medium-lift methalox-fueled Zhuque-2, and plans to roll out the heavy-lift Zhuque-3 rocket. The latter is a partially reusable rocket with similar specifications to SpaceX’s Falcon-9, and could represent one of the first “Chinese Falcon 9s” to be available.

While there are strong resemblances between the two rockets, the Zhuque-3 has some differences, including the choice of propellant (methane), materials used (stainless steel), and its rocket booster recovery approach.

In this episode, we deep dive into these topics, while also going over the history of Landspace. Enjoy!

If you like what you see and would like to support me, please consider joining our small Patreon community at !
We also have some very cool space merch available at .

00:00 Introduction
00:17 Landspace’s Beginnings
02:06 The First (Failed) rocket: the Zhuque-1
03:32 All-in on Liquid-fueled Rockets
4:03 the Medium-lift Zhuque-2 & How it’s Different
5:33 Landspace’s own Launch Site
7:21 the Reusable Stainless Steel Zhuque-3
10:12 Recovering Rockets on Land!
11:18 Perspectives for 2024 and 2025

—- More Land Space reports:

—- China’s govt space organization accelerates reusable rocket development: China to debut large reusable rockets in 2025 and 2026 | SpaceNews – Mar.5.2024

China’s main state-owned contractor plans test flights for two new large diameter reusable rockets in the next couple of years, despite existing commercial reusability efforts.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) plans to launch four-meter and five-meter-diameter reusable rockets for the first time in 2025 and 2026 respectively, Wang Wei, a deputy to the National People’s Congress, told China News Service March 4.

** Chinese reusable rocket developers:

See also the table at SpaceNews.

=== India

** RLV LEX-02 prototype winged space vehicleSuccessful mid-altitude drop flight and landing test

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been developing reusable rocket technology starting with the RLV-TD (Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator) program. The program aimed to launch a reusable winged uncrewed vehicle, similar to the X-37, atop an expendable booster.

The configuration of RLV-TD is similar to that of an aircraft and combines the complexity of both launch vehicles and aircraft. The winged RLV-TD has been configured to act as a flying test bed to evaluate various technologies, namely, hypersonic flight, autonomous landing and powered cruise flight.

A RLV-TD prototype was successfully flight tested on May 23, 2016 after a drop from a helicopter. Another winged vehicle was tested in 2023 in a similar drop test called RLV-LEX-01. Then on March 22, 2024, the LEX-02 experiment involved a second drop test with an improved  prototype vehicle named Pushpak: ISRO achieves yet another success in the RLV Landing Experiment | ISRO – Mar.22.2024

ISRO has achieved a major milestone in the area of Reusable launch vehicle (RLV) technology, through the RLV LEX-02 landing experiment, the second of the series, conducted at Aeronautical Test Range (ATR), Chitradurga in Karnataka today morning at 7:10 hrs IST.

After the RLV-LEX-01 mission was accomplished last year, RLV-LEX-02 demonstrated the autonomous landing capability of RLV from off-nominal initial conditions at release from Helicopter. The RLV was made to undertake more difficult manoeuvres with dispersions, correct both cross-range and downrange and land on the runway in a fully autonomous mode. The winged vehicle, called Pushpak, was lifted by an Indian Airforce Chinook helicopter and was released from 4.5 km altitude. After release at a distance of 4 km from the runway, Pushpak autonomously approached the runway along with cross-range corrections. It landed precisely on the runway and came to a halt using its brake parachute, landing gear brakes and nose wheel steering system.

This mission successfully simulated the approach and high-speed landing conditions of RLV returning from space. With this second mission, ISRO has re-validated the indigenously developed technologies in the areas of navigation, control systems, landing gear and deceleration systems essential for performing a high-speed autonomous landing of a space-returning vehicle. The winged body and all flight systems used in RLV-LEX-01 were reused in the RLV-LEX-02 mission after due certification/clearances. Hence reuse capability of flight hardware and flight systems is also demonstrated in this mission. Based on the observations from RLV-LEX-01, the airframe structure and landing gear were strengthened to tolerate higher landing loads.

More about the project:

=== Reusable suborbital rocket vehicles for tourism, science & technology

** Astrobotic reusable rocketsNight flights of Xodiac

The reusable Xodiac low-altitude reusable rocket executes a night time tethered-flight tests: Watch a Night Flight – Xodiac Preps for Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge | Astrobotic – Mar.20.2024

Astrobotic’s Propulsion & Test department flew Xodiac, a vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing (VTVL) reusable terrestrial rocket, for its first-ever night flight. The tethered night test prepared Xodiac for upcoming flight testing with the NASA TechLeap Prize’s Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge, managed by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. TechLeap is designed to rapidly identify and develop technologies of interest to the agency using a series of challenges, and the Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge will test the ability of three winning payloads to map a lunar surface for navigation in near-total darkness.

Flights for TechLeap are slated to begin in April, continuing Xodiac’s flight heritage of over 160 successful flights. The Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge flights will also mark the debut of Astrobotic’s Lunar Surface Proving Ground (LSPG), a high-fidelity 3D test field that will mimic the topography and optical properties of the Moon’s surface. The size of two football fields, the LSPG will provide a unique simulated lunar topography to enhance the realism of payload flight tests aboard Xodiac.

More flight campaigns later this year:

These TechLeap payload flights will be Xodiac’s first major flight campaign of 2024. Xodiac is also scheduled to fly campaigns this year for NASA’s TechRise Student Challenge, Draper, San Diego State University, and Astrobotic’s Robotics & Surface Systems department. The latter campaign will test Astrobotic’s novel hazard detection and avoidance system that will help guide its Griffin lander to a soft landing on the Moon’s south pole.

** Blue Origin New ShepardMore flights promised

New Shepard plans mentioned during the conference presentation by Blue Origin VP Lars Hoffman: Blue Origin touts capabilities of Blue Ring transfer vehicle | SpaceNews – Feb.2.2024

… the company will increase the flight rate of New Shepard. That vehicle performed a payload-only flight in December, the first since a launch mishap more than 15 months earlier. A crewed flight, the first since August 2022, will take place “very soon,” he said, but was not more specific.

Blue Origin has not disclosed how many New Shepard flights it plans for this year. “We are definitely getting back on track this year with New Shepard,” he said. “We want to get on a nice pace or rhythm here where we’re launching regularly, mostly astronaut flights but there will be payload flights mixed in there as well.”

** Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwoDispute with Boeing

—- Boeing is suing Virgin Galactic over a canceled contract for development of a new carrier aircraft: Boeing sues Virgin Galactic over mothership project | SpaceNews – Mar.26.2024

—- Other VG items:

==== Reusable in-space vehicles:

—- Blue orbital space tug

An update on the Blue Ring, a “Multi-Mission, Multi-Orbit Space Mobility Platform“, from a recent conference presentation by Lars Hoffman, a Blue Origin VP: Blue Origin touts capabilities of Blue Ring transfer vehicle | SpaceNews – Feb.2.2024

The Blue Ring will offer:

  • 12 docking ports, each able to accommodate payloads weighing up to 500 kilograms
  • The “top deck on the spacecraft can carry payloads weighing up to two and a half tons
  • 3,000 meters per second of delta V
  • Can deploy payloads to desired orbits or serve as a host for payload(s) that remain attached to it
  • Is refuelable and can also refuel spacecraft. No info on type of propellants.
A rendering of Blue Origin’s Blue Ring space tug.

** Defense Innovation Unit funding development of in-space transport transports:

DIU wants two types of utility multi-orbit logistics vehicles (m-OLV). A light version should host or transport one or more payloads in the 50 kg payload range. A heavy version will tackle payloads in the 500 kg range.

And DIU also wants a

fuel depot capable of storing and transferring sufficient chemical and/or electrical propellant to a m-OLV or self-propelled satellite to achieve a LEO-to-GEO transfer

Three companies obtained contracts. Blue Origin obtained funding

to demonstrate a heavy utilitym-OLV system utilizing their ‘Blue Ring’ platform [see above]. Blue Origin is in the final stages of developing the Dark-Sky-1 mission system, which will demonstrate core mission operation and flight system capabilities.

Northrop Grumman’s Space Logistics in-space servicing subsidiary received support for its

suite of in-space refueling technologies, including the Active Refueling Moule (ARM) and Passive Refueling Module (PRM), in concert with complementary efforts sponsored by Space Systems Command (SSC). The refueling system includes elements to successfully dock and transfer fuel, as well as a refueling payload that handles fuel transfer. SSC contracted with Northrop Grumman to fly the PRM on an operational mission. 

Spacebilt, formerly Skycorp, is the third company to receive a DIU contract, which will be used to further validate

their approach In Space Assembly and Manufacturing for enabling their m-OLV product for DoD use cases. Since award, Spacebilt has progressed toward a mass manufacturable product, conducted risk reduction missions to the International Space Station for their flight hardware, and maturity of their commercially available avionics hardware. Spacebilt is working toward a Q4 2026 launch for the first mOLV STARcraft.

The company makes reusability a key feature of their spacecraft:

Until now, space systems have been mission focused and disposable. Tomorrow, spacecraft will be updated to suit changing customer needs. Reusability reduces lifecycle cost by 80%.

=== Other reusable rocket and space vehicle related news:

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Space Race 2.0:
SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, NASA,
and the Privatization of the Final Frontier

Videos: “Space to Ground” & other space habitat reports – Dec.9.2022

Here is the latest episode in NASA’s Space to Ground weekly report on activities related to the International Space Station:

** Spacewalkers install rollout solar array outside space station – VideoFromSpace

NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio installed a roll-out solar array outside the International Space Station on Dec. 3, 2022.

** Spacewalk with NASA Astronauts Josh Cassada and Frank RubioNASA

NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio are conducting a spacewalk on Saturday, Dec. 3, to install an International Space Station Roll-Out Solar Array (iROSA) to augment power generation on the station’s starboard truss structure. This spacewalk is the first of a pair of spacewalks this month set to prepare the future deployment of additional solar arrays for the station. The spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 7:25 a.m. EST (12:25 UTC) and last about seven hours.

Cassada (wearing the suit with red stripes) and Rubio (wearing the unmarked suit) are part of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission, which arrived at the station on Oct. 6, 2022. This is the second spacewalk for both astronauts.

** Ground Control Team Ready for One Spacecraft’s Return After Two Spaceships Dock at Space Station – CCTV Video News Agency

China’s space flight control team is ready for addressing technical challenges in the return of Shenzhou-14 mission crew posed by two spaceships docked at the space station at the same time, according to the team.

** China’s Shenzhou-14 Manned Spaceship Separates from Space Station Combination – CCTV Video News Agency

The Shenzhou-14 crew left China’s space station core module Tianhe on Sunday for their journey back to Earth and the spacecraft successfully separated from the core module at 11:01 Beijing Time, according to the China Manned Space Agency.

** Shenzhou-14 Manned Space Mission Completed with Astronauts Returning Safely – CCTV Video News Agency

The Shenzhou-14 manned space mission has been successfully completed after the return capsule of the spacecraft landed safely at the designated site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on Sunday.

** China’s Third & Final Space Station Module – Dongfang Hour – YouTube [Posted in October]

In this episode, we get into the details of the Mengtian module’s capabilities. Mengtian is the third and final component of China’s 60-ton space station. It will launch on October 31 2022, an event that I will be covering with a live stream.

** The New Space Race: China vs USA in Space Construction – Gateway Spaceport LLC

If you want to join our effort to build structures in orbit or work in space then please join our Crew membership at the following address.…

** ISS Live video stream – IBM/ISS HD Earth Viewing Experiment

Currently, live views from the ISS are streaming from an external camera mounted on the ISS module called Node 2. Node 2 is located on the forward part of the ISS. The camera is looking forward at an angle so that the International Docking Adapter 2 (IDA2) is visible. If the Node 2 camera is not available due to operational considerations for a longer period of time, a continuous loop of recorded HDEV imagery will be displayed. The loop will have “Previously Recorded” on the image to distinguish it from the live stream from the Node 2 camera. After HDEV stopped sending any data on July 18, 2019, it was declared, on August 22, 2019, to have reached its end of life. Thank You to all who shared in experiencing and using the HDEV views of Earth from the ISS to make HDEV so much more than a Technology Demonstration Payload!


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Videos: “Space to Ground” & other space habitat reports – Oct.28.2022

Here is the latest episode in NASA’s Space to Ground weekly report on activities related to the International Space Station:

** Expedition 68 Progress 82 Cargo Ship Docks to International Space Station – Oct. 27, 2022 – NASA Video

The uncrewed Roscosmos Progress 82 cargo craft docked to the International Space Station’s Poisk module October 27 following a launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan October 25 atop a Soyuz booster rocket. Progress is filled with almost three tons of supplies and cargo and will remain docked to the space station until early next year.

** Space Station Crew Answers U.S. Naval Test Pilot, Maryland Student Questions – Oct. 27, 2022 – NASA Video

Aboard the International Space Station, NASA Expedition 68 Flight Engineers Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio answered pre-recorded questions about life and work on the orbiting laboratory during an in-flight event October 27 with students attending the United States Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland. Both Mann and Cassada are graduates of the school. Mann, Cassada, and Rubio are in the midst of a science mission living and working aboard the microgravity laboratory to advance scientific knowledge and demonstrate new technologies for future human and robotic exploration missions as part of NASA’s Moon and Mars exploration approach, including lunar missions through NASA’s Artemis program.

** NG-18 Research: UCSD Mudslides Investigation ISS National Lab – YouTube

As part of Northrop Grumman’s 18th Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station, a research team from the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) will send their research to the orbiting lab to better understand gravity’s effects on post-wildfire mudflow.

** Northrop Grumman’s S.S. Sally Ride spacecraft – What experiments are heading to space station? – VideoFromSpace

Learn what science experiments will launch to the International Space Station aboard the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft. The CRS-18 mission is scheduled to launch on Nov. 6, 2022. The spaceraft is named S.S. Sally Ride to honor first American woman to fly in space:…

** International Space Station Dodges Debris From Russian SatelliteTODAY

The International Space Station fired its thrusters for more than five minutes on Monday to avoid a potential collision with a piece of Russian satellite debris. The debris was created by Russia’s test-firing of a missile last year that destroyed one of its old satellites.

** Designers Explain New Mission of Long March-5B Carrier Rocket – CCTV Video News Agency

Designers from China’s space program have unveiled the details of the Long March-5B carrier rocket family just as one of its members is about to carry the Mengtian lab module into the sky.

** ISS Live video stream – IBM/ISS HD Earth Viewing Experiment

Currently, live views from the ISS are streaming from an external camera mounted on the ISS module called Node 2. Node 2 is located on the forward part of the ISS. The camera is looking forward at an angle so that the International Docking Adapter 2 (IDA2) is visible. If the Node 2 camera is not available due to operational considerations for a longer period of time, a continuous loop of recorded HDEV imagery will be displayed. The loop will have “Previously Recorded” on the image to distinguish it from the live stream from the Node 2 camera. After HDEV stopped sending any data on July 18, 2019, it was declared, on August 22, 2019, to have reached its end of life. Thank You to all who shared in experiencing and using the HDEV views of Earth from the ISS to make HDEV so much more than a Technology Demonstration Payload!


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Chang’e-4 in sleep mode, Videos of rover and the landing, + Cotton shoots sprout

[ Update Jan.16.2019: There has been some confusion about the photos of the cotton plant shoots. A couple of early images circulating in the Chinese press were actually from a ground unit. However, the one shown below is apparently from the lander:


China’s Chang’e-4 mission on the far side of the Moon has begun initial operations with the scientific instruments on board the lander and has taken a short drive of the rover Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit-2):

An earlier video showing the deployment of the rover:

A press conference was held this week with managers of the Chinese space program, including “Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the Chang’e-4 probe”. They discussed the challenges of operating the systems in the lunar environment: China’s new lunar rover faces challenges on moon’s far side – Xinhua |

Both the lander and the rover entered a “sleep mode” on Sunday as the first lunar night after the probe’s landing fell, according to Wu.

One night on the moon lasts about 14 days on the earth, during which the temperature falls as low as minus 180 degrees centigrade. There is no sunlight to provide power to the probe, which will survive the night with its thermal control system with a radioisotope heat source.

The landing went quite smoothly:

Sun told reporters that the Chang’e-4 probe had achieved the expected landing precision. The telemetry information and images taken by the probe showed that the spacecraft effectively avoided obstacles during its descent.

“It hovered at around 100 meters above the lunar surface and moved about 8 meters towards the southwestern direction. After its landing, we discovered large craters with a diameter of more than 10 meters on both the southern and northern sides of the probe, and it successfully avoided them,” Sun said.

Scott Manley analyzes the landing video:

I took the best video from an official source, then corrected it for real time, interpolated frames to smooth it using butterflow. Then using the high quality video I try to map through all the features we see to provide an idea of how large the craters are.

The scientific experiments on board the lander include a mini-biosphere to demonstrate growing plants on the Moon. A cotton-seed quickly sprouted: China Focus: Moon sees first cotton-seed sprout – Xinhua |

Professor Xie Gengxin, of Chongqing University and chief designer of the experiment, said a canister installed on the lander of the Chang’e-4 probe contained the seeds of cotton, rapeseed, potato and Arabidopsis, as well as eggs of the fruit fly and some yeast, to form a simple mini biosphere.

Images sent by the probe showed that a cotton sprout had started to grow, though no other plants were found growing.

A photo of the shoots: China’s plants sprout on moon’s far side –

“At 8 pm on Jan 12, Chang’e 4 sends back the last photo of the bio test load showing that tender shoots have come out and the plants are growing well inside the sealed test can. It is the first time humans conducted a biological growth and cultivation experiment on the surface of the moon.” – Chongqing University and ChinaDaily.

The plant experiment, however, was a brief one. The seeds will not survive the night-time temperatures.

This sort of research from Chang’e-4 will provide data in support of Chinese human missions later:

A sample return mission – Chang’e-5 – is the next Moon mission on the agenda: China’s lunar exploration program to meet goal of sample returning by 2020: official – CCTVPLUS

The Chang’e-5 probe will be launched by the end of this year and will collect two kg of samples and bring them back to Earth. China plans to launch a probe in 2020 that will orbit, land and rove on Mars the following year, according to Wu.

More reports on Chang’e-5:


Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

Chang’e-4: Latest images and videos from lander and rover on lunar far side

Controllers of the Chinese space Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover have reactivated the two systems after a standby period during the most intense period of solar heat during the lunar day. Various scientific instruments are being activated, the rover will soon being roving, and cameras are taking pictures such as these panoramas:

Chang’e-4 Yutu-2 first panorama

Here is a circular panorama of the scene around the lander:

Panorama of view around the lander.

The two lander and rover have taken images of one another:

Here’s an interesting video of the landing on January 3rd as seen from the spacecraft: Here’s the amazing footage of the Chang’e-4 landing on the far side of the Moon |

More about the mission:


Einstein’s Monsters: The Life and Times of Black Holes