Space access roundup – Feb.6.2019

A sampling of space transportation related news and resource items:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentus Water-Plasma engine diagram.

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

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

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

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

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

** SpaceX

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

From SpaceX Instagram and Elon Musk tweet:

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

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

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

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

Some views of the activities there:

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

*** South Padre Island Information – Jan.30.2019

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

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


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