A sampling of recent items related to traveling to and through space:

** LEO Aerospace is a young launch company started by Purdue engineering students. They recently did a test of their balloon launch architecture: Successful launch of rocket from high-altitude balloon makes space more accessible to microsatellites – Purdue University News

A startup that plans to use high-altitude balloons to deploy rockets has successfully fired a test launch, moving closer to its goal of helping end the backlog of microsatellites that wait months or longer to “hitch” a ride on larger rockets.

Leo Aerospace Inc.,Purdue University-affiliated startup based in Los Angeles, launched its first “rockoon,” a high-power rocket from a reusable balloon platform, from the Mojave Desert in southern California in December. …

“It was thrilling to see that first launch after all those months of hard work and planning,” said Michael Hepfer, head of product development for Leo Aerospace and a senior in Purdue’s School of Industrial Engineering. “It confirmed our early testing that using high-altitude balloons and rockets to send microsatellites into space will work.”

Leo Aerospace aims to revolutionize access to space for those looking to launch small satellites about the size of toasters, weighing up to 25 kilograms, or about 55 pounds. It plans to be a “dedicated” launch for microsatellites, serving one customer at a time.

** Firefly Aerospace, a Texas-based company developing smallsat launch systems, has an unusual history: After a remarkable resurrection, Firefly may reach space in 2019 | Ars Technica

Polyakov had the resources to bring Firefly back and fund the company through its first two launches. Although neither he nor Markusic would specify the amount of the investment, it is likely on the order of $75 to $100 million. This infusion of cash removed the fundraising burden from Markusic’s shoulders, as well as the mental stress of uncertainty, allowing him to focus on technical problems.

As well as money, Polyakov also brought a businessman’s mentality to the company and a broader sense of the rapidly changing aerospace industry. In the United States, China, and elsewhere around the world, dozens of firms are developing new, lower-cost rockets to launch small- and medium-sized satellites.

The end result is a 29-meter-tall rocket with four first-stage Reaver engines and one upper-stage Lightning engine, both fueled with kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen. The new Alpha can lift as much as 1 ton to orbit, which is relatively unusual in the commercial market at its price point of $15 million—a price per kilogram of $15,000.

Future competitors in this range will include Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket and ABL Space Systems’ RS1 vehicle. So the game now is to build a safe rocket and bring it to market quickly. In the end, Markusic accepted Polyakov’s changes, both because it was the only way to save Firefly and because he’d gone through enough failure to see the big picture.

** Relativity Space aims to build most all of a rocket with big 3D print systems. The company recently hired some space industry heavyweights:

No press releases from the company but they did post these tweets:

And here is an article about the company’s 3D printing systems: 3D-Printed Rocket Maker Gets Its Own Launch Site > ENGINEERING.com

Relativity is building its rockets this way for two reasons. First, it keeps costs relatively low. Since the printer can make complex parts in just one piece, Relativity will be able to create rockets with 100 times fewer parts. For example, the Terran 1’s engine injector and chamber are made of just three 3D-printed parts rather than the nearly 3,000 parts needed by conventional rocket assembly processes. And the team can quickly adjust the design as needed through software. In addition, by simplifying the manufacturing process, Relativity can build a rocket much faster—the company aims to do so in as little as 60 days.

Second—and this is a long-term objective—3D printing rockets could allow Relativity to take its manufacturing process to Mars, where it could set up a rocket factory on site. Once it perfects its printing process on Earth, the company hopes to reduce the size of its printers and ship them to Mars to see if they can print rockets with the raw materials on the red planet. If it works, it provides a way to get materials, and astronauts, back home to Earth.

** PLD Space of Spain is developing smallsat launch system that will have a reusable first stage. Here is a new video showing preparations for an engine test campaign:

Preparing MIURA 1 engine for its first flight. This video shows the preparations before starting the largest liquid rocket engine test campaign that PLD Space has prepared. Our goal is to qualify MIURA 1 engine, called TEPREL-B for its first flight into space.

** Blue Origin continues with testing of the big BE-4 methane fueled engine, which will power Blue’s New Glenn rocket as well as United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan

** Stratolaunch recently terminated plans to develop its own rockets but work continues on development of the world’s largest aircraft, which was designed as a high altitude launch platform for rocket powered vehicles to go to orbit: FAA certificate offers new details on Stratolaunch’s plans for test flights of world’s largest aircraft – GeekWire

The Federal Aviation Administration has cleared the world’s largest airplane for takeoff — but it’s not yet clear exactly when Stratolaunch, the aerospace venture founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, will put the plane in the air.

Stratolaunch’s unique aircraft, code-named Roc, measures 385 feet from wingtip to wingtip, longer than three Boeing 737s lined up end to end. The company hopes to win full FAA certification for the Roc and use it for airborne rocket launches as soon as next year.

So far, the only remaining task for the aircraft is to launch Northrop-Grumman’s Pegasus rockets.

** Spaceflight arranges launch transportation for spacecraft, often as secondary payloads on a big rocket with a big satellite as the primary payload. The company hopes this month to see customer payloads go beyond low earth orbit for the first time. The spacecraft will travel as secondaries on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of a communications satellite going to geostationary orbit:

From the Spaceflight PR:

Spaceflight, the leading satellite rideshare and mission management provider, today announced it will launch two payloads on its first rideshare mission to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). The mission is scheduled for no earlier than mid-February 2019 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launching from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The primary payload on the mission is a telecommunications satellite for the South East Asia region. It was built by SSL, a Maxar Technologies company, which also procured the launch vehicle. Spaceflight will manage the launch of the two secondary payloads, Israeli non-profit SpaceIL’s lunar lander, and the U.S. Air Force Research Lab’s (AFRL) experimental small satellite, S5.

** SpaceX:

*** Launch schedule: The Falcon 9 launch mentioned above with the two rideshare payloads from Spaceflight is currently set for Feb.21st from Cape Canaveral at 8:45 p.m. EST (or 0145 GMT on 22nd).

And the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket Crew Dragon spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight is set for March 2nd at 2:48 a.m. EST (0748 GMT) from Pad 37A at Cape Kennedy Space Center.

The second Falcon Heavy launch is also planned for March but no specific day has been announced yet.

*** More photos posted of activities at the Boca Chica launch facility:

*** Ship for catching nosecone fairings has arrived at Cape Canaveral Port after its long voyage from the West Coast:

*** The Boca Chica site will not be split by a border wall: Texas butterfly sanctuary protected from border barrier, says shutdown deal | The Texas Tribune.

*** Another video analysis of why SpaceX switch the Super Heavy Booster/StarShip structure design from composites to stainless steel:

*** SpaceX protests NASA’s decision to use a ULA Atlas V rocket for a science payload rather than the Falcon 9:

** More space transport items:

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