Space transport roundup – Mar.14.2019

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

[ Update: The Soyuz launch and docking with the ISS were successful:


** A Russian Soyuz is set to launch today with three new crew members to the ISS. Astronaut Christina Koch, on her first mission to space, joins cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and NASA flight engineer Tyler “Nick” Hague, who were both on the Soyuz MS-10 that suffered an in-flight abort last October. The Soyuz with the threesome will reach the station after a quick 6 hour flight.

Lift off is set for 3:14 pm EDT:

** United Launch Alliance (ULA) is set to launch a Delta IV rocket on Friday from Cape Canaveral with the 10th Wideband Global SATCOM spacecraft (Wideband Gapfiller Satellite), built by Boeing for the U.S. military. Delta IV WGS-10 – United Launch Alliance (ULA) Rocket Launch

The webcast starts at 6:56 p.m. EDT and the launch window extends to 9:05 p.m. EDT:

** China launched a Long March 3B on March 9th from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The rocket carried the Zhongxing-6C (ChinaSat-6C) communication satellite.

** The Chinese company OneSpace plans to launch the solid-fueled OS-M1 rocket this month on its first test flight to orbit. The rocket will carry a Lingque 1B remote sensing CubeSat for China’s ZeroG Lab, which aims to create its Magpie constellation consisting of over 375 earth observation CubeSats: China’s OneSpace completes rocket assembly ahead of first orbital launch –

** China’s LinkSpace tests vertical takeoff and landing rocket, similar to the type flown by Masten Space for many years. The LinkSpace goal is a reusable first stage for a rocket that will launch small satellites to low earth orbit:

** Rocket Lab plans to launch an Electron rocket in the latter half of this month with a DARPA satellite aboard: Rocket Lab launch of DARPA satellite slips –

** A Vega rocket is set to launch from French Guiana on March 21st with Italy’s PRISMA Earth observation satellite.

** European small rockets for smallsat launch are now a focus of ESA: Microlaunchers to grow Europe’s economy – ESA.

The Vega-C upgrade, however, is behind schedule: Vega C debut slips to 2020 –

** Reaction Engines will start building a prototype Sabre rocket engine after an ESA review gives the design a thumbs-up. While powering a vehicle in the atmosphere, the Sabre’s pre-cooler would gather air, cool it, and feed it into the combustion chamber of the rocket along with hydrogen fuel. Once outside the atmosphere, oxygen from on-board tanks would feed the Sabre (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine):

“The Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine is uniquely designed to scoop up atmospheric air during the early part of its flight to orbit. This slashes the need for the vehicle to carry bulky onboard oxygen for this part of the ascent, before switching to rocket mode drawing on internal propellants for its final climb to space. To allow SABRE to use the superfast onrushing airstream as oxidiser, the air must be cooled from 1000°C to –150°C within just a hundredth of second, at the same time avoiding the formation of dangerous ice.” – Engine Airflow/ESA

The air-cooler technology has been proven in a standalone test. The demo engine will include only the rocket

Reaction Engines launched a significant new element of its development programme in October 2016 to design, build and demonstrate a SABRE engine core. The test item consists of an engine core, which is a major module of the complete SABRE engine, but without the pre-cooler and rocket nozzle in place. This core design and development activity is a major undertaking and upon completion of the tests, major elements of the world’s first air-breathing engine capable of accelerating from zero to Mach 5 will have been demonstrated.

The SABRE engine core tests are part of a range of development activities currently underway at Reaction Engines. The company will shortly begin its HTX ‘hot’ heat exchanger testing in a unique test facility it has constructed in Colorado, United States. The HTX test programme is a manufacturing and performance ground-level demonstration of the SABRE engine ‘Pre-Cooler’ heat exchanger in a high temperature environment, similar to that expected to be seen by the SABRE engine during its air-breathing flight regime – up to 1000°C air inlet temperature.

The goal is an propulsion system efficient enough to power a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle like the Skylon.

** HyperSciences’ hypersonic projectiles can shoot downward for drilling and upward for reaching space: For HyperSciences, geothermal energy builds a path to space – Teslarati

[HyperSciences founder and CEO Mark] Russell and his team have developed a low-cost, multi-purpose projectile called the HyperDrone that can accelerate to velocities over five times the speed of sound and pulverize hard rock via their HyperDrill. This will enable tunneling speeds that are 5-10 times quicker than conventional methods, and more importantly, it opens up significant market viability in other industries that could benefit, namely when that acceleration is pointed skyward. NASA has already recognized this potential and is a current investor and major partner of HyperSciences.

** Nuclear propulsion for in-space transportation would open up the solar system to exploration and settlement: Nuclear rocket innovation is the future of space travel, exploration – USA Today

With a nuclear rocket like the ones researched in project NERVA, a trip to Mars could be done in  four months. (Interestingly, the astronauts would actually be exposed to less radiation with a nuclear ship, because shortening the trip reduces their exposure to cosmic rays in space.) And with higher thrust and higher efficiency, nuclear rockets would open up much of the solar system. They could even be designed to rendezvous with comets and use cometary ice as fuel for the return trip.

Now NASA is getting interested in nuclear rockets again.  In 2017, it awarded a nearly  $19 million contract for development. And this year’s NASA budget contains $100 million for nuclear thermal research, leading to a demonstration in 2024.

** SpaceX:

[ Update: The StarHopper will begin static firing tests and tethered hops soon: County approves authority for road closures for rocket testing – Brownsville Herald: Local News

Last Friday, SpaceX Spokesman James Gleeson said in an email that the Starship prototype was moved in preparation for non-public testing.

“SpaceX will conduct checkouts of the newly installed ground systems and perform a short static fire test in the days ahead,” Gleeson said. “Although the prototype is designed to perform sub-orbital flights, or hops, powered by the SpaceX Raptor engine, the vehicle will be tethered during initial testing and hops will not be visible from offsite. SpaceX will establish a safety zone perimeter in coordination with local enforcement and signage will be in place to alert the community prior to the testing.”


**** A Raptor engine arrived at Boca Chica Beach this week to be attached to the StarHopper: SpaceX’s Elon Musk says Raptor will be installed on Starship prototype this week – Teslarati

**** The latest view of the StarHopper from a drone flying above the SpaceX facilities:

**** Scott Manley gives his review of the Crew Dragon mission to the ISS:

Yesterday SpaceX’s crew capable Dragon 2 spacecraft completed its visit to the ISS, demonstrating the technology was sound and clearing one more hurdle on its way to becoming a commercial crew transportation provider.

**** Videos of the Crew Dragon and the Falcon 9 booster following the mission (via


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