Space transport roundup – Mar.19.2019

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

** A ULA Delta IV rocket successfully launched a USAF communications satellite last Friday: United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches WGS-10 Mission – ULA

See also

** An uncrewed test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner crew vehicle on a ULA Atlas V rocket is now reportedly set for the late summer:

** No date/time announced yet for the next Rocket Lab Electron launch, which will put a DARPA technology demonstration satellite into orbit. The company was targeting late this week for the launch but no update has been posted yet. Follow Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) | Twitter for the latest news.

** Progress towards first flight of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne air launch system:

** The new Chinese company Space Transportation Co. is developing reusable rockets to orbit payloads in the 100 – 1000 kg payload range:  Space Transportation (凌空天行), yet another Chinese launcher start-up entering the NewSpace race – The China Aerospace Blog.

Diagrams of the first stage of the Tian Xing-1 rocket show short wings for gliding during its return. Parachutes will deploy for the landing phase:

Space Transportation’s Tian Xing-1 (Credit: Source Code Capital)

Note about Space Transportation on the website of the company that helped it raise funding: Source Code Capital WeChat Official account, March 7 2019 (Google Translate)

** Update from Copenhagen Suborbitals, the volunteer non-profit organization is moving step-by-step towards the launch of a person on a suborbital space flight:

** Firefly Aerospace becomes a smallsat launch provider for Airbus, though no specific launch contracts are yet included: Airbus Defence and Space Enters Memorandum of Understanding with Firefly Aerospace to Partner on Launch Solutions for Constellations – Firefly

“Firefly is pleased to enter into an MOU with Airbus to formulate an integrated market offering that will provide Airbus customers rapid deployment of Airbus manufactured satellites,” said Firefly CEO Dr. Tom Markusic. “We are very impressed by the versatility and low cost of the Airbus ARROW platform and Airbus’s investment in leading edge satellite mass production capabilities. We look forward to working closely with Airbus to bring economical launch solutions to their customers. This initial MOU covering several launches is the first step of a long-term relationship which will provide Airbus customers the highest level of flexibility for their small satellite launches.”

Frederic Sotenberg, Head of Constellations Launch Solutions at Airbus Space Systems, said, “Our partnership with Firefly will provide launch options with direct access to specific orbits, flexibility, and short notice. The Alpha vehicle addresses an unmet need in small satellite launch and will provide a further option for our customers in addition to legacy medium and large launchers in Europe.”

** Space elevators might one day offer an alternative to rockets. Here is the latest update from ISEC (International Space Elevator Consortium) : ISEC Space Elevator Newsletter Mid-March 2019

** SpaceX:

**** NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine talked with Elon Musk of SpaceX in the crew access bridge at Pad 39A at Cape Kennedy on the day before the recent Crew Dragon demo flight:

**** The Crew Dragon docks to the ISS in this time lapse:

**** The Falcon 9 booster used to launch crew dragon is shown being lifted from the landing platform to the dock at Port Canaveral (via

This is four times speed. We think they may have a new crane operator. Port Canaveral purchased a huge new tower crane that can move the boosters much more easily.

**** The Crew Dragon’s Super Draco thrusters were designed for powered landings but SpaceX decided it would take to much time and money to obtain NASA certification for that. However, they might be used as backups to the parachutes for sea landings: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon could land with abort thrusters in emergencies, says Musk – Teslarati

While Musk noted that adding or enabling that capability during missions with astronauts would be entirely dependent upon NASA’s approval, the idea would be to trigger Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco abort thrusters in the event of a partial or total failure of the spacecraft’s parachutes. Although Crew Dragon is already capable of keeping its passengers safe if one of its four parachutes fails to properly deploy, the loss of any additional drag would likely create a situation where the force of impact on the ocean surface could severely injure or kill astronauts, much like a car crash without airbags. To prevent this, Crew Dragon could fire its thrusters at the last second, canceling out or at least minimizing the force of impact.

If this is implemented, it would be the first time that an orbital crew system has a backup during both launch (the Crew Dragon capsule can abort at any point from liftoff to orbital insertion) and landing.

**** The options for launching NASA’s Orion capsule with a Falcon Heavy or other rocket are discussed by Scott Manley:

**** Raptor engine on StarHopper may fire for the first time this week after it was installed last week on the vehicle:

On Friday, the company sent a notice to nearby residents saying it planned to conduct testing of the vehicle as soon as the week of March 18, and that it would be closing the main roadway of Highway 4 to non-residents during the tests. This “safety zone perimeter” is part of an agreement with the local county, and has been set up out of an abundance of caution.

On Sunday, company founder Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter that SpaceX was indeed close to beginning tests. Musk said that integration work remained to be done on test vehicle and its Raptor rocket engine, and that the first hops would lift off, but only “barely.” Eventually the “Starhopper” test vehicle will have three engines, but for now it appears as though the company will start with just one.

A public notice to local residents of Boca Chica says an attempt to fire the engine will happen on Wednesday: Cameron County publishes notice of SpaceX testing – Brownsville Herald

Cameron County has posted public notice that it will close Highway 4 to Boca Chica Beach for space flight activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.

In the alternative, the public notice said Highway 4 to Boca Chica Beach will be closed for the same time duration on either Thursday or Friday.

**** The latest photos and drone video of StarHopper :

Note that the nosecone for the StarHopper was badly damaged in a windstorm last January but Elon now says a new one will not be built. The Starhopper will only do low altitude flights with slow ascent and descent so the nosecone serves no particular purpose other than to make the vehicle resemble a rocket ship.

**** An Orbital Starship demonstrator is also now under construction at Boca Chica Beach in addition to the ongoing work with the low altitude StarHopper demonstrator: SpaceX’s first orbital Starship begins assembly as steel heat shield passes tests – Teslarati

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says that the company’s South Texas workforce has already begun to fabricate the first orbital-class Starship prototype, while Hawthorne engineers and technicians are in the midst of performing small-scale testing of the vehicle’s unprecedented stainless steel heat shield.

To be assembled out of hexagonal tiles of (presumably) stainless steel, Starship’s metallic heat shield will be one of the most crucial aspects of the orbital spacecraft, particularly with respect to ensuring that it’s extraordinarily easy to reuse. To survive extreme interplanetary-velocity reentry conditions at Mars, Earth, and beyond and remain in a functional, flight-ready condition after landing, SpaceX will need to implement the world’s first orbital-class, large-scale metallic heat shield with an immature technology known as transpirational cooling.

**** Super Heavy Booster and Starship vehicles may be built in multiple locations: SpaceX will build and launch Starship/Super Heavy in Texas and Florida, says Musk – Teslarati

According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the company has plans to both build and launch BFR’s Starship upper stages and Super Heavy boosters at facilities located in Boca Chica, Texas and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Indicative of SpaceX and Musk’s rapidly evolving plans for the next-generation, ultra-reusable launch system, the to stainless steel over carbon composites appears to continue to have a range of trickle-down consequences (or benefits) throughout the rocket’s design, production, launch, and operations. Given the 3+ radical, clean-sheet design changes the BFR program has undergone in about as many years, it’s hard to definitively conclude much about the latest iteration. Nevertheless, Musk’s indication that stainless steel BFRs may now be built simultaneously at multiple locations suggests that the construction of steel Starships and Super Heavies could be radically easier (and cheaper) than their composite predecessors.


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