Space transport roundup – April.20.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport:

[ Update April.21.2019, 10:25 am EDT: An explosion took place on Saturday at Cape Canaveral during a SpaceX test of a Crew Dragon propulsion system. There is lots of speculation going on but we won’t know what actually happened, the cause, and the ramifications on SpaceX projects until the company gives a briefing on the accident. So far this is the only info released by the company:

Earlier today, SpaceX conducted a series of engine tests on a Crew Dragon test vehicle on our test stand at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand.

Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting anomalies like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test. Our teams are investigating and working closely with our NASA partners.

Here is a statement from the NASA administrator:

More at


** Space Access 2019 has been underway in Silicon Valley since Thursday. Check out notes on the many space transport presentations and panels at #SpaceAccess19 hashtag on Twitter. Brian Wang has also posted notes and images of slides at from several of the talks.

** Northrop-Grumman Cygnus berthed to the ISS on Friday following the launch from Wallops Island on Wednesday:

More about the mission:

** Chinese Long March 3B launches a Beidou navigation satellite today: Beidou-3G2Q navigation satellite launched on Long March 3B –

** Virgin Galactic plans ramp up of SS2 flights after interior is upgraded for carrying six people along with the two pilots: Virgin Galactic expects rapid conclusion of SpaceShipTwo test flights after downtime –

From VG chief test pilot Dave Mackay:

“The next time it flies, we expect to have the full commercial cabin installed,” he said. A few other modifications to the vehicle are also in progress, such as changes to cockpit displays.

“This downtime might be fairly long,” he said. “Once we get out of that, we should be able to get through the remainder of the test program pretty quickly and get into commercial service.”

** Next flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard not till mid-July at the earliest according to documents filed with the FCC:

The most recent New Shepard test flight was on January 23rd. That test flight is following the pattern of previous ones in being declared successful and then followed by a gap of a few months before the next flight, usually with no explanation for what modifications or upgrades they are making during in the interim. Blue Origin officials have indicated that passenger flights could start this year but that several more test flights were required.

** LinkSpace reusable vertical takeoff and landing rocket flies again:

See video also at Flight of LinkSpace vertical-takeoff-and-landing rocket –

** Blue Origin will rehab old engine stand at Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama:

“Under a Commercial Space Launch Act agreement, Blue Origin will upgrade and refurbish Test Stand 4670, at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to support testing of their BE-3U and BE-4 rocket engines. Constructed in 1965, Test Stand 4670 served as the backbone for Saturn V propulsion testing for the Apollo program, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Credits: NASA”

** ULA prepares rockets for Boeing Starliner crew test missions, currently set to start in August: Atlas V Starliner Updates: Atlas V Rockets in Production to Launch Astronaut Crews – ULA

United Launch Alliance is finalizing production of the Atlas V rockets that will launch the first two crewed flights of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station, known as the Crew Flight Test (CFT) and Post Certification Mission-1 (PCM-1).

At our factory in Decatur, Alabama, skilled technicians are putting the finishing touches on the CFT hardware before shipment to the Cape Canaveral launch site, and also working on the assembly and testing of the PCM-1 rocket.

These launches will be the second and third flights of the Starliner program. The first flight, the Orbital Flight Test (OFT), will be an uncrewed checkout mission to the International Space Station scheduled for August 2019. All Atlas V hardware for OFT is in Cape Canaveral and will soon begin processing for the first flight.

A Centaur upper stage with two Liquid Oxygen/Liquid Hydrogen RL10 engines. A Centaur with 2 engines, rather than the usual single engine version, is  needed for the Atlas V launcher that will send a Boeing Starliner crew vehicle to the ISS. Photo credit: ULA

** NASA and Boeing rehearse Starliner sea rescue operations in case the standard ground landing is aborted for some reason: NASA’s Commercial Crew, DoD Teams Conduct Crew Rescue Exercise – Commercial Crew Program/NASA

NASA and the Department of Defense Human Space Flight Support (HSFS) Office Rescue Division are conducting a search and rescue training exercise over the next several days at the Army Warf on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and in the Atlantic Ocean. This is the first at-sea exercise with the Boeing CST-100 Starliner training capsule, known as Boiler Plate 3, ahead of the commercial crew flight test with astronauts targeted for later this year.

During normal return scenarios, Boeing’s Starliner will land on land in a safe zone of about 15 square miles in the Western United States. Throughout the commercial crew development phases with NASA, Boeing has performed dozens of qualification tests on its parachute and airbag systems simulating conditions on land and in the water.

** Update on development of the ULA Vulcan rocket: United Launch Alliance Progresses Towards Purpose-Built Vulcan Centaur for National Security Space Missions – ULA

“Manufacturing of Vulcan Centaur pathfinder and qualification hardware in the factory has been going on for nearly a year and just a few weeks ago, the team began to manufacture the first flight hardware,” said Bruno. “It is a tremendously exciting time as we watch the first flight vehicle being built.”

** SpaceX:

** A bottom portion of Falcon Heavy core booster was salvaged after it fell during rough seas: SpaceX Falcon Heavy booster tips over on drone ship, returns to port in pieces – Teslarati.

Some photos at port:

**** The fairings, though, appear to be in excellent shape after retrieval from the sea following their parasail soft landings (video via

**** Next Cargo Dragon mission set for April 30th from Cape Canaveral: SpaceX CRS-17 Launch Now Scheduled for April 30 – SpaceX/NASA

NASA will host a media teleconference at 11 a.m. Monday, April 22, to discuss select science investigations the Dragon will deliver to the astronauts living and working aboard the orbiting laboratory. NASA will stream audio from the discussion at

**** The DoD sponsored STP-2 Falcon Heavy mission involves the launch of nearly 2 dozen satellites and multiple firings of the upper stage: SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy flies a complex mission for the Air Force in launch video – Teslarati.

SpaceX has posted a webpage dedicated to the mission: STP-2 Mission | SpaceX.

And released the STP-2 Animation:

The STP-2 mission will be among the most challenging launches in SpaceX history with four separate upper-stage engine burns, three separate deployment orbits, a final propulsive passivation maneuver and a total mission duration of over six hours. In addition, the U.S. Air Force plans to reuse side boosters from the Arabsat-6A Falcon Heavy launch, recovered after a return to launch site landing, making it the first reused Falcon Heavy ever flown.

Not all of the small satellites to be deployed are military. For example, Prox-1 is

a microsat developed by students at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta through the Air Force’s University Nanosat Program to demonstrate satellite close proximity operations and rendezvous.

**** Two Falcon boosters spotted on way to Florida:  SpaceX ships two Falcon boosters to Florida for a busy spring of launches – Teslarati.

**** SpaceX raising money for development of the Starlink global Internet constellation project and the Starship space transport system: SpaceX preps second $500M fundraiser as Starlink & Starship make progress – Teslarati

**** An account of the naming of the SpaceX engines from the company’s top engine guru: SpaceX Stories: How Did SpaceX Rocket Engines Get Their Names –

**** Boca Chica Update:

>> The Starhopper’s Raptor engine was removed after a short test hop was made a couple of weeks ago. Presumably the three engines needed for lifting the vehicle up a few hundred meters are being prepared for installation.

>> Meanwhile, observers have watched work on the Starhopper structure and the facilities around it.

>> The construction of the high altitude test vehicle is proceeding:

**** Dragon-wings on a Starship (maybe) – On the weekend of the restart of the Game of Thrones television series, Elon Musk tweeted what seemed like a joke:

Subsequent tweets, however, indicated that he wasn’t completely kidding. In response to the question, “How serious are you on a scale of 1 to 10 tho ?!“, he responded:

The idea is that the extra surface area provided by deployable wings would distribute heat during reentry sufficiently to eliminate the need for more complex solutions such as transpiration cooling to keeping the vehicle from melting:

We’ll have to see if this goes any further than mulling an idea on Tweeter. Scott Manley did some simulations with Kerbal Space Program and was impressed with the effects such wings would have:

In an absolutely serious tweet Elon musk suggested that dragon wings might enhance the capabilities of his stainless steel starship concept. Thanks to the power of commercial spacecraft simulation software we are able to test this concept and prove that it was more than just a joke.

**** The business end of the Falcon Heavy in high contrast: APOD: 2019 April 20 – Falcon Heavy Launch Close up

** Documentaries about two American rocket pioneers:

**** The Rocket Man, Bob Traux – a Rocket Engineering Documentary from Spark

A leader in rocket engineering and a man passionate about space travel, Bob Truax cannot go unmentioned in the history of the space shuttle. Described as an “individual who is committed to his ideals, goals and objectives,” the 2006 film documents his life and achievements.

**** The American Rocketeer

“The American Rocketeer” is a 2010 Jet Propulsion Laboratory production about JPL’s origins. Much of the focus is on Frank Malina, an aeronautical engineer and protégé of physicist Theodore von Kármán.


The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos