Space transport roundup – May.7.2019

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

** There were 4 successful launches by 4 private rocket companies over 4 days in the past week:

*** May 2: Blue Origin‘s fully reusable New Shepard flew 38 experiments to 106 km on the vehicle’s fifth flight:

*** May 4: A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched a Dragon for the CRS-17 cargo mission to the ISS:

*** May 4: MOMO-F3 suborbital rocket launched by Interstellar Technologies reacged 113.4 km. This was the first rocket launched by a private Japanese company to reach space: Sounding Rocket MOMO F3: Flight Experiment Success – Interstellar Technologies (pdf)

*** May 5: Rocket Lab launched an Electron rocket that placed 3 USAF satellites into low earth orbits:

** Chinese launch company news:

** Relativity Space gets third launch contract, though it will not attempt to fly its first rocket till late 2020:

** SpaceX:

*** SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell talks about the satellite launch business: Exclusive: SpaceX’s Shotwell Talks SATELLITE 2019 | Via Satellite.

VIA SATELLITE: Do you believe the industry is entering a very uncertain period right now?

Shotwell: We believe the industry is entering an incredibly exciting period where competition is high, which is driving innovation. With innovation there’s always uncertainty, but also great opportunity. In just the last few years, Falcon 9 became the most frequently launched rocket worldwide and has taken over 50 percent of the commercial launch market. It’s exciting that the market has responded to our unique ability to provide reliable, affordable launch services.

We just launched our first commercial flight of Falcon Heavy, and last year we began testing and development for our Starship vehicle, which can carry payload greater than 100 mt. Our customers are taking advantage of these opportunities. Cost effective launches are allowing them to think about their businesses in different ways. While we may see a slowdown in the short term of traditional opportunities, as new technologies mature, new opportunities will take the place of the old.

*** NASA transitions from avoiding reused boosters to embracing them: With SpaceX scrub, NASA again demonstrates commitment to innovation | Ars Technica

NASA’s patience and openness to new ideas is all the more notable because while some improvements such as the Falcon 9’s lift capacity have benefitted the space agency, others such as rocket reusability haven’t provided an immediate benefit. “The agency is investing in keeping the United States on the leading edge of space travel, and that’s an important part of its founding mandate,” Autry said.

It’s safe to say the companies appreciate this approach. SpaceX founder Elon Musk recently acknowledged as much on Twitter, saying, “NASA support for reusability with high reliability, the critical breakthrough for orbital rockets, has made a big difference.”

*** CRS-17 Cargo Dragon vehicle reached the ISS on Monday morning:

*** Falcon 9 booster for the CRS-17 launch reaches Port Canaveral: SpaceX’s latest Falcon 9 booster returns to port as NASA hints at “vested interest” – Teslarati

** Falcon 9 launch of 3 Canadian Radarsat spacecraft set for not earlier than June 11th from Vandenberg SpaceX’s next West Coast Falcon 9 landing could be decided by baby seals – Teslarati

SpaceX and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) have – at long last – officially announced a launch date for the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM), a ~$1B trio of Earth observation satellites.

Delayed from November, February, March, and May, RCM is now scheduled to launch on a flight-proven Falcon 9 booster from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) no earlier than June 11th. The three flight-ready spacecraft were shipped from Canada in September 2018 and have now been awaiting launch in a Southern California storage facility for more than half a year. The blame for such an egregious delay can be largely placed on SpaceX, but CSA and launch customer Maxar Technologies are also partially responsible. On a lighter note, the location of RCM’s subsequent Falcon 9 landing might end up being decided by seal pupping – baby harbor seals, in other words.