Space transport roundup – May.14.2019

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

** Virgin Galactic begins moving operations to the New Mexico spaceport as the final test missions in Mojave lead the way to the first commercial space tourism flights as early as the end of this year:

** An update on Axiom Space, which is developing a commercial space station that would be serviced by commercial space transportation vehicles: Episode T+120: Dr. Mike Baine, Axiom Space – Main Engine Cut Off

Dr. Mike Baine, Chief Engineer of Axiom Space, joins us to talk through Axiom’s plans for commercial low Earth orbit space stations.

Axiom Station Design - May.2019
Latest Axiom space station design

Axiom and partner Alpha Space, which owns and operates the Materials International Space Station Experiment Flight Facility (MISSE) on the ISS,  are testing an acrylic material that could be used for windows of the  the Axom station: The Axiom Space tests key space station acrylic sample on ISS in Alpha Space’s MISSE facility – Axiom Space

A pair of private American companies brought a key material sample for an upcoming space station from simple concept to testing in space in only six months, in a sign of the burgeoning commercial space industry’s responsiveness and agility.

Axiom Space and Alpha Space Test & Research Alliance (Alpha Space), both based in Houston, released photos on Wednesday of a specially formulated acrylic sample belonging to Axiom flying on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS) in Alpha Space’s MISSE Flight Facility. It was one of more than 400 samples contained in seven MISSE carriers launched Nov. 17 on the Northrop Grumman NG-10 ISS resupply mission.

Axiom station observatory
The Axiom acrylic being tested will form the large windows of its forthcoming room-sized earth observatory in space.

The Axiom Earth Observatory (AxEO) will accommodate up to eight astronauts and provide unprecedented, 360-degree views of the planet from the earth-facing side of Axiom Station.

** Boeing highlights CST-100 Starliner parachute tests soon after news of SpaceX’s problems with a parachute test for the Crew Dragon became public. Reportedly the Starliner had parachute issues of its own last year.

** ULA will launch an inflatable heat shield demonstrator during an Atlas V mission: NASA, ULA find launch opportunity for inflatable heat shield demonstrator – Spaceflight Now

A flight demonstration of an inflatable heat shield that could be used to retrieve reusable engines from United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket, and for the delivery of heavier cargo to the surface of Mars, is planned for launch in late 2021 or early 2022 as a piggyback payload on an Atlas 5 rocket with a NOAA weather satellite.

The inflatable re-entry decelerator will launch as a joint project between NASA and ULA, which foresee different uses for the technology.

** The Planetary Society‘s LightSail 2 set to go into orbit in June via a ride on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy mission: LightSail 2 set to launch next month aboard SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket | The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft is ready to embark on a challenging mission to demonstrate the power of sunlight for propulsion.

Weighing just 5 kilograms, the loaf-of-bread-sized spacecraft, known as a CubeSat, is scheduled to lift off on 22 June 2019 aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Once in space, LightSail 2 will deploy a boxing ring-sized solar sail and attempt to raise its orbit using the gentle push from solar photons.

It’s the culmination of a 10-year project with an origin story linked to the 3 scientist-engineers who founded The Planetary Society in 1980.

** ESA sponsors a demonstration of a composite upper stage structure: Contracts signed for prototype of a highly-optimised black upper stage – ESA

Rocket upper stages are commonly made of aluminium but switching to carbon composites lowers cost and could yield two metric tonnes spare payload capacity.

MT Aerospace and ArianeGroup signed contracts with ESA today to develop “Phoebus”, a Prototype of a Highly OptimisEd Black Upper Stage.

This project builds on legacy upper stage technologies and emerging composite cryogenic capabilities.

This low-cost lightweight Phoebus demonstrator introduces carbon composite materials, in particular for the metallic tanks containing the cryogenic propellants such as liquid hydrogen and oxygen, and for other primary and secondary structures.

** Rocket Lab’s next Electron launch to carry smallsats for Spaceflight Industries : Rocket Lab to launch rideshare mission for Spaceflight | Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab, the global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, announced today that its next flight will launch multiple spacecraft on a mission procured by satellite rideshare and mission management provider, Spaceflight. The launch window will open in June, with launch taking place from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula.

The mission is Rocket Lab’s seventh Electron launch overall and the company’s third for 2019, continuing Rocket Lab’s average monthly launch cadence. The flight follows dedicated missions launched for DARPA and the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program in the first months of 2019.   

The mission is named ‘Make it Rain’ in a nod to the high volume of rainfall in Seattle, where Spaceflight is headquartered, as well in New Zealand where Launch Complex 1 is located. Among the satellites on the mission for Spaceflight are BlackSky’s Global-4, two U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Prometheus and Melbourne Space Program’s ACRUX-1.

** Vector Launch tests Vector-R launch operations:

The latest on Vector from an interview with Cantrell:

** SpaceX:

*** A Falcon 9 with 60 SpaceX Starlink satellites is set to launch on Wednesday May 15th from Cape Canaveral. The 90 minute launch window opens at 010:30 pm EDT (0230 GMT on 16th).

A static test firing of the rocket took place on Monday evening. The test occurred with the satellites on top of the rocket, which differs from the approach taken since Sept. 1, 2016 when the Amos-6 satellite was destroyed while on a Falcon 9 that exploded shortly before a static firing test. Since then most all of the static fires have been done without the payload on the rocket. However, since SpaceX owns the payload this time, they were willing to take the chance and gain a day or so in time between the firing and the liftoff.

Here is a video (via from off site of the static test firing of the rocket (the firing starts at around 5:25):

** Falcon 9 booster from the CRS-17 mission leaves Port Canaveral with its legs folded back rather than removed. As mentioned in the previous Round-up, it has taken SpaceX about a year to get to this point:

*** Lots of Starhopper and Orbital Starship Demo vehicle activities these days at Boca Chica Beach. May see a flight of the Starhopper in the next few weeks: SpaceX stacks orbital Starship sections as Elon Musk teases June 20th event – Teslarati

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says he will provide a public update on the development status of Starship and Super Heavy in an official presentation later this summer, possibly as soon as June 20th.

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s South Texas team have been busy at work on both Starhopper and a newer Starship, said by Musk to be the first orbit-capable prototype. In the last week, technicians have begun stacking several sections of the vehicle’s stainless steel hull, all fabricated and welded together side-by-side. On Thursday, May 9th, this progressed to the installation of the Starship’s first gently tapered nose section atop its cylindrical tank section. Likely the second- or third-to-last major stack before its aeroshell is assembled into one piece, the orbital prototype is starting to truly resemble a real Starship.

*** The Starship may be flying soon enough to launch the next-gen Turkish satellite: SpaceX’s Starship could launch secret Turkish satellite, says Gwynne Shotwell – Teslarati

According to SpaceX COO/President Gwynne Shotwell and a Turkish satellite industry official, Starship and Super Heavy may have a role to play in the launch of Turksat’s first domestically-procured communications satellite.

Per Shotwell’s specific phrasing, this comes as a bit of a surprise. Built by Airbus Defense and Space, SpaceX is already on contract to launch Turksat’s 5A and 5B communications satellites as early as Q2 2020 and Q1 2021, respectively. The spacecraft referred to in the context of Starship is the generation meant to follow 5A/5B: Turksat 6A and any follow-on variants. Turksat’s 6-series satellites will be designed and manufactured domestically rather than procured from non-Turkish heavyweights like Airbus or SSL. However, the Turksat 6A satellite’s current baseline specifications would make it an extremely odd fit for a launch vehicle as large as Starship/Super Heavy.

*** Scott Manley’s latest update focuses mostly on SpaceX activities:

*** A profile of SpaceX rocket enthusiasts: The Obsessive, Tumultuous Lives of SpaceX Rocket Chasers | WIRED

In late 2017 Chylinski gave in to his obsession. He sold his belongings, left his job, and hit the road in a Capri truck camper with his dog, Tuck, to photograph rockets full-time. Most people in their mid-thirties would balk at that kind of career move, and Chylinski, now 35, admits he had reservations too. But he told himself it would just be for six months. If it didn’t work out, he’d return to corporate IT.

He’s been on the road chasing rockets ever since.

Chylinski is part of a small group of (semi-)professional rocket chasers who are obsessively documenting the new space race and paying particular attention to the happenings at SpaceX. They’ll camp out for days in a remote part of Texas just to get a glimpse of the company’s experimental rocket engine. They lurk in Florida harbors as drone ship paparazzi. They attend every single launch, no matter how unglamorous the payload or inhospitable the hour. By showing up, these rocket chasers are uncovering news about the secretive happenings at SpaceX.


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