Space transport roundup – May.23.2019

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

[ Update 2: Fairings recovered:

Update: The Starlink launch and deployment went well. The booster also landed successfully.


*** SpaceX set to launch Falcon 9 with 60 Starlink satellites. Following a stand-down of about a week since the initial launch attempts, liftoff of the Starlink mission is now set for a 90 minute window that opens at 10:30 pm EDT this evening (0230 GMT on May  24). The SpaceX webcast should go live about 15 minutes before liftoff time.

Note that the first stage booster will be carrying out its third launch.

Latest updates:

More about the Starlink project:

Find more SpaceX items below.

** USC student team‘s Traveler IV rocket flies past Kármán line to space on April 21st according to trajectory analysis results released this week. The RPL team says the Traveler IV is “the first entirely student-designed and built rocket to pass the Kármán line into outer space”: USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory Shatters Student Altitude Record – USC Viterbi | School of Engineering.

From the caption:

On April 21, 2019, we, the USC Rocket Propulsion Lab, launched our latest space-shot rocket, Traveler IV, out of Spaceport America. Traveler IV reached an apogee of 339,800 ft with a confidence of 90% of having crossed the internationally-recognized border between Earth’s atmosphere and space known as the Kármán line. By flying higher than the Kármán line, Traveler IV has broken the world record for the highest altitude ever reached by a vehicle entirely designed and built by a collegiate rocketry team. USCRPL thanks the alumni, faculty, department staff, parents, the university, and all others who have supported the lab’s fourteen-year-long dream.

Even greater things lie ahead. Read the full data analysis and check out more information in the following links:

** College rocket teams to compete for the Spaceport America Cup at the New Mexico spaceport in June:

Save the Date: Spaceport America Cup is Coming in June!

Join us as we host hundreds of the world’s ambitious collegiate rocketeers at the third annual Spaceport America Cup June 18-22, 2019. The event brought to you by the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association and the Spaceport America Crew, is the world’s largest intercollegiate rocket engineering conference and competition.

The Spaceport America Cup will kick off on June 18th with the Spaceport America Cup Conference at the Las Cruces Convention Center in Las Cruces, NM. Spectators are invited to see the rockets displayed and interact with the rocket teams. The event is FREE.

June 19th will be flight preparation day where teams will have the entire day to assemble their rockets in the field and test components while being judged. (OPEN TO THE PUBLIC) Gates open: 11 am

Teams will be launching and recovering rockets June 20-22 at the Spaceport America Vertical Launch Area. (OPEN TO THE PUBLIC) Gates open: 8 am- 4 pm. If you are planning to attend as a spectator, you must purchase a spectator pass.

** Virgin Orbit test fires LauncherOne first stage for full mission duration:

We’re proud to announce that we completed perhaps the most challenging, most important, and most successful test in the history of our LauncherOne program: Last week, we lit up our Mojave site with our final full duration, full scale, full thrust – hell, full everything – test firing of LauncherOne’s main stage. That’s more than three minutes of controlled rocket thrust, using all of the same equipment we’ll use on our actual flights to orbit later this year. Here’s one fun way to think about it: the data proved that if this stage wasn’t physically bolted down, it had the oomph to make the journey into space.

** India launches RISAT 2B radar Earth observation satellite with PSLV (Polar Space Launch Vehicle):

From SFN:

Designed for a five-year mission, RISAT 2B carries an X-band radar imaging instrument capable of resolving structures and features on Earth’s surface, regardless of daylight or weather conditions. Earth-looking optical telescopes are inhibited by cloudy weather, and only produce usable imagery during daytime.

The satellite was developed by ISRO — the Indian space agency — and carries a dish-shaped radar antenna that was folded up to fit inside the rocket’s payload compartment. Now that the satellite is in space, its radial band antenna will be unfurled to its full diameter of 11.8 feet (3.6 meters).

“This has been a much-awaited satellite with complex new technologies, X-band synthetic aperture radar, and one of the most cutting edge technologies in the world — one that is world-class — the 3.6-meter radial band antenna,” said P. Kunhikrishnan, director of ISRO’s UR Rao Satellite Center in Bangalore.

** China Long March 4C rocket launch of a remote sensing satellite fails due to a problem in the third stage of the 3-stage vehicle:


** China launches another satellite for navigation constellation:

From CGTN:

The latest BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) launch took place from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 11:48 p.m. on May 17. Launched on a Long March-3C carrier rocket, it is the fourth BDS-2 backup satellite and the 45th satellite in the BDS network. It can provide users with more reliable services and enhance the stability of the satellite constellation.

** Chinese commercial company LandSpace tests LOX/Methane engine:

More about the engine:

** ULA Atlas V rocket for first Boeing Starliner crew vehicle test mission leaves factory:

** Brief NASA video about Commercial Crew Program safety : Safety a Top Priority of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program – YouTube

** Rocket shorts:

Hydros thruster: Hydros uses electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas, which can then be burned as rocket propellants. The concept meshes well with the idea of extracting water ice from the moon or near-Earth asteroids for spacecraft refueling. Three Hydros-M flight units already have been delivered to Millennium Space Systems, and Hoyt said a Hydros-C module is due for launch on the PTD-1 CubeSat mission in December.

Despite that warning, launch vehicle startups remain focused on unique engine designs. At last count, there were 129 rocket startups, Rich Pournelle, NanoRacks senior vice president for business development, said at the April conference.

How many will survive? Eric Salwan, Firefly Aerospace commercial business development director, suggested the market could support three, four or five.

** The cause of the failure of the Atlas-Agena B rocket with the Mariner 1 spacecraft in 1962 is discussed by Scott Manley:

** SpaceX:

*** Much delayed 3rd Falcon Heavy launch holding to June 22 date for a mission that includes 24 satellites: SpaceX’s third Falcon Heavy launch is just one month away

In support of the mission, SpaceX will need to completely integrate Falcon Heavy and prepare the rocket for a routine static fire test approximately one week prior to launch, sometime in mid-June. STP-2 will be critical to both SpaceX and the USAF for a number of reasons, ranging from rocket reusability to the future of US military launch procurement.

*** A lunar lander mission launched with a Falcon Heavy will be the subject of a SpaceX feasibility study: SpaceX wins NASA funds to study a Falcon Heavy-launched Moon lander – Teslarati

NASA has announced a series of awards as part of its 2024 Moon return ambitions, providing up to $45.5M for 11 companies to study lunar landers, spacecraft, and in-space refueling technologies.

Among those selected for studies are SpaceX, Blue Origin, Masten Space, and the Sierra Nevada Corporation, alongside usual suspects like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The chances of NASA actually achieving a crewed return to the surface of the Moon by 2024 are admittedly minuscule. However, with the space agency’s relatively quick three-month turnaround from accepting proposals to awarding studies, those chances of success will at least be able to continue skirting the realm of impossibility for now. In fact, SpaceX believes its Moon lander could be ready for a lunar debut as early as 2023.

*** Watch the lifting of a Falcon Heavy to vertical on Pad 39A in this video (at 1:04): Construction of SpaceX’s largest spaceship ever could be taking place in Cocoa

*** Update on Raptor LOX/Methane engines and their use on the Starship vehicles: SpaceX’s space-optimized Starship engine could be ready sooner than later

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says that there is now a chance that a vacuum-optimized version of the Raptor engine will be ready for near-term Starship launches, indicating that development has either been re-prioritized or is going more smoothly than expected.

This is a significant shift away from a strategy discussed by Musk just four months ago, in which a single variant of Raptor was to be used on Starship and Super Heavy to shorten the next-gen rocket’s path to orbit. For unknown reasons, that approach may have already been replaced with a new alternative that would lead to a Starship with six Raptors instead of seven and a 50-50 split between vacuum and sea level-optimized engines.

*** Starhopper awaits its Raptor(s):

*** Starship in Boca Chica Beach, Texas gets a nosecone:

*** A second Starship orbital vehicle is taking shape in Florida: SpaceX is constructing a second Starship prototype – Teslarati

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that the company’s second orbital Starship prototype is already in the early stages of integration at a parallel Florida facility, piggybacking on ongoing work in South Texas.

SpaceX’s plans to simultaneously build Starship prototypes in Texas and Florida have been public for some time. However, photos taken by forum members of offer the first direct confirmation that hardware is already being assembled in Florida. Likely unique in the annals of full-scale heavy-lift rocket development, SpaceX’s strategy of building largely identical prototypes in separate locations – and with separate teams – could be an ingenious method of speeding up development.

A comment from Elon on the two projects:

*** A visit to the Starship construction site in Cocoa, Florida by the people at

and by a local news team:

** Starships may launch from Pad 39A, which is currently used by Falcon 9s and Falcon Heavys:  SpaceX considering Starship test launches from Pad 39A –

As SpaceX continues to make steady progress on multiple Starship test vehicles at their Boca Chica launch facility, the company’s CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that they are also constructing a Starship vehicle in Florida. The Florida-based Starship is expected to launch from one of SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral based facilities, as opposed to the company’s launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. understands that one facility under serious consideration is historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX hopes to use the Starship spacecraft to return humans to the moon and colonize Mars. While plans for the vehicle are rapidly evolving, at present multiple sources have indicated that the company is hoping to perform orbital test flights of the Starship prototypes.

What level of testing remains an open question, as Elon Musk noted on Twitter that using SSTO (Single Stage To Orbit) test launches – where just the Starship launches without the Super Heavy booster – wouldn’t allow the vehicle to be reusable.

*** An estimate of how much money SpaceX took in on launches in 2018:  SpaceX revenue: $2 billion from rockets last year, Jefferies estimate – CNBC