Space transport roundup – June.3.2019

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

** Lightning strikes Soyuz 2-1B rocket during ascent but launch on May 27th successful anyway:

** Russian Proton rocket launches Yamal-601 geostationary communications satellite on May 30th:

** Stratolaunch appears to be shutting down: Exclusive: Space firm founded by billionaire Paul Allen closing operations – sources – Reuters

** Sierra Nevada Corp’s patented VORTEX® rocket engine was test fired in a public demo: Ozmens’ SNC Test-fires Next-Gen Rocket Engine in Prep for U.S. Launches – SNC

SNC Vortex Engine Test
SNC Vortex engine test firing. Credits: SNC

** SNC will support upgrades to the Japanese next-gen ISS cargo vehicle: Ozmens’ Sierra Nevada Corporation to Provide Hardware for Japanese HTV-X International Space Station Missions – SNC

HTV-X is the advanced version of H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV). The spacecraft will provide supplies to the Kibō Japanese Experiment Module and the International Space Station for future servicing missions.

The HTV-X spacecraft is developed and operated by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), with primary sections of the vehicle being manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO).

** Nozzle blows off during test firing of Northrop-Grumman solid fuel booster:

N-G management is downplaying the incident but I’m sure the USAF will want the problem found and fixed before the OmegA can be considered for defense payloads.

[ Update: Scott Manley analyzes the incident:


** An update on Gilmour Space Technologies, an Australian/Singapore company developing a SmallSat launcher with a hybrid motor propulsion system: Building a rocket in a garage to take on SpaceX and Blue Origin – CNET

GIlmour’s suborbital One Vision rocket “is slated to launch in late June”. If that goes well they will proceed with development of the orbital

… three-stage rocket dubbed “Eris,” it will blast off to low Earth orbit, dropping off small satellites 100 miles (160 kilometers) above the surface.

“Eris is a three-stage vehicle, so it has three separate stages that fire individual sections,” Gilmour explains. “We have designed it to be able to take all of the known small satellites that are being built and designed right now, into space.”

The company has started work on Eris, and completion is tentatively scheduled in for 2020.

** Rocket Crafters tests 2.5 kN Cyclone hybrid motor:

This test is the most recent demonstration of Rocket Crafters new 2.5 kN (550 lbf) Cyclone Labscale testing engine. The Cyclone Engine uses a combination of the patent pending STAR-3D (Safe, Throttleable, Affordable, Reliable, 3D-Printed) Fuel Grain and VIFFI (Vortex Flow-Field Injector) technologies. The engine was fired for five seconds at 50% throttle and performed even better than expected with a maximum thrust of 1.5 kN (340 lbf)! Notice how smooth the plume from the engine is, it is much steadier and smoother than that what would be observed from a traditional Hybrid Rocket Engine. In addition, the top view is taken from a GoPro mounted to the Oxidizer Tank for the Engine, because it is attached to the test stand any vibrations from the Engine would be seen from this view.

** Firefly Aerospace releases payload users guide for the Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV), which uses solar electric propulsion to move payloads to a desired orbit:

** A Chinese rocket company tests a thruster system:

** More about university student rocket teams:

[ Update: The team fell short of 100 km but still reached a high altitude: College Rocket-Builders Are Flying High, Even as Launch Falls a Bit Short – WSJ

But in the middle of their flights, the rockets ran into an issue and fell short of hitting the Karman Line, an international standard for the boundary between earth’s atmosphere and space at 62 miles up.

“The bottom line is, from the start, it wasn’t really about the small technical details,” said Saad Mirza, a 19-year-old Princeton University student who was the team’s technical lead. “The real fact is we beat pretty much every odd.”

After spending innumerable hours working toward getting to space and falling short, the team members weren’t upset. Oddly enough, they were giddy.

There were technical triumphs to celebrate. The second-stage ignition, they felt, was a major accomplishment. Both rockets took off “straight as an arrow,” Mr. Mirza said. And even without getting to space, the rockets still got quite high. (They are still going through data to determine the exact height.)


** Misc.

** SpaceX:

*** SpaceX CRS-17 Dragon leaving the ISS this morning for a splashdown in the Pacific: NASA TV Set to Air US Cargo Ship Departure from Space Station | NASA

Filled with more than 4,200 pounds of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo, a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft is set to return to Earth from the International Space Station Monday, June 3. NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of the craft’s release beginning at 11:45 a.m. EDT.

Around noon, flight controllers at mission control in Houston will deliver remote commands to the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to detached Dragon from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module. Expedition 59 Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency will back up the operation and monitor Dragon’s systems as it departs the orbital laboratory.

After firing its thrusters to move a safe distance away from the station, Dragon will execute a deorbit burn around 4:56 p.m. to leave orbit, as it heads for a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, 202 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, at 2:55 p.m. PDT. There will be no live coverage of deorbit burn or splashdown.

A view of the splashdown target area:

The Dragon is currently the only vehicle that can return substantial amounts of cargo from the ISS: Science Results Packed for Return to Earth Aboard Dragon Monday – Space Station

*** Two launches set for June. The following dates are still “no earlier than” and the specific launch window times are not yet posted.

  • June 11: Vandenberg AFB, Pad SLC-4E – Falcon 9 with three spacecraft for the Canadian Radarsat Constellation.
  • June 22: Kennedy Space Center, Pad 39-A – Falcon Heavy with USAF STP-2 Mission with 24 military and scientific research satellites.

[ Update: A time has been released for the FH launch:


*** Falcon Heavy STP-2 launch system components are on site and in assembly: SpaceX’s next Falcon Heavy hits milestone as final rocket parts arrive in Florida – Teslarati

*** Planetary Society’s LightSail-2 arrives at Cape for launch on the SpaceX Falcon Heavy. LightSail 2 Arrives in Florida | The Planetary Society

*** The Falcon 9 booster for the launch for the 60 Starlink satellites returned to Port Canaveral last week (videos via

*** Update on the Starlink satellites: SpaceX says all 60 Starlink satellites functioning so far –

All 60 satellites — the first in a constellation that could one day number 12,000 — have deployed solar arrays, a SpaceX spokesperson said in a May 31 statement, and most are in the process of climbing from their 440-kilometer drop-off point to their 550-kilometer target orbit.  

“SpaceX continues to monitor the constellation for any satellites that may need to be safely deorbited,” the spokesperson said. “All the satellites have maneuvering capability and are programmed to avoid each other and other objects in orbit by a wide margin.”

*** Starhopper & Starship orbiter demonstrators:

**** Raptor engine being installed on the Starhopper test vehicle this weekend but just for fit checks:

From SNF:

For instance, up until recently, the company was planning to utilize Raptor SN4 for the untethered hops. However, the company has now decided to utilize this engine only for fit checks, and will instead perform the hops with SN5 – the latest Raptor to come out of SpaceX’s factory in Hawthorne, California.

SN4 arrived in Boca Chica for the fit checks on Friday afternoon. Meanwhile, SN5 is already at SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor Texas for verification testing before being shipped south.

While the precise reason for the engine change is unknown, by still shipping SN4 to Boca Chica first, SpaceX will be able to ensure that the Starhopper is ready for hopping ahead of SN5’s arrival. This should help to reduce the delays caused by waiting for SN5.

Some pictures:

***** Starships may become single-stage point-to-point transports:

**** An examination of the latest iteration of the design of the Super Heavy Booster/Starship combo:  Initial BFR (Starship) is not much more powerful than Falcon Heavy | Selenian Boondocks

BFR is now no longer absurdly over-sized at all. That talking point is over. It’s easily within their demonstrated capability. Fewer staging events also helps. And landing the Super Heavy booster may be easier than landing 3 separate cores simultaneously (no one knows right now). They switched from carbon fiber to stainless steel for fabrication, but that’s probably a step in the right direction if you want the vehicle to fly realsoonnow. Hypothetically (with almost balloon tanks), stainless has the same mass fraction as a carbon fiber (which needs design knock-downs for cryogenics and oxygen, particularly with out-of-autoclave processes) and similar to SpaceX’s current aluminum-lithium alloy. In practice, it seems SpaceX is still literally hammering out the manufacturing process. They have a method that seems to work with Starhopper, but the mass fraction is terrible (built literally by a water tower company). It seems almost like Sea Dragon.

But they don’t HAVE to have extremely good mass ratio. The upper stage doesn’t HAVE to have SSTO-like capability, not at first. It just needs enough to get to orbit with significant payload, say 50 tons. Perhaps it just needs 6.5km/s. That’s also about the delta-v needed to go from the Gateway to LLO then to the lunar surface and back (well, that’s about 6.2km/s total… 5.2km/s if you’re aggressive with your burns).

*** A talk by Paul Wooster of SpaceX at the recent Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, D.C. (starts at around 00:23:00) – Getting to the Moon and Mars:

Wooster also participated in the afternoon panel session titled, Session 1b: Surface Operations on Mars (starts at around 7:05:00 into the video).


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