Space transport roundup – June.7.2019

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

** Rocket Lab prepares for an upcoming launch, the seventh for the Electron rocket.

** China launched a Long March 11 rocket this week from a sea platform for the first time. The rocket, which has 4 solid-fueled stages, is essentially a military missile converted to an orbital launcher. The payload consisted of seven smallsats for government, education, and commercial applications.

** ESA promotes Ariane 6, Vega C, and Space Rider projects this week:

** The Space Rider is a reusable lifting body vehicle similar to the X-37B: Space Rider: Europe’s reusable space transport system – ESA

Initially proposed in 2016, ESA’s Space Rider reentry vehicle provides a return to Earth and landing capability that compliments the existing launch options of the Ariane and Vega families.

Having recently completed system and subsystem preliminary design reviews, Space Rider is advancing quickly towards the Critical design review at the end of 2019.

Launched on Vega-C, Space Rider will serve as an uncrewed high-tech space laboratory operating for periods longer than two months in low orbit. It will then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and land, returning its valuable payload to eager engineers and scientists at the landing site. After minimal refurbishment it will be ready for its next mission with new payloads and a new mission.

Space Rider combines reusability, in-orbit operations and transportation, and precise descent of a reentry vehicle able to safely traverse and land close to inhabited zones. These are major developments, set to extend European knowhow across a host of applications allowing industry to open up new markets.

More at ESA promotes Vega’s evolution for independent European access to space –

** Russia starts development of reusable boosters: Russian hi-tech firm working on technology of space rocket’s reusable stages – TASS

Russia’s Energomash Research and Production Association is working on the technology of carrier rockets’ reusable first stages, Energomash Chief Designer Pyotr Lyovochkin said in an interview published in the June edition of the Popular Mechanics journal.

“We constantly explain to rocket builders that if we had the operational technology of returning first stages, they would have no need to buy quite an expensive engine from us just for one flight. Today both rocket builders and we have started to develop such technologies,” Lyovochkin said.

** Virgin Orbit loses most of the OneWeb launch contracts and isn’t happy about it: Virgin Orbit takes OneWeb to court over canceled launch contract –

Virgin Orbit is suing OneWeb for refusing to pay a termination fee for canceling all but four of the 39 launches it ordered from Virgin Orbit in 2015 to fill gaps in its planned constellation of at least 648 broadband satellites.

The first VO flight is coming up soon:

** First Firefly Alpha launch now set for early 2020: Firefly prepares for maiden flight with critical testing, new additions –

** Scott Manley profiles the Antares rocket:

** World View Enterprises maintained a Stratollite airship at a high altitude for 16 days: Milestone 16 Day Stratollite Mission  (pdf)

World View, the stratospheric exploration company, today announced it has successfully executed a record-setting16-day Stratollite™ mission, a key step towards the productization of persistent and navigational stratospheric flight for remote sensing and communications applications.

Prior to the completion of this mission, the longest duration Stratollite flight stood at just five days. This mission moves World View one step closer to scaled commercial operations and productization of the Stratollite and the unique data sets it provides. The Stratollite enables persistent, near-real time, very-high resolution remote sensing over large specified areas of interest for commercial and government customers around the world.

** Zero2Infinity high-altitude balloon flights can now be booked via the HOSTmi – Independent-Automated-Global on line service:

** A brief overview of how the FAA regulates commercial launch: Fact Sheet – Commercial Space Transportation Activities

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for ensuring protection of the public, property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States during commercial launch or reentry activities, and to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial space transportation. To date, the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) has licensed or permitted more than 370 launchesand reentries.

** An overview of a nuclear fusion propulsion system, which has gotten NASA and DOE funding: “Direct Fusion Drive for Rapid Deep Space Propulsion”, Stephanie Thomas, Princeton Satellite Systems. The presentation was given to the FISO group on May 29, 2019.

** SpaceX:

*** Cargo Dragon returns safely to splashdown in the Pacific with load of materials from experiments and R&D projects on the ISS:

*** Falcon 9 with the Radarsat Constellation set to lift off on June 12 from Vandenberg AFB: SpaceX Falcon 9 and $1B satellite trio set for first California launch in months – Teslarati

After the better part of both half a year of launch delays and launch pad inactivity, SpaceX and Falcon 9 are ready to return the company’s California-based SLC-4 facilities to action with the launch of the $1 billion Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM).

Built by Maxar for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), RCM is a trio of remote-sensing spacecraft designed with large surface-scanning radars as their primary payload. Having suffered years of technical delays during Maxar’s production process, RCM was initially available for launch as early as November 2018. In an unlucky turn of events, issues on the SpaceX side of things took RCM’s assigned Falcon 9 booster out of commission and lead to an additional seven or so months of launch delays. At long last, RCM is just one week away from heading to orbit, scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) no earlier than 7:17 am PDT (14:17 UTC), [June 12th].

*** Falcon Heavy STP-2 launch set for June 22nd from Cape Canaveral includes NASA payloads among the 24 total spacecraft: Media Briefing Highlights NASA Tech on Next SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch | NASA

NASA is sending four technology missions that will help improve future spacecraft design and performance into space on the next SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch. Experts will discuss these technologies, and how they complement NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration plans, during a media teleconference Monday, June 10 at 1 p.m. EDT.

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live online at:

*** SpaceX still trying to catch nosecone fairings: SpaceX’s Mr. Steven preparing for first Falcon 9 fairing catch attempt in months – Teslarati

SpaceX recovery vessel Mr. Steven has spent the last several weeks undergoing major refits – including a new net and arms – and testing the upgraded hardware in anticipation of the vessel’s first fairing catch attempt in more than four months.

Required after a mysterious anomaly saw Mr. Steven return to Port in February sans two arms and a net, the appearance of a new net and arms guarantees that SpaceX is still pursuing its current method of fairing recovery. Above all else, successfully closing the loop and catching fairings could help SpaceX dramatically ramp its launch cadence and lower costs, especially critical for the affordable launch of the company’s own Starlink satellite constellation.

*** Speeding up booster turnarounds: SpaceX beats Falcon 9 recovery records after company’s heaviest launch ever  Teslarati

Completed on May 30th, SpaceX’s latest Falcon 9 booster recovery smashed several internal speed records, unofficially cataloged over the years by watchful fans.

In short, as the company’s experienced recovery technicians continue to gain experience and grow familiar with Falcon 9 Block 5, the length of booster recoveries have consistently decreased in the 12 months since Block 5’s launch debut. Already, the efficiency of recovery processing has gotten to the point that – once SpaceX optimizes Block 5’s design for refurbishment-free reuse – there should be no logistical reason the company can’t fly the same booster twice in ~24-48 hours.

*** A Falcon 9 lifting off in high-res slo-mo: Falcon 9 rocket liftoff filmed with ultra-high speed cameras [1,000fps x 1920×1080] : space/

*** An item about the status of the investigation into the explosion during a Crew Dragon test:

*** The Raptor engine for the Starhopper flight tests has yet to arrive at the South Texas site. Nevertheless, lots of activity underway with both the Starhopper and the Starship orbital demo vehicle:

*** A report on the Boca Chica Beach activities and the local community: Before Elon Musk reaches Mars, SpaceX may need to survive south Texas – Business Insider

Developing this system at the company’s remote and privately controlled Texas facility comes with several advantages. The area is fairly close to the equator, which adds a natural speed boost to rockets. SpaceX’s autonomy over the site also gives the company more flexibility in scheduling launches, privacy from competitors, and greater freedom in how it uses the land.

But launching a skyscraper-size rocket from this area (engineering challenges notwithstanding) is no trivial undertaking. For one, any future flight path must avoid populated islands. The bay-bottom mud and sand below SpaceX’s site also cause dense structures and tall towers tend to sink and lean. Gulf Coast weather is a challenge, too, as SpaceX recently saw when gale-force winds damaged its Starhopper.

And then there are the 20 or so people, like the Pointers, who live in or near Boca Chica Village. For them, the unparalleled view of the experimental rocket program, while stirring, is also foreboding.