Space transport roundup – June.18.2019

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

** Gyroc tethered hover testAirbourne Engineering in the UK:  Successful Test of VTVL Rocket | Airborne Engineering Limited

…The vehicle, codenamed Gyroc (a shortening of “gyro-stabilised rocket”) is the result of an internal research and development project that has been under way at Airborne for a few years at our Westcott facility in the United Kingdom. VTVL rockets like Gyroc can be used to test technologies required for landing on other planets, such as the Moon or Mars. We believe that this is the first time such a vehicle has been successfully tested in Europe.

… Gyroc uses non-toxic rocket propellants (nitrous oxide and isopropyl alcohol,) weighs about 20kg and can hover for over 30 seconds. After more testing, we plan to scale-up the vehicle so that it can be used to assist other organisations developing autonomous planetary landing technology and who need a way to carry out testing in a realistic way on the Earth. Although the development of Gyroc has been entirely self-funded by Airborne Engineering, we are very grateful to the European Space Agency who have kindly provided some additional funds to support the recent test programme. It is hoped this will lead to future collaboration.

** Stratolaunch is up for sale:


The hefty price tag includes ownership of the airplane as well as the intellectual property and facilities.

Stratolaunch is the world’s largest airplane by wingspan, which stretches 385 feet — longer than an American football field. The plane is powered by six jet engines salvaged from Boeing 747 aircraft.

Allen’s vision of a massive plane that can launch rockets from the air was at least partially fulfilled in April, when Stratolaunch flew for the first time after about eight years in development. Based at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, the giant airplane flew for more than two hours before landing after what was deemed a successful first flight.

** Blue Origin has several major projects underway in Florida: Blue Origin investing $1 billion into Space Coast for ‘road to space’ – Florida Today

If all goes according to Blue Origin’s ambitious plan, the Space Coast will become the opening phase of a “road to space” for millions of people taking their livelihoods beyond Earth’s fragile atmosphere.

The Jeff Bezos-led company is investing more than a billion dollars into the region to transform infrastructure — old and new — into gateways for its upcoming New Glenn rocket, a towering vehicle slated to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station no earlier than 2021. It will also be built, launched and refurbished here after landing on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

“New Glenn is all about millions of people living and working in space,” Scott Henderson, Blue Origin’s vice president of test and flight operations, said Tuesday during a National Space Club Florida Committee luncheon in Cape Canaveral. “It sets the foundation for building an infrastructure required to get to space.”

** Ariane V rocket set to liftoff from Kourou, French Guiana on June 20th with the AT&T T-16 and Eutelsat 7C communications satellites during the window 2143-2330 GMT (5:43-7:30 p.m. EDT).

VS248 payloads
“Flight VA248’s two satellite passengers are readied for launch during parallel activity inside the Spaceport’s S5 building. The photo at left shows AT&T T-16 during its fueling process, while at right EUTELSAT 7C undergoes its fit-check with the payload adapter that will provide the interface with Ariane 5 when integrated on the launcher.” – Arianespace

** Russian Proton rocket set to launch the German and Russian X-ray telescopes on June 21st at 1217 GMT (8:17 am EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan: Proton rocket, Russian-German astronomy satellite arrive at launch pad – Spaceflight Now

** ULA Vulcan rocket development update: ULA Preparing Proven Hardware and New Innovations for Vulcan –

One of the only components of Vulcan Centaur which will likely not fly prior to Vulcan’s debut is the BE-4 engine, two of which will power Vulcan’s first stage. The BE-4 is a liquid methane and liquid oxygen fueled engine developed by Blue Origin, originally for their New Glenn launch vehicle.

New Glenn is also expected to debut in 2021, so the BE-4 could only fly prior to Vulcan’s debut if New Glenn flies first. The BE-4, as well as BE-3U engines for New Glenn, will be manufactured at a new factory in Huntsville, Alabama, not far from ULA’s Decatur factory. Construction equipment has begun to arrive at the factory site.

Prototype engines have been test fired extensively at Blue Origin’s West Texas facility, also the launch site of their suborbital New Shepard vehicle. Further testing and eventual qualification of the engine will take place in Texas, as well as the 4670 test stand at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. Blue Origin is also preparing an engine test facility at LC-11 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, next to the future launch site of New Glenn, LC-36.

** Firefly seeking payloads for first demo flight of Alpha rocket:

The company

has an (undisclosed) customer for the flight, but the smallsat launcher also has some unused capacity for the mission—the Alpha rocket has about twice as much lift as an existing competitor, Rocket Lab’s Electron vehicle.

So on Monday, Firefly announced that it will accept some academic and educational payloads free of charge on the Alpha flight. “We’ve wanted to do something like this on our first flight from the beginning,” Markusic said. The payloads will fly to a 300km circular orbit, with a 97-degree inclination.

** SpaceX:

*** STP-2 Falcon Heavy launch preparations: Liftoff from Pad-39A at Cape Kennedy Space Center is set for a window that opens on the evening of June 24th at 11:30 pm-3:30 am EDT (0330-0730 GMT)

If the routine test goes as planned, SpaceX’s third completed Falcon Heavy will be ready to lift off as early as 11:30 pm ET (03:30 UTC), June 24th. Atop the massive rocket will be the US Air Force’s Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission, a collection of 24 small satellites from a variety of US government agencies and academic institutions. Practically speaking, STP is often more of an engineered excuse to launch, involving satellites and customers that are willing to accept higher risk than more valuable payloads, making it far easier for the US military to certify new technologies and new commercial launch vehicles.

As previously discussed on Teslarati, STP-2 is an extremely ambitious mission that aims to simultaneously certify or pave the way towards certification of critical capabilities. First and foremost, it will (barring serious anomalies) give the US military the data it needs to certify SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket for all national defense launches, giving ULA’s Delta IV Heavy its first real competition in a decade and a half.

Included under the umbrella of that catch-all certification is a sort of torture-test validation of the long-coast capabilities of SpaceX’s Falcon upper stage. To successfully complete STP-2, the upper stage will be subjected to “four separate upper-stage engine burns, three separate deployment orbits, a final propulsive passivation maneuver, and a total mission duration of over six hours.” It will likely be SpaceX’s most technically-challenging launch ever.

*** Planetary Society’s LightSail-2 solar sail on FH flight and the Society is providing lots of information on all aspects of the launch:

*** The Falcon 9 launch of the RadarSat constellation spacecraft looks to be the last SpaceX launch from Vandenberg for several months:

*** Announcement of Korean satellite launch contract may be just one of several launches for 2019 that have not yet been revealed by SpaceX: SpaceX Falcon 9 wins Korean launch contract as 2019 mystery missions persist – Teslarati

As previously discussed in both Teslarati articles and newsletters, comments from SpaceX executives in February and May 2019 reiterate the company’s expectation of 18-21 launches in 2019, excluding Starlink. Hofeller’s “more than 21 launches” admittedly came more than two months before a catastrophic Crew Dragon failure threw the spacecraft’s launch manifest into limbo.

Three months later, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell reiterated the idea that SpaceX could beat its 2018 launch record (21 launches) or at least get close. Curiously, she specifically noted that SpaceX’s purported 18-21 launch manifest excluded Starlink missions, of which SpaceX has already launched one. In short, SpaceX has completed 7 launches in 2019 (6 if Starlink v0.9 is excluded). The company’s public manifest – unofficially cobbled together by fans – shows 9 more launches scheduled for a total of 15 non-Starlink launches in 2019.

To meet Shotwell’s expected 18-21 non-Starlink launches, anywhere from 3 to 6 missions are apparently missing from publicly-managed launch manifests. It’s unclear if SpaceX actually has enough launch-ready customers to achieve those ambitious targets. Additionally, SpaceX is currently on track to complete 8 launches total (1 Starlink) in the first half of 2019. In 2017 and 2018 (two years without interruption), SpaceX consistently launched an equivalent number (or more) missions in the first half of the year when compared to the second half, and both years have maxed out at 9 launches in H2.

*** SpaceX aiming Starlink internet services at markets outside of densely populated urban areas: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk hints at Starlink’s global reach at Tesla shareholder event – Teslarati

Elon Musk’s specific comment indicated that Starlink – at least in its current iteration – was never meant to serve more than “3-5%” of Earth (population: ~7.8 billion), with most or all of its users nominally located in areas with low to medium population densities. This generally confirms technical suspicions that Starlink (and other constellations like OneWeb and Telesat) is not really capable of providing internet to everyone per se.

For SpaceX, each Starlink satellite – per official statements that the first 60 satellites represent more than 1 terabit of bandwidth – likely offers bandwidth of roughly 17-20 gigabits per second. In simpler terms, this means that one Starlink satellite overhead could theoretically support as many as 4000 users simultaneously streaming YouTube videos at 1080p/30fps, a figure that sounds impressive but glosses over the sheer number of people that live in cities. Importantly, every single Starlink satellite at ~550 km will likely have a service radius of several thousand – if not tens of thousands of – square kilometers.

Here’s an overview of the Starlink project:

*** Starhopper continues to wait for it’s Raptor engine, which apparently was damaged in tests at the SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas. Elon Musk said in a tweet that the next test hop of the Starhopper was awaiting repairs to the engine. This also means that his update on the Starship project, which he had hinted would be given on June 20th, will be postponed.

*** The roads near the Starhopper launch pad will be closed during testing times: County preps for SpaceX closures – Brownsville Herald

In a first, Cameron County has announced possible closures of Boca Chica Beach and State Highway 4 for SpaceX testing that could span a week-long window, as opposed to three-day windows.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. announced in the public notice that closures are possible on June 20 and/or June 21 and/or June 22, as well as June 24 and/or June 25 and/or June 26 from 2 to 8 p.m. for space flight activities.

Testing was initially scheduled for this week, but during the last week of May and each week of June the county has announced the testing has been rescheduled.

*** Views of Starhopper and orbital demo Starship vehicles in Texas and Florida:

SpaceX is leasing Coastal Steel to build its largest spaceship ever. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said right now, there is simultaneous construction of the interplanetary Starship going on in both Texas and Florida.




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