Space transport roundup – July.2.2019

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

** Rocket Lab‘s seventh Electron rocket launch successfully carried seven payloads into orbit last Saturday:

The liftoff is at about 18:55 into this webcast video:

** EXOS Aerospace‘s SARGE reusable sounding rocket suffers guidance anomaly shortly after liftoff but successfully returns via parasail for a soft landing. Exos suffers setback in reusable suborbital launch attempt –

Liftoff is at about the 2:57:30 point in this webcast video. The miscue in the trajectory is visible just before the rocket goes out of view of the camera.

A problem with the engine gimbal is mentioned in the video. Haven’t seen any update since then from the company giving more details about the problem. The vehicle appears to be undamaged so the next launch could happen relatively soon. You can follow EXOS at EXOS (@exosaerosystech) | Twitter.

** A SpaceShipTwo hybrid moter is tested in Mojave by The SpaceShip Company, the Virgin Galactic subsidiary in charge of manufacturing the SS2/WhiteKnightTwo vehicles.

** bluShift Aerospace of Main wins NASA SBIR funding for development of the MAREVL (Modular Adaptable Rocket Engine for Vehicle Launch): Maine rocket company wins NASA grant | Journal Tribune.

Modern orbital rockets are made up of two or more stages. Different stages use different engine types, each optimized for a specific part of the ascent. With MAREVL, each stage will have different numbers of the same engine type and it uses a hybrid rocket, in which liquid oxidizer combines with a solid fuel, to reduce the complexity, weight, and cost of the engine.

“We are developing a modular hybrid rocket engine that will use a bio-derived solid fuel to launch cubesats into low-Earth orbit,” Lockman said.

The goal is development of a smallsat launcher. Here is a recent presentation by Seth Lockman of bluShift: 5 Minute Genius: Seth Lockman – From Maine to the Stars. Maine Science Festival 2019

And another intro video about the company:

Find updates at bluShift Aerospace (@bluShiftAero) | Twitter.

** Another article about Spinlaunch and its catapult launch system: This Startup Wants To Use A Hypersonic Catapult To Throw Satellites Directly Into Space By 2022 – Forbes

The company was founded back in 2014 but only emerged into the public eye in 2018 after spending four years in stealth mode. The company raised $40 million in Series A funding in April last year from Airbus Ventures, Google Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins. They are touting launch costs of $250,000, and up to five launches per day. It’s unclear what the weight limit is per launch.

** Blue Origin is preparing the ship on which New Glenn boosters will land:

** Chinese commercial launch companies:

*** Polar Space Exploration Technology Ltd. developing  vertical takeoff and landing launch system: “Tianmeng” rocket project – Weibo

Booster landing from animation of Tianmeng launch system.

*** OneSpace tests two thrusters:


** SpaceX:

*** The first Starship operational orbital launch set for 2021 according to SpaceX VP: SpaceX targets 2021 commercial Starship launch –

The first commercial mission for SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy launch system will likely take place in 2021, a company executive said June 26. 

Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s vice president of commercial sales, said the company is in talks with prospective customers for the first commercial launch of that system roughly two years from now. 

“We are in discussions with three different customers as we speak right now to be that first mission,” Hofeller said at the APSAT conference here. “Those are all telecom companies.”

*** Falcon 9 standard launch price is now $50M according to Hofeller in the same presentation.

Hofeller said the discounted pricing SpaceX gave to early customers of Falcon 9 missions with pre-flown first-stage boosters is now the company’s normal pricing. SpaceX Founder Elon Musk said last year that previously flown booster missions were priced “around $50 million,” down from $62 million. Musk said SpaceX’s prices would continue to decline, too. 

Hofeller reiterated that prices would keep dropping through the introduction of Super Heavy and Starship. The fully reusable nature of the launch system enables those lower prices, he said. 

According to the official SpaceX Falcon 9 specs, the $50M price makes for $2193/kg ($995/lb) to LEO, $6024/kg ($2732/lb) to GEO, and $12440/kg ($5643/lb) to Mars.

*** We may see a Falcon booster fly for its 6th time this year: SpaceX sets new Falcon 9 Block 5 reusability milestones for second half of 2019 – Teslarati

Speaking at 2019’s Asia-Pacific Satellite (APSAT) Conference, SpaceX Vice President of Commercial Sales Jonathan Hofeller – squeezed into a sea of breaking-news updates – announced that the company plans to launch the same Falcon 9 Block 5 booster for the fifth (or sixth) time by the end of 2019.

Just an add-on at the end of a number of updates focused on SpaceX’s next-generation Starship/Super Heavy rocket, the phrasing reported by technically means that there are plans for a Falcon 9 booster to launch for the sixth time in the second half of 2019. The demonstration of such an extreme level of operational reusability barely 18 months after Falcon 9 Block 5’s debut would make it clear that SpaceX’s latest Falcon upgrade has been a resounding success. In line with those positive signs, Hofeller also noted that SpaceX is already starting to transfer the fruits of those labors to its customers by permanently lowering the base price of Falcon 9 launch contracts.

*** Great views of the most recent Falcon Heavy launch: More photos from SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy night launch – Spaceflight Now.

The the Air Force Research Laboratory had two spacecraft on the flight: AFRL puts new technologies into space aboard world’s most powerful launch vehicle – U.S. Air Force.

…the Green Propellant Infusion Mission spacecraft, which enables the first ever on-orbit demonstration of the AFRL developed Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-toxic Propellant.

Space demonstration of this new propellant, ASCENT, formerly known as AF-M315E, marks a major milestone in a national effort to develop new energetic propellants to replace hydrazine, the current established chemical propellant of choice for nearly all current satellite propulsion. Not only is ASCENT 50% higher performing than hydrazine, it is also a vastly safer alternative, allowing for streamlined ground operations relative to legacy propellants. While hydrazine is flammable, toxic and requires the use of Self Contained Atmospheric Protective Ensemble suits for handling operations, ASCENT propellant requires minimal Personal Protective Equipment such as a lab coat and a splash guard for the face.

Also part of the STP-2 mission was AFRL’s Demonstration and Science Experiments (DSX) spacecraft. The first of its kind globally, the DSX flight experiment will conduct new research to advance DOD’s understanding of the processes governing the Van Allen radiation belts and the effect they have on spacecraft components. DSX’s elliptical path in medium Earth orbit will increase understanding of this orbital regime, and advance understanding of the interplay between waves and particles that underlie radiation belt dynamics, enabling better specification, forecasting and mitigation. This will ultimately enhance the nation’s capability to field resilient space systems, AFRL officials say.

DSX’s mission is different from most other Air Force flight experiments as it is a purely scientific mission. The spacecraft is equipped with a unique suite of technologies such as space weather sensors and graphite antenna booms used to conduct experiments with very-low frequency radio waves. DSX has two sets of immense deployable booms due to the large antenna requirements of these experiments. One set extends 80 meters tip-to-tip and the other extends 16 meters tip-to-tip, making the DSX spacecraft one of the largest deployable structures in orbit.

Despite the third launch success, there are no FH missions listed on the public manifest till the end of 2020:

*** Turning the return and capture of a Falcon fairing into a physics lesson: SpaceX Recovered Its First Rocket Fairing. Let’s Crunch the Numbers! | WIRED

A SpaceX fairing is falling from an altitude of 50 km and falls with a constant terminal velocity of 20 m/s. You are the captain of the fast boat Ms. Tree. Mission control has just determined that the fairing will land a distance of 12.3 km from your location. Since you are trying to impress everyone, you decide to wait until the last possible moment to travel to the rendezvous site. How long should you wait?

*** A Falcon  9 booster may join the Rocket Garden at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral: Kennedy Space Center wants a SpaceX Falcon 9 core for its Rocket Garden – Teslarati

*** 57 Starlink satellites have reached operational orbit while 3 are not in contact with the controllers.  These first-generation spacecraft were inserted into orbit at 440 km in May and then used on-board ion thrusters to reach 550 kilometers. Since they are in the lower orbit, the three failed satellites will reenter the atmosphere within a year or two.

** Some info about NASA’s commercial crew program from Eric Berger including an item about the investigation into the explosion during the test of the abort system on a Dragon spacecraft on April 20th:



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