Space transport roundup – Aug.2.2019

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

** LightSail-2 successfully propelled in low earth orbit by solar light: LightSail 2 Spacecraft Successfully Demonstrates Flight by Light | The Planetary Society

Years of computer simulations. Countless ground tests. They’ve all led up to now. The Planetary Society’s crowdfunded LightSail 2 spacecraft is successfully raising its orbit solely on the power of sunlight. 

Since unfurling the spacecraft’s silver solar sail last week, mission managers have been optimizing the way the spacecraft orients itself during solar sailing. After a few tweaks, LightSail 2 began raising its orbit around the Earth. In the past 4 days, the spacecraft has raised its orbital high point, or apogee, by about 2 kilometers. The perigee, or low point of its orbit, has dropped by a similar amount, which is consistent with pre-flight expectations for the effects of atmospheric drag on the spacecraft. The mission team has confirmed the apogee increase can only be attributed to solar sailing, meaning LightSail 2 has successfully completed its primary goal of demonstrating flight by light for CubeSats.

“We’re thrilled to announce mission success for LightSail 2,” said LightSail program manager and Planetary Society chief scientist Bruce Betts. “Our criteria was to demonstrate controlled solar sailing in a CubeSat by changing the spacecraft’s orbit using only the light pressure of the Sun, something that’s never been done before. I’m enormously proud of this team. It’s been a long road and we did it.”

Some follow-up, including some controversy on the orbital data: ‘Mission success’ declared after LightSail 2 solar sail raises orbit – GeekWire.

For LightSail related resources, see the LightSail Press Kit | The Planetary Society

** Russian rockets send cargo freighter to ISS and communications satellite to MEO.

*** Progress cargo vehicle launches on Soyuz and docks with ISS just 3 hours and 19 minutes later.

A Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle launched the Progress MS-12 spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station (ISS Progress 73 mission) on 31 July 2019, at 12:10 UTC (18:10 local time, 08:10 EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Stories about the mission:

*** Soyuz 2.1a rocket launches from far east Pletsetsk spaceport to send communications satellite to medium altitude Molynia earth orbit:

** First test flight of the Gilmour suborbital rocket falls short of target altitude when engien shuts down shortly after liftoff: One Vision statement

On Monday July 29, Gilmour Space Technologies attempted to launch our ‘One Vision’ suborbital rocket to flight test the company’s proprietary orbital-class hybrid rocket engine and demonstrate our mobile launch capability.

At T-7 seconds to launch, the test rocket suffered an anomaly that resulted in the premature end of this mission. Initial investigations show that a pressure regulator in the oxidiser tank had failed to maintain required pressure, and this anomaly resulted in some damage to the tank and rocket. There was no explosion due to the safe nature of hybrid rocket engines, and no observable damage to the engine. (We will share footage of the launch attempt when available.)

Despite failing to launch, our team successfully tested the mobile launch platform and mission control centre, which had journeyed over 1,800 km to the test site. The automatic ‘load-and-launch’ ground support system performed nominally through countdown, and switched to safe mode to dilute the oxidiser when the tank was compromised. With this mobile launch system, we believe we have the capability to launch a light orbital vehicle from anywhere in Australia.

** Interstellar Technologies MOMO suborbital rocket fails to reach its planned orbit as well:


onboard computer issued an emergency stop command. MOMO-F4 reached an apogee of around 13 km and splashed down of 9 km offshore in Launch Hazard Area.

The company has raised more funds to keep development going: Interstellar Technologies Inc. Raises ¥1.22 Billion [US$12.2M] in Series B – Interstellar Technologies  –  July.29.2019 (pdf)

** Update on the next SpaceShipTwo in construction at The Spaceship Company:

Virgin Galactic expects, according to a recent investor presentation, to have five SS2 vehicles in operation by 2023 to support around 270 flights per year.

** China:

*** First stage of Chinese Long March 2C rocket used grid fins similar to those on the SpaceX Falcon boosters. They were used to guide the first stage to an unpopulated area after the launch from an inland spaceport:

Grid Fins on Long March 2C.
Grid Fins on Long March 2C. Credits: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)

*** iSpace Hyperbola-1 first launch mimics SpaceX Falcon Heavy‘s launch of a Tesla Roadster:

iSpace Hyperbola-1 launch –

** The 2019 International Space Elevator Conference will be held August 16-18 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA. The annual meeting is organized by the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC). Check out their latest update: ISEC Space Elevator Newsletter August 2019

** SpaceX:

*** Falcon 9 launch of AMOS-17 communications is delayed after a problem found during a static firing test on Wednesday:

The first stage booster has flown twice but will be expended on this launch.

Here is a video of the static test courtesy of

*** Synchronized views of the Falcon 9 booster returning to the Cape after the CRS-18 Dragon launch: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posts uncut Falcon 9 landing video: reentry burn to touchdown – Teslarati

*** Legs of the recovered booster folded up rather than removed: SpaceX retracts Falcon 9 booster’s landing legs a second time after speedy reuse – Teslarati.

Following the Falcon 9 booster’s second successful NASA launch in less than three months, SpaceX recovery technicians have once again rapidly retracted B1056’s four landing legs, also reused from the booster’s May 2019 launch debut.

On the heels of Falcon 9 B1056’s first speedy, leg-retracting recovery, a repeat of the booster’s impressive landing leg retraction debut – using the same legs, no less – serves as an excellent sign that whatever hardware changes were implemented are on the right track. As part of SpaceX and CEO Elon Musk’s interim goal of launching the same Falcon 9 booster twice in 1-2 days, a speedy recovery is an absolute necessity, and landing leg retraction is just one of the dozens of ways the company will need to optimize recovery and reuse to lower average turnaround times from weeks to days.

*** Environmental impact of Starship/Super Heavy launches from Pad 39A outlined in Draft Environmental Assessment for the SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy  Launch Vehicle at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) – NASA  (pdf)

Pursuant to the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA), SpaceX currently operates its Falcon family of launch vehicles on KSC at Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A). SpaceX proposes to expand operations to include launch of Starship/Super Heavy vehicle from this complex. The fully reusable rocket system is being developed by SpaceX to take humans and cargo to Earth orbit and beyond, including to the Moon and Mars.

The launch vehicle is comprised of two stages; the Super Heavy booster is the first stage, and the Starship is the second stage. The booster would be powered by 31 Raptor engines and Starship spacecraft would be powered by seven Raptor engines. The propellant is composed of liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid methane (LCH4). SpaceX intends to eventually launch the Starship/Super Heavy approximately 24 times per year. The Starship/Super Heavy would include Lunar and Mars missions, satellite payload missions, and human spaceflight.

SpaceX would construct an additional launch mount for Starship/Super Heavy at LC-39A, adjacent to the existing mount used for the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. A LCH4 farm would be built near the existing Falcon Rocket Propellant-1 (RP-1) farm similar in structure to the existing LOX farm. Site improvements would also include an interior transport road leading from the pad entrance gate up to the launch mount as well as several new high pressure gaseous commodity lines. A deluge water system and water cooled flame diverter would be installed and comprised of new water tanks capable of delivering the necessary water pressure.

The Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) facility, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), would be used as a landing location for Starship, similar to its current use for Falcon booster landings. The Starship spacecraft is the second stage of the vehicle. Super Heavy is the first stage booster and would be landed downrange on a droneship (converted barge), similar to the downrange landings of Falcon boosters. SpaceX’s proposed action includes the construction of a landing pad for Starship land landings within the LC-39A boundary. The potential for land landings of Starship at LC-39A will require additional analysis to fully assess the potential impacts to NASA programs, facilities, personnel and operations.

The file includes also the report: Starship Noise and Sonic Boom Assessment for Flight and Static Test Operations at Kennedy Space Center – KBRwyle Technical Note TN 19-02.

*** The Starhopper moved back to its starting point after its first un-tethered flight:

The window for the next flight, which will go up to 200 meters, opens on August 12th.

*** Scott Manley analyzes the Starhopper’s hop:

*** A view from the sky of SpaceX facilities and activities at Boca Chica Beach:

*** Shots of the Starhopper and Starship demo vehicle under assembly at Boca Chica:

*** Misc. SpaceX items:


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