Space transport roundup – Aug.14.2019

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

** Chinese startup LinkSpace reaches highest altitude yet for the company’s VTOL rockets. RLV-T5 rocket flies to 300 meters and then returns for a powered landing.

** Video of SpaceX-like grid fins on a Long March-2C rocket’s booster. As reported in the previous round-up, the stage does not do a powered landing but the fins instead help steer the booster away from populated areas. The rocket is launched from an in-land spaceport and there are often reports of boosters landing near houses and towns.

** More about reusing the first stage of the Rocket Lab Electron rocket:

** As expected, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser cargo vehicle will launch on ULA Vulcan rocket: SNC Selects ULA for Dream Chaser® Spacecraft Launches – SNC

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader owned by Chairwoman and President Eren Ozmen and CEO Fatih Ozmen, selected United Launch Alliance (ULA) as the launch vehicle provider for the Dream Chaser® spacecraft’s six NASA missions to the International Space Station. The Dream Chaser will launch aboard ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rockets for its cargo resupply and return services to the space station, starting in 2021.

“Dream Chaser can launch from any conventional rocket so we had great options,” said SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen.  “SNC selected ULA because of our strong collaboration on the Dream Chaser program, their proven safety record and on-time performance. This is bringing America’s spaceplane and America’s rocket together for best-of-breed innovation and exploration.”

Under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract, the Dream Chaser will deliver more than 12,000 pounds of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the space station and remains attached for up to 75 days as an orbiting laboratory. Once the mated mission is complete, the Dream Chaser disposes about 7,000 pounds of space station trash and returns large quantities of critical science, accessible within minutes after a gentle runway landing.

ULA Vulcan with Dream Chaser - Exploded View
An exploded view of the ULA Vulcan rocket with the cargo version of the Dream Chaser inside the fairings.

Animation of the launch of a Dream Chaser by a Vulcan:

** Vector Launch goes into hibernation mode as finances run dry:

The lockout of employees came just a few days after the announcement for a USAF launch contract: Vector Launch awarded its first U.S. Air Force mission –

** Smallsat launch broker Innovative Space Logistics contracts Orbex for launch services: Orbex and Innovative Space Logistics Sign European Space Launch Agreement | Orbex

Innovative Space Logistics B.V. (ISL) and UK-based orbital launch services provider Orbex today signed a wide-ranging Cooperation Agreement at the 33rd Annual Conference on Small Satellites in Logan, Utah. The co-operation will include technical launch services including launch manifest coordination and payload integration. As part of the agreement, ISL will also procure orbital space launches from Orbex for a number of its smallsat customer missions.

Netherlands-based company ISL is one of the world’s leading players in smallsat launches, having executed or supported the launch of over 350 CubeSats into orbit over the past decade. ISL is focused on the provision of regular launches for CubeSats, nanosatellites and microsatellites and provides launch brokering services, technical consultancy, launch adapters and dispensers, flight certification testing and launch insurance services to a broad range of customers.

With $40 million in project financing, Orbex is the best-funded European private launch provider. In February 2019, Orbex publicly unveiled the engineering prototype of the Stage 2 of its reusable Prime launch vehicle, a dedicated smallsat launcher, which is up to 30 percent lighter and 20 percent more efficient than any other vehicle in the micro launcher category. Orbex Prime utilizes bio-propane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel that cuts carbon emissions by 90 percent compared to traditional hydrocarbon fuels. On August 1, 2019, Orbex’s partner, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) confirmed that it had signed a 75-year lease option with landowners, the Melness Crofters Estate, to build and operate a spaceport on its land.

Orbex plans to launch from Scotland: In-Space Selects Orbex For Scottish Launch in 2022 | Orbex

** Blue Origin demands opportunity to launch Defense Dept. payloads:

From The Verge:

On Monday, August 12th, aerospace company Blue Origin filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), arguing that the Air Force is running a “flawed” competition to pick the agency’s next round of launch providers for national security missions. There’s a good chance this last-ditch protest could change the terms of the competition before final selections are made, but shifting the rules in favor of Blue Origin won’t guarantee that the company is chosen in the end.

The day that Blue Origin filed the protest was the same day that proposals were due for the Air Force’s Launch Service Procurement program. The initiative aims to select two rocket companies that will launch all of the Air Force’s missions to space from 2022 to 2026. The Air Force wants one company to support 60 percent of the launches, and the second will handle the other 40 percent. The contracts for these missions are potentially worth billions of dollars combined and could ultimately give them an edge in future Air Force competitions. Being selected as part of this program is a matter of life and death for some launch providers.

** An interview with Blue’s CEO Bob Smith about the company’s lunar projects and other plans: Blue Origin CEO Talks Space Ambitions | Via Satellite

VIA SPACE: Firstly, Blue Origin created one of the highlights of SATELLITE week with the Blue Moon announcement. Given what the company is doing in launch, how important is the lunar exploration side of things for the company? What are the plans over the next 12 months — where do things go next?

Smith: At Blue Origin, we focus on two hard problems that keep us aligned to our vision of millions of people living and working in space: dramatically lowering launch costs and utilizing in-space resources. Our work on Blue Moon is aligned to that second hard problem and so, it is central to our company’s efforts. As for our progress, we recently had exciting news with the first firing of our lunar landing engine, the BE-7. It’s a big milestone for us. Over the next 12 months, we will continue to develop and mature that high-performing engine. We will also refine our mission sequences, our detailed lander designs, define our supply base and work with NASA to integrate our offering into their overall Artemis program.

** SpaceX:

*** Attempt to fly Starhopper to 200 meters set for this weekend: SpaceX settles on Friday for Starhopper’s next flight test milestone, FAA permitting – Teslarati

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has published Notices-to-Airmen (NOTAMs) for SpaceX’s next Starhopper flight milestone, a 200m (650 ft) hop now scheduled no earlier than Friday, August 16th.

During this upcoming test, the unusual Starship testbed and prototype will likely spend at least 30-60 seconds in the air, propelled by a lone Raptor engine producing up to ~200 tons (440,000 lbf) of thrust. Starhopper will then attempt to land a hundred or so feet east of its spartan launch mount on a dedicated landing pad. If successfully completed, CEO Elon Musk believes that either or both of SpaceX’s Mk1 and Mk2 Starship prototypes will be ready to begin their own series of more ambitious flight tests as early as September or October.

Permit processing appears to be the main issue: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says Starhopper’s next test flight is waiting for an FAA permit – Teslarati.

*** This might be Starhopper’s last flight. Parts will be used to speed up the final assembly of the Starship orbital demonstrator at Boca Chica.

*** Starhopper tanking test last Friday:

*** Huge crane erected at Boca Chica facility. Presumably this will be used to put the top half onto the bottom tank sections.

*** Rapid progress on the 2 Starship demo vehicles appears to be pushing Starhopper to the side.

*** No Falcon launches on public schedule for next two months currently but launches of 60 or more Starlink broadband Internet satellites are likely to help fill the gap:

*** Crew training continues in parallel with preparations of the Crew Dragon in-flight abort test and first Crew test flight:

SpaceX Dragon Crew Training
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley participate in crew training event for Crew Dragon missions.

*** After catching a single Falcon fairing twice, SpaceX aims to catch both fairings using 2 boats: SpaceX Now Has a 2nd Boat to Catch Rocket Payload Fairings Falling from Space | Space

The company will soon start employing a second net-equipped boat during orbital launches, in an attempt to snag both halves of its rockets’ payload fairings before they splash down in the ocean, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk confirmed via Twitter on Friday (Aug. 9).

The new boat, named GO Ms. Chief, will join forces with GO Ms. Tree, which has plucked falling fairing halves out of the sky twice in the past six weeks. (The team-up involves style as well as substance; both vessels’ names are groan-inducing puns.)

*** And the company may use a much larger nosecone for some big Defense Dept payloads: SpaceX may have signed an agreement with ULA supplier RUAG for bigger Falcon fairings

According to comments made to a member of the space industry by a RUAG spokesperson, the prominent aerospace supplier may have finally reached an agreement with SpaceX to manufacture a handful of larger payload fairings for future Falcon 9 and Heavy launches.

In the likely event that SpaceX is one of two contractors awarded a portion of several dozen US military launch contracts next year, the company will need to be able to cater to niche requirements, including accommodating unusually tall military satellites. Those satellites can be so tall that SpaceX’s own payload fairing – generally middle-of-the-pack relative to competitors’ offerings – may be too short, meaning that SpaceX will have to find ways around that minor shortcoming.


Safe Is Not an Option