Space transport roundup – Sept.4.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport t (find previous roundups here):

** Russia launches Rokot rocket launches satellite to measure earth’s gravitation field: Russia’s Rokot vehicle successfully launches Geo-IK-2 satellite –

… The Geo-IK-2 No.13L satellite lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome at 17:00:14 Moscow Time (14:00 UTC) Friday, separating from its carrier rocket less than two hours later.

Geodesy – the study of Earth’s shape and gravitational field – is one of many sciences that underpin humanity’s use of space for both peaceful and military purposes. Accurate models of the planet’s physical parameters and surrounding gravitational forces are vital to determining accurate positions on the surface and planning trajectories for orbital and suborbital spaceflight. For a nation’s military, such a model can serve a multitude of applications, including improved targeting of weapons and predicting the flight paths of missiles.

** A Chinese KX-1A rocket launches two technology test satellites into orbit:

The Kuaizhou-1A is a high reliability, high precision and low-cost solid launch vehicle developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASIC) and commercialized by the China Space Sanjiang Group Corporation (EXPACE).

** The Chinese launch venture LandSpace is developing rockets powered by methane fueled engines, which are now being test fired: China’s first medium-scale launcher with LOX/LCH4 propellants ZQ-2 soliciting payloads worldwide – SpaceWatch.Global

Chinese commercial launcher developer and launch service provider LandSpace announced during the MAKS 2019 show, that the company is seeking and accepting payloads from around the world for the maiden launch of its proprietary ZhuQue-2 (ZQ-2) launcher powered by a LOX/LCH4 liquid-propellant rocket engine (LRE).

LandSpace President Zhang Long stated, “As China’s first medium-scale launcher with LOX/LCH4 propellants, ZQ-2 is widely recognized as a reusable eco-friendly and affordable solution designed for providing launch and orbital deployment services for small and medium satellites.” LCH4 helps improve the reusability of the engine as it is widely available and low-cost and helps prevent carbon deposits when the fuel is burning in the engine.

A more detailed report on LandSpace, including a visit to the company’s HQ: Will LandSpace be China’s SpaceX? – The Space Review.

… LandSpace has created many “firsts” in China: the first private company to develop space launchers, the first privately funded orbital launch attempt, the first private company to sign a launch agreement with international customers. And on May 17, LandSpace announced that the company’s 80-tonne-class methane and liquid oxygen (methalox) engine, TQ-12, has completed successful full-system hot-fire tests. In the week leading up to that announcement, the engine made four successful test firings, with the longest one lasting 20 seconds. The company released photos and videos showing the engine and the impressive firing at a test stand located in a mountainous area.

LandSpace claimed that their new methalox engine ranks number three in the world after SpaceX’s Raptor and Blue Origin’s BE-4. According to LandSpace, the TQ-12 engine has a sea-level thrust of 67 tonnes and a vacuum thrust of 76 tonnes. A future vacuum model will increase the thrust to 80 tonnes. LandSpace’s methalox engine project was kicked off in 2017 with a 10-tonne-class gas generator and thrust chamber test firing at the end of that year and again in March 2018. After that, LandSpace’s focus shifted to the 80-tonne engine, and in September 2018 and January 2019 it successfully tested the larger engine’s thrust chamber and the gas generator. The fast development led to a semi-system test firing in March 2019, paving the way for the May test firing.

** Latest update from Virgin OrbitExpect the Unaspected – Virgin Orbit Newsletter – August 2019.

** EXOS Aerospace will provide an engine for Fenix Space’s orbital launcher, that will be air launched via towing to high altitude: EXOS Aerospace Receives Rocket Engine Contract from Fenix Space – Satnew

EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technologies, Inc. has announced that Fenix Space, Inc. has awarded the firm a glider rocket engine contract, with the key deliverable (full-up demonstration testing) due in the next 45 days.

The engine development component of a $1.5 million proposal calls for Exos Aerospace to provide a ~4800# thrust Lox Ethanol engine and conduct a customer demonstration of the same at full thrust and throttled to about 2500# thrust before the end of August.

Fenix Space, Inc. is an offshoot of Kelly Space & Technology, Inc, a privately-held aerospace, defense, technology and testing services company. Fenix is co-located with Kelly Space at its Aerospace Research and Development Center at the former Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, California. Fenix Space’s vision is to create and commercialize technologies that will open space to large-scale commercial development and apply these space technologies to beneficial use on Earth, which harmonizes with EXOS Aerospace’s vision to make space access more affordable.

Fenis Space towed air launch scheme
Fenix Space towed air launch scheme. Credits Fenix Space

** Launch ventures proliferate far faster than payloads: Foust Forward | Worldwide, there are 131 small launch vehicles in the works. Most of these will fizzle out. –

There’s almost universal agreement in the industry that there are far many more small launchers under development than can be supported by even the most optimistic forecasts of smallsat development. That inevitable shakeout of the market will give an advantage to companies that are already launching, like Rocket Lab, or those that soon plan to enter service, like Virgin Orbit.

** A report on the latest space elevator conference, which is sponsored by the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) and held annually in Seattle: ISEC Newsletter – August 2019

The 2019 ISEC Space Elevator conference was held last month August 16th through the 18th at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington, USA. This was our 8th year hosting the conference at this site. We had a great series of productive workshops on ISEC outreach, interplanetary Mission Support, and the environmental benefits of Earth space elevators. Michael Fitzgerald presented the keynote presentation on the Space Elevator Pathway to Technology Maturity … and Beyond, From Fountains to Tech Ready showing how close the space elevator is to becoming a reality. The weekend as full of other wonderful talks on graphene, carbon nanotubes, climber design considerations, multi-stage elevators, summary reports from this year’s ISEC interns, and more. Presentations and papers from the 2019 conference will be available at

** SpaceX

*** Four Falcon 9 launches of Starlink satellites planned for this fall:  SpaceX planning four more Falcon 9-launched Starlink missions this year, permits show – Teslarati

According to a suite of eight FCC Special Temporary Authority licenses SpaceX filed for on August 30th, the company has plans for as many as four additional Starlink satellite launches in 2019, on top of Starlink’s May 23rd launch debut.

Additionally, SpaceX simultaneously requested that the FCC modify its current Starlink application to permit a slight change in orbital characteristics that would drastically improve the broadband satellite constellation’s coverage in its early stages. Combined, SpaceX appears to be extremely confident about the status and near-future progress to be made by its prospective Starlink constellation, confidence presumably inspired by the performance of the first 60 “v0.9” satellites launched three months ago.

*** The Falcon 9 booster for the first Crew Dragon launch has been tested in McGregor: SpaceX fires up Falcon 9 booster destined for Crew Dragon’s astronaut launch debut – Teslarati

SpaceX announced that it has successfully completed a routine static fire acceptance test of the Falcon 9 booster that will eventually support Crew Dragon’s inaugural astronaut launch, expected no earlier than early 2020.

The booster in question – believed to be Falcon 9 B1058 – is very likely the first new Falcon 9 booster SpaceX has shipped to McGregor, Texas and test-fired in more than four months, an unusual lull for the typically busy launch company. If all goes according to plan, B1058 will become SpaceX’s first truly human-rated commercial rocket and will support its first human spaceflight attempt ever, a huge milestone along the company’s path to the sustainable colonization of Mars.

Testing Booster for First Crew Mission - Aug.2019

*** SpaceX offers low cost launch services for smallsats. SpaceX posted updated prices and schedule for the smallsat rideshare program unveiled recently: SpaceX revamps smallsat rideshare program –

Less than a month after announcing a new effort to provide low-cost launch services for small satellites, SpaceX says it will increase the number of flight opportunities and reduce the prices it offers.

The revamped smallsat rideshare program, the company announced late Aug. 28, will provide launch opportunities at least once per month starting in March 2020, at a cost of $1 million for a 200-kilogram smallsat.

“Earlier this month, SpaceX announced the Smallsat Rideshare Program and received a lot of interest and great feedback from customers,” the company said in a statement. “As such, we have updated the terms of the program and have made the service even more compelling with reduced pricing and increased flight opportunities.”

The  $5k/kg price is considerably less than what Rocket Lab and other smallsat launch ventures are offering. A dedicated smallsat launcher, however, can often place a smallsat directly into the optimum orbit for its particular application. Scheduling may also be more advantageous with a small launcher.

The SpaceX rideshare program does provide the option of deployment into either polar or mid-inclination orbits. Momentus Space tugs  are offered as a means to move from the initial orbit to the optimum one.

SpaceX also offers scheduling reliability with

… launch opportunities to mid-inclination on a monthly basis, as well as missions to sun synchronous and/or polar orbits at approximately four month intervals. Dedicated rideshare missions will not be delayed by co-passenger readiness–if you are ready to fly during the scheduled launch period, you will fly.

BTW, when I interviewed Elon Musk back in 2003, I asked him about offering “a fixed date schedule arrangement” for smallsat launches on the Falcon 1. He responded,

Certainly a possibility, although it can be very difficult coordinating multiple customers, particularly if some want to go to different places than others. At this point, our preference is to sell the whole ride. If another company wants to buy a flight and then assume the risk and complexity of reselling slots, that would be fine with us.

*** Speaking of Momentus, the company is growingHyperspeed at Momentus Headquarters – Momentus

… heading into September, the team has grown from 14 to 30 persons in the last 3 months (don’t worry, we are still hiring!) and the office/lab has grown from 4000 sq.ft to 10,000 sq.ft. Plenty of room for vacuum chambers and other cool space gear!

*** The FAA required SpaceX to boost its insurance coverage for the recent Starhopper test flight: Why SpaceX increased its rocket-launch liability insurance in Texas – Business Insider

SpaceX built its launchpad about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) from the eastern edge of Boca Chica Village, a hamlet that’s home to about 20 part- and full-time residents.

*** Construction of a second demo Starship in Florida interrupted by hurricane Dorian but it appears the site escaped serious damage.

*** Construction of the other Starship demo vehicle continues in Boca Chica:

*** A birds eye view of the Boca Chica facilities from earlier this week:

*** An aerial view of the Starship demo site in Florida before shutting up shop for the hurricane evacuation:

*** First flight of a Starship demo could happen soon:   The SpaceX CEO Elon Musk teases Starship flight debut details, reveals presentation date – Teslarati

Speaking on August 28th, CEO Elon Musk says that SpaceX’s first Starship flight test(s) could occur as early as October 2019, in line with a late-July estimate that pegged the milestone at 2-3 months out.

Under construction in Cocoa, Florida and Boca Chica, Texas, SpaceX’s duo of orbital-class Starship prototypes have made immense progress in the last two or so months, part of a (hopefully friendly) internal competition to be first to flight and first to orbit. Elon Musk has been planning to present an updated overview on the next-generation SpaceX launch vehicle, originally expected in August before a variety of factors pushed it into September. Musk says that presentation is now scheduled no earlier than (NET) September 28th.

*** 2nd-gen Starship to be a monster: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says Starship could be followed by a dramatically larger rocket – Teslarati

Hinted at in a brief tweet on August 28th, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says that SpaceX’s massive Starship and Super Heavy launch vehicle – set to be the most powerful rocket ever built upon completion – could eventually be followed by a rocket multiple times larger.

SpaceX is currently in the process of assembling the first full-fidelity prototypes of Starship, a 9m (30 ft) diameter, 55m (180 ft) tall reusable spacecraft and upper stage. Two prototypes – Mk1 and Mk2 – are simultaneously being built in Texas and Florida, respectively, while the beginnings of the first Super Heavy prototype has visibly begun to take shape at SpaceX’s Florida campus.

*** Check out a Detailed diagram of the Raptor engine (ER26, gimbal) : spacex


Fire in the Sky:
Cosmic Collisions, Killer Asteroids, and
the Race to Defend Earth