Space transport roundup – Oct.12.2019

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

** Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL launched with ICON spacecraft. After nearly a year of delay due to various technical issues, the rocket was air launched from a L-1011 aircraft on Thursday off the coast of Florida. NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) will “study the dynamic zone in our atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather from above”.

** Northrop Grumman buys back two Pegasus rockets from Stratolaunch, which had puirchased them for air launch from the giant Roc aircraft. Stratolaunch now has other plans:  Rockets purchased by Stratolaunch back under Northrop Grumman control – Spaceflight Now

Phil Joyce, vice president of space launch programs at Northrop Grumman, said this week that the company is trying to sell the launches using the two remaining Pegasus XL rockets, and officials plan to keep the Pegasus rocket’s L-1011 carrier jet flying for at least five or 10 more years.

The airborne launch of NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, scientific satellite Thursday night off Florida’s east coast is the final scheduled flight of a Pegasus XL rocket. Variants of the solid-fueled Pegasus rocket have flown on 43 satellite delivery missions since 1990.

“We actually purchased those back (from Stratolaunch),” Joyce said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. “So they’re in a very advanced state of integration, which means they’re available for a very rapid response launch. We could launch one of those in six months, the second one probably in eight (months).

** Stratolaunch has new ownership and a new business plan:

See also Stratolaunch says it’s been sold by Paul Allen’s Vulcan to a new owner – GeekWire.

** Northrop Grumman’s satellite servicing spacecraft launched on Proton rocket along with a Eutelsat comm-sat. The MEV-1 (Mission Extension Vehicle 1) will reach the Intelsat IS-901 satellite in geostationary orbit in about 3 months. The IS-901 is running out of propellant to maintain its position and orientation. MEV-1 will attach to the apogee rocket nozzle on the satellite and use its own electric propulsion system to do the station-keeping duties for IS-901. In about five years, MEV-1 will park IS-901 in a higher, graveyard orbit and move on to another comm-sat nearing the end of its fuel and repeat the service.

** Rocket Lab gets FAA license that covers multiple launches over five years:

** Virgin Orbit working with Polish universities to send a CubeSat mission to Mars: SatRevolution, Virgin Orbit and Polish Universities Establish Mars Consortium | Virgin Orbit

Scientists and engineers from nearly a dozen Polish universities have teamed up with Poland-based satellite company SatRevolution and Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company Virgin Orbit to establish a new consortium to design and carry out the world’s first dedicated commercial small satellite mission to Mars. The parties established the consortium at a formal signing ceremony during the Impact Mobility’19 rEVolution conference in Katowice, Poland.

The consortium will jointly develop the first in a series of up to three Mars missions, with the initial launch expected as early as three years from now.

** Masten partners with AI experts: Masten partners with MSBAI for AI-Augmented Space Flight – Masten Space

Masten Space Systems announced a new partnership with MSBAI to integrate cognitive artificial intelligence capabilities for autonomous space flight applications.

** Using Earth’s upper atmosphere to replenish propellants for a debris removal spacecraft will be studied by John Slough, MSNW LLC, with a NIAC Phase I grant: Crosscutting High Apogee Refueling Orbital Navigator (CHARON) | NASA

An orbital vehicle that could utilize in-situ upper atmospheric resources would enable a host of missions, and in particular ADR [Active Debris Removal], that require extremely high delta-V in a fast, responsive, and repeatable manner. The concept proposed here, the Crosscutting, High Apogee, Refueling Orbital Navigator (CHARON) will provide such capability.

CHARON accomplishes this in the following manner: first it obtains fuel by scooping up and storing the low density N2 and O encountered during the low altitude perigee periods of the highly elliptical orbits. Incorporation of the ultra-lightweight, high thrust-to-power Electrodeless Lorentz Force thruster developed at MSNW enables CHARON to operate efficiently on stored gas in a variety of configurations depending upon mission requirements. As CHARON can thrust at apogee, it can achieve the extensive orbit lowering needed for ADR.

Additionally, CHARON can thrust at perigee to provide drag compensation for very low perigee refueling, stable non-Keplerian orbits, or rapid phase changes. CHARON requires only 5 kW of on-board solar power as energy collected during the higher altitude portions of its elliptical orbit can be stored for higher power operation later. Functioning in this manner CHARON can generate 1.2 N of thrust at 2500 sec of Isp for ADR. During a 10 year mission life, CHARON will process 5500 kg of propellant to ferry 80 spacecraft, perform 850 degrees of plane change, with over 100km/s of delta-V, all with a single spacecraft launch, and requiring no additional onboard propellant.

Crosscutting High Apogee Refueling Orbital Navigator (CHARON)
A diagram showing the steps taken by the Crosscutting High Apogee Refueling Orbital Navigator (CHARON) to carry out Active Debris Removal. John Slough won funding from NIAC for a Phase I study of the CHARON  concept. Credits: John Slough, MSNW LLC.

** Boeing sets dates for Starliner crew spacecraft tests: Boeing reveals target dates for initial Starliner test flights – Spaceflight Now

Boeing officials said Wednesday that the company is targeting Dec. 17 for the launch of the first unpiloted orbital test flight of the new Starliner crew capsule from Cape Canaveral on a week-long demonstration mission to the International Space Station, a precursor to a mission with astronauts next year.

Meanwhile, engineers in the New Mexico desert are readying a Starliner test vehicle for a pad abort test scheduled for the morning of Nov. 4, local time, during which the crew capsule will demonstrate its ability to escape an emergency on the launch pad, according to industry sources.

But officials did not say when the Starliner could be ready to launch with astronauts. The Starliner’s first crewed test flight will use a different spacecraft than the one set for launch in December.

** SpaceX

*** Commercial Crew program in the spotlight this week. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, California to check out the status of development of the Crew Dragon. An in-flight abort test is coming up

Some of the highlights of the event:

*** Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, interviewed Bridenstine after the news conference:

*** Tour the Hawthorne CCP facilities in this 360 degree VR video from NASA: NASA’s Commercial Crew Program VR 360 Tour: SpaceX Crew Dragon – YouTube

In Part 2 of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program VR 360 Tour, NASA Communications Specialist Joshua Santora takes you on a tour of SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California. This immersive, Virtual Reality experience exhibits the design and manufacturing of the SpaceX Crew Dragon. Visit for more STEM educational resources featuring NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Find more Commercial Crew Program VR 360 Tour videos at the Cape Kennedy Youtube  channel.

*** A Falcon 9 booster will be flown a fourth time for the first time when the next set of Starliner satellites are launched either late this month or in early November. SpaceX’s next launch to mark another incremental step in rocket reusability – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX next mission, slated to carry the company’s second set of Starlink broadband satellites into orbit, will be the first to fly with a reused Falcon 9 booster making its fourth launch when it takes off in the coming weeks.

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability, confirmed earlier this week the plan to use a thrice-flown booster on the next Falcon 9 launch.

“Currently we use our boosters 10 times, they’re designed for 10 times,” Koenigsmann said Monday during a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Engineering. “We’re going to start with a fourth time with the next launch, actually. Dragon has been used three times, Crew Dragon will be used up to five times (initially only for cargo missions). So all these things help because you don’t have to build something again. You have to inspect it, refurbish it where you need to refurbish it, but ideally you need to keep that really, really low.”

*** A Falcon 9 to head  due south from Cape Canaveral to put remote sensing satellite into a polar orbit: SpaceX to shift Falcon 9’s next West Coast launch to Florida, the first of its kind in decades – Teslarati

According to NASASpaceflight spaceflight reporter Michael Baylor and an Argentinian government website, SpaceX appears to have decided to move its next West Coast launch from California to Florida, signifying the first East Coast polar launch in half a century could be just four months away.

Initially expected to launch out of SpaceX’s Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) SLC-4E pad on a Falcon 9 rocket, the Argentinian space agency’s (CONAE) SAOCOM-1B Earth observation satellite was scheduled to lift off no earlier than February 2020. That launch window remains the same but Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) has somehow arranged approval to reopen the United States’ Eastern polar launch corridor. The story behind the corridor’s closure is a bizarre one.


Manned Lunar Landing and Return