Space transport roundup – Oct.22.2019

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

[ Update: Blue Origin and partners to build lunar transport system: Blue Origin Announces National Team for NASA’s Human Landing System Artemis – Blue Origin

Today, Blue Origin is proud to announce a national team to offer a Human Landing System for NASA’s Artemis program to return Americans to the lunar surface by 2024. 

Blue Origin has signed teaming agreements with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. These partners have decades of experience supporting NASA with human space flight systems, launch vehicles, orbital logistics, deep-space missions, interplanetary navigation and planetary landings.

Our combined experience is uniquely positioned to meet NASA’s needs for the Artemis program. Each partner will bring their industry leading solutions to the following roles:

    • Blue Origin, as prime contractor, leads program management, systems engineering, safety and mission assurance, and mission engineering while providing the Descent Element that is based on the multi-year development of the Blue Moon lunar lander and its BE-7 engine.
    • Lockheed Martin develops the reusable Ascent Element vehicle and leads crewed flight operations and training.
    • Northrop Grumman provides the Transfer Element vehicle that brings the landing system down towards the Moon.
    • Draper leads descent guidance and provides flight avionics.

See also Blue Origin announces a blue-chip team to return humans to the Moon | Ars Technica.


** Rocket Lab’s Photon expendable space tug can take payloads  beyond Earth orbit : Rocket Lab to deliver payloads to the Moon and beyond with Photon | Rocket Lab

The Photon is an advanced version of Rocket Lab’s Kick Stage, which can carry a payload to an orbit  beyond the maximum altitude achievable with the two-stage Electron rocket alone. These propulsion modules essentially serve as expendable space tugs that can transport a payload, within given mass and volume limits, to a particular orbit or trajectory.  From the announcement:

Less than two years after opening access to low Earth orbit (LEO) for small satellites with the Electron launch vehicle, Rocket Lab is now bringing medium, geostationary, and lunar orbits within reach for small satellites. Rocket Lab will combine its Electron launch vehicle, Photon small spacecraft platform, and a dedicated bulk maneuver stage to accomplish extended-range missions and deliver small spacecraft to lunar flyby, Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), L1/L2 points, or Lunar orbit. These capabilities can then be expanded to deliver even larger payloads throughout cis-lunar space, including as high as geostationary orbit (GEO).

Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive, Peter Beck, says there is increasing international interest in lunar and beyond LEO exploration from government and private sectors.

“Small satellites will play a crucial role in science and exploration, as well as providing communications and navigation infrastructure to support returning humans to the Moon – they play a vital role as pathfinders to retire risk and lay down infrastructure for future missions,” he says. “Just like LEO small spacecraft, many potential exploration instruments and full satellites are on shelves waiting for launch to deeper space. In the same way we opened access to LEO for smallsats, Rocket Lab is poised to become the dedicated ride to the Moon and beyond for small satellites.”

Kick Stage with Astro Digital CubeSat
After an Electron rocket reached LEO (the nozzle belongs to the 2nd stage) for the ‘As The Crow Flies’ mission on Oct.17,2019, it released the Kick Stage (disk shaped module) with an Astro Digital CubeSat (the rectangular box on the disk) at an altitude of about 500 km. The Kick Stage then fired its own propulsion system to deliver the satellite to an orbit of 1000 km. Credits: Rocket Lab

** Firefly working with Aerojet on propulsion systems for rockets and space tug:

The first flight of Firefly’s small-satellite rocket, Alpha, is scheduled for launch in the first quarter of 2020 from Vandenberg AFB. At a dedicated mission price of $15 million, Alpha is currently capable of delivering one metric ton to LEO and 630 kg to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). Aerojet Rocketdyne is contributing to the first flight of Alpha by providing additive manufacturing expertise for key Reaver first stage engine components. They will have increased influence on Alpha block two upgrades, on both the first and second stage engines, which will work toward an increase Alpha SSO payload performance to greater than 800 kg. These contributions will include expanded implementation of additively manufactured elements to reduce cost and increase reliability, as well as technical input to increase engine performance.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s unique additive manufacturing, chemical and electric in-space propulsion technologies also have direct applicability to Firefly’s Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV), which transfers small payloads between orbits. The OTV provides mission flexibility by deploying payloads into unique orbits and reaching altitudes and inclinations that are out of reach for many small launch vehicles.

Dr. Markusic added, “Firefly is committed to flying Beta, our medium class launch vehicle. Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 engine, which incorporates the latest advances in propulsion technology, materials science and manufacturing techniques, is incredibly well suited to power Beta given its cost-effective, high performance capabilities. By cooperating on this development, we are accelerating our time to market and providing our customers with high confidence in Beta’s schedule, performance and reliability.”

The Space News article quotes Mark Watt of Firefly as saying that the Beta rocket will feature “a reusable first stage”.

** Boeing set for two key tests in preparation for crew transport to the ISS: Boeing’s Starliner set for two pivotal test flights before the year’s end –

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is preparing for two major flight tests before the end of the year, which will pave the way for the spacecraft’s first crewed flight in 2020. The capsule is being developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to provide transportation services to and from the International Space Station.

NASA provided an official update on Boeing’s flight test dates last Friday. Starliner’s pad abort test is currently scheduled for no earlier than November 2nd, with the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) occurring no earlier than December 17th.

The pad abort test will see a Starliner capsule perform the abort sequence that would be necessary if there were to be a problem with the launch vehicle on the pad.

November’s abort test will occur from a test stand at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

** Reaction Engines demonstrates fast inlet air cooling for SABRE engine: British hypersonic jet engine technology passes crucial heat test | Financial Times

The Oxfordshire-based company, which is developing a new class of hybrid engine known as Sabre combining traditional jet and rocket technologies, said it had proven the viability of its precooling system in conditions equivalent to a speed of Mach 5.

At this speed, the air entering a jet engine would hit 1,000 degrees centigrade, enough to severely damage components. Reaction’s precooler takes the air down to minus 150 degrees centigrade in less than a 20th of a second.

[ Update: The press release for this: Reaction Engines Test Programme Fully Validates Precooler At Hypersonic Heat Conditions – Reaction Engines

Reaction Engines has successfully tested its innovative precooler at airflow temperature conditions representing Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, marking a significant milestone in the development of its SABRE™ engine and paving the way for a revolution in hypersonic flight and space access.

The precooler heat exchanger is a vital component of Reaction Engines’ revolutionary SABRE air-breathing rocket engine and is an enabling technology for other precooled propulsion systems and a range of commercial applications.

This ground-based test achieved the highest temperature objective of the Company’s HTX testing programme and took place at its specially constructed unique facility at the Colorado Air and Space Port, United States.

During the latest series of tests, Reaction Engines’ unique precooler successfully quenched airflow temperatures in excess of 1,000°C (~1,800°F) in less than 1/20th of a second. The tests demonstrated the precooler’s ability to successfully cool airflow at speeds significantly in excess of the operational limit of any jet-engine powered aircraft in history. Mach 5 is more than twice as fast as the cruising speed of Concorde and over 50% faster than the SR-71 Blackbird aircraft – the world’s fastest jet-engine powered aircraft.

HTX airlow - Reaction Engines
The pre-cooler test setup. Credits: Reaction Engines


** i-Space of China debuts design of the Hyperbola-2 rocket with a reusable first stage:

In July 2019, i-Space launched the all-solid fuel motor four-stage Hyperbola-1 rocket and successfully placed two small satellites into orbit. It thus became the first private Chinese rocket startup company, not directly spun off from the military space program, to put a payload into orbit.

The Hyperbola-2 will be a much bigger rocket and use liquid fueled engines to power its two stages. It will put up to 1.9 tons into low earth orbit. The first stage will be flown back and reused. The goal is to start flights in 2021. Recovering the first stage will not happen on the initial flights.

i-Space Hyperbola-2 Rocket
i-Space Hyperbola-2 Rocket

** Exos Aerospace hover tests the SARGE rocket and is counting down to another launch at Spaceport America on Saturday, Oct. 26th.

Webcast for the launch:

** A great overview of aerospike engines from Time Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut:  Are Aerospike Engines Better Than Traditional Rocket Engines? – Everyday Astronaut

Today we’re going to look at the history of aerospike engines, go over how nozzles work including things like overexpansion, underexpansion and even expansion ratios, we’ll look at the pros and cons of the aerospike, the physical limitations and problems, then we’ll compare the aerospike to some other traditional rocket engines. But that’s not all, I obtained never seen before photos and videos of some aerospikes, we’ll get opinions from some people who have actually worked with aerospike engines, look at some promising prospects and compelling concepts and by the end of the video we’ll hopefully know whether or not the holy grail of rocket engines is just waiting to be utilized or if aerospikes just simply aren’t worth it.

** SpaceX

***  SpaceX Principal Mars Development Engineer Paul Wooster gave an update on the Starship and Super Heavy (BFR) at the Mars Society Convention 2019 over the weekend:

** A stormy Monday at Boca Chica Beach:

A storm and tornado impacted the Boca Chica region overnight but mostly avoided the SpaceX site, although it received a downpour. While power was knocked out due to a larger impact in South Padre Island, SpaceX, typically, had Tesla Power to allow the workers to get back to operations as planned in the morning.

Several views of the launch site and Hopper, filmed by Mary (@bocachicagal).

And watching the work on the Mk.1 Starship on Saturday:

Find the latest on Boca Chica activities  at SpaceX Starship : Texas Prototype(s) Thread 2 : Photos and Updates.

*** Launch hiatus to continue into November: SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 launch delayed until November as lull drags on – Teslarati

For unknown reasons, SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 rocket launch has slipped from October to November, extending an already record-breaking lull in commercial US launch activity.

Depending on when SpaceX finally returns to flight, the company could have easily spent more than a quarter of 2019 between launches.

*** SpaceX drastically lowered big sat launch costs and now doing same for smallsat launch: How SpaceX Just Turbocharged The Space Race (Again) – Charles Beames/Forbes

With regular departure dates and minimal rebooking fees, the competition for launch service is now reaching a fever pitch in the smallsat market. At $1 million per launch [of a CubeSat on a rideshare flight], SpaceX is today offering an 80% cost reduction in dollars per kilo compared to its nearest competitor. And it’s not an offer to ride on some notional future rocket, but instead on a rocket with plenty of flight heritage and at much lower insurance rates.

As ever, real competition like this rewards innovation and ultimately delivers better value to its customers, satellite and space data companies and their investors. Companies will soon be able to deliver space data at dramatically lower prices than today, ensuring even greater penetration of the space sector to add further value and efficiencies to the global economy.

Make no mistake, SpaceX returning to address the old Falcon 1 market is no accident. When Musk designed and launched his first Falcon on the way to Mars, he likely didn’t anticipate this growth—but he certainly sees it now. In response to this and other competitors, Rocket Lab has recently announced its pursuit of a reusable Electron rocket and we should expect the nearly 100 other new space launch companies to reimagine or retool their businesses to adjust to this new reality.

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