Space transport roundup – Oct.30.2019

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

** Northrop Grumman Antares on pad for launch of Cygnus cargo module to the ISS. Liftoff currently set for 9:59 am EDT on Saturday Nov. 2nd from Wallops Island, Virginia.

Northrop Grumman Antares CRS-12 Rollout
A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket is seen as it rolls out to Pad-0A, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Northrop Grumman’s 12th contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station will deliver about 8,200 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew. Launch is scheduled for 9:59 a.m. EDT Saturday, Nov. 2. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls) – NASA IOTD

The Cygnus module is named the “SS Alan Bean” in recognition of the late Apollo 12 astronaut. The module will cary over 3719 kilograms (8200 lbs) of supplies and equipment for the station. More info about the mission:

** Reusable X-38 spaceplane returns to Cape Canaveral more than two years after launching on a SpaceX Falcon 9:

From the USAF:

The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility Oct. 27, 2019 at 3:51 a.m.

The spaceplane conducted on-orbit experiments for 780 days during its mission, recently breaking its own record by being in orbit for more than two years. As of today, the total number of days spent on-orbit for the entire test vehicle program is 2,865 days.

“The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett. “Each successive mission advances our nation’s space capabilities.”

This is the Air Force’s premier reusable and unmanned spacecraft, providing the performance and flexibility to improve technologies in a way that allows scientists and engineers to recover experiments tested in a long-duration space environment.

X-37B after landing at Cape Kennedy
X-37B after landing at Cape Kennedy on Oct.27, 2019 after 780 days in orbit. Credits: USAF

[ Update 3: Scott Manley discusses the X-37B history, features, and missions:


** Relativity Space prints big rockets: The Worlds Largest 3d Metal Printer Is Churning Out Rockets – IEEE Spectrum

The room contained Stargate, the largest metal 3D printer in the world. Relativity invented the Stargate printer for the audacious purpose of 3D printing an entire rocket that’s intended to fly to low Earth orbit. We hope our rockets will eventually fly even farther. Perhaps one day we’ll ship our 3D printers to Mars, so rockets can be constructed on the Red Planet. From there, who knows where they’ll go.

Does this sound crazy? Crazy ambitious, maybe. But plenty of people are taking our idea seriously. Four commercial customers have signed up for launches to Earth orbit beginning in early 2021. The U.S. Air Force has approved our request to build a launch site at Cape Canaveral, the famed Florida facility that launched many historic human spaceflight missions. And NASA has leased us a building at its Stennis Space Center, in Bay St. Louis, Miss., where Relativity will build a factory capable of turning out 24 rockets per year. Such mass production will represent a revolution in rocketry. By embracing additive manufacturing—that is, 3D printing—we believe we can pull it off.

** A couple of recent updates from Copenhagen Suborbitals, the all-volunteer effort to design, build, and launch a single person capsule on a suborbital space trip:

** Scott Manley comments on the history behind EXOS Aerospace, which made an unsuccessful suborbital rocket launch attempt last weekend:

** Landspace in China fires engine for reusable 1st stage booster for full flight duration:

China’s 80-ton thrust liquid oxygen-methane engine for a proposed new rocket launcher completed a variable 200-second test on Saturday. The duration is longer than the whole flying period of a rocket. The engine, named TQ-12, was independently developed by the commercial rocket company LandSpace. It has the third highest thrust level among liquid oxygen-methane engines glob

** LAROS is a Russian company developing a reusable suborbital rocket. The LAROS RN-1 will fly to 120-130 kilometers and return for a vertical landing.

The TASS article claims the first flight will be in 2020 but the LAROS item says 2022. Other info from LAROS:

Currently, work is underway on rocket engines. Experimental samples printed on a 3D — printer with a thrust of 20 kgf are successfully tested on mobile stands in the technical laboratory of the Aircraft Bureau «LAROS». «After achieving stable performance on these samples, the engine will be scaled to a capacity of 500 kg. For a new engine, we will need a testing ground», — said Larionov.

After testing the suborbital rocket, the company will begin to create an orbital reusable light rocket-LAROS-RN2, which will display a payload weighing up to 200 kg at a height of up to 400-500 km.

LAROS-RC2 orbital carrier
LAROS reusable orbital  launch system.

** Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket and Photon satellite tug to use Kongsberg ground station servicesRocket Lab partners with Kongsberg Satellite Services for Electron and Photon ground station support | Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab, the global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, has partnered with Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), the world’s largest provider of ground station services, to be the sole provider of ground station services for the Electron launch vehicle and Photon satellite bus customers. The agreement sees Rocket Lab deliver a complete solution for small satellite operators, including satellite design and build, launch, and ground segment support leveraging an existing global network of ground stations.


The closely integrated partnership with KSAT now provides launch to operations ground segment support for Photon customers – the final piece for small satellite operators seeking an end-to-end mission partner. This enables small satellite operators to focus on what really matters—their applications and their customers—freeing engineering time and capital from having to develop a spacecraft platform, secure a launch, and coordinate access to ground stations from different providers.

** The DC-X was the rocket that accelerated the emergence of New Space: DC-X: The NASA Rocket That Inspired SpaceX and Blue Origin – The Crux

** SpaceX

***The base section of Starship Mk1 moved to launch pad site from the construction facility today.

[ Update 2: More about the move: Starship Mk1 arrives at launch site ahead of flight test –

Update: Another view of the move:


*** Landing Starships wherever – Lars Blackmore made key contributions in the effort to return and land Falcon 9 boosters and now he is working on landing Starships:

What’s next for Lars?

Sending people to the Moon and Mars! I’m now leading entry and landing for Starship, a fully reusable rocket that will one day be able to land up to 100 people on the surface of Mars. Because it lands vertically, like Falcon 9, it should be able to land almost anywhere in the solar system. The Starship’s engines run on methane, this means we can refuel it using propellant generated on Mars and then fly back to Earth or fly further to more distant planets. The near-term goal is just to get Starship into Earth orbit and back with a 100% reusable vehicle, but even that is exciting, because the payload capacity will be far beyond that of any rocket that has ever existed – and with full reusability, the cost should be tiny compared to existing rockets.

For me personally, this is a great opportunity to continue learning, especially outside of my main field of expertise. Designing the rocket hardware from the ground up to be capable of landing, will require a much broader understanding of engineering, combined with all the lessons learned from landing Falcon 9. “Experience comes immediately after you need it,” and many times I realised late in the game that our lives would have been much easier if we could have made simple changes at the start. This time around, I’m hoping to use that experience early in the design cycle, and perhaps save myself some grey hairs in the process! 

Landing Starship will be much harder than landing Falcon 9, but if we can do it, it will be revolutionary. Let’s see what happens!

*** Another look at the Mk.1 video shown by Gwynne Shotwell at IAC 2019:

*** Views of the Starship Mk.1 assembly work earlier this week at Boca Chica Beach:

Over in Boca Chica, SpaceX’s Starship Mk1’s landing legs have been installed, as work continues on the vehicle and (per the flashes) inside the fairing section. With the Roll-Lifts arriving, the two halves will be moved close to each other for re-mating in the coming days. Several clips, with numerous photos edited in. Some of the video has been sped up, some plays at normal speed so you can hear the noise of the worksite. All filmed and photographed by Mary (@bocachicagal).

** The work continues late into the night:

*** Preparations are underway for the next Crew Dragon tests. The the test include:

  • Static firing of all the SuperDraco engines on the Crew Dragon that will do the in-flight abort test. Appears to be set for Nov. 6th.
  • In-flight abort test will see an uncrewed Dragon fly off a Falcon 9 upper stage during the max-Q moment of a launch. The test is currently expected in early December.
  • First crewed flight of a Dragon to the ISS. This could happen by the end of the first quarter of 2020.

More at SpaceX’s Crew Dragon astronaut launch debut a step closer after SuperDraco milestone – Teslarati.

*** Practicing Falcon 9 fairing catches: SpaceX’s new Falcon 9 fairing recovery ship kicks off sea trials ahead of next launch – Teslarati

After a brief installation period, SpaceX’s second Falcon 9 fairing-catching ship departed Port Canaveral to begin sea trials with its new net and arms, a critical step before it can be declared ready to attempt its first fairing recovery.

Known as GO Ms. Chief, the ship’s first opportunity could come as early as a few weeks from now, potentially marking a major milestone for SpaceX’s fairing recovery and reuse program.

*** More about Gwynne Shotwell’s comments on launching lots of Starlink satellites:  SpaceX president teases Starship’s game-changing Starlink launch capabilities – Teslarati

Beyond Shotwell’s clear confidence that Starlink’s satellite technology is far beyond OneWeb and years ahead of Amazon’s Project Kuiper clone, she also touched on yet another strength: SpaceX’s very own vertically-integrated launch systems. OneWeb plans to launch the vast majority of its Phase 1 constellation on Arianespace’s commercial Soyuz rockets, with the launch contract alone expected to cost more than $1B for ~700 satellites.

SpaceX, on the other hand, owns, builds, and operates its own rocket factory and high-performance orbital launch vehicles and is the only company on Earth to have successfully fielded reusable rockets. In short, although Starlink’s voracious need for launch capacity will undoubtedly require some major direct investments, a large portion of SpaceX’s Starlink launch costs can be perceived as little more than the cost of propellant, work-hours, and recovery fleet operations. Boosters (and hopefully fairings) can be reused ad nauseum and so long as SpaceX sticks to its promise to put customer missions first, the practical opportunity cost of each Starlink launch should be close to zero.

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