Space transport roundup – Nov.2.2019

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

** Northrop Grumman Antares successfully launches Cygnus cargo spacecraft. This is the 12th Cygnus mission to the the ISS. The craft is to dock with the ISS at 4:10 am EST on Monday, Nov. 4th.

Lift off is at the 30:32 point in the webcast video:

The pre-launch briefing given on Friday:

** Japan’s HTV-8 “Kounotori” cargo vehicle left the ISS on Friday: HTV-8 departs ISS ahead of destructive re-entry –

** Interview with Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck: Episode T+138: Peter Beck, Founder of Rocket Lab – Main Engine Cut Off

Peter Beck, Founder, CEO, and CTO of Rocket Lab, joins me to talk about what they’ve been up to with Electron and Photon, as well as some of their new offerings like ground station support through KSAT and Photon missions to the Moon.

** Aevum gains a USAF contract for its drone-launched rocket: Vector’s lost contract gives wings to new startup Aevum –

Aevum, an Alabama startup designing a drone-launched rocket in a former textile mill, went from winning a $50,000 study grant to landing a $4.9 million U.S. Air Force launch contract in the span of three weeks.

About a month later, on Oct. 10, Aevum then became one of eight launch service providers qualified by the Air Force to compete for $986 million worth of small- and medium-sized launch missions over nine years.

Ravn Releases Rocket - Aevum
Ravn Releases Rocket – Aevum

** Virgin Orbit promotes LauncherOne for beyond earth orbit missions:

With the addition of a third stage housed within the rocket’s fairing, LauncherOne can send cutting-edge satellites on a ride past LEO into deep space. We’ve run the numbers, and we think we’ve got a solid engineering plan for ways to use a third stage to launch payloads not only into LEO, MEO, and GEO, but even towards the Moon, any of the Earth-Moon LaGrange points, various main-belt asteroids, Venus, or Mars. With this simple adaptation, LauncherOne unlocks the ability to deliver enough mass to interplanetary destinations to conduct some really valuable smallsat missions, whether that’s studying the potential for extraterrestrial life or learning more about the chemical composition of far-flung worlds.

** bluShift Aerospace hopes to launch bio-fueled rockets from Maine: Billion-dollar ‘Space Port’ business could be headed to Maine if state legislator has her way |

“For long enough people have thought of Mainers as, ‘We do great lobster, we do, heck, we do great beer,'” Sascha Deri, founder of bluShift, said. “It’s time for us to show the world that, ‘No, we do a lot of really cool things too like, rockets.'”

** China prepares for launch of Long March 5 heavy lift rocket: China on pace to resume Long March 5 launches by end of year – Spaceflight Now

Components for China’s third Long March 5 rocket arrived at the country’s southern launch base this week as teams prepare for the first flight of the heavy-lift launcher since a 2017 mission ended in failure.

The return-to-flight mission, expected in the second half of December, is a major test of the heavy-lift rocket before China commits to launching a Mars rover and a lunar sample return mission on Long March 5 vehicles next year.

** French space agency tests Frog, a prototype vertical takeoff & landing vehicle: Successful captive flights for FROG – CNES. It is jet powered but serves to teach the VTOL techniques needed for rocket landings.

Both demonstrations in captive flight take-off and landing were a success. FROG is a small scale flight demonstrator designed to test vertical landing algorithms for future reusable launchers.

The project team is currently preparing the Free Flight Fitness Review (RAV) which will take place in October and will allow free flight tests, without gantry or safety cable.

FROG VTOL Prototype
FROG jet powered VTOL prototype in tethered tests.
FROG Schematic
Schematic diagram of the FROG VTOL demonstrator.

** Japan preparing the RV-X vertical takeoff and landing rocket vehicle for test flights. The RV-X is essentially a re-start of the RVT (Reusable Vehicle Test) program of the late 1990s, early 2000s. See my interview with Yoshifumi Inatani, who led the RVT program.

Here is a set of program overview slides in Japanese (pdf). Note that CALLISTO mentioned on the slides refers to a VTOL suborbital rocket vehicle under development by the French and German space agencies. See CALLISTO – Reusable VTVL launcher first stage demonstrator, E. Dumont et al, 2018 (pdf).

** Exodus Space pursues two-stage space plane RLV design. Here is an overview by Fraser Cain:

Exodus CEO Miguel Ayala recently gave a presentation to the FISO (Future In-Space Operations Working Group): Fully Reusable, Two-Stage-To-Orbit (TSTO), Horizontal Takeoff & Landing Spaceplanes – Here are the slides (pdf) and the audio:

AstroClipper - Exodus Space
The flight sequence for the Exodus Space AstroClipper reusable launch system.

** Latest update on space elevators from ISEC (Int. Space Elevator Consortium): ISEC Newsletter – November 2019

The ISEC has had an impact. In the last 6 years the technical maturity and engineering substance of the Space Elevator has solidified and become organized; most notably as the Galactic Harbour.   ISEC’s Technology Development and Maturation approach has melded a better definition of the Space Elevator Engineering solution(s). 

The Elevator is no longer a mystery. Engineering approaches for the Tether Climber, the Earth Port, the GEO Region, and the Apex Anchor have been expressed in terms everyone understands; a harbor. The last technology hurdle – strong material for the tether – was conquered.

*** NASA Commercial Crew update:

The current dates for the tests:

  • Boeing:
    • Nov.4: Pad abort test at the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico. The event will be webcast.
    • Dec.17: Orbital Flight Test (OFT) will send an uncrewed Starliner to the ISS via a ULA Atlas V launch.
  • SpaceX:
    • Nov. 6: Static firing of all the SuperDraco engines on the Crew Dragon.
    • Early Dec.: In-flight abort test in which a Crew Dragon will fire its abort engines to depart from a Falcon 9 during the max-Q portion of the flight.

** SpaceX:

** Attaching a canard to the Spaceship Mk.1:

** Next Falcon 9 launch of Starlink satellites set for Nov. 11. Presumably these Starlinks will be operational spacecraft rather than the demo prototypes on the first launch.  Over the coming year, SpaceX hopes to get into a routine of Starlink launches about every two weeks. 2nd Starlink Mission Launch Campaign Thread : spacex/

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