Space transport roundup – Dec.11.2019

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

[ Update: Statement from Blue about today’s New Shepard flight: Blue Origin | New Shepard Mission NS-12 Updates

New Shepard had a wholly successful mission on December 11, 2019. 

This mission was another step towards verifying New Shepard for human spaceflight as we continue to mature the safety and reliability of the vehicle. 

This was the 6th flight for this particular New Shepard vehicle. Blue Origin has so far reused two boosters five times each consecutively, so today marks a record with this booster completing its 6th flight to space and back.

This particular rocket has been an operational payload vehicle for several flights, meaning there are no more updates to the system.

Here are some videos Blue posted this afternoon:


** Blue Origin flew a New Shepard rocket vehicle today on its 6th mission to over 100 kilometers. The launch was postponed from Tuesday due to bad weather. Here is the webcast video (the liftoff is around the 40:15 point):

An earlier statement from Blue announcing the mission:

Blue Origin’s next New Shepard mission (NS-12) is currently targeting liftoff tomorrow, December 10th at 8:30 am CST / 14:30 UCT. Current weather conditions aren’t as favorable as we’d like, but we’re continuing to keep an eye on the forecast.

As we move towards verifying New Shepard for human spaceflight we are continuing to mature the safety and reliability of the vehicle. 

It’s the 6th flight for this particular New Shepard vehicle, marking the first time a Blue Origin booster has made this many consecutive flights (the previous booster flew five times consecutively) – all with minimal refurbishment between flights. This particular rocket has been an operational payload vehicle for several flights, meaning there are no more updates to the system.

This will also be the 9th commercial payload mission for New Shepard, and we are proud to be flying our 100th customer on board. 

Also on the vehicle are thousands of postcards from students around the world for our nonprofit Club for the Future. The Club’s mission is to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and help visualize the future of life in space.

You can watch the launch live at – the pre-show begins T-30 where Blue will provide more mission details and updates.

To follow the action, we’ll be posting live updates on Instagram and Twitter.

Blue Origin Twitter and Instagram 
Club for Future Twitter and Instagram

New Shepard Mission NS-12 Notable Payloads Manifested:

Earlier this year we partnered with rock band OK Go on a contest called Art in Space, giving high school and middle school students a chance to send art experiments into space on our New Shepard vehicle. We are sending the two winning art projects on NS-12.

Columbia University
One of our educational payloads from Columbia University, designed and built by undergraduate students and advised by Dr. Michael Massimino (an astronaut), will study the acute impacts of microgravity environments on cell biology. This is crucial for humans living and working in space.

OSCAR, which was led by principal investigator Dr. Annie Meier, is a recycling technology payload from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It is designed to create a mixture of gasses that could be used for propulsion or life support from common waste on a deep space human exploration mission. This is Blue’s first full-stack payload, meaning there will be more room to do complex studies in flight.

-Gradatim Ferociter

See also: Blue Origin moving to verify New Shepard for human flight with 12th test launch –

** Several orbital launches took place in the past week.

*** Dec.11: India launched a PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) today with a radar imaging spy satellite on board. Liftoff happens at about 23:55 into this ISRO webcast video:

[ Update: So many launches it’s hard to keep up. I left out this Russian Soyuz  2-1b launch on Tuesday, Dec.10, which successfully put a navigation satellite into orbit: Soyuz 2-1b launches latest GLONASS satellite – returns Plesetsk pad to service –


*** Dec. 7: China launched two Kuaizhou-1A rockets within a few hours, putting a total of seven satellites into orbit. This included the Jilin-1 Gaofen-2B remote sensing satellite for the Jilin constellation on the first launch and six smallsats on the second rocket:

*** Dec. 6: Russian Soyuz sent a Progress cargo vehicle to the ISS: Russia’s Progress MS-13 space freighter delivered into near-Earth orbit – TASS

The spacecraft docked with the ISS on Monday.

*** Dec. 6: Rocket Lab launched an Electron rocket for the 10th time. Seven satellites were placed into orbit. In addition, the first stage booster remained intact after plummeting back through the atmosphere in a guided flight all the way to splashdown. This is a positive indication for plans to recover the boosters  and reuse them. This Electron was also the first to fly with a fully Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS).

*** Dec. 5: SpaceX Falcon 9 launched a Cargo Dragon to the ISS. The first stage successfully landed on a platform at sea.

The Dragon berthed to the station on Dec. 8th.

The team posted this montage of scenes from before and during the Falcon 9 launch, plus they show the booster at Cape Canaveral and the retracting of the legs.

** Boeing Starliner and Atlas V launcher are preparing for launch this month. The uncrewed  test flight to the ISS is currently set for Dec.20th at 6:36 am EST from Cape Canaveral: Boeing Uncrewed Flight Test Launch Date Update – Commercial Crew Program/NASA

**** Starliner and Atlas V at SLC-41 for Wet Dress Rehearsal –

Q&A from ULA’s Space Launch Complex 41 viewing Starliner atop its Atlas V Rocket in preparation for the upcoming OFT. More information on Starliner: News Site:… Forum Section:…

** Chinese rocket news items:

**** Testing of an hydrogen-oxygen engine for the Long March-8, which is expected to fly in 2020 for the first time:  China’s Long March-8 rocket successfully passes engine test – Xinhua

**** An upper stage solid fuel motor test, this time by the Chinese company Galaxy Space (Beijing Xinghe Dongli Space Technology Co. Ltd.): Chinese private rocket complete the third phase engine thermo ground test –

** Europe’s Space Rider uncrewed space plane to fly in 2022. The latest ESA budget includes full funding for the project, which has been led by Italy:

ESA’s Space Rider.

** Balloons can’t reach space but balloon tanks can:

** The Int. Space Elevator Consortium (SEC) posts an update on space elevator development: ISEC Newsletter – Dec.2019/Jan.2020

Road to the Space Elevator Era: This International Academy of Astronautics study report (4 years by 30 global space experts) was “released” during the IAC [2019] at the Robert Heinlein Prize Trust Booth (publisher). The report has significant inputs from ISEC and our members. Several of the ISEC concepts from our Chief Architect were accepted into the book and stood tall. These would include several of Fitzer’s Architectural Notes and his concept of a Galactic Harbour being a combination of a transportation infrastructure and an enterprise zone. This internationally endorsed study report again portrays an aggressive approach towards implementation of SEs. ISEC was instrumental in the content of the book and the editing of the content – as such, this year’s distribution of the document at the IAC was a “win-win.”

** SpaceX:

**** As usual, lots of activities underway across the wide range of SpaceX projects. Here are four upcoming Falcon 9 launches:

  • Dec. 16: Launch from Cape Canaveral of the Boeing built JCSAT 18/Kacific 1 comm-sat for SKY Perfect JSAT Corp. of Japan and Kacific Broadband Satellites of Singapore.
  • Late Dec: Starlink-2 launch of a batch of 60 operational Starlink satellites.
  • Jan.4: A “no-earlier-than’ (NET) date for the in-flight abort test in which a Crew Dragon spacecraft will separate from the Falcon 9 about a minute after to liftoff. This will simulate the
  • Early Jan: Starlink-3 launch of the third batch of 60 Starlink satellites

Articles about these flights:

**** A crewed Dragon flight to the ISS could happen as early as February if the in-flight abort and parachute tests are successful:

**** The Falcon upper stage successfully fired after coasting for a several hours following the release of the Cargo Dragon in last week’s mission discussed above. Such a capability is required for some types of satellite missions, especially for the military.

**** SpaceX plans to provide low cost launch services for smallsats on a fixed schedule.  This will mean tough competition for small rocket launch providers. The use of Momentus space tugs will also allow smallsats released from the Falcon to reach a wide array of orbits. SpaceX’s First Rideshare Customer Means Competition for Northrop – Motley Fool

The article exaggerates the threat, though, to Northrop’s Mission Extension Vehicles (MEVs). These are intended to keep large comm-sats in geostationary orbit in operation after they have run out of station-keeping fuel. The SpaceX and Momentus services are focused on low earth orbit missions for smallsats.

**** Starlink internet services need low cost ground station equipment if the project is to be financially successful: SpaceX wants to be your WiFi provider. This could be the company’s biggest hurdle – CNN.

SpaceX hopes to meet the demands of astronomers to reduce the glow of the Starlink satellites: SpaceX to experiment with less-reflective satellite coatings on next Starlink launch – Spaceflight Now

**** Recent Starship activities:

  • Boca Chica Beach, Texas:
    • Disassembly of the Mk.1 lower propulsion section that blew off its top during a pressure test on Nov.20th.
    • Mk.3 Starship assembly started with work on structural bands.
    • Construction of launch pad, control center, and other facilities.
    • Arrival of components from the Florida site via SpaceX ship.
  • Florida:
    • Scaling down of Starship assembly activities in favor of focusing on Starship building in Texas
    • Construction of Super Heavy Booster/Starship launch facility at Pad 39A at KSC

Here are articles and videos about these developments:

**** Boca Chica, Texas

****** A LabPadre report on events in Boca Chica:

****** Arrival of components from Florida

12.08.2019 Go Discovery entered the Brazos Santiago at 7:18 AM local time. Spectacular view of SpaceX bulk head and stands being delivered to Boca Chica complex. Dolphins at the bow at 2:00 min mark. All images are explicitly owned by LabPadre Media

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Taking apart Starship Mk1 – NASASpaceflight

Disassembly of Starship Mk1 is in the final stages ahead of the stacking of Mk3. Sunrise. Normal speed disasembly, then additional clips in timelapse. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

**** New SpaceX Launch Control Center at Boca Chica, Texas – LabPadre – Dec.3.2019

It appears that SpaceX is breaking ground for their new launch control center here at Boca Chica, Texas. Fast paced progress ahead for the push of MK-3. Video Credit: Maria Pointer

** Florida Starship facility – Aerial view via John Winkopp – Dec.6.2019:

Aerial view, still not much changed, more equipment on the way out. One large piece of wing root has been placed in the blue container for shipping. All of the sheets of steel that was in the On Deck Area has been shipped out.

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