Space transport roundup – Jan.13.2020

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

** SpaceX test fired Falcon 9 on Pad 39A on Saturday in preparation for the in-flight abort (IFA) test of the Crew Dragon space. The test is currently set to lift off on January 18th at 8 am EST.

The test starts at around 24:40 into this video:

NASA previews the test: SpaceX, NASA Gear up for In-Flight Abort Demonstration | NASA

And posts this animation:

See also Elon Musk says a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is about to be “destroyed in Dragon fire” – Teslarati.

More SpaceX items below.

** Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo nears completion: Second Spaceship in Virgin Galactic’s Fleet Completes Major Build Milestone – Virgin Galactic

See latest Space Tourism Roundup for more about this and other Virgin Galactic news.

** Arianespace heads for a busy year in 2020 with multiple types of rockets lifting off from Kourou, Kazakhstan, and Russia: Arianespace could launch record 22 missions in 2020 –

Half of the European launch provider’s 2020 manifest is comprised of OneWeb launches — 10 Soyuz missions and the inaugural launch of the Ariane 62 rocket. 

Arianespace also has two launches scheduled for its smallest rocket, Vega, and two for the larger next-generation Vega C, Stéphane Israël, Arianespace’s chief executive, said in a Jan. 7 interview.

Of the 22 missions, 14 are planned from Europe’s spaceport, the Guiana Space Center, on the coast of South America, Israël said. The remaining eight are Soyuz missions the company expects will be split about even between Russia’s spaceports, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East, near China, he said. 

Arianespace’s record is 12 launches in one year, set in 2015.

** Sierra Nevada gives an update on development of Dream Chaser cargo and crew variants:Dream Chaser on Track for 2021 Cargo Mission, Crew Within 5 Years –

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is on track for the first cargo flight of its Dream Chaser spacecraft next year.  Looking like a small space shuttle, Dream Chaser lost out on a contract for NASA’s commercial crew program, but was selected in the second round of commercial cargo contracts.  SNC still plans to use Dream Chaser for crewed missions for other customers and expects the first within 5 years.  SNC also is bidding on contracts for NASA’s Artemis program, including as part of a Dynetics team for the Human Landing System.

Steve Lindsey, a former NASA astronaut who is now SNC’s Senior Vice President of Strategy for Space Systems, and other SNC officials gave updates on Dream Chaser and other space activities during a media telecon today.

SNC has “never stopped working” on the crewed version of Dream Chaser, Lindsey said. While the company’s focus right now is getting the cargo version ready for its first flight on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan-Centaur rocket next year, the first crewed flight “absolutely” will take place within 5 years.

** ABL Space Systems to use Air Force facilities to test components for the RS1 launch vehicle for smallsat orbital deliveries: Small launch startup ABL Space Systems to test rocket hardware at Edwards Air Force Base –

Based in El Segundo, California, ABL was founded by former SpaceX engineers in 2017 to develop low-cost launch vehicles for the small satellite industry. The company’s RS1 vehicle was designed to lift 1,200 kilograms into low Earth orbit at a price of $12 million per launch.

ABL announced on July 22 — just days after signing the cooperative agreement with AFRL — that Lockheed Martin Ventures would become an investor in the company.

Nils Sedano, technical adviser on rocket propulsion systems at AFRL, told SpaceNews Jan. 9 that ABL has “come in and established their presence at area 1-56 of the AFRL rocket propulsion division.”

AFRL is the primary rocket propulsion scientific research and development center for the U.S. Air Force.

** China’s Galactic Energy reaches $43M in total funding for rocket development: Chinese launch firm Galactic Energy raises $21.5 million – The latest funding round

was led by Puhua Capital and Huaqiang Capital with six further investors. The funding was secured in October and announced by Galactic Energy late December (Chinese). The funds will be used for the first launch of the Ceres-1 solid rocket in the first half of 2020.

Ceres-1 will consist of three solid stages using Hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene fuel and a liquid propellant upper stage. The launcher will be capable of carrying a 350-kilogram payload to low Earth orbit. 

Galactic Energy’s investors.

The company’s full English name is Beijing Xinghe Dongli Space Technology Co. Ltd.

** An update from the Planetary Society on LightSail-2, which launched last summer on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy:

High above Earth, The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft is still sailing on sunbeams. During the 5 months since LightSail 2 deployed its solar sail on 23 July 2019, the spacecraft has continued to demonstrate the first controlled solar-sailing flight in Earth orbit. 

The LightSail 2 team is releasing a paper today that describes new results from the mission. Purdue University’s Justin Mansell is also presenting the results at the 30th Space Flight Mechanics Meeting in Orlando, Florida. The paper recaps mission events through late November, discusses the performance of the solar sail and attitude control system, and describes how the spacecraft’s orbit has changed. 

LightSail 2 flies at a higher altitude than most satellites in low-Earth orbit. While the International Space Station orbits Earth at an altitude of about 400 kilometers, LightSail 2 orbits at about 720 kilometers. Since fewer spacecraft orbit at LightSail 2’s altitude, there wasn’t enough data on Earth’s atmospheric density to reliably predict how much atmospheric drag would slow down the spacecraft. We now know for certain that the atmosphere at 720 kilometers is dense enough to overcome the thrust imparted by solar sailing.

LightSail 2 near the Middle East: LightSail 2 captured this image of the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf on 14 December 2019. The sail appears slightly curved due to the spacecraft’s 185-degree fisheye camera lens. The image has been color corrected and some of the distortion has been removed.” Credits: Planetary Society

** Rocket Lab prepares for next Electron launch:

** Secretive Astra Space aims for three launches from Alaskan spaceport this year: FCC Filing Confirms Final Contestant in DARPA’s $12 Million Satellite Launch Challenge – IEEE Spectrum.

Astra Space (previously named Ventions) is developing a small payload orbital launch system and is competing in the DARPA Launch Challenge, which requires a demonstration of a quick response (30 days) to a request for the launch of a smallsat. While the company refuses to answer press queries, applications for launch and communications licenses provides some info on what they are doing:

The company carried out two suborbital launches from PSCA in 2019 but the rockets appeared to have problems shortly after liftoff. According to the FAA license, this year Astra will attempt three orbital flights from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) on Kodiak Island. They may also do a flight from the commercial launch facility at Wallops Island but a separate FAA license will be required.

** A compilation of recetn rocket news from Eric Berger: Rocket Report: SpaceX goes vertical, smallsat launch dates slip | Ars Technica

** SpaceX:

**** Falcon 9 booster (B1049.4) for Starlink 2 launch returns to port:

B1049 looks great!! We are a US disabled veteran run, non-profit video production company whose mission is to bring other disabled US Veterans to witness a launch, experience US Space History and become part of our report. Our nonprofit 501(c)(3) is 100% tax deductible, just go to our webpage which is merged with and find our Donate button. You can help change the life of a US Veteran. Thank You

[ Update: The group at offers a video scenes of the processing for the booster from the Starlink 2 launch:


** SpaceX Cargo Dragon for CRS-19 mission to the ISS recovered after splashdown:

**** Starship

****** Assembly of propellant tank for pressure testing to destruction. Last week, the primary focus at Boca Chica was completing the assembly of a propellant tank and then pressure testing to destruction. The goal was to determine if  techniques for tank construction have improved to the point that the stainless steel tanks are flight worthy.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Test Tank (Bopper) and Buildings, Jan 8, 2020 –

All hands on deck at SpaceX Boca Chica as buildings continue to be completed while the test tank (we’re lovingly calling “Bopper”) undergoes final welding ahead of its transportation. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Test Tank transported to Launch Site, Jan.9.2020 –

SpaceX’s Starship Test Tank “Bopper” was transported to the Boca Chica launch site for a positive pressure test. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Mostly muted due to really strong wind noise and timelapsed to get all events in without it being a one hour video.

****** SpaceX Hoppy Poppy Jr Pressure Test To Failure, Jan.10.2020 – LabPadre

01.10.2020 At 5:45 AM the pressure testing to failure on Hoppy Jr at SpaceX Boca Chica, Texas. Video is not the best quality but it gets the picture across. Thanks for watching. All live images are explicitly owned by LabPadre Media. Filmed on location at Pointer Property.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Test Tank Before and After Test – Timelapse, Jan.10.2020 –

At SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site, the test tank underwent a planned and successful/useful data overpressure test event. Timelapse video show the tank (nicknamed Bopper) before and after the test. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Muted due to really strong wind noise and timelapsed to get all events in without it being a one hour video.

**** Comments from Elon Musk on the tank pressure test:

See also SpaceX just blew up a Starship tank on purpose and Elon Musk says the results are in – Teslarati.

**** Post pressure test activity

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Preparing for Starship SN1 bulkheads – Facility Construction, Jan.12.2020 –

Following the successful “pressurization to failure” test on the “Bopper” test tank, SpaceX Boca Chica is busy working on the additional facilities and setting up to build new bulkheads that will be for Starship SN1. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 Bulkhead/Rig Transported To Big Tent, Jan.12.2020 –

The new Big Production Tent at SpaceX’s Boca Chica received the Starship SN1 Bulkhead and Rig after they were transported from the Windbreak building. This will allow for welding ops to be protected from the elements. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. A lot of timelapsing at 6x and 4x to condense several hours of footage.

**** Florida Starship facility status:

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