Space transport roundup – Jan.17.2020

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

[ Update  3:35 pm:  Here is a video of the pre-test briefing at Kennedy held this afternoon at KSC:

  • Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program
  • Benji Reed, director, Crew Mission Management, SpaceX
  • Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer 45th Weather Squadron

More resources:

Update 10:50 am: The SpaceX webcast  page is now configured for tomorrow’s schedule in-flight abort test and it offers the SpaceX IFA press kit (pdf). The webcast will go live about 20 minutes before lift off.

Other resources:


** SpaceX aims for two Falcon 9 launches in next three days starting with the in-flight abort (IFA) test on Saturday morning. On Monday there will be another batch of 60 Starlink satellites sent into low earth orbit.

The IFA window opens at 8:00 am EST:

The Starlink 3 launch is set for 12:20 pm EST (1720 GMT) on Monday. See also

More SpaceX items below.

** An Ariane 5 rocket sent two satellites to GEO transfer orbits on Thursday. The spacecraft were the EUTELSAT KONNECT for the telecom operator Eutelsat and GSAT-30 for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

** Construction of Blue Origin facilities at Cape Canaveral making rapid progress according to Florida Today space reporter Emre Kelly:

An image of the New Glenn launch pad construction:

** Boeing Starliner returns in good shape to KSC after orbital test mission:  Boeing expects ‘minimal refurbishment’ on reusable Starliner crew capsule – Spaceflight Now

** Boeing releases a video taken inside Starliner during the test flight: Boeing releases in-cabin video from Starliner’s orbital test flight – Spaceflight Now

Boeing caption:

Take a look inside the #Starliner on its Orbital Flight Test. Four interior cameras captured the mission, and this video covers nearly every dynamic event during the flight, including launch, separation events, on-orbit maneuvering, re-entry and landing. This is just a preview of what’s to come from the Dec. 20-22 flight as we prepare to release all our onboard mission footage.

** China successfully launched remote sensing satellite Jilin-1  on a Long March-2D rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the northern province of Shanxi on January 15.

** New funding moves SpinLaunch closer to first test of catapult launch system:

The responsive launch system utilizes a large mass accelerator to provide on demand launches of small satellites in virtually any weather at an order of magnitude lower cost and higher frequency than any existing or proposed launch system.

Investors include Airbus Ventures, GV, KPCB, Catapult Ventures, Lauder Partners, John Doerr and Byers Family. The funds from this investment will be used to scale the SpinLaunch team and technology and continue to build out SpinLaunch’s new corporate headquarters in Long Beach, California, and complete the flight test facility at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

“Our team at SpinLaunch greatly appreciates the continued support of this formidable syndicate of investors, who share our vision of enabling low-cost and frequent launch of imaging and communications constellations that will protect our planet and humanity.” said CEO Yaney. “Later this year, we aim to change the history of space launch with the completion of our first flight test mass accelerator at Spaceport America.”

In January 2019, SpinLaunch relocated to a new 140,000 square foot facility in Long Beach, California, and funds will be used for the buildout of this corporate headquarters and investing in equipment and machinery to be a world-class R&D manufacturing facility. In addition, the company is hiring additional talent for both its Long Beach headquarters and Spaceport test facility. First flight test is expected later this year.

Prototype SpinLaunch module. Credit: New Mexico Economic Development Department

** Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship to stay longer in orbit after departing from the ISS: NASA, FCC approve Cygnus NG-12 post-Station mission extension –

Coming two weeks before the NG-12 Cygnus is scheduled to depart the International Space Station on 31 January 2020, NASA’s Johnson Space Center officially requested, and the Federal Communications Commission approved, a post-Station mission extension for the craft. 

For this mission, Cygnus had a pre-flight approval to perform two weeks of solo flight operations after leaving the Station before destructively re-entering.  That solo flight operation has now been extended to 31 days in large part due to the planned 9 February launch of the NG-13 Cygnus from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia.

** Generation Orbit tests Ursa Major Technologies propulsion system for X-60A hypersonic project: X-60A program conducts integrated vehicle propulsion system verification test – Wright-Patterson AFB

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s X-60A program recently achieved a key developmental milestone with the completion of integrated vehicle propulsion system verification ground testing.

The X-60A is an air-launched rocket designed for hypersonic flight research. It is being developed by Generation Orbit Launch Services under an AFRL Small Business Innovation Research contract. The goal of the X-60A program is to provide affordable and routine access to relevant hypersonic flight conditions for technology maturation. This test included both cold flow and hot fire testing with the Hadley liquid rocket engine developed by Ursa Major Technologies. Flight-like hardware was tested using flight-like operational procedures. The test runs covered full duration burns, engine gimbaling for thrust vector control, and system throttling.

“This test series was a critical step in reducing risk and gathering necessary system integration data in preparation for our upcoming flight tests,” said Barry Hellman, AFRL X-60A program manager. “When we go to flight later this year, we hope to demonstrate the capability of the X-60A to provide affordable access to hypersonic flight conditions, which will position AFRL to deliver an innovative test capability for the Air Force and other DoD organizations.”           

X-60A is a single-stage liquid rocket primarily designed for hypersonic flight research and is launched from a modified business jet carrier aircraft. It is capable of testing a wide range of hypersonic technologies including airbreathing propulsion, advanced materials, and hypersonic vehicle subsystems. The vehicle propulsion system utilizes liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions above Mach 5.

During the upcoming flight tests based out of Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, FL, the X-60A will fly at relevant conditions necessary for technology maturation. Data will be collected to validate the overall vehicle design functionality as well as performance predictions.

“A recent X-60A hot fire test, conducted at Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida. The X-60A, developed through an Air Force Research Laboratory Small Business Innovation Research contract, is an air-launched rocket designed for hypersonic flight research. (U.S. Air Force photo)”

** Lots of private space launch activities expected in 2020: This year may finally fulfill the promise of private human spaceflight | Ars Technica

This year could see the fulfillment of a number of long-promised achievements in human spaceflight. For the first time, private companies could launch humans into orbit in 2020, and two different companies could send paying tourists on suborbital missions. The aerospace community has been watching and waiting for these milestones for years, but 2020 is probably the year for both.

We may also see a number of new rocket debuts this year, both big and small. A record number of missions—four—are also due to launch to Mars from four different space agencies. That’s just the beginning of what promises to be an exciting year; here’s a look at what we’re most eagerly anticipating in the coming 11.5 months.

** SpaceX:

**** Falcon 9 up closeSpaceX Falcon 9 rocket shown off in unprecedented detail ahead of next US Air Force launch – Telsarati

The octaweb end of the Falcon 9 first stage that will launch the Air Forces’s GPS III SV03 satellite. Credits: USAF

**** More about SpaceX’s plans to build new mobile tower at Pad 39A for vertical installation of military satellites: SpaceX’s Falcon rockets might need a giant tower on wheels for US military launches – Teslarati

SpaceX reportedly plans to build a massive mobile gantry – effectively a tower on wheels – at one of its two Florida launch pads, a bid to meet obscure military launch criteria needed to secure highly lucrative Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch contracts from the US government.

Although this is not the first time that SpaceX and vertical integration have been thrown around in the same sentence, it is the first time that the company is reportedly close to actually finalizing its plans along those lines and constructing a real solution at one or more of its three orbital-class launch pads.

**** Starship

****** Construction of Starship SN-1 ramping up. Here is a new tweet from Elon:

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Deconstruction

At SpaceX Boca Chica, engineers have begun dismantling the test tank (“Bopper”), the UFO Steel Rings and an old bulkhead, while the Starship SN1 Nosecone gained a friend in the Windbreak. Muted due to high wind noise conditions. Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – More Buildings, Test Tank Dismantled, Starship

A very busy SpaceX Boca Chica video, as more buildings are constructed, steel rings are mated and Test Tank “Bopper” is literally pulled apart. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF with additional photos from NSF Member Nomadd (@@nomadd13)

****** Boca Chica operations receive deliveries from Florida facility: SpaceX Transports Starship Hardware with Addition of New Ship –

SpaceX’s GO Discovery ship has arrived in Texas to deliver more Starship hardware to Boca Chica, a facility that continues to expand. A Jobs Fair was held today, showing SpaceX’s expansion intent. Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

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