Space transport roundup – Feb.13.2020

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

** The Antares launch of a Cynus cargo vehicle to the ISS is set for this Friday, Feb. 14th at 3:43 pm EST (2043 GMT). The original target liftoff date was last Sunday but there was a scrub at the last few minute due to a pad equipment malfunction. See the previous roundup here for links to info about the mission.

** Another SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of a batch of 60 Starlink satellites is set for Saturday, Feb. 15th at 1546 GMT (10:46 a.m. EST) from Cape Canaveral. There should be a test firing on the pad a day or two before Saturday.

More SpaceX items below

** Multiple launches in the past few days:

**** ULA Atlas V launches ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft: Liftoff for Solar Orbiter, ESA’s mission to face the Sun up close – ESA

Solar Orbiter lofted to space aboard the US Atlas V 411 rocket from NASA’s spaceport in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 04:03 GMT (05:03 CET) on 10 February 2020. An ESA-led mission with strong NASA participation, Solar Orbiter carries a set of ten instruments for imaging the surface of the Sun and studying the environment in its vicinity. The spacecraft will travel around the Sun on an elliptical orbit that will take it as close as 42 million km away from the Sun’s surface, about a quarter of the distance between the Sun and Earth. The orbit will allow Solar Orbiter to see some of the never-before-imaged regions of the Sun, including the poles, and shed new light on what gives rise to solar wind, which can affect infrastructure on Earth.

**** A Japanese H-IIA rocket built by Mitsubishi launched a military reconnaissance spacecraft on Feb.9th:

**** Soyuz launch of 34 OneWeb satellites from Baikonur:

** Update on construction of the Blue Origin facilities at Cape Canaveral:

Just below their tallest points, the skeletal forerunner of a massive hangar and processing facility is also taking shape here, designed to process New Glenn rockets before they roll out to the pad. Some 300 feet in height, New Glenn will rise over most structures at the complex, save for the launch tower and lightning towers.

But eyes gazing toward the tip of the Cape can’t miss one more soaring figure at Launch Complex 36: a 351-foot-tall water tower.

Designed to store hundreds of thousands of gallons of water for liftoff sound suppression and temperature control, the new tower’s gray exterior has yet to be painted, showing where teams joined its massive segments. Even from miles away, it’s visible to the naked eye.

** NASA and Boeing discuss additional problems on Starliner’s uncrewed test flight:

An audio recording of a press briefing by NASA and Boeing:

** More about the Astra rocket company : Astra unveils plans for frequent, low-cost launches –

Many in the space industry, though, had heard of Astra, which also went by the name of Astra Space in regulatory filings and Stealth Space Company in job listings. The company performed two suborbital test launches from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska in 2018, both of which the Federal Aviation Administration, which licensed them, classified as mishaps. On its website, Astra said the first mission was “launched successfully,” but notes the second launch “was shorter than planned” without elaborating.

Even before those launches the company’s activities were visible. Shortly before the first launch a traffic helicopter for a television station in San Francisco spotted one of the company’s rockets being tested on the tarmac of the former naval air station that’s home to Astra and its 250,000-square-foot factory.

The company is developing a small launch vehicle designed to place up to about 200 kilograms in low Earth orbit, according to the Bloomberg article, and do so frequently. Company executives said in the article their goal is to be able to perform hundreds of launches a year at a price per launch as low as $1 million.

** Update on the Danish Copenhagen Suborbitals organization, a non-profit, all-volunteer organization that is working methodically towards sending a rocket with a person on board to suborbital space:

** Rocket briefs:

** SpaceX:

** Components for the the first Crew Dragon mission with astronauts to go to orbit are reaching Cape Canaveral: SpaceX’s first astronaut-ready spaceship wraps up final factory tests before heading to Florida – Teslarati

Set to become the first commercial spacecraft ever to launch NASA astronauts, SpaceX has revealed that its newest Crew Dragon spaceship is in the midst of its final major factory tests, meaning that it could be just a matter of days before it ships to Florida.

Originally built to support SpaceX’s first operational NASA astronaut launch (PCM-1), an explosion that destroyed capsule C201 forced the company to shuffle its fleet and reassign that spacecraft (capsule C206) to an inaugural crewed test flight known as Demo-2. Thankfully, although C201 did explode during post-recovery static fire testing, the spacecraft had flawlessly completed an uncrewed test flight (Demo-1) the month prior, demonstrating a nominal Falcon 9 launch, space station rendezvous, docking, orbital reentry, and splashdown without a single visible hiccup. In short, Crew Dragon’s Demo-1 launch debut could not have gone better.

Ultimately, Crew Dragon C206, its Demo-2 trunk section, and Falcon 9’s booster and upper stage are all expected to be at SpaceX’s Florida processing and launch facilities by the end of the month.

A video of the Crew Dragon C206 during tests:

For the first time,  a realistic date is being targeted for the first crew flight:

**** SpaceX hires a former top NASA honcho:

From CNBC:

SpaceX is only a couple of months away from its first attempt at launching astronauts and the company has brought in one of the foremost experts in human spaceflight to help it do so successfully.

William Gerstenmaier, the former leader of NASA’s human spaceflight program, has now begun working at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, people familiar with his hiring told CNBC. In his new role Gerstenmaier is reporting to SpaceX vice president of mission assurance Hans Koenigsmann, those people said, as the company prepares to begin launching astronauts.

A SpaceX spokesperson confirmed that Gerstenmaier is a consultant for the company’s reliability engineering team.

**** Falcon 9 reusability operations are improving:  The  Op-ed | SpaceX’s adaptation to market changes –

SpaceX has been learning and experimenting with reusability for several years, and its progress has been relatively fast and linear. Euroconsult’s tracking of reused Falcon 9 boosters suggests that boosters with more recent serial numbers are seeing shorter turnaround times between launches, as SpaceX acquires experience and learns to optimize refurbishment. While roughly a year was necessary to refurbish and relaunch the B1021 booster for SpaceX’s very first re-use of a recovered first stage for commercial customer SES-10 in early 2017, only 82 days were necessary to recondition and relaunch the first stage that launched CRS-18 in 2019. This is a significant improvement in terms of turnaround time, which goes a long way to enable a launch rate increase, and thus a launch cost decrease via the amortization of overhead costs over a greater number of launches. The average turnaround time between the first and second reuse of a booster (i.e., between the second and third launches of a first stage) is 160 days, and as low as 118 days in the case of B1046.

The fastest turnaround time between two launches of the same first stage was achieved in 2018 when SpaceX used the B1045 to launch NASA’s TESS and CRS-15 missions 72 days apart. This year, SpaceX turned around a pair of boosters, B1052 and B1053, for two Falcon Heavy launches 74 days apart.

**** Starship

****** The fully reusable Starship, however,  is the true key to opening up space to development: Op-Ed: The Railroad To Space – SpaceWatch.Global

With vehicles like Starship, the price per kilogram to LEO may drop to something like a few hundred Dollars, even assuming the company does not proactively cut its gross margin. All in all, the drop in average launch cost in the near future vs. recent history may hence well exceed 90%.

This is significant. Industries do not stay the same when their cost drops by an order of magnitude – think e.g. about the internet dropping the cost of accessing consumers’ eyeballs. For a comparison more directly related to transportation (which is what space launches are in the end), we can look back approximately 150 years to the time when railroads were built out to the U.S. West. The railroads allowed far higher passenger and cargo volumes than the previous mode of transportation – stagecoaches – and dropped the cost of reaching the U.S. West by an estimated 85%. The effects were dramatic. California’s population increased from 92597 (first census, in 1850) to 1.485 million in 1900. The real GDP of the United States increased 8.5x over the same timeframe. Transportation stocks exploded to represent up to 60% of the total stock market capitalization in the U.S. The dramatically lower cost of accessing the U.S. West made this possible, by enabling e.g. large-scale settlement and agriculture.

****** SpaceX holds job fair at Boca Chica Beach as work activity expands to a round the clock rate: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk greets Starship Career Day hopefuls at festive event – Teslarati

At present, the SpaceX chief is focused on the construction and assembly of Starship, the new rocket that is intended to fly humanity into deep space. Earlier this week, Musk announced on Twitter that SpaceX will be holding a career day at its Boca Chica facility, with the goal of hiring full-time production staff that can cover four shifts for round-the-clock operations. Musk said he will be at the event himself.

SpaceX also filed an application with the FCC seeking permission to use radio frequencies to communicate with the Starship SN1 prototype on a planned test flight dated for any time between March 16 and September 16.

****** Some highlights of Boca Chica activities over the past few days:

******  SpaceX Boca Chica – VAB construction, Starship SN1 Rings on the MoveNASASpaceflight – YouTube – Feb.8.2020

SpaceX Boca Chica’s new VAB is continuing construction as preps continue on the new Starship SN1 bulkhead, all while rings continue to be staged around the site. Photos and Videos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 Bulkhead FlipNASASpaceflight – YouTube – Feb.9.2020

At SpaceX Boca Chica, the barrel section with bulkhead was flipped in preparation for stacking operations. Photos and Videos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – VAB construction, Starship SN1 Rings on the MoveNASASpaceflight – YouTube – Feb.10.2020

SpaceX Boca Chica’s new VAB is continuing construction as preps continue on the new Starship SN1 bulkhead, all while rings continue to be staged around the site. Photos and Videos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Walking a Starship Ring, SN1 Welds, VABNASASpaceflight – YouTube – Feb11.2020

At SpaceX Boca Chica an apparently scrapped Starship Ring was relocated while welding on the SN1 barrel section continued. More work – via a herd of cranes – on the huge VAB was also conducted. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 gains valves and pressurization systemsNASASpaceflight – YouTube – Feb12.2020

More progress on Starship SN1 as SpaceXers appear to install the opening elements of an autogenous pressurization system, along with valves and potentially thrusters. Meanwhile, the VAB begins work on Tier 3. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

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