Space transport roundup – Feb.19.2020

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

** Arianespace launches Ariane V with two spacecraft Tuesday evening:  the communications satellite JCSAT-17 for SKY Perfect JSAT Corp. and the environmental monitoring satellite Geo-Kompsat-2B for the Korea Aerospace Research Institute.

** Blue Origin opens a new engine manufacturing plant in Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, AL –  February 17, 2020 – Today, Blue Origin opened its rocket engine production facility in Huntsville, AL. The world-class engine manufacturing facility in The Rocket City will conduct high rate production of the BE-4 and BE-3U engines. These engines will undergo testing at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center on the historic Test Stand 4670. BE-7, our lunar landing engine, is also currently in test at NASA Marshall.

“At the core of every successful launch vehicle program are the engines that power those vehicles to space. Early on in Blue Origin’s history, we made a crucial decision to invest in developing the next generation of reusable rocket engines. And now, it’s an exciting time for Blue, our partners and this country –we are on the path to deliver on our promise to end the reliance on Russian made engines – and it’s all happening right here, right now, in the great state of Alabama. We couldn’t be prouder to call this our home for engine production,” said Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin.

Blue will add more than 300 jobs to the local economy with an investment of over $200 million in the facility.

The factory will build the big  BE-4 engine, seven of which will power New Glenn’s reusable 1st-stage booster, and two will be used on the 1st-stage of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle.

  • Manufacturing facility in Huntsville, Alabama is starting production of the engine.
  • ULA will get the first two production engines this year.
  • Currently carrying out full life-cycle firings on the test stand.
  • Starting development of an upgraded version.
  • Expect to achieve 25+ flights per engine with minimal maintenance between flights.
Diagram of Blue Origin’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueled BE-4 engine. Credits: Blue Origin

See also: Blue Origin opens Alabama engine factory and lays out production plan – GeekWire.

**** SpaceShipTwo Unity arrives at Spaceport America: Virgin Galactic Welcomes SpaceShipTwo Unity to Spaceport America, New Mexico – Virgin Galactic

VSS Unity, attached to the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, made the journey from Mojave, California, where the Company’s manufacturing facilities are based. The vehicle landed at 15:49MT, where it was greeted by an enthusiastic group of teammates who will operate the spaceship in New Mexico.

This captive carry flight provided an opportunity for engineers to evaluate VSS Unity for over three hours at high altitude and cold temperatures, a longer period of time than is experienced during missions to space. These environmental evaluations of system performance are difficult to replicate at ground level, making captive carry missions a vital component of VSS Unity’s flight test plan.


The relocation of VSS Unity to Spaceport America enables the Company to engage in the final stages of its flight test program. This will begin with a number of initial captive carry and glide flights from the new operating base in New Mexico, allowing the spaceflight operations team to familiarize themselves with the airspace and ground control. Once these tests are complete, the team will carry out a number of rocket-powered test flights from Spaceport America to continue the evaluation of VSS Unity’s performance.  During this phase, the final spaceship cabin and customer experience evaluations will also be concluded in preparation for the start of commercial spaceflight operations.

The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s design, testing and manufacturing arm, remains firmly rooted in Mojave, California.  While VMS Eve and VSS Unity are now based in New Mexico, they will make periodic journeys back to Mojave to support ground and flight tests of new spaceships, as well as for vehicle maintenance and upgrade activities.  There is significant progress being made on the next two spaceships, including achieving the Weight on Wheels milestone for the second spaceship and completing over 50% of the structural and system part fabrication for the third spaceship, which were announced in January.

**  Rocket Crafters rocket engine test goes bad and sends debris flying: Rocket engine test in Cocoa sends debris flying, starts fire –

**  More about Astra‘s plans for low cost rocket launches for smallsats: Astra emphasizes rapid iteration in its quest for low-cost, rapid launch –

The launch window for Astra’s first orbital launch from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska now opens Feb. 25, according to a U.S. Coast Guard notice published Feb. 12. The company will have daily windows from 3:30 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern through March 3.

In a Feb. 13 interview, Chris Kemp, chief executive of Astra, confirmed that launch window but didn’t give a specific date when the company would make its first launch attempt. The rocket, dubbed “One of Three,” will be flying to the spaceport on Kodiak Island, Alaska, in a few days.

That launch, he confirmed, will be the first of two missions as part of the DARPA Launch Challenge, a competition by DARPA to demonstrate responsive launch capabilities. Astra is the sole remaining competitor in the challenge after the other two finalists, Vector and Virgin Orbit, dropped out last year.

** Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo vehicle berthed to the ISS on Tuesday following the launch on an Antares rocket from Wallops Island last Saturday. Cygnus Cargo Craft Attached to Station for Three-Month Stay – Space Station/NASA blogs

** SpaceX:

** A SpaceX Falcon 9 put 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit after a launch from Cape Canaveral on Monday. Unfortunately, the booster missed the landing platform floating in the Atlantic. No word yet on what went wrong. The two ships with nets failed to capture the nosecone fairings as they returned via parasails.

More at:

Scott Manley speculates on why the booster landing failure:

**** Parachute testing for Crew Dragon should finish soon: SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft nears last parachute tests before astronaut launch debut – Teslarati

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is likely just a few weeks away from its last few parachute drop tests, the successful completion of which should give NASA all the technical data it needs to okay its astronaut launch debut.

After facing several major failures during intentionally challenging drop tests both last year and the year before, SpaceX and supplier Airborne have been working relentlessly to better understand the complex physics behind parachutes and then design and build better ones with that information.

Most recently, SpaceX has been aggressively testing the latest Mark 3 (Mk3) parachute variant with great success and has completed some two-dozen consecutively-successful drop tests since October 2019. Now, NASA and SpaceX are working together to settle on a design for two final Crew Dragon parachute tests, the results of which will almost certainly determine when the spacecraft’s astronaut launch debut will occur.

**** Crew Dragon for first mission with astronauts aboard is now at KSC: SpaceX Crew Dragon Arrives for Demo-2 Mission – SpaceX/NASA blog

**** Starship

**** Robert Zubrin reports on a discussion with Elon Musk about Starship plans: The Space Show – Tue, 02/11/2020Dr. Robert Zubrin

Summary: Zubrin shares new info about Starship. : spacex/reddit

– employees: 300 now, probably 3000 in a year

– production target: 2 starships per week

– Starship cost target: $5M

– first 5 Starships will probably stay on Mars forever

– When Zubrin pointed out that it would require 6-10 football fields of solar panels to refuel a single Starship Elon said “Fine, that’s what we will do”.

– Elon wants to use solar energy, not nuclear.

– It’s not Apollo. It’s D-Day.

– The first crew might be 20-50 people

– Zubrin thinks Starship is optimized for colonization, but not exploration

– Musk about mini-starship: don’t want to make 2 different vehicles (Zubrin later admits “show me why I need it” is a good attitude)

– Zubrin thinks landing Starship on the moon probably infeasible due to the plume creating a big crater (so you need a landing pad first…). It’s also an issue on Mars (but not as significant). Spacex will adapt (Zubrin implies consideration for classic landers for Moon or mini starship).

– no heatshield tiles needed for LEO reentry thanks to stainless steel (?!), but needed for reentry from Mars

– they may do 100km hop after 20km

– currently no evidence of super heavy production

– Elon is concerned about planetary protection roadblocks

– Zubrin thinks it’s possible that first uncrewed Starship will land on Mars before Artemis lands on the moon

Elon later corrected Zubrin about the heat shield requirements:

***** Interesting diagram of Starship design and parts under construction:

***** Details on Starship facility at Port of Los Angeles : SpaceX’s California Starship factory plans detailed ahead of permitting decision – Teslarati

According to SpaceX’s updated 2020 Port of Los Angeles regulatory documents, the company has major ambitions for its resurrected California Starship factory. In simple terms, it really does want to build a true Starship factory instead of something smaller or more specialized. Specifically, SpaceX wants Berth 240 to be able to independently form Starship’s steel rings, stack and weld those rings together, outfit integrated barrel sections with all necessary access ports, plumbing, and flight-related hardware, and build any number of other Starship parts (likely fins, legs, noses, etc.).

****** Latest videos showing activities at Boca Chica Beach facilities:

SpaceX Boca Chica, Texas VAB Progress – Feb.16.2020 – LabPadre – YouTube

02.15.2020 Saturday’s progress on the new VAB with a few still shots for reference. Also Bulkhead stack work behind the onion tent. Lots of speculation on the height.

SpaceX Pops Out Starship’s Buckled Steel (Time Lapse) – Feb.17.2020 – LabPadre – YouTube

After a few tries SpaceX pulls a hat trick and fixes the buckle steel in the bottom stack. We have some skilled hands on site! This 24/7 stream is powered by LabPadre, in cooperation with Sapphire Condominiums and @BocaChicaMaria1 (Twitter) @SpaceXBocaChica (Facebook).

SpaceX LabPadre New Location Samples And North Side Shipyard Progress – Feb.18.2020 – LabPadre – YouTube

New camera location sample shots along with progress on the North side back end of the rocket shipyard along with Tesla Transport hidden goodies. Video credit: Maria Pointer on Twitter @BocaChicaMaria1

SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 into Stacking Operation – Feb.18.2020- NASASpaceflight – YouTube

At SpaceX Boca Chica, the stacking operations for Starship SN1 began this week as the vehicle enters preparations to be ready for rollover to the launch site for its Static Fire test. Filmed and edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer) for NSF.

SpaceX Boca Chica – SN1 tank sections welded together ahead of next stacking – Feb.18.2020- NASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX teams completed the welds between the two tank sections on Tuesday. Stacking of the next piece of SN1 is expected to begin shortly. Filmed and edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer) for NSF.

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