Space transport roundup – Feb.26.2020

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

** First orbital Astra orbital rocket launch is currently set for liftoff from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) on Kodiak Island during the window 3:30-6:30 pm EST ( 2030-2330 GMT)on February 27th: Astra, DARPA prepare for upcoming launch challenge –

Thursday’s launch will be the third for Astra, coming after two launches in July and November 2018. Both launched from the PSCA in Alaska. These were originally believed to be failures. However, Astra stated that the first was successful, and the second was only “shorter than planned”. Neither were designed to reach orbit, as they didn’t have functioning second stages.

The company was known for operating in almost complete secrecy. Very little was known about their rockets, tests, and launch attempts. The only public sighting of an Astra rocket was by a news helicopter in early 2018. Their first rocket, named “Rocket 1.0”, was spotted being readied for a test at the former Naval Air Station Alameda in Alameda, California – just down the street from their factory.

However, Astra recently came out of the shadows, and has released some information about their operations.

Their current rocket, named “Rocket 3.0”, is a two-stage, five-engine, kerosene and liquid oxygen-powered rocket. The pumps of the first stage engines are powered by electric motors, similar to the Rutherford engines on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.

A DARPA video about Astra:

More about Astra‘s rockets from Scott Manley:

About 18 Months ago I covered Astra, a small rocket startup based only a few miles from my home. They were still a ‘Stealth’ company, and would not publicly acknowledge what they were doing, even after a pair of suborbital tests which failed due to engine problems. However they’re now speaking publicly, and making a lot of noise about their smallsat launcher and their first orbital launch attempt only a few days from now.

See also Fresh out of stealth mode, Astra gearing up for orbital launch from Alaska – Spaceflight Now.

** SpaceX sets March 6th for Falcon 9 launch of Cargo Dragon mission CRS-20:

SpaceX is now targeting March 6 at 11:50 p.m. EST for launch of its 20th commercial resupply services mission (CRS-20) to the International Space Station. During standard preflight inspections, SpaceX identified a valve motor on the second stage engine behaving not as expected and determined the safest and most expedient path to launch is to utilize the next second stage in line that was already at the Cape and ready for flight. The new second stage has already completed the same preflight inspections with all hardware behaving as expected. The updated target launch date provides the time required to complete preflight integration and final checkouts.

The cargo Dragon will lift off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying more than 5,600 pounds of science investigations and cargo to the station, including research on particle foam manufacturing, water droplet formation, the human intestine and other cutting-edge investigations.

** The next Falcon 9 launch of 60 Starlink satellites is set for March 11 from LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

More SpaceX items below

** Soyuz 2-1a rocket launches Meridian M satellite from the Plesetsk cosmodrome on Feb. 20th: Soyuz 2-1a launches ninth Meridian satellite –

Russia’s Soyuz-2-1a rocket made its first launch of 2020 on Thursday, carrying the ninth Meridian communications satellite into orbit. Having lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia at 08:24 UTC, Soyuz deployed its Fregat-M upper stage about nine minutes later to carry the satellite to its final elliptical orbit. Spacecraft separation occurred two hours and twenty minutes after launch.

Meridian is a network of satellites that provide the Russian Government with communications for military and installations in the country’s far northern regions. The Meridian constellation forms part of Russia’s Integrated Satellite Communications System, complimenting the geostationary Globus – or Raduga – series of communications satellites.

** China launches four technology demonstrator satellites on Long March-2D rocket: Long March-2D conducts maiden launch from Xichang with four satellites –

Taking precautions with the coronavirus outbreak in all orbital and space launch centers, China returned to its launch activities after the Chinese New Year festivities with a new launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

This was the first use of a Long March-2D (Chang Zheng-2D) launch vehicle from Xichang. The mission orbited four satellites that will be used to carry out inter-satellite link networking and new ground observation technology tests in orbit. The launch took place from the LC3 Launch Complex at 21:07UTC.

Named Xinjishu Shiyan-C to F, XJS-C and D were made by SAST, XJS-E by the Harbin Inst of Tech. and XJS-F by CAST’s DFH Satellite Co., Ltd. (DFHSat).

** PLD Space of Spain carries out full duration test firing of the TEPREL-B engine for the MIURA 1 suborbital rocket. PLD Space successfully achieved a full rocket engine test for MIURA 1 mission – PLD Space

In May 2019 PLD Space suffered a catastrophic engine failure, which provoked material damage, including the loss of the first flight version of the TEPREL-B liquid rocket engine, developed by PLD Space for MIURA 1 launch vehicle. Therefore, the company decided to pause the qualification process and analyse the root causes of the failure to solve the problems found.

After eight months of hard work, PLD Space successfully achieved a full mission duration hot test of the flight engine. This allowed the company to validate the nominal engine performance during the full mission duration burn of two minutes, the necessary time to boost MIURA 1 launch vehicle into space.

“This milestone is a huge step forward for PLD Space, for the Spanish space sector and the European small launcher competitiveness, and allow us to be one of the few companies in the world that has successfully developed, tested and qualified propulsion technologies for space launch vehicles. Achieving this important milestone implies a turning point in the commercial space race and take us a step closer for launching MIURA 1 into space. With this result, PLD Space has a rocket engine capable of reaching space soon”, Raúl Torres, CEO and co-founder of PLD Space.

** Relativity Space shows off a 3D printed upper stage propellant tank:

** Venture Orbital Systems of Europe aims to launch the small Zephyr orbital rocket up to 40 times per year. First flight is targeted for 2024:

An article about Venture Orbita: CubeSat Market, The Zephyr is Positioned – Space Chronicle (Google Translate):

To start its activity, Venture Orbital needs an initial fundraising of 2.5 million euros. Depending on the information available, Zephyr can launch a payload of 35 kg in sun synchronous orbit (SSO) and 40 kg in low orbit (LEO) at an altitude of 500 km. This represents approximately the equivalent of three 6 U satellites. The launcher is ideal for placing small payloads into orbit intended in particular for Earth observation (EO), crop improvement, studying climate change or to improve access to emergency services in the event of crises. The company is not afraid to display its ambitions and has set itself the goal of arriving at up to 40 launches per year from the Guyana Space Center (CSG). The small structure also aims to offer its future availability of the Zephyr in a range of times ranging from three to six months. Launch price: around 1 million euros per mission. The company announces that it already has several contacts.

** Elevating Unity – Episode 6: SpaceShipTwo Relocation to Spaceport America

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** An update on Indian reusable space transport development: A Deep Dive Into ISRO’s Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology – Part I | Delhi Defence Review

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has long sought to lower the cost of access to space. In keeping with this goal, ISRO embarked on the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstration (RLV-TD) Program more than decade ago. As part of the RLV-TD program, it has been developing various technologies that will serve as building blocks for a future Two-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) reusable launch vehicle. Importantly, these technologies are being developed in phases through a series of experimental flights. While the first flight of the RLV-TD, dubbed the ‘hypersonic flight experiment’ (HEX), was successfully executed on May 23, 2016, the stage is now set for the return flight experiment (REX) and scramjet propulsion experiment (SPEX) missions, respectively. LEX, in particular, is expected to be performed in the coming months.

A diagram of the Indian uncrewed reusable spaceplane.

** SpaceX:

** First SpaceX crew mission may last longer than initially planned:

** Upcoming Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral to send Argentine satellite into a polar orbitSpaceX sets date for first Florida launch of its kind in more than half a century – Teslarati

Argentinian space agency CONAE says that both its SAOCOM 1B satellite and SpaceX are on track for a type of launch that the United States’ East Coast hasn’t supported in more than half a century.

CONAE has revealed that SpaceX aims to launch the ~2800 kg (6200 lb) radar Earth observation satellite into orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket as early as March 30th, 2020 – late next month. With such a light payload, the Falcon 9 booster – presumably reused – will be able to perform a Return to Launch Site (RTLS) recovery, touching down at one of SpaceX’s two Landing Zone (LZ) pads located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). While Landing Zone rocket recoveries have become increasingly rare for SpaceX, that’s not actually why the SAOCOM 1B mission is so unique.

Instead, it’s exceptional because it will be the United States’ first East Coast polar launch in nearly six decades. The mission’s “polar” launch profile refers to the fact that the Argentinian radar satellite will ultimately orbit Earth’s poles, effectively perpendicular to more common equatorial orbits. If successful and repeatable, the mission could ultimately spark a new era for CCAFS and Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and raises big questions about the future of California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) — or at least SpaceX’s presence there.

** Falcon 9 first stage will attempt a landing during an operational launch of a military satellite for the first time: SpaceX’s next military launch cleared for historic rocket landing attempt – Teslarati

Effectively confirming that B1054’s demise was was a contrivance and by no means a technical necessity, the SMC announced on February 20th that SpaceX’s GPS III SV03 mission is officially “the first time a booster is planned to land on a drone ship during a NSS [National Security Space] launch.” Effectively identical to B1054 aside from the addition of grid fins and landing legs, this means that Falcon 9 booster B1060 will be able to attempt a landing aboard a SpaceX drone ship shortly after launch.

**** Everyday Astronaut Tim Dodd captures some of the sound and flame-y fury of a Falcon 9 launch:

**** Starship

**** Reports and commentary on the Starship program:

Eric Berger tweets::

Some details on Starship’s first orbital flight:

• Pushing hard for this year
• Six-engine Starship
• Likely from Boca Chica, but also pursuing Florida and sea-based platform
• SN3, SN4, or SN5 probably will make flight

***** Some recent Tweets from Elon Musk about the Starships:

***** A diagram showing the latest assembled sections of the SN1 Starship:

**** Videos of recent activities at the Boca Chica Beach facility in South Texas – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

****** SpaceX Progress With Maria Pointer – Feb.23.2020LabPadre

Spacex is in full gear at Boca Chica, Texas. New buildings. New cranes. New ground being broken. Employees have grown exponentially. Video credit @BocaChicaMaria1

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 Night Ops to Downcomer Checks – Feb.23.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

24 hours a day operations at SpaceX Boca Chica as workers prepare SN1 for the upcoming rollover to the launch site. Video runs from Night Ops through to Sunday work. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

***** SpaceX Mega Stack Highlights W/ Maria Pointer – Feb 24, 2020 – LabPadre

Close up Mega stack highlights and other progressions at SpaceX BocaChica, Texas. Video Credit: @BocaChicaMaria1

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN1 moved to the launch site – Feb.25.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

In Boca Chica, SpaceX’s Starship SN1 was transported to the launch site on Tuesday ahead of proof testing and a static fire test which will be conducted over the coming days. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Starship SN1 Loaded Up On Test Stand Time Lapse – Feb.25.2020 – LabPadre

SN1 was load up onto the test stand at Boca Chica Launch Pad. My apologies on the low quality video. All images are explicitly owned by LabPadre Media. Filmed live on location with Maria Pointer. @BocaChicaMaria1

**** SpaceX granted permit to open facility at Port of LA for Starship related manufacturing:

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