Space transport roundup – Mar.20.2020

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

** Falcon 9 launches 60 more Starlink satellites. A first stage engine shut down prematurely (just before staging) but had no effect on the mission as the other 8 engines made up the difference. The booster also failed to make a successful landing on a sea platform. This was the fifth flight of this booster.

The nosecone also used fairings recovered from a previously flight. The halves were recovered again today but after landing onto the water rather than into ship nets:

Scott Manley discusses the booster problems:

More about the launch:

Find more SpaceX items below

** This week a Chinese Long March 7A failed during its first launch. The rocket’s boosters uses kerosene/liquid oxygen propulsion rather than the highly toxic hydrazine-based propulsion systems used on most other Chinese liquid propellant rockets like the Long March 2F. The expectation is that the LM-7A will eventually become the workhorse launch system for China’s space program.

Little else has been disclosed about the incident including either the cause or nature of the failure, but footage of the launch published on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform by distant spectators, showed what appeared to be a sudden flaring within a few minutes after take-off, suggesting an explosion during, or soon after, second-stage separation.

Here is the Wiebo video mentioned in the Room article.

** Russia sent a Glonass-M navigation satellite to orbit this week on a Soyuz-2-1b rocket launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

** OneWeb plans to send third batch of Internet satellites to orbit on a Soyuz rocket this Saturday, March 21st, at 17:06 (GMT) / 1:06 PM (EDT) / 22:06 (local time) :

** United Launch Alliance (ULA) is preparing an Atlas V to launch the US Air Force’s  AEHF-6 satellite for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency military communications constellation. The launch window on Wednesday March 26th at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch pad is between 2:57-4:57 pm EDT (1857-2057 GMT).

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t stopping the first national security space mission for the U.S. Space Force, slated to launch March 26th aboard a United Launch Alliance rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“We are full steam ahead for the launch,” ULA spokesperson Julie Arnold told FLORIDA TODAY in a message Wednesday afternoon. 

AEHF-6 encapsulated in nosecone on way to integration with the Atlas V. Credits: ULA

** Blue Origin making progress on multiple projects despite the coronavirus disruptions: Blue Origin pressing on with rocket and engine development as industry copes with coronavirus –

Even tough travel is highly restricted and most employees are teleworking, Smith said Blue Origin plans to continue to conduct test flights of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle that last flew in December. The company has said the goal is to start flying people to the edge of space as early as 2020.

“We continue to make progress with the test program, going through the vehicle verification process,” Smith said. “We hope to be able to fly people by the end of the year.”

** Momentus offers space tug modules to expand orbit options for smallsats launched from Falcon 9 Rideshare missions: Momentus to Provide Unmatched Flexibility for SpaceX Rideshare Missions – Momentus

[SpaceX] has proven that the world’s first orbital-class reusable rocket can bring down costs for smallsat operators through regularly scheduled, dedicated Falcon 9 rideshare missions.

Still, many CubeSat and smallsat operators would prefer to be in custom orbits at different inclinations, in different orbit planes, or at different altitudes.

Today, we are announcing Momentus has purchased rides on six SpaceX SmallSat Rideshare Program missions, including five launches to Sun-Synchronous orbit (SSO) and one to mid-inclined low Earth orbit, which Momentus will use to allow its customers access to custom drop-off altitudes and orbits in space.

Customers already signed up for the 2020 and 2021 Vigoride flights include U.K. startup Steamjet Space Systems, NuSpace of Singapore and Aurora Propulsion Technologies of Finland. Additional customers have signed up for Momentus rides from the Falcon 9 drop-off to other destinations.

Artist’s rendering shows a Vigoride deploying a smallsat. Credits: Momentus

Check out the Vigoride Users Guide.

** Rocket Lab continues march towards Electron launch at the end of March: Rocket Lab launch preparations continue despite coronavirus travel restrictions –

Rocket Lab is continuing with preparations for a launch later this month despite the coronavirus pandemic, although another small launch company’s plans for a launch this month remain unclear.

Rocket Lab spokesperson Morgan Bailey said March 19 that the company was still planning to launch an Electron rocket from New Zealand later this month. The launch is currently scheduled for no earlier than March 30, a few days later originally announced.

That mission, called “Don’t Stop Me Now” by the company, will carry three payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office. It will also place into orbit ANDESITE, a cubesat built by students at Boston University and whose launch is being provided by NASA, as well as a cubesat from the University of New South Wales in Australia.

** Virgin Orbit, though, may delay till May: Virgin Orbit working toward first launch, schedule reassessed amid pandemic –

Virgin Orbit is reassessing the schedule for the first orbital flight demonstration of its LauncherOne vehicle, which had been scheduled for April.

“We’re mindful that COVID-19 is putting added burdens and stresses on our teams and leaders, so we are assessing things daily and keeping momentum up as best we can while doing everything we can to protect the health of our people,” Virgin Orbit spokesman Kendall Russell told SpaceNews March 19 in a statement.

LauncherOne rockets, made in Long Beach, California, will be air-launched from a modified 747-400 “Cosmic Girl” carrier aircraft. The vehicle is being offered to government and commercial customers as a flexible launch service that can operate from locations around the world.

The company earlier this month performed a taxi test at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It was a taxi test of the aircraft with a liquid-fueled LauncherOne vehicle attached to it, said Mandy Vaughn, president of Virgin Orbit’s sister company VOX Space. The next step before the orbital launch will be a captive carry test flight with the rocket attached to the plane.

** Briefs:

** SpaceX:

** The May time frame for first Crew Dragon flight with astronauts is firming up: NASA, SpaceX Invite Media to Crew Launch to Station from America | NASA

Media accreditation is open for NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 flight test, which will send two astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This mission will be the return of human spaceflight launch capabilities to the United States and the first launch of American astronauts aboard an American rocket and spacecraft since the final space shuttle mission on July 8, 2011.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will launch Crew Dragon, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the spacecraft, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA and SpaceX are currently targeting no earlier than mid-to-late May for launch.

** Some nice video of the recent Falcon 9 launch of CRS-20 Cargo Dragon to the ISS:

**** Starship

****** The Starlink 6 launch webcast included a segment about Starship development:

****** Starship SN-3 is coming together at Boca Chica as seen in the videos of activities there. The SN-1 vehicle should be the first of the full scale prototypes to do test flights, starting with low altitude hops.


****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Stage Set for Starship SN3 Stacking – May 14 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceXers worked through the night and day to move SN3 sections and stands ahead of the expected stacking of the next Starship – while yet another new tent started to rise out of the Boca Chica ground. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Final Preps for Starship SN3 Stacking – May.16.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

All the chess pieces for the Starship SN3 are on the board and stacking operations are imminent at SpaceX’s Boca Chica production site. Video includes shots of the new thrust puck. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 Stacking: Nose cone and VAB work – May.17.2020

In SpaceX Boca Chica, Starship SN3 is now taking shape, with the nose cone stacking and several sections waiting to be mated – including two sections in the new VAB/Windbreak, which is also sporting its own internal elevator. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 begins Stacking Operations – May.18.2020

SpaceX’s Starship SN3 has entered stacking operations in Boca Chica! Segments were rolled and prepped, including stacking operations in the new VAB/Windbreak. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** Starship SN3 Construction Update at SpaceX Boca Chica – May.19.2020 – SPadre – YouTube

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 Stacks Another Section – May.19.2020

SpaceX Starship SN3 continues stacking operations with another segment added on Thursday inside the VAB/Windbreak, as work continues around the Boca Chica facility. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Starship assembly 24h timelapse 2020-03-19Rocket Frames – YouTube

A timelapse created from LabPadre’s live stream of the SpaceX Boca Chica Facility. Special thanks to Maria Pointer for mounting the camera on her property. This video was created in consent with LabPadre. All copyrights are owned explicitly by LabPadre.

****** SpaceX is gradually buying out the last of the private residencies near the Boca Chica facilities: Boca Chica residents take Elon Musk’s money, make way for SpaceX launches from Texas –

Maria Pointer held one final party at her home overlooking the SpaceX facility outside of Brownsville, with guests visiting from early morning until the stars twinkled goodnight and said farewell to the woman who shared her front-row seat of Elon Musk’s rocket activities in Texas.

“I cried three times, and then I laughed three times,” Maria Pointer said, “and then I opened up another bottle of wine and hugged a few more people.”

Her husband Rayford, however, couldn’t bring himself to attend the party, devastated by the way things played out. The Pointers purchased the property for its isolation and birdwatching. They spent years building their perfect retirement home.

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