Space transport roundup – Mar.25.2020

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

** ULA Atlas V set to launch the sixth AEHF (Advanced Extremely High Frequency) communications satellite for the Air Force. The two hour launch window on Thursday opens at 2:57 pm EDT (1857 GMT).

The Atlas V ready for rollout on March 25, 2020 from the Vertical Integration Facility to the pad at Space Launch Complex-41 for the launch of AEHF-6. Credits: ULA

Mission profile:

United Launch Alliance will use an Atlas V 551 rocket to launch the sixth and final spacecraft in the Lockheed Martin-built Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) series for the U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center. AEHF satellites provide global, survivable, protected communications capabilities for strategic command and tactical warfighters operating on ground, sea and air platforms. Atlas V rockets successfully launched the first five AEHF satellites between 2010 and 2019.

** Air Force will keep Cape Canaveral open: Military officials committed to keeping Cape Canaveral open for launches – Spaceflight Now

The military-run Eastern Range at Cape Canaveral remains ready to support upcoming launches — including an Atlas 5 flight Thursday — amid the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Tuesday.

The next launch scheduled from Cape Canaveral is set to take off Thursday, when a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket carries a U.S. Space Force communications satellite into orbit. Preparations for that mission are on schedule, officials said Tuesday.

“We’re going to continue to do what we do best, which is provide assured access to space, while also taking care of our airmen and their families,” said Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, commander of the 45th Space Wing, which oversees Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Florida’s Space Coast.

Schiess told reporters Tuesday that the Pentagon has directed military commanders to protect their teams during the coronavirus pandemic, while continuing critical missions and supporting the government’s response to fight the spread of the virus.

** Soyuz 2.1B rocket successfully orbits 34 OneWeb satellites:

** China launches Long March-2C rocket with remote sensing satellites

After losing the first Long March-7A one week ago, China launched a new group of triplet satellites for the Chuangxin-5 (CX-5) constellation. Launched under the name Yaogan Weixing-30 Group-6, the three satellites were orbited by a Long March-2C launch vehicle from the LC3 Launch Complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The launch took place at 03:43 UTC.

Like the previous missions on the series, this mission is once again classed as involving new remote sensing birds that will be used to “conduct electromagnetic probes and other experiments.”

As was the case in previous launches of the Yaogan Weixing series, analysts believe this class of satellites is used for military purposes, in particular forming a high-revisit smallsat constellation for signal intelligence missions or imaging activities.

** Astra rocket damaged on pad in preparation for orbital launch from Alaskan spaceport this week: Astra rocket damaged in pre-launch tests –

In an email late March 23, Chris Kemp, chief executive of Astra, said the rocket had been damaged in prelaunch testing earlier in the day. “We’ll be rescheduling launch,” he said, but had not selected a new launch date. He did not elaborate on the damage the rocket sustained.

Local radio station KMXT reported March 23 that there had been an “anomaly” at the launch site on Kodiak Island that prompted an emergency response. There were no injuries reported, but the area was cordoned off.

“The area is still hazardous and should be avoided. There will be personnel on site overnight to monitor,” Mark Lester, chief executive of Alaska Aerospace, which operates the spaceport, told KMXT after the emergency response concluded.

Here is an earlier report on the launch plan: Astra readies for possible launch attempt next week – Spaceflight Now

After missing out on an opportunity to win up to $12 million in prize money through DARPA’s Launch Challenge earlier this month, Astra is gearing up for another possible orbital launch attempt next week from Alaska, the company’s chief executive said Friday.

Chris Kemp, Astra’s co-founder and CEO, said in an email Friday to Spaceflight Now that Astra is not planning to launch Monday, but the company is “working towards a possible launch attempt later in the week” from the Pacific Spaceport Complex at Kodiak Island, Alaska.

The company’s first small satellite launcher was scheduled to take off during a two-week window in late February and early March in a bid to win the DARPA Launch Challenge. But schedule delays and an aborted countdown on the final day of the Launch Challenge window March 2 kept Astra from winning a $2 million prize from DARPA, which would have allowed the company to proceed to a second mission later this month with a $10 million prize attached.

** Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut posts a video about rocket pollution: How much do rockets pollute? – Everyday Astronaut

** The Chinese startup launch company Galactic Energy plans to put a payload into orbit this summer: Galactic Energy Prepares Ceres-1 Rocket for First Launch – IEEE Spectrum

Galactic Energy, a low-key private Chinese rocket firm, celebrated its second birthday in February. That’s early days for a launch company, and yet the company is set to make its first attempt to reach orbit this June.

The rocket is named Ceres-1, after the largest body in the asteroid belt, and will launch from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. With three solid fuel stages and a liquid propellant fourth stage, it will be able to lift 350 kilograms of payload to an altitude of 200 kilometers in low Earth orbit.

The firm’s ability to move this quickly is due to a mix of factors—strong corporate leadership, an experienced team, and policy support from the Chinese state.

Galactic Energy illustration of a Ceres-1 rocket on the launch pad. Credits: Galactic Energy

** Rocket Lab’s next launch delayed due to coronavirus concerns: COVID-19 Update: Rocket Lab has postponed the launch of its next mission in response to the COVID-19 situation. | Rocket Lab

In response to the evolving COVID-19 situation, we have paused launch preparations for our next mission to protect the health and safety of Rocket Lab team members, our families, and the wider community.

The mission was scheduled to lift off from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on 30 March UTC. Launch preparations have been paused, however, following the New Zealand Government’s announcement on 23 March NZDT to implement the Level 4 COVID-19 response which requires most businesses to close and instructs people to stay at home. We commend the government for taking this drastic but necessary step to limit the spread of COVID-19.

** Briefs:

** SpaceX:

** On one of the final tests of the Crew Dragon parachute system there was a serious problem with the helicopter and the mockup used to simulate the spacecraft. This was unrelated to the performance of the parachute system itself: SpaceX reports problem during Crew Dragon parachute test –

SpaceX said March 24 that one of the final parachute tests for its Crew Dragon spacecraft went awry, a problem it blamed on the test setup and not a flaw with the parachutes themselves.

In a statement, SpaceX said that it attempted to perform a parachute test by dropping a test article from a helicopter. The company didn’t describe the test article, but in some past tests it has used a mockup of a Crew Dragon spacecraft.

** NASA joins effort to diagnose premature Merlin engine shutdown on the latest launch of Starlink satellites: NASA to participate in SpaceX engine anomaly investigation –

**** Falcon 9 launch of Argentine SAOCOM 1B radar satellite postponed due to coronavirus issues: Coronavirus concerns force postponement of SpaceX launch with Argentine satellite – Spaceflight Now

Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic have prompted officials to postpone the planned March 30 launch of Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B radar observation satellite from Cape Canaveral aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, officials said Tuesday.

Travel restrictions imposed by coronavirus to slow the spread of the COVID-19 viral disease, and restrictions on non-essential work, have hindered space activity around the world. CONAE, Argentina’s space agency, said the launch of the country’s SAOCOM 1B Earth-imaging spacecraft will be postponed.

CONAE did not announce a new target launch date for the SAOCOM 1B mission.

**** Starship

As usual for these roundups, there is yet more news from Boca Chica on the acceleration of Starship prototype construction. Local stay-at-home proclamations for coronavirus protection look to be the only way that the Starshp development will be slowed. Welders wanted: SpaceX is hiring to ramp up production of stainless steel Starship |

SpaceX is looking to hire lots of folks to help ramp up production and testing of its ambitious Starship Mars-colonizing architecture over the coming months — and the company recently issued a public recruiting pitch.

“The design goal for Starship is three flights per day on average [per ship], which equates to roughly 1,000 flights per year at greater than 100 tons per flight. This means every 10 ships would yield 1 megaton per year to orbit,” Jessica Anderson, a lead manufacturing engineer at SpaceX, said last week during the launch webcast for the company’s latest batch of Starlink internet satellites.

The following  videos show the fervent pace of progress in Starship building in south Texas:

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Nose Cone preps – Facility growth – Mar.20.2020 NASASpaceflight – YouTube

As work continues on further expanding the production area of SpaceX Boca Chica, engineers continued work on Starship SN3 and the nosecone (which may be for SN3 or at least SN4). Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 Engine Section Mated – Mar.21.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

The Starship SN3 Engine Section was mated on Saturday ahead of stacking with the rest of the vehicle (which is expected to take place in the VAB). Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 in final preps for full stacking – Mar.22.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

With the engine section heading into the big tent for final preparations, the stage is set for next week’s stacking of the entire SN3 Starship at SpaceX Boca Chica ahead of a Static Fire and test hop campaign. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN4 rings, SN3 preps, Launch Site readiness – Mar.23.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

As Starship SN3 continues stacking preps, the launch site is being readied and the first rings and domes for Starship SN4 were being worked on. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** SpaceX Boca Chica Starship Update March 23SPadre – YouTube

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Launch site preps underway as Starship SN3 nears completion – Mar.24.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

The Boca Chica launch site is being readied for the upcoming Starship SN3 test campaign which will see a static fire and potentially a short hop. Meanwhile, Starship SN4 construction is already well underway. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited By Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** Equipment from Florida delivered via SpaceX ship: SpaceX Texas Starship factory accepts third Florida hardware shipment – Teslarati

SpaceX support ship GO Discovery has successfully completed its third trip from Florida to Texas, ferrying additional rocket production hardware to the company’s fast-expanding South Texas Starship factory.

Captured on arrival by local spaceflight fan and observer SPadre (@SpacePadreIsle), the SpaceX ship entered Port of Brownsville on March 22nd, carrying a few minor pieces of equipment that SpaceX’s Starship factory will likely find helpful down the road. The company’s South Texas presence has undergone a meteoric period of growth in the last few months, hiring hundreds to staff a Starship factory that is now churning out rocket parts on the rugged South Texas Gulf Coast.

****** Marcus House provides frequent video reports on SpaceX activities. Here is a recent update:

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