Space transport roundup – March.31.2020

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

** SpaceX contracted by NASA for cargo delivery services to lunar orbit station: NASA Awards Artemis Contract for Gateway Logistics Services | NASA

Illustration of the SpaceX Dragon XL as it is deployed from the Falcon Heavy’s second stage in high Earth orbit on its way to the Gateway in lunar orbit. Credits: SpaceX

NASA has selected SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, as the first U.S. commercial provider under the Gateway Logistics Services contract to deliver cargo, experiments and other supplies to the agency’s Gateway in lunar orbit. The award is a significant step forward for NASA’s Artemis program that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 and build a sustainable human lunar presence.

At the Moon, NASA and its partners will gain the experience necessary to mount a historic human mission to Mars.

SpaceX will deliver critical pressurized and unpressurized cargo, science experiments and supplies to the Gateway, such as sample collection materials and other items the crew may need on the Gateway and during their expeditions on the lunar surface.

“This contract award is another critical piece of our plan to return to the Moon sustainably,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “The Gateway is the cornerstone of the long-term Artemis architecture and this deep space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars.”

NASA is planning multiple supply missions in which the cargo spacecraft will stay at the Gateway for six to 12 months at a time. These firm-fixed price, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts for logistics services guarantee two missions per logistics services provider with a maximum total value of $7 billion across all contracts as additional missions are needed.

Eric Berger talks with two NASA Artemis program managers about the benefits of the Dragon XL services for the Gateway: NASA officials outline plans for building a Lunar Gateway in the mid-2020s | Ars Technica

Ars: It seems to me that Dragon has some capability to really add some volume to Gateway. Can you talk a little bit about its capabilities?

[Mark Wiese, Deep Space Logistics manager]: We went back and looked at some of the lessons learned from Commercial Resupply Services (CRS), and the early missions of CRS really didn’t have the capability within the modules to support research. If you look at SpaceX’s first two or three missions and look at where we are on SpaceX’s 20th mission, the capabilities that Dragon offers for research are significantly improved, and so we took that into account.

[Dan Hartman, Gateway program manager]: We’re going to put payloads on the inside, and we’ve got quite a bit of power allocated from the Dragon XL for that. We’ve got upmass allocated for payloads inside and then we can also fly payloads on the outside with power and tied into their communication systems so we can get some research back down, real time on the way to the Moon, and while attached at the Moon. And then quite honestly, we don’t need the logistics mission up there for six months or a year just to support a lunar mission. But we wanted to take advantage of the extra volume, the extra research accommodations, where we could keep it attached, and we could run science. Dragon also has got the automated rendezvous and docking system that they will be using on their CRS-2 vehicles, very similar to their Crew Dragon. And so, the docking system, you can come and go. We were planning to do that remotely without crew in there. And so, we think we’re set up for a really good platform to conduct research for the long haul.

See also

** SpaceX released the Starship Users Guide V1 (pdf). At 6 pages, it is really just an initial outline of a UG but it is another step in convincing the world that the Starship is going to become a reality in the not so distant future.

See also: SpaceX releases a Payload User’s Guide for its Starship rocket | Ars Technica

Find more SpaceX items below

** Stratolaunch unveils hypersonic vehicle designs. The vehicles will be air launched from the company’s gigantic carrier aircraft, sometimes referred to as Roc.  The initial goal is development of Talon-A

Talon-A is a fully reusable, autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle with a length of 28 feet (8.5 m), wingspan of 11.3 feet (3.4 m), and a launch weight of approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 Kg). The Talon-A will conduct over 1-minute of hypersonic flight testing, and glide back for an autonomous, horizontal landing on a conventional runway. The vehicle will also be capable of autonomous take-off, under its own power, via a conventional runway.

Talon-A hypersonic text vehicle in flight. Credits: Stratolaunch

Following the death of founder and owner Paul Allen in 2018, the company announced that it was giving up on plans to become an orbital launch provider using rockets launched from beneath the Roc. There was talk the company would even close down after the first successful flight of Roc in April of 2019. Instead Stratolaunch was acquired by Cerberus Capital Management in the summer of 2019 and the company became focused on using Roc for hypersonic research.

Hypersonic propulsion and vehicle design have become top priorities for the US Air Force in response to heightened Chinese and Russian activity in these areas. While the military is focused primarily on hypersonic missiles and projectiles, development of hypersonic transports are also of interest.

Talon Z would be the follow-on hypersonic vehicle to the Talon-A. No details of its design have been revealed yet.

Company management has indicated that several years from now they expect  to return to the orbital space transport challenge with the development of  Black Ice:

Black Ice is a fully reusable space plane that enables advanced on-orbit capabilities and cargo return. Initial designs optimized for cargo launch, with a follow-on variant capable of transporting crew.

Black Ice is a design for a fully reusable plane. Credits: Stratolaunch

More about the company and its hypersonic plans:

** The ULA Atlas V launch of the USAF’s AEHF-6 satellite last week was a success. See the previous roundup for information on the launch and the satellite.

** China prepares crew spacecraft for April test flight: China Readies New Spaceship for April Liftoff – Leonard David

China’s prototype of a new-generation piloted spaceship is scheduled to launch with no crew in mid to late April on the maiden flight of the Long March-5B carrier rocket, a variant of the Long March-5.

**** China’s new crewed spacecraft is getting ready for launch – China Central Television (CCTV)

China’s new-generation crewed spacecraft is being prepared for launch at the Wenchang Space Launch Center, Hainan Province, China. Compared with the Shenzhou spacecraft, it is larger, designed to be reusable and it can carry both astronauts and cargo. The spacecraft (CMS) is scheduled to be launched in April. Yang Qing, chief designer of CMS, China Academy of Space Technology, explains the measures taken to ensure the work quality.

The docking hatch for China’s crew vehicle appears to be compatible with the ISS standard: China’s new crew spacecraft looks like it could dock with the International Space Station |

** Watching a big rocket firing up close:

** Rocket briefs:


Check out the
The Lurio Report
for news and analysis of key developments in NewSpace

The latest issue:
Starship Factory, Axiom’s Modules, Starliner Revelations
Vol. 15, No. 2, March 28, 2020

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** SpaceX:

** A Merlin engine on the first stage booster shut down prematurely during the latest Starlink launch. The two US agencies that rely on SpaceX rockets are involved in the company’s investigation into what happened with the booster, which was on its 5th flight:  NASA, U.S. military reviewing SpaceX engine malfunction – Spaceflight Now

** Astronaut selection for the first operational Crew Dragon mission has been announced: NASA Adds Shannon Walker to First Operational Crewed SpaceX Mission | NASA

NASA has assigned astronaut Shannon Walker to the first operational crewed flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station.

Walker will join NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover Jr., as well as Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), for a six-month expedition aboard the unique space laboratory.

This mission will be the first in a series of regular, rotational flights to the station following NASA’s certification of the new crewed system following completion and validation of SpaceX’s test flight with astronauts, known as Demo-2. This test is expected to take place in mid-to-late May as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Pending the successful Demo-2 test, Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi will launch aboard Crew Dragon on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That launch is targeted for later this year.

** The Demo-2 astronauts are busy with simulations of the mission, which could happen as early as mid-May: NASA, SpaceX Simulate Upcoming Crew Mission with Astronauts | NASA

Joint teams from NASA and SpaceX continue making progress on the first flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station by completing a series of mission simulations from launch to landing. The mission, known as Demo-2, is a close mirror of the company’s uncrewed flight test to station in March 2019, but this time with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Over the last several months, key members of flight control teams working from NASA’s Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers and SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, simulated different phases of the upcoming mission while the Demo-2 astronaut crew practiced procedures from inside a realistic simulator of Crew Dragon.

“The simulations were a great opportunity to practice procedures and to coordinate decision-making for the mission management team, especially with respect to weather,” said Michael Hess, manager of Operations Integration for CCP. “Simulation supervisors do a great job at picking cases that really make the team think and discuss.”

Recent simulations saw teams execute timelines from hatch closure to undocking with the space station — as well as a free flight in preparation for re-entry and splashdown. In March, the control teams and crew ran through a simulated mission starting at prelaunch and continuing through ascent and eventual rendezvous with the station.

This recent sim makes the excitement all the more tangible, especially for the greater NASA team.

“On Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20, SpaceX teams in Firing Room 4 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the company’s Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, along with NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, executed a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (front) participating in SpaceX’s flight simulator. ” Credits: SpaceX

**** Starship

**** The SN3 vehicle was moved to the launch pad site over the weekend. Pressure tests of the propellant tanks and firings of the Raptor engines are expected next week according to these road closures: Space X – Cameron County. Check out the series of videos below showing the recent rapid assembly of the SN3 and the building of the components for SN4.

More about the SN3 plan: SpaceX Preparing Starship SN3 for Ground and Flight Testing –

**** Interesting new features in the latest Starship prototype such as an improved design for the legs: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s latest Starship photos reveal surprise landing legs – Teslarati

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 Pre-rollout, Launch Site preps, SN4 preps – Mar.27.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN3 prepares for its trip to the launch pad – which is also completing preparations ahead of SN3 testing – while parts of Starship SN4 wait in the wings. Videos and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** Starship SN3 Moves To Launch Pad Timelapse – Mar.29.2020 – LabPadre – YouTube

****** Starship SN3 Lifted to Test Stand at SpaceX Boca Chica Sunday – March 29 – SPadre – YouTube

****** SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 prepares for proof testing – Mar.30.2020 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN3 is being prepared for proof testing with LN2 at the Boca Chica launch site. A successful test will pave the way for a Static Fire (no sooner than) later in the week. Video and Photos by Mary (@BocaChicaGal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

****** Some shots of SN3 from Elon:

** Webcast rocket reports:

**** NSF Live: SpaceX Starship SN3 preps for testing, NASA selects Dragon XL, and moreNASASpaceflight – YouTube

NSF Live is NASASpaceflight’s new live show which will stream weekly at 5 pm Eastern. Each week we will rotate through various hosts and special guests. Topics for this week’s show:
– Starship SN3 is preparing for testing in Boca Chica
– Launch industry disruption
– Atlas V launches AEHF-6
– NASA, SpaceX reveal plans for Dragon XL
– Astra has an anomaly
– Crew Dragon parachute testing update
Episode #1 is hosted by John Galloway (Kerbal Space Academy), Chris Gebhardt (Assistant Managing Editor at, and Thomas Burghardt (Writer

**** SpaceX Starship SN3 Ready for Testing, SpaceX Dragon XL announced

Download NordLocker Free at Use the coupon code “marcushouse” to get 32% off the 1 year premium plan. Another jam-packed week of news. The Starship SN3 is ready for testing and a huge news today with SpaceX Dragon XL announced. SpaceX development of the SN3 Starship is still steaming ahead with the main body now stacked and more news dropping every day. The lost booster from the Starlink #5 missions is getting a little more interesting now with NASA now involved in the investigation. We’re hoping that isn’t going to cause any new delays with the upcoming Crew Dragon mission. Also, some tough news for fans of Bigelow space and Oneweb among other things, so yes, it has been an interesting week. I’ve got to say though, the awesome news breaking with NASA announcing that SpaceX will be delivering cargo to the Lunar gateway using the mystery Dragon XL on a Falcon Heavy is really exciting.

=== Amazon Ad ===

Frozen Orbit