Space transport roundup – May.7.2020

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

** SpaceX test fired the Raptor engine on the SN4 Starship prototype on two consecutive days. On Tuesday evening, a Raptor engine fired for the first time while mounted on a full scale Starship. Previous Starship prototypes did not survive propellant tank pressure testing. On Wednesday, another brief firing took place. No word from SpaceX or Elon Musk yet on whether more engine tests are planned or if they will proceed towards a 150 meter hop. Higher altitude flights will wait for the SN5 or later model prototypes. SpaceX test-fires Raptor engine on Starship test rocket – Spaceflight Now.

May5: Starship SN4 Static Fire Test – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX successfully conducted a Static Fire test on Starship SN4 on Tuesday night, marking the first time Starship had fired a Raptor engine, paving the way for the upcoming hop test. Photos and Video by Mary (@BocaChicaGal) for Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

May 6: Starship SN4 Static Fire May 5 2020 – SPadre – YouTube

An image posted by Elon of the Raptor installed on the SN4. The engine is off-center but this can be compensated with with gimbling. There should otherwise be three engines symmetric about the center.

Raptor engine installed on StarshipSN4. Credits: SpaceX

Find more SpaceX items below

** China’s new Long March 5B heavy lift rocket successfully launched on its first attempt. The vehicle, powered by a liquid-fuel core first stage and four liquid-fueled side boosters, lifted off from the Wenchang Spaceflight Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan. The primary payload was a prototype of a new crew vehicle design that will replace the Shenzhou spacecraft that were used for several crew missions. A reentry operation from a high orbit is expected on Friday, which will send the reusable capsule to a remote northern desert area for a landing by parachute. The fast reentry will put the heat shield under stresses and temperatures similar to that of a return from the Moon. The LM-5B will be the primary launch system for China’s crew program, which include the launch of a space station in the coming years. The country’s first Mars rover will also be launched this July on a LM-5B.

Scott Manley examines the LM-5B:

** A secondary payload on the LM-5B mission was a module with an inflatable heat shield that was to demonstrate a low cost way to return cargo from orbit. There was a problem during its reentry: China’s space test hits snag with capsule ‘anomaly’ – AFP/

… “an anomaly occurred today during the return” of the cargo capsule, the China Manned Space Agency said in a statement.

“Experts are currently analysing the data,” it said without offering details.

The cargo capsule was not designed to transport astronauts, only equipment. The device, developed by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, is an experimental prototype.

See also: Experimental Chinese cargo return capsule malfunctions during re-entry – Spaceflight Now

** The first flight of the Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket is expected soon: Virgin Orbit’s first launch could happen later this month – Spaceflight Now

Virgin Orbit could attempt its first orbital test launch later this month over the Pacific Ocean southwest of Los Angeles, capping a development program for an air-launched small satellite carrier that began in earnest eight years ago.

The small satellite launch company, part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, entered the final phase of pre-flight testing last week with a ground fueling test of its first flight-worthy LauncherOne rocket.

Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit’s CEO, said the company is on track for the rocket’s first demonstration launch in May.

The LauncherOne rocket is designed to compete with other commercial smallsat launchers, such as Rocket Lab’s Electron booster, for contracts to deliver CubeSats and microsatellites to orbit for commercial customers, the U.S. military and NASA. Virgin Orbit says it can haul up to 660 pounds (300 kilograms) of cargo into a 310-mile-high (500-kilometer) polar sun-synchronous orbit, a standard operating orbit for Earth-imaging satellites.

Vox Space, the subsidiary of Virgin Orbit that launches military payloads, now has a Guam option for its operations: VOX Space Readies to Launch from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam — VOX Space

** Rocket-powered long distance point-to-point transportation has been a long term goal of Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic management. They now have a partnership arrangement with NASA to work on the design of such a system: Point-To-Point transportation gains boost via NASA/Virgin Galactic SAA –

A Space Act Agreement (SAA) between NASA, Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC) has been announced, raising the hope that spacecraft could one day become a future high-speed civilian transportation system. Utilizing the “Point-To-Point” method, Virgin Galactic – and as previously envisioned by SpaceX – is aiming for a transportation option that would vastly reduce transit times.

The SAA is aimed at “advancing the United States’ efforts to produce technically feasible, high Mach vehicles for potential civil applications,” noted the text of the agreement.

** A USAF X-37B reusable spaceplane is set to liftoff on an ULA Atlas V rocket on May 16th from Cape Canaveral. This will be the 6th X-37B mission. Previous missions have lasted as long as 779 days : Next X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Scheduled to Launch – United States Space Force

This will be the first X-37B mission to use a service module to host experiments. The service module is an attachment to the aft of the vehicle that allows additional experimental payload capability to be carried to orbit.

“This sixth mission is a big step for the X-37B program,” said Mr. Randy Walden, Director and Program Executive Officer for the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. “This will be the first X-37B mission to use a service module to host experiments. The incorporation of a service module on this mission enables us to continue to expand the capabilities of the spacecraft and host more experiments than any of the previous missions.”

The mission will deploy the FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory to conduct several experiments on orbit. The FalconSat-8 is an educational platform that will carry five experimental payloads for USAFA to operate. In addition, two National Aeronautics and Space Administration experiments will be included to study the results of radiation and other space effects on a materials sample plate and seeds used to grow food. Finally, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, will transform solar power into radio frequency microwave energy which could then be transmitted to the ground.

“We are excited to return the X-37B to space and conduct numerous on-orbit experiments for both the Air Force and its mission partners,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Keen, the X-37B program manager.

The X-37B program completed its fifth mission in October 2019, landing after 780 days on orbit, extending the total number of days spent on orbit for the spacecraft to 2,865 – or seven years and 10 months.

X-37B inside fairing of Atlas V in preparation for Misison 6. Credits: USAF

More at:

** Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo vehicle to depart from ISS on Monday:

Nearly three months after delivering several tons of supplies and scientific experiments to the International Space Station, Northrup Grumman’s unpiloted Cygnus cargo craft is scheduled to depart the International Space Station on Monday, May 11.

Live coverage of the spacecraft’s release will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 11:45 a.m. EDT, with release scheduled for noon.

Dubbed the “SS Robert H. Lawrence,” Cygnus arrived at the station Feb. 18 with supplies and science experiments following its launch on Northrup Grumman’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

Flight controllers on the ground will send commands to robotically detach Cygnus from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module, maneuver it into place, and release it from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Station commander Christopher Cassidy of NASA will monitor Cygnus’ systems as it moves away from the orbiting laboratory.

Within 24 hours of its release, Cygnus will begin its secondary mission, hosting the Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiment – IV (Saffire-IV), which provides an environment to safely study fire in microgravity. It also will deploy a series of payloads. Northrop Grumman flight controllers in Dulles, Virginia, will initiate Cygnus’ deorbit to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere Monday, May 25.

** An update on Blue Origin development of the New Glenn rocket, BE-4 engine and other systems: Blue Origin preparing to enter the orbital arena –

Blue Origin has been making significant progress on the structures, systems, propulsion, and infrastructure supporting their New Glenn heavy lift rocket. Though the company is traditionally quite secretive about most of their operations, they have recently been revealing more and more information as they work towards a first flight date of no earlier than 2021. They also won through as part of the Human Landing System (HLS) award winners as its goals move from the suborbital, through to Low Earth Orbit and beyond.

At their facility in West Texas, Blue Origin has been conducting test fires of both its BE-4 first stage engine and BE-3U upper stage engine. BE-3U is a variant of the BE-3PM engine that has powered the suborbital, reusable New Shepard vehicle on 12 flights. Unlike the tap-off cycle PM variant, BE-3U operates on an open expander cycle, which in turn with a vacuum optimized nozzle creates higher thrust, efficiency, and provides for multiple restarts in space.

The company expects to deliver two “flight readiness” BE-4 engines to ULA this summer. These two engines will be attached to a Vulcan rocket for a hot-fire at SLC-41.

And here is a bit of info on the status of the suborbital New Shepard:

** Dave Masten interviewed about Masten Space Systems and the recent “lunar lander award from NASA, XL-1 lander development program, human lunar landers, company information, and much more”: The Space Show – Sun, 05/03/2020

… Dave was asked a few questions about the corporation Masten Space Systems. Dave talked about employees, hiring new employees from engineering disciplines but not specifically aerospace engineers, plus he talked about their expected growth over the next 5-10 years. I asked Dave how he got his interest in lunar landers \. He said it started early on, around 2004. Don’t miss Dave’s story. Ft. Worth John then called to ask questions about the green fuel plus he wanted specific impulse information for their rocket engines. After this call, Dr. Lurio called to ask Dave about the additional mass for the XL-1 lander over and above the NASA payload requirement of 80kg. Dave was also asked about having made structural changes to the XL-1 to add the additional payload mass. Don’t miss this discussion. …

** Rocket Lab resumes operations after New Zealand loosens virus lock-down restrictions:

** Briefs:


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

The latest issue:
Masten Goes Lunar, Rocket Lab, New Space and a Virus
Vol. 15, No. 3, May 2, 2020

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** SpaceX:

**** SpaceX prepares for launch of Crew Dragon with 2 astronauts on May 27th.

The Crew Dragon for the Demo-2 mission shown with the trunk attached. Credits: NASA/SpaceX

**** The next launch of a batch of Starlink satellites now set for May 18th: SpaceX’s next Starlink satellite launch slips closer to Crew Dragon astronaut debut – Teslarati

SpaceX’s next Starlink satellite launch has slipped about a week and a half into mid-May, placing it just nine days (or less) prior to the company’s inaugural NASA astronaut mission.

Known as Crew Dragon’s second Demonstration Mission (Demo-2), SpaceX’s first astronaut launch is officially scheduled no earlier than May 27th and is with little doubt the most important mission in the company’s history. Simultaneously, however, SpaceX is working to rapidly launch thousands of Starlink satellites in a bid to deliver high-quality internet service to tens – or even hundreds – of millions of people. The company has already launched an incredibly 420 operational Starlink satellites but that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the ~4400, ~12,000, or even ~40,000+ the company will ultimately need to match its ambitions.

**** Starship

****** In addition to the firing of the Raptor engine on the SN4 prototype mentioned at top, there is a great deal of production activity underway at Boca Chica Beach. The SN5 prototype is nearly completed and construction of SN6 has begun. Unlike SN4, these will have conical nosecones stacked on top since they will need aerodynamic shapes to carry out high-altitude flights. Here is a diagram showing the estimated assembly status of SN5 and SN6:

**** Below are videos showing scenes from the day-to-day activities at the ever expanding Boca Chica facility:

****** May.3.2020:  SpaceX Boca Chica – SN4 begins testing. SN5 Preps. Hopper speaks – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

At SpaceX Boca Chica, Starship SN4 began testing at the launch site, while SN5 continues preps for stacking. Hopper was also heard “speaking” (PA system in use). Photos and Video by Mary (@BocaChicaGal) for

****** May.5.2020: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN4 Preburner Test. SN5 Stacking. SN6 Bulkhead – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Triple Starship flows now! SN4 was out at the pad for a Static Fire attempt last night, got as far as preburner test, but no Static Fire. Attempting again tonight – see our livestream that has already been spooled up at the time this video went on. SN5 is being stacked in the VAB, but a SN6 bulkhead has also been spotted in one of the tents! Photos and Video by Mary (@BocaChicaGal) for Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** May.6.2020:  SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN6 build-up begins amid SN4 testing and SN5 stacking – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Ahead of another test of Starship SN4 tonight, SN5 stacking ops continue around the VAB and sections of SN6 have been spotted out in the wild near the big tents! Video and Photos from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

** Webcast rocket reports:

**** SpaceX Starship Updates – Static Fire! – Crew Dragon Demo Mission 2 UpdateWhat about it!?

In this Episode, we will take a look at the intense testing operations at the SpaceX Launch Site in Boca Chica Texas. Static fires, methane flares and Starship SN5 & 6 construction. We will also take a look at the recent NASA press conference regarding the SpaceX Demo Mission 2. We will take a look at trainings, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley had to go through, last minute Crew Dragon preparations and the latest news on parachute tests.

****  Let’s watch SpaceX Static Fire Starship SN-4! – Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut

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