Space transport roundup – May.23.2020

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

** Final reviews and preparations underway for first crewed Dragon mission to the ISS. On Friday, the joint NASA/SpaceX Flight Readiness Review (FRR)  gave the  Demonstration Mission-2 (DM-2) a Go for liftoff next Wednesday.  And a couple of hours later, SpaceX carried out a successful static test firing at Pad 39A of the Falcon 9’s booster engines. A “dry dress rehearsal” today will have the crew in full flight suits board the capsule and go through all activities short of firing the engines.

The liftoff is set for 4:33 pm EDT on May 27th. This is an instantaneous window so any problems during the countdown will lead to a delay of the launch. The next available launch opportunities are on Saturday, May 30 at 3:22 p.m. EDT (19:22 UTC) and on Sunday, May 31 at 3:00 p.m. EDT (19:00 UTC).

Weather looks to be a major factor since not only does the weather at the Cape need to be acceptable, but it must also be acceptable at 50 points along the ground track from the Cape to West Europe where the Dragon could land if there is an in-flight abort. The current weather forecast (pdf) from the USAF Weather Squadron at Patrick AFB gives only a 40% chance of acceptable conditions at the Cape for liftoff on Wednesday.

Here is a video of the post-FRR press conference:

And here is a view of the test firing from the team at

Find more about DM-2 and other SpaceX activities below

** Virgin Orbit will attempt the first air launch of the LauncherOne rocket this weekend: Announcing the Window for Our Launch Demo | Virgin Orbit

We are extremely excited to announce that the window for our Launch Demo mission starts on Sunday, May 24th, and extends through Monday, May 25th, with an opportunity to launch from 10 A.M. – 2 P.M. Pacific (17:00 – 21:00 GMT) each day.

That means that this weekend, our 747 carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl will prepare to take off from Mojave Air and Space Port, fly out over the Pacific ocean, and release our two-stage, orbital rocket, LauncherOne — which will then proceed to ignite its engine in mid-air for the first time.

This Launch Demo marks the apex of a five-year-long development program. On our journey to open up space for everyone we’ve conducted hundreds of hotfires of our engines and our rocket stages, performed two dozen test flights with our carrier aircraft, and conducted countless other tests of every bit of the system we could test on the ground.

Launching from the Earth to space is mind-bogglingly difficult. Thousands of components all need to function as planned while controlling high energy and flying at incredibly fast speeds. The vehicle’s structures must be robust enough to tolerate traveling at up to 18,000 mph without disintegrating; the temperatures and pressures of its propellants can’t be too high or too low; every internal valve must click open and closed in perfect synchronicity… There’s a long list of factors that need to line up in order to make it all the way. We’re mindful of the fact that for the governments and companies who have preceded us in developing spaceflight systems, maiden flights have statistically ended in failure about half of the time.

In the future, the goal of our launches will be to deploy satellites for a new generation of space-based services. For this Launch Demo, though, our goal is to safely learn as much as possible and prove out the LauncherOne system we’ve worked so hard to design, build, test and operate.

The instant our Newton Three engine ignites, we will have done something no one has ever done before — lighting an orbital-class, liquid-fueled, horizontally-launched vehicle in flight. Once we reach an altitude of 50 miles it will be the first time this kind of launch system will have ever done so.

We’ll continue the mission for as long as we can. The longer LauncherOne flies, the more data we’ll be able to collect. Should we defy the historical odds and become one of those exceedingly rare teams to complete a mission on first attempt, we will deploy a test payload into an orbit, take our data, and then quickly de-orbit so as not to clutter the heavens.

Scott Manley gives his preview of the test:

Virgin Orbit have announced their first test launch is targeted for Sunday May 24th, they’ll attempt to launch their Launcher One rocket into orbit from the Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft. The launch will occur over the Pacific ocean west of Southern California. It’s the first time a cryogenically fueled air launched orbital rocket has been attempted, so it’ll be fascinating to see whether all the engineering, planning, testing and rehearsals will reward the company with a successful launch on their first attempt. Most rockets fail on their first attempt, and since this is doing a number of new things the team are prepared to accept even a partial success as a win. The Kerbal 747 Craft File was built by Sea2007

** Japan launched a HTV cargo module to the ISS on H-2B rocket.  Final H-2B rocket launch sends Japanese supply ship toward space station – Spaceflight Now

The ninth and final flight of Japan’s H-2B rocket — the country’s most powerful launcher — drove an automated cargo freighter into orbit Wednesday on a five-day pursuit of the International Space Station.

The 186-foot-tall (56.6-meter) launcher lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan at 1731 GMT (1:31 p.m. EDT) Wednesday, sending an HTV supply ship into space with 2.5 million pounds of thrust from four solid rocket boosters and two hydrogen-fueled core engines.

Wednesday’s launch was the last in a series of nine H-2B rockets, and also marked the ninth and final flight of Japan’s current-generation barrel-shaped HTV cargo carriers. Japan is developing a more capable supply freighter named the HTV-X, which will deliver heavier payloads to the space station.

The HTV-X is scheduled for its first flight to the space station in 2022, and it’s designed to eventually fly supplies to the planned Gateway mini-space station in orbit around the moon.

The H-2B and the less powerful H-2A rocket will be replaced by a new, less expensive Japanese launcher named the H3, which will launch the HTV-X missions. MHI and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, are jointly developing the H3 rocket, which could be ready for an inaugural test flight before the end of 2020.

See also:

** ULA Atlas V rocket successfully placed a X-37B spaceplane into orbit. The 6th X-37B mission includes both classified and unclassified payloads:

On its USSF-7 flight, the X-37B is expected to demonstrate new capabilities – including flying with the service module for the first time. This module, which is attached to the aft end of the spacecraft, hosting additional equipment and experiments for the mission. Ahead of launch Barbara Barrett, the Secretary of the Air Force, stated that this mission would carry out more experiments than any previous OTV flight. The X-37B spacecraft incorporates a payload bay that can be opened in orbit to expose experiments to space. A solar panel, deployed from the bay, provides power to the spacecraft and its experiments.

During the course of its mission, X-37B will deploy the small FalconSAT-8 satellite for the US Air Force Academy. The latest in a series of experimental satellites built by the Academy for technology demonstration and to give cadets experience constructing and operating spacecraft. FalconSAT-8 carries eight experiments. Two of these are being carried on behalf of NASA, investigating the effects of the space environment and radiation on material samples in one experiment, and on seeds in the other. FalconSAT will also conduct an experiment for the Naval Research Laboratory to investigate wireless power transfer, generating electrical power through the satellite’s solar panels and transmitting it to the ground as microwave radiation.

—- Atlas V USSF-7 Launch Highlights – United Launch Alliance (ULA)

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the USSF-7 mission for the U.S. Space Force lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 on May 17 at 9:14 a.m. EDT. This marks the 84th successful launch of an Atlas V rocket, 139th launch for ULA, the second launch for the U.S. Space Force and the sixth flight of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-6).

—- AtlasV – USSF-7 – X37B Space Drone Launch 05-17-2020USLaunchReport

** Russia launched a missile warning satellite today from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

** UK-based Skyrora launch provider test fired a Skylark L rocket on a mobile launch system: First time that a team has built a mobile launch complex and successfully live tested a complete rocket vehicle within five days – Skyrora

Edinburgh, Scotland, 20 May 2020 – The UK’s Space race heats up as Skyrora effectively made the UK ready for launching rockets into space after a team successfully built a mobile launch complex and completed a full static fire test with the Skylark L rocket on it – in only five days. Skyrora’s combined achievement also signifies the first vertical static fire test of this magnitude in the UK since the Black Arrow Programme, 50 years ago. The Skylark L rocket could be ready to launch from a British spaceport as early as spring 2021 and the inaugural launch of the low Earth orbital (LEO) Skyrora XL rocket by 2023.

The ground test at the mobile launch complex at Kildemorie Estate in North Scotland earlier this month, saw Skyrora’s launch vehicle, Skylark L perform all actions of a launch while restrained to the ground and prevented from taking off.

Skylark L is a bi-liquid propellent launch vehicle. It is Skyrora’s first sub-orbital flight vehicle, ready to reach a height of approximately 100km, just on the Karman line, and carry a payload of up to 60kg. Skylark L uses a propellent combination of Hydrogen Peroxide and Kerosene which are pressure fed into a Skyrora 30kN engine. Building up to the static fire test, the rocket engine itself has gone through three hot fire tests before integration into the vehicle. When commercial, the company plans to use their own Ecosene, an equivalent Kerosene fuel made from un-recyclable plastic waste. In Skyrora’s rocket suite, its aim is to start with launching sub-orbital rockets and move to orbital by 2023.

The full static firing test, fully checked out the design and in-house manufacture, making sure the vehicle itself is ready for launch. It was also successful in the feed system validation tests leading up to the full static fire test. During the test, Skylark L was supported by Skyrora’s transporter-erector that was fixed to the trailer.

In order to complete this test, the Skyrora team accomplished the build of a mobile launch complex in record time right in the heart of the Scottish Highlands.

The mobile complex was made up of several modules including, a command centre, oxidiser and fuel handing containers and a compressed gas container. During the test, the Bells and Two Tones Fire and Rescue team were onsite ready to perform any necessary procedures if anything was to go wrong.

Leading the operations of Skylark L’s static fire testing, Dr Jack-James Marlow said: “It is very hard to oversell what we have achieved here with this test; the whole team has pulled through again to deliver another UK first. We have successfully static tested a fully integrated, sub-orbital Skylark L launch vehicle in flight configuration. This means we performed all actions of a launch but did not release the vehicle. The rocket engine successfully burned, with all vehicle systems showing nominal operation.

** A Relativity Space 3D-printed propellant tank passed pressure tests: Relativity Space verifies 3D printing works to build its rocket – CNBC

The burst pressurization tests helped the company verify its ambitious 3D-printing approach to building rockets, as well as the materials it’s using. Ellis said the tank burst at about “10% more than the requirements with the safety factor” needed for a launch.

“It’s definitely sufficient for the whole launch vehicle,” Ellis said, adding that “we’ve got two years to keep making it better.”

Relativity also nabbed a top SpaceX manager:

** Rocket Lab gearing up for 12th Electron launch following the lifting of the lockdown in New Zealand:

Here is a Bloomberg interview with Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck:

*** Skyroot Aerospace is an Indian startup launch services company. The Vikram Launch Vehicles will provide increasing orbital payload capabilities. The Vikram I rocket will use solid fueled motors to put 225 kg into 500 km orbits.

A statement from Pawan Kumar Chandana, the co-founder & CEO of the company:  The Greater Indian Space Ecosystem – The super power of the future

In my view, space is a sector with clear achievable objectives for the decades to come like more launches, rapid re-usability to enable satellite constellations and human space travel. To me the biggest barrier to all space activities is ‘speed’ or rapid developmental cycles. At Skyroot, that is exactly what we are building a culture around –rapid development of complex aerospace systems with lean use of resources. We are building the first private Indian launch vehicle to put a satellite in orbit and marching ahead to compete for a reasonable share in the international small satellite launch market which is estimated to be $16Bn in the next decade. hiCompleting seven months of advanced development, we are building an ecosystem of quick development of aerospace systems in speeds never imagined before. The idea of Skyroot was born from the need of having an internationally competent company with the capability of complementing ISRO’s capacity to meet our nations Space aspirations. hiIn this process, we are taking baby steps into our eventual goal of pushing the boundaries of spaceflight to uplift our civilization out into the cosmos.

** Rocket Crafters completes test program for prototype hybrid rocket engine: Rocket Crafters Concludes Comet Testing | Rocket Crafters

Rocket Crafters, the first space launch company to use additive manufacturing to 3D print rocket fuel, announces the conclusion of testing for the Comet engine, a large-scale proof of concept test model of its STAR-3DTM hybrid rocket engine. The tests were designed to show that the patent-pending hybrid rocket engines could scale from the laboratory to a size more commercially relevant. With 49 successful laboratory tests under their belt ranging from 250 to 500 pounds of thrust, Rocket Crafters initiated testing of the Comet 5000-pound thrust engine in February of this year.

Comet was tested three times. The first two tests were successful, closely matching the performance models that Rocket Crafters created. While still considered successful in terms of research and development, the third test experienced an overpressure anomaly, resulting in damage to the test stand and test engine. After the anomaly, the Rocket Crafters engineering team dug deep into the hardware and recorded data to determine what had occurred and how to prevent it in future tests. After extensive analysis, it was concluded that there was an initial failure in an ancillary part of the engine. This led to a larger over-pressurization inside the combustion chamber. The team found no problems within the core STAR-3DTM engine design.

“This is why we test,” said Rocket Crafters President, Robert Fabian, a twenty-five-year veteran of military space and missile operations and maintenance. “We find and fix problems in testing, so we don’t have them on the launch pad. We’re moving forward from here.”

With the completion of the large-scale proof of concept testing, Rocket Crafters is taking their lessons learned and applying them to their next big project- a test flight powered by a smaller version of the STAR-3DTM hybrid rocket engine. This will be Rocket Crafters’ inaugural launch of a flight engine and the first opportunity to see the performance in motion rather than bolted to a test stand. Rocket Crafters has planned two more consecutively larger test flights into space and back to Earth, and then into orbit. Not long after that, commercial service to Low Earth Orbit with the Intrepid small satellite launch vehicle will begin.

** Neutron Star Systems UG is developing electric propulsion (EP) systems using superconductor technology. The company is a spinoff from research at the Institute for Space Systems (IRS) at the University of Stuttgart.

—-  Plasma Engine for Space Cargo Trucks – The SX3 AF-MPD Thruster:

The future of space is here, and it’s electric! Watch the SX3 in action – an Applied-field Magentoplasmadynamic thruster (or AF-MPD for short) that’s unlocking the future of spaceflight. This type of plasma propulsion uses strong magnetic and electric fields to produce thrust, which is why it’s best suited for high-power applications (think space exploration, or even cargo transfer to the Moon and Mars!).

Developed at the Institute for Space Systems (IRS) at the University of Stuttgart, it’s the most advanced AF-MPD prototype in the world. Here, it’s running on Argon (that’s why it’s blue), but it can also work on many other propellants like Krypton, Ammonia and Hydrogen. This versatility is what gives it huge economic and technological advantages compared to competing technologies.

So far, the SX3 has achieved ground-breaking thrust efficiencies (as high as 63%) and steady-state operation of several hours. This is thanks to the world class professors, researchers, testing facilities, and simulation capabilities at the university.

—- Interview with Marcus Collier-Wright, co-founder of Neutron Star Systems:

** Launcher update:

**  An update on Canadian rocket startup Reaction Dynamics – SpaceQ – Interview with Bachar Elzein, CEO and CTO, and Neil Woodcock, COO, of Reaction Dynamics.


** Watch propellant usage in four famous rockets – If Rockets were Transparent – Hazegrayart – YouTube

Launch to orbit in real time Fuel Burn and Staging of the Saturn V, Space Shuttle,Falcon Heavy and the Space Launch System (SLS) rockets Launching from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39

Red = Kerosene RP-1
Orange = Liquid Hydrogen LH2
Blue = Liquid Oxygen LOX

** Briefs:


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** SpaceX:

** Web resources for the DM-2 crew mission to the ISS:

Some perspectives on the mission:

** Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket in the hangar by Pad 39A:

**** SpaceX releases highlights video of Crew Dragon parachute testing in the past year:


**** Next Starlink mission delayed till after the DM-2 crew launch. The one day slip of the Atlas V launch of the X-37B last weekend bumped the Falcon 9 launch of 60 more Starlink satellites by a day but then stormy seas made a landing of the booster impossible. So the launch was postponed till after the crew mission.

**** Smallsats sharing of Spacelink rides to space is driving down prices for getting small spacecraft to orbit: SpaceX rideshare program putting downward pressure on prices –

“SpaceX is offering pricing that previously wasn’t really seen,” said Mike Safyan, vice president of launch at Planet, an Earth imaging company with more than 150 small satellites in orbit.

Planet announced last week that it will launch six SkySat satellites as rideshare payloads on SpaceX rockets scheduled to launch Starlink broadband satellites. Two sets of three SkySats will ride in separate Starlink missions to low Earth orbit

SpaceX advertises a base price of $1 million for launching up to 200 kilograms and $5,000 extra per kilogram.

The rideshare program is “incredibly competitive,” Safyan told SpaceNews. He called it “one of the more significant programs for the smallsat industry especially because of the pricing, the reliability and the number of orbits.”

**** Starship

****** Fire broke out on the SN4 prototype Starship following a Raptor engine test last week at the Boca Chica Beach facility on May 19th. The engine firing itself seemed to go well but the plume set off a couple of small fires along the base of the vehicle. One of the fires appeared to be fed by insulation wrapping on the launch stand’s metal structure and was put out fairly quickly. Another fire flared near a small pipe that connected into the base of the vehicle. Don’t know if this line contained methane fuel or hydraulic fluid to control the engine. Whatever was flowing in it, the crew appeared to have little or no control over a valve to shut it off. It took probably 15-20 minutes to put out the fire completely with a remotely controlled water hose. Several times it seemed to be snuffed out, only to flare up again. The flames appeared to damage cables going up the side of the vehicle.

Usually after a test, the road by the launch pad area is reopened and a group of techs and engineers soon arrive in a fleet of vehicles to resume work on the vehicle. This time, however, the road remained closed for over a day and no one other than a drone approached the vehicle. Though there had been forceful venting from the liquid methane and oxygen tanks following the engine firing, some hazardous fluids and/or gases must have remained in the vehicle. Perhaps damage from the fire had severed the control room’s connections to the valves and sensors needed to fully safe the vehicle after the test. There was no statement released by the SpaceX team at Boca Chica or by Elon Musk explaining what was going on with the vehicle.

There were times during the continuous live video of the vehicle through the rest of the day and night when one could see some vapor emitted near the base of the vehicle. It was perhaps this additional venting that eventually made the vehicle safe enough to approach. By the afternoon of the 20th, the road was finally opened and techs arrived to begin working on the vehicle,. It seems the damages were not too serious since SpaceX has scheduled further testing at the site. This presumably includes another static firing and then a short hop flight.

More about last week’s test at SpaceX Starship prototype charred but intact after catching fire – Teslarati

Here is a video of the engine test and the resulting fires: 4K Starship SN4 Slow Mo Static FireLabPadre – YouTube

****** SpaceX’s Starship Test HistoryNickHenning3D – YouTube

With the impending hop of SpaceX’s Starship SN4 and its continuing successful tests, I wanted to show how they got to where they are in just over 1 year. After the successful 150 meter flight of Starhoper in August of 2019 SpaceX went all in on development of the Starship spacecraft and us rocket fans couldn’t be happier. These are very simplified animations of what basically occurred with each test article.

****** Speculative First Flight of SpaceX’s Starship SN-4NickHenning3D – YouTube

Speculation time! This is my simplified animation on how SN4 might look on its first flight, landing legs and all. With the single Raptor engine mounted in its place off center, it will need to balance its center of gravity with a bit of tilt. In reality it will land on an adjacent cement landing pad, but for animation reasons I had it land next to the test stand. Enjoy!

**** While SN4 was struggling to get off the Boca Chica launch pad, assembly of more Starship prototypes continued in the manufacturing area. Here are some videos over the past several days showing the work on SN5 and SN6.

****** May 19: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN4 fires up as SN6 makes an appearance – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Three Starships in various stages of flows, with Starship SN4 undergoing her third – and slightly eventful – Static Fire test (first with Raptor SN20), SN5 in the High Bay and SN6 turning up outdoors. Video and Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** May 20: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship Nosecones learn their fate – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

While Starship SN4 continues safing operations, SN5 is gaining its nosecone section at the same time as another nosecone was moved for dismantling. All the pieces for a full stack Starship SN5 are now in play. Video and Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** May 21: SpaceX Boca Chica – Checking in on Starship SN4 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

With the roadblocks removed, Mary checked in to see how Starship SN4 is doing after her (toasty) Static Fire test with Raptor SN20. A little scorched, one of the TPS tiles has fallen off, otherwise… she’s good! VIdeo and Pics by Mary (@bocachicagal)

****** May 21: SpaceX Boca Chica – So Many Starship Nosecones – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

At the Boca Chica Production Facility, the Nosecones are either being prepared for mating with future Starships or finding their fate is the sharp end of a cutting tool. Video and Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** May 22: SpaceX Boca Chica – Re-tuning Starship SN4 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Engineers have been repairing minor post-Static Fire damage to Starship SN4 ahead of the next test cycle, while the nosecone merry-go-round continues at SpaceX Boca Chica. VIdeo and Pics by Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer)

**** Updates on SN5 and SN6 assembly:

** Webcast rocket reports:

**** SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo 2 Launch this Week, SpaceX Starship News, X-37B military space plane 2020Marcus House

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo 2 Launch this Week, SpaceX Starship News and the X-37B military space plane 2020 launched. There is certainly no shortage of news and updates in the space industry since the last video. It’s been another interesting week with SpaceX’s Starship prototype developments with the SN4 breathing fire again with both a pre-burner test and a static fire leading up shortly to that 150-meter flight. The SN5 and SN6 are both being stacked together in the high bay which is a first to see so we’ll dive into all that. We had the amazing X-37B launch on the Atlas V with a bunch of new experiments. The incredible upcoming Crew Dragon mission which will fly Astronauts Bob and Doug is now potentially only days away assuming no delays. This is, of course, the first flight with Crew from the United States for almost a decade. This is going to be a huge week.

**** SpaceX Starship Updates – NASA Artemis UpdateWhat about it!?

In this Episode, we will take a look at the recent Static Fire and analyze, what happened. We will also take a look at a Starship Taco Dome, Serial Number 5s Nose Cone, Starship heat tiles and last but not least, we will take a look at the Artemis progress. How far are NASAs SLS, Orion and the Lunar Gateway?

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