Space transport roundup – June.24.2020

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

** SpaceX SN5 prototype Starship was moved to the launchpad from the assembly area this morning at Boca Chica Beach. Initial pressure testing is expected to start next Monday. This would be followed by at least one static firing of the engine(s). If those tests go well, then a low altitude hop would be the next step.

** SpaceX Starship test article SN7 was pressure tested to destruction on Tuesday. The tank had previously popped a leak on June 16th during its initial tests. Elon Musk indicated in Tweets then that the test reached a satisfactory 7.6 Bars of pressure before leaking rather than bursting. After repairs were made, the cryogenic pressure tests were resumed today with the intention of raising the pressure until the tank ruptured. No word yet from Elon on what pressure level was reached before the tank failed.  Here is a video of the event, which was much more dramatic than the earlier one:

Another view:

Find more about DM-2 and other SpaceX activities below

** China launched a Beidou navigation satellite on Long March 3B rocket this week. This completes the constellation for the  BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS). The launch took place from the inland Xichang space center in southwestern China. Images later surfaced showing the smoking remains of the booster near a lake. For decades China has sent such boosters into populated areas despite the fact that the rockets use very toxic propellants.

** Arianespace Vega to  launch 53 smallsats. The launch on the initial target date of June 20 was canceled due to upper level winds. No new date has been announced as of June 23rd. This will be the first launch of a Vega rocket since a launch failed for the first time on July 11, 2019after fourteen successful flights. This is also the first of the Vega’s Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) missions. The smallsats come from 21 different customers. A list of the spacecraft can be found in the Launch Toolkit (pdf).

** United Launch Alliance (ULA) carried out a wet dress rehearsal for the Atlas V launch of the Perseverance Mars mission.  The launch is currently set for July 20th. A wet dress rehearsal means the rocket was loaded with propellants and the steps in a launch were followed up to the moment when it would lift off the pad. There was no firing of the engine as happens with a SpaceX Falcon 9 pre-launch static test.

Wet Dress Rehearsal: Atlas V Mars 2020

** Skyrora launches low altitude sounding rocket: Hattrick for rocket company after first ever launch from Shetland soil | Skyrora

Edinburgh-based Skyrora successfully launched its Skylark Nano rocket from remote land, the Fethaland Peninsula at North Roe on the Scottish island on Saturday, the 13th of June.

Skyrora plans to launch from one of the three proposed spaceports in Scotland and commercially launching from Shetland in the future is a potential option for them.

Reaching an altitude of six kilometers, this marked the third time the 2 meter (6.5ft) projectile took to the skies. The launch was completed for educational purposes, collecting meteorological data, measuring wind profiles, analysing the vehicles trajectory and providing critical training in support of Skyrora’s future plans.

Skyrora invited local journalists to attend the launch and to be apart of the education and learning process. All social distancing measures were met during the launch days.

Robin Hague, Head of Launch said: “The launch signifies a vital step towards Skyrora’s ambitions to become the UK’s “go-to” satellite launch provider. We’re ecstatic and truly proud. This is a great success for Skylark Nano, and the Skyrora team in general. Launching from Shetland is very important for us because it’s a potential option for our Skyrora XL orbital commercial launch vehicle. To understand the local launch conditions learning more about the wind profiles in Shetland is critical.

“Skylark Nano’s third successive launch is testament to the engineers who have worked tirelessly to bring to life a reusable rocket that can provide valuable intelligence for the future of the UK space programme.”

It comes after Skyrora successfully completed a full static fire test on their Skylark-L launch vehicle.

Volodymyr Levykin, CEO, said: “With this successful launch from Shetland we are further closing the gap to making the UK a rocket launching nation again.

** Update on Relativity Space and the company’s large scale metal 3D printing technology: Relativity Space may be printing the future of more than just rocketry – SpaceQ

Yes, Relativity’s inexpensive launch capabilities are attracting clients. While Noone was not at liberty to discuss all of their potential clients, he did mention that Canada’s own Telesat is betting on Relativity Space to launch a portion of their LEO broadband satellite constellation. Relativity had made that announcement public in April of 2019 with Telesat’s approval.

As Noone pointed out, though, it’s much bigger than that. Nobody has ever had the resources or opportunity to learn this much about additive manufacturing. “Manufacturing as software” means that creating a single part or product is as economical as a million-part run; even creating new parts only waits on Relativity’s engineers and Stargate AI’s to sort out the optimal way to produce them. Iteration becomes as fast for hardware as it is for software. While Noone didn’t get into details, this could change manufacturing in ways that go far beyond rockets.

It’s also incredibly scalable. While only one Stargate [a very large 3D printer used to build the company’s rockets] currently exists, any new Stargate will be as capable as the first. A Stargate in their Mississippi facility has the same capabilities as the one in Los Angeles; and any future Stargates in any future factories would as well. A Stargate (with accompanying small printers) in Jakarta would be as capable as the one in Los Angeles. Terran rockets, with Aeon engines, could be built and launched almost anywhere.

** And Relativity gets a contract for future launches of Iridium replacement satellites : Iridium Selects Relativity Space as On-Demand Single Satellite Launch Partner — Relativity Space

Relativity Space today announced that Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: IRDM) has signed a launch contract to deliver satellites to orbit. The contract includes flexible timing for up to six dedicated launches to deploy Iridium’s ground spare satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The launches will take place on an as-needed basis, determined by Iridium and utilizing Relativity’s Terran 1, the world’s first 3D printed launch vehicle. Launches are planned for no earlier than 2023.

See also:

** Rocket Lab to launch NASA probe to the Moon in 2021: How Rocket Lab plans to pull off its first mission to the Moon next year – The Verge

Rocket Lab is known for launching tiny satellites into Earth orbit, but the company has big plans to venture deeper into space, with its first mission to the Moon set for next year. Thanks to a contract with NASA, Rocket Lab will send a small spacecraft called CAPSTONE into orbit around the Moon to test out how to navigate in lunar orbit and help human missions to the Moon in the future.

It’ll be the most ambitious mission yet for Rocket Lab, which just launched its workhorse Electron rocket on its 12th flight this weekend. In total, the company has put up to 53 spacecraft into space, and so far, all of the those launches have sent satellites into low Earth orbit. But the company has been eyeing ways to push the envelope. “From day one that I came to Rocket Lab, it’s been an interest to stretch the legs of Electron and keep pushing to see what we can do,” Amanda Stiles, the Moon program manager for Rocket Lab who used to be the director for Google Lunar X Prize, tells The Verge. “And I know from the very highest levels of the company, there’s always been a big interest in going to the Moon.”

This mission will rely on a key piece of hardware that Rocket Lab has been using for the last few years: its Photon spacecraft. The cylindrical vehicle sits on the top of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, propelling customers’ hardware into low Earth orbit. It can also serve as a customizable satellite that can carry various payloads and instruments into space. “For most people’s purposes, they’re looking at low Earth orbit, but it’s also flexible where we can upgrade it and use it as a platform for these more advanced missions,” says Stiles. “So, this is the first advanced version of a Photon for that purpose.”

Meanwhile, Rocket Lab wins two NRO launches: Rocket Lab wins NRO contracts for back-to-back launches –

Here is an interview with Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab: Perspectives Video Interview with Peter Beck, Chief Executive, Rocket Lab – Satellite News

The next Electron launch is targeted for July 3rd: Rocket Lab to Demonstrate Fastest Launch Turnaround to Date | Rocket Lab

The mission, ‘Pics Or It Didn’t Happen,’ is scheduled to launch from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 Pad A on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula no earlier than 3 July, 2020 UTC— just days after the successful launch of Rocket Lab’s most recent mission, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now,’ on 13 June, 2020 UTC. The back-to-back missions will represent Rocket Lab’s fastest turnaround between missions to date.

‘Pics Or It Didn’t Happen’ will deploy seven small satellites to a 500km circular low Earth orbit for a range of customers, including Spaceflight Inc.’s customer Canon Electronics, as well as Planet and In-Space Missions.

** An interview with Simon Gwozdz, CEO and Founder of Equatorial Space Systems in Singapore. Space Café Podcast Episode 005 Featuring Simon Gwozdz Is Now Available – SpaceWatch.Global

** Briefs:


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** SpaceX:

**** A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of another batch of Starlink satellites along with two Blacksky earth imaging satellites is set to lift off on Thursday, June 25th at 4:39 pm EDT (2039 GMT).  A static test firing on the pad is planned for today.

**** SpaceX attracting strong customer response to rideshare opportunities on the Starlink launches:

**** Tom Mueller, former chief of SpaceX propulsion development, gave an on-line presentation and extended Q&A with the Launch Canada student/amateur rocketry group last Friday. His main emphasis was on his experiences with home built liquid-fueled rockets but he occasionally made a SpaceX related remark. See the Highlights entry in the comments there for an overview of topics discussed.

Tom gave this video conference yesterday to Canadian student rocketeers. The first hour focuses on his successes and failures in amateur rocketry and his early career, as well as future goals now that he took a back seat with SpaceX. In the second part, he answers various questions from the audience on rocketry, SpaceX, his personal life, and more.

** More rocket and spaceship projects discarded by SpaceX – Scott Manley

In its 18 year history SpaceX has developed a lot of concepts on paper which never made it to flight, or, were never made to work. Either way the company has a rich history of projects that seemed like a good idea at the time but fell out of favour due to difficulties with engineering, a dearth of time, or a lack of a customer wanting to pay the cost.

**** Starship

****** Boca Chica Beach kept rock’in for the past week. The Starship prototypes SN5 and SN6 were both fully stacked except for the nosecone sections. The SN7 test article under went repairs and then was pushed to its breaking point in a final pressure test (see video at the top of this blog item).

Multiple construction projects are also underway, including what may be a pad for SuperHeavy Booster tests.

A new launch stand was being readied for the SN5 prototype, which reached the launch site today (see item at top).

Fingers crossed that SN5 will not explode, implode, or destroyed by ground support equipment detonations and actually do a low altitude flight.

****** Elon Musk comments on offshore launch/landing platforms for Starship/Super Heavy operations:

See also Elon Musk names Hobart boat builder Incat as potential rocket pad supplier – ABC News

****** Videos of Boca Chica activities over the past week:

****** June 18: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN5 & SN6 have a get together in the high bay – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN5 and Starship SN6 were spotted together in the high bay. Meanwhile, SpaceX teams continue to prepare the launch site ahead of the resumption of full-scale Starship testing. Video and Pictures from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** June 19: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN7 Repaired & Superheavy Launch Pad Construction – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN7 is repaired and upgraded while the Superheavy Launch Pad undergoes further construction including pouring multiple new foundations. Cory’s Taco Dome makes a reappearance as well as some other unknown ring stacks. Video and Pictures from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** June 19:  SpaceX Boca Chica – Starships, Test Tanks, Big Cranes and Thrust Pucks – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

With Test Tank SN7 at the launch site, Starship SN5 and SN6 in the High Bay, a huge crane is being assembled and a new Thrust Puck was being transported during Friday. Video and Pictures from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** June 21:  SpaceX Boca Chica – Super Heavy Pad Construction & SN7 Test Prep – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX teams continued to lay the foundations for the Super Heavy orbital launch pad in Boca Chica. Meanwhile, SN7 was getting ready for another round of testing and a large crane is on-site to assemble the new high bay. Video and Pictures from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

****** June 22: SpaceX Boca Chica – Super Heavy Pad Work and Flare Stack Returns – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

With SN7 preparing for testing on Tuesday, and the return of the Flare Stack – work at next door’s Super Heavy launch pad involved the installation of huge columns of rebar. Video and Pictures from Mary (@bocachicagal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).

** Webcast rocket reports:

*** SpaceX Starship News, Starship/Super Heavy offshore Spaceport and Starlink Beta Testing coming soonMarcus House

**** SpaceX Starship Updates – Chinas Next-Gen Crew Capsule & Long March 5B Rocket ExplainedWhat about it!?


=== Space Art from C. Sergent Lindsey ===

Sweatshirt imprinted with “SpaceX Delivers the Goods” by C Sergent Lindsey.