Space transport roundup – Aug.28.2020

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

** ULA, SpaceX, and Rocket Lab are all planning launches over the next few days. In fact, SpaceX is targeting two Falcon 9 launches [and one Starship prototype hop]. A Vega rocket is set to launch next week from French Guiana as well.

** ULA set to launch Delta IV Heavy from Cape Canveral with classified military payload. Liftoff is currently set for Saturday morning following a scrub on Thursday morning due to a ground equipment problem.

** ULA aims for first Vulcan rocket launch in  2021: ULA updates Vulcan status, readiness for certification missions –

Development and flight qualification for United Launch Alliance’s new rocket, Vulcan, remains on track and on schedule (with margin) to make its debut flights next year, as do all ground support facilities and flight software elements for the heavy-lift vehicle.

Vulcan’s first two flights, certification missions to clear the rocket to fly category A/B national security payloads for the U.S. Space Force, will loft Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lander outward to the Moon and then Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft on its demonstration mission for NASA to become the third U.S. cargo vehicle for Station operations.

The major elements of the ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket. Credits: ULA

Blue Origin is dealing with turbine pump issues that arose with the BE-4 engines that will be used for the Vulcan first stages: ULA CEO Tory Bruno: Here’s how we beat SpaceX for Space Force’s big contract – Denver Business Journal

By [early 2021], 90% of the Vulcan rocket’s systems and its upgraded Centaur upper stage will have already been flown.

The biggest elements not previously flown will be the booster structure itself and the BE-4 engines.

Blue Origin is still troubleshooting the 75,000-horsepower pumps that bring fuel to the BE-4’s main combustion chamber, Bruno said, adding that’s he confident the issues will soon be solved.

“There’s very little technical risk,” he said. “It isn’t easy, but we know we can do it.”

** China launched a Gaofen-9 optical remote imaging satellite on a Long March 2D rocket on Saturday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Additional payload riders included theTiantuo-5 smallsat to test Internet of Things (IoT) communications and the Duo Gongneng Shiyan Weixing, which is also a technology test satellite.

** Rocket Lab to launch Capella radar satellite on the first mission since a launch failure on July 4th. By the end of July the company had traced the failure to an electrical connection problem and taken corrective actions for a return to flight status by the end of August.

— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) August 25, 2020

Capella is developing a constellation of radar satellites for commercial remote sensing:

Sequoia is a 100 kg class microsatellite and will be positioned in a 45-degree inclination. This mid-inclination allows us to give our customers immediate access to rapid coverage of important regions, including the Middle East, Korea, Japan, Europe, South East Asia, Africa, and the U.S. Like all of our Capella satellites, Sequoia will be able to see through clouds and in the dark and detect sub-0.5 meter changes on Earth’s surface. When fully deployed, our satellite constellation will offer hourly coverage of every point on Earth.

We were fortunate to work with Rocket Lab to name this mission “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical,” a reference to our innovative SAR satellite technology, which overcomes the limits of the optical imagery used in other commercial satellites. Unlike optical, SAR can see through clouds, in all weather conditions and even at night. Our team voted on the mission name in June, ultimately choosing it as a nod to our unique satellite technology and the infamous advertisement campaign for “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” We take our work seriously, but we don’t take ourselves that seriously.

** Astra Space has a new window for their next attempt to launch from the Alaska spaceport:

** PLD Space in Spain report on engine qualification:

** Briefs:


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** SpaceX:

** Two Falcon 9 launches from Cape Canaveral planned during the next few days. Weather and the delays in the launch of the ULA Delta IV Heavy launch mentioned above have affected the schedule so the exact launch times are uncertain at the moment.

  • Starlink 11 – Falcon 9 will take 60 more satellites to low earth orbit for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband Internet constellation
  • SAOCOM 1B – Earth observation satellite for CONAE, Argentina’s space agency.

Currently, the launch schedule shows both launches set for August 30 (Sunday) with Starlink 11 at 1408 GMT (10:08 a.m. EDT) from Pad 39A at KSC and SAOCOM 1B at  2319 GMT (7:19 p.m. EDT) from SLC-40.  However, it’s unlikely they will actually launch the same day.

** SpaceX wins another lunar mission launch contract:

Masten Space Systems announced today that it has selected SpaceX to launch Masten Mission One (MM1). As part of MM1, Masten’s lunar lander will deliver nine NASA-sponsored science and technology demonstration experiments and several commercial payloads to the lunar south pole.

“Having SpaceX’s proven launch success behind us is not only great for us, but it’s great for our customers,” said Masten chief executive officer, Sean Mahoney. “We share a common vision with SpaceX and that makes this more than a partnership. It’s more like a dream team.”

Masten’s first mission to the Moon, MM1 is a collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) Project Office. The Masten XL-1 lunar lander is scheduled to touch down on the lunar south pole in 2022, carrying a suite of NASA-sponsored scientific instruments and various payloads from commercial space customers.

SpaceX also has contracts for launching payloads to the Moon from iSpace of Japan and Intuitive Machines. In 2019, SpaceX launched Israel’s Beresheet commercial lunar mission, which went successfully into orbit around the Moon but unfortunately fail at its landing attempt.

** Here are some notes on Falcon 9 reusability here from a presentation by a SpaceX manager earlier this year. At the time, the inspection/refurbishment took about 30 days.  Not clear if the $30M mentioned is the cost to SpaceX to prepare a F9 or if it is the price to customers.

**** Starship

SpaceX continues to manage a frenetic pace of activity at Boca Chica. The Raptor engine on the Starship SN6 prototype was test fired last weekend and a low altitude test hop is expected in next few days. Starship SN6 fires up Raptor SN29 –

The SN5 prototype was moved back to the assembly site and appears to have been refurbished from the hop it took on August 4th.

It’s been a year since the Hopper took its jump up to 150 meters and back down for a soft landing: Boca work continues as SpaceX marks anniversary of Starhopper’s final flight –

Good progress has been made in assembling two prototypes – SN8 and SN9 – that will be fully fitted out with body flaps and nosecones.

Here are renderings of SN8 and SN9 as imagined by Neopork (@Neopork85) / Twitter:

A partial propellant tank module titled SN7.1 is also under construction. It will be used to pressure test improved welding techniques and iron alloy.

** Super Heavy booster launch plans. Some of the videos below show construction underway for a structure at Boca Chica for launching Super Heavy Boosters. This will be for occasional test flights. For operational launches, SpaceX plans on using offshore platform:

The first Super Heavy prototype test  hop could happen as early as October according to Elon.

***** Aug.23: SN6 Static Fire with Thermal Time lapse – LabPadre – YouTube

SpaceX Boca Chica has completed a static fire with SN6. No issues seemed to have occurred but it did take three tries. Thermal time lapse shows thermal exchanges on the vehicle. Thermal imagery provided by CrowBit.

***** Aug. 24: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN6 Static Fire – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN6 fires up its single Raptor engine (Raptor SN29) for the first time on the third attempt of the day, in magnificent golden hour lighting. Close up, wide angle, full speed and slo mo – all with glorious ambient audio. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@TheJackBeyer)

****** Aug. 26: SpaceX Boca Chica – From SN5 re-hop preps to SN9 sleeving – A busy Spaceport – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

From Starship SN5 being prepared for a re-hop, SN6’s preps for a maiden hop, through to SN9 taking shape, it’s all go at SpaceX Boca Chica! All while the orbital launch mount build continues and the High Bay grows. (Lengthy) Video and Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Nicholas Gautschi (@NGautschi)

****** Aug. 26: Starship Views – StarshipBocaChica/Maria Pointer – YouTube

Join me for a visit to the Starship Production Complex showing tanks and newly groomed areas. They developed roadside access and drainage, stowed much of the yard stockpiles and made the area much safer for the worrisome flying debris during hurricane season. These images were taken before the static fire on Sunday, but you will find something to study. Fin Park is included, showing continued landscaping progress. I call the gathering area Fin park for 2 reasons, the upcycled MK1 Fins, and to honor an executive that works close with Elon that has Fin in his name. So I’ve been lobbying hard for Fin Park as the official name. I think it is smackdown time with other’s promoting names as we wait to see Elon’s reveal. Can’t wait to see your comments. Many names are popping up making the parks naming entertaining. (Fin Park is perfect name right?)

***** Aug. 27: SpaceX Boca Chica – SN6 Mass Simulator Installed – Other Starships Prepare – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN6 has had its Mass Simulator installed at the launch site while SN8 waits to become a completed stack under the watchful eye of SN5. Video and Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Nicholas Gautschi (@NGautschi).

***** Aug 28: SpaceX Boca Chica – SN8 Stacked, Orbital Pad Progress, and High Bay Construction Continues – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN8 was stacked in the Mid Bay and progress on the construction of the Orbital Launch Pad continues with another rebar cage getting its steel cladding. A lift of a section of the High Bay was briefly aborted due to wind before being successfully completed, and activity at the launch site, including SN6 hop preparations, continued. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Nicholas Gautschi (@NGautschi).

**** Other Starship and space transport reports:

*****Aug 22: SpaceX Starship SN6 to fly in less than a week!?, Starlink Speed Results, Saocom 1B, Ariane 5/MEV-2 – Marcus House

So much news today with a possibility of SpaceX Starship SN6 to fly in less than a week. We get some Starlink Speed Results along with an update on the record-breaking booster landing, Saocom 1B is coming up, Ariane 5/MEV-2 mission successful and Blue Origin Human Landing System update. Starship Serial number 6 having had its pressure test and raptor installation will have a static fire test coming potentially over the next few days. And the breaking news is that we could be seeing Starship SN6 fly within a week (see road closures notices). Another beautiful launch Starlink launch during the week with some newly broken records for SpaceX on that mission. Arianespace recently completed another successful launch of the Ariane 5 Heavy Lift vehicle. Really cool detail about that MEV-2 payload that we’ll talk about as well. Updates by Blue Origin on the Human Landing System being constructed by the National Team. And on top of all that, we have another Falcon 9 launch potentially next week with the Saocom 1B mission.

***** Aug. 25: How To Construct A SpaceX Starship Launch Mount? – What about it!?

Today I’ll explain to you, what points towards SpaceX building a Starship Launchpad in Boca Chica and why!

***** Aug. 21: How Will SpaceX’s Starship SN8 Fly & Land? – What about it!?

Today I’ll explain to you, how long we’ll have to wait for the next Starship hop and what the rest of the world is doing to keep up with SpaceX.


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

Sweatshirt imprinted with “SpaceX Delivers the Goods” by C Sergent Lindsey. Available at Fine Art America.