Space transport roundup – Sept.3.2020

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

** SpaceX flies the prototype Starship SN6 on a low altitude hop: The SN6 flew today following a postponement on Sunday believed due to high winds, which continued until today. In what looked like a duplicate of the hop by SN5 on August 4th, the vehicle flew up and over and down to a pad while leaning from vertical due to the offset position of the  single Raptor engine from the center of the base.  It may have gone a bit higher than the SN5’s 150 meters. Elon Musk has spoken of eventually seeing test flights of Starship prototypes happening multiple times a week.

[ Update: More views of the hop:


More at:

** SpaceX launches  two Falcon 9 rockets within four days. On Sunday, August 30th, a F9 put the Argentine SAOCOM-1B radar satellite and two American smallsats into orbit. The unusual southern trajectory took the rocket along the Florida coast and the upper stage over Cuba. The first stage booster returned for a landing on a pad back at Cape Canaveral. The fairing halves were recovered from the sea.

Here is a view of the F9 continuously from liftoff to the booster landing: From Launch To Landing – SpaceX Falcon 9 w/ SAOCOM 1B – YouTube

On Thursday morning, September 3rd, another batch of 60 Starlink satellites were launched from Pad 39B. The booster landed safely on a platform at sea and the satellites were deployed successfully.

Find more about other SpaceX activities below

** An Arianespace Vega rocket put over 50 smallsats into orbit Thursday morning as well. This was the first flight of the Vega since a launch failure on July 10, 2019. The flight also marked the start of a smallsat rideshare program in which satellites from different organizations split the cost of flying to space. The four-stage Vega is all solid-fueled except for the small fourth stage, which uses UDMH and nitrogen tetroxide.

** Rocket Lab sends Capella radar sat to orbit on August 31st in the first mission since a launch failure on July 4th.

** Rocket Lab included the first Photon satellite on the same flight with the Capella radar satellite: Rocket Lab Launches First In-house Designed & Built Photon Satellite | Rocket Lab

The satellite, named ‘First Light’, is the first spacecraft from Rocket Lab’s family of configurable Photon satellites to be deployed to orbit. Launched as a technology demonstration, ‘First Light’ builds upon the existing capabilities of the Electron launch vehicle’s Kick Stage with additional subsystems to enable long duration satellite operations. This pathfinding mission is an initial demonstration of the new power management, thermal control and attitude control subsystem capabilities. By testing these systems for an extended period on orbit, Rocket Lab is building up flight heritage for future Photon satellite missions planned to low Earth orbit, the Moon, and Venus.

‘First Light’ was deployed to orbit on Rocket Lab’s 14th Electron mission, ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical’, which lifted-off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on August 31, 2020. Approximately 60 minutes after lift-off, Electron deployed a 100 kg microsatellite for Capella Space, an action that would typically signal the successful completion of a standard Rocket Lab mission. However, shortly after deploying the customer payload, Rocket Lab conducted an entirely new operation for the first time: Rocket Lab engineers sent a command to transition the Kick Stage into Photon satellite mode. This action marked the first on-orbit demonstration of Rocket Lab’s Photon satellite as a two-in-one spacecraft, first using it to complete its conventional launch vehicle function to deploy customer satellites, then transitioning into a satellite to continue a standalone mission

Rocket Lab will offer the Photon to users who want to send a payload to space but don’t want to build a whole satellite. By taking advantage of the Photon’s built-in capabilities, a payload owner can focus just on the payload’s operations and not those of the carrier spacecraft.

** Rocket Lab obtains a FCC license to launch from the commercial spaceport on Wallops Island: FAA Approves Rocket Lab’s Operator License for Wallops Launch Complex –

The license allowsallows for multiple launches from LC-2 for the next 5 years without needing a new launch-specific license for every mission“.

** A ULA Delta IV Heavy aborted after ignition of one of its engines and just 3 seconds before the planned liftoff on August 29th. According to ULA, there will be a postponement of at least seven days before the next launch attempt.  The launch had been postponed several times, most recently due to a ground equipment problem. No new launch date has been announced yet. The NROL-44 mission involves a classified spysat of some sort.

Note that the flames are standard for DIV launches due to the deliberate ignition of hydrogen gas that can build up around the base of the rocket.

More at:

** OHB’s Rocket Factory aims to launch first smallsat rocket in 2022. OHB of Germany, which has sold a wide range of rocket and satellite components and systems for many years, recently began development of its own rocket for launching smallsats. The venture recently got a contract with Exolaunch, “to provide end-to-end launch services for small satellites”: OHB start-up Rocket Factory signs agreement with Exolaunch to supply commercial launch services – OHB.

Rocket Factory currently is developing a launcher system called RFA One for small satellites with a payload performance of up to 300kg to low earth orbit (LEO). The first launch is scheduled for 2022.

Two other German smallsat launcher companies are Isar Aerospace and HyImpulse.

** Interesting account of the history of RLV development in the US: Jess Sponable – Reusable Launch, Pete Conrad, and DARPA – Cold Star Project S02E58

2X past DARPA Program Manager Jess Sponable is on the Cold Star Project to share his experiences and aspirations in the space industry. With host Jason Kanigan, our topics cover the development of reusable launch technology, a colorful character (#3 to walk on the Moon) named Pete Conrad and Jess’ interactions with him, and DARPA. Our conversation was submitted to and approved for public release by the USAF.

Relevant resources:

** How many small launcher companies can survive out of the 100 or so globally that are seeking to make a sustainable business from smallsat orbital delivery services? This question is discussed by Patrick Host in a recent article in Jane’s International Defense Review titled, Tough crowd: Small launch vehicles seek niche in ultra-competitive market (pdf). David Livingston talked with Host about the article on The Space Show – Tues. Aug.25.2020.

The general consensus is that only 2 to 3 companies can survive the coming shakeout. However, I will note that many countries will support at least one or two national smallsat launch service ventures. For example, Spain is likely to steer government funded smallsats to a company like PLD Space, UK will send government payloads to companies like Skyrora and Orbex, Germany will back ventures such as HyImpulse and OHB’s Rocket Factory (see above), China and India are each going to support their multiple launcher companies, etc.

So while 2 or 3 small launch system companies will get the bulk of competitively selected payloads, globally there could easily be a dozen or more small companies around the world that survive indefinitely on government smallsats and subsidies. They may not generate high profits but they can remain in business with a modest number of launches per year.

** Briefs:


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** SpaceX:

As noted at the top of this posting, SpaceX has launched Falcon 9 rockets twice since the previous roundup. According to this schedule, there could be up to three more flights in September, including two Starlink missions

**** Starship

See the SN6 flight video at top. A pressure test to destruction of the SN7.1 propellant tank prototype is said by many to be the next major action at Boca Chica. The goal is to confirm the improvements in welding techniques and the performance of a new steel alloy.

Meanwhile, construction of the High Bay building for stacking of the Super Heavy has reached its full height greater than 81 meters. It just needs a roof and side panels to complete the external structure.  Elon has said that construction of the first Super Heavy prototype should start this week.

Work continues also on the launch platform for the Super Heavy. This involves the building of massive tilted pillars to hold up the base where the SH will stand.

See the videos below for visuals of these activities and projects.

****** Elon Musk talked about Starship, Raptor engines, and building a colony on Mars in a phone interview for the Humans to Mars conference.

Some highlights of his remarks:

  • Making good progress on the production line for Starship.
  • Need eventually to make a thousand or more Starships to make it feasible and affordable to put a city on Mars.
  • Assembly of the first prototype Super Heavy booster to start this week at Boca Chica.
  • The target number of Raptor engines on the SH has decreased from 31 to 28.
  • Raptor thrust to weight ratio could reach 200.
  • First orbital mission could take place next year.
  • Initial missions could be failures due to the difficult challenges of developing a fully reusable system.
  • Will do hundreds of satellite launch missions before taking people to orbit on a Starship.

See also:

****** Aug.28: SpaceX Starship Facility Update  Alex Rex – YouTube

This short video shows a virtual flight over the Starship Facility in Boca Chica, TX on August 28th, 2020. It is kept as simple as possible with major focus on BUILDINGS, JIGS and STARSHIP-Parts. For other design projects, please visit my webpage:


****** Aug.31: SpaceX Boca Chica – SN7.1 Assembly amid SN6’s aborted hop attempts – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

While Starship SN6 aborted it hop attempts on Sunday due to very windy conditions in Boca Chica, Test Tank SN7.1 continued assembly ahead of its expected test to failure after SN6’s completed hop. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Nicholas Gautschi (@NGautschi).

****** Sept.1:

A sign of future intent as a huge amount of steel that will make up future Starships – and possibly allocated to the prototype Super Heavy – was on show at Boca Chica. Includes checking in with SN7.1 and the soon-to-hop SN6, the latter view a drive past. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Nicholas Gautschi (@NGautschi).

****** Sept.2 – RGV Aerial Report #1 – SN6 Ready For The Hop! – What about it!? + RGV Aerial Photography

****** Sept.3: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN10 parts arriving as SN6 looks forward to hop – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Multiple current/future Boca Chica efforts in work as Starship SN6 prepare to hop. SN10 parts have now started to arrive, while work on the Super Heavy mount continues. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Theo Ripper (@TheoRipper).

**** Other Starship and space transport reports:

**** Aug.29: SpaceX Starship Super Heavy Booster to start soon, SN6 flight shortly and Delta IV Heavy Abort – Marcus House

Around a few frustrating delays, we have a lot to talk about. Starship Super Heavy Booster build to start soon according to Elon’s recent tweets. We had the Delta IV Heavy Abort just hours ago and hopefully an SN6 flight shortly This week we have lots to share yet again on SpaceX’s starship development from Boca Chica Texas. Much more information on the super-heavy launch pad and we are of course gearing up for the launch of Starship serial number 6. We had an interesting abort just hours ago with the attempted flight of the Delta IV Heavy from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Some updates on the James Webb Space Telescope. And SpaceX may very well be flying back to back Falcon 9’s on the next Starlink mission and SAOCOM1B mission on Sunday depending on range approval (although Delta IV heavy may cause issues with this plan).

**** Aug.28: How to finance a fleet of SpaceX Starships? – What about it!?

Today amongst other thing’s I’ll explain to you, what SpaceX’s Starship has to do with the number 553 and how it will be financed.


=== The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey ===

SpaceX Delivers the Goods” by C. Sergent Lindsey printed on phone cover. Available at Fine Art America.