Space transport roundup – Sept.30.2020

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

** Scrubs and delays continue to plague ULA and SpaceX launch plans. The ULA Delta IV Heavy launch of the NROL-44 spysat has been trying to lift off since August but various ground system and weather problems have kept it grounded.  Weather has been the primary factor in keeping three SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets from flying two StarLink missions and one USAF GPS

[ Update: The Delta IV Heavy launch of the NROL-44 classified payload was aborted again late Wednesday. In this case, the abort happened at 7 seconds before liftoff. (An abort on August 29th happened 3 seconds before scheduled liftoff.) Commentators on the NSF webcast said there will be a delay of at least a week to prepare for the next attempt: ULA suffers another abort during Delta IV Heavy’s attempt to launch NROL-44 – ]

As of Wednesday, Sept.30th, the current Florida launch planning shows:

  • NROL-44 Delta IV Heavy – 11:54 pm EDT – Sept. 30th (354 GMT on 1st)
  • Starlink-12 Falcon 9, Pad 39A KSC -9:17 am EDT (1317 GMT) – Oct. 1st
  • GPS 3 SV04 Falcon 9, SLC-40 Cape Canaveral   9:43-9:58 p.m. EDT on 2nd ( 0143-0158 GMT on 3rd) – Oct. 2nd
  • Starlink-13 Falcon 9, SLC-40 Cape Canaveral – In October but no date announced yet.

More at SpaceX rockets await launch opportunities later this week – Spaceflight Now.

** Northrop Grumman Antares rocket set to launch Cynus cargo vehicle to the ISS Thursday evening at 9:38 pm EDT ( 0138 GMT, Oct. 2) from Wallops Island”s commercial spaceport: Prelaunch Briefing for Northrup Grumman’s 14th Cargo Resupply Mission to Space Station

During a Sept. 28 news briefing at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, in Virginia, the agency’s commercial partner, Northrop Grumman and others discussed the prelaunch status of the company’s 14th commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. On Oct. 1, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft is targeted to launch aboard an Antares rocket from Wallops. The Cygnus will carry nearly 8,000 pounds of research, crew supplies and hardware to the station.

** A Russian Soyuz 2.1b sent 3 comm-sats and 18 smallsats into orbit:

** China launches two environmental monitoring/disaster management satellites on a Long March-4B from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Sunday. There was no prior public announcement of the launch.

From CGTN:

The new HJ-2A and HJ-2B satellites will replace the previous generation of environmental monitoring satellites HJ-1A and HJ-1B, to provide services concerning environmental protection, natural resources, water conservancy, agriculture and forestry, according to the satellite developer China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

The HJ-2A and HJ-2B are 16-meter optical satellites with high mobility, precision control and stability, as well as strong load adaptability and long lifespans.

The satellites can provide 16-meter multispectral, 48-meter hyperspectral and infrared image data.

They will support the monitoring of natural disasters and land utilization, regulation and protection of water resources, dynamic monitoring of crop areas and assessment of yield, as well as quake emergency rescue.

** Germany’s HyImpulse launch company tests hybrid motor: First hot fire testing of the 75kN HyImpulse hybrid rocket motor –

At midday of Tuesday 15 September, the first firing of the HyImpulse 75kN hybrid rocket motor was a full success! It was performed at the world class DLR Lampoldshausen testing facility. This is the biggest hybrid rocket motor ever built and tested in Europe. This marks an important milestone in accomplishing our plan for a suborbital flight in early 2021 and the first flight of the three stage HyImpulse launcher SL1 by the end of 2022. HyImpulse is the first German Mini -Launcher startup to have its full-size flight weight motor developed, built and hot fire tested on a test bench. With the NewSpace Launch sector heating up, this important milestone immensely advances our international position in this area. The test confirms that the rocket propellants based on our proprietary Paraffin /LOX formulation achieve the same high performance as liquid hydrocarbon-based fuels with a much-simplified propulsion system and at a fraction of the cost.

See also: HyImpulse hybrid rocket motor roars to life for the first time – SpaceNews.

** Rocket Factory Augsburg plans for their RFA One Launcher to lift off from Norway in 2022: Rocket Factory Augsburg Signs Agreement with Andøya Space for maiden launch – Andøya Space Center

Andøya Space is developing the new launch complex on Andøya island, 35 km south of their existing sub-orbital launch site. This new site will provide operators of vehicles in the 1.5t payload class with independent integration facilities and access to two launch pads with necessary support infrastructure.

Rocket Factory, a start-up backed by the German satellite manufacturer OHB as a strategic investor and Munich-based venture capital firm Apollo Capital Partners, currently is developing a launcher system called RFA ONE for small satellites with a payload performance of up to 1.500kg to low earth orbit (LEO). The first launch is scheduled for 2022. The company recently qualified the upper stage tank system during cryogenic tests and is currently preparing hot-fire tests of the main engine in Esrange, Sweden.

“We are convinced that Rocket Factory is one of the most progressive SSLV companies in Europe. Having them commit to Andøya Space as a partner is of great significance to us. We are developing an efficient multi-user launch site in Norway, and Rocket Factory has the technical capabilities, the same innovative culture, and the enthusiastic team we need in a partner to help us take the spaceport initiative forward. We look forward to supporting them in their missions to polar- and sun synchronous orbits.”, said Odd Roger Enoksen, CEO and President of Andøya Space.

RFA is at the forefront of the global new-space launch vehicle development, with its state-of-the-art staged-combustion engine technology. This high-performance engine design, coupled to lowest-possible-cost production techniques, is essentially new to Europe, and through the support of OHB, RFA has managed to acquire key technologies and key talent that will propel the business case of the RFA One launch vehicle to dominate the market on a global scale. Recent firing tests have demonstrated that RFA is on a winning path to establish Europe’s most efficient and powerful rocket engine technology. Recently, RFA won the first round of the micro-launcher competition of the German Space Agency DLR, which granted RFA a letter of support to submit a proposal to ESA’s Boost! programme.

** Masten Terrestrial Rocket Testbed Introduction: Masten Space Systems highlights their vertical takeoff and landing rocket flight services.

** India’s Skyroot Aerospace shows off new cryogenic methane-fueled engine:

The company is aiming to launch the first Vikram-1 rocket, which will use solid fueled motors in all stages, in December 2021. The cryogenic engine will be used for the upper stage of the Vikram-2 rocket.

More about Skyroot at:

While the company has successfully tested the upper-most stage engine of its first rocket Vikram-I, the initial stage engines of Vikram-I are being manufactured. If all goes well, the company is looking forward to a maiden launch of Vikram-I by December 2021, with the support and guidance of the Indian Space Research Organization(ISRO). The cryogenic engine won’t see action in Vikram-I and is meant for their bigger rocket Vikram-II. 

In terms of payload capacity, Vikram I is meant to lift 225 kg to 500 km Sun Synchronous Polar Orbit(SSPO) and 315 kg to 45º inclination 500 km Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Vikram II is designed for 410 kg to 500 km SSPO and 520 kg to 45º inclination 500km LEO. In the case of Vikram III, we are looking at 580 kg to 500 km SSPO and 720 kg to 45º inclination 500 km LEO. 

** bluShift Aerospace will test bio-fuel in low altitude rocket flight at a site in Maine:  Brunswick aerospace company sets date for rocket launch – Portland Press Herald

Years of planning will be on the line Oct. 21 with the launch of bluShift’s 20-foot test rocket, the Stardust 1.0. The company hopes to launch the 540-pound Stardust 4,500 feet into the air, about twice as high as the world’s tallest skyscraper, before landing safely back onto the ground at the Loring Commerce Centre, formerly known as the Loring Air Force Base. The trip will use 10 pounds of bluShift’s trademark fuel.

The rocket will be airborne for roughly 58 seconds, a tiny span of time compared with the years of work it took for engineers to get to this point. But Deri and his team understand the gravity of this moment.

“This launch is the culmination of six years of research and development by bluShift to develop a type of chemical rocket engine that is perhaps less understood than more common technologies” he says, hoping to demonstrate the functionality of a “bio-derived, carbon-neutral, high-performing and even less expensive than its liquid petroleum counterpart.”

** Scott Manley describes the design and operation of the Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters: The Amazing Engineering Behind Solid Rocket Boosters

The solid rocket motors on the space shuttle accounted for the majority of the launch mass and launch thrust. They’re the most powerful rocket thrusters ever flown, at least until the 5 segment versions take flight with SLS in the next year or so. I’ve often described solid rocket motors as being relatively simple compared to the complex plumbing, pumps and turbines of liquid rocket motors. However there’s still a huge amount of critical engineering and science that goes into these boosters. The design of the boosters were also partly responsible for the accident that destroyed Challenger during launch.

** And Manley highlights the spaceship capabilities of the ISS: How the Space Station Moves In Orbit Like A Spaceship

Many people don’t realise that the International Space Station is also a space ship, able to maneuver in space as required by mission operations. It has thrusters and control moment gyros to control its orientation and adjust its orbit.

I could have explaind this with CGI, I could have used KSP Instead I decided to use my LEGO model of the ISS as a prop: The LEGO ISS is available on Amazon and other online retailers.

** Briefs:


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** SpaceX:

** Launch of first operational SpaceX Commercial Crew mission now set for October 31st:

Some of the delay from the original late August target date was due to an issue with the Crew Dragon heat shield showing more erosion than expected around the areas where the service stage bolts to the capsule. The problem had to be diagnosed, and then a fix designed, implemented and tested. There will also be an adjustment to the timing of the drogue chute deployment, which happened a bit later than desired.

Final certification of the Crew Dragon/Falcon 9 for operational crew missions will be presented about a week before the launch.

Between now and the end of 2021, SpaceX and NASA expect to launch seven Dragon missions – three crew and four cargo. The Cargo Dragon vehicles will now be reconfigured versions of the Crew vehicles. There will be times when both types of Dragon vehicles (Crew and Cargo) are docked to the station at the same time.  SpaceX has busy manifest of Dragon missions – SpaceNews

The CRS-21 mission will also mark the first time two Dragon spacecraft are in space at the same time. That mission will remain docked to the station for 35 days before returning to Earth. After that, the Crew-2 astronauts will board the Crew Dragon and relocate it from its original docking port, called Node 2 Forward, to the neighboring Node 2 Zenith port. That would free up the Node 2 Forward port, which offers a more straightforward approach to the station, for an uncrewed Boeing CST-100 Starliner test flight tentatively scheduled for late this year.

Flying seven Dragon missions in 14 months will require some degree of spacecraft reuse, Reed said. “A number of them are reused flights, and a handful of them are new,” he said, but didn’t immediately know how many of the missions will use previously flown spacecraft. NASA and SpaceX previously said they would refurbish the Dragon flown on the Demo-2 test flight this summer for the Crew-2 mission. Both Crew-1 and possibly Crew-3 will use new spacecraft, he said.

** NASA hosts three briefings on the upcoming mission:

**** Update on Next SpaceX Crew Mission to the International Space Station:

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and leadership from NASA and SpaceX discuss the upcoming SpaceX Crew-1 mission, which will be the first crew rotational flight of a U.S. commercial spacecraft to the International Space Station. Astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker of NASA and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are targeted to launch on Oct. 31 at 2:40 a.m. EDT aboard the Crew Dragon from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

**** SpaceX Crew-1 Mission Overview:

SpaceX and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) join NASA in giving an overview of the Crew-1 mission, the first crew rotational flight of a U.S. commercial spacecraft to the International Space Station. NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Shannon Walker will launch with JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket out of Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 31 at 2:40 a.m. EDT.

**** Astronauts Discuss Upcoming SpaceX Crew Dragon Mission:

The next crew to launch from U.S. soil to the International Space Station talk about their upcoming mission. 

** A new SpaceX video showing highlights of the second crew demo mission that launched back in June: Crew Dragon‘s Second Demonstration Mission

Crew Dragon’s test flight with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board the spacecraft marked the return of U.S. human spaceflight and the first-time in history a commercial company successfully transported NASA astronauts to the International Space Station and back home to Earth.

** Testing underway at McGregor of Falcon Heavy stages for mission early next year: SpaceX Manifest Takes Shape as Falcon Heavy Hardware Arrives at McGregor –

A new Falcon booster has been installed on the test stand at SpaceX’s Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas. Based on the logos and hardware on the exterior of the booster, the stage has been identified as a Falcon Heavy side booster, slated to support the next flight of SpaceX’s heavy lift rocket early next year.

** SpaceX wins another NASA science mission launch contract: NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for IMAP Mission | NASA

NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission, which includes four secondary payloads. IMAP will help researchers better understand the boundary of the heliosphere, a magnetic barrier surrounding our solar system. This region is where the constant flow of particles from our Sun, called the solar wind, collides with winds from other stars. This collision limits the amount of harmful cosmic radiation entering the heliosphere. IMAP will collect and map neutral particles that make it through, as well as investigate the fundamental processes of how particles are accelerated in space, from its vantage point orbiting the Sun at the Lagrange 1 point directly between the Sun and Earth.

The total cost for NASA to launch IMAP and the secondary payloads is approximately $109.4 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.

The target date for the launch is October 2024.

** USAF saves big money on GPS constellation launches by using previously flown F9 boosters: SpaceX’s GPS contract modified to allow reuse of Falcon 9 boosters – SpaceNews

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the first time next year will launch a military GPS satellite with a previously flown main booster, the U.S. Space Force announced Sept. 25.

The company reached an agreement earlier this month with the Space and Missile Systems Center so SpaceX can launch two GPS satellites next year using previously flown boosters. SMC said this will save the government more than $52 million in launch costs.

Although SpaceX routinely recovers and reuses rocket hardware in its commercial and NASA launches, the U.S. military has only recently started to allow SpaceX to recover boosters in GPS missions. The company on June 30 launched the third vehicle of the GPS 3 constellation with a brand-new Falcon 9 booster and recovered it.

**** Starship

Lots of activity as usual at Boca Chica:

  • SN8 prototype was moved to the test site on Saturday, Sept. 26th. It was expected that the vehicle would soon be lifted onto the stand for testing but this was delayed till Wednesday, Sept. 30th. Initially there will be pressure testing (non-cryogenic at first and then with the liquid methane and liquid oxygen) that uses a ram mechanism for pushing the tank from the bottom to simulate the engine thrust at liftoff. Assuming SN8 passes these tests, the vehicle will get a nosecone added and then fly a hop to a modest altitude to test out the flaps and other systems (see Elon’s comments below) before going for high altitudes
  • SN9 in advanced state of assembly in the Mid-Bay hangar. It is believed to be a close twin of SN8 and will serve as a backup if something happens to SN8.
  • SN10 – Some of the barrel sections have been constructed. Assembly will presumably start once SN9 is done.
  • SN5 and SN6 – these have been refurbished but no word on whether they will fly any more hops. Perhaps they will serve as props to test out component fittings, welding techniques, etc.
  • Super Heavy prototype SN-01 – barrel sections have been spotted. Stacking should begin once the High Bay hangar construction is done.

There is construction activity all over the build and launch sites but two projects stand out:

  • High Bay Hangar – The roof is nearly finished and the remaining gaps on the walls are being covered. Interior work is underway. Presumably there will be a crane to stack the barrel sections.
  • Orbital Launch Mount – The 6 large base columns are being filled with concrete. It will be quite interesting to see what happens next. There’s no public information on the design of the mount as far as I know and there is a lot of speculation about it. E.g. how high will the base for the rocket be? What’s the design of the flame diverter? Will they just use construction cranes to stack the booster and the Starship or will there be a tower built with a crane as in the SpaceX animations.

This Twitter posting shows High Bay and launch mount as of today:

More on the status of the Boca Chica developments at Starship SN8 prepares for test series – First sighting of Super Heavy –

**** Here are some comments from Elon Musk regarding recent activity and upcoming events:

  • Twitter: “How are they powered now? I know for a bit there was talk about motors just spinning hydraulic pumps but you wanted it to eventually just be directly drive by the motors…
    • Elon: “Yes, the flaps are now directly driven by electric motors with a gearbox! No more hydraulics.
  • Twitter: “Will u attempt SN9 for 20km?
    • Elon: “We just need enough height to test body flaps & drawing propellant from headers vs main tanks. Will do several flights to confirm working well, then add heat shield & go high Mach.
  • Twitter: “Sidenote: Did SN7.1 get to an acceptable bar rating before pop? (per SN8 confidence, given the same alloy).
    • 8 bar differential in ullage, 9 bar at base due to propellant head. It’s enough. Improvements in work.
  • Twitter: “Did you switch to 30X yet? Or is it still 304L?
    • Elon: “Mostly 304L, some 301. Broke at 301 to 304 interface. SN9 will be all 304. Also, we’re making some tweaks to the 304 alloy mixture.


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***** SpaceX video shows firing test of a Raptor vacuum engine. The engine carried out “a full duration test fire of the Raptor Vacuum engine at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas”.

****** Sept.25: SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site Flyover 09/24 – RGV Aerial Photography

****** Sept.25: SpaceX Boca Chica Build Site Flyover 09/24! – RGV Aerial Photography

****** Sept.25: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN8 Folds Its Fins – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

While High Bay work continues, SN8 is worked on while is flaps remain folded back from an earlier test (not pictured). A header tank for SN11 was spotted and the tank farm gets some modifications. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal).

****** Sept.26: Starship Chapter 8 – SN8 Reporting For Duty – LabPadre – YouTube

09.26.2020 A new chapter at SpaceX Boca Chica is in effect. SN8 was rolled out to the launch pad this morning in preparation for its 20 KM launch.

****** Sept.27: SpaceX Boca Chica – SN8 Rolled Out to Launch site – SN9 Forward Dome Readied for Stacking – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN8 was rolled to the launch site ahead of a cryo testing campaign and eventual static fires and flight. SN9’s forward bulkhead was prepared for stacking on top of the rest of the vehicle, a tank was moved from the tank farm to the gas well lot, and work on the High Bay continued. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Nic Gautschi (@NGautschi).

** Sept.29: SpaceX Boca Chica – Super Heavy LOX Tank Section – Liebherr LR1600/2 Crawler Crane Delivered – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

A section of the first Super Heavy booster’s LOX tank (labeled “LOX STACK – 4 BOOSTER”) was spotted by Mary today and a crane worthy of stacking it was delivered, a Liebherr LR1600/2 Crawler Crane [Max. Load Capacity: 600 t (1322773 lbs) / Max. Hoist Height: 187 m (613 ft)]. Also delivered were a thrust puck, a downcomer, and some LN2. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@TheJackBeyer)

** Sept.30: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN8 lifted on to Launch Mount – NASASpaceflight – YouTube

Starship SN8 has been lifted on to the launch mount at SpaceX Boca Chica ahead of a test series that will open with proof testing over the coming days. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@TheJackBeyer)

**** Other Starship and space transport reports:

**** Sept.26: SpaceX’s brand new Super Heavy monster is coming – SN1 build has begun – Marcus House

SpaceX’s brand new Super Heavy monster is coming. Yep, the SN1 build has begun. Overall, another action-packed week of news at Boca Chica with starship development. The SN7.1 prototype test to destruction, super heavy components finally being spotted, and more exciting news about the first prototype that should fly over 18 kilometers or 60,000 feet in altitude. Yep, Starship SN8 is getting closer. Along with that, some interesting news with Firefly Alpha, Relativity Space, and NASA.

**** Sept.25: SpaceX Starship Super Heavy SN01 In Production! – What about it!?

Today amongst other things I’ll explain to you, what the Boca Chica SpaceX crew is able to do in just three days and how Starships will be able to land on alien planets.

**** Sept. 29: SpaceX Starship 15km Flight: What To Expect & When? – What about it!?

Today amongst other things I’ll explain to you, what we can expect from SpaceX’s Starship SN08, how it’s built and what comes after it.

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