Space transport roundup – Jan.10.2021

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

** Jan.8: SpaceX launches Falcon 9 to send Türksat 5A comm-sat into geostationary transfer orbit. The liftoff from Cape Canaveral was the first SpaceX launch of 2021. The booster, on its fourth flight, landed successfully on a floating platform. The Airbus-built satellite will use electric propulsion to circularize its orbit and move to its allocated slot in GEO.

Find more about other SpaceX activities below.

** Dec.29: Arianespace Soyuz launched a French reconnaissance satellite from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana. The Soyuz Flight VS25 was the final mission for Arianespace in 2020.

For its 10th and final launch of the year — and the fifth in 2020 with the Soyuz medium launcher — Arianespace will send the CSO-2 Earth observation satellite, intended for defense and security applications, into Sun-synchronous orbit.

CSO-2 will be launched for the French CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales) space agency and the DGA (Direction générale de l’armement) defense procurement agency on behalf of the French Ministry of Defense

It also will be the 25th mission carried out by Soyuz from French Guiana since it began operating at the Guiana Space Center (CSG) in October 2011.

More at:

** Dec.27: Long March 4C launched a reconnaissance satellite:

** Dec. 22: China’s new Long March 8 rocket launched on first flight from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the South China island province of Hainan. Unlike most of the other Long March rockets, the medium-lift LM8 uses all non-toxic liquid propellants. The long term plan is to implement the vehicle with reusable boosters.

From NSF:

The LM-8 can launch a 5,000 kg cargo to an SSO 700 km orbit, an 8,400 kg cargo to LEO, or 2,800 kg to GTO.

In future missions, the first stage will be reusable (the LM-8R), which features powered vertical landing with deployable landing legs. The strap-on boosters will stay attached for landing.

Also, in the future, the LM-8 may be launched without the side boosters (the LM-8A version).

A video about the reusability plan:

The Long March-8 launch vehicle will be reusable, according to Song Zhengyu, chief designer of the Long March-8 rocket. The first launch of the Long March-8 launch vehicle (Long March-8 Y1) took place from the Wenchang Space Launch Center Hainan Province, China, on 22 December 2020, at 04:37 UTC (12:37 local time). Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)

** Dec.18: Russia/Arianespace Soyuz rocket launched 36 OneWeb satellites from Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia.

** Dec. 17: India launched a comm-sat on PSLV rocket:

** Jan.6: Northrop-Grumman Cygnus cargo vehicle departs from the ISS. The vehicle arrived there after launching on Oct. 2, 2020 aboard a NG Antares rocket from the spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia.

** SpinLaunch is expanding facilities and operations at NM spaceport. The first tests of the centrifugal catapult style launch system to start in 2021. SpinLaunch Plans Major Expansion at Spaceport America | Spaceport America

SpinLaunch signed a lease at Spaceport America in 2019 and has since invested in test facilities and an integration facility. The company is now set to hire an additional 59 highly-paid workers and complete the build of its suborbital centrifugal launch system for its next phase of development. SpinLaunch expects to start test launches in New Mexico in 2021.

The company, expected to spend $46 million of private money in construction and expansion over 10 years, will generate an economic impact of $239 million over that period of time statewide.

SpinLaunch founder Jonathan Yaney said the technology behind the company is a cleaner and more affordable way to reach orbit.

“Our technology enables a 10 times reduction in the current costs and complexities of reaching orbit. As the number of rocket launches rapidly increases, SpinLaunch uniquely reaches space without releasing pollutants into critical layers of the atmosphere. We’re satisfying both the economic and environmental demands of a space industry experiencing exponential growth. This is the first time in human history we have an alternative to rockets,” Yaney said.

See also:

** Blue Origin to deliver operational BE-4 engines for ULA’s new Vulcan rocket by this summer. Bezos’ Blue Origin to deliver first flight-ready rocket engines next summer – ULA CEO | Reuters

The installation of Blue Origin’s reusable BE-4 engines into ULA’s next-generation Vulcan rocket will keep it on track for the debut launch of a moon lander dubbed Peregrine at the end of 2021, ULA Chief Executive Tory Bruno said. The Vulcan rocket has won a slate of key U.S. defense missions through 2027.

Currently, ULA is using “pathfinder”, i.e. non-operational prototype, engines to check that they fit and connect properly into the new Vulcan rocket first stage booster.

** China’s Deep Blue Aerospace test reusable booster prototype for small orbital rocket:

The linked article is translated by Google as Deep Blue Aerospace’s “Vertical Recovery” is ready to go | “Nebula-M” Test Arrow 1 completes the launching joint training and enters the static ignition preparation stage.

** Briefs:


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** SpaceX:

*** “Transporter 1” is the next Falcon 9 launch and is set for January 14th. It will be the first of SpaceX’s dedicated “Rideshare” missions. The Rideshare program will provide regularly scheduled launches on which multiple smallsats from different companies and organizations can fly. This first launch is to sun-synchronous orbit and the company is aiming for SSO missions every 4 months. Launches to other inclinations will also be available.

Some smallsats have been withdrawn from this mission:

SpaceX is taking advantage of the extra room to include 10 Starlink satellites: FCC grants permission for polar launch of Starlink satellites – SpaceNews. (See also this FCC pdf doc.)

There are also two Starlink missions planned for January. SpaceX aims to achieve about a launch per week in 2021.

*** SpaceX cargo Dragon set to leave ISS on Monday Jan.11th: NASA to Air Departure of SpaceX Cargo Dragon from Space Station | NASA

The SpaceX Dragon that arrived to the International Space Station on the company’s 21st resupply services mission for NASA is scheduled to depart on Monday, Jan. 11, loaded with 5,200 pounds of scientific experiments and other cargo. NASA Television and the agency’s website will broadcast its departure live beginning at 9 a.m. EST.

The upgraded Dragon spacecraft will execute the first undocking of a U.S. commercial cargo craft from the International Docking Adapter at 9:25 a.m., with NASA astronaut Victor Glover monitoring aboard the station.

Dragon will fire its thrusters to move a safe distance from the station’s space-facing port of the Harmony module, then initiate a deorbit burn to begin its re-entry sequence into Earth’s atmosphere. Dragon is expected to make its parachute-assisted splashdown around 9 p.m. – the first return of a cargo resupply spacecraft in the Atlantic Ocean. The deorbit burn and splashdown will not air on NASA TV.

*** Payload owners are now comfortable with flying on Falcon 9 rockets with used boosters: Gwynne Shotwell talks about selling flight-proven rockets, Starship | Ars Technica

Unless a customer has a strong argument one way or the other, the decision on what booster to use is left up to SpaceX. “You’re buying a launch service, and we will provide you the best vehicle that we can in the timeframe that you need to fly,” [SpaceX president and COO, Gwynne Shotwell] said. “And we basically put the control for the most part in our hands.”

In truth, Shotwell said, it has not been particularly difficult to convince customers to fly on flight-proven rockets. It has been easier to sell customers on the technology than it was selling them on the first Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets. This is because, with rockets, SpaceX has achieved what it said it would do—develop and fly low-cost, reliable launchers.

“It was easier to sell ‘flight proven’ to customers than it was to sell Falcons,” she said. “Obviously, people come to trust organizations and people to do what they say they’re going to do, when you demonstrate that kind of history. So we said we would get to orbit with Falcon 1, and we did. We said we’d get to orbit with Falcon 9, and we did. We said we’d get to Station, and we did. So the sales pitch became much less difficult.”

*** Dec. 19: Last Falcon 9 launch of 2020 sent NROL-108 spysat into orbit. The booster returned for a successful landing at Cape Canaveral.

*** Other SpaceX news:

*** Starship

According to road closings and other indicators, a flight of the SN9 Starship prototype will be attempted in the upcoming week. Presumably, it will be a repeat of the SN8 flight with a max altitude around 12 kilometers. The SN9, with damaged fins replaced, rolled to the launch site on Dec. 22nd. On January 6th, a static firing took place, which appeared to stop prematurely. Another test appeared planned for the following day but it was aborted  mid-way through the pre-test preparations.

**** Starship Wranglers: SN9 Rolls Out for FlightCosmic Perspective

Cameras were rolling during the SpaceX Starship SN9 transport from the production facility to the test stand, capturing some of the amazing humans making Starship happen.

**** Starship SN9 Rollout in 180 3D Stereoscopic VRCosmic Perspective

Cameras were rolling during the SpaceX Starship SN9 transport from the production facility to test stand, including our 180-degree 3D stereoscopic camera rig for Virtual Reality headsets like Oculus Quest.

**** Super Heavy Booster may settle onto launch tower arms, according to a Tweet from Elon:

While it seems far-fetched at first hearing, it really is not so unreasonable when one thinks about it. After the learning phase, the Falcon 9 boosters have either set down within the target circles on the landing pads or have been far off the mark. I don’t remember any landing in the past few years that has been close to the edge of a pad. Bad landings, such as the time a booster went into the water off the beach at Cape Canaveral, are caused by failures (typically an engine issue) that occur with enough time margin to insure the rocket hits far away from the pad.

So landing within a circle defined by the arms on the launch tower rather than paint on a pad is clearly doable. With thousands of landings, there is, of course, still the likelihood of a rare near miss happening at some point. Additional launch towers offer redundancy and the towers  can be toughened to minimize the cost of repair, which should be far less than the gains obtained from the greater mass reaching orbit with the elimination of landing legs.

Note also that when the rocket lands, the propellants are nearly gone so the vehicle will be at its lightest. This will reduce the stress on the grid fins and their joints.

More at

**** Some comments from Elon Musk on Starship/Super Heavy test plans:

**** Status of the preparation of various vehicles as of January 9th is nicely displayed in this terrific graphic:

**** SpaceX releases video of SN8 highlights: Starship | SN8 | High-Altitude Flight Recap – SpaceX –

On December 9, 2020, Starship serial number 8 (SN8) completed a high-altitude flight test as it successfully ascended, transitioned propellant, and demonstrated a first-of-its-kind controlled aerodynamic descent and landing flip maneuver – which will enable landing where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist, including the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

**** Starship SN8 Flight: The Mini Documentary  – Cosmic Perspective – A very nicely done mini-doc about the SN8 flight and the people on-site observing it.

On December 9, SpaceX successfully launched Starship SN8 on its first-ever high-altitude test flight to 12.5 km (41,000 ft). We and the crowds at South Padre Island lost our minds. We also made lots of new friends, especially Gene and Rachel of, long-time Starship documenters, and wonderful passionate humans we very much look up to. On launch day, as part of the @Everyday Astronaut livestream team, we used a joystick-controlled telescope and a series of high-speed cameras (including one of the most epic anamorphic shots ever) to record the moment of liftoff and track the rocket through its unbelievable belly-flop maneuver and landing attempt. So grateful to Tim, Gene and Rachel for an amazing adventure witnessing, documenting, and sharing this historic event. Everything has changed.

**** Extracting propellants and other resources from Mars for Starship missions is described by Marcus House.

Weeks ago Elon Musk said “Rapid & complete rocket reuse, low-cost propellant, orbital refilling & propellant production at destination are the four essential elements of making life multi-planetary”. Today we are diving deep into how In Situ Resource Utilisation plays a vital role as humankind ventures out from our homeworld. Why is it so critical for SpaceX’s plans to have humans settle permanently on Mars? What resources can be used in the meantime on the surface of the moon? Let’s find out.

**** Jan.2SpaceX Boca Chica Flyover, Starship SN9 Awaits Static FireRGV Aerial Photography

****  Jan. 6: SN8 & SN9 Static Fire Comparison With Slo-Mo ReplayLabPadre – YouTube

This video edit shows a comparison at SpaceX Boca Chica, Texas of Starship SN8 and SN9 static fires. You can see the similarities and differences in the Slo-Mo replay. SN8 #1 and SN9 #1 both detanked almost immediately after ignition indication a possible problem. SN8 #2 and #3 both seemed like good fires but #2 did have a significant amount of ejecta. Audio is from SN9 static fire.

****Jan. 6-8: SpaceX SN9 Starship Boca Chica 2021 January 6, 7, 8 Prep for Static Fire [4K]StarshipBocaChica/Maria Pointer – YouTube

Maria documents the first efforts of the New Year to get SN9 in the air. Join her for the sights and sounds of the Production Shipyard and SN9 on Sub-Orbital Launch Pad B.

**** Jan.8: SpaceX Boca Chica: Raptor Engine SN45 Delivered – Starship SN15 Gets Thermal Protection TilesNASASpaceflight – YouTube

Work continues to prep SN9 for flight above Boca Chica. Meanwhile, a new Raptor engine is delivered and SN15 gets thermal protection tiles in preparation for stacking. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Theo Ripper (@TheoRipper)

**** Jan.9: SpaceX Boca Chica: Fresh Propellant Arrives Before SN9’s Next Static Fire AttemptNASASpaceflight – YouTube

After an aborted static fire attempt, SpaceX replenishes the tank farm with a fresh delivery of propellant for SN9. Meanwhile, SN10 work continues and the new upgraded Starship, SN15, begins to take shape. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Nicholas Gautschi (@NGautschi)

*** Other reports:

**** Jan.9 SpaceX Starship next flight to 41,000ft (12.5km) – Bellyflop #2 Marcus House

Well, here we are in the final leadup to the SpaceX Starship next flight to 41,000ft (12.5km). This will be Bellyflop #2 with what we hope will be a successful landing this time around. The dizzying speed of SN9’s preparations for its test flight continued this week, as did the amazing build progress with various sections of several Starship versions spotted. It’s also almost time for the first Cargo Dragon version 2 (CRS-21) to come home after the fully autonomous capsule docked with the International Space Station on December 7 last year. We had the first Falcon 9 launch of 2021 with the Turksat 5A mission, and we also take a look back at the Mars Spirit and Opportunity Rovers that landed on the red planet seventeen years ago. An amazing mission to look back on as we await the arrival of Perseverance in just a few weeks now.

** Dec.27: SpaceX MMXX (2020) Tribute – One Step Ahead – What about it!?

SpaceX has been a light beacon to all of us in 2020. Leading the space industry by achieving milestone after milestone. With Crew Dragon and the Starship Prototype program they have inspired millions of humans across the globe. Here’s to SpaceX and our future as a multi planetary species.

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