A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):
** SpaceX SN10 became the first Starship prototype to make a successful vertical landing on March 2nd. Unfortunately, a propellant leak of some sort led to a destructive explosion several minutes after the landing. Here’s the SpaceX webcast, which ended before the explosion. Here is the SpaceX webcast video:
An earlier attempt to lift off in the mid-afternoon was aborted just as the engines fired. Elon Musk said on Twitter, “Launch abort on slightly conservative high thrust limit. Increasing thrust limit & recycling propellant for another flight attempt today.” About three hours later the vehicle lifted off. The ascent to 10 kilometers, the sequential shutdown of the engines as the rocket reached apogee, the flip to the horizontal “belly-flop” orientation, and the aerodynamic control of the vehicle during the descent, all appeared to go quite well.
The technique of bringing all three engines back to life at the start of the flip from horizontal to vertical also appeared to work well. This differed from the previous two landings where two engines were fired up for landing. However, for the SN9 flight, one of the two engines failed during startup and this led to the explosive landing. Elon Musk subsequently (see transcript below) said they would start up all three engines to insure that at least two would operate for the landing. This worked for SN10. After the vehicle was vertical and stable, two of the three engines were shut off and the vehicle descended in a controlled hover via one engine.
Note that the Starship hovering capability differs from the Falcon 9 booster. The F9 booster’s Merlin engine cannot throttle down sufficiently to hover. If the engine did not shut down at the instant the vehicle touches the landing pad, the booster would accelerate back up. The greater power, efficiency, and deep throttling capabilities of the Raptor engines allow for hovering the Starship. This will also be true for the Super Heavy booster. (That’s one reason SpaceX believes they can bring a Super Heavy directly into a catch mechanism on the launch stand. Hovering allows for much greater precision and gentler handling during the landing.)
The SN10 vehicle leaned somewhat after the landing. In closeup videos of the vehicle as it was descending, three of the legs can be seen dangling after deployment rather than in a latched position as intended. The vehicle then rested on the metal skirt surrounding the engines on the side where it should have been supported by legs.
During the final vertical descent, one can also see flames along one side after the two engines stopped firing. After the engines were shut off, there was a fire along one edge along the ground near the same section. Perhaps a methane valve was stuck open or propellant line burst. A robotic water cannon soon began spraying the flames but after a few minutes stopped for some reason and before long the the explosion occurred.
The loss of the vehicle was disappointing but ultimately will be of little significance. These early prototype flights are providing important data on previously untried systems and maneuvers, especially the Raptor engines, the belly-flop descent and the flip to vertical maneuver. Perhaps this vehicle would have flown once more if the landing had gone perfectly but regardless it eventually would have been dismantled and sent to the recycling bin. It was never intended for space.
Everyday Astronaut provides hi-res video of the flight and explosion: Starship SN10 [4k, Clean Audio & Slow Mo Supercut]
Scott Manley’s analysis: SpaceX’s Starship SN10 Successfully Lands After Amazing Flight. Dismantles Itself Spectacularly
Some articles and commentary:
- Starship goes up. Starship goes down. But is the program moving forward? | Ars Technica
- SpaceX nails Starship landing, but rocket explodes minutes later – Spaceflight Now
- Rocket Lab reveals reusable, medium-lift Neutron rocket – NASASpaceFlight.com
- SpaceX launches and lands Starship prototype, which later explodes – SpaceNews
Find more news and videos on the Starship program and other SpaceX activities below…
** Rocket Lab going public through a SPAC arrangement that will bring in sufficient capital to fund development of the medium-lift Neutron launch system. The SPAC deal gives a value of about $4.1B for Rocket Lab and will produce about $750M in cash.
- Rocket Lab going public via SPAC with Neutron rocket expansion – CNBC
- Rocket Lab CEO: SPAC deal a ‘supercharger’ for growth – CNBC
- Rocket Lab says SPAC deal will accelerate development of Neutron rocket – SpaceNews
- Rocket Lab to go public through SPAC merger and develop medium-lift rocket – SpaceNews
- Rocket Lab unveils bigger rocket and plans to go public via SPAC – The Verge
- Rocket Lab Reaches Deal to Merge With Vector SPAC – WSJ
The Neutron represents a change in strategy for Rocket Lab and founder Peter Beck, who had previously stated the company had no interest in developing a rocket larger than their operational Electron smallsat launcher. The Neutron will enable the company to put large batches of smallsats into orbit as SpaceX does with the Falcon 9 for Starlink and Rideshare missions. Rocket Lab Unveils Plans for New 8-Ton Class Reusable Rocket for Mega-Constellation Deployment | Rocket Lab
Some features of the Neutron project:
- First flight in 2024
- $200M est. for development
- 8000 kg into low earth orbit,
- 2000 kg to the Moon
- 1500 kg to Mars or Venus
- Reusable first stage via powered landing at sea
- Propellants: LOX and Kerosene
- Two stages
- 40 meters tall
- 4.5 meter fairing diameter
- Initial launch site will be Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island, Virginia. (An Electron launch pad facility is nearly operational there.)
- A factory to manufacturing the rocket will be placed near the launch site.
- Engine development will be the biggest hurdle.
- Human spaceflight capable eventually
** Feb.28: Russia launches first Arktika weather satellite on Soyuz 2-1b rocket: Russia’s Soyuz-2-1b launches Arktika-M No.1 weather satellite – NASASpaceFlight.com
The Arktika (Арктика, meaning “Arctic“) satellites will carry out a variety of missions to compliment other satellite constellations with additional coverage of Russia’s most northern regions. The Arktika-M component of this program focuses on meteorology, with its satellites carrying multi-spectral imaging payloads to help gather data for forecasting. These spacecraft are also equipped with a communications payload to relay data from remote surface-based weather stations and emergency signals.
Each Arktika-M satellite has a mass of about 2,100 kilograms (4,600 lb) and is designed to operate for ten years. Constructed by NPO Lavochkin, the Arktika-M spacecraft are based on the company’s Navigator platform. The spacecraft are three-axis stabilized and carry a pair of deployable solar arrays to generate power.
Original plans called for a pair of Arktika-M spacecraft to be launched, however Russia now plans to deploy at least five over the next four years. A follow-on Arktika-MP series is expected to begin launching in 2026.
** Feb 27: Indian PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) carries Brazil’s Amazônia-1 remote sensing satellite and 18 secondary smallsats into sun-synchronous orbit: India, Brazil launch Amazônia-1 on PSLV rocket – NASASpaceFlight.com
The Indian Space Research Organization has launched their first mission of 2021 with a flight of their Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) to deliver Brazil’s Amazônia-1 satellite, along with 18 co-passengers, into Sun-synchronous orbit.
Liftoff from First Launch Pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, India, occurred Sunday, 28 February at 10:24 IST at the launch site — which is 04:54 UTC, or Saturday, 27 February at 23:54 EST.
Amazônia-1 is the first Earth observation satellite designed, built, tested, and operated completely by Brazil and is the first of three such satellites planned by the National Institute of Space Research (INPE), a Brazil’s space research and exploration company.
- Indian rocket launches Brazilian satellite to track Amazon deforestation – Spaceflight Now
- ISRO’s PSLV-C51 launch explained – Indian Express
- ISRO chief K Sivan confirms 14 missions, including Gaganyaan, ‘lined up’ in 2021 – Republic World
** Feb.25: Blue Origin says first New Glenn launch now targeted for late 2022. This is something of a surprise since first launch had generally been assumed would happen in late this year or early 2022. New Glenn’s Progress Towards Maiden Flight – Blue Origin
As major progress is being made on the New Glenn launch vehicle and its Cape Canaveral facilities, the schedule has been refined to match the demand of Blue Origin’s commercial customers. The current target for New Glenn’s maiden flight is Q4 2022. The Blue Origin team has been in contact with all of our customers to ensure this baseline meets their launch needs.
This updated maiden flight target follows the recent Space Force decision to not select New Glenn for the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 Launch Services Procurement (LSP).
New Glenn is proceeding to fulfill its current commercial contracts, pursue a large and growing commercial market, and enter into new civil space launch contracts. We hope to launch NSSL payloads in the future, and remain committed to serving the U.S. national defense mission.
Recent milestones include completion of a New Glenn first stage mockup simulator, completion of a structural test facility, and hardware milestones for tanks, stage modules, and composite fairings.
In addition to program progress, more than 600 jobs have been created in the region. Blue Origin has invested more than $2.5 billion in facilities and infrastructure at all sites, including $1 billion invested in the rebuild of historic LC-36, which is nearing completion.
Blue also posted three videos about the status of the New Glenn facilities in development on Cape Canaveral:
- Blue Origin’s massive New Glenn rocket is delayed for years. What went wrong? | Ars Technica
- What is wrong at Blue Origin? – Behind the Black
- Bezos’ Blue Origin delays first launch of New Glenn rocket to Q4 2022 – CNBC
- Blue Origin delays first launch of New Glenn to late 2022 – SpaceNews
** Blue Origin displays full-scale mock-up of lunar lander descent element, which is in development by the Blue-led National Team. aiming to win the NASA Artemis lunar program contract for the lunar landing system: Blue Origin shows off a test version of its cargo lunar lander – GeekWire
The company intends to have a cargo-only version of the descent element lander ready to take on a demonstration mission to the moon one year in advance of the first crewed landing for NASA’s Artemis program.
“That provides an enormous amount of risk reduction,” Blue Origin chief scientist Steve Sqyures — a veteran of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover missions — explained in the video. “We get to practice. … We can pre-position material, and it can be whatever you want it to be. We can begin to build up Artemis Base Camp.”
Sqyures said the cargo lander will have a crane system to offload a rover and other payloads. NASA’s Langley Research Center has already provided a crane for the pathfinder tests, and Sqyures said Honeybee Robotics is developing a payload-lowering davit system.
Here is a brief video update: Lunar Descent Element Demo Mission – Blue Origin
At our Huntsville, Alabama factory, we built a full-scale pathfinder of our Descent Element lander in preparation for our demonstration mission. This mission will happen a year before landing crew on the Moon. By proving out our technology and pre-positioning equipment, it will start America’s sustainable return to the Moon. To learn more about the Blue Origin-led HLS National Team, visit: www.blueorigin.com/blue-moon/national-team
** Jeff Bezos expected to spend more time with Blue Origin after stepping down as CEO of Amazon. In addition to the lunar lander development mentioned above, Blue needs to begin crewed suborbital New Shepard rocket flights and, as mentioned above, get the New Glenn heavy lifter into operation.
- Foust Forward | Will Jeff Bezos kick-start Blue Origin? Does he need to? – SpaceNews
- Jeff Bezos’s next act: Getting Blue Origin, his space company, off the ground – The Washington Post
- Blue Origin could definitely use more Jeff Bezos in the next decade – MIT Technology Review
- Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin role hints at how Amazon role may change – GeekWire.com
- Jeff Bezos on why Blue Origin is his most important work – FastCompany.com
** Feb.20: Northrop Grumman launched Cygnus cargo vessel to ISS on Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Liftoff for the NG CRS-15 mission took place on Saturday, Feb.20st. The vessel, carrying over 3600 kilograms (~8,000 pounds) of research, crew supplies, and hardware, berthed to the station on Monday, Feb.22nd. Cygnus Resupply Ship Bolted to Station’s Unity Module – Space Station/NASA
The Cygnus brought a number of smallsats for deployment from orbit: Northrop Grumman Set to Launch 15th Cargo Delivery Mission to the International Space Station – Northrop Grumman
The “S.S. Katherine Johnson” will remain attached to the space station for approximately three months before departing with up to 8,200 pounds (approximately 3,720 kilograms) of disposal cargo.
During the NG-15 mission, Cygnus will once again act as a science platform in low Earth orbit for a variety of customers. After departing from the station, the spacecraft will deploy a number of CubeSats via a Slingshot deployer and a Nanoracks deployer, including Dhabisat, the second CubeSat developed by Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Dhabisat was developed as part of Khalifa’s Space Systems and Technology Concentration, a joint program established in 2015 in collaboration with UAE-based satellite operator Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat) and Northrop Grumman.
For this mission, Antares is also carrying 30 secondary payloads called ThinSats. The ThinSats program is a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outreach program sponsored by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority for grades 4-12. These satellites were built by students from 70 schools located in 9 states (Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia).
- Northrop Grumman launches S.S. Katherine Johnson to Station – NASASpaceFlight.com
- Crew Gearing Up for Cygnus Capture and Cargo Operations – Space Station/NASA
- Several Technology Development Payloads Sponsored by the ISS National Lab Launching on Northrop Grumman CRS-15 – ISS Nat. Lab
- NASA Offers Public a NG CRS-15 Virtual Stamp Following Launch – Northrop Grumman/NASA
** Feb.14: Russia launches Progress cargo vehicle to the ISS on a Soyuz 2.1A rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan: Russia launches cargo ship heading for International Space Station – Spaceflight Now
The automated cargo carrier separated from the Soyuz third stage and unfurled solar panels and navigation antennas, beginning a two-day pursuit of the space station that will culminate in a docking with the space station’s Pirs module at 1:20 a.m. EST (0620 GMT) Wednesday.
The Progress MS-16 spacecraft is loaded with around 5,424 pounds, or 2,460 kilograms, of cargo and supplies for the space station and its seven-person crew, according to Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.
The freighter’s payload includes about 3,086 pounds (1,400 kilograms) of dry cargo packed inside the Progress spacecraft’s pressurized compartment. There’s also 1,322 pounds (600 kilograms) of propellant to be fed into the space station’s Zvezda service module propulsion system, along with 926 pounds (420 kilograms) of fresh water and 89 pounds (40.5 kilograms) of pressurized gases to supplement the space station’s breathable atmosphere.
- Russian Progress cargo ship launched into orbit to deliver cover plates to seal lSS leak – TASS
- Roscosmos launches Progress MS-16 resupply ship on 2 day flight to Station – NASASpaceFlight.com
On Feb. 17th, the Progress docked to the ISS. The craft’s automatic docking control system malfunctioned during the approach and cosmonaut Sergey Ryzhikov took over via a remote control panel inside the station and brought the vehicle in for the attachment to the Pirs module. Progress freighter docks with space station to help discard Russian module – Spaceflight Now
A Progress supply ship completed a two-day trip to the International Space Station early Wednesday, successfully guided in by cosmonaut Sergey Ryzhikov using a remote control console inside the station after an automated rendezvous system ran into trouble moments before docking.
The Progress MS-16 cargo freighter linked up with the Pirs docking compartment at 1:26 a.m. EST (0626 GMT) Wednesday) to deliver cargo before detaching with the module later this year to clear the way for the arrival of a new Russian research lab.
Ryzhikov, commander of the station’s seven-person Expedition 64 crew, was monitoring the spacecraft’s final approach, ready to take over a manual flight control system in case of a problem with the Progress freighter’s Kurs radar-guided automated rendezvous system. The Kurs system failed as the supply ship moved less than 70 feet, or 20 meters, from the space station, prompting the veteran cosmonaut to activate the TORU manual flight control system inside the complex.
Using controls inside the Zvezda service module, Ryzhikov guided the Progress MS-16 spacecraft to docking with Pirs, wrapping up the cargo ship’s trip to the space station after a launch late Sunday (U.S. time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on top of a Soyuz-2.1a rocket.
** Feb.24: Chinese Long March 4C rocket launches three Yaogan-31 military reconnaissance satellites into low earth orbit.
- Long March 4C launches latest batch of Yaogan- 31 satellites – NASASpaceFlight.com
- Another trio of Chinese military satellites successfully deployed – Spaceflight Now
- China launches new satellites to survey electromagnetic environment – ecns.cn
** Feb.4: Chinese Long March 3B launches secretive Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing (TJSW) satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center: Chinese Long March 3B launches Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing (TJSW) – NASASpaceFlight.com
China launched another secretive Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing (TJSW) satellite on 4 February. The launch took place at 15:36 UTC using the Chang Zheng-3B/G2 (known as the Long March 3B/G2 outside of China) launch vehicle from launch site LC3 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.
Originally, it was reported the launch would orbit a satellite on the Tianhui series and carrying a Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR, antenna to geosynchronous orbit. But a few hours before the launch, reports changed to indicate that the cargo onboard would be another experimental communications system on the TJSW series.
Official Chinese media outlets report the satellite will mainly be “used for satellite communications, radio and television, data transmission and other services, and carry out related technical test verification.”
** Feb.3: Russia launches Soyuz 2.1B with Lotos reconnaissance satellite. The launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, located north of Moscow, was the first of the year for Russia.
- Russia launches classified payload to start 2021 campaign – NASASpaceFlight.com
- Russia’s Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket orbits military satellite — Defense ministry – TASS
** Virgin Galactic delays next SpaceShipTwo flight till May: Virgin Galactic SPCE earnings Q4 2020 – CNBC
- Virgin Galactic was targeting as early as Feb. 13 for the spaceflight test, which represents a repeat of its flight attempt in December that was cut short by an engine anomaly, but delayed it to May due to further corrective work needed.
- The space tourism company reported an adjusted EBITDA loss of $59.5 million, down slightly from a loss of $66 million in the previous quarter.
- Virgin Galactic also said it will roll out the next spacecraft in its fleet, and the first of the SpaceShip III generation, on March 30.
Electromagnetic interference(EMI) affecting the flight computer was cited as the cause of an abort on a SS2 flight attempt in : Virgin Galactic further delays SpaceShipTwo test flights – SpaceNews
Mike Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, said a new flight control computer system is the likely source of increased levels of EMI. The company took steps to shield components from that interference to avoid a similar reboot and prepared to make a powered test flight as soon as Feb. 13. But in the final days of preparations, technicians noted continued EMI issues with vehicle systems.
“We saw some of our sensor readings — pressures and temperatures, those kinds of things — show some unusual fluctuations, which let us know EMI was still present and maybe in systems we didn’t initially anticipate,” he said. Now, the company is pursuing a modification to the flight control computer that is the source of the EMI.
That modification will be tested in the coming weeks both in the lab and on the vehicle itself before resuming flight tests. The company now expects that powered test flight to take place in May.
If the May flight goes well, it will be followed during the summer by a flight with company employees filling the cabin seats. Then VG founder Richard Branson will fly. In the fall the SS2 has been reserved by the Italian Air Force to carry Italian payload specialists who will do engineering tests and scientific experiments during the microgravity portion of the flight.
** After working as a Virgin Galactic executive since 2010, George Whitesides leaves management, though he will continue to serve on an advisory panel: Whitesides steps down from Virgin Galactic – SpaceNews
The longtime chief executive of Virgin Galactic, who moved into a new position at the company last year, has left the company but will continue to be an adviser to it.
Whitesides is leaving the position of Virgin Galactic’s chief space officer to pursue unspecified opportunities in public service, the company announced. The publicly traded company did not make a formal announcement because Whitesides was not considered an officer of the company.
In an email, Whitesides confirmed he was leaving Virgin Galactic but noted he would remain chair of its new Space Advisory Board. That board, which the company announced the formation of Feb. 9, includes former astronauts Chris Hadfield and Sandy Magnus as well as David Whelan, the chief scientist of Cubic Corporation who previously worked at Boeing and DARPA.
Another VG management development:
- Chamath Palihapitiya sells Virgin Galactic SPCE stake – CNBC
- Virgin Galactic Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya sells off remaining personal stake in the space company | TechCrunch
- Investor Chamath Palihapitiya cashed out his entire personal stake in Virgin Galactic for $211 million | Markets Insider
** Serious structural flaw discovered following second flight to space of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity in 2019 according to a new book by Nicholas Schmidle, who was given insider access to the company for four years: New book reveals flaw in Virgin Galactic spacecraft test – The Washington Post
… when the ground crew wheeled the suborbital spacecraft back into the hangar, company officials discovered that a seal running along a stabilizer on the wing designed to keep the space plane flying straight had come undone — a potentially serious safety hazard.
“The structural integrity of the entire stabilizer was compromised,” Todd Ericson, a test pilot who also served as a vice president for safety and test, said, according to a soon-to-be-published book. “I don’t know how we didn’t lose the vehicle and kill three people.”
This previously unreported account of the flight in February 2019 is contained in “Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut” by New Yorker magazine journalist Nicholas Schmidle, who spent almost four years embedded with the company.
The company says it has corrected the design of the stabilizer and reformed the inspection and safety processes that allowed the vehicle to fly with such a flaw.
** ABL Space Systems aims for first launch this spring. The RS1 rocket will lift off from Vandenberg AFB in California with two L2 Aerospace smallsats: ABL Space Systems signs customer for first launch – SpaceNews
Lockheed Martin, which has invested in ABL, reserves an ABL launch from the UK for 2022:
- Rocket start-up ABL Space launching from Scotland for Lockheed Martin – CNBC
- Lockheed Martin selects ABL Space Systems for UK launch – SpaceNews
- Shetland’s plans to host UK’s first vertical satellite launch achieve ‘significant milestone’ | The Shetland Times Ltd
** Relativity Space reveals plans for fully reusable Terran R launch system: Relativity’s reusable Terran rocket competitor to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 – CNBC
The Terran R would put over 20k kilograms into low earth orbit, making it comparable to the SpaceX Falcon 9. Their first rocket, the Terran 1, will put 1,250 kgs into LEO.
The F9 reuses only the first stage booster. Elon Musk once hoped to recover and reuse the upper stage but decided that the reduction in payload mass to orbit was too large to justify reusability. So F9 design enhancements essentially ended with the Block 5 model and the company began development of the full reusable Starship/Super Heavy launch system. The Starship’s very large scale provides margins that enable acceptable losses in payload with reusability. As a rocket’s size increases, many systems, such as avionics, landing legs, and thermal protection, grow in mass more slowly than the growth in payload. For reusability, the larger the better.
Relativity Space is best known for its use of large 3D printing system to make most all of the structures and components of their rockets. The company claims that this additive manufacturing is what will allow them to build a reusable upper stage with an acceptable payload size for a mid-range launcher.
He highlighted SpaceX’s work on reusability as informing Relativity’s approach to Terran R, which he expects will be “fully reusable.” SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets are partially reusable, in that the company lands the first stage (also known as the booster) and often recovers the rocket’s nosecone. But SpaceX does not recover Falcon 9′s second stages – a feat Relativity aims to pull off by 3D printing designs which “wouldn’t be possible with traditional manufacturing,” Ellis said.
“We will be able to print far more exotic and traditionally difficult-to-manufacture materials that make both first- and second-stage reusability much better,” Ellis said.
Here are a couple of recent items from Relativity showing progress towards the first launch of a non-reusable Terran 1 later this year:
Check out this timelapse of our stage 2 flight print of Terran 1! Relativity’s unique additive technology allows us to print in one integral piece, including all 3 domes. #RelativitySpace #3DPrinting #Innovation pic.twitter.com/dcm9K6nJhv
— Relativity Space (@relativityspace) February 17, 2021
We’ve officially completed and buckle-tested the Stage 1 Iron Bird tank demonstrator model! Check out these shots of the tank moving outdoors, going fully vertically and being installed into our LA1 Structures Test Stand.💥#RelativitySpace #3DPrinting #Innovation pic.twitter.com/gP35dmeOej
— Relativity Space (@relativityspace) February 24, 2021
** Natalya Bailey: Rocket Engines and Electric Spacecraft Propulsion – Lex Fridman Podcast #157
Natalya Bailey is a rocket propulsion engineer from MIT and now CTO of Accion Systems.
** Potential of a suborbital rocket plume to divert a hunk of space debris from a collision is the subject of a study funded by the French space agency CNES: SpaceBlower: a rocket to combat space debris – CNES
SpaceBlower is a light suborbital rocket designed to eject a cloud of particles into the path of large non-manoeuvrable space debris. Its goal is to avoid collisions likely to generate thousands more debris fragments and thus to keep satellites and their orbits safe. Space Blower is a preliminary project initiated and funded by CNES and its partner Bertin Technologies (now CT France). Christophe Bonnal, senior expert at CNES’s Launch Vehicles Directorate, outlines what this project is aiming to accomplish.
** How NASA’s Apollo 14 Fixed A Critical Problem Using ‘Keyhole Rocket Surgery’ – Scott Manley
Fuel sloshing around in the tanks of the Apollo landers caused all sorts of problems, including early activations of the low propellent signal on Apollo 11 and 12. For Apollo 14 an upgrade to the fuel tank was added to lessen the problems and make the flight smoother, but this had to be installed through a tiny 6cm hole in the bottom of the already made tank.
- Tricky Terrain: Helping to Assure a Safe Rover Landing – NASA – Masten Space’s Xombie VTVL reusable rocket was used to demonstrate the lander vision system for the Perseverance Mars rover. The system provides terrain-relative navigation and fuel-optimal large divert guidance (G-FOLD) capabilities that allowed the rover to find a safe flat spot on which to set down.
- Private companies like SpaceX are driving industry costs down: CEO – CNBC
- Waiting is the hardest part – The Space Review – Delays for flights of the SLS, Blue Origin’s New Glenn, and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.
- Launch brokers:
- Small payload launchers:
- Op-ed | Don’t call it a bubble, more investment in space launch is a good thing – SpaceNews
- Direct From SmallSat Symposium: Responsive Launch Services Session – SatNews
- Industry still sees strong demand for smallsat launch services – SpaceNews
- Rough Landing Expected for the Glut of New Small-Rocket Makers – WSJ
- Hanwha Aerospace bets big on space business – SpaceNews
- NASA Awards Launch Service Contract for TROPICS Mission – NASA
- Astra awarded NASA launch contract for storm observation satellites | TechCrunch
- What to know about Astra, the rocket builder going public via a SPAC – CNBC
- Astra to go public through merger with SPAC – SpaceNews
- Astra To Become The First Publicly Traded Space Launch Company On NASDAQ Via Merger With Holicity | Astra
- Hello, Nasdaq: Astra Is Going Public | Astra
- How a telecom pioneer hitched up with Astra rocket venture – Geekwire.com
- PSLV – India
- Rocket Factory Ausburg (RFA)
- Rocket Lab:
- Next mission: “They Go Up So Fast” – set for Mid-March
- Rocket Lab’s Next Mission to Launch 100th Satellite and Deploy Next-Generation Photon Spacecraft in Preparation for Moon Mission | Rocket Lab
- Stoke Space:
- Stoke Space raises $9.1M for a new breed of reusable upper stages – Geekwire.com
- Stoke raises seed round to work on fully reusable rockets – SpaceNews
- SBIR Phase I: Integrated propulsion solution to enable reusable upper stages of space vehicles | SBIR.gov
- Advanced rocket nozzle for planetary landers and reusable space vehicles – NASA SBIR
- Virgin Orbit:
- Sierra Nevada:
- Commercial crew:
- Busy ISS Schedule, Texas Weather Impact Crew-2, OFT-2 Launch Dates – SpacePolicyOnline.com
- NASA Weighs Options for Additional Crew Flights to Space Station – NASA
- Boeing Starliner:
- NASA and Boeing Evaluating Launch Date for Orbital Flight Test-2 – Commercial Crew Program/NASA
- Boeing’s next Starliner test flight delayed after SpaceX crew rotation – Spaceflight Now – “An unpiloted test flight of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule to the International Space Station will be delayed from its previous target launch date of April 2 until at least May, after the arrivals of Russian Soyuz and SpaceX Crew Dragon ships bringing fresh crew members to the orbiting complex, NASA officials said Monday.“
- SpaceX Crew Dragon (see below in SpaceX section)
- Commercial Cargo:
- China assembling rocket to launch first space station module – SpaceNews
- China makes new breakthrough in heavy-lift carrier rocket engine – Xinhua
- China tests high-thrust rocket engine for upcoming space station missions – Xinhua
- China officially plans to move ahead with super-heavy Long March 9 rocket | Ars Technica
- China’s super-heavy-lift rocket awaits state approval, to serve in lunar manned mission around 2030: experts – Global Times
- China’s commercial rocket SD-3 to make maiden flight in 2022
- Private Chinese company launches smart suborbital rocket – Xinhua
- Space tugs:
- Momentus Space:
- Skyrora Space Tug:
- Propellant depots & orbital servicing:
- Transport technologies:
- NASA Awards Mars Ascent Propulsion System Contract for Sample Return | NASA
- Successful engine test brings Australian space launch capability a step closer – RMIT University – “The team’s rotating detonation engine, or RDE, is a major technical achievement and an Australian first.”
- Reaction Engines completes further validation of SABRE technology – Reaction Engines
- ISEC Newsletter – Feb.2021 – Int. Space Elevator Consortium
- Aggressive Nuclear Propulsion R&D Effort Needed To Send Humans to Mars in 2039 – SpacePolicyOnline.com
- Nuclear-Powered Rockets Could Be The Best Option For Bringing Humans To Mars : NPR
- Future interstellar rockets may use laser-induced annihilation reactions for relativistic drive – ScienceDirect
- Warp Drive: Scientists Say a Physical Warp Drive Is Now Possible – Popular Mechanics
- Large expendables:
- Vulcan rocket progresses towards first launch with pathfinder arrival – SpaceFlight Insider
- ULA delivers Vulcan test article to Cape Canaveral for ‘pathfinder’ operations – Spaceflight Now
- ULA’s Tory Bruno warns of ‘overheated’ space launch market – SpaceNews
- ULA’s CEO advocates old way of doing things – Behind the Black
- United Launch Alliance Modifies Launch Pad and Facilities in Advance of First Vulcan Centaur Launch This Year – ULA PR/Markets Insider
- Satellite propulsion:
- Plasmoid thruster:
- Greener way to get satellites moving – ESA
- Orbit Fab and Benchmark Space Systems to partner on in-space refueling technologies – SpaceNews
- Propelling satellites into the future – ESA
- Frontier Aerospace wins second propulsion contract from Astrobotic – SpaceNews
- Amateur/Student rocketry:
- Spaceport facilities:
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Virgin Orbit, Nanoracks, SN8 and China
Vol. 16, No. 1, January 30, 2021
Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism
It’s been another amazingly busy month for SpaceX since the last Roundup on February 1st. Activities were vibrant across the full range of the company’s many endeavors including multiple Falcon 9 launches, two Starship prototype flights, expansion of Starlink beta services, Boca Chica facility construction, and more
*** SpaceX located the cause of the failed booster landing on the L19 flight on Feb. 15th (see next item). One of the engines suffered a bleed-through of hot gasses that pierced a hole in a metal cover that had weakened over multiple flights. According to Spaceflight Now:
SpaceX has concluded fatigue on an engine cover caused one of the nine Merlin 1D first stage engines on the company’s most recent launch to shut down early during ascent, leading to the loss of the booster during an offshore landing attempt in the Atlantic Ocean, an official said Monday.
A hole developed in one of the covers on the Feb. 15 launch, allowing hot gas into one of the engines, according to Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight programs at SpaceX. Reed disclosed the findings in a press conference Monday previewing SpaceX’s next crew launch for NASA, currently scheduled to fly to the International Space Station in late April.
The early engine shutdown did not affect the Falcon 9 rocket’s primary mission, and the launcher’s upper stage continued into orbit and successfully deployed 60 Starlink internet satellites about an hour after the Feb. 15 liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. But the problem prevented the rocket from landing on SpaceX’s floating drone ship positioned around 400 miles (630 kilometers) northeast of Florida’s Space Coast.
- Component fatigue caused early shutdown of Merlin engine on last SpaceX launch – Spaceflight Now
- Engine shutdown led to failed Falcon 9 booster landing – SpaceNews
The reduction in launch costs by reusing the boosters is a key factor in the financial viability of the massive Starlink enterprise. Recovering boosters is now required since production of new boosters has been reduced considerably. Elon and others at SpaceX for a long time talked about 10 flights before a major refurbishment or retirement. The engine cover problem is not expected to limit reuse of the boosters and one will soon fly for a ninth time according to SpaceX’s Hans Koenigsmann. SpaceX has had a goal of at least 10 flights for a booster before major refurbishment but it appears a practice of limited on-going refurbishment and parts replacements should allow for more flights than 10. From Spaceflight Now:
That is not a hard limit, though, Koenigsmann said. “We’re learning a lot about refurbishment and we’re learning where the areas are where we need to pay attention to,” he said, such as the booster’s heat shield and engine components. “We’ve been learning with every single landing.”
He expected SpaceX to soon get a booster to the 10-flight mark, but suggested the company would not automatically retire it. “We will continue to look at that booster and make an assessment whether we can move forward with it,” he said, adding that, in his own opinion, the company would continue launching boosters after 10 flights, perhaps replacing some components that wear out.
“To me this is an engineering problem,” he concluded. “I don’t think the number 10 is a magic number.”
*** Feb.15: SpaceX Falcon 9 launched 60 Starlink satellites successfully but booster lost during landing attempt as mentioned above:
- SpaceX successfully launches Starlink v1.0 L19 mission, loses first stage during landing – NASASpaceFlight.com
- SpaceX launches Starlink satellites, but booster landing fails – SpaceNews
** March 4: SpaceX finally launches much-delayed Starlink v1.0 L17 mission. After nearly a dozen aborts and postponements since early February for a variety of technical and weather related reasons, the Falcon 9 put 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. The booster landed successfully on an uncrewed platform at sea. (Determining the cause of the failed landing for L19 also contributed to the delay. see above.) This was the booster’s eighth flight.
- SpaceX sticks 75th Falcon rocket landing after launching 60 more Starlink satellites – Spaceflight Now
- Falcon 9 launches Starlink satellites, lands booster – SpaceNews
*** SpaceX wins Falcon Heavy launch contracts including NASA’s lunar orbital station : NASA Awards Contract to Launch Initial Elements for Lunar Outpost | NASA
NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), the foundational elements of the Gateway. As the first long-term orbiting outpost around the Moon, the Gateway is critical to supporting sustainable astronauts missions under the agency’s Artemis program.
After integration on Earth, the PPE and HALO are targeted to launch together no earlier than May 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The total cost to NASA is approximately $331.8 million, including the launch service and other mission-related costs.
The launch of a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa is also very likely to be awarded to SpaceX following the removal of a requirement by Congress that it be launched by the SLS rocket.
*** Feb.4: Falcon 9 v1.0 F18: Launch and satellite deployment, plus booster landing all successful:
- SpaceX fires 60 Starlink internet satellites into orbit, with more set to launch Friday – Spaceflight Now
- SpaceX launches first of twin Starlink missions, 45th Space Wing’s busy year continues – NASASpaceFlight.com
*** A video profile of Tom Mueller, SpaceX’s first propulsion director: Meet SpaceX’s Engine Architect and Employee #1: Tom Mueller – I Need More Space
Tom Mueller was the first employee that Elon Musk hired at SpaceX, and he literally launched them into space with him at the helm of developing the Kestrel, Merlin, Draco, and at the beginning of the Raptor engines. Each of these engines were stepping stones for the growth of SpaceX and the eventual development of the Falcon 9 and Starship.
*** Falcon 9 stages travel by road when not traveling in space:
SPOTTED IN LAFAYETTE: Louisiana State Police confirms that a SpaceX stage 1 reusable rocket made a pit stop in Lafayette today at the Epic Family Entertainment Center at I-10 and Ambassador Caffery. pic.twitter.com/elBFLtkd1j
— KLFY NEWS 10 (@KLFY) January 26, 2021
**** See top of this post for a report on the SN10 flight, landing, and explosion.
**** Feb.2: Test flight of SN9 Starship prototype ended in a destructive landing following successful liftoff, a smooth ascent to 10km via the power of 3 Raptor engines, and a well-controlled belly-first descent controlled by the four side flaps. As before, the vehicle suffered a propulsion failure (though of a different nature) during the swing to vertical maneuver and this led to the crash and spectacular destruction of the vehicle. Here is a summary of the test from SpaceX.
On Tuesday, February 2, Starship serial number 9 (SN9) completed SpaceX’s second high-altitude flight test of a Starship prototype from our site in Cameron County, Texas.
Similar to the high-altitude flight test of Starship serial number 8 (SN8), SN9 was powered through ascent by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the vehicle reaching apogee – approximately 10 kilometers in altitude. SN9 successfully performed a propellant transition to the internal header tanks, which hold landing propellant, before reorienting itself for reentry and a controlled aerodynamic descent.
The Starship prototype descended under active aerodynamic control, accomplished by independent movement of two forward and two aft flaps on the vehicle. All four flaps are actuated by an onboard flight computer to control Starship’s attitude during flight and enable precise landing at the intended location. During the landing flip maneuver, one of the Raptor engines did not relight and caused SN9 to land at high speed and experience a RUD.
These test flights are all about improving our understanding and development of a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration, interplanetary flights and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond.
Here is the SpaceX webcast video from countdown through the landing:
The landing in hi-res slow motion from Cosmic Perspective:
A ground view of the flight plus aerial views of the landing area after the crash from RGV Aerial Photography
An early analysis of the flight by Scott Manley:
Articles on the test:
- Putting the latest Starship crash into perspective—it’s “stupidly difficult” | Ars Technica
- Starship SN9 loses a Raptor during flip. RUD comes as future Starships line up – NASASpaceFlight.com
- SpaceX Starship prototype lost in test flight landing mishap – Spaceflight Now
- SpaceX Starship SN9 explodes on landing after successful launch – CNBC
- FAA to oversee investigation into SpaceX Starship SN9 test flight explosion | Fox Business
**** Starship SN10 fired three engines for flip maneuver as mentioned in the top item here. After the SN9 landing failure, Elon Musk said in an exchange on Tweeter that to prevent a similar situation in the future, three engines would be fired. If all three successfully come up to full performance, one would be shut off since two are sufficient to make the vehicle swing to vertical and come down for a soft landing. Also, with three engines firing, each would have to be throttled down so much to avoid rising back up that one or more might flame out. Here are Musk’s comments:
- “Question: Why only light 2 engines for landing? Any engine failure means loss of vehicle, so you have two single points of failure. Why not light all 3, do the flip, then pick the best two and turn off the other?”
- “We were too dumb“
- “It was foolish of us not to start 3 engines & immediately shut down 1, as 2 are needed to land“
- “Wouldn’t it be safer to light 3, and throttle 3 for landing just in case there’s 1 engine failure?”
- “Yes, but engines have a min throttle point where there is flameout risk, so landing on 3 engines means high thrust/weight (further away from hover point), which is also risky“
- “So it will be determined which to cut off based on data available right after relight?”
- “Yeah. By default, engine with least lever arm would shut down if all 3 are good.“
- “Will these changes be able to be implemented into the SN10 test flight?”
- “Someday the leverage arm won’t matter as much when you go to hot gas thrusters though, right? Those will become a powerful source for the flip and the engines won’t be as necessary, right? Or will the engines always light to aid in the flip even with hot gas thrusters?”
- “Intuitively, it would seem so, but turbopump-fed Raptors have much higher thrust & propellant mass fraction than pressure-fed gas thrusters & they’re already there“
- “That said, the ship landing burn has a clear solution. My greatest concern is achieving good payload to orbit with rapid & full reusability, without which we shall forever be confined to Earth.“
**** Latest view of the status of prototype Starships and Super Heavy Boosters in construction:
The current status of SpaceX’s Starship & Superheavy prototypes. 5th March 2021 pic.twitter.com/eFr6ZkqVnV
— Brendan (@_brendan_lewis) March 5, 2021
And here is a summary of all the prototypes that have completed their missions in one way or another:
Decommissioned Starship SNx test tanks and prototypes. 6th March 2021 pic.twitter.com/j7g01o1WJV
— Brendan (@_brendan_lewis) March 6, 2021
**** A speculative simulation of what a crewed Starship interior might look like:
This is our take on what Starship might look like. Made in Blender. Follow us on twitter https://twitter.com/ds_courier Follow us on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/deepspaceco… Special thanks to Diuis for SpaceX suit model. Model was changed, rigged and animated by DeepSpaceCourier.
**** Yusaku Maezawa begins active recruiting of 8 co-travelers for trip around the Moon in a Starship. The “dearMoon” mission would be the first time civilian astronauts ventured beyond low earth orbit. The current goal is to lift off in 2023 and in the video below, Elon Musk expresses confidence that Starships will have flown to orbit many times by 2023. Many observers of the Starship program, though, believe it will be much later than 2023 before people start flying on the vehicles.
Applicants for the mission can register here.
- Japanese billionaire seeks eight people for free trip to the moon – CBS News
- Yusaku Maezawa opens up public seats on SpaceX Starship moon flight – CNBC
- Japanese billionaire Moon trip competition: Win SpaceX seat – Axios
- Japanese billionaire opens crew selection for SpaceX Starship dearMoon mission | collectSPACE
- Japanese billionaire is looking for eight people to join him for a Moon voyage on SpaceX rocket – The Verge
**** March 2: Starxhip SN10 Launches – Explodes in 6K video – LabPadre – YouTube
**** March 2: SN10 Launch, Land, Explode – SPadre – YouTube
**** March 3: SpaceX Starship Boca Chica 2021 002 23 Week in Review with SN10 – StarshipBocaChica/Maria Pointer – YouTube
Maria posts her clips from last week for posterity. The last static fire is included at the end. Watch the special blooper clip at the very beginning. With #SN10 and the beginning of the Starbase Texas Era!
***** March 4: SpaceX Boca Chica Flyover over Starship SN11. March 04, 2021 – RGV Aerial Photography
***** March 4: SpaceX Boca Chica: Starship SN10’s Wreckage Cleaned Up – NASASpaceflight – YouTube
Cleanup of Starship SN10’s wreckage begins as crews prepare to rollout SN11 to the launch site. Meanwhile the GSE-2 Aft LOX dome is sleeved at the production site. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal), Jack (@TheJackBeyer), & the NSF Robotic Camera Team. Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist).
***** March 5: SpaceX Boca Chica: Starship SN11 Rollout Preparations are in Place – NASASpaceflight – YouTube
With crane “Tankzilla” moved to the launch site and LN2 refilled at the tank farm, workers button up Starship SN11 for rollout to the pad. Meanwhile, a new Raptor engine shows up at the production site. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist)
** More Starship and SpaceX related video reports:
*** March 6: SpaceX Starship Update, DearMoon announcement, Rocket Lab Neutron and Starlink – Marcus House
There has been a ridiculous amount of information to cover this week. We have the typical SpaceX Starship Update, DearMoon announcement, Rocket Lab Neutron, & Starlink. Kicking off we start with Starship SN10 (of course). We won’t forget that, but we also had Peter Beck eating his hat at the same time as announcing Neutron. A super optimistic update from the DearMoon project aiming to send the first civilian lunar mission to fly out past the moon further than any human has traveled by 2023. And to top all of that off, a few interesting updates with Starlink.
** March.3: SpaceX Starship SN10 Ready For Launch! RocketLab Neutron Rocket Entering Human Spaceflight! – What about it!?
When will SpaceX’s Starship SN10 launch out of Boca Chica, what does it do differently and how high are its chances of a successful landing? How will RocketLab send humans to space with their new Neutron Rocket? Let’s find out!
*** March 6: NSF Live: Recap of Starship SN10’s flight test, Rocket Lab announces Neutron rocket, and more – NASASpaceflight – YouTube
NSF Live is NASASpaceflight.com’s weekly show covering the latest in spaceflight. It is broadcast live on Saturdays at 3 pm Eastern. On each show, we rotate through various hosts and special guests. On this week’s show, we will be answering your questions about the latest news in spaceflight. Episode #41 is hosted by John “Das” Galloway (Host and Producer at NASASpaceflight.com), Thomas Burghardt (Editor at NASASpaceflight.com), and special guest Marcus House (YouTuber).
*** More SpaceX news:
- Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX (Amazon ad commission link)
- Book excerpt | Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX – SpaceNews
- The 2008 moment when triumph turned to torment for SpaceX | Ars Technica
- How Elon Musk Convinced Gwynne Shotwell to Join SpaceX | WIRED
- SpaceX rocket engineers were left on island without food and mutinied – Business Insider
- Review: Liftoff – The Space Review
- Elon Musk Got 4,000 SpaceX Workers to Join a Covid-19 Study. Here’s What He Learned. – WSJ
- SpaceX VP Hans Koenigsmann to retire, Elon Musk’s fourth hire – CNBC
- OPINION: In spaceflight testing, what defines a failure? – SpaceFlight Insider
- Human spaceflight:
- Op-ed | Representing the private astronaut is a new step for human spaceflight — and for space lawyers – SpaceNews
- NASA Commercial Crew:
- Yusaku Maezawa’s DearMoon: See video below.
- FAA issues:
- Hiring issues:
- Dish tries to disrupt SpaceX’s Starlink plans as companies fight at FCC | Ars Technica
- Starlink FCC application reveal plans for satellite internet in moving vehicles – Teslarati
- SpaceX building Starlink manufacturing factory in Austin, Texas – CNBC
- Elon Musk’s SpaceX lands in Austin with new state-of-the-art manufacturing plant | Fox Business
- SpaceX hints at dedicated Starlink factory in Austin, TX – Teslarati
- Elon Musk-led SpaceX’s job ad shows plan for Starlink factory in Texas | Reuters
- Starlink user gets pleasant surprise as off-grid cabin at 10.7k-ft elevation gets high-speed internet – Teslarati
- Satellite Communications Quarterly Briefing – Quilty Analytics (pdf) – Includes extensive analysis of Starlink design, implementation, and financial viability
- Musk: Starlink will hit 300Mbps and expand to “most of Earth” this year | Ars Technica
- Starlink poised to double its speeds to ~300 Mbps by the end of the year – Teslarati
- SpaceX’s Starlink accepting $99 preorders as Musk considers IPO – CNBC
- SpaceX plans Starlink phone service, emergency backup, and low-income access | Ars Technica
- SpaceX: Starlink satellite internet service has over 10,000 users – CNBC
- SpaceX Starlink beta expands in Canada, slowly – SpaceQ
- SpaceX in talks for Philippines venture | Phnom Penh Post
- SpaceX Starlink in low-income nations – CIS 471
- Elon Musk’s SpaceX is accepting $99 Starlink deposits amid ‘deep chasm’ of red ink – The Verge
- SpaceX launches sixty more Starlink satellites; plus an installation report from one customer – Behind-The-Black
- SpaceX wins Air Force manufacturing research contract for hypersonic vehicle thermal shields – SpaceNews
- Strong interest for SpaceX smallsat rideshare launch services – SpaceNews
- NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for SPHEREx Astrophysics Mission | NASA
- SpaceX to launch NASA astrophysics mission – SpaceNews
- NASA Awards Contract to Launch Initial Elements for Lunar Outpost | NASA
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