Space transport roundup: Part 2 – Light orbital lift, Suborbital, News, etc. – Oct.27.2021

A sampling of articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport from late July till today (find previous roundups here). The roundup is split into three postings:

  • Part 1: Orbital launches
  • Part 2: Light orbital lift development, suborbital, space transport articles, news, videos, etc.
  • Part 3: SpaceX Falcon 9, Dragon, and Starship

** USA – Oct.13: Blue Origin flies William Shatner and three others to suborbital space. The second flight of a New Shepard vehicle with people on board went quite well. The crew included actor William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek series, Dr. Chris Boshuizen, a former NASA engineer and co-founder of Planet Labs, Glen de Vries, Vice-Chair, Life Sciences & Healthcare, Dassault Systèmes and co-founder, Medidata, and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s Vice President of Mission & Flight Operations.

Shatner was deeply affected by the experience as indicated by his emotion-laden comments just after emerging from the capsule. Check out this transcript: Speech of William Shatner after flying to space on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin capsule · GitHub. For example,

What you [Bezos] have done… everybody in the world needs to be in this [capsule]. Everybody in the world needs to see [in tears] … it was unbelievable, unbelievable.”

“William Shatner looks out of the New Shepard windows on NS-18.” Credits: Blue Origin

More about the flight:

**** USA – Aug.26: Blue Origin launches an uncrewed New Shepard to suborbital space. This was the seventeenth flight of a New Shepard vehicle, the fourth in 2021, and the eighth for this particular vehicle.

The vehicle carried

“… a NASA lunar landing technology demonstration a second time on the exterior of the booster, 18 commercial payloads inside the crew capsule, 11 of which are NASA-supported, and an art installation on the exterior of the capsule“.

**** Blue Origin developing reusable second stage for New Glenn heavy lift rocket.

Although Blue Origin has not publicly discussed this effort to build a reusable upper stage for the New Glenn rocket, sources said the company’s primary goal is to bring down the overall launch cost of the New Glenn rocket. The vehicle’s large upper stage, which has a 7-meter diameter and two BE-3U engines, is costly. Making New Glenn fully reusable is necessary for Blue Origin to compete with SpaceX’s Starship launch system.

The tank project is one aspect of the reusable upper stage program, and the other aspect is selecting and finalizing a design for the second stage. Both of these projects, operating within Blue Origin’s Advanced Development Programs unit, are making progress.

Project Jarvis encompasses the tank program, which is intended to rapidly prototype a propellant tank to withstand the rigors of multiple launches and re-entries. The company’s engineers are studying the use of stainless steel as a material for these tanks, as SpaceX has chosen to do with its Starship booster and upper stage. Stainless steel is cheaper and better able to withstand atmospheric heating during re-entry, but it’s about five times heavier than composites.

**** Video updates on New Glenn rocket and the BE-4 engine:

**** Other Blue news:

** Virgin Galactic postpones next SpaceShipTwo flight till mid-2022 to provide time for fixes and enhancements to the vehicles. Virgin Galactic Begins Planned Vehicle Enhancement and Modification Period; Unity 23 Test Flight Rescheduled to Follow Completion of This Program – Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic today announced that it will now begin its planned enhancement program for VMS Eve and VSS Unity and will conduct the Unity 23 test flight after this work is complete.

The enhancement program is designed to improve vehicle performance and flight-rate capability for VMS Eve and VSS Unity. In preparation for this work, Virgin Galactic has been performing routine tests and analyses to update its material properties database. This data predicts how materials are expected to perform under certain load and environmental conditions and is used to inform the design and manufacturing enhancements that will support increased flight frequency. One of these recent laboratory-based tests flagged a possible reduction in the strength margins of certain materials used to modify specific joints, and this requires further physical inspection.

As is standard in aerospace test and evaluation practices, Virgin Galactic ships are designed to withstand forces that are substantially higher than those experienced in regular use, providing additional margin and layers of safety. The enhancement program is designed to further increase margins that will enable improved reliability, durability and reduced maintenance requirements when in commercial service. While this new lab test data has had no impact on the vehicles, our test flight protocols have clearly defined strength margins, and further analysis will assess whether any additional work is required to keep them at or above established levels. Given the time required for this effort, the Company has determined the most efficient and expedient path to commercial service is to complete this work now in parallel with the planned enhancement program.

Following the enhancement period, the Company intends to complete the vehicle testing program for VMS Eve and VSS Unity, including the planned research test flight with the Italian Air Force, before starting commercial flights.

**** Virgin Galactic raises ticket prices to $450k for a ride to space. The first commercial flight is now delayed till the second half of 2022 due to a various upgrades for the two SS2 vehicles (“VSS Unity” and “VSS Imagine“) and the WhiteKnightTwo “VMS Eve” carrier aircraft. The modificiations will enable a higher flight rate for the rocketplanes (roughly one month turnaround between flights rather than two months). With the changes, Eve will need major refurbishment every 100 flights rather than every 10.


Virgin Galactic will also begin test flights in the second half of 2022 of VSS Imagine, its first SpaceShipIII vehicle that the company unveiled in March. Colglazier said that work on a second SpaceShipIII vehicle, VSS Inspire, is on hold to focus resources on VSS Imagine, VSS Unity and VMS Eve.

The company is betting its long-term sustainability on a future “Delta class” of suborbital spaceplanes, which would be air-launched from a next-generation aircraft that replaces WhiteKnightTwo. It expects those vehicles to fly more frequently and affordably that current vehicles, allowing the company to increase its flight rate and turn toward profitability.

“The key to our ramp up is really leaning heavily into the Delta class as well as getting motherships that will carry all those spaceships,” he said, declining to provide specifics on production plans and schedules for those vehicles. “Delta class and the new mothership program clearly are important new programs for us as a company and we’ll be aligning our energy towards them.”

Here is a new promotional video:

An extraordinary spaceship design fit for an out-of-this-world experience. Learn how Virgin Galactic’s flight technology is revolutionizing space travel.

*** Controversy arises over an anomaly during SpaceShipTwo Unity’s flight back from space in July when Richard Branson was on board.

**** A possible defect flagged by a a third-party supplier was investigated. The company said on Oct.14th that the issue has been resolved.:

… the Company’s recent inquiry into a potential defect in a supplier component announced on September 10, 2021, […] has been successfully resolved. While the supplied component in question was not on either VMS Eve or VSS Unity, in accordance with safety protocols, Virgin Galactic completed detailed inspections and scans which found all components met quality and safety standards and were ready for flight. The enhancement period is now beginning approximately one month later than anticipated, and commercial service is now expected to commence in Q4 2022.

See also:

** Relativity Space prepares for first launch of Terran 1 rocket. Lift off from Cape Canaveral now set for early 2022.

We’re excited to share that Terran 1 Stage 2 just passed cryo pressure proof and hydro mechanical buckling test on our structural test stand. Up next: Stage 1 structural testing!

Here at Relativity, we’re often focused on the future, but we’re taking a beat to recognize our team’s hard work getting to this critical pre-launch phase. In 12 months, we’ve finalized Terran 1’s architecture, developed a brand new engine, upgraded its material, and grew from 150-500+ employees, all while keeping everyone’s safety a top priority.

Terran 1’s demonstration launch is now set for early 2022 from Cape Canaveral LC-16. While we recognize the wins of today, we will continue working at a breakneck speed, and provide updates along the way—as we prepare to launch the world’s first entirely 3D printed rocket.

To stay up-to-date on the latest Terran 1 updates and exclusives, sign up for our newsletter here:

Another video update: September 2021: Progress at Cape Canaveral

Other Relativity Space items:

** Masten Space begins development of high altitude reusable Xogdor rocket vehicle. The goal for the vertical takeoff and vertical landing (VTVL) vehicle is to start flying by early 2023. The Xogdor will enable more elaborate tests of rocket vehicle landings on Mars and other celestial sites than with Masten’s current low altitude VTVL rockets. Masten Kicks Off Development of Xogdor, our Newest Rocket with Supersonic Speed – Masten Space

Higher altitudes & faster speeds: Xogdor will be our fastest rocket yet! It will test descent and landing technologies at high subsonic speeds up to 200 meters per second (447 miles per hour).

Based on customer needs, Xogdor will also be capable of supersonic speeds to fly to the edge of space on a suborbital trajectory. Why is this important? Supersonic speeds of approximately Mach 3.5 are required to cross the Karman Line (100 km above Earth’s mean sea level). By deploying these speeds on Xogdor, we can test payloads in upper atmosphere and near-space environments with reduced gravity.

Ultimately, the closer we can simulate the lunar and Martian environment, the more accurately we can reduce risks and enable mission success with our test flights.

More payload accommodations: Xogdor will have payload capacity of at least 200 kg with accommodations that include power, data storage, thermal control, and ground telemetry. Xogdor can also provide a fully pressurized or vacuum environment for payloads. Since Earth has a thicker atmosphere than the Moon and Mars, Xogdor will have a layer in the control system that minimizes the effects of the atmosphere, such as lift and drag, from the technologies being tested.

The vehicle will also enable studies of long range point-to-point travel:

With the ability to fly longer ranges, Xogdor also offers more flexibility when it comes to the launch and landing location. That means we don’t necessarily have to launch and land at our Mojave test site. For example, based on a customer needs, we could launch Xogdor at another test site, such as Spaceport America, and land back in Mojave or vice versa. This opens the door for point-to-point payload transportation.

A new video about the company’s many projects:

See also

** Dawn Aerospace begins test flights of of the Mk-11 Aurora Spaceplane. Aurora, which is just 4.8m long and has a 75kg dry weight, currently uses a jet engine rather than the rocket that will power the vehicle to 100 km in altitude. It will carry a payload of 4kg. Dawn Aerospace Mk-II Spaceplane Flight Testing Commences – Five Flights Complete — Dawn Aerospace

Dawn Aerospace, a New Zealand-Dutch space transportation company, has conducted five flights of the company’s Mk-II Aurora suborbital spaceplane. The flights were to assess the airframe and avionics of the vehicle, and were conducted using surrogate jet engines.

The campaign was run from Glentanner Aerodrome in New Zealand’s South Island. Taxi testing commenced in early July and five flights occurred between the 28th and 30th of July, reaching altitudes of 3,400 feet.

Dawn is creating reusable and sustainable space technologies – suborbital and orbital rocket-powered planes – that operate much like a fleet of aircraft, taking off and landing horizontally at airports.

Mk-II is a suborbital plane designed to fly 100 km above the Earth, and aims to be the first vehicle to access space multiple times per day. The vehicle serves as a technology demonstrator for the two-stage-to-orbit-vehicle, the Mk-III. Mk-II will also be used to capture atmospheric data used for weather and climate modelling, and to conduct scientific research and technology demonstrations.

See also Dawn Aerospace runs test flights from Glentanner near Aoraki/Mt Cook – NZ Herald.

** Rocket Factory Ausburg (RFA) pressure tests booster to destruction. The successful test of the steel structure marks an important milestone in the German company’s march towards a debut launch of the RFA One rocket in 2022 from Norway’s Andøya space port. The company recently announced progress with engine tests in Kiruna, Sweden. The booster will use nine full-scale staged combustion engines that burn kerosene and liquid oxygen. A second stage will use one of the same engines. An orbital third stage will place payloads into the desired orbit. The rocket will put up to 1600 kilograms into low earth orbit. The company says the first stage will be recovered and reused but has not given details on how this will be implemented.

More details of RFA rocket development: German startup Rocket Factory Augsburg successfully performs critical tests ahead of 2022 debut –

A video of the test:

You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs! With our burst test, we pushed the limits of our first stage and successfully tested several systems and processes. A new first stage is already being built. On we go!

** A June update on Skyrora small lift rocket developer in Scotland:

In this week’s episode we chat with Skyrora’s Business Operations Manager Derek Harris. We discuss how Skyrora have been doing through the UK lockdown, ESA Boost Initiative funding, updates on Skyrora’s 2021 test launch and other exclusive updates! Skyrora designs, manufactures and deploys rockets to clear the way for small satellite manufacturers looking to access Space. Headquartered in Edinburgh, and with facilities across Europe, Skyrora is developing launch vehicle technology to ensure that the life-changing benefits of space are realised here on earth.

** Light-lift rocket company Isar Aerospace of Germany gains payload contracts:

Here is an interview with the CCO of ISAR: The Space Cafe Podcast #036: Stella Guillen: CCO of ISAR Aerospace, Europe’s hottest stock in the launcher segment – SpaceWatch.Global

** ChinaDeep Blue Aerospace vertical-takeoff and landing (VTOL) rocket makes a short hop: Chinese space firm launches and lands small test rocket – SpaceNews

*** Deep Blue Aerospace flies vertical takeoff and landing rocket to 100 meters. Deep Blue Aerospace conducts 100-meter VTVL rocket test – SpaceNews

See also this earlier report: Chinese space firm launches and lands small test rocket – SpaceNews

** Gravitilab Aerospace offers low cost reusable sounding rockets for microgravity research services. The company recently carried out a commercial sounding rocket launch from the Spaceport 1 site in the Outer Hebrides: Gravitilab makes history by launching the first commercial rocket in the UK with the Spaceport 1 team – Gravitilab

A historic UK first has taken place in the Outer Hebrides today (Thursday 26th August) with a unique commercial space launch conducted by a wholly-owned British company and a Scottish spaceport team.

Spaceport 1 joined forces with East Anglian firm Gravitilab Aerospace Services on the sub-orbital launch of flight test vehicle ‘ADA’, named after Ada Lovelace, the 19th century English mathematician who is considered the world’s first computer programmer.

ADA took off from Benbecula marking a successful launch for Spaceport 1, the consortium led by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), which aims to open at Scolpaig, North Uist, in 2022. From this base, commercial sub-orbital space launches will begin to take place from within the UK.

The landmark launch moment represents a key milestone for this unique commercial partnership between Spaceport 1 and Gravitilab, providing proper physical evidence of how companies can work together commercially under the new Government space framework to deliver a successful rocket launch from the UK.

Gravitilab ADA suborbital rocket launches from the Outer Hebrides Spaceport 1 site.

The company has several other suborbital rockets in its fleet. A drop-pod system using a drone is also available:

Louis brings the laboratory to you, so you can undertake your research, de-risk your technology and validate your designs. Whether you’re looking for end-to-end campaign support or a streamlined route to launch, we provide the service so you can focus on the results. With a lead time to launch of one month and a cost from £63 per second of microgravity, we think you’ll agree it’s worth discovering more about this unique member of our fleet.

Payload: up to 6kg
Microgravity duration: 5-10 seconds per drop
Altitude: 600m-2,000m
Available from: Q4 2021


Check out the
The Lurio Report
for news and analysis of key developments in NewSpace

The latest issue:
Space Suit Opportunities, Inspiration4, FAA & Starship
Vol. 16, No. 6, September 22, 2021

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** Space transport briefs:


** T+196: Checking In on Small Launch with Firefly Alpha, Astra LV0006 – Main Engine Cut Off

Last week, Firefly made their first flight attempt of Alpha, and Astra launched their latest vehicle, LV0006. Though both ended in failure, it’s a good time to check in on them and other small launchers that will debut soon like, ABL’s RS1 and Relativity’s Terran 1, and how they may all compete with each other.

** Space Policy Edition: Mars via the Nuclear OptionPlanetary Society

Can nuclear propulsion fundamentally transform our ability to send humans to Mars? Bhavya Lal, a policy and nuclear engineering expert now working at NASA, helped write a new report on the topic for the National Academies of Sciences. She joins the show to talk about the advantages of various types of nuclear propulsion, the engineering and policy challenges that face them, and the role of government versus the private sector in developing and deploying transformational technologies.

** Tuesday, Aug.24.2021Stephanie Thomas talked about “Princeton Satellite Systems fusion development program, R&D plus fusion fuels, R&D, the fusion industry overview, fusion reactor performance specs and timelines, funding fusion and much more“.

** Two Scientists Are Building a Real Star Trek ‘Impulse Engine’ – Bloomberg

See also MEGA Progress | Space Studies Institute

** NSS Space Forum – Rocket Summer: The Adventures of Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin GalacticNational Space Society

It’s rocket summer! There has never been a summer like this in the history of commercial space. Virgin Galactic has just made a successful flight with Sir Richard Branson on board as one of the passengers. Blue Origin flew a crew of four to space on July 20 aboard its New Shepard vehicle, with Jeff Bezos as one of the passengers. SpaceX’s Starship may be making its first full-up orbital test flight later this summer. NSS Space Ambassadors Loretta Hall, Bruce Mackenzie, Casey Steadman, and moderator Jim Plaxco provided an overview of these historic events and discussed their larger implications for the development of commercial space.

** Aug.13: Media Telecon: NASA, Boeing to Provide Update on Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test-2NASA Video

** How India Developed World Class Rockets From Humble Beginnings. – Scott Manley

** The Space Show – Sunday, Oct.3.2021Scott Truax talked about his father, Robert (Bob) Truax, and his father’s rocket engineering accomplishments.

** ULA Stops Selling Atlas Rocket LaunchesScott Manley

The Atlas rocket traces its ancestry back to the 1950’s, it’s been at the core of the US space capabilities, carrying historic payloads for NASA, the DoD and commercial partners. This week ULA made it clear that it has no more Atlas rockets for sale as it move to transition to Vulcan which is not reliant on engines from Russia. There are 29 launches left, which is likely more than some ‘new’ rockets, but this decade should see the final flights of Atlas, Delta and Proton – all historic vehicles with their roots in the cold war.

** Status of ISEC – Members Meeting Aug.14.2021International Space Elevator Consortium


Continue to Roundup Part 3: SpaceX Falcon 9, Dragon, and Starship.

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