Category Archives: Space transport roundup

Latest on all means of traveling to, from and in space.

Space transport roundup – March.7.2021

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:

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.

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
  • Payload:
    • 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.

See also: Russia launches Arctic weather satellite – Spaceflight Now

** 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. 

See also:

** 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:

See also:

** 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.

Continue reading Space transport roundup – March.7.2021

Space transport roundup – Feb.1.2021

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

SpaceX intended to fly the Starship SN9 prototype last Thursday and again on Friday but the vehicle remained grounded due to a failure to obtain a FAA license. The exact reason for the refusal has not been revealed to the public but it apparently involves issues regarding non-compliance with the license for the flight of SN8.

For Tuesday Feb.2, an air traffic clearance bulletin has been issued and it appears likely that the FAA will grant SpaceX a launch license according to Christian Davenport on Twitter:

Now hearing the FAA could approve the SpaceX modification to its license for SN9 as early as today, possibly “within the next couple of hours.” Could see Starship fly as soon as tomorrow.

For more details about the FAA and the test flight , see:

The SpaceX Starship webpage includes the following statement about the SN9 test:

As early as Monday, February 1, the SpaceX team will attempt a high-altitude flight test of Starship serial number 9 (SN9) – the second high-altitude suborbital 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 will be powered through ascent by three Raptor engines, each shutting down in sequence prior to the vehicle reaching apogee – approximately 10 km in altitude. SN9 will perform 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 will descend 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. SN9’s Raptor engines will then reignite as the vehicle attempts a landing flip maneuver immediately before touching down on the landing pad adjacent to the launch mount.

A controlled aerodynamic descent with body flaps and vertical landing capability, combined with in-space refilling, are critical to landing Starship at destinations across the solar system where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist, and returning to Earth. This capability will enable 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.

There will be a live feed of the flight test available here that will start a few minutes prior to liftoff. Given the dynamic schedule of development testing, stay tuned to our social media channels for updates as we move toward SpaceX’s second high-altitude flight test of Starship!

** Starship SN10  prototype moved to the launch area. The largest crane at Boca Chica had been moved earlier in the week to the launch site and with the SN9 flight/landing canceled, SpaceX decided to move SN10 on Friday from the assembly area to the launch pad and lift it onto the second launch mount. There were no Raptor engines installed and Elon Musk later said they would do cryo pressure tests before installing them.

Find more about other SpaceX activities below.

** Virgin Galactic aims to fly SpaceShipTwo Unity during a window that opens on February 13th. Virgin Galactic Flight Test Program Update – Virgin Galactic

The flight window will open on February 13 with opportunities to fly throughout February, pending good weather conditions and technical readiness. The test flight will be crewed by two pilots and will carry research payloads as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities program.

Pre-flight preparations are already underway at Spaceport America, New Mexico, including rigorous steps to prepare the vehicles, pilots, teams and facilities, with safety procedures as a top priority. In addition, the Virgin Galactic Pilot Corps has completed two flights with its mothership, VMS Eve, for routine pilot proficiency training. This training included using the mothership to simulate the glide and approach-to-land phase of flight for SpaceShipTwo, showing the versatility of VMS Eve as more than just a mothership.

A key objective of the upcoming flight will be to test the remedial work that has been completed since the December 12, 2020 flight when the onboard computer halted ignition of the rocket motor. The team has since conducted the root cause analysis, completed the corrective work required, and carried out extensive ground testing. The next stage will be to assess and verify this work during a rocket-powered flight.

The flight will incorporate all of the original test objectives from the previous test flight, including evaluating elements of the customer cabin, testing the live stream capability from the spaceship to the ground, and assessing the upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during the boost phase of the flight.

See also

** Feb.1: The iSpace Hyperbola-1 fails on its second launch attempt. Amateur footage of the launch from the inland Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center shows the vehicle in trouble shortly after liftoff. The 4-stage solid-fueled rocket, most likely derived from a Chinese missile, was carrying the Fangzhou-2 (Ark-2) satellite.

** Jan.29: Chinese Long March 4C carries three Yaogan 31 remote sensing satellites into low earth orbit. These satellites are generally believed to be military reconnaissance satellites that provide optical and radio-electronic surveillance of the US Navy and other maritime activities.

** Jan.20: Rocket Lab’s first Electron launch of 2021 puts OHB satellite into orbit. There was no attempt to recover the first stage booster on this launch.

The payload for this mission has been shrouded in secrecy since Rocket Lab announced the planned launch Jan. 5. The name of the satellite itself was not disclosed by OHB until after liftoff, and a press kit for the mission did not include the satellite’s mass or orbital altitude, stating only that it was going into an orbit at an inclination of 90 degrees.

Rocket Lab said in its announcement of the upcoming launch that the payloads “will be a single communication microsatellite that will enable specific frequencies to support future services from orbit.” OHB, which built the satellite, procured the launch last August. At the time it cited “an unmatched delivery time” by Rocket Lab, who agreed to launch the payload within six months.

The ultimate customer for the satellite may be GMS Zhaopin, a Chinese company planning a satellite constellation. It has been linked to a German company, KLEO Connect, that has announced plans for a constellation to provide internet of things services.

** A Virgin Orbit LaunchOne rocket successfully put 10 smallsats into orbit on the second demo mission. The first demo mission last May failed when the engine shut off shortly after igniting due to a breach in a liquid oxygen supply line. The company now plans to move into full commercial operations. Virgin Orbit Aces Second Launch Demo and Deploys NASA Payloads – Virgin Orbit

For today’s picture-perfect mission, Virgin Orbit’s carrier aircraft, a customized 747-400 dubbed Cosmic Girl, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port at approximately 10:50 A.M. and flew out to a launch site over the Pacific Ocean, about 50 miles south of the Channel Islands. After a smooth release from the aircraft, the two-stage rocket ignited and powered itself to orbit. At the conclusion of the flight, the LauncherOne rocket deployed 10 CubeSats into the team’s precise target orbit, marking a major step forward for Virgin Orbit in its quest to bust down the barriers preventing affordable and responsive access to space.

The payloads onboard LauncherOne today were selected by NASA LSP as part of the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI). Nearly all of the CubeSat missions were designed, built and tested by universities across the U.S., including Brigham Young University (PICS), the University of Michigan (MiTEE), and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (CAPE-3).

This flight also marks a historical first: no other orbital class, air-launched, liquid-fueled rocket had successfully reached space before today.

With this successful demonstration in the books, Virgin Orbit will officially transition into commercial service for its next mission. Virgin Orbit has subsequent launches booked by customers ranging from the U.S. Space Force and the U.K.’s Royal Air Force to commercial customers like Swarm Technologies, Italy’s SITAEL, and Denmark’s GomSpace.

The company’s next few rockets are already well into integration at its Long Beach manufacturing facility.

A “Mission Recap” video:

LauncherOne has successfully reached orbit! Virgin Orbit’s unique air-launched system successfully delivered small satellites for 9 different missions precisely into their target 500km circular, 60.7 degrees inclination orbit on January 17, 2021. The flight was conducted from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Kern County, California — the first orbital launch ever to occur from there. This “Launch Demo 2” flight was conducted for NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program. Unlike traditional ground-launched rocket, Virgin Orbit’s system uses a 747 jet as its flying launch pad and mobile mission control, allowing flexible and responsive launch from almost anywhere on the planet!

Some VO internal webcast videos posted at International Rocket Launches – YouTube:

See also

** Jan.14: Blue Origin flew the fourth New Shepard vehicle for the first time on Thursday, January 14th at the company’s facility in West Texas.This vehicle includes additional design changes and will be used for the first flights with people on board. Mission NS-14 successfully demonstrates crew capsule upgrades – Blue Origin

The crew capsule descends for a landing after reaching over 100 kilometers in altitude. Credits: Blue Origin

Mission NS-14 featured a crew capsule outfitted with astronaut experience upgrades for upcoming flights with passengers onboard. Capsule upgrades included:

    • Speakers in the cabin with a microphone and a push-to-talk button at each seat so astronauts can continuously talk to Mission Control.
    • First flight of the crew alert system with a panel at each seat relaying important safety messages to passengers.
    • Cushioned wall linings and sound suppression devices to reduce ambient noise inside the capsule.
    • Environmental systems, including a cooling system and humidity controls to regulate temperature and prevent capsule windows from fogging during flight, as well as carbon dioxide scrubbing.
    • Six seats.

Also today during ascent, the booster rotated at 2-3 degrees per second. This is done to give future passengers a 360-degree view of space during the flight.

This flight continued to prove the robustness and stability of the New Shepard system and the BE-3PM liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine.

Also onboard today were more than 50,000 postcards from Blue Origin’s nonprofit Club for the Future. The Club has now flown over 100,000 postcards to space and back from students around the world. More information here.

** Blue reportedly plans to fly the  first New Shepard mission with people on board in early spring: Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin aims to fly people on New Shepard by April – CNBC

Beyond the upgrades, CNBC has learned that NS-14 also marked one of the last remaining steps before Blue Origin flies its first crew to space.

The flight was the first of two “stable configuration” test flights, people familiar with Blue Origin’s plans told CNBC. Stable configuration means that the company plans to avoid making major changes between this flight and the next.

Additionally, those people said that Blue Origin aims to launch the second test flight within six weeks, or by late February, and the first crewed flight six weeks after that, or by early April.

Blue Origin’s next flight, NS-15, will also include a test of loading and unloading the crew, the people said.

The company did not verify this info but it clearly sounds quite plausible.

** Video tour of Blue Origin’s engine production facility in Huntsville, Alabama. During the webcast of the above New Shepard test, a video tour of the company’s engine facility in Huntsville was shown.

** Blue releases video of long duration, full-thrust firing of BE-4 engine: Jeff Bezos released the video on Instagram:

“Perfect night! Sitting in the back of my pickup truck under the Moon and stars watching another long duration, full thrust hotfire test of @BlueOrigin’s BE-4 engine. #GradatimFerociter

The BE-4 will power the first stages of Blue’s New Glenn rocket and ULA’s Vulcan.

More about the BE-4 status: Jeff Bezos kicks back with a BE-4 rocket engine test in Texas – GeekWire.

Scott Manley reviews all of the engines developed so far by Blue:

Blue Origin has been around longer than SpaceX, but they’re a lot more secretive about their technology and the things they’ve built. I wanted to make an overview of the 6 different rocket engines they’re designed and tested and the vehicles that have been propelled by them.

** Jan.19: Chinese Long March 3B rocket takes communications satellite into orbit from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province. The third of the Tiantong-1 series of S-Band mobile communications services satellite will move into a geostationary orbital slot.

Continue reading Space transport roundup – Feb.1.2021

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:

==================

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

The latest issue:
Axiom, Masten, Starship, Crew-1
Vol. 15, No. 7, November 21, 2020

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism

==================

** 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 Spadre.com, 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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Space transport roundup – Dec.16.2020

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

** Dec.9: First high altitude flight test of a SpaceX Starship prototype successfully demonstrated two key requirements for returning from orbit: (1) controlled stable flight while in a horizontal orientation during unpowered descent and (2) the flip to vertical maneuver after restarting the engines. The vehicle was powered by three Raptors, which fired for nearly five minutes before reaching the 12 km altitude. (Two of the engines shut down sequentially during the later phase of the ascent.) This provided a big gain in the amount of data on in-flight performance of the LOX/Methane engines compared to the short hops with earlier prototypes.

Unfortunately, during the SN8 vehicle’s relatively short vertical descent to the bullseye of the landing pad, a drop in pressure from the propellant tank in the tip of the nosecone reduced the thrust of the Raptor engine and the vehicle landed too hard and exploded. This operational problem can be prevented in a straight-forward manner in future flights. After 60+ successful Falcon 9 booster recoveries, the company knows how to land a rocket vertically.  However, SpaceX has had no experience with flying a rocket in a horizontal attitude and controlling it with side fins. It also had never swung a vehicle from horizontal to vertical. So this was a very successful test. While it might have flown again if it landed safely, SN8 was never intended to provide more than suborbital test data.

This multi-exposure image nicely captures the liftoff and return of Starship SN8’s epic test flight:

A view of SN8 from the landing pad:

An analysis by Scott Manley: SpaceX’s Biggest Starship Flight Is A Spectacular Success Even After Crash Landing

Articles and commentary about the test:

Find more on SpaceX activities below

** Dec.16: Astra reaches space for first time but falls just short of orbit: The launch from the Alaskan spaceport sent the upper stage of the two-staged Rocket 3.2 to 390 kilometers in altitude and “just a half a kilometer per second short” of orbital velocity according to Astra CEO Chris Kemp. According to Eric Berger,

The company had not quite gotten the mixture of kerosene to oxidizer correct—something that is difficult to test on the ground—and wound up with an excess of liquid oxygen. Had the upper stage burnt kerosene for a few more seconds, the upper stage would have reached orbit. As it was, the booster peaked at an apogee of 390km above the Earth’s surface.

Kemp claimed this flight nevertheless exceeded the team’s expectations for the rocket, which did not have a payload on board.

Kemp has said that it would take three launches before they achieved orbit. Last March, Rocket 3.0 was destroyed in a fire on the pad and, in September, Rocket 3.1 flew for 30 seconds before a guidance problem led to a shutdown of the engines and the loss of the vehicle. Rocket 3.3 is expected to fly early in 2021 and it will carry a payload for a customer.

The company’s goal is to offer very low cost access to orbit for small satellites. To achieve this they have sought a simple but robust rocket design that can be built at low cost. According to Astra,

Rapid test and iteration are the cornerstones of our development process. We’ve performed thousands of rocket engine tests at our headquarters in Alameda, a few hundred feet away from where those engines are designed and built. We can afford to experiment quickly and repeatedly because our rockets are far less expensive. The rockets are primarily constructed from lightweight aluminum, instead of costly composite and 3D printed materials.

Small crews for launch are also a part of the plan: Astra set up a rocket launch with five people and came within seconds of orbit | Ars Technica

Astra was founded to provide rapid, low-cost access to space for small satellites. The quick turnaround between its first and second flights suggests it may make good on this promise. It’s impressive, too, that the company needs just five people to set up its launch site. At Kodiak, Astra has a concrete pad and a tent. A week before launching the rocket, its launcher, propellant, and other equipment arrived in four shipping containers from California. A team of five set the launch system up, and employees back at Astra’s headquarters in Alameda, California, controlled the launch through cloud computing.

The company needs to prove in 2021 that it can build and operate rockets that not only get to orbit but do so reliably and frequently.

More at:

Astra rocket on launch pad at Kodiak Island spaceport. Credits: Astra

** Dec.15: Rocket Lab Electron rocket puts Synspective StriX-α synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite into a 500km circular orbit. This was the 17th Electron launch. There was no attempt to recover the first stage.

** Dec. 12: Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo test flight aborted after avionics failure prevents engine ignition: Virgin Galactic Update on Test Flight Program – Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, announced an update following its recent test flight on December 12, 2020. During the test flight, the rocket motor did not fire due to the ignition sequence not completing. Following this event, the pilots conducted a safe landing and return to Spaceport America, New Mexico as planned.

Virgin Galactic is now conducting post-flight analysis and can so far report that the onboard computer which monitors the propulsion system lost connection, triggering a fail-safe scenario that intentionally halted ignition of the rocket motor. This system, like others on the spaceship, is designed such that it defaults to a safe state whenever power or communication with sensors is lost. The pilots in the spaceship, as well as the engineers and pilots in mission control, are well prepared for any off-nominal results, as they plan and rehearse many potential scenarios during pre-flight simulation practice sessions, including a scenario where the rocket motor does not ignite after release from the mothership.

More at:

Continue reading Space transport roundup – Dec.16.2020

Space transport roundup – Dec.3.2020

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

** SpaceX set to launch Starship prototype SN8 to 15 km following successful static firing of its three Raptor engines on Nov. 24th. The company currently has a FAA permit for a flight during a 3 day window opening on Dec. 4th. (There are local restrictions on closing access to the beach on weekends so the window may effectively be 1 day long.) A wet dress rehearsal took place on Wed. Dec. 2nd. Elon Musk had indicated that there would be another static firing before the flight but it looks like they may skip this.

[ Update: The flight has been postponed till Monday Dec. 7th at the earliest. Also, the max altitude will be 12.5 km rather than 15 km.]

Find more about this and other SpaceX activities below

** Arianespace launches Soyuz with reconnaissance satellite for UAE on Dec.1st from the spaceport in French Guiana: Flight VS24: Soyuz lifts off from the Spaceport in French Guiana – Arianespace

On Tuesday, December 1, at 10:33 p.m. (local time), Arianespace successfully launched the FalconEye optical observation satellite using a Soyuz rocket from the Guiana Space Center (CSG), Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. FalconEye is a very-high-performance optical Earth observation satellite developed in a consortium led by Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space for the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces (UAEAF).

See also Soyuz rocket launches Emirati military satellite after lengthy delay – Spaceflight Now.

Continue reading Space transport roundup – Dec.3.2020