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