Category Archives: Rockets

Geared Up for Launch – Immortal Data & NM Tech

An update from Immortal Data on the partnership with students at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology on a sub-orbital rocket project:

Geared Up for Launch:
Four Years of Space Engineering Takes Flight

August, 30, 2021 (New Mexico) – Innovation works hard behind the scenes, often for years, before its accomplishments see the light of day. This year marks an exciting one for Immortal Data and the students of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, as their industrial partnership is finally set to take off, with all their hard work on board. Since 2017, IDI and NM Tech students have toiled long hours, developing the payload mounting and attaching system for sub-orbital flight, using extremely strict weight and volume guidelines. Their combined efforts have resulted in a payload that not only holds IDI’s data acquisition and logging system “microDAQ and ShipsStore,” but also includes structural health monitoring capabilities.

Structural Health Monitoring is an important technology that improves flight safety and reduces operation cost of future space systems. By monitoring structural conditions in real time, information on changes and damage can be reported immediately to the support team, which allows fast decisions to be made.

According to Dr. Andrei Zagrai,

“We believe that structural health monitoring will be one of key components in re-usability of future space vehicles. We are very excited to demonstrate its feasibility and integration with the blackbox system developed by Immortal Data. It is a great opportunity to test our ideas during sub-orbital space flight.”

This partnership has been a great opportunity for not only Immortal Data, but also for their partners at NMT. Students have been able to participate in a project that will reshape the future of space safety standards.

“This project is also an excellent example of collaboration between the institute and a commercial company as it has both educational and research objectives. We have an undergraduate student team which helped to design and fabricate payload and gained much experience interacting with space engineers at Immortal Data. A graduate student and a former New Mexico Tech graduate were involved in design, implementation and validation of SHM experiment further advancing research and engineering solutions for space vehicles. We hope that our joint work will help to make spaceflight safer and affordable to everyone.”

Through blended endeavors of passion and drive, NM Tech students and IDI have crafted a piece of technology that will impact the future of space engineering for years to come. IDI ShipStore’s patented solution to accumulate, store, and share sensor data in real time, combined with the enclosure designed by NMT to withstand the rigorous stress of a space launch, is a huge achievement for both parties involved. Immortal Data will be delivering the payload this month in anticipation of the sub-orbital flight scheduled to take place in November. They continue to prove their commitment to safety in space and to the space community.About Immortal Data: Immortal Data is an affordable solution to the data collection and recovery demands of the burgeoning and budget-minded private space craft industry.

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Space transport roundup: Part 2 – SpaceX – July.28.2021

This roundup provides a sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here). Part 2 here focuses on SpaceX while Part 1 reports on activities and news of other space transportation companies and organizations around the world.

There were no Starship prototype flights since the last roundup on May 18th but a tremendous amount of activity continued at SpaceX regardless. The Starship section below describes the action in Boca Chica Beach. We start, though, with a look at Falcon 9 and non-Starship related activities:

  • Launch/Landing: A rapid F9 mission rate continued up till a pause in July due to a scheduled pause for launches to allow KSC/Cape Canaveral to carry out annual maintenance. There have been 20 F9 launches so far this year. Only one of the 20 booster landings failed.
  • Reuse of F9 boosters has reached as many as 10 flights. The max number could reach significantly more than that according to Elon Musk. So far, SpaceX has detected no need for retirement, or even major refurbishment, of boosters after 10 missions, which was the original target for the number of reuses with minimal refurbishment between flights.
  • Starlink constellation reached the initial operational size of nearly 1600 active satellites with the Starlink 28 v1.0 mission. Once all the satellites reach their final target orbits, uninterrupted global service between the polar circles will be available.
  • New customized droneship goes operational for landings on the Atlantic and a droneship arrives on the West Coast. Starlink launches into polar orbit will start this summer from Vandenberg AFB and a droneship is needed to provide for booster landings.
  • CRS-22 Cargo Dragon launched, docked, departed, and landed safely.
  • Crew-2 Dragon remains at the ISS but was moved to a new docking port to open the target port for the Boeing Starliner, which will be launched at the end of July for an uncrewed test mission: SpaceX crew capsule relocated outside space station before Boeing mission – Spaceflight Now

** May 26 : Starlink 28 v1.0 put 60 more satellites into orbit. With this launch, the total number of satellites fills the “first shell” needed to provide global coverage between +/- 53 degrees latitude. The first stage booster previously flew once before for the Sentinel-6A mission. The booster landed successfully on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. According to SpaceX, “One half of Falcon 9’s fairing previously supported four Starlink missions, and the other previously supported a Starlink mission and the Transporter-1 mission.”

*** June 3: Cargo Dragon launched to the ISS and docked two days later. The CRS-22 mission involves a brand new Dragon craft (denoted as C209) and the Falcon 9 used a a brand new Falcon 9 booster (denoted as B1067). Along with supplies and science materials, the Dragon delivered two new solar arrays for the ISS.

July 9: Cargo Dragon returns to earth following departure from the ISS on July 8th.

*** June 6: Falcon 9 launched SirusXM Radio satellite SXM-8, built by Maxar. The first stage booster landed successfully for the 3rd time. It previously flew for SpaceX’s Crew-1 and Crew-2 missions carrying astronauts to the International Space Station. The first stage landed on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, located in the Atlantic Ocean.

*** June.17: Falcon 9 launches GPS satellite for USAF. This was the fiirst national security satellite to launch on reused booster. The booster landed safely on a droneship platform in the Atlantic.

** June 30: SpaceX launches Transporter-2 Rideshare mission with 88 satellites on board. The first stage landed safely back at Cape Canaveral after its 8th flight.

*** Customized droneship for F9 booster landings unveiled: The new droneship, A Shortfall of Gravitas (ASOG), will soon provide a platform for boosters landings in the Atlantic. ASOG differs significantly from the older droneships –Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) and Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) – in looks and capabilities. Most of the support equipment is protected from the rocket’s flames within dark metal casings. The landing pad is somewhat smaller. ASOG also has its own propulsion system so it doesn’t need towing to and from the recovery location. Combined with the robotic Octagrabber robot that secures the booster after it lands, the ship will eventually allow for recovery and transport to port to be controlled remotely with no need for workers to come on board.

July 9: The “Of Course I Still Love You” (OCISLY) droneship arrived on the West Coast after a long trip from Florida aboard the semi-submersible ship “Mighty Servant 1“. OCISLY will provide a landing platform for boosters launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base that cannot return to the launch site for landing.


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*** Starship

The primary focus of the Starship program since the successful SN15 flight on May 5th has been the construction of the orbital launch and landing facility at Boca Chica Beach plus assembly and testing of two Super Heavy Booster prototypes. The goal of all this work is to carry out an orbital test flight of a  combined Starship/Super Heavy booster as soon as possible. (See the animation below of the orbital test, which would have the Starship reenter and land on the ocean near Hawaii, short of a complete orbit.)

Here is a diagram showing the status of development of elements of the Starship/Super Heavy booster vehicles and the related facilities:

This comparison of images illustrates the dramatic rate of change at Boca Chica in the past three years:

Yet an even bigger hangar assembly building is coming:

*** A selection of Starship related tweets from Elon:

** Lots of Raptor engines will be needed for the 100s of StarShips (6 engines) and Super Heavy boosters (33 engines) rolling off the assembly line in the coming years. SpaceX has already produced a good sized flock of Raptors:

** USAF program studying use of Starship-class vehicles for fast global transportation. The Air Force is requesting $47.9 million in the 2022 budget for a study of “Rocket Cargo“. (The US military is starting to get really interested in Starship | Ars Technica.) Since the 1960s there have been occasional studies by the military into using suborbital rocket transports for super-fast global delivery of supplies and troops to crisis spots. The emergence of the fully reusable, vertical takeoff and landing Starship has clearly generated renewed interest in such technology, which is no longer just theoretical. From the start, SpaceX has a promoted the Starship as capable of suborbital, point-to-point transport in additional to orbital and deep space missions. This was presented in the context of civilian passenger flight services but clearly military transport is an option as well.

Although the budget request aroused major media attention in the past few weeks, the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) actually announced last fall that it was partnering with SpaceX and Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc) into looking at the feasibility of such systems: USTRANSCOM Announces the Next Frontier for Logistics – Space – United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) – Oct.7.2020

While speaking at the National Defense Transportation Association’s Fall Meeting on Oct. 7, U.S. Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, commander, U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), announced USTRANSCOM is looking to space to quickly move critical logistics during time-sensitive contingencies or to deliver humanitarian assistance, helping to project and sustain the Joint Force in support of national objectives.

Speaking at the virtual meeting from the command’s headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, on Oct. 7, Lyons told the audience about USTRANSCOM’s partnership with Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) and Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc) to explore this emerging capability of rapid transportation through space.

Visualization of a suborbital rocket powered vertical takeoff and landing vehicle for fast global military transport. Credits: Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc).

“Think about moving the equivalent of a C-17 payload anywhere on the globe in less than an hour,” Lyons asked the virtual audience. “Think about that speed associated with the movement of transportation of cargo and people. There is a lot of potential here and I’m really excited about the team that’s working with SpaceX on an opportunity, even perhaps, as early as 21, to be conducting a proof of principle.”

Logistics traditionally labors under the tyranny of distance and time, and global access. For example, operations in the Pacific Ocean theater may transit 10,000 miles—one way.

“For the past 75 years or so, we have been constrained to around 40,000 feet altitude and 600 miles per hour in our very fastest method of logistics delivery—airlift,” said USTRANSCOM deputy commander, U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Dee Mewbourne, who leads the command’s effort in this area.

Current space transportation is also more weight- and volume-constrained than airlift, and faces challenges in positioning, launching, and recovery operations. As industry advances to overcome these challenges as well as increase its pace of launches to decrease costs, a space transportation capability to put a crucial cargo quickly on target at considerable distances makes it an attractive alternative.

XArc described the goals of the USTRANSCOM Global Space Transportation study:

The XArc CRADA [Cooperative Research and Development Agreements] tasks are to determine global spaceport basing criteria for Point-to-Point space transportation and delivery, and assess the ground support and logistics requirements needed for integrating a spacelift capability. The research study evaluates ground support infrastructure requirements with regard to support facilities, cargo standardizations and logistics for materiel handling, mission dedicated equipment, supplies, materiel and personnel, and intermodal cargo transfer. International regulatory issues of air and space law are also addressed, as well as infrastructure security considerations.

The goal is to establish a seamless integration of air and space transport modalities to work through a variety of possible contingencies. The study considers a variety of emerging space transportation technologies in development by commercial service providers, and also considers Orbital Depots to determine viability of “space drop” supply logistics.

A press briefing on June 4th by the US indicated that the Rocket Cargo Program is a serious initiative and intended to be more than just another paper study: Yes, the military is serious about rocketing supplies around the planet | Ars Technica

It seems clear that defense leaders are eager to be an early adopter of these technologies. Officials said the Department of Defense would even consider buying initial launches at a reduced price to both support the companies’ test programs as well as to test logistics materials and procedures.

And while, initially, cargo-carrying rockets probably would land at existing spaceports or runways, that need not always be the case. One day, such urgent rocket deliveries might land anywhere on the planet, rugged terrain or not, Spanjers said. He noted that rockets, after all, have landed on the Moon.

“If they can land in those places, we’re interested in knowing to what extent we can extend that to a larger range of terrains on Earth, so that we can do immediate cargo transports to basically anywhere on the planet quickly,” he said.

Artist’s view of a delivery of emergency cargo via a VTOL rocket vehicle. Credits: USAF/Ars Technica

See also:

**** Starship orbital flight animation

With suborbital Starship tests seemingly complete with SN15’s successful landing, all eyes are on the first orbital test flight of a full Starship-Super Heavy stack. This test, scheduled to take place only in a few month’s time, will feature the world’s tallest and most powerful rocket ever built taking flight for the first time. This animation shows the proposed flight plan of that first orbital test flight. NOTE: Some aspects of this animation are inaccurate or out of date. During the production many new pieces of information were revealed that weren’t known at the time certain scenes were animated.

*** Sampling of daily video reports from Boca Chica:

*** July.20: Super Heavy Booster 3 Static Fires for the First Time | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX performs a full duration static fire of Super Heavy Booster 3. This is the first prototype booster to be fueled and ground tested. Booster 3 has three Raptor engines installed though Elon Musk stated they may try to fire it with nine engines in the future. Video from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and the NSF Robotic Camera Team. Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist)

*** July.21: New Raptor Boost Engine “R2B2” Delivered for Super Heavy | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

As crews inspect Booster 3 after its successful static fire, more Raptor engines for a Super Heavy booster are delivered. Dubbed “R2B2” by McGregor crews, Raptor Boost 2 (RB2) may be mounted on the outer engine ring of a Booster prototype in the coming months. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and the NSF Robotic Camera Team. Edited by Nathan Shields

*** July.20 SpaceX Starbase, Tx FlyoverRGV Aerial Photography

** July 23: Raptor Engine Removed from Super Heavy Booster 3 | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

Raptor engine RC59 was removed from Super Heavy Booster 3, work started on the 9th section of the Launch Tower, and a Super Heavy Aft dome was spotted being worked on inside one of the production tents. Video and Pictures from Steven Marr (@spacecoast_stve). Edited by Nate Shields.

*** July.27: Three Raptor Engines Delivered – Booster 4 Methane Transfer Tube Installed | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

Three Raptor engines were delivered, Super Heavy Booster 4’s Methane Transfer Tube (also known as the downcomer) was installed, and work on the orbital launch table continued. Video and Pictures from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and the NSF robots. Edited by Nate Sheilds.

*** Other Starship and space transport videos:

*** July.26: Starship Tests Payload Bay Design, Booster 3 Static Fire, New Test Rig Built | This Week in StarbaseNASASpaceflight – YouTube

As SpaceX pushes toward the Orbital Test Flight, critical pieces needed to support the flight start to fall into place. Ian Atkinson walks you through the progress being made at Starbase. Hosted by Ian Atkinson (@IanPineapple).

*** July.21: SpaceX working on design for Starship 2.0!What about it!?

Today we’ll talk Starship 2.0. SpaceX’s latest design changes that will be present on the orbital flight. We’ll also talk about the lead theory for the mystery structure, and we’ll talk about the Super High Bay. SpaceX’s even larger Starship high bay to begin construction soon! Let’s find out!

*** July.24SpaceX’s Mechazilla Rises, Starliner Prepares, Nauka Launch, Wally Funk’s flight to Space Marcus House

Not only did we see Raptor action this week with SpaceX’s record-sized rocket booster, but we witnessed the launch of Russia’s Nauka Laboratory for the International Space Station. Better late than never. We have updates on Hubble’s Trouble and Rocket Lab’s anomaly review. The Dragon has been tamed yet again, and of course, we had the first crewed flight of New Shepard with Wally Funk’s long-awaited ride to space. Quite the action-packed week right there!

*** July.27: SpaceX’s Mechazilla Rises, Starliner Prepares, Nauka Launch, Wally Funk’s flight to Space – Marcus House

Today, we’ll have a closer look at how NASA and SpaceX might fly to the Moon. We already teased the scenarios in the last video talking about SpaceX’s Human Landing System and what mission options could be possible, but today, we want to add some numbers. True, there are lots of official numbers missing but we have found some clues on how it might go. …

*** July.12: Why SpaceX Will Move To New Thrusters To Simplify StarshipScott Manley

Starship and SuperHeavy development continue, there hasn’t been any more test flights of Starship as they have decided to move on to testing the booster and putting Starship into orbit.

*** Other SpaceX news:

** WATCH: Elon Musk discuss Starlink Internet at MWC 2021 – Livestream – Interview on June 29th. See also the summary: Elon Musk interview: SpaceX, Starliink and his motivation and philosophy – CIS 471

** Sampling of dearMoon expedition applicant videosSpaceX moon mission billionaire reveals who might get a ticket to ride Starship – CNET


Continue to Roundup Part 1.

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Space transport roundup: Part 1 – General – July.28.2021

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here). Part 1 focuses on news from companies and organizations around the world. Part 2 Roundup focuses on  SpaceX.

** July 20: Blue Origin flies New Shepard with people for first time. On  the 52nd anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon, a Blue Origin New Shepard vertical-takeoff-and-landing rocket lifted off from the company’s East Texas facility with humans aboard for the first time. The crew included Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, Wally Funk, and 18 year old Oliver Daemen (see items below about Funk and Daemen). Their capsule rode atop the New Shepard’s booster powered by a BE-3 liquid hydrogen-liquid oxygen engine. The engine shut off after about 110 seconds at roughly 40 kilometers in altitude and the rocket continued upward to over 100 kilometer. Near apogee the capsule separated from the booster. The booster returned for a powered landing while the capsule came back to earth via parachutes.

Here is Blue’s statement following the flight: Blue Origin safely launches four commercial astronauts to space and back – Blue Origin

Blue Origin successfully completed New Shepard’s first human flight today with four private citizens onboard. The crew included Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen, who all officially became astronauts when they passed the Kármán Line, the internationally recognized boundary of space.   

Upon landing, the astronauts were greeted by their families and Blue Origin’s ground operations team for a celebration in the West Texas desert.  

A Historic Mission  

      • Wally Funk, 82, became the oldest person to fly in space.  
      • Oliver Daemen, 18, was the first ever commercial astronaut to purchase a ticket and fly to space on a privately-funded and licensed space vehicle from a private launch site. He also became the youngest person to fly in space.  
      • New Shepard became the first commercial vehicle under a suborbital reusable launch vehicle license to fly paying customers, both payloads and astronauts, to space and back.  
      • Jeff and Mark Bezos became the first siblings to ever fly in space together.  

“Today was a monumental day for Blue Origin and human spaceflight,” said Bob Smith, CEO, Blue Origin. “I am so incredibly proud of Team Blue, their professionalism, and expertise in executing today’s flight. This was a big step forward for us and is only the beginning.”  

Blue Origin expects to fly two more crewed flights this year, with many more crewed flights planned for 2022.  

Blue has not yet announced ticket prices or how sales will be arranged. However, during the briefing (see video below), Jeff Bezos said that in private interactions with auction bidders and others have led to reservations adding up to $100 million:

Post-flight briefing:

A video played during the post-flight briefing of the crew during the weightlessness period of the flight:

Some articles about the flight:

*** July 18: A pre-flight briefing from Blue Origin:

***  July 15: It was announced that the winner of the seat auction (see below) will ride on a later flight. Daemen will take the auction winner’s place on the July 20th flight. It’s said that Oliver’s father, Joes Daeman, a billionaire founder of a private equity firm, was one of the high bidders during the auction.

Here is Blue’s announcement: First Paying Customer on New Shepard Will Be the Youngest to Fly to Space – Blue Origin

Today, Blue Origin announced Oliver Daemen will be the first paying customer to fly on board New Shepard, marking the beginning of commercial operations for the program. He will join Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, and Wally Funk aboard the first human flight on July 20. At 18-years-old and 82-years-young, Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk represent the youngest and oldest astronauts to travel to space.

The winner of Blue Origin’s auction, who has asked to remain anonymous at this time, has chosen to fly on a future New Shepard mission due to scheduling conflicts. Club for the Future announced this week the auction gift has enabled Club to donate $1 million to 19 non-profit organizations ($19 million in total), all of which are working to support the future of living and working in space.

*** A comparison of the two suborbital space flight systems:

See also:

*** $28M buys a ticket to fly to space with Jeff Bezos and his brother. An open bidding session on June 12th was the final phase of the auction of a seat on the first New Shepard to go to suborbital space with people on board the capsule. The flight is set for July 20th, the 52nd anniversary of the first human to walk on the Moon. The identity of the winner of the auction will be revealed in a few weeks, presumably after the money is transferred. (With auction fees, the total is actually $29.6M.)

*** July 1: Blue announces that Wally Funk will take fourth seat on the New Shepard. Wally Funk will fly to space on New Shepard’s first human flight – Blue Origin

Funk was a member of the group of women pilots in the 1960s who, in a private, non-NASA related project, passed a similar suite of physiological tests as given to male astronaut candidates by NASA and the USAF. However, the women pilots, later dubbed the “Mercury 13”, could not become NASA astronauts due to the rules of the day, particularly the requirement that astronauts must have experience as test pilots. (For more about women and NASA spaceflight in the 1960s, see The Myth of the Mercury 13 – Space KSC)

More at

*** Blue Origin promotes the power of space flight to fundamentally alter one’s perspective on life:

*** Blue developing reusable upper stage for the New Glenn heavy lift rocket. According to Eric Berger, Jeff Bezos has initiated development of a reusable upper stage of the New Glenn to be competitive with SpaceX’s fully reusable Starship system. Blue Origin has a secret project named “Jarvis” to compete with SpaceX | Ars Technica

However, over the last year, Bezos took note as SpaceX launched and landed its Starship vehicle. This is one of the reasons he decided to initiate a project named “Jarvis” at Blue Origin within the reusable second-stage program. Sources said Bezos has walled off parts of the second-stage development program from the rest of Blue Origin and told its leaders to innovate in an environment unfettered by rigorous management and paperwork processes.

Work has advanced quickly on the Jarvis project, apparently named after the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Initial tank tests could begin as soon as this fall on stainless steel hardware at Blue Origin’s site in Florida, followed by further tests if the approach proves feasible. For now, at least, the company’s plan is to launch New Glenn initially with an expendable second stage before transitioning to the fully reusable upper stage in the mid-2020s. Such a fully reusable launch system is now seen as a key to competing with SpaceX to launch large payloads.

*** Other recent Blue Origin news and articles:

** July 11: Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Unity flies Richard Branson to suborbital space along with 3 other passengers and 2 pilots. Although the SpaceShipTwo vehicle VSS Unity has reached space three times before (see entry below about the May 22nd flight), this flight was the first with a full crew of six. It also marked a long promised milestone by taking the founder to space, highlighting the management’s confidence in the safety of the system.

There will be two more test flights and then operational  flights will start with paying customers on board. Meanwhile, the company is getting a bit of revenue from carrying research experiments on board, some of which will require crew tending. Even on this flight, VG executive Sirisha Bandla operated a small hand-held microgravity plant experiment from the University of Florida and funded by NASA – Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two Carries NASA-Supported Payload | NASA.

Here is the VG statement about the flight: Virgin Galactic Successfully Completes First Fully Crewed Spaceflight – Virgin Galactic:

Today’s flight was the 22nd test flight of VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the views of Earth from space, the conditions for conducting research and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training program at Spaceport America.

VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve. The vehicle reached space, at an altitude of 53.5 miles, before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.

This seminal moment for Virgin Galactic and Sir Richard Branson was witnessed by audiences around the world. It gave a glimpse of the journey Virgin Galactic’s Future Astronauts can expect when the Company launches commercial service following the completion of its test flight program.

The mission specialists in the cabin were Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor; Colin Bennett, Lead Flight Operations Engineer; Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations; and the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The VSS Unity pilots were Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, while Kelly Latimer and CJ Sturckow piloted VMS Eve.

Check out the webcast of Virgin Galactic’s Unity 22 flight. Here is a video of highlights from takeoff through landing:

Virgin Galactic VP Sirisha Bandla looks out a SS2 port window. Credit: Virgin Galactic

See also:

*** July 1: Virgin Galactic announcement of the SpaceShipTwo flight with Richard BransonVirgin Galactic Announces First Fully Crewed Spaceflight – Virgin Galactic

The “Unity 22” mission will be the twenty-second flight test for VSS Unity and the Company’s fourth crewed spaceflight. It will also be the first to carry a full crew of two pilots and four mission specialists in the cabin, including the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson, who will be testing the private astronaut experience.

Building on the success of the Company’s most recent spaceflight in May, Unity 22 will focus on cabin and customer experience objectives, including:

      • Evaluating the commercial customer cabin with a full crew, including the cabin environment, seat comfort, the weightless experience, and the views of Earth that the spaceship delivers — all to ensure every moment of the astronaut’s journey maximizes the wonder and awe created by space travel
      • Demonstrating the conditions for conducting human-tended research experiments
      • Confirming the training program at Spaceport America supports the spaceflight experience

There will be a live streaming webcast from the cabin. This video introduces the pilots and crew:

*** May.22: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity flies to suborbital space from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic Completes First Human Spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico – Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic today completed its third spaceflight and the first ever spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico. Today’s flight sees New Mexico become the third US state to launch humans into space.

VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve, and reached space, at an altitude of 55.45 miles before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.

On VSS Unity’s flight deck were CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, while Kelly Latimer and Michael Masucci piloted VMS Eve. CJ, who flew as pilot-in-command, becomes the first person ever to have flown to space from three different states. The crew experienced extraordinary views of the bright, blue-rimmed curvature of the earth against the blackness of space. New Mexico’s White Sands National Park sparkled brilliantly below. Their experience today gives Virgin Galactic’s Future Astronaut customers a glimpse of what lies ahead.

Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “Today’s flight showcased the inherent elegance and safety of our spaceflight system, while marking a major step forward for both Virgin Galactic and human spaceflight in New Mexico. Space travel is a bold and adventurous endeavor, and I am incredibly proud of our talented team for making the dream of private space travel a reality. We will immediately begin processing the data gained from this successful test flight, and we look forward to sharing news on our next planned milestone.”

Virgin Galactic fulfilled a number of test objectives during the flight, including:

      • Carried revenue-generating scientific research experiments as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program.
      • Collected data to be used for the final two verification reports that are required as part of the current FAA commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s license.
      • Tested the spaceship’s upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls and validated EMI reductions.

Following the flight, and in line with normal procedures, Virgin Galactic will conduct a review of all test data gathered and thoroughly inspect the spaceship and mothership. Once the team confirms the results, the Company plans to proceed to the next flight test milestone.

Here is a description of the research experiments on the SS2: NASA-supported Tech to Fly on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo | NASA.

One of the payloads aboard is an electromagnetic field measurement experiment from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). Previous flight tests led to the technology’s evolution into the JANUS platform, which provides suborbital researchers with vital information about the environmental conditions inside a spacecraft, while also adding to knowledge about the lower ionosphere encountered at suborbital flight altitudes and how it may impact the performance of spacecraft and the technologies aboard them.

Progressively refined versions of the system have flown on Masten’s Xodiac vertical takeoff and vertical landing system and Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket-powered system, and the upcoming flight will be the second on SpaceShipTwo. The APL team is shaping JANUS into an integration platform for scientific research and suborbital instrument development, and adds to the technology’s environmental monitoring capabilities with each iterative flight. This progressive flight testing could eventually enable external suborbital environmental monitoring as well, by mounting the payload to the outside of a spacecraft.

“The access to these commercial flight vehicles through the Flight Opportunities program is truly game changing,” said H. Todd Smith, the JANUS principal investigator at APL. “This enables new phases of research and technology development with lower cost and repeatable testing. Without it, technologies that are highly relevant to suborbital flight research would be years behind where we are now.”

Also aboard SpaceShipTwo will be the Collisions into Dust Experiment (COLLIDE) from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. In addition to early tests aboard the space shuttle, the technology has flown on New Shepard, SpaceShipTwo, and parabolic flights. The experiment aims to advance our understanding of the behavior of dust and fine particles in response to human and robotic activities in space – on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids. It could also add to what scientists know about planet formation. Changes to the experiment setup since the last flight include improved stabilization of the payload and changes to the triggering of the experiment to maximize data collection in microgravity.

“We’re able to observe and learn more because of the ability to fly and then fly again,” said principal investigator Josh Colwell. “Our experiments on SpaceShipTwo are designed to help us learn more about the particular types of dust and particle collisions that previous flights showed us could be very interesting to study more closely – and to fix parts of our experiment that didn’t work the first time we tried them. So, the ability to make design changes and fly again is so crucial to gathering the data we need and hopefully increasing the science return on our work.”

See also:

The flight had been delayed to check an issue with the WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve carrier aircraft:

Virgin Galactic regularly monitors its vehicles to verify their condition and inform timing of future upgrades and modifications that can improve performance or reduce future maintenance work. A post-flight inspection of VMS Eve in early May called for further engineering analysis to assess a known maintenance item in the tail of the vehicle, which was scheduled to be addressed during the next maintenance period. This analysis has been completed with the Company determining structures healthy, clearing Eve for flight.

*** FAA grants Virgin Galactic license for SS2 flights with commercial passengers. Virgin Galactic Receives Approval From FAA for Full Commercial Launch License Following Success of May Test Flight – Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic today announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) updated the Company’s existing commercial space transportation operator license to allow the spaceline to fly customers to space.

The Company also announced that it has completed an extensive review of data gathered from its May 22 test flight and confirmed that the flight performed well against all flight objectives.

The adjustment to Virgin Galactic’s operator’s license, which the Company has held since 2016, marks the first time the FAA has licensed a spaceline to fly customers. It is further validation of the Company’s methodical testing program, which has met the verification and validation criteria required by the FAA.

Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said, “We’re incredibly pleased with the results of our most recent test flight, which achieved our stated flight test objectives. The flight performed flawlessly, and the results demonstrate the safety and elegance of our flight system. Today’s approval by the FAA of our full commercial launch license, in conjunction with the success of our May 22 test flight, give us confidence as we proceed toward our first fully crewed test flight this summer.”

See also:

*** Researcher to carry out experiments during Virgin Galactic suborbital spaceflight: Virgin Galactic Announces New Contract for Human-tended Research Spaceflight – Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic has announced a new contract to fly Kellie Gerardi, a researcher for the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), on a dedicated research flight, during which Kellie will conduct experiments and test new healthcare technologies while she is in space.

The IIAS and Virgin Galactic teams will collaborate with academic and government partners to carefully plan Kellie’s flight activities to maximize the science and technology advancements gained from the research experiments.

See also IIAS Announces World’s First Industry-Sponsored Researcher Contracted to Fly on Commercial Spacecraft – International Institute for Astronautical Sciences

Since 2015, IIAS has established research and education programs that use a variety of space-analog environments. The research spaceflight will advance the scientific knowledge gained from a number of Kellie’s previous reduced gravity flight campaigns performed here on Earth, including with the National Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

The IIAS experiments to be flown in space include the Astroskin Bio-Monitor wearable sensors system, developed by Canadian company Carré Technologies Inc. (Hexoskin) with the support of the CSA, as well as a free-floating fluid configuration experiment. The IIAS and Virgin Galactic teams will collaborate closely with academic and government partners to carefully plan Kellie’s spaceflight activities to maximize the science and technology advancements gained from her research experiments.

IIAS Founder Dr. Jason Reimuller said, “We’re excited to leverage the unique benefits of Virgin Galactic’s Spaceflight System for human-tended research. This has been a long-time goal of our institute and IIAS is proud to be the first research institute to produce a commercial astronaut. Throughout her years working with our institute, Kellie has demonstrated the expertise needed to produce novel research in dynamic operational environments. We’re looking forward to enabling the next generation of scientist-astronauts to conduct their research in space. ”

Kellie Gerardi said, “I’m enormously proud of my work with IIAS and I’m grateful to Dr. Reimuller and the team for the continued investment in me. I’m also excited by the precedent we’re setting with this human-tended research flight. I’m honored to take this first step on behalf of our community, and I’m looking forward to supporting the many talented researchers who will certainly follow.”

*** July.28: Rocket Lab to resume Electron launches following resolution of the failure in May (see next item): Rocket Lab to Launch U.S. Space Force Mission from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand | Rocket Lab

The dedicated mission is scheduled for lift-off on July 29, 2021 NZT (July 29 UTC) and will see Electron deploy an Air Force Research Laboratory-sponsored demonstration satellite called Monolith. The satellite will explore and demonstrate the use of a deployable sensor, where the sensor’s mass is a substantial fraction of the total mass of the spacecraft, changing the spacecraft’s dynamic properties and testing ability to maintain spacecraft attitude control. Analysis from the use of a deployable sensor aims to enable the use of smaller satellite buses when building future deployable sensors such as weather satellites, thereby reducing the cost, complexity, and development timelines. The satellite will also provide a platform to test future space protection capabilities.

The mission was procured by the Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program (STP) and the Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP), both based at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.; in partnership with the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) as part of the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative (RALI).  The mission is being managed by the Launch Enterprise’s Small Launch and Targets Division, which is part of the USSF’s launch organization of choice. The mission has been named ‘It’s a Little Chile Up Here’ in a nod to the beloved green chile of New Mexico where the Space Test Program is based.

‘It’s a Little Chile Up Here’ will be Rocket Lab’s fourth launch for the year and the company’s 21st Electron launch overall.

Originally slated for lift-off from Launch Complex 2 (LC-2) at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on NASA’s Wallops Island, Virginia, the mission has been transferred to Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) in New Zealand while NASA continues certification processes for autonomous flight termination system software for launches from LC-2.

*** July.20: Rocket Lab completed analysis of Electron launch failure in May. A problem in the second stage engine ignitor produced corrupted data that led to a series of faults and finally in an engine shutdown. Fixes have been made and preparations for next launch this month now underway. Rocket Lab Completes Anomaly Review, Next Mission on the Pad in July | Rocket Lab

The May 15 anomaly occurred after 17 successful orbital flights of the Electron launch vehicle which has deployed more than 100 satellites to orbit since 2018. Immediately following the anomaly, Rocket Lab launched a rigorous internal review, assembling its investigation team with oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The investigation team scoured thousands of channels of telemetry and systems data from the flight and worked systematically through an extensive fault tree analysis to determine the cause of the failure.

The review concluded that an issue occurred within the second stage engine igniter system almost three minutes and 20 seconds into the flight. This induced a corruption of signals within the engine computer that caused the Rutherford engine’s thrust vector control (TVC) to deviate outside nominal parameters and resulted in the engine computer commanding zero pump speed, shutting down the engine.

The igniter fault resulted from a previously undetectable failure mode within the ignition system that occurs under a unique set of environmental pressures and conditions. The issue was not evident during extensive pre-flight testing for this mission, including more than 400 seconds of burn for this particular engine, more than 1,500 Rutherford engine hot fires to date, and 17 successful orbital launches. Rocket Lab has since been able to reliably replicate the issue in testing and has implemented redundancies in the ignition system to prevent any future reoccurrence, including modifications to the igniter’s design and manufacture.

The anomaly review confirmed that Electron’s first stage performed flawlessly during the mission and did not contribute to the flight issue. As a result, Rocket Lab was able to conduct a successful reentry, ocean splashdown and recovery of the first stage as planned, marking a major milestone in the company’s program to make Electron a reusable launch vehicle.

See also

** Chinese commercial companies developing reusable rockets. Several rocket startup companies in China are pursuing reusable vehicles. Some are starting from small, low altitude vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) rockets, similar to the Masten Space vehicles, to learn the basics of reusable rocket construction and operation. They then plan to build orbital class rockets similar to the SpaceX Falcon 9 with a reusable first stage booster and expendable upper stage.

Space Pioneer announced recently a successful funding round that will enable development of its reusable rockets: Chinese rocket company Space Pioneer secures major funding ahead of first launch – SpaceNews

The funds will be used for the first flight on the Tianlong-1 reusable kerosene-liquid oxygen launch vehicle. Few details of the Tianlong-1 rocket have been revealed. Space Pioneer stated in September 2020 that the first flight vehicle would have a payload capacity to low Earth orbit of more than three metric tons. The first flight was slated for 2021 but Space Pioneer offered no date for the Tianlong-1 launch with the funding announcement.

Space Pioneer says it also completed the final assembly of the Tiansuo-1 vertical takeoff, vertical landing test stage in recent days. Fellow Chinese commercial firms iSpace and Deep Blue Aerospace are also closing in VTVL test stage “hop” tests. Space Pioneer also performed multiple hot fire tests of its 30-ton-thrust HCP liquid engine in the first half of 2021.

Space Pioneer says it is developing low-cost, highly reliable launch vehicles to respond to the requirements of China’s national Satellite Internet project, launching domestic and international commercial satellites and generally boosting China’s space economy. 

And here are images of tests of a VTOL vehicle by Deep Blue Aerospace:

Other rocket companies aiming for reusability includes iSpaceLinkSpace, and Onespace.

** July.19:  China launches Long March 2C rocket with 3 Yaogan-30 remote sensing satellites and Tianqi-15 communications satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The Yaogan-30 satellites are believed to be used for signals intelligence. An attempt was made to recover the two payload fairings that comprise the nosecone.  (SpaceX now often successfully recovers Falcon 9 payload fairings from the sea and reuses them.) The test was considered a success: China successfully tests technology that controls rocket fairing landings – People’s Daily Online.

A video released from the fairing parachute test:

More imagery and details at (Google translated version).

** July 9: China sends five satellites to orbit on fourth launch in a week. The Long March 6 carried five remote sensing satellites labeled the Zhongzi-02 group. The rocket lifted off from the inland Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the northern Shanxi Province of China.

** July 6: China launches a Tianlian communications relay satellite on Long March 3C rocket.

** July 5: China launches polar orbiting weather satellite on Long March 4C rocket.

** July 3: China launches Long March-2D rocket with five satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China. The payloads were sent into a sun synchronous orbit (SSO) and included three types of earth imaging satellites: Jilin-1 Kuanfu-01B for high res wide area viewing, 3 Jilin-1 Gaofen-03D remote sensing narrow area, and the  Xingshidai-10  smallsat.

** June.18: China launches Long March-2C with three Yaogan military reconnaissance satellites. There was also the Tianqi-14 commercial smallsat that will be used to test Internet of Things (IoT) services for the company Beijing Guodian Gaoke Technology Co. Ltd. The rocket lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

** June.17: China launches Shenzhou-12 spacecraft with crew of 3 to space station on Long March 2F rocket. The spacecraft docked with the Tianhe space station six and half hours later. The rocket launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert at 9:22 am. (Beijing Time). From Xinhua

The three astronauts are commander Nie Haisheng, a 56-year-old veteran who participated in the Shenzhou-6 and Shenzhou-10 missions, Liu Boming, 54, who was part of the Shenzhou-7 mission, and Tang Hongbo, 45, who is in his first space mission.

The three astronauts are expected to set a new record for China’s manned space mission duration, exceeding the 33 days kept by the Shenzhou-11 crew in 2016.

Their work will be more complicated and challenging than previous crewed missions, according to CMSA director Hao Chun.

The Shenzhou-12 crew will complete four major tasks in orbit, said Ji Qiming, assistant to the CMSA director, at a press conference held at launch center on Wednesday.

First, they will operate and manage the complex, including the in-orbit test of the Tianhe module, verification of the recycling and life support system, testing and operation training of the robotic arm, as well as management of materials and waste.

Second, they will move, assemble and test extravehicular spacesuits and perform two extravehicular activities for work including assembling an extravehicular toolbox, lifting the panoramic camera and installing extended pump sets.

Third, they will carry out space science experiments and technology experiments, as well as public outreach activities.

Fourth, they will manage their own health through daily life care, physical exercise, and regular monitoring and assessment of their own health status.

More at:

** June 11: Chinese Long March 2D puts 4 spacecraft into orbit including the commercial Earth observation satellite, Beijing-3.

Beijing-3 is a 0.5 meter resolution Earth observation satellite co-operated by Twenty First Century Aerospace Technology, a Beijing based aerospace company that specializes in providing Earth Observation services, and DFH Satellite Co, another Chinese based company that has produced around one third of Chinese satellites currently in orbit.

Despite being named Beijing-3, the satellite is actually set to become the fifth in a constellation of Earth observation spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit.

** June.3: China launches weather satellite on Long March-3B from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province The Fengyun-4B (FY-4B) is a next-generation Chinese weather satellite that will provide “weather analysis and forecasting, and environmental and disaster monitoring” from geostationary orbit.

** May.29: China launches cargo craft to the ISS. Docks to Tianhe station 8 hours later. A Long March-7 Y3 rocket lifted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of the southern island province of Hainan with the the cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-2. The vehicle is scheduled to dock with the new Tianhe space station core module to deliver supplies, equipment and propellant.China launches cargo spacecraft to dock with space station module – Xinhua

Measuring 10.6 meters in length and with a maximum diameter of 3.35 meters, the Tianzhou-2 cargo ship has a maximum takeoff weight of 13.5 tonnes and carries 6.8 tonnes of goods and materials.

More than 160 large and small packages, including supplies for astronauts and space-science equipment, and two tonnes of propellant have been loaded into the cargo freighter, according to the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

In addition to supplies for three astronauts, the gear delivered by Tianzhou-2 also includes two spacesuits for extra-vehicular activities, each weighing more than 100 kg.

Tianzhou-2 is also delivering space food, dubbed “space deliveries” by Chinese engineers, including many traditional Chinese dishes.

The cargo craft will operate in orbit for one year. Its power supply capacity is not less than 2,700 watts. It can also carry out multiple in-orbit refueling missions.

“China plans to build the space station into a state-level space lab supporting long astronaut stays and large-scale scientific, technological and application experiments,” said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program.

See also:

** May.19: China Long March-4B rocket puts Haiyang-2D (HY-2D) ocean monitoring satellite into orbit. The rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu Province in northwest China. The satellite joins 5 other Haijang satellites that monitor global ocean colors and water temperatures.

** July 3: Japan’s InterstellarTechnologies successfully launches suborbital rocket. This is the second successful flight following two failed attempts in 2020.

** July.21: Russian Proton-M rocket launches new ISS module: The long awaited Nauka (“Science”) module for the Int. Space Station was finally launched today from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Uzbekistan.  The original target date for the addition to the station was 2007. The Nauka will arrive at the ISS on July 29th and will dock to the Zvezda service module, replacing the Pirs module, which will be de-orbited. The primary function of Nauka is to support scientific research with  work stations, glove box, viewing port for earth observation studies, etc. It will also add 70 cubic meters of volume to the ISS and will provide another sleeping compartment for the Russian side of the station, a new toilet, and more water recycling and oxygen generation capabilities. ESA is sending a new robotic arm to the station via the Nauka module.

** July 1: Arianespace/Russian Soyuz launches 36 OneWeb satellites. The Soyuz 2.1b rocket lifted off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in far east Russia. According to OneWeb:

The latest launch takes OneWeb’s in-orbit constellation to 254 satellites, or 40% of OneWeb’s planned fleet of 648 LEO satellites that will deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity. OneWeb intends to make global service available in 2022.

Service demonstrations will begin this summer in several key locations – including Alaska and Canada – as OneWeb prepares for commercial service in the next six months. Offering enterprise-grade connectivity services, the Company has already announced distribution partnerships across several industries and businesses including with BT, ROCK Network, AST Group, PDI, Alaska Communications and others, as OneWeb expands its global capabilities. The Company continues to engage with telecommunications providers, ISPs, and governments worldwide to offer its low-latency, high-speed connectivity services and sees growing demand for new solutions to connect the hardest to reach places.

It will take about 10 more launches to complete the constellation. Find more about the launch and the OneWeb system at:

** June 29: Russian Progress cargo vehicle launched to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The docking with the station is set for 9:03 pm  EDT  on Thursday (0103 GMT Friday). The vehicle will deliver about 2.3 metric tons of propellants, water, spare parts, and scientific materials.

** June.25: Russia launches next-gen ocean signals reconnaissance satellite on Soyuz-2-1b rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome located in Northern Russia. The Pion-NKS No.901 satellite detects radio signals from ships at sea and also uses radar for ship tracking. The satellite is one of a series intended to replace Soviet era designed signals satellites.

No video of the launch has been released.

** May.28: Arianespace Soyuz launches OneWeb satellites. Soyuz Flight ST32 lifted off from Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome with 36 OneWeb satellites, expanding the Internet services constellation to 218 satellites in orbit. This was the 57th Soyuz mission for Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate. Flight ST32: Arianespace successfully deploys OneWeb constellation satellites – Arianespace

** June 30: Virgin Orbit successfully launches 7 satellites on first operational mission, following two demo flights.

Virgin Orbit confirmed it successfully deployed into orbit all 7 customer satellites onboard its LauncherOne rocket during today’s Tubular Bells: Part One mission.

Virgin Orbit’s 747 carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl took off from Mojave Air and Space Port this morning at approximately 6:50 A.M. PDT/1:50 PM UTC 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 LauncherOne rocket ignited and propelled itself towards space, ultimately deploying its payload into a precise target orbit approximately 500km above the Earth’s surface.

The satellites came from three customers:

  • U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program (STP) – four technology demo smallsats.
  • Poland’s SatRevolution – STORK-4 and STORK-5 Earth observation smallsats for a constellation that will eventually include 14 satellites.
  • Royal Netherlands Air Force – Brik-II 6-U Cubesat for communications technology tests.

More at:

See also:

** June 29: Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo vessel departs from the ISS: Northrop Grumman’s NG-15 Cygnus Spacecraft Departs International Space Station to Begin Secondary Mission – Northrop Grumman

The Cygnus is carrying nearly 4 tons of disposable materials. Before the vessel is de-orbited for a destructive reentry in the atmosphere, it will spend about three days in orbit to carry out the secondary phase of the mission. This will included deployment of

… five CubeSats via two separate CubeSat deployers, Slingshot and Nanoracks. This Cubesat deployment includes 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 developed in collaboration with UAE-based satellite operator Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat) and Northrop Grumman.

Northrop Grumman’s NG-15 Cygnus departs from the ISS. Credits: Northrop Grumman

The NG-15 Cygnus spacecraft was launched on Feb. 20 aboard Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket, carrying nearly 8,000 pounds of scientific research, supplies and equipment to the astronauts living on the station. The vehicle has been berthed with the orbiting laboratory since Feb. 22.

See also

** June 15: Northrop Grumman launches Minotaur 1 with three NRO smallsats from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0B at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Northrop Grumman Successfully Launches Minotaur I Rocket for the National Reconnaissance Office | Northrop Grumman

The Minotaur I is a four-staged solid fuel space launch vehicle, featuring two decommissioned Minuteman rocket motors, Northrop Grumman-manufactured Orion 50XL and Orion 38 solid rocket motors, and the company’s state-of-the-art avionics. The vehicle is capable of launching payloads of up to 1,278 pounds (or 580 kilograms) into low Earth orbit.

“This was our second launch of a Minotaur rocket for the NRO from Wallops in the past 12 months,” said Rich Straka, vice president, launch vehicles, Northrop Grumman. “Northrop Grumman is able to repurpose retired Peacekeeper and Minuteman propulsion, integrating them with company built solid rocket motors along with new subsystems for our Minotaur family of launch vehicles, allowing us to provide reliable, cost-effective and responsive access to space for our customers.”

The NROL-111 launch was the 12th Minotaur I flight and 6th from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The Minotaur family of launch vehicles is comprised of multiple configurations, tailored to meet unique mission requirements. The Minotaur fleet has now completed 28 missions from ranges in Alaska, California, Florida and Virginia with 100 percent success. Northrop Grumman’s Minotaur rockets are manufactured at facilities in Chandler, Arizona; Vandenberg, California; and Clearfield and Magna, Utah.

See also:

** June 12: Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL puts military smallsat into orbit: Northrop Grumman  successfully air launched a Pegasus XL rocket with the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) payload for the U.S. Space Force (USSF) . The L-1011 aircraft with the Pegasus attached below it flew out of the Vandenberg Space Force Base and launched the rocket over the Pacific Ocean.

Northrop Grumman Successfully Launches Pegasus XL Rocket. Credits: Northrop Grumman

** June.8: Relativity Space reveals design of fully reusable Terran-R rocket and announces latest funding round raised $650M to help pay for the rocket’s development:

A scale comparison of the Terran I to the reusable Terran R. Credits: Relativity Space

The Terran-R will be a

fully reusable, entirely 3D-printed launch vehicle. 

As a two-stage, 216-foot-tall rocket with a 16-foot diameter, and a 5-meter payload fairing, Terran R will be entirely reusable and capable of launching 20,000kg to low Earth orbit (LEO). Created in Relativity’s Factory of the Future, by the same printers as Terran 1, Terran R has unique aeronautical features and complex structures. The company’s proprietary 3D printing process utilizes software-driven manufacturing, exotic materials and unique design geometries that are not possible in traditional manufacturing, driving unprecedented innovation and disruption in the industry.  

Other than mentioning the use of 3D printed high-temperature metals, there are no details given on how they plan to tackle the difficult challenge of designing a reusable upper stage that avoids paying a large penalty in payload capability. In fact, the 20,000 kg payload to LEO beats the SpaceX Falcon 9, which expends the upper stage except for the fairings.

The goal is to fly the Terran R in 2024:

Terran R will be outfitted with seven 3D-printed Aeon R rocket engines capable of 302,000 lb. thrust each, while its upper stage houses one Aeon Vac engine. Starting in 2024, Terran R will launch from Launch Complex 16, the company’s site at Cape Canaveral, where Terran 1 is also set to launch this year. Combined with the ability to launch 20X more payload than Terran 1, Terran R provides both government and commercial customers affordable access to space, in LEO and beyond. With satellite technology advancements, demand for bandwidth soaring and satellite constellations representing the largest part of the growing market, Terran R was developed to accommodate the growing demand for large constellation launch services, and the company’s growing pipeline of commercial interest. As a testament to its commercial viability, Relativity recently signed its first anchor customer launch contract for its Terran R vehicle.

*** Progress on Terran 1 launch pad.

We are picking up stellar momentum here at Relativity as we work towards launch, including the completion of the maiden lift of our Strongback at Cape Canaveral! This exciting milestone involves a series of wins, from electrical utilities being brought to our launch site and commissioned, to activating our hydraulic lift system, as well as fabricating and installing the pad deck and launch table. To learn more and stay up-to-date as we prepare to launch, sign up for our newsletter here:

** Astra aims for very low cost expendable rockets to compete for the smallsat launch market. The Astra business case is opposite to that of Relativity Space. Astra will avoid 3-D printing and reusability and instead use the simplest manufacturing systems possible to build throwaway rockets as cheaply as possible. Chris Kemp, Astra;s founder, Chairman, and CEO, lays out the company’s strategy in this interview: Astra CEO Chris Kemp previews Rocket 4.0, daily launches, and a smarter planet –

*** Astra acquires company making electric-propulsion spacecraft engines. Apollo Fusion electric thrusters will enable Astra to offer upper stage to customers needing to reach higher orbits than available from Astra’s two-stage Rocket-3 vehicle.

*** First Vulcan launcher in assembly.

** The Game of Small Launchers. Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, reports on the competition to be The King Of Small Sat Launchers

Today I wanted to do a comparison of some key players in the small sat launch industry. With a handful of new launchers getting hardware out on the launch pad, launching and even some getting to orbit, I think now’s a good time to give you a rundown on some of these exciting new rockets and compare them to the Falcon 1 to see if the industry has caught up to what SpaceX was doing 12 years ago!

00:00 – Intro
03:45 – What is a Small Sat Launcher?
06:45– Rockets too cool to not mention

10:15 – Rocket Lab’s Electron
13:20 – Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne
16:30 – Astra’s Rocket
19:10 – Firefly’s Alpha
21:00 – ABL’s RS1
22:30 – Relativity’s Terran-1

24:30 – Comparison
28:30 – Conclusion

Check out our article version of this video for sources and easy searching!…

** JAXA space agency sponsors test of a detonation propulsion system on a suborbital rocket:

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the sounding rocket “S520-31” from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kimotsuki Town at 5:30 am on the 27th. For the first time in outer space, we have demonstrated a technology called a “detonation engine” that converts a shock wave generated by the reaction of methane and oxygen into thrust. Capsules recording the state of the experiment were collected at sea.

** Launcher, Inc. gains new funding and aims for 2024 debut launch. Launcher raises $11 million, ramps up hiring for 2024 flight | Ars Technica

The California-based rocket startup Launcher said Wednesday it has raised $11.7 million in a Series-A round of funding, well above its $7 million goal, as it seeks to accelerate development of its first orbital vehicle.

In an interview, Launcher founder Max Haot said the company remains on track to debut the small satellite “Launcher Light” rocket in 2024. However, to meet this goal, the company needs to grow significantly now.

[Launcher founder Max ] Haot said the company will probably need to reach about 150 employees by the time of its first orbital flight. He hopes to do so with a total budget of $50 million, supported by an additional round of funding expected to be complete by early next year. Reaching orbit with a budget of $50 million would be about half that expended by Rocket Lab, and still less than other small launch competitors.

**  Launcher developing orbital transfer vehicle that can operate from its own rocket as well as other launch systems.  Named Orbiter, the tug will carry a payload of up to 150 kg and will deploy up to 90 CubeSats. It can also carry larger smallsats that use standard deployers. Orbiter can also host payloads, supplying them with power, communications, etc. The tug is powered by ethylene and nitrous oxide propellants. The first mission is set for the fall of 2022.

** PLD Space wins ESA contract for reusable booster study: PLD Space receives €1M contract from ESA to study the reuse of the MIURA 5 booster – PLD Space

The new project by PLD Space and the European Space Agency (ESA), known as Liquid Propulsion Stage Recovery 2 (LPSR 2), is a continuation of the previous contract awarded by ESA to PLD Space in 2017. This contract is part of ESA’s Future Launchers Programme and focuses on the study of re-entry trajectories and configurations for the safe descent of stage one of MIURA 5, which will be launched from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. The €1M in financial support from ESA will enable PLD to study a series of optimised trajectories, in terms of viability and of safety for recovery of an initial liquid propulsion stage, of MIURA 5 after its launch from Europe’s Spaceport, in an attempt to reduce the current distance covered by this stage from around 700 km to less than half, or even returning the booster to the launch pad.

To undertake the programme, PLD Space will conduct an exhaustive review of the ground and launch operations regulations in French Guiana, a European spaceport coordinated by the French Space Agency, CNES. The company from Elche will also study three main re-entry scenarios as part of the contract:

    • Propulsive braking on re-entry to reduce the horizontal distance the rocket travels from the launch pad, estimated at around 700 km.
    • Propulsive braking and change of trajectory to reverse and attempt to land offshore of the spaceport or attempt a landing on a platform near the launch base.
    • Optimised ascent for stage one in an attempt to reduce the parabolic flight of the rocket once separated from stage two.

Moreover, different technologies that might be useful for the successful re-entry of stage one of the MIURA 5 rocket will also be studied:

    • Propulsion: technologies and processes to control the thrust of the engines during re-entry.
    • Structures: manufacturing and reusability of a full-size fuel tank with its fatigue cycles.
    • Avionics: reusability in the MIURA 5 flight environment of the avionics developed for MIURA 1.

** Masten Space takes ol’Xodiac, vertical takeoff and landing rocket, out for a spin:

This week, we ran a tethered flight test on our VTVL rocket, Xodiac (it was a windy day in Mojave!). Why do we run these tests you might ask?

A few reasons:
👉 To train new hires and cross-train existing team members.
👉 Get into the field and practice all elements that go into an operation.
👉 Keep the team proficient and maintain exposure to the test environment before our next free flight.

P.s. We’re hiring! Come fly with us:

** Update on Firefly Aerospace: Here is a recent presentation given to the FISO (Future In-Space Operations) study group on rocket development at Firefly : “Firefly Aerospace: Making Space for Everyone” –  Eric Salwan, Firefly Aerospace – July 7, 2021. You can follow the audio with the slides (pdf).

** Update on EXOS Aerospace: Here is an interview video with John Quinn, CEO of EXOS:

At Exos our mission in life is not to build and fly Low Earth Orbit capable reusable rockets but rather, to enable other brilliant minds to change the world for the better …as two examples: First, the rapid space manufacturing of mesenchymal stem cells (or MSC’s) for regenerative medical treatments have shown phenomenal results in clinical trials after return from the International Space Station (Exos can do in months what took years on ISS). Secondly, enabling the development and deployment of reusable hypersonic technologies that will drastically reduce point-to-point travel times in the new global economy.

See also EXOS Aerospace Signs An MoU With Financial Expertise Consortium For Series A Action – SatNews.


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

The latest issue:
Bezos to Fly, SpaceX Gains, Commercial Space Markets
Vol. 16, No. 4, June 8, 2021

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** Briefs:


** E64: NASA & Space Nuclear Propulsion Aerospace Corp Space Policy (Vimeo) – Center for Space Policy & Strategy (CSPS)

** Space Nuclear Propulsion for Human Mars Exploration: The National Academy Report, Roger Myers, R. Myers Consulting –  FISO (Future In-Space Operations) June 16, 2021. Slides (pdf).

** Spaceflight Inc.‘s Sherpa-LTE1 Orbital Transfer Vehicle Overview

Spaceflight Inc. VP of Engineering Philip Bracken provides an overview of the company’s Sherpa-LTE1, the industry’s first electric propulsive orbital transfer vehicle (OTV). The OTV will fly on Spaceflight’s SXRS-5 (SpaceX Transporter-2) mission no earlier than June 2021.

** A Roadmap to the Multiplanetary Civilization with Photonic Laser Thruster, Young Bae, Y.K. Bae CorporationFISO (Future In-Space Operations) June 2, 2021. Slides (pdf).

** T+191: Phil Bracken, VP of Engineering at Spaceflight – Main Engine Cut Off

**  Nanoracks’ 20th CubeSat Deployment Mission on The ISSNanoracks

Deployments of two Customer CubeSats from the Nanoracks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD) onboard the International Space Station (ISS). This completes Nanoracks’ 40th ISS deployment mission and marks our 262nd CubeSat released from the ISS, and the 285th small satellite deployed by Nanoracks overall. Both satellites deployed (@11:10), RamSat and SOAR, each have strong educational and research-based goals. Read more… Nanoracks ISS Satellite Launch Services:…

** Hotel Mars (John Batchelor Show/The Space Show) Tuesday, May.18.2021Douglas Messier spoke with John Batchelor and Dr. David Livingston about Virgin Galactic and “SpaceShipTwo problems and problems noted with the Eve mothership“.

** Airship to Orbit AnimationJP Aerospace Blog

** EPS 2: Terry Virts Talks to Eric Berger (Senior Space Editor at Ars Technica)Astro Terry

Eric Berger is the Senior Space Editor at Ars Technica, and he also is a meteorologist who runs Space City Weather, a hype-free weather site for Houston and the Gulf Coast. His latest book, Liftoff, is about the early days of SpaceX. Today we talk about NASA’s human and robotic space programs, what the future of space will look like, and what weather threats we are facing in the 21st Century.

** The Space Show – Friday, June.25.2021Alexey Bobrick and Gianni Martire talked about “their warp drive paper, which is linked to on our blog, advanced physics and warp drive plus more“.

** Weekly Space Hangout: June 2, 2021 – Advances In Warp Drive Technology Research w/Dr. Mario BorundaWeekly Space Hangout

This week we welcome Dr. Mario Borunda to the show. In his recent article published on, Mario discusses advancements in warp drive technology research. You can read his article, “Warp Drives: Physicists Give Chances Of Faster-Than-Light Space Travel A Boost,” here:… Dr. Borunda double-majored in Physics and Mathematics earning his B.S. from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2003. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from Texas A&M University in 2008. He spent three years as a postdoc and nine months as a research associate at Harvard University. In September 2012 he became a faculty member of the physics department at Oklahoma State University. Dr. Borunda has also been a visiting researcher at Harvard University.

** Achieving Interstellar Travel Featuring Harold “Sonny” White, PH.D.Limitless Space Institute

** T+194: Branson & Bezos Fly To Space – Main Engine Cut Off

Richard Branson flew to space aboard SpaceShipTwo on Virgin Galactic’s Unity 22, and Jeff Bezos flew to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard 16. I share my thoughts on the flights, the vehicles, and how I’m currently looking at suborbital tourism and why it does or doesn’t matter.


Continue to Roundup Part 2 on  SpaceX.

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Test Gods:
Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut


Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days
That Launched SpaceX


America’s New Destiny in Space

Space transport roundup – Part 2: Everybody Else – May.18.2021

Here is a sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here). Today’s Part 1 Roundup focused on  SpaceX. Part 2 here reports on other companies and organizations.

** Rocket Lab Electron second stage fails in launch attempt; First stage recovered from sea. Two BlackSky earth observation satellites were lost. The first stage made a soft landing upon the ocean and it was retrieved: Rocket Lab Progresses Flight Review, Recovers First Stage Following Successful Ocean Splashdown | Rocket Lab

On May 15, 2021, Rocket Lab experienced an anomaly almost three minutes into the company’s 20th Electron launch. Following a successful lift-off from Launch Complex 1, Electron proceeded through a nominal first stage engine burn, stage separation, and stage 2 ignition. Shortly after the second stage ignition the engine shut down, resulting in the loss of the mission.

Rocket Lab continued to receive good telemetry from Electron following the safe engine shutdown on stage two, providing engineers with comprehensive data to review as part of a robust review into the anomaly. The extensive data is being methodically scoured to enable the review team to accurately pinpoint the issue and implement corrective actions for future missions. Rocket Lab is leading the flight review with the support of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); a structure that ensures Rocket Lab maintains a high degree of control over its return-to-flight schedule.

Preliminary data reviews suggest an engine computer detected an issue shortly after stage 2 engine ignition, causing the computer to command a safe shutdown as it is designed to do. The behavior had not been observed previously during Rocket Lab’s extensive ground testing operations, which include multiple engine hot fires and full mission duration stage tests prior to flight. The vehicle remained within the pre-determined safety corridor during the flight.  The full review is expected to be complete in the coming weeks and Rocket Lab anticipates a swift return to flight. 

“We deeply regret the loss of BlackSky’s payload and we are committed to returning to flight safely and reliably for our customers,” said Rocket Lab founder and chief executive, Peter Beck. “We are methodically working through the review process to address the issue. After 17 successful missions and more than 100 satellites deployed to orbit prior to this mission, and with multiple launch vehicles currently in production, we are confident in a swift and reliable return to flight with minimal impact on our launch manifest this year.”

Flight data shows Electron’s first stage performed nominally during the mission and did not contribute to the flight issue. The first stage safely completed a successful splashdown under parachute as planned and Rocket Lab’s recovery team retrieved the stage from the ocean for transport back to Rocket Lab’s production complex as part of the company’s reusability test program. The new heat shield debuted in this flight protected the stage from the intense heat and forces experienced while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere and the program took yet another major advancement towards reusability of the rocket. The engines remain in good condition and Rocket Lab intends to put them through hot fire testing for analysis. Selected components from the recovered stage are also suitable for reflight on future missions. Rocket Lab’s program to make Electron a reusable launch vehicle is advancing quickly and the company intends to conduct its third recovery mission later this year.

See also:

Here is a pre-launch release from Rocket Lab with more details about the first stage recovery plan: Rocket Lab to Recover Electron Booster on Next Mission | Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab, the leading launch and space systems company, today announced that on its next mission the company will attempt to bring a rocket back from space, slowing the Electron launch vehicle down from speeds of >Mach 8 as it re-enter’s Earth’s atmosphere before splashing the rocket down in the ocean. The complex mission is the next major step toward making Electron the first orbital-class reusable small launch vehicle, enabling rapid-turnaround launches for small satellites.

Scheduled for launch in May 2021 from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, the ‘Running Out of Toes’, mission will be Rocket Lab’s 20th Electron launch overall and the second of three planned ocean splashdown recovery missions. The mission will see Electron deploy two Earth-observation satellites for BlackSky’s global monitoring constellation. While Electron’s second stage delivers the satellites to orbit, Electron’s first stage will undertake a series of complex maneuvers designed to enable the stage to survive the extreme heat and forces of atmospheric re-entry on the way back to Earth.

As the rocket reaches speeds of around eight times the speed of sound on its descent, the air around Electron heats up to 2,400 °C generating an extremely hot plasma that creates a red-orange glow around the re-entering stage. Because Electron will enter the atmosphere engines first, the nine 3D printed Rutherford engines on the first stage will bear the brunt of this extreme heating. To withstand the immense temperatures, this Electron features an evolved heat shield designed to protect the engines and direct the force of the plasma away from the rocket. After entering the atmosphere, Electron will deploy a drogue parachute to help begin the process of slowing the rocket down and stabilizing its descent. Once Electron is at subsonic speeds, a circular parachute is deployed to help further slow the rocket in preparation for a gentle ocean splashdown. A Rocket Lab vessel will then rendezvous with the stage in the splashdown zone, approximately 650 km from Launch Complex 1, and retrieve it for transport back to Rocket Lab’s Production Complex for inspection.

Recovered First Stage. Credits: Rocket Lab

See also these pre-launch reports:

A pre-launch interview with Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck: The First Private Space Mission to Venus | The Space Show – Motherboard

Rocket Lab, the private space company best known for launching small payloads into orbit, is poised to become the first private company to ever explore another planet. Founder Peter Beck shares his plans to put a probe into the atmosphere of the hottest planet in the solar system.

** May.18: ULA Atlas V rocket launches Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) reconnaissance satellite for the US Air Force. The initial launch attempt was scrubbed on Monday due to a problem with a valve in the propellant loading system. This is the first launch this year of an Atlas rocket and the second ULA launch overall for 2021 following the Delta IV Heavy launch mentioned below.

** May.5: Blue Origin announced an auction for a seat on the first New Shepard flight with passengers. No word yet on the prices for regular ticket prices for future flights..

On July 20th, #NewShepard will fly its first astronaut crew to space. We are offering one seat on this first flight to the winning bidder of our online auction. Starting today, anyone can place an opening bid by going to The winning bid amount will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and help invent the future of life in space. This seat will change how you see the world. #GradatimFerociter

A video released on May 6th:

#NewShepard has flown 15 successful consecutive missions to space and back above the Kármán Line through a meticulous and incremental flight program to test its multiple redundant safety systems. Now, it’s time for astronauts to climb onboard.

See also:

** Apr.12: Blue Origin successfully flew New Shepard in rehearsal of first flight with people on board.

Blue Origin successfully completed its 15th consecutive mission to space and back today and conducted a series of simulations to rehearse astronaut movements and operations for future flights with customers on board. This mission marked a verification step prior to flying astronauts.

For the first time, Blue Origin personnel standing in as astronauts entered the capsule prior to launch. These astronauts conducted a series of tests from within the capsule, including a comms check with the Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM), procedures for entering and exiting the capsule, and pre-launch preparations within the capsule. Following the crew capsule landing, the astronauts rehearsed post-flight procedures, hatch opening, and exiting the capsule.

Also onboard today was Mannequin Skywalker and more than 25,000 postcards from Club for the Future, the nonprofit founded by Blue Origin.

More videos from Blue:

Meet CrewMember 7

CrewMember 7 is a unique role at Blue Origin. There are two assigned to each astronaut flight for New Shepard—one is embedded with the astronauts to help them ingress and egress the capsule while the other serves as Capsule Communications (CAPCOM) during the flight. Learn more about their unique and important role in astronaut training and flight operations at Blue Origin.

Safety, Blue Origin’s Top Mission

Blue Origin has been flight testing the New Shepard rocket and its redundant safety systems since 2012. The program has completed 15 consecutive successful missions, including three successful tests of the crew escape system, showing it can activate safely in any phase of flight.

Blue Origin’s Launch Site One

Take a tour of Launch Site One, nestled in the Guadalupe Mountains in West Texas, where astronauts will fly to space and back onboard New Shepard.

An experience unlike any other

Flying to space on a fully reusable rocket is an experience unlike any other. Bid now for the very first seat on #NewShepard at #LaunchLandRepeat

** Other Blue Origin items:

** May.6: China launched a Long March-2C with four satellites from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center located in the Sichuan Province in southwest China. The payload included three Yaogan-30 satellites, which will become members of a constellation used for “electromagnetic environmental detection and related technological tests”. The constellation is generally believed a Chinese military program. The fourth spacecraft was the Tianqi 12 commercial data relay smallsat built by the Chinese company Guodian Gaoke.

** Apr.30: China launched the Yaogan-34 remote sensing satellite on a Long March-4C rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. Note that, as usual with this rocket, it sheds insulation tiles as it lifts off: China successfully launches Yaogan-34 remote sensing satellite – Xinhua

** Apr.29: Arianespace Vega rocket sends Pléiades Neo-3 and five secondary payloads into orbit. Despite its name, the Neo-3 is the first satellite in orbit for the Airbus Pléiades earth observation constellation of four satellites, each with 30 cm resolution. The secondaries “included an observation microsatellite for the Norwegian space agency, Norsat-3, and four cubesats, for the operators Eutelsat, NanoAvionics/Aurora Insight and Spire”. The solid-fueled rocket lifted off from the ESA spaceport in French Guiana on its 18th mission.

** Apr.28: A Chinese Long March 5B heavy lift rocket put the first module of the Tianhe space station into orbit. The module is 16.6 meters long and has a max diameter of 4.2 meters. Including fuel, the Tianhe module weighs about 22.5 metric tons. This launch initiates a significant acceleration in the activity of China’s human spaceflight program. About 10 missions through 2022 will complete the station construction. These missions include additional modules as well as cargo and crews. When finished, the station will be comparable in size and design to the Soviet/Russian MIR station.

** Apr.27: ULA Delta IV Heavy launches spysat from Vandenberg. The NROL-82 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) successfully flew from the California spaceport early Tuesday morning. The payload is speculated to be an optical imaging satellite of the KH-11/Crystal line.

** Apr.27: Chinese Long March 6 launches nine satellites: The commercial satellites were from different companies and included missions involving remote sensing, radar imaging, technology testing such as orbital debris removal and near earth asteroid detection.

** Apr.26: Arianespace Soyuz launches 36 OneWeb satellites. These bring the total number of OneWeb satellites launched so far to 182. The company says it needs to reach a fleet size of 648 to achieve operational global service. The system aims to provide backbone connections to local IP providers rather than connect o individual users as with SpaceX’s Starlink system.

** Firefly Alpha rocket vertical on Vandenberg launch pad. First launch expected within a few months.

May.4: Firefly gains new investment: Space startup Firefly raises $75 million, studies public listing | Reuters.

Firefly Aerospace said on Tuesday it has raised $75 million in private capital, the first of two injections totaling up to $400 million that Chief Executive Tom Markusic anticipates will give his space startup a multibillion-dollar value by year-end.

Reuters reported last week that Firefly was close to announcing a capital infusion to fund development of its ambitious spacecraft portfolio, anchored by two carbon-composite rockets.

** Apr.17: Soyuz capsule lands in Kazakhstan with three ISS Expedition 64 crew members. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov returned to Earth after completing their six month stay on the International Space Station.

The crew departed the station in their Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft at 9:34 p.m. EDT Friday and landed safely under parachutes at 12:55 a.m. (10:55 a.m. Kazakhstan time) Saturday southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. It was the second spaceflight for Rubins and Ryzhikov and the first for Kud-Sverchkov.

Rubins will return to her home in Houston, and Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov will return to their homes and training base in Star City, Russia.

More at:

** Apr.9: Soyuz takes crew to ISS in brief 3 hour transit: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov launched to the station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday, April 9th. The very precise timing of the liftoff and alignment of the flight trajectory with the station’s orbit allowed them to rendezvous and dock to the station in little more than 3 hours.

** Apr.9: Chinese Long March 4B launches third Shiyan-6 experimental technology satellites into orbit.

** Apr.12: Northrop Grumman servicing vehicle docks to Intelsat communications satellite in GEO . The MEV-2 (Mission Extension Vehicle 2) becomes the second of NG’s MEV vehicles to mate to a Intelsat bird to provide station keeping services when the satellite’w fuel is depleted. Northrop Grumman and Intelsat Make History with Docking of Second Mission Extension Vehicle to Extend Life of Satellite | Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) and the company’s wholly-owned subsidiary, SpaceLogistics LLC, have successfully completed the docking of the Mission Extension Vehicle-2 (MEV-2) to the Intelsat 10-02 (IS-10-02) commercial communications satellite to deliver life-extension services. The docking was completed at 1:34 p.m. EST.

Northrop Grumman is the only provider of flight-proven life extension services for satellites, and this is the second time the company has docked two commercial spacecraft in orbit. The company’s MEV-1 made history when it successfully docked to the Intelsat 901 (IS-901) satellite in February 2020. Unlike MEV-1, which docked above the GEO orbit before moving IS-901 back into service, MEV-2 docked with IS-10-02 directly in its operational GEO orbital location.

“Today’s successful docking of our second Mission Extension Vehicle further demonstrates the reliability, safety and utility of in-space logistics,” said Tom Wilson, vice president, strategic space systems, Northrop Grumman and president, SpaceLogistics LLC. “The success of this mission paves the way for our second generation of servicing satellites and robotics, offering flexibility and resiliency for both commercial and government satellite operators, which can enable entirely new classes of missions.”

An image of Intelsat 10-02 taken by MEV-2’s
infrared wide field of view camera at 15m away.
Credits: Northrop-Grumman

According to Intelsat:

MEV-2 will provide five years of service to IS-10-02 before undocking and moving on to provide services for a new mission. IS-10-02 delivers broadband and media distribution services to Intelsat customers across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America; it is a key satellite in the Intelsat-Telenor Satellite 1˚ West video neighborhood, which distributes more than 900 channels to some 18 million TV households across Europe. Telenor Satellite own about half of IS-10-02’s Ku band payload, which it markets as THOR 10-02 and contributed to today’s successful mission.

The Mission Extension Vehicle is the first in Northrop Grumman’s lineup of satellite servicing vehicles, but following last year’s robotic servicing mission award from DARPA, the company is working with the agency on a mission that will feature the first-ever commercial robotic servicing spacecraft. This mission will expand the market for satellite servicing of both commercial and government client satellites with advanced robotics using the company’s Mission Robotics Vehicle (MRV) to conduct in-orbit repair, augmentation, assembly, detailed inspection and relocation of client satellites through robotics.

To further complement its on-orbit servicing portfolio, Northrop Grumman is leveraging model based systems engineering to develop its Mission Extension Pods (MEPs) which will also provide critical life extension services to aging satellites. The MRV will be used to install these pods on existing in-orbit commercial and government client satellites to extend their mission lives. The company is targeting 2024 for launch of both the MRV and the initial MEPs.

See also:

Northrop’s MEV dockings highlight arrival of reusable in-space transport systems. The era of reusability in space has begun | Ars Technica

It’s a win for Northrop Grumman as well. The company made history a year ago when its first mission-extension vehicle docked with another Intelsat satellite, moved it from a graveyard orbit, powered it on, and placed it back into active service. No two commercial spacecraft had ever docked in orbit before. The difference Monday is that the servicing vehicle docked with an active satellite in a busier orbit. Both of the mission-extension vehicles will detach from their Intelsat targets in 2025 and move on to other satellites and have a functional lifetime until 2035.

Northrop sold the first two mission-extension missions to a commercial customer, Intelsat. However, the company expects that much of its future business may come from governments seeking to protect and extend the life of their most valuable assets in space.

NG has a long term game plan for reusable in-space systems:

In 2024, Northrop plans to launch a “Mission Robotic Vehicle” that can provide basic inspection and repair services and deploy mission extension pods to satellites. After this, the company plans to develop refueling capabilities and debris removal from the vicinity of high-value satellites. Finally, in the 2030s, the company intends to begin in-orbit assembly and manufacturing capabilities.

Over the last decade, SpaceX has radically changed the paradigm of launch from that of expendable rockets to a future in which at least the first stages of such boosters are reused. This is lowering the cost of launch and allowing companies to put more and more satellites into various orbits around Earth. As this environment becomes more cluttered, the responsible thing is to more actively refuel, recycle, and dispose of satellites. Northrop Grumman has made meaningful progress toward such a future of satellite servicing. As a result, reusability is now moving into space.

** Sierra Nevada spins off Dream Chaser and other space systems into Sierra Space, a new standalone company.

FAA grants license for Dream Chaser landings at Cape Kennedy’s Shuttle runway. When cargo missions to the ISS begin in 2022, the Dream Chasers will be able to land directly at KSC just as the Space Shuttles did for many years.


Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader, has entered into a Use Agreement for Space Florida’s Launch and Landing Facility (LLF) to land the Dream Chaser spaceplane in support of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 (CRS-2) contract. Dream Chaser, America’s Spaceplane, will service the International Space Station (ISS) under the CRS-2 contract in 2022.

“This is a monumental step for both Dream Chaser and the future of space travel,” said SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen. “To have a commercial vehicle return from the International Space Station to a runway landing for the first time since NASA’s space shuttle program ended a decade ago will be a historic achievement.”

The Use Agreement makes SNC the first commercial user of Space Florida’s FAA Re-entry Site Operator License and provides the runway and support facilities needed during testing and landing. It also takes SNC one step further in applying for its own FAA re-entry license, something needed ahead of the first Dream Chaser mission next year.

** Latest from PLD Space of Spain, which is developing the MIURA 1, a reusable, liquid fueled suborbital sounding rocket.

** Virgin Galactic delays SpaceShipTwo flight to deal with problems with the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. The company had already suffered a delay in flying the SS2 VSS Unity due to an issue with electromagnetic interference (EMI) affecting the operation of a new flight control computer. Now the unspecified problem with the WhiteKnightTwo vehicle, VMS Eve, must be dealt with before Unity can return to space.  Aircraft issue could delay resumption of SpaceShipTwo test flights – SpaceNews

While Unity may be ready for flight, the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft that carries the plane aloft, called VMS Eve, may not. Moses said that after three flights of the plane from Spaceport America in the last two weeks, post-flight inspections revealed “a potential wear-and-tear issue as requiring further evaluation and analysis.”

Moses, in response to later questions from analysts, did not disclose the specific component of the aircraft that was at the heart of the issue, but described it as a “family of items that relate to fatigue and long-term stress” of the airplane. It was not an issue with the number of flights of VMS Eve, which first flew in 2008 and has made fewer than 300 flights since.

Engineers are currently examining the plane to determine if additional maintenance is needed now to correct that problem, with an update expected next week. Virgin Galactic had planned to perform work on the plane this fall during a downtime that would also include work on VSS Unity, but Moses said engineers are now looking at whether some of that work needs to be moved up.

Other Virgin Galactic reports:

The new book, Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut [Amazon commission link] gives the inside story of the SpaceShipTwo program, which is reaching 17 years in age:

See also: Virgin Galactic CIO Sees Key Role as Company Prepares for Commercial Operations – WSJ

** Virgin Orbit announces third LauncherOne mission set for June. Introducing Our Next Mission: Tubular Bells, Part One | Virgin Orbit

We’re proud to have retired our “Launch Demo” program and the corresponding mission names, and are delighted to share with you some details about our upcoming mission, which we have named “Tubular Bells, Part One.

Mission Manifest:

    • The U.S. Department of Defense, which is launching three CubeSat sets aspart of the DoD Space Test Program’s (STP) Rapid Agile Launch (RALI)Initiative. This launch, also known as STP-VP27A, was awarded to VirginOrbit subsidiary VOX Space by the DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), anorganization working to accelerate the adoption of commercial technologyinto the U.S. military to strengthen national security.
    • The Royal Netherlands Air Force, which is launching the Netherlands’ firstmilitary satellite, a CubeSat called BRIK II, built and integrated by InnovativeSolutions in Space, with contributions from the University of Oslo, the DelftUniversity of Technology, and Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre.
    • SatRevolution, which is launching the first two optical satellites, STORK-4and STORK-5 (A.K.A. MARTA), of the company’s 14-satellite STORKconstellation.

Virgin Orbit won a six satellite launch contract: Virgin Orbit to Launch Hyperspectral Constellation for QinetiQ, HyperSat | Virgin Orbit. The company was

selected by defense and security company QinetiQ and geospatial analytics company HyperSat to launch a series of six hyperspectral satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

The team selected Virgin Orbit as the launch provider in part because of the unparalleled agility, mobility, and responsiveness afforded by air-launch, which allows for shorter call-up times and more flexible scheduling for customers, as well as direct injection into precise target orbits. In addition to the value for commercial customers, this capability enables a major strategic advantage to government customers seeking to maintain unencumbered overhead intelligence.

The first launch no earlier than 2023

They have released an edited version of the webcast of their first successful launch:

In January 2021, the Virgin Orbit team made history with the first successful air launch of a liquid-fueled, orbital class rocket. As LauncherOne streaked through the atmosphere that day, Virgin Orbit teammates on the ground — those not in our Mission Control Center — had all eyes and ears tuned into an internal livestream hosted by their fellow colleagues. You can check out that livestream here, edited for length, to relive our most significant milestone to date! We’ll have more news to share soon about our next mission with LauncherOne. Join us as we continue our journey to provide frequent, reliable flights to space for satellite makers and operators around the world.

May.12: Another contract for Virgin Orbit: Virgin Orbit to Launch Quantum Encryption Satellites for Arqit | Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit, the California-based responsive launch company, today announced it has been selected by UK-based Arqit Limited, a leader in quantum encryption technology, to conduct two launches to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) beginning in 2023.

Arqit has pioneered a unique quantum encryption technology, QuantumCloud™, which makes the communications links of any networked device secure against current and future forms of hacking — even an attack from a quantum computer. Currently, Arqit’s system delivers an unlimited number of encryption keys using terrestrial communications systems, but by incorporating satellites, Arqit can further enhance the system.

Arqit’s satellites will use a new quantum protocol that will create a backbone of secure keys within the data centers of Arqit’s customers all over the world, and a quantum safe boundary protecting those data centers.

Virgin Orbit will provide launch services for the two satellites via its LauncherOne system. The companies are discussing a further set of launches after the initial program, as Arqit seeks to address its growing market of government customers. This could potentially include future launches from Spaceport Cornwall out of Newquay, UK, where Virgin Orbit will commence operations beginning in 2022, providing the UK with its first in-country launch capability.

See also Arqit raising $400 million with a SPAC to launch quantum encryption satellites in 2023 – SpaceNews.


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

The latest issue:
Starships and Luna, Commercial LEO, Sen. Nelson
Vol. 16, No. 3, April 3, 2021

Space Frontier Foundation Award for NewSpace Journalism


** Advanced Rockets Corporation aims for low cost access to space with a combined cycle propulsion system, a hybrid approach in which the engine is air-breathing during flight within the atmosphere and then switches to onboard oxygen once outside the atmosphere. Rocket based combined-cycle rockets have been a long sought goal. Reaction Engines, for example, has been developing the Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) for decades. The SABRE would power vehicles to space and enable hypersonic transports for point-to-point travel on earth.

ARC claims their LEAPS combined cycle design will power their DELV vehicle to space:

Our rocket based combined cycle propulsion system has a unique approach that allows us to use the same systems during air-breathing and rocket mode. This allows seamless and simple transitions between each operational mode and massively reduces dead weight. Our engines will be operational from Mach 0 – 10 with an estimated ISP of 1800 (Most traditional rocket systems operate around 300).

** Boeing’s Starliner set to launch uncrewed demo mission to the ISS on July 30th. Boeing and NASA Update Launch Target for Next Starliner Test Flight – Boeing

Boeing and NASA are targeting 2:53 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, July 30, for the launch of Starliner’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2, or OFT-2, mission to the International Space Station pending range approval. The updated launch target is supported by the space station visiting vehicle schedule and availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Boeing will continue preparing the Crew Flight Test vehicle for flight until launch activities involving the OFT-2 vehicle, such as loading cargo and fueling the spacecraft, are scheduled to begin. Boeing recently completed end-to-end testing of Starliner’s flight software by flying a five-day simulated OFT-2 mission with operations teams and the highest-fidelity hardware. Boeing will continue supporting NASA’s post-test reviews and has submitted all OFT-2 verification and validation paperwork. All actions recommended by the Boeing/NASA Joint Independent Review Team as a result of Starliner’s first test flight are complete and pending closure.

First crew mission may have to wait till February 2022. Lack of docking ports causing the delays: It now seems likely that Starliner will not launch crew until early 2022 | Ars Technica

The primary issue is the availability of space station docking ports fitted with an “international docking adapter,” which are used by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Cargo Dragon 2, and Starliner vehicles. There are presently two such ports on the station, and for NASA, the priority for access to these ports are crew rotations followed by supply missions. So the question becomes when the Starliner test flight can find an open slot on station.

The Crew-2 mission, carrying four astronauts on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle, is expected to launch on April 22 and remain attached to one of these ports for about six months. Then, on June 3, a SpaceX cargo supply mission (CRS-22) is due to launch and occupy the other port.

Thus, there will be no docking ports available this summer until about July 20, the approximate date when the CRS-22 Dragon will depart the station and return to Earth. This departure will open an approximately one-month window during which Starliner could make its test flight. Therefore, although NASA and Boeing have not yet made a target date public, we can expect this flight to take place no earlier than late July or early August.

** More launch industry links:


** The Space Show – Friday, Apr.30.2021Greg Meholic of The Aerospace Corporation talked “about fusion, nuclear propulsion, Dr. Woodward and the Mach Effect, EMdrive and other forms of advanced propulsion“.

** Space Elevators Ready for Development — International Space Elevator Consortium – 10 videos from the International Space Elevator Consortium make the case that development of a space elevator from earth to GEO should now begin since “tether material has been shown to be strong enough and long enough” and should be ready by the time a space elector is ready to be built.

March 9th, 2021 represents a turning point in space elevator development. That day a series of ten video presentations demonstrated that the engineering development of the space elevator is ready to begin. This breakout event resulted from the coming together of several forces and the building of a tremendous body of knowledge sufficient to make the case that a space elevator not only can be built, but must be built. There is currently a large global momentum for humanity’s movement off planet and the space elevator provides the infrastructure for that movement. The videos were part of Blue Marble Week, an event run by the Space division of Foundation for the Future and co-sponsored by ISEC. In addition, the term Modern Day Space Elevator – 2021 represents movement into Engineering Development as the tether material has been shown to be strong enough and long enough and should be ready “in time for Space Elevator Development.” The four major thrusts for the present Modern Day Space Elevator focuses on the following statements:

    • Space Elevators are ready to enter Engineering Development

    • Space Elevators are the Green Road to Space

    • Space Elevators can join advanced rockets inside a Dual Space Access Architecture Strategy

    • Space Elevator’s major strength as a permanent transportation infrastructure is movement of massive cargo to GEO and beyond enabling new enterprises along the way.

See also Space Elevators: The Green Road to Space – Leonard David

Here are three of the 10 videos:

**** 1. Permanent Space Access Infrastructure

Dr. Peter Swan explains how space elevators are taking their first big step NOW. They are revolutionary in that they will enable a massive movement of cargo off-planet. This discussion compares many visions of how this can be done.

**** 6. Graphene Progress and It’s Promising Future for Space Elevators

Adrian Nixon and Rob Whieldon explain the state of the art in the development of the new 2D materials, specifically graphene. The current estimate is that graphene will be “long enough” and “strong enough” for space elevator requirements.

**** 10: Panel Discussion: Engineering the Future

Kevin Barry, William Briton, Michael Fitzgerald and Dennis Wright discuss the current arena of engineering testing and reached towards future successful operations. Several discussions differentiated economics and business, education and work force, and near term vs. long term visions and plans.

** Breakthrough Discuss 2021 – Breakthrough Initiatives – “The Alpha Centauri System: A Beckoning Neighbor

Proceed back to Space transport roundup – Part 1: SpaceX – May.18.2021

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Space transport roundup – Part 1: SpaceX – May.18.2021

Here is a sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here). Here Part 1 focuses on  SpaceX. Part 2 reports on news from other space transportation companies and organizations around the world.

** Multiple developments across the board at SpaceX since the last roundup on April 8th. Here is a list of some of the highlights:

  • Five Falcon 9 launches:
    1. April 23:  SpaceX Crew-2 mission sent Dragon Endeavor with four astronauts to the ISS. Both the Dragon and the F9 booster had flown previously.
    2. April 28: Starlink V1.0 L24 – 60 satellites to orbit and booster recovered after its 7th flight.
    3. May 4:  Starlink V1.0 L25 – 60 satellites to orbit. Booster lands safely after 9th flight. This was the 100th successful mission since the last in-flight F9 failure.
    4. May 9: Starlink V1.0 L27 – 60 satellites to orbit.  First stage booster flies for 10th time and lands safely.
    5. May.15: Starlink V1.0 L26 – 52 Starlink satellites to orbit plus rideshare for Capella radarsat and Tyvek smallsat with miniature telescope. Booster lands for 8th time.
  • Dragon reentry:
    • May 2: SpaceX Crew-1 mission astronauts return from ISS aboard Dragon Resilience for a rare night time splashdown at a spot near Florida’s Gulf coast.
  • Starship milestones:
    • April 16: NASA selects SpaceX Starship proposal as single winner for Artemis Human Landing System (HLS) funding. The $2.9B program would support development of the Lunar version of the Starship and fund two missions (uncrewed and crewed) to the Moon’s surface.
    • May 5: First successful landing of a Starship prototype after a flight to a high altitude.
    • May 14: Plan released showing primary features of the first “orbital” Starship mission, which could happen as early as this summer.
  • Other developments:

** May 14: Outline of Starship “orbital” mission released in FCC filing. Perhaps within a few months, the first launch of a Starship atop a Super Heavy Booster will lift off from Boca Chica Beach, ala Starbase, Texas. The primary goals of the mission are provided in a filing with the FCC, Starship Orbital – First Flight FCC Exhibit – FCC (pdf).

Flight Profile
The Starship Orbital test flight will originate from Starbase, TX. The Booster stage will separate approximately 170 seconds into flight. The Booster will then perform a partial return and land in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 20 miles from the shore. The Orbital Starship will continue on flying between the Florida Straits. It will achieve orbit until performing a powered, targeted landing approximately 100km (~62 miles) off the northwest coast of Kauai in a soft ocean landing.

The launch will thread the Starship between Cuba and other Caribbean islands while the Super Heavy will return for a water landing off the coast of Texas. Credits: SpaceX

So the Starship (SN20?) will reach orbital velocity but will fire its engines for reentry before completing a complete orbit.

SpaceX intends to collect as much data as possible during flight to quantify entry dynamics and better understand what the vehicle experiences in a flight regime that is extremely difficult  to accurately predict or replicate computationally. This data will anchor any changes in vehicle design or CONOPs after the first flight and build better models for us to use in our internal simulations.

The Starship will fire make its de-orbit burn before completing a full circle of the Earth. The reentry trajectory will put the ship into the ocean near Hawaii. Credits: SpaceX

Unfortunately, the 28 Raptors on the booster and the 6 on the Starship (including 3 with large vacuum optimized nozzles) will likely be lost on this mission.  Even if production is nearing Elon’s goal of $1M per engine, it will be a significant loss down the ocean drain. For perspective, though, consider that each of the four Shuttle engines (de-rated from reusable to expendable) on a throwaway Space Launch System, will cost $146M, several times more than the combined cost of all those Raptors.

See also:

** May.5: SN15 becomes first SpaceX Starship prototype to fly to high altitude and survive landing. A small fire flared at the base for a few minutes after touchdown but did not lead to the destruction of the vehicle as happened with SN10.  Much of the flight was hidden from view by thick clouds but the takeoff and landing were visible to the thousands watching in person and via the various webcasts. SpaceX provided live video views from a camera in the rocket engine compartment and from one of a flap near the front.  While there were long breaks in the video transmission, telemetry indicated the flight was going well. Elon Musk tweeted after the fire was out, “Starship landing nominal!

Here is a highlights video released by SpaceX on May 13th:

On Wednesday, May 5, Starship serial number 15 (SN15) successfully completed SpaceX’s fifth high-altitude flight test of a Starship prototype from Starbase in Texas. SN15 ascended, transitioned propellant, and reoriented itself for reentry and a controlled aerodynamic descent. The Raptor engines reignited to perform the landing flip maneuver before touching down for a nominal landing on the pad. These Starship test flights improve our understanding and development of a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry crew and cargo on long-duration interplanetary flights, help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond.

High-res views from Cosmic Perspective:

Starship development is moving forward roughly in blocks of 5. The early prototypes SN1-SN4 had only the propellant tank sections and were used primarily for structural pressure tests. This involved implementing the various ground support systems and interfaces to the vehicle and gaining experience with preparing a vehicle for flight. SN5 and SN6 also had no nosecones but carried out short hop flights. The SN7 tag  was assigned to modules for testing the propellant tanks. The SN8 vehicle included the nosecone section and was the first vehicle to go to high altitude (~12km).  It and vehicles SN9-SN11 all flew to the 12 km range but either failed during landing attempts or, in SN10’s case, blew up a few minutes after landing. Some components and assembly steps  were observed for SN12 and SN13 but these were eventually junked in favor of jumping to the SN15 block.

SN15 reportedly involved many improvements over the previous vehicles, making it a significant step up from the SN8-13 design. Most of these improvements are internal and have not been detailed publicly. (Here is a guess at changes in the piping to the engines.)  However, to the outside observer the three Raptor engines installed on SN15 display a much neater and uniform arrangement of piping and cabling, indicating that the engines are transitioning from developmental prototypes to operational units.

Shortly after the landing, Elon said that the SN15 might fly again soon. It was later moved to the second suborbital launch platform. The SN16 prototype appears to be complete but no word on when and if it will be moved from the High Bay hangar to the launch site.

Some articles about the SN15:

**** More Starship related items below.

Falcon 9/Dragon

** May.15: Falcon 9 launches from Kennedy Space Center with 52 Starlinks plus two rideshare satellites. The booster landed successfully on platform at sea for the 8th time. The  rideshare satellites included a Tyvak smallsat with a miniature space telescope and Capella Space small synthetic aperture radar imaging satellite.

** May.9.2021: Falcon 9 launches 60 Starlink satellites and booster successfully flies for 10th time on Starlink V1.0 L27. The original goal of 10 booster flights and landings before a major refurbishment was reached with this mission. It appears, in fact, that refurbishment between flights is sufficient to keep a booster flying so this one will probably do another flight within the usual 1 to 2 month gap between booster flights.

** May.4: SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites on Starlink V1.0 L25 mission. Booster lands after its 9th flight.

** May.2: SpaceX Dragon “Resilience” splashes down in darkness with Crew-1 astronauts from the ISS. The SpaceX Crew-1 mission members – NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguch – completed their 6 month stay aboard the station and, after a few days delay due to bad weather in the recovery area in the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida panhandle, departed from the station on the evening of May 1st. This was only the third nighttime water landing in spaceflight history.

NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, left, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, right are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft onboard the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship shortly after having landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, Sunday, May 2, 2021. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission was the first crew rotation flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket with astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

*** Apr. 28: SpaceX Falcon 9 launches 60 more Starlink satellites. The first stage booster landed safely on its seventh flight.

*** Apr.23: SpaceX Crew Dragon launched with 4 new crew members for the ISS. The Falcon 9, with a previously flown first stage, lifted off early in the morning of April 23rd with a previously flown Dragon. The Crew-2 flight is the second operational Crew Dragon flight and the third Dragon flight with astronauts on board counting the Demo 2 mission that launched on May 30, 2020. The Crew-2 astronauts rode the same Crew Dragon Endeavour that flew on the Demo-2 mission. The F9 booster propelled the Crew-1 mission last November. The booster landed safely again on a floating platform in the Atlantic.

The Dragon rendezvoused and docked to the station early on April 24th:

An overview of the mission:

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station is ready to launch. Join NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) as they talk about the prospect of flying on a new spaceship, the six-month space mission they’ve been preparing for, and the future in space they’re helping to build.

*** SpaceX ends effort to catch Falcon 9 fairings in nets atop ships at sea. As explained by Scott Manley in this video, the percentage of successful catches was quite low while recovering the fairings from the water and refurbishing them for flight has become quite doable.

SpaceX has dismantled the massive nets on Ms Tree and Ms Chief which were used for catching fairings falling from space, but, they still have a large fleet of ships used for ocean recovery operations so this seems like a perfect opportunity to talk about this: More info on SpaceX’s Ships

See also SpaceX has Given up Trying to Catch Rocket Fairings. Fishing Them out of the Ocean is Fine – Universe Today.

** A new Falcon 9 first stage arrives at Cape Canaveral. With the number of flights per booster steadily increasing, the demand for first stages has dropped significantly. The arrival of a new one has become an unusual event. SpaceX delivers new Falcon 9 booster for the first time in 8 months – Teslarati

** Eric Berger, Early Days of SpaceX – Here is a video of a presentation given at the symposium titled, NASA and the Rise of Commercial Space: A Symposium to Examine the Meaning(s) and Context(s) of Commercial Space. Berger is the author of Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX [Amazon commission link]. The

From activities in low-Earth orbit to the Artemis program, the commercial space industry is beginning to take on an increased role as innovator in both space access, commerce, and exploration. This growth of commercial space over the past decades offers the potential for a new paradigm for space exploration—one in which industry transitioned from supplier to partner. Still, many questions remain spanning from the most seemingly consequential “How will humanity explore the Moon and Mars?” to the more basic, “What is Commercial Space?” This virtually hosted symposium explores this transformation and examines the historical context for answering these questions.

** The Space Show – Tuesday, Apr.27.2021Eric Berger of Ars Technica discussed

his new book about the beginning phase of SpaceX, Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX [Amazon commission link]. Eric responded to multiple questions about Artemis, the recent NASA Human Lander Award and what might come next plus general Elon Musk and SpaceX questions.

** T+187: Eric Berger on Artemis, Starship, Amazon’s Atlas V Rides, and the State of Blue Origin – Main Engine Cut Off

Eric Berger of Ars Technica returns to the show to talk about NASA selecting SpaceX’s Starship for its Artemis landings, Bill Nelson’s nomination hearing, Amazon buying 9 Atlas V launches for Kuiper, and the state of Blue Origin.


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for news and analysis of key developments in NewSpace

The latest issue:
Starships and Luna, Commercial LEO, Sen. Nelson
Vol. 16, No. 3, April 3, 2021

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Starship/Super Heavy Booster

** Latest diagram showing status of Starship and Super Heavy Booster prototypes in construction and operation:

[ Update: The status and fates of all the prototypes so far:


*** SpaceX wins NASA contract for human missions to the Moon. NASA surprised the space world with the announcement that SpaceX was the sole winner of the initial Human Lander System contract. The company will get $2.9B for two StarShip missions to the Moon. The first will demonstrate a landing of an uncrewed Starship on the lunar surface and then lift off and return to orbit. The second mission will send a US crew to the surface for the first time since the Apollo 17 lunar excursion module left in 1972. Elon Musk believes these missions can be accomplished by 2024, the original date of the Artemis program, which many had come to believe was impossible with current funding for the program.

The contract was subsequently suspended until resolution of the award protests by HLS program competitors Blue Origin and Dynetics. The successful flight and landing of Starship prototype SN15 (see top item) boosts the claims by NASA and SpaceX that the development of the Starship systems are well ahead of the other bidders and on track for reaching the Moon by the mid-2020s if not by 2024.

Here is the Human Landing System Announcement Media Teleconference where the announcement of the selection was made. (The event starts at the 9:30 point into the video):

The Magic of SpaceX w/ Eric Berger  – David Lee on Investing (Ep. 310)  – An informative interview with Eric Berger about  Elon Musk and SpaceX on the day the company won the HLS contract:

*** Independent analyses of Starship/Super Heavy performance:

Casey Handmer discussed his studies of the Starship/Super Heavy capabilities in a recent interview on The Space Show: Broadcast 3686 Dr. Casey Handmer | The Space Show

Starship enables lunar activities and settlement on a sci-fi scale. Handmer shows that Starships could deliver hundreds of tons of cargo to the Moon per year at a cost well within NASA’s current budget: Lunar Starship and unnecessary operational complexity – Casey Handmer’s blog

It’s worth stating at the outset that Starship is in a league of its own in the current field of lunar landers. Within the HLS program, the NASA spec called for a capacity of at least 9 T, ideally 12 T, to the Lunar surface. Starship in its most basic configuration can do more than 200 T. One of these is not like the others.

The real strength of Starship is not in its transformationally large cargo capacity, but in its low cost of operations. Why fly 200 T once when we could fly it a few dozen times for less than the cost of the next cheapest vehicle?

A single Starship flight to the Moon can transport 25 [Tons] of mission-related cargo there and back, which is more than enough to support a crew of 10 for weeks, and give them a Moon rover each. Add to this the beginnings of an enormous lunar space station built inside an expendable Starship-based lander and not only is the Artemis program affordable, it’s also achieving something like an exciting science-fiction based vision for what a Moon base should look and feel like.

No NRHO [Near-rectilinear halo orbit] phasing requirements, no launch windows, no decades-long roll out of incredibly expensive deep space infrastructure. Just a vehicle built around the given task and committed to achieving it without compromises. A mission architecture capable of deploying a large lunar base for a cost comparable to the NSF’s new(ish) South Pole Station. With a budget of $1b/year, NASA could fly this mission (or variations on the theme) every 90 days – a big step change improvement over space access with the ISS.

** More about the impact Starships will have on space exploration and development:

** A vivid perspective illustrating the relative distance between the production area and the launch/landing facilities at Boca Chica Beach:

** NASA funding for SpaceX in-space cryogenic propellant transfer demo: Last year NASA announced plans to award $370M in funding for demonstrations of various “Tipping Point” technologies. The term tipping point here implies that a technology has reached an advanced level of development but needs one final demo boost to prove that it is ready for operational use.

SpaceX was one of several companies awarded funding for projects involving propellant transfer and storage in space. The $50M for SpaceX has now arrived, which will enable the company to carry out a demonstration in orbit of cryogenic propellant transfer by the end of 2022:

Transferring liquid methane and oxygen in orbit is a key factor in the Starship architecture. A Starship can reach low earth orbit from Earth but to go on to the Moon, Mars, and other deep space destinations, it will need to fill up on propellants delivered from earth.

** Some videos from Boca Chica Beach/Starbase, Texas:

*** May 7: SpaceX Starship SN15 & Starbase Tx FlyoverRGV Aerial Photography

*** May.15: New Starbase Sign Unveiled | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

SpaceX unveils a new Starbase sign outside of the Propellant Production Site. SpaceX aims to incorporate the area as Starbase, TX as they push toward the first orbital launch. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal) and the NSF Robotic Camera Team. Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist)

*** May.16: Two Massive Cranes Assembled | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

As Starship SN15 is inspected for a potential second flight, SpaceX crews assemble two new massive cranes to assist in Orbital Launch Site construction. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist)

*** May.17New Crane for Orbital Site Construction Comes Together | SpaceX Boca ChicaNASASpaceflight – YouTube

The new Liebherr LR 11000 crane has the rest of its large components assembled, minus its full boom. Once complete it will assist Frankencrane in Orbital Launch Site construction. Video & Photos from Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Brady Kenniston (@TheFavoritist)

** More SpaceX related reports:

*** May.18: SpaceX Starship SN20 Orbital Flight Analyzed – Flight Plan released!What about it!?

*** May.15: SpaceX Starship development shifts focus to orbital flight with Super Heavy Marcus House

*** Apr.17: NASA Will Spend $2,941,394,557 On SpaceX’s Massive Lunar Starship Lander!!!Scott Manley

Many people were surprised yesterday when news leaked that NASA was awarding all the funding from the Artemis Human Landing System program to SpaceX with its massive Lunar Starship project. SpaceX’s price tag is about $2.9 billion with a commitment to fund half of it themselves. While most space watchers could see why SpaceX had made it to the final round most of us didn’t expect it to be the only choice because it was so unlike what NASA was asking for. However the HLS program only got 1/3 of the money it needed from Congress and with time marching on NASA had to make a decision and the only option with a price tag that fit was SpaceX.

** More SpaceX news & resources:

Now proceed to Space transport roundup – Part 2: Everybody Else – May.18.2021

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