Welcome to version 3.30 of Rocket Report! This week we are celebrating another private company – Virgin Orbit – for the first time. Seeing the company’s rocket drop from an aircraft last weekend and climb into orbit in its second attempt was impressive.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on the AMP-enabled version site). Each report will include information on small, medium, and heavy-lift rockets, as well as a quick look at the next three launches on the calendar.
Virgin goes to orbit. On Sunday afternoon, Virgin Orbit joined the rare club of companies that have privately developed a rocket and successfully launched it into orbit. In addition, by dropping its LauncherOne rocket to 747 aircraft, the California-based company has become the first to reach orbit with air-launched, liquid-fueled rockets.
Is just its second launch effort … The flight, which includes multiple firming of LauncherOne’s upper-stage engines and successful deployment of several small satellites for NASA, caps a development program that has faced nearly eight years and numerous technical challenges. Ars reported on some novel problems that arise with a liquid-fueled rocket projecting horizontally. (Submitted by Platykurik and Ken the Bin)
Blue Origin may launch humans in April. Following the company’s New Shepard-14 flight on January 14, it plans another unsealed mission before flying passengers, CNBC reports. The next test flight, the NS-15, could arrive at the end of February as soon as possible, followed by a crew flight six weeks later, in April.
Schedule is temporary … The company declined to comment on New Shepard’s schedule, with a Blue Origin spokesperson stating that the schedule reporting was “confirmed and not confirmed.” However, this is in line with what we have heard about the company’s plans that another successful flight will set up human trials. This opens up the exciting possibility of commercial astronaut flights before the end of 2021. (Submitted by Ken Bin)
Rocket Lab begins 2021 launch mission. Rocket Lab on Wednesday successfully launched a communications satellite for the German company OHB Group, the first electron mission of the year, SpaceNews reported. Rocket Lab oversaw the original launch effort of the “One and One Leaves the Crust” mission four days ago due to “strange data” from a sensor.
Is this really a Chinese satellite? … As the publication notes, there was some uncertainty about the actual appearance of the payload. OHB described the GMS-T payload as a “50 kg class” satellite, orbiting 1,200 kilometers and as “a prototype spacecraft for a planned new telecommunications satellite constellation”. It is believed that the primary customer for the satellite may actually be GMS Zhopin, a Chinese company planning a satellite planetarium. (Submitted by Platykurik and Ken the Bin)
Phantom Space is working on a pathfinding vehicle. In a tweet on Sunday, the new company said it was nearing completion of a development model for its “Daytona” rocket. “This development is a construction and design pathfinder of the model flight system and will be completed in Q1 this year,” the company said. The tweet (now deleted, but archived here) included an image that appeared inside the factory as this pioneer, around which many people stood.
Everything is not what it seems … However, fast-paced readers noted that the image appeared to be a rendering of a rendering rocket or perhaps a composite image inside an actual factory. (See archived image here). Eventually, Phantom Space founder Jim Cantrell participated in it, saying, “Guys, its RENDERING – ALL OF IT. The last time I saw them, they are not illegal. Maybe I do a federal review again.” This may not be completely true. The rocket was rendered, but the photo was, in fact, real. It originally featured NASA’s abortion motor for the Orion, taken in 2019.
Falcon 9 sets reuse records, expanding envelopes. The Falcon 9 rocket flew on schedule on Wednesday morning, losing its payload to orbit 60 Starlink Internet satellites. Then came some challenge for this first stage – landing sticking. According to SpaceX engineer Jessie Anderson, the winds on the surface near the landing site were stronger than the Falcon 9 rockets compared to previous flights. With a safe landing, she said, it “expanded the envelope” of retrieval-wind limits.
This mission reached the milestone in other ways … It was the eighth flight of the first stage of this Falcon 9 rocket – setting a new record for the number of uses of any single rocket core, reports Ars. And the 38-day turnaround period from its last launch significantly beat the previous turnaround margin for the Falcon 9 first stage, which is 51 days.
China launches first rocket of 2021. On Tuesday, the country’s Long March 3B rocket placed the Tiantong-1 mobile communications satellite into orbit. The launch took place as the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province, NASSPEFLITE.com reported.
More to come … The Long March-3B launch vehicle is decades old and has been used to launch both domestic and international satellites. The Chinese government and several commercial companies in the country are expected to launch 40 or more rockets during the coming year. (Bin presented by Ken)
French government wants to speed up engine testing. The French space agency, CNES and European rocket developer Ariengroup have entered into an agreement to begin testing the Prometheus rocket engine before the end of this year. The goal is to speed up the Prometheus schedule by consolidating the testing program at the Vernon site in Normandy, France.
Need to go fast … Under the agreement, Ariongroup will receive additional funding for the site to enable testing. Prometheus has a huge ride on development in Europe, which bills it as a “low-cost, reusable” engine. The news release said that a new generation of rockets is expected to power after the Ariane 6 and Vega C. The agreement was signed against the backdrop of global competition in the field of launch vehicles.
Boeing completes Starliner software update. Boeing recently met the formal requirement of the flight software of the CST-100 Starliner in preparation for its next flight, the company said this week. “The way this team exited our software is a defining moment for the program,” said John Volmer, Starliner’s vice president and program manager. “We are smarter as a team through this process.”
Set up another launch … The rewrite and retrieval of the spacecraft’s software came after 2019 when the vehicle’s test flight went untacked, failing to fulfill its mission of docking with the International Space Station. It decided to upgrade the vehicle’s software and conduct another flightless flight test. The start of this next mission on the Atlas V rocket is tentatively scheduled for 29 March. (Presented by Ken the Bin, Platyurtic and Tafargo 04)
Spacelogic signs tie up with SpaceX. The Uruguay-based company, which manufactures Earth-observation satellites, said it has signed “multiple launch agreements” to deliver its satellites on Falcon 9 ride-sharing missions. “The work that SpaceX has done through its agile launch schedule is a perfect complement to our own business model at Satrologic,” said Alan Alansansky, VP of Mission Engineering and Operations.
First launch coming soon … As part of its announcement, the company stated that SpaceX would become Satellogic’s “preferred vendor” for ride-sharing missions, allowing for a reduction in time between manufacturing and bringing its satellites into orbit. The first launch will take place in June 2021. This seems like a notable change as Satelogic was initially launched on Chinese rockets. (Submitted by Tfargo04, platykurtic and Ken Bin)
Putting launching into perspective. A new report from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, which is part of the Department of Commerce, projected the US space economy “gross output” from 2012 through 2018. For the most recent year available, the space economy was valued at $ 177.5 billion (0.5). Percent of US gross production). The space economy was dominated by two sectors: information and manufacturing.
A piece of pie … The study industry falls into this latter category, the study authors say. The sub-category of “other transport equipment” was valued at $ 17.4 billion in 2018, and includes space vehicles and space weapon systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles. Reaches a large number of report notes, including space industries, agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, mining and utilities, reflecting research and development and production related to remote sensing. (Offered by TH)
SLS rocket fails to complete its hot-fire test. The main stage of NASA’s rocket heaved to life on Saturday afternoon in southern Mississippi, but then it took off after just 67.2 seconds. Officials expected the test-firing to last 485 seconds, but believed they could get enough data with the 250-second firing, Ars reports. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstein said “it’s not everything we expected it to be”.
To test again, or not? … A preliminary analysis identified that the test ended after the pump-return pressure was slightly reduced by the onboard sensor compared to the test range. The reading occurred shortly after the rocket read, or soon after its engines were run. Publicly, NASA officials are saying that they need to review data from earlier tests to redo the Green Run test. But internally, Ars reports that officials are already strongly leaning toward a repeat to collect all the data needed. (Bin presented by Ken)
Starship gets two mobile spaceports. SpaceX has acquired two former oil drilling rigs to serve as a floating spaceport for its starship launch system NASASpaceflight.com reports. Named Phobos and Deimos, following two moons of Mars, they are currently undergoing modifications to support the starship launch operation. Recently, SpaceX has started hiring crane operators, electricians and offshore operations engineers to modify the platforms.
No worries about noise here … Although SpaceX has enjoyed some autonomy at its Boca Chica launch site, as opposed to being heavily heavily regulated for the Cape Canaveral facility, the company may gain even more independence. The superheavy-lift launch vehicle will have a large blast hazard area and will often have noise concerns when launched near populated areas. (Submitted by danneely, platykurtic, martialartstechie and Ken the Bin)
Next three launches
23 January: Hawk ९ | Transporter 1 ride-share | Cape Canaveral, Florida | 14:40 UTC
27 January: Hawk ९ | Starlink-17 | Kennedy Space Center, Fla | 13:00 UTC
15 February: Soyuz | Progress 77 p | Baconeur Cosmodrome | 04:45 UTC