Rocket report: small launch account adjustment, Starliner slip, a lunar Falcon Heavy?

Cartoon rocket superimposed on the real launch of the rocket.
Enlarge / The powerful Delta IV Heavy rocket takes to the heavens.

Welcome to the 1.43 edition of the Rocket report! A lot of news this week, including new efforts in Japan and New Jersey, from all places, to develop spaceports. In addition, NASA's plans to take humans to the Moon in late 2024 continue to resonate in the heavy-throwing industry.

As always, we welcome readers' presentations, and if you do not want to lose a problem, subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear in the AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small, medium and heavy rockets, as well as a quick look at the next three releases in the calendar.

Small launching computer looms. In an extended interview, Rocket Lab boss Peter Beck talks about what he has learned in the range of starting a business, developing a rocket and then moving from development to operations. "If I look back, reaching orbit was a bit difficult, but in reality once it reaches orbit, the work is not over," he says. "Until you get into orbit, you're just thinking about yourself, the whole world revolves around your test flight, but when you start flying clients, it's a completely different world."

How many companies? … Beck still visualizes a vibrant economy for the small satellite launch industry, but he rolls his eyes when he sees launches that include numbers as a trillion-dollar market launch. "The numbers seem to be getting bigger," he said. "We're a pretty conservative group, and when you take that kind of approach to the satellites, you end up at a point where there's really only enough for one or two small launch vehicles, I just do not see hundreds of launches available – for many, many companies. I expect a pretty decent consolidation in the next year to 18 months. "

Air Force investing in smallsat launch. In a teleconference with reporters on Thursday, the United States Air Force announced that it had bought five small launches to send 21 experimental satellites into space by the end of December. He paid $ 25 million. One of the launches will be made by Rocket Lab and another by Vox Space, which uses Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne vehicle. The Air Force did not specify who will fly the other three missions, SpaceNews reports.

Future demand comes … The Air Force is seeing an increasing demand for smaller satellites "that need a trip to affordable space," according to Colonel Robert Bongiovi, director of the Directorate of Enterprise Launch Systems at the Missile and Space Systems Center Air Force. While the first launches will be for experimental missions, the Air Force is already building small satellites for operational needs and will look at the growing community of smallsat launchers to put them into orbit. (Sent by Ken the Bin and Unrulycow)

Vector aimed at two releases in 2019. The micro-launch company continues to move into space and intends to launch two rockets this year, CEO Jim Cantrell told Ars. "Basically, we had to revise our development plan," said Cantrell, who had previously expected to see Vector make its first space launch in 2018. "No rocket has been late, we'll probably be the first," he added. He added with a laugh.

Jumping one step … Vector's new plan points to the launch of a suborbital rocket, Vector-R B1001, for June. (There is no formal launch date yet established, Cantrell said, because "everything happens"). This mission will have a client, but Cantrell is not ready to say who yet. Then, before the end of the year, the company intends to fly its first orbital rocket, Vector-R B1003, from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska. We'll see what happens.

Small Korean rocket advancing. The Korean space agency, KARI, announced this week who has completed work on the "engineering model" of the first stage oxidant tank for his KSLV-II rocket. This is the first rocket developed in South Korea, and will have the capacity to raise 2.6 tons to LEO. The agency says the first rocket flight is still on track for 2021.

Another small rocket … KARI also said that the qualification and flight models of the oxidant tank will follow soon. The first stage of the rocket burns fuel LOX and RP-1, as well as its second and third stages. The objective is to raise not only the Korean satellites, but also to become a player in the commercial market with a reinforcement of competitive costs. As always, the market for small satellite launch providers is filling up.

Virgin speaks with UAE about future flights.. According to Parabolic Arc, Virgin Galactic has signed an agreement that could lead to the SpaceShipTwo suborbital flights of the United Arab Emirates. The agreement "describes cooperation in a variety of areas, including plans to take Virgin Galactic space flights to the UAE for research in education, science and technology, as well as possible space tourism flights in the future."

Concern in New Mexico? … Last year, Virgin Galactic signed a similar agreement with two Italian companies to carry out SpaceShipTwo flights from the southern part of the country. Parabolic Arc suggests that the Italian and United Arab Emirates agreements may cause concern in New Mexico (SpaceShipTwo's main spaceport) about attracting ticket holders to other locations. The state government and the counties of Doña Ana and Sierra have poured about $ 225 million in tax dollars into Spaceport America and related infrastructure. (presented by Ken the Bin)

Private launch site eyed in Japan. A joint venture has announced plans to build the first private sector launch site in Japan, the Asahi Shimbun reports. Located at the southernmost point of the main island of Honshu, the site allows launches over the Pacific Ocean. Space One, funded by four companies, including Canon Electronics Inc. and Shimizu Corp., said construction will begin later this year.

Lanes full of people … The proposed Space One propeller has an announced capacity of 250 kg in low Earth orbit, and the company says it will start launching from the proposed site in 2021. By mid-2020, the company aims to launch dozens of rockets into space by year – more ambitious plans of another company. We'll see. Rocket Lab has a substantial advantage in this size category. (presented by MarsGrownPotato)

Atlantic City considering the launch potential. Lawmakers in New Jersey want to explore the idea of ​​launching a commercial ship from Atlantic City International Airport, and have introduced a bill that would create a nine-member commission to study the airport's viability "pursue successfully and maintain economically" the license as a launch site, Atlantic county reports.

One of these is not like the other. … "With private companies such as Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and Orion Span investing millions of dollars in new technologies and infrastructure to create a space tourism industry, it makes sense to explore the possibility," said State Senator Chris Brown. The inclusion of Orion Span along with Virgin and Blue Origin suggests that New Jersey officials may be drinking too much from the new Kool-Aid space.

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