Welcome to Edition 2. 23 of the Rocket Report! Thank you for your patience last week, and we’re now back to business as usual. There’s a lot of news to catch up on, including the brave new world in which China now will apparently lead the globe in annual launches on a regular basis.
As always, wewelcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.
Spaceports strategize to counter public opposition. At the annual meeting of the Global Spaceport Alliance, operators of commercial spaceports said they need to become more proactive in dealing with public opposition to proposed launch sites,SpaceNews reports. They intend to do so through a combination of education and community involvement.
What is a spaceport, anyway?The recent cancellation of a spaceport on Hawaii’s Big Island sparked the discussion. “There was a lot of backlash,” said Mark Lester, president of Alaska Aerospace, which proposed the development. “Everyone can visualize what an airport is,” he said, but there’s “confusion” on what a spaceport involves. Discussion of rockets, he added, often brings up visions of large launch vehicles, rather than the smaller rockets many sites plan to host. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Vega rocket to get return-to-flight funding. The European Space Agency is preparing to allocate a few million euros to ensure Vega doesn’t have any repeats of its July launch failure, an agency official said November 20. Thilo Kranz, head of ESA’s space transportation technology coordination office,told SpaceNewsthat the agency is planning a “small set aside” for Vega to be approved at the ministerial conference next week.
Reinforcing safety… Kranz said the funding will be in the range of the “lower double digits” millions of euros. ESA’s focus with the funding is not on modifying Vega but reinforcing the safety of the rocket. “It’s more looking to the processes and making sure that the failure mode that has been identified will not repeat itself,” he said. The Vega rocket is due to return to flight next year.
China wins the launch race in 2019, again. Last year, China paced the world in total launches, and it seems certain to do so again in 2019 as well. Through Sunday, the country has launched (orbital missions, followed by Russia (19), and the United States (16). Although nearly a month and a half remain in this year, a maximum of six additional orbital launches are likely from the United States in 2019,Ars reports.
Just a single Atlas… The robust launch cadence is another sign of China’s ascendancy in space as it catches up to its rivals in Russia and the United States. The United States has taken a step back this year in part due to decreased activity by SpaceX, which so far has launched 11 rockets in 2019. Another big factor: this has been a slow year for United Launch Alliance. The Colorado-based company has launched just two Delta IV-Medium rockets this year, one Delta IV-Heavy, and a single Atlas V mission.
It smells like corruption in Vostochny. Russia’s new Vostochny space center in the far eastern region of the country has lost at least $ 172 million through theft , and top officials have been jailed,the BBC reports. Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee says it is handling 12 more criminal cases linked to theft in this mega-project, which Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin sees as a strategic priority for Russia, because of its commercial potential.
A war on embezzlers?… Visiting Vostochny in September, Putin told space officials: “This is the country most important construction project of national significance.” However, Putin appears to have limited options to clean up the corruption. Mark Galeotti, a Russia expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told the BBC: “How can you deal with it without declaring war on your own elite? He’s not prepared to do that. This dependency on mega-projects almost invariably creates massive opportunities for embezzlement. ” As always with Russia’s launch program, it seems, there are issues. (submitted by George Moromisato)
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Starliner arrives at pad for December launch. Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft rolled out of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center early Thursday morning for its multi-mile trip to the pad. The event marks a significant milestone for Starliner ahead of its inaugural, uncrewed test flight, which will take place no earlier than December 17, 2019,NASASpaceFlight.com reports.
Wanted: A launch this year… The publication notes that much testing still remains for the vehicle and its Atlas V launcher, as well as a series of critical Flight Readiness Reviews with NASA before the vehicle will be cleared to launch to the International Space Station. Sources have told Ars that Boeing very, very much wants this flight to take place in 2019, so it is working hard toward that end. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
India sets human spaceflight for late 2021. India’s first human mission is on schedule, with a launch date of December 2021, and the first of two unmanned test flights taking off in December 2020, a top official told a Dubai space summit. A dozen astronauts have already been shortlisted for the flight, with seven receiving training from the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, theKhaleej Times reports.
A global effort… “The objective is to make a habitable space capsule to carry three crew members to low Earth orbit and return safely,” stated Ms. U. Sreerekha, associate director of India’s Space Agency. India is expected to work with Russia as well as other nations as it seeks to become the fourth nation to put a human into space. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
OneWeb launch delayed until 2021. The second launch of OneWeb Internet satellites has been delayed from December until late January. Set to take place on a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, the launch was postponed because the nearly three dozen satellites were not ready,Sputnik reports.
Increasing the cadence… Each of the satellites is about the size of a mini-refrigerator. The company’s first launch took place on a Soyuz mission from French Guiana in February of this year. After the upcoming mission, OneWeb anticipates moving to a monthly launch cadence as it builds up a fleet of low-Earth-orbit satellites to provide Internet access on Earth. (submitted by dbayly)
SpaceX loses its first StarshipOn Wednesday afternoon, SpaceX loaded nitrogen into a prototype version of its Starship vehicle. The exercise, at the company’s facilities near Boca Chica Beach in South Texas, represented the first significant pressurization test of the vehicle fuel tanks. About halfway into the process, however,some sort of failure occurred, and the top bulkhead of the vehicle broke apart and went flying away.
Not good, but not terrible… On one hand, this is clearly a setback for the company as it presses ahead with a campaign to develop Starship and bring it to flight. However, this was just the first of several prototypes. Moreover, when you’re following the iterative design method, as SpaceX is, early failures are to be expected and will lead to improvements in future versions. So, not a good day. But not a catastrophic day, either.
All four shuttle engines attached to SLS rocket. All four RS – 25 engines, veterans of the Space Shuttle Program, have was installed into the core stage of the rocket that will conduct the maiden flight of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. Work is now proceeding to integrate the electric and propulsion systems of the booster,NASASpaceFlight.com reports.
Next stop, Mississippi… NASA and the core-stage prime contractor, Boeing, still hope to put the core stage on the Pegasus barge before the end of 2019. This barge will carry the core stage to Stennis Space Center in nearby southern Mississippi, where it is anticipated the core stage will undergo an all-up, full-duration test firing next year to ensure the rocket’s readiness for flight. The first SLS launch is unlikely before some time in 2021. (submitted by Ken the Bin and Tfargo 04)
NASA does not deny high cost of SLS rocket. After the White House estimated the cost of an SLS launch at $ 2 billion, a NASA response did not directly address this figure. However, it also did not deny it. “NASA is working to bring down the cost of a single SLS launch in a given year as the agency continues negotiations with Boeing on the long-term production contract and efforts to finalize contracts and costs for other elements of the rocket,” an agency spokesperson , Kathryn Hambleton,told Ars.
Development costs excluded… The White House number appears to include both the “marginal” cost of building a single SLS rocket as well as the “fixed” costs of maintaining a standing army of thousands of employees and hundreds of suppliers across the country. Building a second SLS rocket each year would make the per-unit cost “significantly less,” Hambleton said. What the White House cost estimate did not include, however, was development costs.
GAO sides with Blue Origin. The US Government Accountability Office agreed with Blue Origin that the rules set by the Air Force for its ongoing procurement of launch services do not allow for a fair and open competition,SpaceNews reports. Kenneth Patton, managing associate general counsel for procurement law at GAO, said in a statement that the agency on November 18 sustained Blue Origin’s protest.
An inconsistent request… In August, Blue Origin challenged the terms of a request for proposals issued by the for the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 procurement, which aims to award two contracts next year for national security launches between 2022 and 2026. “GAO sustained the protest, finding that the RFP’s basis for award is inconsistent with applicable procurement law and regulation, and otherwise unreasonable,” Patton said in the statement. (submitted by danneely)
Next three launches
(Nov) :Ariane 5 | TIBA 1 and Inmarsat-5 F5 communications satellite | Kourou, French Guiana | 21: (UTC)
Nov. 23: Long March 3B | Two BeiDou navigation satellites | Jiuquan, China | 00: (UTC)
Nov. 25: Soyuz 2.1b | Unknown payload | Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia | (*******************************************************************************************: 30 UTC