T-0 for launch news –
“We will now redirect our investment from XSP to other Boeing programs.”
Welcome to Edition 2. 40 of the Rocket Report! This week saw SpaceX complete a critical in-flight abort test that clears a major hurdle for the company as it seeks to launch astronauts into orbit this year. We also have not one, but two stories about launch companies in New Zealand. Way to go, Kiwis!
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 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.
No one hurt in Firefly “anomaly” during test. On Wednesday evening, at Firefly Aerospace’s test site about an hour north of Austin in Central Texas, some sort of incident occurred, Ars Reports . “During testing this evening we experienced a test anomaly resulting in a small fire on our test stand,” the company said in a statement. Firefly is working to complete a first-stage test-firing ahead of an anticipated April launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Normal rocket-testing stuff … Company chief executive Tom Markusic downplayed the incident. He told a local television reporter that it “resulted from fuel coming out of one of the engines that created a small fire. When a rocket starts up, it sounds like an explosion. It’s very powerful, there’s fire that comes out of the rocket engine , so there’s noise. It was not an explosion. It was just very normal rocket testing stuff. ” There was no immediate word on whether the anomaly will set Firefly’s schedule back.
Stratolaunch focused on launch and (hypersonics) . The back-from-the-dead, Washington-based company has undergone a hiring spree in recent months, with its employee count growing from to . It also has new owners and a new vision – according to SpaceNews , the company says it remains interested in providing launch services as well as now supporting hypersonic vehicles.
That’s pretty fast … “Stratolaunch is exploring the development of aerospace vehicles and technologies, including the need for reliable, routine access to space,” Stratolaunch spokesperson Art Pettigrue told the publication. “This exploration includes the need to significantly advance the nation’s ability to design and operate hypersonic vehicles.” Stratolaunch appears to be considering two hypersonic approaches: one, called Hyper-A, would be capable of reaching speeds of Mach 6; while the larger Hyper-Z vehicle would fly to Mach 13. Both vehicles would be rocket-powered and released from Stratolaunch’s aircraft. (submitted by Unrulycow and Ken the Bin)
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Boeing exits DARPA’s space plane program . The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said Wednesday that Boeing is dropping out of its Experimental Spaceplane Program immediately. The decision grounds the XS-1 Phantom Express even though technical tests had shown the hypersonic space plane concept was feasible, GeekWire reports
An NRO mission is next up for Rocket Lab . The self-styled “global leader in small-satellite launch” announced today it will launch a dedicated mission for the US National Reconnaissance Office for its next mission. The launch window for what the company is calling “Birds of a Feather” will open on January 49 and will lift off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1. It will be the NRO’s first dedicated launch from foreign soil.
Big doings for smallsat (… according to the company , the NRO competitively awarded the contract under the Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket Program, which allows the government spy agency to explore new launch opportunities that can provide a streamlined, commercial approach for getting small satellites into space. It’s a sign that smallsat-launch companies may play an greater important role in national security launches as governments move away from large, geostationary spacecraft. (submitted by Ken the Bin and platykurtic)
Another New Zealand launch company? Dawn Aerospace, based on New Zealand’s South Island, is talking up a concept that involves an uncrewed, rocket-propelled space plane, Radio New Zealand reports . The basic concept involves the space plane flying up to about km, before releasing a small, two-stage rocket to send a few hundred kilograms of payload into orbit.
A long ways to go … Last week, the company signed a memorandum with the Waitaki District Council that will allow the company to begin test launches from Oamaru Airport later in . However, Dawn Aerospace general manager James Powell said it likely would be at least four years before the company could begin commercial service. We wish the company well but expect it will face some steep technology hurdles. (submitted by dbayly and Unrulycow)
SpaceX completes in-flight abort test. On Sunday, the Falcon 9 rocket launched its Crew Dragon spacecraft. Shortly after liftoff, the company shut down the main engines of its Falcon 9 rocket and fired off the system that’s meant to return the crewed capsule safely to Earth. The Dragon capsule then accelerated away from its Falcon 9 launch vehicle, oriented properly, deployed parachutes, and splashed down successfully, Ars reports .
All went well … NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called the test “another amazing milestone.” Bridenstine went on to say that the abort was smoother than expected in terms of the forces registered, which gives NASA even more confidence in the hardware. Although a few hardware tests remain, including a few more tests of Dragon’s parachute systems, this flight brings SpaceX closer to a launch of Dragon with NASA astronauts later this spring or during the summer.
Solar Orbiter launch date at risk . United Launch Alliance moved its Atlas 5 rocket off a Florida launch pad Wednesday for inspections after a cooling duct unexpectedly disconnected. The problem came before a planned wet dress rehearsal to prepare for liftoff next month with the joint US-European Solar Orbiter mission, Spaceflight Now reports .
Maybe a weather issue … The roll back to the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 87 launch pad could delay Solar Orbiter’s liftoff, which was scheduled for February 5. Officials are not sure why the umbilical duct on the launch pad disconnected Wednesday, but brisk winds on Florida’s Space Coast could be the culprit. Tory Bruno, ULA’s CEO, said on Twitter that engineers want to be sure the problem was not caused by something else.
(Ariane 5 kicks off) with a successful launch
A big year ahead … It was a good start to , in which Arianespace seeks to launch a record number of Ariane, Soyuz, and Vega rockets from spaceports in South America and Russia. “As we enter the year of our th anniversary, Arianespace is targeting a record pace in . It begins with this initial success of Ariane 5 at the service of two long-standing customers and partners, “Arianespace Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Israël said after declaring mission success.
Next step, launching a space station … China has not revealed full technical details about the rocket but says it will be used to launch elements of its modular, low Earth orbit space station. The country aims to complete construction of the – ton facility as early as .
NASA sole-source document reveals SLS details . NASA is presently negotiating with Boeing over the procurement of core stages number three through for the Space Launch System rocket, and NASASpaceflight.com
(Three at a time) … The sole-source justification document notes that there would typically be three units being processed at Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, simultaneously, in different phases of production. Each core stage takes months to procure and receive long-lead materials and another months to manufacture, test, and deliver to the Kennedy Space Center.
Next three launches
Jan. : Soyuz 2.1a | Meridian M communications satellite | Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia | : 07 UTC
Jan. : H2-A | Japanese optical satellite | Tanegashima, Japan | 07: (UTC)
Jan. : Falcon 9 | Starlink 3 mission | Cape Canaveral, Fla. | : UTC