Welcome to edition 1.31 of the Rocket Report! This week we have all kinds of news about spaceports, from the Azores to Hawaii. When we come back with the first report of 2019, there is also a lot of news about the development of super-heavy boosters.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss any issue, please register using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-compatible versions of the site). Each report includes information on small, medium and heavy rockets, as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.
Alaska Aerospace looks at the launch site in Hawaii. The company, which already operates the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island in Alaska, is looking to build its next site for launches closer to the equator, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. The proposed site is near Hilo, on the Big Island, and would be used to launch small payloads ranging from 50 to 100 kg.
Local opposition expected … “Don’t think about what you see at Cape Canaveral,” said Mark Lester, president of the Alaska-based company. “These are really a few concrete blocks with very little permanent infrastructure.” The report cites several skeptical Hawaii residents who are concerned about noise and other impacts. (submitted by Ken de Bin)
LandSpace opens missile production facility in China. The factory, located in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, would be the country’s first private production of satellite launch vehicles, Spacewatch reports. “Having a manufacturing base is the first step for large-scale commercial production of launch vehicles and engines and is expected to significantly accelerate the R&D and testing of our products,” said Zhang Changwu, CEO of LandSpace company.
Ready to scale … The company’s Tianjin rocket engine and Zhuque-2 liquid fuel launch vehicle are reportedly set to be produced at the plant in 2019. The ZQ-2 is scheduled to launch in 2020. The plant will have approximately 15 Zhuque-2 missiles and 200 engines from 2022, the company said. (submitted by Ken de Bin).
Blue Origin wants to fly people “beginning” 2019. In a panel discussion this week at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech Forum, the chief of astronaut strategy and sales at Blue Origin said the company would like to start flying people on New Shepard, but puts more emphasis on safety than on schedule.
No ticket sales yet … “We aim to get people flying early in 2019, but let’s be very clear – we’ve said this before as well – only when we’re ready,” Ariane Cornell said, according to Space news. “We’re so focused right now on testing New Shepard through and through.” The company has not yet started selling tickets or setting a price for the suborbital flight.
Stratolaunch pushes taxi test to 136 mph. The company’s six-engine, twin-hull aircraft raced at a speed of 150 mph over the runway at Mojave Air and Space Port in California during its final taxi test today. That’s close to takeoff speed for the world’s largest aircraft, which is designed to serve as a flying launch pad for orbital rockets, GeekWire reports.
Possibly the last soil test … Officials at the company have previously said that this is about the maximum speed they could test the plane on the ground, which could be an indication that the behemoth will soon fly. That’s definitely something we’re all looking forward to in the new year. (submitted by Ken de Bin)
Azores launch site down-selects to five rocket companies. A proposed launch site in the Azores, backed by Portugal, has reduced the number of companies it is working with to develop a small launch vehicle that would serve as an anchor tenant from 14 to five. The companies are: AVIO, AZUL Consortium, Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH, PLD Space and Rocket Factory Augsburg. Final contract negotiations could begin later this spring.
Surrounded by water … The Azores are located in the Atlantic Ocean at latitude 35 to 40 degrees north. A committee examining industry proposals is also negotiating with the Portuguese authorities, subsystem suppliers and finally Ariane Group, which has expressed an interest in the operation and management of the spaceport. (submitted by claudiocsilva)
Mission of commercial crew postponed to February. SpaceX is about a month away from launching its first commercial crew mission, company founder Elon Musk, tweeted early January. This will be a demonstration flight, without people on board. NASA confirmed the delay to “February” on January 10.
One month delay … Officially, NASA stuck to a January 17 launch date, but that has become untenable due to ongoing work to fix technical issues, two sources said, as well as the partial government shutdown. More than 90 percent of the space agency’s employees are currently on furlough during the shutdown, impacting the agency’s ability to issue final approvals for the launch. Some key government officials continue to work on the program unpaid. (submitted by George Moromisato)
India plans up to 14 launches in 2019. The chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization said the country is planning up to 14 launches this year, including 17 satellites and one technology demonstration mission. ISRO leader Kailasavadivoo Sivan said this would be a “challenging” goal for the country to achieve, The Times of India reports. India launched seven orbital rockets in 2018.
Also other work …In addition to other launch activities this year, Sivan said work will continue on a special launch vehicle for small satellites, as well as supporting an upcoming manned spaceflight mission (planned for 2022), the country’s first. The high target for launches this year seems to reflect India’s growing ambitions in space. (submitted by Fleisher)
Vostochny Cosmodrome opens for business. In late December, after years of delays, construction accidents and corruption scandals, Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome saw the first successful flight of commercial payloads aboard a Soyuz 2.1a missile, Space news reported. “We’re flying!” Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Twitter.
A semi-commercial launch … The primary payload consisted of two Russian government Earth observation satellites, Kanopus-V 5 and 6. However, a secondary payload of 26 small satellites was sold by a new commercial subsidiary of Roscosmos, GK Launch Services. It is not clear when the next fully GK-operated commercial launch will take place at the new spaceport in Russia’s far east. The company’s next two launches are slated to fly out of Baikonur in 2020 (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Despite the shutdown, work on the SLS rocket continues. Based on a report from NASASpaceFlight.com, work continues on the SLS rocket during the partial government shutdown. Several activities related to the missile, including Pegasus barge operations and contractor work on the core phase of the Michoud assembly facility, are exempt from the shutdown.
This certainly won’t help … A government shutdown is terrible for NASA in many ways, but it probably won’t have too much of an effect on activities related to its rocket development. However, should the first launch of the SLS be in 2021, it provides an excuse (both useful and plausible) for why. (submitted by Ken de Bin)
Why Elon Musk Tweets So Much About Starship. Since December 22, Musk has tweeted about the Starship vehicle more than 20 times. Starship is the top spacecraft that will be launched by the “Super Heavy” booster formerly known as the Big Falcon Rocket. Numerous details about a test version of Starship can be gleaned from Musk’s Twitter feed.
So why does he share so much? …By sharing all these tidbits about Starship, Musk is telling the world that he really (For real) insanely excited about Starship. This, after nearly two decades of work getting to this point with SpaceX, is his Mars spacecraft, and he wants everyone to know about it.
Roscosmos opts for super heavy booster concept. The Russian space company has opted for the variant proposed by the Progress Rocket and Space Center, which is said to have six side-mounted boosters and a central core based on the RD-180 rocket engine, Space Daily reports. It will have a capacity of 103 tons in low Earth orbit.
Won’t start long … This decision follows a decree by Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in 2018 to create a “super-heavy” missile. To say we are skeptical about this venture is an understatement. It is not clear where Roscosmos will get the funds for such an ambitious project, which is not expected to fly before 2028. (submitted by Biceps)
Next three launches
January 11: Falcon 9 | Iridium 8 mission | Vandenberg Air Force Base, California | 15:31 UTC
January 17th: Epsilon | Rapis-1 demonstration satellite | Uchinoura Space Center, Japan | 00:50 GMT
21st of January: Long March 11 | Jilin-1 Commercial Remote Sensing Satellites | Jiuquan, China | To be determined
List image by Aurich Lawson / United Launch Alliance