Welcome to edition 2.29 of the Rocket Report! This week, SpaceX completed a critical in-flight abort test that clears a major hurdle for the company as it aims to launch astronauts into orbit this year. We also have not one, but two stories of launch companies in New Zealand. Keep it up, Kiwis!
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.
No one injured in Firefly “anomaly” during test. An incident of sorts occurred at the Firefly Aerospace test site about an hour north of Austin in Central Texas on Wednesday night, Ars reports. “During tonight’s testing, we encountered a test abnormality that resulted in a small fire on our test bench,” the company said in a statement. Firefly is working to complete a first-stage test firing ahead of an expected April launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Normal things to test missiles … The company’s CEO, Tom Markusic, downplayed the incident. He told a local television reporter that it was “the result of fuel coming out of one of the engines causing a small fire. When a rocket starts, it sounds like an explosion. It’s very powerful, fire comes out of the rocket engine, so there’s noise. It wasn’t an explosion. It was just normal rocket testing.” It was not immediately known whether the anomaly will reverse Firefly’s schedule.
Stratolaunch focused on launch and hypersonic† The back-from-the-death, Washington-based company has been going through a recruitment wave in recent months, with its workforce growing from 13 to 87. It also has new owners and a new vision — according to SpaceNews, the company says it remains interested. in providing launch services and now also in supporting hypersonic vehicles.
That’s pretty fast … “Stratolaunch explores the development of space vehicles and technologies, including the need for reliable, routine access to space,” Stratolaunch spokesman Art Pettigrue told the publication. “This exploration encompasses the need to significantly improve the nation’s ability to design and operate hypersonic vehicles.” Stratolaunch appears to be considering two hypersonic approaches: One, called Hyper-A, would be able to reach speeds of Mach 6, while the larger Hyper-Z vehicle would fly to Mach 10. Both vehicles are said to be rocket-propelled and released from Stratolaunch’s planes. (submitted by Unrulycow and Ken the Bin)
Boeing exits DARPA . spaceplane program† The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said on Wednesday that Boeing will immediately halt its Experimental Spaceplane program. The decision justifies the XS-1 Phantom Express, although technical tests had shown the concept of the hypersonic spaceplane was feasible, GeekWire reports. The program aimed to develop a military and commercial launch system similar to aircraft.
Not profitable? … “We will now redirect our investment from XSP to other Boeing programs that span the sea, air and space,” Boeing said in a statement. DARPA started the space aircraft development program in 2013, choosing Boeing over Northrop Grumman and Masten Space Systems as the prime contractor for Phase II and III in 2017. The public-private effort would receive a whopping $146 million in support from DARPA. It seems plausible that Boeing realized that developing the XS-1 could cost more than DARPA was willing to invest. (submitted by Ken de Bin)
An NRO mission is next for Rocket Lab† The self-proclaimed “global leader in small satellite launches” announced today that it will launch a special mission for the US National Reconnaissance Office for its next mission. The launch window for what the company calls “Birds of a Feather” will open on January 31 and will take off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1. It will be the NRO’s first special launch from foreign soil.
Big things for smallsat … According to the company, the NRO competitively awarded the contract under the Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket program, which will allow the government spy agency to explore new launch options that could provide a streamlined commercial approach to launching small satellites into space. to get. It’s a sign that smallsat launchers can play an increasingly 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 in New Zealand’s South Island, is talking about a concept involving an unmanned rocket-propelled spaceplane, Radio New Zealand reports. The basic concept involves the spaceplane flying up to about 100 km, before unleashing a small two-stage rocket to launch a few hundred kilograms of payload into orbit.
Still a long way to go … Last week, the company signed a memorandum with the Waitaki District Council allowing the company to begin test launches from Oamaru Airport later in 2020. However, James Powell, general manager of Dawn Aerospace, said it would likely be at least another four years before the company could begin commercial services. We wish the company the best, but expect it to face some steep technological 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 launch, the company turned off the main engines of its Falcon 9 rocket and fired the system intended to return the manned capsule safely to Earth. The Dragon capsule then accelerated away from its Falcon 9 launch vehicle, properly oriented, deployed parachutes and successfully crashed down, Ars reports.
Everything went well … NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine called the test “another great milestone.” Bridenstine went on to say that the teardown went more smoothly than expected in terms of the recorded forces, giving NASA even more confidence in the hardware. While some hardware testing remains, including a few more tests of Dragon’s parachute systems, this flight brings SpaceX closer to a Dragon launch with NASA astronauts later this spring or during the summer.
Solar Orbiter launch date in jeopardy† United Launch Alliance moved its Atlas 5 rocket off a launch pad in Florida on Wednesday for inspections after a cooling channel was unexpectedly disconnected. The problem came before a planned wet dress rehearsal to prepare for launch next month with the joint US-European Solar Orbiter mission, Spaceflight Now reports.
Maybe a weather problem … The return to the vertical integration facility at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41 launch pad could delay the launch of Solar Orbiter, which was scheduled for February 5. Florida’s Space Coast could be the culprit. Tory Bruno, CEO of ULA, said on Twitter that engineers want to make sure that the problem was not caused by something else.
Ariane 5 kicks off 2020 with a successful launch† On January 16, the Ariane 5 rocket was launched from Kourou, French Guiana, and successfully launched two communications satellites with a combined mass of nearly eight tons into geostationary orbit.
A big year ahead … It was a good start to 2020, with Arianespace looking 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 40th anniversary, Arianespace is aiming for a record pace in 2020. It starts with this first success of Ariane 5 serving two long-standing customers and partners,” said Arianespace Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Israel. ending. explain mission success.
Long March 5B will debut in the first half of 2020. The Chinese manned space agency said its version of the Long March 5 rocket optimized for delivering payloads into low Earth orbit will fly for the first time before July. The first flight missile passed all its tests before leaving the factory, Xinhua reports.
Next step, launch a space station … China has not revealed full technical details about the rocket, but says it will be used to launch elements of its low-Earth modular space station. The country aims to complete construction of the 66-ton facility as early as 2022.
NASA’s only source document reveals SLS details† NASA is currently negotiating with Boeing to purchase core stages numbers three through 12 for the Space Launch System rocket, and NASASpaceflight.com has reviewed a formal justification for the award that provides insight into the contract. For example, Boeing estimates it will take about three years to build a single core phase.
Three at once … The only source document mentions that there are typically three units processed simultaneously at different stages of production at the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. Each core phase takes 16 months to procure and receive long-lead materials and an additional 36 months to manufacture, test and deliver to Kennedy Space Center.
Next three launches
January 24: Soyuz 2.1a | Meridian M communications satellite | Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia | 11:00 UTC
January 27: H2-A | Japanese optical satellite | Tanegashima, Japan | 01:00 UTC
January 27: Falcon 9 | Starlink 3 mission | Cape Canaveral, Florida | 14:49 UTC
List image by Rocket Lab/Kieran Fanning