Welcome to edition 2.40 of the Rocket Report! This was a big week for Virgin Orbit, which not only won a contract for three launches, but also took one last technical step towards LauncherOne’s first orbital attempt. The fact that the company conducted a captive-carry test on Easter Sunday suggests it’s serious about going into space. We eagerly look forward to the rocket’s debut.
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.
Virgin Orbit completes major pre-launch test. Virgin Orbit completed a captive test flight of its LauncherOne system on Easter Sunday, the latest major milestone before the company makes its first orbital launch attempt, SpaceNews reports. Virgin Orbit had conducted captive test flights in the past, but this was the first with a flight version of LauncherOne, filled with RP-1 fuel and liquid nitrogen, attached to it.
Next stop, job? … During the test, the cosmic girl planes flew over the Pacific Ocean south of Santa Barbara, California, to simulate a launch before returning to the Mojave, with the missile still attached, about two hours later. During the flight, the aircraft tested the launch release maneuver, in which the aircraft pulls up sharply after releasing the rocket. The company said this is the final test before an orbital launch attempt. It has not set a public date for that mission. (submitted by platykurtic, JohnCarter17 and Ken the Bin)
VOX Space wins three Air Force launches† The US Space Force this week awarded a $35 million mission contract to VOX Space for three launches to launch 44 small satellites into low Earth orbit. VOX Space is Virgin Orbit’s government services division. The first launch could take place as early as October 2021.
A boost for LauncherOne … The STP-S28 mission will provide orbital launch services for the Defense Department’s space test program. It’s a nice win for Virgin Orbit, demonstrating the government’s confidence in the company’s launch system. For the Space Force, a successful Virgin Orbit brings the military closer to its goal of fast, responsive launch. (submitted by Ken the Bin, JohnCarter17 and platykurtic)
Rocket Lab wins contract from Vega . inside† Rocket Lab announced late Tuesday that it had signed another client to its 2020 launch manifesto, a Japanese company called Synspective. Rocket Lab will launch the company’s synthetic-aperture radar satellite (named StriX-α) from its facility in New Zealand late this year, Ars reports. The satellite has a mass of 150 kg.
Don’t wait for Vegan …What Tuesday’s announcement didn’t include was the fact that the Japanese company has pushed this launch of a Vega rocket onto Electron. The Vega rocket, which first failed in 15 launches last July, has yet to return to flight. The spaceport from which it launches in French Guiana remains closed due to the coronavirus.
Japan studies small-rocket moon mission† The Japanese space agency aims to send a micro explorer to the moon, possibly in the first half of the 2020s, using a solid-fuel Epsilon rocket, Kyodo News reports. Capable of placing up to 1.5 metric tons into low Earth orbit, Epsilon has a launch capability comparable to the European Vega booster.
Rarely used rocket … To reach the moon, the three-stage Epsilon rocket will be equipped with a staircase to boost what is described as an “ultra-small” explorer to the moon. The Epsilon rocket has launched only four times since its debut in 2013. All flights have been successful, but the rocket is not competitive in cost with options popping up in the small satellite launch market. (submitted by JohnCarter17)
Launcher to test engines at Stennis† The New York-based company said it signed an agreement this week with the Stennis Space Center to test its E-2 engine at its Mississippi facility, SpaceNews reports. As part of a $1.5 million US Air Force Small Business Innovation Research grant, Launcher needed a place to test the 3D-printed combustion chamber for its engine.
nomenclature confusion … The engine is called E-2 and coincidentally the agreement will allow Launcher to test it on the E-1 test bench. “We had always assumed that Stennis was out of our budget for the time being,” Launcher founder Max Haot told the publication. However, Stennis officials contacted the company to see if it could affordably support testing. “We basically found a way of working and a deal that made sense to us at our current size,” Haot said. (submitted by platykurtic and Ken the Bin)
Russia suspends production of Soyuz during a pandemic. The manufacturer of the Russian workhorse Soyuz-2 rocket said it has paused production to protect factory workers during the coronavirus pandemic, SpaceNews reports. But don’t worry, the country has already built 52 Soyuz missiles – 40 in storage and 12 in spaceports awaiting missions.
It is a commonly used rocket … Russia uses Soyuz-2 missiles to launch crews and cargo to the International Space Station and to set up government satellites. European launch provider Arianespace also uses the Russian-built Soyuz-2 for satellite launches. After the bankruptcy of OneWeb, there are probably enough rockets waiting for a payload. Only three of the 21 planned launches under a $1.1 billion contract had flown. (submitted by platykurtic and JohnCarter17)
Talking about OneWeb … The company has appealed to the British government for bail out of bankruptcy. The British satellite company, which has filed for Chapter 11 protection in the United States, has been in talks about whether a state-backed loan could provide urgent financing needed to revive the company, The Telegraph reported.
Urgent financing needed … OneWeb allegedly offered to move its entire operations from Florida to the UK. Turning OneWeb into a UK-focused operation, proponents of the move argued, could allay lingering security concerns over the UK’s telecom network and allow the government to deliver on its government’s promise to speed up the process by 2025. broadband to rural areas. The government was also warned that, without a taxpayer-funded loan, OneWeb’s advanced technology could fall into foreign hands. (submitted by JohnCarter17)
Exolaunch signs agreement for Falcon 9 rideshare† German launch service provider Exolaunch announced plans on Tuesday to send multiple small satellites into orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission slated for December, SpaceNews reports. Exolaunch has integrated payloads and arranged launches for nearly 100 satellites, but this is the company’s first launch services agreement with SpaceX.
All the little things …Exolaunch doesn’t say yet how many microsatellites and cubesats it will send on the SpaceX mission destined for a sun-synchronous orbit. “We house several microsatellites under 100 kilograms and a cluster of cubesats,” Exolaunch commercial director Jeanne Medvedeva told the publication. “These are European and American smallsats from our existing and new customers.” This is an interesting twist on SpaceX’s debut Falcon 9 rideshare mission. (submitted by Ken de Bin)
Falcon 9 now cheaper to insure than Atlas V? During a Twitter discussion Wednesday night, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said it now costs less to insure his company’s Falcon 9 rocket than the Atlas V produced by United Launch Alliance. “It costs less $ to insure a Falcon 9 mission. That’s the acid test,” Musk wrote: on the social media network.
A lot less? … When asked how much less insuring the Falcon 9 costs, Musk added, “Last time I checked, over a million dollars less.” If true, that’s a pretty significant amount. United Launch Alliance has long (and rightly so) touted the reliability of its Atlas V and Delta rockets, but it’s worth noting that the Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 rocket holds a perfect record in decades. missions.
Delta IV Heavy cores delivered to Vandenberg† The Air Force said a United Launch Alliance barge, carrying Delta IV Heavy booster cores, second stage, and payload, docked and delivered the missile body parts to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on April 5, 2020. The booster will not launch a National Reconnaissance Office mission until September.
Take Precautions … Work has continued despite the ongoing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have been anticipating and planning this operation for several months in coordination with ULA,” said 1st Lt. Jasmine Toye, 2nd Space Launch Squadron Mission Integration Manager. “Whatever the circumstances, we have one task: to carry out the mission. It is no different now.” The Air Force and the missile company said appropriate precautions are being taken. (submitted by Ken de Bin)
Next three launches
April 17: Kuaizhou-1A | Xingyun-2 01 and 02 satellites | Jiuquan, China | 00:00 GMT
April 23: Falcon 9 | Starlink-6 mission | Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida | 19:16 UTC
April 25: Soyuz | Progress resupply mission to ISS | Baikonur, Kazakhstan | 01:51 GMT
Listing image by Arianespace + Aurich Lawson