Tue. May 30th, 2023
The Rocket Report is published weekly.
enlarge / The Rocket Report is published weekly.

Welcome to issue 1.14 of the Rocket Report! This week we’ve got a lot of news to share about small rockets for big planes, the final flight of the venerable Delta 2 rocket, and a report on whether new technologies to replace rockets will be coming soon. (Spoiler alert: probably not).

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.

Stratolaunch unveils missile development plans. The maker of the world’s largest plane, which appears to be headed for a maiden flight by the end of this year, has released some of its plans for what it will send into space. In addition to the previously announced Pegasus rockets, the company plans to develop a medium and heavy rocket that will carry 3.4 and 6 tons to low Earth orbit. Stratolaunch is also doing early development work on a space plane.

Internally looking for a solution … Stratolaunch seems to have been looking for the right size rockets to launch from its plane for a long time. A previous deal with SpaceX fell through, as did a deal with Orbital ATK to develop a custom rocket for the plane. Now the company has decided to go in-house and just build its own rockets. The medium-lift rocket variant, which will be developed the fastest, could be ready for its maiden flight in about four years.

Vega rocket lofts Aeolus satellite. On Wednesday, a Vega rocket launched into space from the European spaceport in French Guiana, delivering a spacecraft designed to measure winds in Earth’s atmosphere. This was the 12th launch of Arianespace’s Vega rocket, and it was completely successful. Vega now has a success rate of 12 out of 12, Spaceflight Now reports. Vega launches are fun to watch because the relatively light rocket takes off quickly from the launch pad.

a long way … Funded by the European Space Agency and built by Airbus Defense and Space, the $550 million Aeolus mission is nearly two decades in the making. Since ESA’s formal approval in 2002, Aeolus has encountered many delays due to engineers experiencing problems with the mission’s laser instrument. But so far everything seems to be going well in space. The ability to measure winds from space could go a long way in improving global weather forecasting models.

The easiest way to keep up to date with Eric Berger’s space reporting is to sign up for his newsletter, we’ll be collecting his stories in your inbox.

LandSpace Says It Assembled Its Orbital Rocket. Beijing-based private space company LandSpace says it has completed assembly of its 19-meter orbital rocket and plans to launch in the fourth quarter of this year, China News reports. The three-stage solid propellant rocket called Zhuque-1 has a takeoff mass of 27 tons. The first launch will feature a small China Central Television satellite for space science and remote sensing for a state broadcaster’s television program.

Much more where that came from … This company is at the forefront of China’s commercial aerospace industry. A report by Beijing-based investment firm Future Aerospace says more than 60 private domestic companies have entered the commercial space industry in the past three years since China began encouraging private capital in the satellite and space industries. These sectors were previously closed to private industry. LandSpace and OneSpace compete for the first Chinese private companies to achieve orbit. (submitted by tpc3)

Relativity gets serious about launching rockets. The 3D-printed rocket company Relativity this week announced the hiring of Tim Buzza as a consultant to oversee the execution of the company’s launch vehicle. Buzza has helped manage rocket development and launch activities for SpaceX for 12 years. At Relativity, he will, among other things, finalize the selection of a US-based launch site (a decision will be made before the end of this year) and oversee the development of ground launch systems at that site.

Looking for a launch date for 2020 … “The guy knows literally everything there is to know about missiles,” said Tim Ellis, the co-founder and chief executive of Relativity. According to Ellis, Relativity remains on track to complete development of its Terran rocket by 2020. The rocket has a planned capacity to deliver 1,250 kg into low Earth orbit and costs $10 million per launch. Commercial launches could begin in 2021.

Colorado officially has a spaceport. The Federal Aviation Administration has approved a spaceport permit for Colorado’s Front Range Airport, which will now be known as the Colorado Air and Space Port. GeekWire reports that the port will not be used for vertical rocket launches, but rather for horizontal take-off operations such as the procedures planned by Virgin Orbit of British billionaire Richard Branson and the Stratolaunch venture of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

The big question … As with several other licensed spaceports in the United States (10 so far), the question is what spaceflights can actually take place from there and when. Airport director Dave Ruppel said the first space missions are likely at least five years away. (submitted by Ken de Bin)

Interorbital work on a decidedly terrestrial missile. A group looking to develop a ground-based vehicle capable of exceeding 1,000 mph has begun working with Interorbital Systems, the rocket’s maker. The Aussie Invader team will partner with Interorbital to develop, test and integrate a 62,000-pound (275,790 Newton) thrust rocket engine into the Aussie Invader 5R. An attempt to break the 1000 mph barrier could come as early as 2020, according to Parabolic Arc.

Where is Neptune? … This seems like an interesting project, but it certainly raises questions about where the Interorbital missiles are, especially the Neptune launch vehicle. Interorbital has long served admirable goals of flying (very) cheap missiles. But at some point, we’d like to see some real flights into (or even close to) space.

Delta 2 rocket nears its final launch. Last week, controllers loaded super-cold liquid-oxygen propellant into the Delta 2’s first stage at its launch pad in Vandenberg during a practice countdown, known as a wet dress rehearsal, Spaceflight Now reports. Work continues on the September 15 launch of NASA’s ICESat 2 satellite, an orbiting platform that will map ice melting caused by climate change. The story gives a nice overview of the long history of the rocket.

A sweet goodbye … We wish nothing but success for the Delta 2 rocket, which has completed 154 missions, and the manufacturer United Launch Alliance. In the time before more competitive commercial options emerged in the launch industry, the Delta 2 has served the US government well. For example, from 1989 to 2009, it successfully launched 48 satellites for the United States Air Force’s Global Positioning System, making the satellite network part of the daily lives of billions of people around the world. (Submitted by Ken the Bin)

SpaceX installs streamlined crew arm. On Monday morning at the Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX technicians raised and secured the crew arm to its final position near the top of the launch tower on pad 39A, just below the 80-foot lightning pole. The sleek black and white design contrasts sharply with the toad’s weathered gray bars, Florida today reports.

Check off a list …SpaceX still has a lot of work to do before its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft are deemed ready to fly by NASA, but getting this access arm in place is a tangible step toward launch. We are now eagerly awaiting an official launch date for the company’s first demo mission, possibly in November. After that, a manned flight could follow for about six months.

Will we ever stop using rockets to go to space?? That’s the question posed in an article in RealClearScience, which notes that the first liquid-fuel rocket was launched 92 years ago. The article goes on to list some technologies, from a StarTram to giant airships and even the oft-discussed space elevator, as an alternative means of putting people and payloads into orbit. None seems ready for prime time.

Probably not soon … A few years ago Jeff Bezos discussed the creation of Blue Origin, and he talked about how he (along with Neal Stephenson and a few others) had wanted to find a better way than chemical rockets to open access to space. In the end, none of the other technologies was nearly ready, affordable, and/or feasible. So Bezos went all out for reusable rockets. We’re about to see that with New Glenn, just like we’ve seen with the Falcon Heavy. It seems that, at least for decades to come, cutting the cost of chemical rockets is our best bet for cheaper access to space. (submitted by Ken de Bin)

What did the Falcon Heavy rocket launch sound like?. In a new episode, Sound Traveler’s YouTube channel shares a “binaural audio immersion” version of the Falcon Heavy launch from earlier this year. Captured by photographer Trevor Mahlmann, the video and audio capture what it was like to hear the launch in person.

Can confirm …After being in Florida that day, this audio and video provides the best representation of what it was like to see, hear and feel the launch of the Falcon Heavy. (By the way, it was pretty damn awesome). Make sure you watch it with good headphones. We also recommend seeing the next Falcon Heavy launch in person if possible.

Next three launches

NET 25 August: Long March 3B | BeiDou satellites | Xichang Satellite Launch Center | To be determined

September 9th: Falcon 9 | Telstar 18 VANTAGE | Cape Canaveral Air Force Station | 03:33 UTC

September 10: Ariane 5 | Horizons 3e and Azerspace 2/Intelsat 38 comm satellites | Kourou, French Guiana | 21:56 UTC

Listing image by Arianespace + Aurich Lawson

By akfire1

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