Rocket Report: Virgin launch license, Europe and the Space Force, SLS purpose

Aurich Lawson/background image United Launch Alliance

Welcome to Edition 1.07 of the Rocket Report! This week there’s a lot of news from the small booster side of the things, as well as some interesting comments from the NASA administrator about the future of the Space Launch System rocket. As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below.

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.

Rocket Report: Virgin launch license, Europe and the Space Force, SLS purpose

Relativity Space eyes military contracts. Relativity, which intends to 3-D print both its rocket engines and the boosters themselves, hopes to win both commercial and military contracts. The company’s chief executive, Tim Ellis, told SpaceNews, the Pentagon favors nimble suppliers that can manufacture products fast.

He said, “They need the ability to reconstitute constellations quickly. This is super important based on conversations we’re hearing at the government level.” A macro-micro

Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket delivers a bit larger payload than many of the micro rockets under development for small satellites, with a capacity of 1,250kg to low Earth orbit, and Ellis believes this capability will be attractive to the military. We’ll be impressed if Relativity hits its target launch date of late 2020 for the Terran 1 booster. (submitted by Ken the Bin) Chinese start-up company tests rocket motor engine.

One Space, which seeks to develop low-cost rockets, has successfully tested the first-stage rocket motor of its M-series family of rockets. According to Space Tech Asia, the success of this test means One Space is on track for the first test launch of OS-M1, the first of its M-series launch vehicles, scheduled for the end of 2018. Chinese new space … This first M-series rocket will measure 19 meters long, and it will be powered by a four-stage solid rocket.

It will also be capable of carrying a maximum payload of 205kg to low-Earth orbit. One Space is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it is among the main new space companies in China seeking to operate outside the established, state-backed industry.

And two, most other efforts to develop small satellite launch vehicles have not used solid-fuel rockets, so this seems to be a somewhat novel approach to this market. We’re eager to see the results of its test flight.

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Japanese rocket fails for the second time. Speaking of test flights, Interstellar Technologies Inc. attempted to launch its Momo-2 rocket on Saturday, June 30, but the rocket burst into flames just seconds after liftoff from Hokkaido.

This launch attempt of the 1-ton rocket followed the failure of the Momo-1 rocket last July. The founder of the private company, Takafumi Horie, called the second failure “unprecedented,” the Japan Times reported. It’s a cliche … but space is hard.

Horie is a colorful character in Japan, so it will be interesting to see where Japan’s most high-profile private rocket company goes from here. Despite Horie’s comment, rocket failures aren’t unprecedented, and as hard as it is to get the engineering right, sustaining a company through multiple failures may be even harder. (Ask Elon Musk about 2007 and 2008). (submitted by tpc3) Virgin Orbit gets launch license for first flight.

Virgin Orbit has received a license from the Federal Aviation Administration for the first launch of its LauncherOne vehicle, and the flight could take place later this summer. As for the payload, it will be a “mass simulator with CubeSat” according to the launch license, with few other details. The second to market

The test flight is predicated on a successful captive-carry test flight, which the company says should happen within the next few days. With these planned tests, Virgin Orbit continues to make strides toward becoming the second small-satellite launch company to reach the market among the new generation (after Rocket Lab). A company VP of special projects, Will Pomerantz, says Virgin has stressed limiting the time between the first and second flights of its rocket, so the company could merely be months away from commercial service. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Generation Orbit fires up hypersonic testbed. Aviation Week reports that Generation Orbit Launch Services has completed the first hot-fire test of a full-scale prototype of its GOLauncher1 hypersonic flight-test booster. The company is developing the air-launch system for the US Air Force Research Laboratory to serve as an affordable and flexible hypersonic testbed. The 5,000-pound thrust engine performed as expected during the test.

What the Air Force wants … The single-stage liquid rocket, launched from a Gulfstream III carrier aircraft, is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions at Mach 5-8 for fundamental research, technology development and risk reduction. A first flight is planned for late 2019.

China developing a “smart” rocket. State news services report that China is developing a rocket that can identify mechanical failures during a launch and plot a new flight path as a result of whatever problems are occurring. A team at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology has begun working on the “smart” rocket, which in cases where there are a non-structural or non-explosive failure, the booster will have the ability to perceive, judge, plan, and execute flight corrections by itself. A software issue?

It is not clear what is entirely new here. Some rockets, such as the Falcon 9 booster, already have software to account for the failure of an engine on the way to orbit. So perhaps this is simply a better system of flight computers or software upgrades.

In any case, we hope “smart” in this instance does not mean rockets join the Internet of Things. (submitted by tpc3)

Rocket Report: Virgin launch license, Europe and the Space Force, SLS purpose

SpaceX flies its final Block 4 version of the Falcon 9. On Friday, June 29, SpaceX launched a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, its 15th resupply mission. (If you missed them, pre-dawn launch photos were amazing). The company had flown the Falcon 9 rocket barely two months earlier and said this would be the last time it flew a Block 4 variant of the booster.

All future missions will go on the Block 5 version, optimized for reusability. Now comes the hard part … The big question now is how soon SpaceX begins reflying the Block 5 boosters and how often it flies them.

We probably will get some answers to this question by the end of this year, as the company has another dozen or so missions planned for 2018. We expect to see several re-flights by then. India considers human spaceflight program.

This week, ISRO tested the crew escape system for its crew capsule in an emergency-pad abort situation. The test was part of relatively low-key work on a capsule that would launch atop the GSLV Mk III rocket and carry a crew of two into orbit, …

India has not yet declared its support for a full-scale human spaceflight program, which would cost several billion dollars and take up to a decade. However, such success would give India access to an exclusive club that contains Russia, the United States, and rival China as its only members. It’s uncertain when a decision could be made. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

“Space Force” talk unites Europe behind rocket plans. In an interview with Ars, the head of the Paris-based Ariane Group, Alain Charmeau, said President Trump’s desire for “dominance” in space has unified Europe behind its rocket program. “The position of the US is helping Europe to strengthen its position,” Charmeau said. European independence

Later, Charmeau noted that the leaders of both Germany and France have expressed their full support for Ariane Group’s plan to finalize development of the Ariane 6 rocket, as well as the Vega C booster for medium-sized payloads. Europe is investing in both rockets and satellite systems such as Galileo and Copernicus to remain independent from the United States in space.

Rocket Report: Virgin launch license, Europe and the Space Force, SLS purpose

NASA Administrator ponders what to do with the SLS rocket. During a Q&A with Politico, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was asked about how the space agency views commercial launch vehicles.

His response: “As we move forward, we’re going to have to maybe rethink… at what point do we start taking advantage of those commercial capabilities to the extent that they drive down cost, give us more capability, and what do we do with SLS?… We’re not there yet, but certainly there’s a horizon here. Is it 10 years?

I don’t know what the answer is, but what we can’t do in my view is give up our government capability, our national capability, when we don’t have an alternative.” Speaking of timelines … NASA doesn’t exactly have the “national capability” of the SLS rocket yet in the heavy-lift class, either.

We’ve heard rumors of a slip to 2021 for the first launch date, in which case Blue Origin’s New Glenn has a fighting chance to fly first, as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket has already done. Blue Origin targets Moon landing by 2023. Blue Origin’s business development director, A.C.

Charania, said at a conference that the company’s Blue Moon program is “our first step to developing a lunar landing capability for the country, for other customers internationally, to be able to land multi metric tons on the lunar surface.” The company has not said what role its large orbital rocket under development, New Glenn, would play in a mission to the Moon. Not just a beer anymore … Charania said the company has moved its Blue Moon architecture forward after the government has expressed its interest in sending a series of robotic and then human landers to the Moon within the next decade. “I think we are very excited to now implement this long-term commercial solution with NASA partnership,” he said.

Next three launches

July 6: Long March 2C | PRSS-1 & PakTes-1A satellites | Jiuquan, China | 03:50 UTC

July 9: Soyuz 2.1A | Progress MS-09 resupply mission | Baikonur, Kazakhstan | 21:51 UTC

July 20: Falcon 9 | Iridium NEXT satellites | Vandenberg AFB, California | 12:12 UTC

Rocket Report: Virgin launch license, Europe and the Space Force, SLS purpose

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