Welcome to Edition 1.13 of the Rocket Report! This week’s issue covers a lot of ground, from more commercial space activity in China, to new Russian launch pads, and finally a not-so-brief history of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket. We’re also looking forward to the next flight of the Vega rocket, carrying an important weather satellite.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). 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.
Chinese startup raises $44 million. The Chinese rocket company OneSpace, which aims to attempt its first orbital launch late this year, has raised $43.6 million in Series B financing, SpaceNews reports. This fourth round of financing brings the total raised since the founding of OneSpace in August 2015 to $116 million.
Chinese commercial space comes of age … OneSpace has already flown its OS-X suborbital rocket to an altitude of around 40km. The company hopes that its OS-M1 launcher will be able to carry a 205kg payload to a 300km orbit. Both OneSpace and another Chinese rocket company, LandSpace, are competing to become the first private company in China to launch an orbital rocket. (submitted by whiteknave and Ken the Bin)
Vega rocket nears its 12th flight. An Earth-observation satellite has been sealed into a payload fairing atop a Vega rocket in French Guiana, the European Space Agency says. The rocket is being readied for its ride into space on August 21. This will mark the 12th flight of the Vega rocket, a single-body booster with three solid-rocket motor stages, since its debut in 2012.
An interesting payload … The Aeolus satellite will attempt to use a new technique to measure winds in the atmosphere from space. Its Aladin instrument includes a laser that generates pulses of ultraviolet light, which are beamed down into the atmosphere to profile the world’s winds. Such measurements will be of great use in efforts to improve forecasts by global computer weather models.
Britain has big hopes for small satellites. The United Kingdom’s Business Secretary, Greg Clark, believes the country’s proposed Scottish spaceport will provide an important advantage in its efforts to compete for a “substantial” share of the market for launching an estimated 2,000 small satellites by 2030. “The UK comes from a position of strength in the global space sector which will be turbo-boosted by the first new spaceport and our Industrial Strategy,” Clark said in a government news release.
Whoa, Nelly … While we are certainly excited about the prospect of launches from Scotland, there is a ton of competition coming into the small-satellite launch industry. With the first launch from Scotland unlikely before about four or five years now, the UK will be behind established spaceports around the world. So while Orbex and other providers from Scotland will certainly get some launches, whether they earn a substantial share is an open question. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Exos Aerospace moves first launch to late August. The Texas company, which is developing a reusable suborbital launch vehicle, said it will now launch the SARGE rocket on August 25 from Spaceport America in New Mexico. “We are excited to enter into the testing phase of our SARGE platform,” the company’s chief operating officer, John Quinn, said according to SpaceNews.
Back from the dead … It’s nice to see the company formed from the ashes of Armadillo Aerospace (and many of that firm’s former employees) back in the launch game. SARGE is a sounding rocket capable of carrying up to 50kg to the edge of space and back, and Exos has plans for a small orbital launch vehicle it is calling Jaguar. (submitted by James, whiteknave, and Unrulycow)
Stratolaunch does more ground tests. Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch venture took the world’s biggest airplane out of its hangar last weekend at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port and revved up its engines in preparation for the next step toward shooting rockets into space from midair. However, the company did not get to planned taxiing tests, GeekWire reports.
All part of the plan … The test program for getting the airplane into the air calls for performing five on-the-ground runway taxi tests at increasing speeds. Two of these tests are done, and a third may happen during the coming weekend. A maiden flight of the giant airplane still could come later this year, and we are salivating for that. But rocket launches are probably 18 to 24 months away. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
India mulling a human launch program soon. The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, said this week that the nation would put a human into space by 2022. “When India celebrates the 75th year of Independence in 2022, and if possible even before, an Indian son or daughter will undertake a manned space mission on board Gaganyaan carrying the national flag,” he said during his Independence Day speech, The Times of India reports.
If so, how? … The speech, as one might expect, lacked details. It also came as a surprise to some in India’s aerospace industry. India’s space agency has yet to even decide which rocket, the GSLV MK-II or GSLV MK-III, would be used to launch the crew-carrying spacecraft. Neither of those rockets is human rated. The date 2022 sounds aggressive, but it certainly seems doable if India opts for a suborbital flight first.
China will launch to the far side of the Moon this year. Chinese officials confirmed this week that the country will launch its Chang’e-4 lander and rover mission in December, leading to the first-ever soft-landing on the far side of the Moon. The Chang’e-4 mission will launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwest of the country atop a Long March 3B rocket, SpaceNews reports.
Landing site still a secret … Although China has chosen a precise landing site for the mission, it has not chosen to publicly disclose this yet. According to Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s robotic lunar program, the spacecraft has adaptable parts and an adjustable payload configuration to deal with the complex terrain on the far side of the Moon. This attempt, along with the New Horizons flyby of a Kuiper Belt Object, will make for a busy end of year for space reporters. (submitted by Unrulycow)
SpaceX has a clear path for load-and-go. NASA has signed off on SpaceX’s load-and-go fueling operations for the Falcon 9 rocket and its launches of the crewed Dragon spacecraft. “After looking at it, we felt like the current baseline plan for how SpaceX plans to load the crews meets our requirements,” NASA’s Kathy Lueders told Spaceflight Now. This will allow SpaceX to fuel its rocket with crew already aboard the vehicle.
Approval is provisional … However, in another interview with Ars Technica, Lueders noted that SpaceX still had to demonstrate the load-and-go fueling operations in a “crew configuration” five times. This means that the static fire and launch of the Demo-1 mission will follow fuel-loading procedures for crew missions, as will the static fire and launch of the in-flight abort mission. The fifth test will come during the static fire test of the Demo-2 flight. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Vostochny to get a second launch pad, eventually. According to TASS, the Russian news service, the new Vostochny spaceport’s second launchpad may take 45 months to build. The new launchpad will be designed to serve all configurations of the Angara fleet of rockets. A contract for building the launchpad should be signed in the near future.
A long time … The report says the launchpad is scheduled to be completed in 2022 at a cost of $570 million for ground infrastructure. Even if Russia meets this deadline, such a date seems far into the future for Angara to remain competitive with commercial launch ventures offered by US companies, Arianespace, China, and India.
ULA launches solar probe for NASA. The Delta IV Heavy rocket sent the tiny Parker Solar Probe hurtling toward the Sun early on Sunday morning, Space.com reports. If all goes according to plan, the Parker Solar Probe will end up traveling faster than any craft ever has relative to the Sun and get unprecedentedly close to the star at the center of our Solar System. After a one-day delay on the pad, the launch was flawless.
Big rocket needed … The powerful Delta IV Heavy was needed to accelerate the probe toward Venus, where it will make multiple flybys to align itself for 24 close passes of the Sun. During these tight passes, beginning in November, solar gravity will accelerate the Parker Solar Probe to top speeds of around 690,000 km/h.
Blue Origin fires New Glenn upper-stage engine. Blue Origin is making progress with its BE-3U engine, two of which will power the upper stage of its large New Glenn rocket. This week, the company released video from a BE-3U demonstration engine hot-fire test, GeekWire reports.
Step by step … The company also said the demonstration engine has undergone more than 700 seconds of test time, and Blue Origin has confirmed performance assumptions that will be incorporated into the final BE-3U engine design. The company is holding onto a maiden launch date for New Glenn in 2020, but we definitely expect a slip into 2021. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
A brief history of the BFR rocket. In an article that stretches over 10 webpages, NASASpaceFlight.com reviews the history of Big Falcon Rocket, from the early days of SpaceX until the present. It may seem a tad presumptuous to write such a sweeping history about a rocket that is still years away from the launchpad, but the article does provide an insightful overview of how SpaceX ended up with this particular architecture for reaching Mars.
Expect more changes … As SpaceX gets deeper into the design of the BFR rocket and begins hardware development, we can expect more changes to come. One thing is certain: when Elon Musk isn’t worrying about Tesla or digging tunnels in Los Angeles, his work at SpaceX is focused heavily on BFR. Even back at the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy, early this year, his eyes were set on the future rocket rather than the three-core colossus and its cherry red payload.
Next three launches
August 21: Vega | ADM-Aeolus | Kourou, French Guiana | 21:20 UTC
August 24: Falcon 9 | Telstar 18 VANTAGE | Cape Canaveral Air Force Station | 03:33 UTC
NET August 25: Long March 3B | Beidou satellites | Xichang Satellite Launch Center | TBD