Welcome to Edition 2.14 of the Rocket Report! Not a whole lot of big rocket news this week, as the approach of Hurricane Dorian shut down so many operations along the space coast in Florida. However, that didn’t stop happenings from around the world, including the completion of an investigation into the failure of the Italian-made Vega rocket.
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. (Note: the Rocket Report will not publish next week due to the author’s travel schedule).
Vega rocket failure report finds cause. The Independent Inquiry Commission, tasked with analyzing the failure of Vega Flight VV15 in July, submitted its findings on Wednesday. The Commission identified the most likely cause of the anomaly as “a thermo-structural failure in the forward dome area of the Z23 motor.” This is located in the second stage of the smallsat launcher.
… Following this investigation, the commission proposed an “exhaustive verification plan of its findings based on analyses and tests,” as well as “a set of corrective actions on all subsystems, processes, and equipment concerned.” With this action plan, if all goes well, Arianespace would resume flights of the Vega rocket in early 2020. “I want to encourage all the teams to implement corrective measures for the reliable return to flight of Vega, securing Europe’s full autonomy of access to space,” Daniel Neuenschwander, the European Space Agency’s Director of Space Transportation, said. As the smallsat launch competition ramps up, Vega needs to get flying again soon.
Chinese firm solicits payloads for bigger smallsat rocket. LandSpace announced at a conference this week that it is seeking and accepting payloads from around the world for the maiden launch of its new ZhuQue-2 rocket. The liquid-fueled rocket is projected to have a capacity of up to 4 tons to low Earth orbit and be ready for flight some time next year, Parabolic Arc reports.
… LandSpace President Zhang Long said the ZhuQue-2 has been designed as a low-cost, “universal” solution for commercial launch needs around the world. The company has the capacity to build up to 15 of these rockets a year. We’re curious to see what price point the Chinese company offers for this rocket, which could be a formidable challenger to India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and Europe’s aforementioned Vega rocket. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
More sounding rockets launch from Hawaii. Sandia National Laboratories launched two sounding rockets from Hawaii last week, the fourth and fifth such launches, respectively, of the HOT SHOT program. This effort studies the effects of launch—such as intense vibrations, shocks, and swings in temperature and pressure—on prototype national security technologies.
… The test flights took place from Sandia National Laboratories’ Kauai Test Facility in the Aloha State. Olga Spahn, Sandia’s manager over HOT SHOT payload integration, explained that having better data at an early stage of development could create opportunities to explore new, innovative ideas by reducing the risk of failure. It could also improve the overall performance of future missile systems by fostering development of components that reduce size, weight and power requirements.
Vandenberg moves to support commercial launch. The Air Force’s 2nd Space Launch Squadron, which is tasked with facilitating launch operations, is moving forward with developing a “Small Spacelift Spaceport” (try saying that three times fast!) at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. The effort comes in response to an Air Force Space Command vision of fostering commercial space launch partnerships.
… As part of the plan, the Air Force will make Space Launch Complex-8 available to private rocket companies. In a news release, the Air Force said it seeks to offer emerging players in the small-launch market access to essential services, enabling them to focus on key technology development rather than basic infrastructure. The Air Force calls the initiative the “Range of the Future.” (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Doubts raised about Scottish spaceport. An official report has cast doubt on how the rising costs of a plan to build a spaceport in Sutherland will be paid for. The Press and Journal reports that the development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise—which is leading the project and has committed £9.8million of its own funds to it—is said to be in “active discussions” with the Scottish government and the UK Space Agency on the issue.
… The development agency said it is balancing the requirements of launch companies that plan to use the facility along with the need to keep development costs at an “appropriate level.” Orbex has said it intends to start using the site, known as Space Hub Sutherland, in 2021, while Lockheed Martin Space Systems also wants to use it to launch satellites. Concerns over rising costs emerged in the recently published annual audit of the agency by independent public spending watchdog Audit Scotland.
American Rocketry Challenge opens 2020 registration. The Aerospace Industries Association announced that registration for the 2020 edition of The American Rocketry Challenge, billed as the world’s largest rocketry competition, is open through December 1, 2019. The 100 top-scoring teams will be invited to the national finals in Washington DC next May, where they’ll compete for over $100,000 in cash prizes and the chance to win an all-expense-paid trip to represent the United States in the 2020 International Rocketry Challenge in London.
… The contest provides students from 6th grade to 12th grade the opportunity to design, build, and launch model rockets, gaining them hands-on experience solving engineering problems. This year, the Aerospace Industries Association said it will make it easier for teams around the country to participate by providing financial support for Title I schools and adding additional access to industry mentors for all teams. Good luck, students!
SpaceX tests its commercial crew rocket. The company said that it has successfully completed a routine static-fire acceptance test of the Falcon 9 booster that will support Crew Dragon’s first astronaut launch, now scheduled for some time early in 2020, Teslarati reports. The new booster is believed to have the Falcon 9 core number B-1058.
… If you’re keeping score at home, SpaceX performed a successful static fire of the Falcon 9 booster used for its first commercial crew demonstration mission, B-1051, on October 25, 2018. That was about four months before that successful mission, which flew an uncrewed capsule up to the International Space Station and safely back to Earth. Of course, the rocket is not the issue with the crewed demonstration flight—the key questions surround SpaceX’s recovery from an anomaly in April and ongoing parachute tests. (submitted by Tfargo04 and Ken the Bin)
Work begins on second Vostochny launchpad. The new pad—at the relatively new launch site and a priority of Russian President Vladimir Putin—will serve an Angara rocket that is presently scheduled to begin flying in 2021, NASASpaceFlight.com reports. The Cosmodrome in far Eastern Russia has recently undergone a maintenance period on its current pad that is dedicated to Soyuz rockets.
… With the Vostochny site, Russia aims to reduce its dependence on Baikonur, a site that (since the breakup of the Soviet Union) Russia has been forced to lease from Kazakhstan. Roscosmos plans to move 45% of Russia’s space launches to Vostochny by 2020, with Baikonur’s share dropping from 65% to just 11%. This swing will continue to grow until a projected 90% of Russian launches start taking place outside of Baikonur. (submitted by Platykurtic, Ken the Bin, and Unrulycow)
Starship tiles tested on Dragon mission. A SpaceX Dragon capsule that returned from orbit last week carried a bunch of science experiments for NASA on the inside, as well as four experimental tiles on the outside. According to Teslarati, four ceramic tiles installed as part of its ablative PICA-X heat shield were designed to test windward-side ceramic-tile shield materials for SpaceX’s orbital Starship vehicle.
… Post-flight images of the Starship tile prototypes appeared to show them emerging almost completely unscathed from their first orbital reentry, which may bode well for the company’s efforts to design a reusable, orbital spacecraft. SpaceX founder Elon Musk is expected to give a full update on Starship development on September 28, at which time he will almost certainly reference these flown tiles. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Next three launches
Sept. 10: H-2B | Eighth HTV supply mission to ISS | Tanegashima Space Center, Japan | 21:33 UTC
Sept. 25: Soyuz | Soyuz MS-15 crew mission | Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan | 13:57 UTC
Sept. 30: Proton | Eutelsat 5 West B & MEV 1 | Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan | TBD