Welcome to Edition 2.21 of the Rocket Report! As always, there are intriguing developments in the world of lift this week. We particularly liked the Russian plans to develop a low-cost, reusable small rocket … years from now. Around that same time, Japan says it is mulling an impressive, heavy version of its H3 rocket with three cores.
Now that’s something we’d like to see take flight.
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.
Fourth SARGE rocket launch fails. EXOS Aerospace’s Suborbital Autonomous Rocket with GuidancE, or SARGE rocket, was scheduled to fly to an altitude of 80km this past weekend from a New Mexico spaceport. Unfortunately, the vehicle stopped well short of that altitude after a wobbly ascent and failure to abort properly, NASASpaceFlight.com reports.
… The launch appeared to be going well for the opening seconds before the vehicle started to roll. Once the view was restored, the vehicle was seen to be returning in multiple parts with the main section failing to return under its customary parachute, resulting in it impacting the ground. Nine payloads were lost. When Exos would try launching again was not immediately clear . (submitted by Ken the Bin and Tfargo04)
Aevum wins a spate of contracts. This fall, an Alabama startup designing a drone-launched rocket has won a $50,000 SBIR study grant, a $4.9 million US Air Force launch contract, and become one of eight US launch-service providers qualified by the Air Force to compete for $986 million worth of small- and medium-sized launch missions over nine years. SpaceNews profiled the largely unknown company in a recent feature.
… Aevum is developing a launch system called Ravn X that would use a reusable, turbojet-powered drone to fly an expendable two-stage rocket into the atmosphere. Once there, it would separate and reach space using liquid propulsion. Ravn X is designed to carry at least 100kg to a 500km Sun-synchronous orbit, or more to lower altitudes. Its first orbital launch is targeted for 2021. The company’s long-term vision is a business supported predominantly by the commercial sector, but its early customers are likely to be a mix of large government agencies and companies. (submitted by trimeta, Unrulycow, and Ken the Bin)
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Russian firm has a reusable smallsat launcher plan. The state news agency TASS says a private company named Laros will begin launches of a reusable rocket capable of delivering up to 200kg of payloads into low Earth orbit sometime between 2024 and 2026. Next year, Laros plans to begin launching a sub-orbital, one-stage rocket to begin practicing propulsive landing such as that performed by the Falcon 9.
… We think there is room in the market for a low-cost, reusable, small-satellite launcher. And there is no similar capability in Russia today. However, a company with a seven-year timeline that says it needs “extra” funding to reach its spaceflight goals, does not sound particularly sustainable to us. Nonetheless, good luck, comrades.
Yes, there are still a lot of rockets under development. Carlos Niederstrasser, a Northrop Grumman master systems engineer, says his popular watch list of small rockets under development now has 148 entrants. But of those, about 40 “are likely dead,” Niederstrasser said according to SpaceNews. Even so, every time one project dies, two more appear in its place.
… The report tracks worldwide efforts to build rockets to send 1,000kg or less into low Earth orbit. Niederstrasser said he does not attempt to judge technical or business viability of the projects. Some of the defunct programs have been “three young graduates in a garage with a website and a couple of PowerPoints,” he noted. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Samsung “space selfie” crashes into Michigan. In what is probably best described as a dubious publicity attempt, Samsung Europe sent a high-altitude balloon and a small, solar-powered machine to send a “SpaceSelfie” back to Earth. Actress Cara Delevingne took a selfie and, we guess, beamed it into space. Or something (this makes very little sense to us).
… Anywho, the balloon of course only made it about 30km into the atmosphere, so no space as ever really involved. And then whoever was operating the balloon lost control during its descent such that it crashed into the backyard of a Michigan family, a local TV station reported. Luckily, no humans or animals were hurt in this stunt. The commercialization of space, it seems, is not without its downsides. (submitted by captainbob23)
Busy times ahead for commercial crew. During NASA’s Advisory Council meeting this week, the agency’s manager for commercial crew, Kathy Lueders, provided some updated mission dates. During the week of November 4, both SpaceX (Dragon static fire thruster test) and Boeing (pad abort test) have critical milestones scheduled for their vehicle developments.
… It sets up a busy December. At this time, SpaceX is planning an in-flight abort test of its Crew Dragon vehicle on top of a Falcon 9 rocket early in the month. And Boeing is planning its first orbital flight test of Starliner, an uncrewed mission, on December 17. That test is contingent on rolling Starliner out to United Launch Alliance’s integration facilities at Cape Canaveral in mid-November to stack Starliner on top of an Atlas V rocket.
SpaceX’s Shotwell takes aim at Blue Origin. At the Baron Fund’s annual investment conference in New York City, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell was asked why Blue Origin has not achieved what SpaceX has in orbit. “They’re two years older than us, and they have yet to reach orbit,” Shotwell noted, according to CNBC. “They have a billion dollars of free money every year.”
… “I think engineers think better when they’re pushed hardest to do great things in a very short period of time, with very few resources. Not when you have 20 years,” Shotwell said. “I don’t think there’s a motivation or a drive there.” Pretty much everyone in the aerospace industry respects Gwynne Shotwell, which makes these comments extra significant. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Mitsubishi considering heavy version of H3 rocket. Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which plans to debut the H3 rocket in 2020, says it may upgrade the booster to deliver cargo to the Moon. The H3 vehicle is designed to lift more than 7,900kg to geosynchronous transfer orbit, the company’s deputy manager of systems design, Shoyo Hyodo said, according to SpaceNews. However, it is possible to upgrade the rocket’s second stage to send 3.4 tons of pressurized cargo and 1 ton of unpressurized cargo to the Lunar Gateway.
… Japan is working on an upgraded version of its cargo vehicle, the HTV-X, that would be capable of this. Launching an HTV-X cargo vessel to the gateway would require two H3 launches, Hyodo said. The first launch would send an HTV-X into an orbit around the Earth, he said. The second launch would send up an upper stage with an enlarged fuel tank to dock with the HTV-X and propel it to the Gateway, he said. The company may also consider a three-core version of the H3 rocket for even bigger payloads. Having Japan as a partner to help resupply the Gateway (and by extension, activities on the Moon) would be a beneficial thing for NASA’s Artemis program. But this approach does not sound cheap with the expendable H3 rocket. (submitted by Jack56, BH and Ken the Bin)
Omega rocket could launch from Vandenberg. Northrop Grumman intends to conduct West Coast launches of its Omega rocket from the same Vandenberg Air Force Base launch complex currently leased to United Launch Alliance for Delta 4 Heavy launches, Kent Rominger, a Northrop Grumman’s vice president said last week, according to SpaceNews.
… Rominger said it will be possible for Northrop Grumman to start preparing SLC-6 for Omega launch pads without disrupting ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy operations, which are expected to wrap up in 2024 with Delta 4’s final flight. “Our plan is to use it on a non-interference basis as we modify the pad to accommodate Omega,” Rominger said. All of this likely supposes that the Air Force selects Northrop Grumman as one of its two providers for launches from 2022-2026. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Starship prototype undergoing routine tests. This week, SpaceX rolled part of its massive Starship Mk. 1 vehicle from an assembly area at its Boca Chica work site to its eventual launch site. Cameron County also announced several additional road closures between now and November 12 for the main highway though the area.
… No “hops” or launches will take place as part of the current round of testing, the Brownsville Herald reports. Testing, on the other hand, is in preparation for an eventual flight of the Mk. 1 prototype, which was built at SpaceX’s Boca Chica yard over the last several months. This test flight to 20km now seems likely to slip into early 2020.
Next three launches
Nov. 2: Antares | 13th Cygnus supply mission to the ISS | Wallops Island, Va. | 13:59 UTC
Mid Nov.: Falcon 9 | Launch of second batch of 60 Starlink Satellites | Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida | TBD
Nov 22: Ariane 5 | TIBA 1 and Inmarsat 5 F5 communications satellite | Kourou, French Guiana| TBD