Welcome to Edition 1.06 of the Rocket Report! We’re coming to you this week from Kourou, French Guiana, where the European Space Agency has its spaceport. We’re here at the agency’s invitation to see the facilities, better understand its launch program, speak with key officials about the Ariane 6 booster, and more.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe in 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.
Small-satellite market may reach $62 billion by 2030. The demand for small-satellite launches for both new constellations and replacement missions is estimated to grow to 11,631 by 2030, Satellite Today (aka Via Satellite) reports, citing a Frost & Sullivan analysis. The report details the demand and supply for small-satellite launches, and it forecasts the number of smallsats, payload mass, and launch revenue based on defined scenarios.
… One interesting tidbit in the report is a claim that more than 40 launch vehicles with a payload capacity of 2 tons or less are under development and could become operational in the next two-to-four years. We are witnessing a gold rush before our very eyes. Perhaps the most exciting thing about all of this will be discovering what new applications may be found in LEO with the advent of low-cost, on-demand launch.
Blue Origin to sell suborbital flight tickets next year. Blue Origin expects to start flying people on its New Shepard suborbital vehicle “soon” and to start selling tickets for commercial flights next year, reports. Blue Origin Senior Vice President Rob Meyerson made the comments at an Amazon Web Services meeting.
… Meyerson did not disclose a price, alas. Previously, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has said New Shepard flights will be competitive with others in the suborbital tourism industry, which has led some to speculate that the price will likely be between $200,000 and $300,000 per flight. We are hoping for an Amazon Prime discount.
Kodiak spaceport still seeks first commercial launch. An unnamed commercial spaceflight company is preparing for its third attempt to launch from the Kodiak spaceport (aka Pacific Spaceport) in Alaska. The AP reports that the state-owned Alaska Aerospace Corp., which helps facilitate launches, would not name the company, citing a non-disclosure agreement. But Alaska Aerospace said the company would try to take off between July 14 and 20.
… The unnamed company is probably the California-based Astra Space, which was linked to the first two launch attempts in April and May. Another company, Vector, has said it plans to launch from Kodiak before the end of the year. Earlier this month, the company tweeted that its transporter erector launcher was en route to Kodiak.
Europe to stop flying Russian Soyuz rockets. Europe’s Arianespace has launched two-to-three Soyuz rockets a year from its French Guiana spaceport in South America since 2011. But the company plans to stop doing so in 2023, according to Russian publications. The date coincides with when Arianespace expects its medium- and heavy-lift variants of the new Ariane 6 booster to be up and running. (Note: A European official told us, in response to this story, that there is no official end date).
… The early 2020s will probably be painful for Russia’s launch industry, with the Proton rocket ending, NASA no longer buying Soyuz launches to the space station, and now this report of Europe no longer launching the Soyuz from South America. (translated by Robinson Mitchell)
It’s not quite business time yet. Rocket Lab scrubbed the launch of its Electron rocket on Tuesday, June 26, after detecting a problem with a motor controller on the vehicle, reported. “Looks like we did not totally resolve the controller from last attempt. Similar behavior,” Rocket Lab chief Peter Beck tweeted. The company said Thursday, June 28, that it would not launch on that day and has not set a definitive date for the next attempt.
… Rocket Lab has been trying to get its third flight of the Electron rocket off the pad since its first launch window opened mid-April. This should serve as a reminder of how hard it is to not only get to the first flight of a rocket but the second and third ones. (submitted by purple_rider)
ISRO plans next launch for August. India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, with a lifting capacity of nearly four tons to low Earth orbit, has captured commercial business by launching small satellites into space. reports that the rocket will fly 25-to-30 small secondary foreign satellites on its next launch in April.
… The PSLV is making a nice comeback after an August 2017 problem with a payload fairing. The commercial satellites on the upcoming flight will rideshare with the main payload for ISRO, an approximately 1-ton satellite. (submitted by tpc3)
Russia considering electric propulsion with iodine fuel. Russia’s Energia Rocket and Space Corporation (aka S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia) is developing a new electric propulsion rocket engine operating on iodine, TASS reports. Its tests are planned for late June, and, like other electric propulsion technologies, this engine would be used for in-space propulsion because it lacks the thrust off-the-pad of chemical engines.
… If the ground-based tests go well, Russia could test the technology on the International Space Station and a Progress vehicle in 2022. The Russians view iodine as a preferable fuel to the more commonly used xenon, which costs more and is more cumbersome to store in space. (submitted by tpc3)
Russia will no longer build the Proton rocket. The Proton rocket has flown since 1965 and was a centerpiece of the Soviet Union’s Zond program to beat NASA to cislunar space. Later, Russia successfully commercialized the rocket. But now, according to Ars Technica, Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin said that production of the Proton booster will cease as production shifts to the new Angara booster, and Proton will stop flying altogether within about five years.
… Proton flight rates have dwindled by 75 percent to just a handful of launches a year. The long-serving rocket has been undone by technical problems, its use of hazardous fuels and, ultimately, low-cost competition from vendors like SpaceX. The key question is whether the Angara or proposed Soyuz 5 rocket can capture the Proton’s previous, lucrative launch share.
Aerojet gets $70 million for engine development. The Department of Defense announced the award of $69.8 million to Aerojet Rocketdyne for continued development of the AR1 first-stage engine and the RL-10CX upper stage engine. According to the contract award, work on the AR1 is expected to be completed by December 31, 2019, and the work on the RL-10CX is expected to be completed by December 31, 2021. “Using advanced 3-D printing technology paired with other modern manufacturing techniques, production costs for the RL10C-X will be greatly reduced without compromising current performance and reliability or impacting the launch vehicle interfaces,” Aerojet says.
… The interesting tidbit here is the money going toward RL-10 engine upgrades. The RL-10 recently was selected as the upper-stage engine for both United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan and Orbital ATK’s Omega rockets. This may offer some clues about the likelihood that those two boosters will receive additional funding as part of the Air Force’s closely watched “Launch Services Agreement” competition. (submitted by Paul Messina and Ken the Bin)
Falcon Heavy is certified, gets a military mission. The US Air Force has announced its choice of the Falcon Heavy to launch its Air Force Space Command-52 satellite in 2020. The Air Force will pay $130 million for the mission, which is higher than the standard rate for a Falcon Heavy launch due to the military’s mission assurance requirements, Ars reported. “SpaceX is honored by the Air Force’s selection of Falcon Heavy to launch the competitively-awarded AFSPC-52 mission,” SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.
… This is a big deal, and we’re not talking about the rocket. It means the Air Force certified the Falcon Heavy after just a single test flight. The military is also getting a significantly cheaper ride to space. Although its not clear how much other competitive bids were, the Falcon Heavy’s $130 million cost is approximately one-third to one-half the cost of its proven competitor in this lifting class, the Delta IV Heavy.
Next three launches
June 29: Falcon 9 Full Thrust | NASA CRS-15 mission | Cape Canaveral, Fla. | 09:41 UTC
July 9: Soyuz | Progress 70P | Baikonur, Kazakhstan | 21:51 UTC
July 20: Falcon 9 | Iridium satellites | Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. | 12:12 UTC