Welcome to Edition 1.10 of the Rocket Report! This week, we have lots of action from the European Space Agency’s launch site in South America, multiple launches by SpaceX as it goes for two dozen flights this year, and updates on all of the big new rockets that may launch in 2020.
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.
A southern island in the Azores may make for a good spaceport. According to a new study commissioned by the European Space Agency, the mid-Atlantic island of Santa Maria, in the Azores, is suitable for the development of a spaceport for small rocket launchers, the local newspaper Público reported. Santa Maria already hosts an ESA ground tracking station for launches from Kourou, in French Guiana.
… The island benefits from large clear expanses of ocean to the north and south for polar orbits, as well as to the east for low earth orbits up to 500 km. The region also has stable weather and is much closer to Europe than French Guiana for shipping purposes. The small-sat launcher Orbex is mentioned as a potential tenant, although it’s not clear who would pay to build a spaceport. (submitted by Nuno)
Space may be closer than we think. Some scientists say the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space is probably lower than the current Kármán line at 100km. reported that Jonathan McDowell, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, found empirical evidence that the atmosphere doesn’t begin to tug significantly on spacecraft until its orbit falls to about 80km above the planet’s surface.
… Perhaps not surprisingly, McDowell’s conclusions were supported by officials from Virgin Galactic and World View Enterprises, two companies that plan to offer space tourism service, but may not take people all the way to 100km. “[McDowell] lays out a solid case that … a reasonable position for ‘where space begins’ is around 80 kilometers,” George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin, told the publication.
Copenhagen Suborbitals delays launch of Nexø II rocket. The amateur Danish space program had hoped to launch its most advanced rocket this week, which is powered by an engine with 1,100 pounds of thrust and runs on ethanol and liquid oxygen. The Nexø II rocket is designed to test precursor technologies for a much larger rocket that may ultimately fly a person on a suborbital flight.
… The rocket was ready and due to launch from a platform in the Baltic Sea, 35km off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm. However, due to the effort in controlling the forest fires in Sweden, authorities could not close the needed air space for the launch. The next available launch window opens on August 4, the rocket enthusiasts said. (submitted by phuzz, Mikkel, and North Cross)
British rocket companies anticipate future government support. Despite missing out in a UK government competition, early-stage launch vehicle developers in the country remain optimistic about their prospects and ability to win future government support, Space News reports. The optimism came during a panel discussion at the at the Farnborough International Airshow, after the UK space agency had awarded nearly $40 million to Lockheed Martin and Orbex.
… “We’re looking forward to making further announcements about how we’ll use the remainder of our funding to really ensure development of a diverse market in the UK,” said Claire Barcham, commercial space director at the UK Space Agency, adding she was opening to talking with industry on the best way to use those funds. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Japanese company will continue to work on failed rocket. The Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies Inc. will continue development of its launch vehicle after the recent failure of the MOMO-2 rocket, which exploded shortly after liftoff, Astro Watch says. The 10-meter tall MOMO-2 lifted off from a test site on Japan’s island of Hokkaido at the end of June, but seconds after the launch it lost thrust and crashed to the ground.
… The company is already moving toward the next flight of its sounding rocket. “We will begin the next launch as soon as we are ready. We were able to launch MOMO-2 within less than a year after MOMO-1. The launch interval of MOMO-3 and MOMO-2 will be shorter,” a company official said.
European rocket industry vows to resist rise of new space. In a deep dive, Ars Technica assesses the future of Arianespace and the European Space Agency amid the rise of SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other newer rocket companies. The story features interviews with several key European officials, including ArianeGroup’s chief, Alain Charmeau. Europe does have a plan to compete, and it starts with successful development of the Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets.
… Asked for his message to Elon Musk and other competitors, Charmeau said, “Europe will be there. ArianeGroup will be there. Not with a similar mission, perhaps. We are not going to send a human-rated launcher to Mars. But we will be there. We have our place. We have our position. We have our assets. And we will be there.”
SpaceX flies its second Block 5 rocket without incident. Early on Monday, SpaceX flew the Block 5 variant of its Falcon 9 rocket for the second time. The early morning launch lofted a heavy, 7-ton satellite into geostationary transfer orbit, and then the first stage successfully landed. (By the way, the photos of this launch were stunning).
… After this launch SpaceX had flown a dozen Falcon 9 rockets this year, along with a single Falcon Heavy mission. (It would soon fly another one, see next item). Already, in late July, the company is within four flights of its record total of 18 missions in 2018. The company remains on pace for two dozen rocket launches this year, an impressive increase in cadence.
Two launches occurred within 15 minutes on Wednesday. An Ariane 5 rocket lifted off from Kourou, French Guiana, and a Falcon 9 rocket launched from southern California between 11:25 UTC and 11:39 UTC on Wednesday. Both flights to deploy satellites were successful. Weather at the two launch sites were starkly contrasted: sunny conditions in Kourou and heavy early morning fog in California.
… According to YouTube data as of Thursday morning, 431,000 people watched the Falcon 9 launch either live or later. The French agency CNES offers both an English (much appreciated!) and French stream of Ariane 5 launches. Combined, 70,000 people watched those streams.
Four big rockets are due to debut in 2020, but … Ars takes a look at four major new rockets that are presently due to debut before the end of 2020, the Ariane 6, Space Launch System, New Glenn, and Vulcan boosters. Four large rockets all making their maiden flight in a given year would be unprecedented.
… Based on discussions with insiders, the article assesses the chances for each of these rockets to actually fly for the first time in 2020. It assigns the greatest likelihood to the Ariane 6 booster and the lowest probability to the Vulcan booster. For the record, we hope that all of them make it (and safely, too).
Another big rocket is coming along nicely as well. The Space Review offers an insightful review of Northrop Grumman’s Omega rocket, which is scheduled to make a test flight in 2021. The article offers speculation on why this solid-rocket-booster based rocket will likely received funding in the next round of the Air Force’s EELV competition.
… “When competing against the low prices of SpaceX or the incredible reliability of ULA, it’s hard to stand out. But, by playing to the solid rocket motor experience of the former ATK and choosing the highly regarded RL10 engine, the Omega team has created a design that shouts ‘zero technical risk’ at anyone who reviews the proposal.” It’s a worthwhile read on the rocket and the present state of Department of Defense interest in new launch vehicles.
Parker Solar Probe launch window tightens. After an inspection found a small strip of foam inside the Delta IV Heavy rocket nose cone covering the spacecraft, managers delayed the launch of the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe from August 6 to August 11. This brings the launch closer to the end of its window on August 19, Florida Today notes.
… Why a launch window for a probe launching to the center of the Solar System? The seven-year mission needs to launch by August 19 in order to line up for flybys of Venus that are critical to establishing a trajectory away from Earth and toward the Sun, NASA says. We will hope for good weather in mid-August in Florida. (By the way, in case you were wondering, the big yellow one is the Sun).
Next three launches
July 29: Long March 3B | Two Beidou satellites | Xichang Satellite Launch Center, China | 01:40 UTC
August 4: Falcon 9 | Merah Putih | Cape Canaveral Air Force Station | 05:19 UTC
August 11: Delta IV Heavy | Parker Solar Probe | Cape Canaveral Air Force Station | 07:48 UTC