Rocket Report: Teachers invest in SpaceX, Russia plans to study reusable launch

Welcome to Edition 2.06 of the Rocket Report! Happy Fourth of July to everyone, a time when most Americans watch rockets of a different sort take to the skies. We’re a day early this week because of the holiday; and there will be no report next week due to the author taking some family vacation time.

See you again in mid-July.

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.

Rocket Lab completes third flight of 2019. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket delivered seven small commercial, military and educational satellites into orbit Saturday after a launch from New Zealand. Saturday’s mission, the seventh orbital launch attempt overall for Rocket Lab, was delayed two days to allow time for crews at Launch Complex 1 to replace faulty components on ground tracking equipment used to support the rocket’s flight termination system, Spaceflight Now reported.

 … Meanwhile, construction of a new Rocket Lab launch pad in Virginia is moving ahead, company founder Peter Beck told the publication. The new launch pad on Wallops Island, named Launch Complex 2, will look much like Rocket Lab’s existing facility in New Zealand. “There are not two days that look the same at LC-2,” Beck said. “For us sitting back here in New Zealand, we’re watching the might of the American machine and American scale at full pace. There are rows of concrete trucks, the erector is fabricated and painted. It’s moving at breakneck speed and on schedule to be operational by the end of the year.” (submitted by JohnCarter17 and Ken the Bin)

Vandenberg wooing smallsat launch companies. Missions to polar orbits are not that popular these days, and that has caused a slowdown in space launch activity the California-based Western Range. “We are having a lull,” said Col. Michael Hough, commander of the Air Force 30th Space Wing and Western Range. “This is market driven. Demand for polar orbits is just not that high,” he said during a recent meeting with government officials attended by Space News.

 … Hough believes the void could be filled by the burgeoning small launch industry. He touted the arrival last year of Firefly Aerospace, a small launch company that leased Space Launch Complex 2 West, which was previously used by ULA’s Delta 2. Range officials have also been in discussions with small launch providers Relativity Space, Vector and Rocket Lab. This is quite a turnaround from 14 years ago, when Vandenberg effectively kicked out a different smallsat rocket company named SpaceX, which was trying to get its Falcon 1 rocket into orbit for the first time. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

FAA begins final review of Georgia spaceport. The Federal Aviation Administration said its initial review of the operator license application for the Spaceport Camden Launch Site has been completed, and that it will now begin a 180-day final review of the project. The FAA notified Camden County that it anticipates making a license determination on or before Dec. 16, 2019, News 4GA reported.

 … “Camden County is showing what is possible when local leaders come together, think outside of the traditional box and find a way to maximize their community’s greatest assets,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said. “We encourage the FAA to swiftly approve its launch site operator’s license application.” We’ll be encouraged when the Georgia spaceport has a launch tenant.

Exos suffers setback in third test flight. A reusable suborbital rocket developed by Exos Aerospace suffered a loss of attitude control seconds after liftoff on a test flight June 29, but the rocket was still able to glide safely back to Earth, Space News reported. Exos’ Suborbital Autonomous Rocket with GuidancE, or SARGE, rocket lifted off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, but the rocket started gyrating seconds after liftoff before disappearing from view.

… “We had a performance challenge on our gimbal control for one reason or another,” John Quinn, chief operating officer of Exos, said in brief comments at the end of the company’s webcast. “It’s a very, very sad day. However, any day you recover a rocket it is a good day.” This was the third mission for Exos, and like the previous two it failed to reach space. We certainly wish the company the best for its fourth attempt, whenever it occurs. (submitted by Ken the Bin and JohnCarter17)

SpaceX to launch same Falcon 9 five times this year. Since upgrading its workhorse Falcon 9 into its Block 5 configuration, SpaceX has flown three of those first stages three times each. Now, they’re ready for more, reports. At a conference in Indonesia in late June, Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s vice president of commercial sales, said the company aims to fly a single first stage five times by the end of the year.

 … If so, this would mark an impressive step toward the kind of reusability SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said the Falcon 9 rocket is capable of. Previously, Musk has said that the first stage of the current iteration of the Falcon 9 should be able to fly at least 10 times with only inspections between flights, and 100 times with some refurbishment involved. So far, the company has not said much publicly about the amount of refurbishment it is doing, if any, between Falcon 9 first stage reuse. (submitted by BH)

Russia creates a new bureau devoted to reusable launch. Russia’s TASS news agency reports that a new, experimental design bureau will be created at the Central Research Institute of Machine-Building, the main scientific and research institution of Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos. Its overall goal will be to design light-class reusable rockets, according to the publication.

 … Initially, the project will seek to create a recoverable rocket stage, and the bureau will employ young Roscosmos specialists and engineers. It is great to see the Russian space industry make room for the development of new ideas, and it will be fun to see what designs they come up with.

Starliner progresses with parachute testing. NASA and Boeing completed two different tests of the Starliner parachute system last week at two different locations in the desert of the western United States. In both instances, the Starliner test articles landed safely, and the joint NASA and Boeing teams currently are reviewing the new data, according to NASA.

 … Using an Atlas V rocket, Boeing is targeting an uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the space station this summer, which will test the full end-to-end capabilities of the system from launch to landing. The uncrewed test will be followed by its Crew Flight Test to the space station. Sources have suggested to Ars that the uncrewed flight test will probably slip into the fall. (submitted by George Moromisato)

Another fundraising round for SpaceX. Filed on Monday, the new round of funding seeks to raise $314.2 million at a price of $214 a share, according to a document seen by CNBC. The new equity would bring SpaceX’s total 2019 fundraising to $1.33 billion once completed. SpaceX raised equity rounds of $486 million and $536 million earlier this year, as it seeks capital for the ambitious Starlink satellite project and Starship launch system.

 … Part, if not all, of the investment in SpaceX is from the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, which has $191.1 billion in assets under management. Ontario Teachers said that SpaceX was seen as a “a compelling investment opportunity” for the fund because of “its proven track record of technology disruption in the launch space and significant future growth potential in the satellite broadband market.” (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Orion makes key test flight. Early on Tuesday morning, a former Peacekeeper missile lofted a boilerplate Orion spacecraft to an altitude just shy of 10km before a powerful escape motor fired. Amid the smoke, the escape system pulled the NASA spacecraft rapidly away from the Peacekeeper booster. The entire test lasted 3 minutes and 13 seconds, and was successful, Ars reported.

 … “Everything we’ve seen so far looks great,” said Orion Program Manager Mark Kirasich, about two hours after the in-flight abort test following a preliminary review of data. The successful test keeps Orion on track for an uncrewed mission on top of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket in 2021. The bigger challenge will be getting the rocket ready for such a mission.

Starship to make first commercial launch in 2021? The first commercial mission for SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy launch system will likely take place in 2021, Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s vice president of commercial sales, said in late June. “We are in discussions with three different customers as we speak right now to be that first mission,” Hofeller said, according to a report in Space News. “Those are all telecom companies.”

 … Hofeller said SpaceX plans to do several test flights before using the next-generation launch system for satellites. Those test flights, a number he did not quantify, are to demonstrate the launch system for customers and to assuage any concerns by insurers about the reliability of a new vehicle. If test flights really begin late next year, followed by commercial missions in 2021, it would be remarkable. A launch sometime in the early 2020s, frankly, would be remarkable. We’ll be watching, eagerly. (submitted by Ken the Bin and JohnCarter17)

Next three launches

July 5: Soyuz 2.1b | Meteor M2-2 weather satellite | Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia | 05:41 UTC

July 6: Vega | Falcon Eye 1 | Kourou, French Guiana | 01:53 UTC

July 12: Proton | Spektr-RG | Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan | 12:31:00 UTC

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