Welcome to Edition 3.03 of Rocket Report! Depending on your local time zone, this weekend looks busy in the launch world, with Electron and Falcon 9 launches that can occur within five hours of one another.
As always, we welcome reader posts, and if you do not want to miss a problem, please subscribe with the box below (the form does not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will contain information on small, medium and heavy lifts as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches in the calendar.
Brazilian launch site opens for commercial customers. The first launch of sounding rockets occurred from the Alcântara Launch Center in 1990, but now the facility primarily opens for military purposes to commercial suppliers from other countries, Airway reports. The Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) announced the public call for space center activities earlier this month.
Launch with speed … It’s not clear who will use the facility, but Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted that “Brazil has just joined the select group of nations hosting private launches, such as those from SpaceX.” It seems a bit like hyperbole, but the site has some advantages. At just 2 degrees south, it is the world’s closest launch site to the equator. (submitted by UMineiro)
High winds delay the electron launch. The mission “Don’t Stop Me Now” was actually stopped by high winds at the company’s New Zealand launch site early Thursday morning (US time). With continued adverse winds in the forecast for the next day, the company is now targeting 4:43 UTC on June 13 for its next attempt. There are several days left in the start window.
Crazy little thing called love … The mission’s name is a recognition of former Rocket Lab board member and Queen’s fan Scott Smith, who died in February 2020. The mission will distribute small satellites from NASA, the NRO and the University of New South Wales. (submitted by JohnCarter17)
Virgin Orbit continues with launch plans in the UK. Virgin Orbit and the British government continue their efforts to begin flights of the company’s airspace system from an English airport in early 2022 despite challenges on both sides of the Atlantic, SpaceNews reports. Virgo, who still has to show the vitality of her booster, is trying to fly her 747 from a space port in Cornwall to support her LauncherOne rocket.
The government’s approval is still needed … “We are confident that we can reach that final goal for that launch towards the end of ’21 or early ’22,” said Miles Carden, Space Port Director for the Cornwall Council, which has helped fund airport infrastructure improvements in partnership with Virgin Orbit and the UK Space Agency. The UK Government has not yet approved the horizontal launch system. (submitted by JohnCarter17, platykurtic and Ken the Bin)
Planet VP donates Falcon 9 rideshare. The US small satellite company is trying to add six more SkySats to its constellation on a couple of Falcon 9 launches in the coming weeks. Planet satellites will ride on top of existing Starlink payloads, says Planet Vice President Mike Safyan. A deal was signed just six months ago. SpaceX removes two of its 60 Starlink satellites to accommodate the extra payload.
A steal of a deal … “This is the result of SpaceX dramatically reducing the cost of access to launch,” Safyan told Ars. “It’s significant. They lowered the price so much that we couldn’t believe what we were looking at.” For the Falcon 9 launch, SkySats must use its propulsion system onboard to raise the satellites from their drop-off location to their final orbit of 450 km. In this case, Safyan said, the trade is more than worth it.
Chinese companies looking at methane engines. The next generation of US launch vehicles, including SpaceX’s Starship, Blue Origin’s New Glenn and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rockets, are all based on methane-LOX engines. SpaceNews reports that Chinese companies are also now using this fuel.
Methane here, there, everywhere … Landspace and iSpace report progress on methane rocket engines, while Galactic Energy is nearing the launch of its Ceres-1 rocket. Deep Blue Aerospace, meanwhile, has secured early funding for the development of a series of floating launch vehicles. The companies mainly look to metalox for smaller rockets than the US launch suppliers. (submitted by Ken the Bin, platykurtic and JohnCarter17)
The March 2020 launch slides for three days. A hiccup processing a launch vehicle has pushed back next month’s launch of NASA’s March 2020 rover mission with three days.
NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk revealed the delay in a presentation to a joint meeting of the National Academies’ Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board June 9, reports SpaceNews.
A coronary ache … Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO, said on Twitter that a problem with a crane used as part of machining launch vehicles was causing the delay, an issue that has since been corrected. The delay pushed back the launch of March 2020 to July 20, with a two-hour window opening at 9:15 am ET from Cape Canaveral, Florida. (submitted by whitenknave, Ken the Bin and JohnCarter17)
The James Webb launch was delayed again. On Wednesday, the head of NASA’s science program said the James Webb Space Telescope will not meet its current schedule for launch in March 2021, reports Ars. “Certainly, we will not launch in March,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the space agency’s associate director of science. “It’s not in the cards right now. It’s not because they did anything wrong. It’s not someone’s fault or mismanagement.”
La fusée delta … He said that the telescope was already cutting it close to its schedule before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the office and that the virus had led to additional lost working time. The telescope will lift aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from the European Space Agency’s space port in Kourou, French Guiana. It may be one of the rocket’s last missions before Arianespace switches to Ariane 6 booster.
Music for SpaceX: Starship is our priority now. After successfully launching the Crew Dragon mission for NASA on May 30, SpaceX founder Elon Musk wrote an email to his employees stating his priorities, CNBC reports. “Please consider the top SpaceX priority (apart from anything that can reduce Dragon Return Risk) as Starship,” he wrote.
Away to Texas … Musk said employees should do what is necessary to accelerate Starship development, even moving to the South Texas Launch Site near Boca Chica Beach. To that end, the company recently concluded its lease with the Port of Los Angeles. SpaceX has been all-in on the development of the Texas rocket plant for a while, and this only further reinforces the notion that the company’s path to Mars begins in Texas. (submitted by JohnCarter17 and Ken the Bin)
Vulcan on the way for 2021 lunar launch. The United Launch Alliance says its Vulcan rocket is developing toward its virgin committee as early as 2021, NASASpaceflight.com reports. Although an exact launch goal is not yet known, the mission will use a newly built Launch Umbilical Tower while sharing Atlas V’s vertical integration facility and the SLC-41 launch pad in Florida.
Keeps you ahead of the pandemic … The booster flight hardware for Vulcan’s inaugural flight is almost complete, said Tory Bruno, CEO and CEO of ULA, who noted that ULA “lacks a few milestones” when Vulcan heads to its first launch. For its first mission, Vulcan will launch Astrobotics Peregrine lands to the moon, which in turn is part of NASA’s CLPS program to send payloads to the lunar surface. (submitted by Ken the Bin and platykurtic)
The battle over the air force contracts continues. The Air Force Department plans to announce the two winners of National Security Space Launch Phase 2 procurement services soon, SpaceNews said. Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, Northrop Grumman and SpaceX compete for two contracts to fly about 34 missions from 2022 to 2027.
The pen is more powerful than the turbo pump … Since the competition opened, Blue Origin has pushed the Air Force to select three rather than two winners. However, in a show of political power, a group of 28 lawmakers from Colorado, Alabama and other states where the United Launch Alliance manufactures and launches operations sent a letter to the Air Force on May 29 asking them not to cave to add a third supplier in phase 2. (submitted by JohnCarter17, Ken the Bin and platykurtic)
Kerbal Space Program 2 was delayed until the fall of 2021. Everything seems right in the launch industry, it seems, and that includes video games. Private Division, the producers of the new sequel Kerbal Space Program 2, have announced that KSP the follow-up launch has been postponed back to autumn 2021, reports Space.com. The game allows players to design, build and often destroy their creations.
What should we blow up now? … “As you all know, we have worked hard to make the best and most authentic KSP sequel possible. This is an ambitious goal. We are making a big, expansive game loaded with new features, but it will take longer than we previously expected, “Private Division wrote in a statement on Twitter. Bummer, man. (Posted by Ken the Bin)
Next three launches
June 13th: Electron | “Don’t Stop Me Now” Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand | 04:43 UTC
June 13th: Falcon 9 | Starlink-8 Mission | Cape Canaveral, Fla. | 09:21 UTC
17th of June: Long March 2D | Gaofen 9-03 | Jiuquan, China. | 07:18 UTC