Welcome to Edition 1.14 of the Rocket Report! This week, we’ve got lots of news to share about small rockets for big airplanes, the last flight of the venerable Delta 2 rocket, and a report on whether any new technologies might be coming along soon to supplant rockets. (Spoiler alert: probably not).
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.
Stratolaunch discloses rocket-development plans. The maker of the world’s largest airplane, which appears to be progressing toward a maiden flight late this year, has released some of its plans for what it will send into space. In addition to the previously announced Pegasus rockets, the company plans to develop a medium and heavy rocket that will carry 3.4 and 6 tons to low Earth orbit. Stratolaunch is also doing early development work on a space plane.
Looking in-house for a solution … Stratolaunch seems to have been searching for appropriately sized rockets to launch from its aircraft for a long time. An earlier deal with SpaceX fell through, as well as a deal with Orbital ATK to develop a custom rocket for the aircraft. Now, the company has decided to go in-house and just build its own rockets. The medium-lift rocket variant, which will be developed soonest, could be ready for its first flight within about four years.
Vega rocket lofts Aeolus satellite. On Wednesday, a Vega rocket shot into space from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana, delivering a spacecraft designed to measure winds in Earth’s atmosphere. This was the 12th launch of Arianespace’s Vega rocket, and it was entirely successful. Vega now has a 12-out-of-12 success rate, Spaceflight Now reports. Vega launches are fun to watch because the relatively light rocket ascends rapidly from its launchpad.
A long road … Funded by the European Space Agency and built by Airbus Defense and Space, the $550 million Aeolus mission is nearly two decades in the making. Since receiving ESA’s formal go-ahead in 2002, Aeolus suffered numerous delays as engineers encountered problems with the mission’s laser instrument. But so far, everything seems to be going well in space. The ability to measure winds from space could greatly aid efforts to improve global weather forecast models.
LandSpace says it has assembled its orbital rocket. The Beijing-based private space company LandSpace says it has completed assembly of its 19-meter orbital rocket and intends to launch during the fourth quarter of this year, China News reports. The three-stage, solid-propellant rocket named Zhuque-1 has a takeoff mass of 27 metric tons. The first launch will carry a small China Central Television satellite for space science as well as remote sensing for a television show on the State broadcaster.
Many more where that came from … This company is at the vanguard of the Chinese commercial space industry. A report by Beijing-based investment institution Future Aerospace said that more than 60 private-domestic companies have entered the commercial space industry over the past three years, since China began to encourage private capital in the satellite and spaceflight industries. These sectors were previously closed to private industry. LandSpace and OneSpace are competing to become the first private Chinese companies to reach orbit. (submitted by tpc3)
Relativity gets serious about launching rockets. The 3D-printed-rocket company Relativity announced this week the hiring of Tim Buzza as an adviser to shepherd the company’s launch-vehicle execution. Buzza spent 12 years helping to manage rocket development and launch activities for SpaceX. At Relativity, his duties will include finalizing the selection of a US-based launch site (a decision will come before the end of this year) and overseeing development of ground launch systems at that site.
Eyeing a 2020 launch date … “The guy literally knows everything there is to know about rockets,” said Tim Ellis, the cofounder and chief executive of Relativity. According to Ellis, Relativity remains on track to complete development of its Terran rocket by 2020. The rocket has a planned capacity to deliver 1,250kg to low Earth orbit and a per-launch cost of $10 million. Commercial launches may begin in 2021.
Colorado officially has a spaceport. The Federal Aviation Administration has approved a spaceport license for Colorado’s Front Range Airport, which will now be known as the Colorado Air and Space Port. GeekWire reports that the port won’t be used for vertical rocket launches but rather for horizontal takeoff-and-launch operations like the procedures planned by British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch venture.
The big question … As with several other licensed spaceports across the United States (10 so far), the question is what spaceflights may actually take place from there and when. Airport director Dave Ruppel said the first space missions are probably at least five years away. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Interorbital working on a decidedly terrestrial rocket. A group seeking to develop a ground-based vehicle that can surpass the 1,000mph mark has begun to work with rocket-maker Interorbital Systems. The Aussie Invader team will work with Interorbital to develop, test, and integrate a 62,000-lb-thrust (275,790 Newton) rocket engine into the Aussie Invader 5R. An attempt to break the 1,000mph barrier may come as soon as 2020, according to Parabolic Arc.
Where’s Neptune? … This seems like an interesting project, but it certainly raises questions about where Interorbital’s rockets are, particularly the Neptune launch vehicle. Interorbital has long held admirable goals of flying (very) low cost rockets. But at some point, we’d like to see some actual flights into (or even near) space.
Delta 2 rocket nears its final launch. Last week, controllers loaded super-cold liquid-oxygen propellant into the Delta 2’s first stage on its launchpad at Vandenberg during a practice countdown, known as a wet dress rehearsal, Spaceflight Now reports. Work continues toward a September 15 launch of NASA’s ICESat 2 satellite, an orbiting platform that will chart the melting of ice brought on by climate change. The story provides a nice overview of the rocket’s long history.
A fond farewell … We wish nothing but success for the Delta 2 rocket, which has completed 154 missions, and its manufacturer United Launch Alliance. During the time before more competitive commercial options emerged in the launch industry, the Delta 2 served the US government well. For example, it successfully launched 48 satellites for the US Air Forces Global Positioning System from 1989 through 2009, with the satellite network becoming part of the everyday lives of billions of people worldwide. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
SpaceX installs sleek crew-access arm. On Monday morning at Kennedy Space Center, technicians for SpaceX hoisted the crew-access arm to its final position and secured it near the launch tower’s peak at pad 39A, just below its 80-foot-tall lightning mast. Its sleek black-and-white design stands in stark contrast with the pad’s weathered gray beams, Florida Today reports.
Ticking off a list … SpaceX still has much work to do before its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft are deemed ready to fly by NASA, but getting this access arm in place represents a tangible step toward liftoff. We’re now eagerly awaiting an official launch date for the company’s first Demo mission, possibly in November. A crewed flight could follow about six months after that.
Will We Ever Stop Using Rockets to Get to Space? That is the question asked by an article in RealClearScience, which notes that the first liquid-fueled rocket was launched 92 years ago. The article goes on to list some technologies, from a StarTram to giant airships and even the oft-discussed space elevator, as alternative means to putting people and payloads into Earth orbit. None appears ready for prime time.
Probably not soon … A few years ago, Jeff Bezos was discussing the founding of Blue Origin, and he talked about he (along with Neal Stephenson and a few others) had wanted to find a better way than chemical rockets to open up access to space. In the end, none of the other technologies was close to being ready, affordable, and/or feasible. So Bezos went full-bore for reusable rockets. We’re about to see that with New Glenn, just like we’ve seen with the Falcon Heavy. It seems that, at least for the next few decades, driving down the cost of chemical rockets represents our best bet for cheaper access to space. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
What the Falcon Heavy rocket launch sounded like. In a new episode, the Sound Traveler YouTube channel shares a “binaural audio immersion” version of the Falcon Heavy launch from earlier this year. The video and audio, captured by photographer Trevor Mahlmann, captures what it was like to hear the launch in person.
Can confirm … Having been in Florida that day, this audio and video offers the best representation of what it was actually like to see, hear, and feel the Falcon Heavy launch. (By the way, it was pretty damn awesome). Make sure to watch it with good headphones. Also, we recommend seeing the next Falcon Heavy launch in person, if possible.
Next three launches
NET August 25: Long March 3B | BeiDou satellites | Xichang Satellite Launch Center | TBD
September 9: Falcon 9 | Telstar 18 VANTAGE | Cape Canaveral Air Force Station | 03:33 UTC
September 10: Ariane 5 | Horizons 3e and Azerspace 2/Intelsat 38 comm satellites | Kourou, French Guiana | 21:56 UTC