Welcome to Version 1.02 of Rocket News! This collaborative effort with the readers of Ars Technica seeks to diversify our coverage of the startup industry. The Rocket Report is published as a newspaper on Wednesday and on this website every Friday morning.
A Welcome RSS feed, 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 the fast-forwarding of the next three launches on the calendar.
Rocket Lab has set a date for its third Electron launch. After a delay since April, Rocket Lab has set a new 14-day launch window that will open from June 23 to July 6. company says The original launch window was moved from April after unusual behavior was detected in the motor controller during a wet dressing exercise. The team spent additional time to review the data, identify the cause of the issue, and fix it. This extra time also allowed Rocket Lab to add an additional payload to its launch vehicle, including a “drag ship” that could attach to small satellites and deploy them once they reach the end of their useful life. Article reports.
It’s business time… The electron has flown twice in one year. After this flight, the company said it will start real commercial operations by placing in a monthly launch announcement. That would be a significant achievement after the first three flights had six month gaps between them. (submitted by hugo84)
SpaceShipTwo close to space. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo spacecraft conducted a successful flight test on May 29, reaching a top speed of Mach 1.9 and an altitude of 34,900 meters. According to Site news, these are both records for the SpaceShipTwo test flight program. Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, said he hopes to become an astronaut in the next 12 months.
Billionaire race to subbital space… Branson’s comments set up an interesting battle between him and Jeff Bezos, who will probably fly on one of the first human flights of Blue Origin’s New Shepard program.
The Stratolaunch plane is “very close” to the first flight. In the tribe interview Politico, Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said that the company plans the first flight of the largest aircraft this summer. “In order to hit the first flight, there are taxi tests that need to go through and tests leading to the first flight. We have scheduled five taxi tests leading to the first flight. We have done two of them. We have three three. more to do. So we are not ready to talk about exactly when we will make the first flight, but it is too late; it is later this year, this summer,” he said.
Rocket wanted... The key question remains what the Stratolaunch plane will one day serve as a platform for launching into space. The Pegasus rocket was contracted to weigh just 50,000 pounds. Floyd said the plane could carry and launch a rocket 11 times as heavy as that.
A rocket that is a body. First came bio-engineering… and now bio-rocketry? Engineers in Scotland and Ukraine are working on a tiny “autophage” rocket that eats itself during flight. The autophagy engine receives a tracer rod that contains a solid fuel on the outside and an oxidizer on the inside, according to PhysOrg. Researchers say such a rocket could be suitable for launching CubeSats.
Afternoon… This is such a brilliant idea to drop large quantities on the way to orbit and solve the problem of an empty fuel tank. Maybe it’s useful, who knows. Currently, engineers are working with an engine design in the lab right now and don’t have a direct path to building a rocket around it. (submitted by Byron Hood, danneely, and VonSagan)
Kuwait’s rocket team hopes to launch. The Kuwait Rocket Propulsion Group is made up of young Kuwaiti researchers focused on designing, manufacturing, testing, and launching rockets in Kuwait. They are looking to launch the first Arabian liquid bipropellant rocket with a range of 100km. When they reach the apogee, they decide to fly the Kuwaiti flag into space and take a picture of it with Earth in the background. So, the group has done some cold-flow tests.
The truth check … Okay, so this group is still pretty far out of place. But it’s good to see that the desire to get to space and do cool things there transcends all cultural and political boundaries. Good luck! (submitted by Naser Ashknani)
Rocket Block 5 also needs one more key upgrade. Quartz first reported that during its first flight, the Block 5 booster flown by SpaceX did not use advanced composite pressure vessels, or COPVs, that are intended to be used for commercial crew flights. This means that this plane does not count among the seven planes that NASA has said it wants to see a new upgrade before it can be secured for missions. These COPVs will not be ready until August.
It’s not really good… During a call with reporters before the launch, SpaceX head honcho Elon Musk said he believes the new Falcon 9 meets NASA’s stringent regulations for humans flying into space but that “it could be wrong.” It’s kind of hard to believe that someone with a reputation like Musk would make that mistake, but then again, he has a lot on his mind.
Soyuz to launch three crews to the ISS. Next Wednesday, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft will launch Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos, Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA, and Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency to space. They will take a long, two-day journey to reach the station rather than a quick six-hour transfer.
Epps is stuckThis is the mission of NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps since January. So far, Epps has kept quiet about the incident in public, hoping to return to the astronaut rotation.
Italy suspends production of Ariane capable rocket boosters. The European Space Agency has agreed to keep all production of P120-powered rocket boosters in Italy instead of opening a second production line in Germany. Site news news that Germany will instead produce turbo pumps for the upcoming Ariane 6 rocket and redirect its P120 funds to a technical development project on the carbon ocean stage that could give the Ariane 6 another 1,000kg of lifting power.
Rocket politics… We do not pretend to understand the internal politics of ESA, but we suspect that these kinds of political decisions lead to similar inefficiencies as seen in US government rocket production.
Flight version of BFR engine under development. After winning an award at the International Space Development Conference, SpaceX launch manager Tom Mueller said the methane-fueled Raptor engine that will power the Big Falcon Rocket is coming along. GeekWire reports Mueller told the audience, “I don’t want to say too much. We’re building a test stand right now. We’ve announced the first flight of the engine in service. We’ve been running the development engine. Quite a bit. It’s working great .”
Key question… Is BFR real? Of course SpaceX did as it was. But so far, not many policymakers in Washington, DC are taking it seriously. If SpaceX can start to show real equipment in practice, however, that could change the perspectives in terms of funding from NASA and the US military. (submitted by tmckendr)
NASA goes deeper into planning more Flight 1 SLS Block. After Congress appropriated funds for the construction of the second Mobile Launcher, NASA was free to plan more than one flight on the initial schedule of Block 1 of the Space Launch System rocket. It is new news NASASpaceFlight.com goes into technical detail about what these additional planes might look like.
The downside… The upside of more Block 1 spacecraft for NASA is that it probably gets astronauts into deep space more quickly. The bottom line is that it takes the pressure off the development of Phase 1b and the Exploration Phase and puts those programs into an uncertain future.
Speaking of the Second Mobile Developer. It’s NASA issued an RFI for “the purposes of identifying potential prime contractors and/or joint ventures to provide services for the design, manufacture, assembly, and testing of Mobile Launcher 2.” This is the largest mobile launcher needed for the Block 1b SLS Rocket and its Exploration Upper Stage. This RFI will inform NASA’s request for proposals for Mobile Launch that will be made in the coming months.
Five years, $500 millionThese are the numbers we are hearing for the total construction time, including the planning process and how much building a second launch might cost. It’s a nice gift for the Kennedy Space Center.
The next three launches
June 4: Falcon 9 FT | SES-12 satellite | Space Launch Complex-40, Cape Canaveral | TBD
June 5: China Long March 2C | Pakistan intelligence satellite | Xichang Satellite Launch Center | TBD
June 6: Soyuz FG | ISS launch crew | Baikonur Cosmodrome | 11:12 UTC