Rocket Report: Blue nears flight, India to double up, Musk’s Starship love – Ars Technica
2 months ago
Welcome to Edition 1.31 of the Rocket Report! This week we have all kinds of spaceport news, spanning from the Azores to Hawaii. As we return with the first report of 2019, there is also a bunch of news about the development of super-heavy boosters.
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.
Alaska Aerospace eyeing Hawaii-based launch site. The company, which already operates the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island in Alaska, wants to build its next site for launches closer to the equator, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. The proposed site is near Hilo, on the Big Island, and would be used to launch small payloads of 50 to 100kg.
Local opposition expected … “Don’t think of what you see at Cape Canaveral,” said Mark Lester, president of the Alaska-based company. “This is really a couple concrete pads with very little permanent infrastructure.” The report quotes several skeptical Hawaii residents concerned about noise and other impacts. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
LandSpace opens rocket production facility in China. The factory, located in east China’s Zhejiang Province, is said to be the country’s first private satellite launch vehicle production, Spacewatch reports. “Having a manufacturing base is the first step for large-scale commercial production of carrier rockets and engines and is expected to greatly accelerate the R&D and testing of our products,” said Zhang Changwu, CEO of the LandSpace company.
Ready to scale … Reportedly, the company’s Tianjin rocket engine and the Zhuque-2 liquid-fueled launch vehicle will start production at the facility in 2019. The ZQ-2 is scheduled to be launched in 2020. The facility will be able to produce about 15 Zhuque-2 rockets and 200 engines starting in 2022, the company said. (submitted by Ken the Bin).
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Blue Origin aims to fly people in “early” 2019. In a panel discussion this week at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech Forum, the head of astronaut strategy and sales at Blue Origin said the company is eager to start flying people on New Shepard but that it places a greater emphasis on safety over schedule.
No ticket sales yet … “We are aiming to fly people early in 2019, but let’s be very clear—we’ve also said this before—only when we’re ready,” Ariane Cornell said, according to SpaceNews. “We are so focused right now on testing New Shepard through and through.” The company hasn’t begun selling tickets yet or set a price for the suborbital flight.
Stratolaunch pushes taxi test to 136mph. The company’s twin-fuselage, six-engine aircraft raced as fast as 136mph down the runway at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port today during its latest taxi test. That’s almost takeoff speed for the world’s largest airplane, which is designed to serve as a flying launch platform for orbital-class rockets, GeekWire reports.
May be the last ground test … Officials with the company have previously said this is about the maximum speed they could test the plane on the ground, which may be an indication that the behemoth will soon take flight. Certainly that is something we are all looking forward to seeing in the new year. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Azores launch site down-selects to five rocket firms. A proposed launch site in the Azores, backed by Portugal, has narrowed from 14 to five the number of companies it is working with to develop a small launcher that would serve as an anchor tenant. The companies are: AVIO, AZUL Consortium, Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH, PLD Space, and Rocket Factory Augsburg. Final contract negotiations could begin later this spring.
Surrounded by water … The Azores are in the Atlantic Ocean at a latitude of 35 to 40 degrees north. A committee studying proposals from industry is also engaged in negotiations with Portuguese authorities, subsystems suppliers, and finally Ariane Group, which has expressed interest in operating and managing the spaceport. (submitted by claudiocsilva)
Commercial crew mission delayed until February. SpaceX is about a month away from launching its first commercial crew mission, the company’s founder, Elon Musk, tweeted in early January. This will be a demonstration flight, without humans aboard. NASA confirmed the delay until “February” on January 10.
A month’s delay … Officially, NASA had been holding to a January 17 launch date, but that has become untenable due to ongoing work to resolve technical issues, two sources said, as well as the partial government shutdown. More than 90 percent of the space agency’s employees are presently furloughed during the shutdown, which is affecting the agency’s ability to make final approvals for the launch. Some key government officials are continuing to work on the program without pay. (submitted by george moromisato)
India plans up to 14 launches in 2019. The chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization said the country plans up to 14 launches this year, including 17 satellites and one technology demonstration mission. The leader of ISRO, Kailasavadivoo Sivan, said this would be a “challenging” target for the country to reach, The Times of India reports. India launched seven orbital rockets in 2018.
Other work as well … Among the other launch activities this year, Sivan said work will continue on a dedicated small-satellite launch vehicle, as well as work to support an upcoming human spaceflight mission (set for 2022), the country’s first. The high target for launches this year appears to mirror India’s growing aspirations in space. (submitted by fleisher)
Vostochny Cosmodrome opens for business. At the end of December, after years of delays, construction mishaps, and corruption scandals, Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome saw the first successful flight of commercial payloads aboard a Soyuz 2.1a rocket, SpaceNews reported. “We are flying!” Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Twitter.
A semi-commercial launch … The primary payload consisted of two Russian government Earth-observation satellites, Kanopus-V 5 and 6. However, a secondary payload of 26 small satellites was sold by a new Roscosmos commercial subsidiary, GK Launch Services. It’s not clear when the next, fully GK-operated commercial launch will take place at the new spaceport in far-Eastern Russia. The company’s next two launches are slated to fly out of Baikonur in 2020. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Despite shutdown, work on SLS rocket continues. Based upon a report by NASASpaceFlight.com, work is continuing on the SLS rocket during the partial government shutdown. Several activities related to the rocket—including Pegasus barge operations as well as contractor work on the core stage at Michoud Assembly Facility—are exempt from the shutdown.
Certainly this won’t help … A government shutdown is terrible for NASA in a lot of different ways, but it probably won’t have too great an effect on activities related to the development of its rocket. However, should the maiden launch of the SLS slip into 2021, this will offer one (both convenient and plausible) excuse for why. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Why Elon Musk is tweeting so much about Starship. Since December 22, Musk has tweeted about the Starship vehicle more than two dozen times. Starship is the upper-stage spacecraft that will be launched by the “Super Heavy” booster formerly known as the Big Falcon Rocket. Myriad details about a test version of Starship can be gleaned from Musk’s Twitter feed.
So why is he sharing so much? … In sharing all of these tidbits about Starship, Musk is telling the world that he is really (really) freaking excited about Starship. This, after nearly two decades of work to get to this point with SpaceX, is his Mars spacecraft, and he wants everyone to know about it.
Roscosmos selects super-heavy booster concept. The Russian space corporation has chosen the variant proposed by the Progress Rocket and Space Center, which is said to have six side-mounted boosters and a central core based on the RD-180 rocket engine, Space Daily reports. It will have a capacity of 103 tons to low Earth orbit.
Won’t launch for a long time … This decision follows a decree from Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in 2018 to create a “super-heavy” rocket. To say we are skeptical of this venture is an understatement. It is not clear where Roscosmos will get the funds for such an ambitious project, which already is not expected to fly before 2028. (submitted by Biceps)
Next three launches
Jan. 11: Falcon 9 | Iridium 8 mission | Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. | 15:31 UTC
Jan. 17: Epsilon | Rapis-1 demonstration satellite | Uchinoura Space Center, Japan | 00:50 UTC
Jan. 21: Long March 11 | Jilin-1 commercial remote sensing satellites | Jiuquan, China | TBD