Welcome to Edition 1.40 of the Rocket Report! This week, there were some developments that shook the earth hard. NASA announced that it would consider deploying commercial missiles for the Orion's first lunar launch. Readers have also come up with a number of interesting stories, including Brazil, which envisages a launch pad for rival Kourou in neighboring French Guiana.
As always, we welcome reader submissions. If you do not want to miss an issue, please subscribe to the box below (the form will not appear in AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report contains information on small, medium and heavy rockets, as well as a glimpse of the next three launches of the calendar.
Vega-C missile enters the qualifying phase, but slips off, The new European small satellite launch system has recently passed the Critical Design Review and is now ready to complete the manufacturing and final testing as part of the qualification phase, according to the European Space Agency. The first flight of the Vega-C booster, a lower-cost version of the Arianespace Vega rocket, is now scheduled for early 2020 (a slip-up from late 2019).
Another year … The Vega-C missile uses Europe's new P120C P120C rocket amplifier, which will power the Ariane 6 as well. The common ground should help Arianespace to save costs as it seeks to gain more market for the small satellite market. "We have 12 difficult months ahead of us, starting with four Vega launches between March and November and ending with the maiden voyage of Vega-C," said Stefano Bianchi, Head of Space Transportation Development at ESA. (submitted by Ken the Bin and Unrulycow)
LinkSpace prepares for rockets, In a tweetThe Chinese company released a photo of a rocket landing field with the message "Welcome to Earth". The company is expected to begin suborbital testing of its landing demo in the coming months.
We have seen this before? … LinkSpace was founded in 2014 and was or was even the first private Chinese rocket company (since then more than a dozen have followed). The aim is to develop a liquid-fueled rocket with a reusable first stage that can bring about 200 kg to a sun-like orbit. The landing technology seems to be modeled on the rocket Falcon 9.
Another new Chinese startup goes into battle, Space Transportation has been reluctant since its founding in 2018, but recently announced that it has found a fishing fan, reports the China Aerospace blog. The company plans to develop reusable rockets for payloads from 100kg to 1,000kg.
Reusability with a twist … Space Transportation has proposed an ambitious rocket reusability landing system: Images of the Tian Xing-1 rocket show a pair of fin-shaped wings that (supposedly) provide the lift needed for gliding. Such a system faces technical challenges, but it helps the new company to assert itself in a crowded field of Chinese start-ups.
Brazil could become a hub in aviation, Brazil wants to win start-up customers by marketing itself as a cheaper alternative to Kourou, the European spaceport in neighboring French Guiana. Aviation titans Boeing and Lockheed Martin visited the Alcântara Launch Center in December, Reuters reports. The Brazilian Space Agency also wants to address smaller companies with its equatorial location.
Security agreement required … Brazil's goal of becoming a launch pad may, for now, depend on negotiating an agreement with the United States on technical security measures to protect sensitive American space launch and satellite technology. (Such an agreement is needed to launch rockets made from America). The safeguards agreement could be prepared this year if the US Department of State receives a negotiation permit. (submitted by Alex)
Saber breathing missile passes PDR, Reaction Engines' breathable Saber rocket propulsion system's demonstrator core has successfully passed a preliminary design test. Aviation Week Reports. The assessment paves the way for a subsequent critical design review, followed by development and testing of the core in a newly constructed Westcott facility in 2020.
That would be great … The complete engine, which ultimately builds on the core and includes a precooler, a rocket engine, and a ramjet, is designed to be breathable to airships from runway to Mach 5 and beyond. In rocket mode, it should also provide low-cost access to space. Of course, turning such promising technology into reality would be very cool. But there is still a long way to go.
Europe wants to promote smaller rockets, The European Space Agency says it is examining how the continent's small satellite launch industry can best be promoted. To this end, five proposals from the industry for an economically viable, self-sufficient micro-launcher were funded under the Future Launchers ESA Preparatory Program. The five proposals came from PLD Space, Deimos and Orbex, MT Aerospace, ArianeGroup and Avio.
Just enough help … At the Space 19+ conference in November, ESA will propose a program to promote commercially viable ideas from European industry by supporting proposals for privately managed and privately funded space transport services, with a focus on start-up services from microlaunchers. European officials believe that this will also drive the development of successful commercial space airports in Europe.
Stofiel on an unconventional way into space, Brian Stofiel often looks like a mad rocket scientist with his long biker man and a messy basement Riverfront Times, And the founder of Stofiel Aerospace from St. Louis definitely has unconventional ideas on how to get things into space by using a balloon and a mostly plastic-made rocket called Hermes.
A funny story … Stofiel is a colorful personality, and new ideas are always welcome in the aerospace industry. That industry has reached the point where a modest family can finance rocket experiments with 3D-printed technology itself is a good thing. So far, however, Stofiel is still far away until his ambitions in the aerospace industry become reality. (submitted by Millenix)
China has launched its 300th booster in March, A Chinese television broadcaster launched aboard a Long March 3B booster last Saturday. This is the 300th orbital launch of the country's Long March rocket family since 1970, reports Spaceflight Now. On April 24, 1970, a long rocket from March 1 brought China's first satellite into space.
Start speed accelerates … China's launch rate has accelerated in recent years. It took 37 years to complete the first 100 Long March launches, eight years for the second 100 flights, and four years for the third 100 missions. This is another sign of the country's increasingly diverse ambitions in space. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
SpaceX completes the commercial crew mission, During the first demonstration mission of SpaceX with Crew Dragon, which plundered on Friday, March 8, everything ran smoothly. However, the mission did not start on time, as SpaceX engineers tackled first-stage valve problems in a Falcon 9 hours before the start.
Was not announced … The valve has been replaced and SpaceX has noticed that similar problems should not occur at startup. The Falcon 9 was deleted before the NASA webcast began. Therefore, the problem was not shared with the viewers. In any case, there were no problems with the launch itself or the performance of Dragon.
NASA proposes a commercial Orion missionIn a noteworthy turnaround, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Wednesday that the space agency would consider launching its first Orion mission on commercial missiles instead of NASA's own Space Launch System. "I think we as an agency need to stick to our commitment," said Bridenstine at a NASA hearing. "If we tell you and others that we will start around the moon in June 2020, we should start around the moon in June 2020."
Such a mission would require two missiles … what will they be? Bridenstine did not name any missiles during the hearing, but it seems almost certain that at least one of them would be a Delta IV Heavy of the United Launch Alliance. NASA used this rocket to launch a version of the Orion probe in 2014 at a height of 3,600 km. Both United Launch Alliance and SpaceX – with their Falcon Heavy rocket – would be invited to the second start.
SLS was already besieged during the week, President Donald Trump calls for a budget cut in the 2020 budget for the NASA rocket, which was once seen as the backbone of the space exploration efforts of the space exploration agency. The primary reduction would be the work at the upper exploration level required to move to a second, more powerful variant called Block 1B.
Throws up all sorts of questions … The absence of this advanced level means that NASA can not simultaneously co-manifest a crewed Orion spacecraft and elements of the Lunar Gateway at the same launch of the SLS rocket. This in turn means that elements of the gateway could (and would) be launched on commercial missiles. If this budget survives Congress, it will raise serious questions about the future of the launcher.
Meanwhile, Boeing pushes on with SLS testing on, The main contractor of the space launch system Boeing, Boeing, is pushing ahead with the tests of the rocket parts, reports NASASpaceFlight.com. One team is busy conducting test cases with the Intertank test article in a large indoor test room at the Marshall Space Flight Center. Another prepares a liquid hydrogen tank for his test drives in another large (but outdoor) booth on the road.
Head down, safety helmets on … The work goes further than political questions about the future of the big rocket. After several hours of freezing, the test articles are compressed, stretched, twisted and bent to simulate the forces and environment that flight structures await at launch and ascent into space. These tests will help qualify the structures for the first flight and verify the accuracy of computer models. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Spaceship is approaching the first tests, Last week, the first Raptor engine was delivered to the SpaceX plant in Brownsville, Texas. Within two days of the arrival of a new van, Starhopper was taken from the construction site to the launch pad for testing. SpaceX has bought or rented a quartet of (probably used) tracks to transport Starship between the company's construction, launch and landing sites in South Texas, Teslarati reports.
I am always happy … It was interesting to see the Starhopper traveling in South Texas as SpaceX completed its first commercial crew demonstration mission. It's a sign that the company is always focused on the future and the ultimate prize for sending people to Mars. Of course, there is still a long way to go, but we expect the suborbital test of Starhopper later this year. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Next three starts
March, 15: Delta IV | Broadband SATCOM Spacecraft | Cape Canaveral, Fla. | 22:56 UTC
March 16th: Electron | DARPA R3D2 mission | Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand | 22:30 UTC
March 22: Vega | PRISMA Earth Observation Satellite | Kourou, French Guiana | 01:50 UTC