Enlarge /. The Electron launcher is ready to fly.
Welcome to Issue 2.37 of the Missile Report! As COVID-19 sweeps the globe and spreads across the United States, the launching world continues to move. We shouldn't, however, that after launching an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Thursday, there are only two more launches with confirmed dates next year: a Soyuz crew and a Progress cargo mission in April.
As always, we look forward to readers' contributions. If you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear in AMP-enabled versions of the website) Each report contains information on small, medium and heavy-duty rockets and a brief overview of the next three launches on the calendar.
Virgin Orbit evaluates plans amid a pandemic. The Long Beach, California-based company is currently reviewing the schedule for the first orbital flight demonstration of its LauncherOne vehicle, scheduled for April. "We are aware that COVID-19 puts additional strain on our teams and executives. That is why we evaluate things every day and keep the momentum as good as possible while doing everything we can to protect the health of our employees," said Virgin Orbit spokesman Kendall Russell told SpaceNews.
Another big step before orbit … Most employees work from home to control the spread of the disease, and the pandemic occurs at a critical time during operations. In early March, the company conducted a taxi test at Mojave Air and Space Port, California. The next step before orbital launch is a captive test flight with the missile attached to the aircraft. It is not clear when this test will take place now. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Firefly aims to start in the summer and extends the view. Like almost every other company in the world, Firefly has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic in the past few weeks. However, founder Tom Markusic told Ars that Firefly was on the right track to launch the Alpha rocket for the first time this summer. He expects to deliver flight hardware to Vandenberg Air Force Base in June, where the vehicle will be assembled, rolled out for testing, and then attempted to start.
Eyes on the Moon … Markusic also announced that the company recently submitted a bid for the fourth order of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program (19C) to deliver scientific instruments to one of the lunar poles. To achieve the objectives of the NASA program, Firefly is working with other aerospace companies to build the Genesis lunar lander and an orbital transfer vehicle. Awards can be given sometime in April
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Astra suffers a setback. The small launch vehicle startup has postponed its next attempt after the missile was damaged during a pre-launch test, as SpaceNews reports. Astra had already prepared for the launch of its "Rocket 3.0" vehicle from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska on March 24th.
No new launch date set … The local radio station KMXT reported that there was a problem at the launch site on Kodiak Island that caused an emergency response. No injuries were reported, but the area was cordoned off. "The area is still dangerous and should be avoided. There will be personnel on site overnight that can be monitored," said Mark Lester, general manager of Alaska Aerospace, which operates the spaceport, to KMXT. (submitted by Trimeta, ABaMD, Unrulycow, Ken the Bin and JohnCarter17)
Atlas V launches first Space Force mission. The United Launch Alliance V-rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Thursday. It launched a military communications satellite, AEHF-6, into a geostationary transfer orbit. This is the first launch under the command of the newly constituted US Space Force, reports Ars.
Tracking corona virus but going ahead … While the United Launch Alliance has reduced some aspects of its reach for this mission due to the proliferation of COVID-19 – for example, a social media event has already been canceled – the company is following protocols in its internal pandemic plan outlined and advanced essential activities. So far, no significant effects on the start manifest for 2020 are expected.
OneWeb orbits more satellites, but it faces financial problems. On Saturday, global communications company OneWeb launched its second large batch of satellites into near-Earth orbit – the additional 34 spaceships brought their total constellation to 74 satellites. The launch took place with a Soyuz rocket that took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The company had hoped to complete the first phase of its satellite Internet constellation next year.
Delays are "inevitable" … But before the start on Saturday, warning signs were on the horizon, reports Ars. Last week Bloomberg reported that OneWeb is considering filing for bankruptcy protection because of a money crisis. Before the launch on Saturday, OneWeb acknowledged these financial difficulties in a statement saying, "We believe it is inevitable that there will be delays in our launch plan and satellite manufacturing." There will be an unspecified number of layoffs. (submitted by JohnCarter17)
Japan continues to aim to launch H3 in 2020. Despite the corona virus pandemic, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries continues to expect the Japanese H3 missile to make its maiden flight this year. According to SpaceNews, MHI has remained productive on H3, although many employees have to do teleworking due to school closures and other socially distant measures taken to slow the spread of the novel corona virus.
Ready for GTO … "The situation with the corona virus is pretty unclear and may worsen worldwide," Ko Ogasawara, vice president and general manager for space systems at MHI, emailed the end on March 23. But even today we will do our best to meet our schedule. "H3 is funded by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and is MHI's cost-conscious response to SpaceX's Falcon 9, Arianespaces Ariane 6 and other launchers that can launch into the geostationary transfer orbit starting at 6,500 kg. (Submitted by platykurtic)
NASA joins the Falcon 9 investigation. Space Agency personnel will be part of an ongoing SpaceX investigation of an engine anomaly at a recent launch of Falcon 9 as the company prepares for a Crew Dragon mission with two NASA astronauts.
NASA spokesman Josh Finch told SpaceNews that members of NASA's commercial crew program will be represented by SpaceX's investigation of an engine that was shut down prematurely during the launch of 60 Starlink satellites on March 18.
For the first time for a fifth flight … "According to the CCtCap contracts, SpaceX has to provide NASA with all the data and the resulting reports," said Finch. "With NASA's approval, SpaceX would be required to take any corrective action prior to the astronaut flight test to the International Space Station that was identified during the investigation in connection with the work of the commercial crew." During launch on March 18, one of nine Merlin engines in the first stage of the missile were shut down prematurely (the missile still made it safely into orbit). This error is likely to have occurred because this first leg completed its fifth flight. (submitted by Ken the Bin, platykurtic and JohnCarter17)
Start weather forecasters feel the high pressure. An increasingly crowded start plan requires more forecasting services, according to Air Force Magazine. When Cape Canaveral plans to host about 50 launches this year, Maj. Jeremy Hromsco, an operations manager for the Space Force's 45th Weather Squadron, said the squadron needs to grow from eight to 15 launch weather officers to support a 48-event schedule.
Also an eye on the sea … "We have a start in three hours, and then later we have an exercise and then they roll out the rocket towards the end of my shift." he said. The weather forecasts also provide wind and wave information for companies like SpaceX, which recover their boosters at sea. But contractors can collect their own weather data, and they, not the military, have the final say on whether a salvage operation is underway.
China plans to launch a spacecraft in April. The launch of the Long March 5B heavy-duty rocket with a new-generation Chinese spacecraft will continue, despite the outbreak of the corona virus, according to SpaceNews. The prototype of the payload of new generation spacecraft with crew is designed for space travel including moon missions with crew.
Big test for the big missile … Despite the failure of Long March 7A last week, which has similarities with Long March 5B, the mission continues. This indicates that the cause of the error, which has not yet been specified, is probably related to the second or third stage. Amateur recordings of the launch indicated an anomaly after the separation in the first phase. The Long March 5B is currently scheduled to start in mid-April in Wenchang. (submitted by JohnCarter17)
NASA stops working on the SLS Green Run test. Due to COVID-19 cases at both the Stennis Space Center (in southern Mississippi) and the Michoud Assembly Facility (in Louisiana), NASA and Boeing have interrupted work on the Space Launch System. Both facilities have entered "Phase 4" of NASA's pandemic plan, which closes its doors except for life-saving operations.
Timelines are now in the air … The closure takes place as NASA and Boeing staff prepare the core stage of the SLS rocket for a "green run" test in which the big booster fire is made by an orbit , an eight-minute combustion of the rocket’s four main space shuttle engines. NASA had hoped to be able to run the test this summer, but it is obviously still pending due to the uncertain duration of the coronavirus pandemic. (submitted by JohnCarter17)
SpaceX drives SN3 forward. At around 3 a.m. on Thursday morning, SpaceX finished stacking the primary structure of its third Starship prototype, the SN3, at the company's facilities near Boca Chica Beach in southern Texas. SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk shared photos of the progress on Twitter.
Working around the clock … As Ars recently reported, SpaceX continues to drive Starship development in Texas. The new vehicle and 24-hour operation provide further evidence of this. The SN3 prototype will likely move to the launch pad soon. Testing may begin early next week – pressure testing first, then a static fire, and then possibly a short jump before moving on to SN4.
The next three starts
9th April: Soyuz | Occupation Mission to the International Space Station Baikonur, Kazakhstan | 08:05 UTC
April 25th: Soyuz | Progress Supply Mission to the ISS | Baikonur, Kazakhstan | TBD
Note: There are currently no further starts with fixed dates.