Enlarge /. Rocket Lab's first mission in 2021 was called "Another Leaves the Crust".
Welcome to issue 3.30 of the missile report! This week we celebrate the first time another private company – Virgin Orbit – made it into orbit. It was damn impressive to see the company's rocket fall from a plane last weekend and go into orbit on its second attempt.
As always, we look forward to readers' contributions. If you don't want to miss out on an issue, please subscribe to it using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the website). Each report includes information on small, medium and heavy-duty missiles, as well as a brief overview of the next three launches on the calendar.
Virgin Orbit goes into orbit. On Sunday afternoon, Virgin Orbit joined the rare club of companies that privately developed a rocket and successfully put it into orbit. Additionally, the California-based company became the first company to enter orbit with a liquid-fueled rocket launched in the air with its LauncherOne missile dropped from a 747 aircraft.
Just the second take-off attempt … The flight, which involved multiple firings of the LauncherOne's upper stage engine and the successful deployment of multiple small satellites for NASA, completes a development program spanning approximately eight years and countless engineering challenges. Ars reported on some of the novel problems encountered with a horizontally-fired liquid fuel missile. (submitted by platykurtic and Ken the Bin)
Blue Origin could people launch in April. Following the company's New Shepard 14 flight on Jan. 14, CNBC is planning another unmanned mission before passengers fly. The next test flight, NS-15, could take place as early as late February, followed by a crew flight six weeks later, sometime in April.
Schedule remains tentative … The company declined to comment on New Shepard's schedule. A Blue Origin spokesman said the schedule was "speculative and not confirmed". However, this is in line with what we've heard about the company's plans that another successful flight would conduct human testing. This leaves open the exciting possibility of commercial astronaut flights before the end of 2021. (Submitted by Ken the Bin)
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Rocket Lab starts the launch campaign in 2021. Rocket Lab successfully launched a communications satellite for the German company OHB Group on Wednesday in the first Electron mission of the year, reports SpaceNews. Rocket Lab had erased the original attempt to launch the mission "Another Leaves the Crust" four days earlier from a sensor due to "strange data".
Is it actually a Chinese satellite? … As the publication notes, there has been some uncertainty about the true nature of the payload. OHB described the GMS-T payload as a "50 kg class" satellite in an orbit at a height of 1,200 kilometers and as a "prototype of a spacecraft for a planned new satellite constellation for telecommunications". It is believed that the main customer for the satellite is actually GMS Zhaopin, a Chinese company planning a satellite constellation. (submitted by platykurtic and Ken the Bin)
Phantom room working on the path finding vehicle. In a tweet on Sunday, the new company announced that it was about to complete a development model for its "Daytona" rocket. "This development model paves the way for the manufacture and design of the flight system and will be completed in the first quarter of this year," the company said. The tweet (now deleted but archived here) contained a picture of this boy scout at the factory with several people standing around.
Everything is not what it seems … However, keen-eyed readers noted that the image appeared to be a rendering or perhaps a composite image of a rendered missile in a real factory. (See archived image here). Eventually, Phantom Space founder Jim Cantrell stepped in and said, "Folks, it's RENDERING – EVERYTHING. Last time I checked, these aren't illegal. Maybe I should double-check the federal code." This may not be entirely true. The rocket was being rendered, but the photo was actually real. It originally showed NASA's demolition engine for Orion, recorded in 2019.
Falcon 9 sets reuse records and expands the envelope. The Falcon 9 rocket launched on Wednesday morning and lifted its payload of 60 Starlink Internet satellites towards orbit. Then came a challenge for this first stage – to capture the landing. According to SpaceX engineer Jessie Anderson, the winds on the surface near the landing site were stronger than those of the Falcon 9 rockets on previous flights. With a safe landing, she said, it "broadened the scope" of recreational wind limits.
This mission reached milestones in a different way … This was the eighth flight of this first stage of the Falcon 9 missile – a new record for the number of times a single missile core was used, Ars reports. The 38-day turnaround time since the last launch significantly exceeded the previous turnaround time for a first stage of Falcon 9, which is 51 days.
China launches first rocket by 2021. On Tuesday, the country's Long March 3B rocket put a Tiantong-1 mobile communications satellite into orbit. The launch came from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province, reports NASASpaceflight.com.
Many more will follow … The Long March-3B launcher is decades old and was used for both national and international satellites. The Chinese government and several trading companies in the country are expected to launch 40 or more missiles in the coming year. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
The French government is trying to speed up engine tests. The French space agency CNES and the European rocket developer ArianeGroup have agreed to start testing the Prometheus rocket engine before the end of this year. The aim is to accelerate the Prometheus schedule by consolidating the testing program at the Vernon site in Normandy, France.
Have to go faster … As part of the agreement, ArianeGroup will receive additional funding for the site to enable the tests. Europe has a lot to do with the development of Prometheus, what is called a "low cost, reusable" engine. It is expected that a new generation of rockets will be propelled after Ariane 6 and Vega C. "This agreement was signed against the backdrop of increased global competition in the space launch vehicles," said a press release.
Boeing completes Starliner software updates. Boeing recently completed formal requalification of the CST-100 Starliner's flight software in preparation for its next flight, the company said this week. "The work that this team has put into fully wringing our software is a critical moment for the program," said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Starliner. "We're smarter than a team that went through this process."
Setting up another launch … The rewriting and retesting of the spacecraft's software came after an unscrewed test flight of the vehicle in 2019 failed to complete its mission of docking with the International Space Station. This led to the decision to revise the vehicle software and carry out another flight test without screws. The launch of this next mission on an Atlas V rocket is tentatively scheduled for March 29 (submitted by Ken the Bin, platykurtic and Tfargo04).
Agreement on satellite shields with SpaceX. The Uruguay-based company that builds earth observation satellites has signed a "Multiple Launch Agreement" to ship its satellites on Falcon 9 ridesharing. "What SpaceX has achieved through its agile launch plan is a perfect complement to our own business model at Satellogic," said Alan Kharsansky, Vice President Mission Engineering and Operations.
First Launch Coming Soon … As part of its announcement, the company announced that SpaceX would become Satellogic's "preferred provider" for ridesharing, reducing the time between manufacture and launch of the satellites into orbit. The first launch will be in June 2021. This seems like a notable shift, given that Satellogic was originally launched using Chinese rockets. (submitted by Tfargo04, platykurtic and Ken the Bin)
Put Start in the right light. In a new report by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, part of the Department of Commerce, the "gross production" of the US space industry was estimated from 2012 to 2018. For the last available year, the space economy was $ 177.5 billion (0.5 percent) of gross US output. The space industry was dominated by two sectors: information and production.
Slice of the pie … The startup industry falls into this latter category, say the study's authors. The Other Transportation subcategory was valued at $ 17.4 billion in 2018 and includes spacecraft and space weapon systems, including ICBMs. Space reaches a wide range of industries including agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, mining, and utilities, mirroring manufacturing in terms of research and development, as well as remote sensing. (submitted by TH)
The SLS missile cannot complete its hot fire test. The core phase of the NASA rocket came to life on Saturday afternoon in southern Mississippi, but then stopped after just 67.2 seconds. Officials had hoped the test fire would last 485 seconds, but believed they could get enough data with a 250 second fire, Ars reports. "It's not all we hoped for," the then-NASA said – Administrator Jim Bridenstine subsequently.
Test again or not? … A preliminary analysis showed that the test was stopped after an integrated sensor read the pump return pressures slightly below the test limits. This ad came shortly after the rocket started gimbaling or steering its engines. In public, NASA officials say they need to review the dates of the tests before deciding whether to repeat the Green Run test. Internally, however, Ars reports that officers are already very much inclined to repeat in order to collect all the data they need. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Starship gets two mobile spaceports. SpaceX has acquired two former oil rigs to serve as floating spaceports for its Starship launch system, reports NASASpaceflight.com. Named after the two moons of Mars, the Phobos and Deimos are currently being modified to support Starship's launch operations. Recently, SpaceX began hiring crane operators, electricians and offshore operations engineers to modify the platforms.
There are no noise concerns here … Although SpaceX has some autonomy at its launch site in Boca Chica, unlike the more regulated facility in Cape Canaveral, the company could get even more freedom offshore. The super-heavy lift launcher has a large explosion hazard area and is noisy when launched frequently near populated areas. (submitted by danneely, platykurtic, martialartstechie and Ken the Bin)
The next three starts
January 23: Falcon 9 | Transporter 1 carpooling | Cape Canaveral, Florida | 14:40 UTC
January 27th: Falcon 9 | Starlink-17 | Kennedy Space Center, Fla. | 13:00 UTC
February 15th: Soyuz | Progress 77P | Baikonur Cosmodrome | 04:45 UTC