Welcome to Edition 3.17 of the Rocket Report! Weather and technical issues permitting, we’re looking at a busy weekend in Florida, with a Delta IV Heavy booster set for liftoff early on Saturday, followed by a Falcon 9 launch on Sunday morning. In the meantime, catch up on all the booster news below.
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.
New Shepard scrubs launch attempt. On Thursday, Blue Origin scrubbed the first launch attempt of its first New Shepard rocket since December 2019. The mission was due to fly several commercial payloads and some lunar landing technology for NASA. “We’ve detected a potential issue with the power supply to the experiments,” Blue Origin stated. The company added that it would try to launch again on Friday, September 24, at 15:00 UTC.
Things have moved slowly, but … Some people have started to take a ho-hum attitude toward New Shepard, as it is taking so long to get into service for humans and is “only” a suborbital system. But as I outlined on Twitter, I think this is still an exciting program, and it really does take time to certify that a system capable of launching cargo can do so safely for humans as well. (submitted by Tfargo04 and Ken the Bin)
ISRO plans two launches in November. After nine months of standing down, largely due to COVID-19 issues at the country’s primary spaceport, the Indian Space Research Organization is planning two launches of its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle in November, The New India Express reports. According to the publication, the PSLV-C49 and PSLV-C50 missions are now targeted for that month.
Best not to suppress information … This schedule is tentative and predicated on effectively controlling the virus as employees return to work at Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota. Employees must immediately report if members of their family undergo a virus test. “Suppression of information will be viewed seriously and action will be initiated,” the spaceport told employees. (submitted by Ken the Bin and JohnCarter17)
German rocket company seeks to disrupt European launch. The co-founder of German rocket firm Isar Aerospace said he believes the European launch industry, led by state-backed Arianespace, is ripe for disruption. “Europe is where the US launch industry was 15 years ago,” said Daniel Metzler, co-founder and chief executive of the Munich-based company, in an interview with Ars.
Serving a growing market? … Isar grew from 25 to 100 employees this year, and it is targeting a 2022 launch for its “Spectrum” rocket, which is designed to have the capacity to launch up to 1,000kg to low Earth orbit. The company has not set a price per launch, but it is targeting a competitive price point of 10,000 euros ($11,700) per kilogram. The company believes there is a growing number of European companies and other groups that will seek affordable access to space for small satellites.
Firefly conducts a successful first-stage test. On Saturday, the Texas-based rocket company performed a test of its Alpha rocket’s flight first stage. The four Reaver engines performed 35 seconds of thrust vector control maneuvers. Firefly described the test as a major step in Firefly’s march to first flight. This may come as early as November. (video here)
A deep dive into Firefly’s owner … The mysterious Ukrainian backer of Firefly who saved the company from bankruptcy, Max Polyakov, has stirred controversy in the aerospace industry for a business portfolio that includes racy dating sites. However, a new feature by Bloomberg Businessweek provides some perspective on Polyakov and his interest in space. Worth your time. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Two suborbital rockets launch from Australia. The Australian small-satellite launch firm Southern Launch said it has completed two polar suborbital launches in a row on a Netherlands-designed two-stage DART rocket, SpaceWatch.Global reports. The launches, from the Koonibba Test Range northwest of Ceduna in South Australia, were separated by a period of only 1 hour 40 minutes.
Getting the public excited … “We as Australians have achieved something incredible today, because today at Koonibba, Australia took its first small step towards once again being a proud space-capable nation,” Southern Launch CEO Lloyd Damp said. This appears to have been an effort to spur public interest in Australia, as the company hopes to develop its own orbital rockets in the future. (submitted by Cognac)
OneWeb and Arianespace to restart launches. After emerging from a period of financial uncertainty, OneWeb says it plans to start launching satellites into low Earth orbit again, with the goal of providing high-speed Internet from space. Prior to its bankruptcy the company had planned to launch 18 more missions on Europeanized Soyuz rockets, deploying a constellation of 648 satellites before the end of 2021.
Flipping from the Ariane 6 … Now, under an amended agreement, Arianespace will provide 16 additional launches between December 2020 and the end of 2022. The revised contract canceled two Soyuz launches and also removed OneWeb as the customer for the inaugural Ariane 6 launch, SpaceNews reports. According to OneWeb, Arianespace plans to commence commercial services by the end of 2021 for regions including the United Kingdom, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, and Canada. (submitted by Ken the Bin, Tfargo04, platykurtic, and JohnCarter17)
China may see commercial space as key. A new study by the US Air Force’s university think tank, titled “China’s Space Narrative,” assesses China’s use of soft power and diplomacy as potentially powerful weapons that could undermine the United States. One of the topics it focuses on is the potential of commercial space in the coming years, SpaceNews reports.
Envious of SpaceX … Chinese analysts, according to the report, see the US commercial space sector—and especially SpaceX—as role models that Chinese companies should emulate. China views the US commercial space industry as a major advantage for the United States. The report says China’s private commercial sector faces many challenges, including a lack of a supportive policy environment and the central government’s favoritism toward the state-owned sector. (submitted by JohnCarter17)
Oft-delayed UAE satellite launch delayed yet again. The launch of Russia’s Soyuz-ST rocket with UAE’s Falcon Eye 2 satellite from the Kourou launch facility in French Guiana, scheduled for October, is postponed until early November, the Russian state news agency TASS reports. No reason was given for the additional delay.
Everything slips … The UAE satellite was originally planned to launched on March 6, but it was postponed for one day because of problems with the rocket’s Fregat upper stage. Later, UAE and Arianespace decided to replace the stage and postpone the launch. As the novel coronavirus pandemic continued to gain momentum, all work at the Kourou launch facility has been suspended, and the mission has been postponed again. After this the launch was set for October. (submitted by JohnCarter17)
Starship blows its top. On Wednesday morning—early Wednesday morning, just before 5am local time in South Texas—SpaceX finally managed to burst a test tank for its Starship project. The so-called SN 7.1 tank was built to test a new steel alloy that SpaceX engineers believe will be stronger for the Starship and Super Heavy vehicles. The failure was on purpose.
Watching the top pop … The good folks at NASASpaceflight.com have video of the pop, which occurred after the tank was pressurized. So far, SpaceX has not revealed what pressure the tank sustained before popping. Now the focus at the company’s Boca Chica site will turn to preparing SN 8—a full-scale prototype with flaps, a nose cone, and three Raptor engines—for a flight campaign. It may roll over to the launch site today. That will be something to see.
Weather looks OK for Delta IV Heavy launch attempt. Weather conditions this weekend should be favorable for a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy mission, marking the three-core rocket’s third attempt to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida Today reports. The updated forecast calls for a 60-percent chance of “go” conditions.
Third time’s the charm? … If schedules hold, the rocket will lift off at 12:14am EDT Saturday (04:14 UTC) from Launch Complex 37, carrying a National Reconnaissance Office intelligence-gathering satellite. The primary concerns revolve around clouds. Two previous launch attempts in late August were scrubbed due to technical issues. The first occurred when pneumatics issues in ground equipment forced teams to stand down; the second was caused by a torn diaphragm in a pressure regulator just seconds before liftoff. (submitted by JohnCarter17)
NASA invites media to SLS Green Run test. On Wednesday, the space agency opened media registration for access to the first test firing of the Space Launch System core stage. As part of the invitation, NASA said the test was expected to occur in “early November.” Ars plans to be there.
A key test … This will be a big moment for NASA and the core-stage prime contractor, Boeing, which has labored for years to build the large liquid-hydrogen and liquid-oxygen tanks and engine section that will house four space shuttle main engines. Under a nominal test, the rocket will fire for about eight minutes to simulate an ascent into orbit. If the booster passes the test, it will be shipped to Florida for a potential launch in late 2021. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Next three launches
Sept. 26: Delta IV Heavy | NROL-44 | Cape Canaveral, Fla.| 04:14 UTC
Sept. 27: Falcon 9 | Starlink-12 mission| Kennedy Space Center, Fla. | 14:43 UTC
Sept. 28: Soyuz | Three Gonets satellites | Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia| 11:20 UTC