Enlarge / A rendering of Isar Aerospace’s proposed Spectrum rocket.
Welcome to Edition 3.09 of the Rocket Report! This week two missions, built by the UAE and China, launched successfully toward Mars. Last but not least for this year’s Martian launch window comes NASA with Mars Perseverance, which remains on track for a July 30 launch on an Atlas V rocket. Good luck to NASA and United Launch Alliance!
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.
Virgin Orbit targets “end of year” for next flight. The first flight of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket failed to reach orbit in May when a propellant line broke seconds after the ignition of the rocket’s first-stage engine, the company’s chief executive said Wednesday. Head honcho Dan Hart said the demonstration mission for the LauncherOne rocket went well until several seconds after the ignition of the NewtonThree engine that powers the rocket’s first stage, SpaceNews reports.
Fix and fly again … “We had a component break in our engine system. It was a high-pressure feed line,” he said. Liquid oxygen “stopped going into the engine and our flight was terminated.” The company has identified what needs to be fixed in the engine to strengthen the components that failed, and a second LauncherOne rocket is in final integration right now. “We’ll be targeting our next flight before the end of the year,” Hart said. (submitted by JohnCarter17, Unrulycow, and Ken the Bin)
Virgin establishes Japanese presence. The company is working with Japanese officials to establish a spaceport for its horizontal launch system at Oita Airport in southern Japan, on the island of Kyushu. The company is working toward a 2022 launch from the location. The move may help Virgin land launch contracts from Asian countries.
Building an industry … “We are eager to host the first horizontal takeoff and landing spaceport in Japan,” Oita Gov. Katsusada Hirose said, according to News on Japan. “We are also honored to be able to collaborate with brave technology companies solving global-level through their small satellites. We hope to foster a cluster of space industries in our prefecture, starting with our collaboration with Virgin Orbit.” (submitted by tsunam)
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Astra sets early August launch date. Small launch vehicle developer Astra said this week it is now planning to make its next orbital launch attempt in early August, five months after a previous attempt was scrubbed a minute before liftoff. The company announced that the window for its Rocket 3.1 vehicle will open August 2 from Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska on Kodiak Island, SpaceNews reports.
Two of three … The company also posted video of a second static fire test of the rocket at a site in California before the booster was shipped to Alaska. This is the second of three rockets the company is planning to use to demonstrate its rocket’s capability to deliver small payloads into orbit. (submitted by JohnCarter17, platykurtic and Ken the Bin)
German launch company among top investments. A new report by the European Space Policy Institute said European space startups raised $215.2 million 2019, down slightly from the total raised last year. Among the top five startups was one launch company, Isar Aerospace, SpaceNews reports.
One ton to go … The German launch company, which has kept a low profile, was estimated to have raised more than $17 million. Founded in 2018 and based in Munich, the company is developing the two-stage Spectrum rocket with a capacity of 1 metric ton to low-Earth orbit. The company’s advisers include Bulent Altan, an early SpaceX employee who went on to become a vice president of Avionics and GNC at the California company. (submitted by JohnCarter17)
Looking for a century-old Venus rocket. The Washington Post magazine has published a feature on a documentary being made about Robert Condit and his efforts to build a rocket that would launch him to Venus. In 1928. A chemist, Condit built a small 24-foot rocket fueled with 50 gallons of gasoline in Baltimore. Spoiler: he didn’t make it to Venus.
He was quite the optimist … “In the course of the next few years, we will probably be doing business with Venus as casually as we now transact our affairs across the ocean,” Robert Condit wrote in a 1928 lecture. The story speaks more to the early aspirations of space enthusiasts than anything else, and it offers a reminder of how widespread the human urge to explore is within us. (submitted by ColdWetDog)
SpaceX sets turnaround record, catches fairings. A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off successfully on Monday, carrying a Korean communications satellite into space. This was the same first stage that launched the Demo-2 commercial crew mission, meaning the company reduced its first stage turnaround time to 51 days, Ars reports.
The rocket is fairing well … This not only broke SpaceX’s previous turnaround record by a couple of weeks—it broke the record turnaround for any orbital rocket. In 1985, before the space shuttle Challenger accident caused NASA to slow its efforts to refurbish the shuttle between flights, Atlantis returned to space just 54 days after landing. As a cherry on top, the SpaceX fleet caught both fairing halves for the first time.
UAE mission to Mars launches safely. On Sunday, a Japanese-built H-2A rocket launched a 1.35-ton probe sponsored by the United Arab Emirates into low-Earth orbit, Ars reports. The spacecraft is now on its way toward Mars, where it is intended to enter orbit around the Red Planet in February 2021.
A new hope … The “Mars Hope” mission represents a partnership between the Arab country—which seeks to inspire a future generation of scientists and engineers—and several US academic institutions, including the University of Colorado Boulder. The UAE views the $200 million it invested in the mission as a down payment on the country’s technological future.
NASA targets late September for Crew-1 launch. In its invitation to media to attend the first operational launch of Crew Dragon, NASA said it is targeting “no earlier than late September” for the mission. This date is contingent upon a successful splashdown of the Demo-2 mission in early August as well as a good data review.
Four to fly … Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialist Shannon Walker—all of NASA—along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency mission specialist Soichi Noguchi will launch to the space station for a multi-month mission. SpaceX has proposed using the Crew-1 Falcon 9 rocket to launch the Crew-2 mission, presumably in early 2021. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
SpaceX may be valued at $44 billion. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is in talks to raise new capital at a valuation of $44 billion, according to people with knowledge of the matter, Bloomberg reports. The company is in discussions with investors about raising about $1 billion at a price of $270 a share, said the people, who asked not to be identified.
A big increase … The round is unlikely to be completed within the next couple of months, and terms could change, one of the people said. The most recent funding effort was for $500 million at a valuation of $36 billion, or $220 a share, according to a CNBC report in March. SpaceX is likely to use the funds for its Starship project and further development of its Starlink Internet service.
COVID-19 concerns in Baikonur. According to a new report in The Moscow Times, locals at the Russian launch site in Kazakhstan have been witnessing firsthand the impact of the virus on their city for over a month. However, the outside world only got its first sense of the gravity of the situation last week, when deputy director of Russia’s Federal Biomedical Agency Vladimir Romanov announced that 30 people in Baikonur had died from the virus in June.
A grim situation … Following this admission, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin described the situation in the city as “very difficult.” Those are strong words from an official in a country that has been accused of downplaying the threat of the coronavirus. Interviews with the publication’s medics, Roscosmos staff, and other residents of Baikonur painted a grim picture of a city in the grip of the coronavirus. Despite these concerns, a Russian Progress supply ship launched from Baikonur on Thursday. (submitted by JohnCarter17)