Welcome to Edition 4.24 of the Rocket Report! This will be the last newsletter for the month of November, as I’ll be taking off next week for the Thanksgiving holiday. But the Rocket Report will return in December when there will be several important launches, none more so than the James Webb Space Telescope.
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, plus a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.
Rocket Lab tests helicopter recovery. In some ways, Rocket Lab’s “Love at First Insight” launch on Wednesday evening was routine, delivering another two BlackSky satellites into low Earth orbit. This was the Electron rocket’s 22nd overall launch, and the company says it has now launched a total of 107 satellites. As with a handful of previous missions that have experimented with first-stage reuse, the Electron booster made a controlled splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
This time, with a twist … But for the first time, Rocket Lab stationed a helicopter in the recovery zone around 200 nautical miles offshore to track and observe the descending stage in preparation for future aerial-capture attempts. The helicopter test gathered useful data, Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck said. “We are all excited to move onto the next phase of reusability next year; catching Electron in the air with a helicopter,” he added. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Pangea Aerospace tests aerospike engine. The Spain-based company said it has successfully tested the world’s first methane/liquid oxygen aerospike engine. The company has ignited its DemoP1 engine “several times,” Satellite Evolution reports. The regeneratively cooled engine has a thrust of about 4,500 pounds. Previously, Pangea won a contract from the French Space Agency to study how its proprietary technology could be applied to larger engines.
Printing its way to profits … Pangea said it was able to solve some of the cost and design challenges of an aerospike engine by using 3D printing for the entirety of the manufacturing process. Adrià Argemí, CEO and cofounder of the company, said, “We have unlocked aerospike technology at a very low cost. We have been able to hot fire successfully several times the same engine, demonstrating that the technology works and that we are ready for further challenges.” It’s a nice start to be sure, but there’s a lot more work to do. (submitted by MB)
Path clear for Vega-C debut in 2022. On Tuesday, Europe’s Vega rocket made its 20th flight, carrying three French Ministry of Armed Forces payloads into low Earth orbit from French Guiana. A successful mission for the rocket, which made its debut in 2012, clears the way for an upgraded version of the booster—named Vega-C—to take flight next year, the European Space Agency said.
More bang, same buck … Vega-C is more powerful than the original Vega and has a larger fairing, but it will retain the same launch cost. This is partly achieved through sharing the same P120C motor with the Ariane 6 rocket (which uses the motor as a side-mounted booster), allowing for lower per-unit costs. Vega-C will use a range of payload carriers for different shapes and sizes of payloads from 1 kg to 2,300 kg. The Vega-C rocket is expected to debut no earlier than April. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
RFA announces payload for its debut launch. The Germany-based launch company Rocket Factory Augsburg announced Thursday that the debut flight of its RFA ONE microlauncher will fly a research mission for Ukraine-based Lunar Research Service into low Earth orbit. The flight, which like all rocket debuts is subject to schedule slippage, is currently planned to take place at the end of 2022 from Andøya, Norway.
Demo mission for a demo launch … “We are very happy to sign with LRS as a customer on our first launch,” said Jörn Spurmann, chief commercial officer of RFA. “The contract is a demonstration of our attractive rideshare service pricing. We can hardly wait and are eager to fly customers into orbit.” RFA was founded in 2018, so the development of an orbit-capable rocket by the end of next year would be quick. We’ll see. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Spaceport America seeks more taxpayer funding. Although Virgin Galactic has begun commercial spaceflights from Spaceport America in New Mexico, the facility says it needs more state money, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports. Spaceport America director Scott McLaughlin made the case before New Mexico lawmakers on the Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee Monday for additional state appropriations.
Desert spaceport underwater financially … The spaceport’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year was $10.9 million, of which $6.8 million is projected to come from leases, fees, and other customer revenue. The New Mexico Spaceport Authority, the agency managing the spaceport, is seeking the remainder from state appropriations. Without state dollars, McLaughlin said the spaceport would need to make deep cuts in operational expenses where it could, including staffing and services.
China’s sea launch platform to be ready in 2022. China is building a specially designed ship for launching rockets into space from the seas in an effort to boost its capacity to launch satellites and recover rocket stages, Space.com reports. The 162.5-meter-long platform is being constructed for use with the new China Oriental Spaceport at Haiyang, Shandong Province, on the eastern coast. The ship is expected to be ready in 2022.
Small and medium rockets … The new facility will feature integrated launch-support equipment and be capable of facilitating launches of the small Long March 11 rocket, as well as larger commercial “Smart Dragon” rockets and, in the future, liquid-propellant rockets, according to the social media channel for the spaceport. The vessel could also in the future be used for the recovery of first stages, possibly in the same way that SpaceX’s autonomous spaceport drone ships provide a landing platform for Falcon 9 rockets. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Russia selects cosmonauts for Crew Dragon launches. According to Interfax, Russia’s Cosmonaut Training Center has selected primary crew members and backups for one seat each on the Crew-5 and Crew-6 missions to the International Space Station. According to the publication, the agreement to swap seats with NASA—one seat on a Soyuz for one on a Dragon—must still be approved by the Russian government.
Not quite normal … The executive director of Roscosmos for human spaceflight programs, Sergei Krikalev, told Interfax that the process to approve the swap is proceeding “normally.” However, I’ll wait before the ink is dry on these agreements and Russians are actually sitting on Crew Dragons to believe it. Although Russians have indeed been training at SpaceX’s factory in California, the launching of Russians on a SpaceX vehicle is a sensitive political matter. We’ll see if things proceed “normally.” (submitted by EllPeaTea)
Korea to develop reusable medium-lift rocket. South Korea has announced plans to develop a reusable rocket with a cluster of liquid-fueled 100-ton-thrust engines, SpaceNews reports. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute will be responsible for the rocket’s development, though a concrete timetable and other details remain undecided. The goal is to slash the cost of launches and to support a Korean navigation system in the 2030s.
Shifting to reuse as a priority … Work is to start in 2022, beginning with preliminary research on designs. The announcement came as a surprise, because previously South Korea’s next-generation rocket was supposed to be a single-use model that is “bigger and more powerful” than KSLV-2, a three-stage rocket that first launched last month. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Ariane 6 nabs Australian launch contract. Arianespace has secured a contract with Australian operator SingTel Optus to launch the Optus-11 communications satellite using the new Ariane 6 rocket in 2023, SpaceNews reports. The Optus-11 Ku-band communications satellite is set to launch in the second half of 2023 to provide services to the Australia and New Zealand zone.
A commercial launch win … “We are delighted and honored by this renewed mark of confidence from the operator SingTel Optus,” noted Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Israël of Arianespace. “Over the last 21 years, we have carried out all launches for Optus, and Ariane 6 will now continue this long and successful track record.” One wonders whether this launch agreement is a quiet favor from Australia back to the French government after the nuclear submarine imbroglio earlier this year. If not, a head-to-head win for a commercial launch contract by Ariane 6 is notable.