Welcome to Edition 4.19 of the Rocket Report! If all goes well during the course of the next week, Capt. James T. Kirk will become a real-life star trekker. There’s plenty of other news this week as well, including some words on how SpaceX managed to snag an Italian government satellite launch.
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.
Blue Origin announces full manifest for next flight. The company said Star Trek actor William Shatner and Blue Origin’s VP of mission of flight operations, Audrey Powers, will round out the passenger manifest for the second human flight on board New Shepard. They will join paying customers Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries for the flight, which is scheduled to launch from West Texas at 8 am CT (13:00 UTC) on October 12.
Where 500 men and women have gone before … “I’ve heard about space for a long time now,” Shatner said. “I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle.” Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos is a big fan of Star Trek, even appearing in a cameo in the 2016 film Star Trek Beyond. He also has Star Trek memorabilia hanging around Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Washington. The company has not said whether Shatner or a production company paid for the ride or if Bezos comped the flight for his idol. I’m most excited to see Powers get a chance to fly. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Italian satellite moves from Vega rocket to Falcon 9. The Italian space agency has confirmed that its COSMO SkyMed CSG-2 Earth-observation satellite will no longer launch on a Vega-C rocket. Instead, it will go to space on a Falcon 9 rocket this year. “Since Arianespace’s backlog was already full on Soyuz and Ariane systems in 2021, it was not possible to have a European backup solution compliant with the CSG-2 schedule,” the space agency said.
Giving business to a rocket rival … As Teslarati notes, it is relatively rare for a payload sponsored by a European government to fly on a rocket other than one launched by Arianespace. It is even more unlikely, in this case, as the Vega rocket is manufactured in Italy. But the Italian government seems to value getting its 2.2 ton Earth-observation satellite into orbit in a timely manner. So to make a launch date this year, Italy has gone with the company, SpaceX, that has already taken so much business away from Arianespace. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Virgin Galactic head of flight licensing departs after FAA issue. A day before the Federal Aviation Administration closed its investigation into SpaceShipTwo’s deviation during the flight of Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic’s chief liaison to the FAA announced his departure from the company. Gregory Fredenburg, who had worked at Virgin Galactic for eight years as head of flight licensing and regulatory compliance, did not give a reason for his departure late last month.
The timing is indeed curious … “I was fortunate enough in my role to help Virgin Galactic and the commercial space industry achieve some firsts relative to FAA authorizations,” Fredenburg wrote. “As the main focal for all FAA activities for Virgin Galactic along with a lot of help from my teammates, Virgin Galactic is the first commercial space company to receive a commercial license to operate a Reusable Launch Vehicle system for real vehicles and then spend almost five years testing that system and providing data and information to the FAA to get that license updated in June of 2021 to allow the carriage of paying customers.” (submitted by smo)
Launcher finds success at Stennis Space Center. In a news release, NASA’s Stennis Space Center explains how the facility has partnered with small-rocket company Launcher. For the past two years, Launcher has worked with Stennis near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to conduct testing for its 3D-printed Engine-2 rocket engine. On August 20, the company successfully completed a 5-second hot fire of its latest thrust chamber assembly.
A helping hand … “The opportunity to work with a world-class team and facility at Stennis has allowed us to achieve major milestones in the development of E-2,” Launcher Lead Engineer Andre Ivankovic said. “The Stennis team works hard to meet our testing needs, and the facility can provide us with large quantities of high-pressure gases and propellants, as well as a data acquisition system. These capabilities have been critical for us to achieve multiple test campaigns within the first year of becoming a commercial tenant.” It’s good to see NASA centers working with private launch providers. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Taiwan launch company to try again. Launch startup Taiwan Innovative Space’s quest to develop a commercial smallsat launcher suffered a setback last month when a suborbital prototype of a planned orbital rocket caught fire during liftoff. But now, Space News reports, TiSPACE plans to try again before year’s end with a reserve rocket.
A stepping stone to orbit … The Hapith-I fire occurred during TiSPACE’s third launch attempt in six days, when a material used near the base of the rocket appears to have caught fire during ignition. The damaged rocket won’t be used again, but Chen said Hapith-I launch campaigns will resume after making a “minor material change” to two remaining rockets. The suborbital Hapith-I booster is serving as a technology pathfinder for Hapith-5, an orbital rocket designed to loft 300 kg to low Earth orbit. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Arca Space says orbital launch held up by regulators. The Romanian launch company, which seems more of a meme than an actual rocket company, said a week ago that it planned to attempt an orbital launch as early as Friday, October 8. This “EcoRocket Mission 10C,” which was billed as launching the “first crypto” into space, was to take place from the Black Sea.
The dog ate your paperwork? … Alas, it was not meant to be. On Tuesday, via the Arca Space Facebook page, the company said, “The Romanian Civil Aviation Authority declined its competency in releasing the approval for the EcoRocket launch set between October 8-12 from the Black Sea with the logistical support of F-111 Mărășești guided missile frigate.” I hate to be that guy, but if Arca Space ever reaches orbit, I will change the name of this newsletter to “Arca Report” for one week. (submitted by nimelennar)
Date set for DART launch. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, an evaluation of technologies for preventing a hazardous asteroid from striking Earth, is now scheduled to launch on November 23 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The mission will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket.
Preventing Armageddon … NASA says DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique, which involves sending one or more large, high-speed spacecraft into the path of an asteroid in space to change its motion. Its target is the binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos and its moonlet, which pose no threat to Earth. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
How Blue Origin sought to catch up to SpaceX. About three years ago, Blue Origin officials knew they were failing to deliver on their founder’s grandiose vision. So in the late summer of 2018, as Bob Smith marked his first anniversary as chief executive of Blue Origin, he hired a management consulting firm called Avascent to assess SpaceX’s strengths and weaknesses. After the firm completed its analysis, the senior leadership team at Blue Origin received a briefing. Those dozen or so senior managers took notes.
A road to space, yet unpaved … And as part of the exercise, they wrote down takeaways from the meeting as well as ideas for Blue Origin to better compete with SpaceX. These nine pages of notes were then compiled and delivered to Smith on November 1, 2018, under the heading: “Avascent Briefing Notes from Senior Team.” Ars obtained a copy of those notes, which are revealing both for the steps Blue Origin thought about taking, as well as the fact that, after three years, few of the identified issues were actually addressed.
NASA moves astronauts off Starliner due to delays. NASA has moved astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada off of their assigned flights on a Starliner spacecraft to the SpaceX Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station. “They have gained experience that they will take forward as they train to fly in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and serve aboard the International Space Station,” said Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator of the Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA.
The real reason for the change … The space agency announced the decision on Wednesday. Ars had reported the shift, citing sources, a day earlier. Although Lueders did not say so, the reason for the new assignments is that Starliner continues to see delays, and NASA would like to see its rookie astronauts get spaceflight experience. Both Mann and Cassada are well in the mix for Artemis Moon mission assignments, but neither would be eligible without first flying a mission into low Earth orbit.
ULA performs countdown test of Vulcan rocket. United Launch Alliance said it has successfully completed the initial round of pathfinder activities at Cape Canaveral by performing a Vulcan rocket countdown test on Tuesday, October 5 to rehearse all aspects of launch-day operations. The test was performed with a pathfinder first stage outfitted with two development BE-4 rocket engines.
Dual-use launch pad … This was the first time Vulcan’s liquid oxygen and methane tanks were fully loaded, and the countdown was taken all the way down to T-0 before it was stopped. The rocket’s engines did not ignite. The tanking tests used the modified ground systems at the SLC-41 launch pad, which has been transformed to handle both Atlas V and Vulcan launches. United Launch Alliance is still awaiting flight-ready BE-4 engines from Blue Origin, which are not expected before the first quarter of 2022. (submitted by EllPeaTea)
Payload issue delays Falcon Heavy launch. The next flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, previously scheduled for this month, has been pushed back to early 2022 after more delays caused by its US military payload, Spaceflight Now reports. The launch of the Space Force’s USSF-44 mission was set for October 9, but officials have delayed the mission “to accommodate payload readiness.”
Waiting on the next heavy launch … The Space Force did not release a new launch date for the USSF-44 mission, but a spokesperson told the publication the launch is now targeted for early 2022, nearly three years since the most recent Falcon Heavy launch in June 2019. The Falcon Heavy will deliver multiple military payloads to a high-altitude geosynchronous orbit on the USSF-44 mission. The rocket’s upper stage will fire several times to place the satellites into position more than 22,000 miles above the equator. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
NASA says SLS rocket passes design certification review. The review examined all the Space Launch System components, all test data, inspection reports, and analyses that support verification, to ensure every aspect of the rocket is technically mature and meets the requirements for SLS’s first flight on Artemis I. This milestone is part of the formal review system NASA employs as a systematic method for manufacturing, testing, and certifying space hardware for flight.
Stamp of approval … “With this review, NASA has given its final stamp of approval to the entire, integrated rocket design and completed the final formal milestone to pass before we move forward to the SLS and Artemis I flight-readiness reviews,” said John Honeycutt, the SLS Program Manager. NASA will likely launch the SLS rocket for the first time during the first half of 2022. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Russia still trying to get second Buran shuttle back. Tensions are continuing to escalate between a Kazakh businessman and Russian space officials over the fate of the second Buran-class orbiter, named Burya. The businessman, Dauren Musa, claims ownership of Burya. This was the second orbiter built as part of the Soviet Buran program, which aimed to produce a fleet of space shuttle-like vehicles four decades ago.
A shuttle for a skull … At the time of the program’s cancellation in 1993 due to a lack of funding, the Burya vehicle was deemed to be more than 95 percent completed for flight operations. Now Musa says that he would only return Burya to Russia in exchange for the skull of the last Kazakh Khan, a man named Kenesary Kasymov. Ars has a full report on the controversy.
Next three launches
Oct. 12: New Shepard | NS-18, second crewed flight | Launch Site One, West Texas | 13:00 UTC
Oct. 14: Soyuz | OneWeb 11 | Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan | 09:40 UTC
Oct. 15: Epsilon | Rapid Innovative Payload Demonstration Satellite 2 | Uchinoura Space Center, Japan | 00:51
Listing image by NASA