Welcome to Rocket Report 4.28! As I write this introduction, I’m watching Virgin Orbit’s livestream for its “Above the Clouds” mission, and the company’s LauncherOne vehicle has successfully reached orbit. All systems appeared to be nominal thanks to stage separation, with great views from the rocket as the payload fairing detached. That’s three consecutive successful missions for the company after a first failure in May 2020, which is pretty darn impressive.
As always, we Reader Submissions Welcome, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please sign up using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP versions of the site). Each report will contain information on small, medium and heavy rockets as well as a quick overview of the next three launches on the schedule.
A short film about Astra is brutal. When space companies go public, they can often raise a lot of capital, quickly. But going the route of a special purpose acquisition company also opens up a company’s records and finances to much greater scrutiny. Part of the process also allows traders to “short sell” a stock by betting that its value will fall. For Astra Space, one of the financial companies shorting the stock is Kerrisdale Capital, which recently released its rationale in a report titled Direction Dis-Astra.
Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play? Kerrisdale summarizes his report thus: “We are short of shares of Astra Space, a $2.0 billion space launch company formed at the height of the 2021 SPAC bubble – with no revenue, no track record of reliability and without an established market for its undersized vehicle. A storied stock that is yet another example of the dodgy ventures made public via SPACs, Astra faces huge hurdles in its quest to develop a viable business model.” Clearly the report is tilted against Astra, but it’s worth reading to better understand the economics of a small launch.
Gilmour moves forward with engine testing. Australian launch company Gilmour Space Technologies said he managed to hot-fire a hybrid rocket engine with 25,000 pounds of thrust. The company said it was the most powerful rocket engine ever developed in Australia. The test lasted 75 seconds and next month Gilmour plans to move on to qualifying the engine for flight. Gilmour is developing a rocket named Eris to deliver up to 305 kg into low Earth orbit.
So you tell me there’s a chance …As he tackles technical challenges, Gilmour is also working with Australian state and federal authorities to greenlight a small spaceport in the Abbot Point State Development Area in Bowen , in northern Queensland. “We hope to launch Australia’s first Sovereign-Made rocket from Queensland in the second half of 2022,” company CEO Adam Gilmour said. (submitted by Gibson and Ken the Bin)
Ariane 5 performance is a boon for Webb. Last weekend, NASA Mission Systems Engineer for the James Webb Space Telescope, Mike Menzel, said the agency had completed its analysis of how much “extra” fuel remains on board the telescope. Basically, Webb has enough propellant on board for 20 years of life. That’s double the conservative pre-launch estimate for Webb’s lifespan of a decade, and it largely comes down to the performance of the European Ariane 5 rocket that launched Webb onto a precise trajectory on Christmas Day, reports Ars.
Rather Ariane Fine, amirite? Prior to launch, the telescope was fueled with 240 liters of hydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. Some of that fuel was needed for course adjustments throughout the journey to the point in space, about 1.5 million miles from Earth, where Webb will make scientific observations. The rest will be used on Webb’s final orbit around the L2 Lagrange point for station keeping and to maintain its orbit. So every kilogram of fuel saved on Webb’s trip to Lagrange’s point could be used to extend his life.
Falcon 9 rocket launches its 550th satellite. With clear skies and moderate winds, SpaceX’s Transporter-3 rideshare mission launched safely into space on Thursday. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket sent its upper stage and a payload with 105 small satellites en route to low Earth orbit. Then, the Falcon 9 first stage made a soft landing near its launch site, Ars reports.
A well traveled rocket … The first stage was making its 10th flight. Remarkably, this single Falcon 9 rocket first stage has now launched 550 satellites into orbit, as well as a Cargo Dragon and a Crew Dragon. It has flown, on average, every two months since its first launch. Rocket reuse seems to be more than a fad.
Virginia will likely house a neutron production plant. This week, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, announced that the state is a finalist for a new facility to support parts production, assembly, integration and testing operations for Rocket Lab’s Neutron vehicle. That’s not a huge surprise, as Neutron is set to launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the east coast of Virginia, and Rocket Lab wants to build the booster close to the launch site for logistical purposes.
Positive Cash Flow for the Neutron Rocket A medium transport vehicle with a fully reusable first stage, Neutron is expected to first launch in the mid-2020s, depending on its development progress. Virginia offered to support the project through a one-time $30 million credit to Virginia Space to pay for improvements to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Additionally, the state has approved an investment of up to $15 million to support site improvements and the construction of a building on 28 acres for lease to Rocket Lab as part of the proposal.
Russia wants to launch 30 rockets in 2022. Thusday, Roscosmos is out remarks by its Director General, Dmitry Rogozin, on space activities in 2021 and prospects for 2022. Including a Europeanized version of the Soyuz rocket, Roscosmos carried out 25 orbital launches in 2021. Of these, 14 have taken place since the Baikonur Cosmodrome, five from Vostochny, five from Plesetsk and one from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.
Take “big risks” … For this year, Rogozin said: “We expect about 30 space rocket launches, including more than 10 commercial ones.” Rogozin also commented on the launch and deployment of the Nauka module to the International Space Station last year with this cryptic remark: “This is a very significant achievement, we have done something we haven’t been able to do for many years. many years, we made decisions, understanding that there would be great risks.” We will leave it to our readers to read these particular tea leaves.
India begins qualification testing of upper stage engine. Indian space agency ISRO said this week that he had successfully conducted a 720-second qualification test of the CE-20 rocket engine. This liquid-fueled engine powers the upper stage of the powerful GSLV Mk III rocket, which will be used in the country’s Gaganyaan human spaceflight campaign.
Human flights within a few years … This test, the agency said, “ensures the reliability and robustness of the cryogenic engine for induction in Gaganyaan’s human-capable launch vehicle.” Currently, India is planning two orbital test flights of a human spacecraft later this year and in 2023, with a crewed flight to follow in late 2023. It is unclear whether the coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 will cause these dates to shift again. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)
ULA is working for the first launch of 2022. United Launch Alliance will kick off its campaign for the new year with the launch of the USSF-8 mission for the US Space Force, the company said. On Monday, two spacecraft from the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness program were hoisted aboard the Atlas V. The rocket’s launch is scheduled for Jan. 21. It will be the 75th Atlas V to be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Accelerate the pace this year? …ULA launched five rockets in 2021, including four Atlas V missions and one Delta IV Heavy. The company is expected to have as many as seven to 10 launches this year, depending on how prepared its customers are, and its new Vulcan rocket could potentially make its debut. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
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