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Welcome to Edition 1.18 of the Rocket Report! Lots of news on medium- and large-sized rockets, including milestones for the Delta II and Ariane 5 rockets, as well as a round-up of SpaceX‘s big announcement of its first customer for the Big Falcon Rocket. Oh yeah, we even try to make some sense of propulsion based on quantized inertia. (We fail).
As always, we , 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.
Georgia‘s spaceport gets a tenant. The Camden County Joint Development Authority, which seeks to develop a spaceport near the Atlantic coast, announced this week that it has reached an agreement with ABL Space Systems to establish an integration and testing facility for the small launch vehicle that company is developing. The RS1 rocket, which has a test launch planned for 2020, is designed to place up to 900kg into low Earth orbit at a price of $17 million a launch, .
A start … It is relatively easy to designate oneself a spaceport but far harder to actually get space-flying tenants. In this sense, the agreement pushes Camden County further down the path toward becoming a spaceport. However, with a test launch still at least two years away, ABL may be coming into the crowded small-satellite launch market a little late. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Stratolaunch reveals hypersonic testbed concepts. The company has unveiled plans for a pair of hypersonic flying testbeds that could be launched from its very large carrier aircraft, . The testbeds could provide a stepping stone toward Stratolaunch‘s planned family of space launch vehicles, which includes a series of modular small- to medium-payload rockets and a fully reusable spaceplane that may one day carry humans.
A necessary step … At an AIAA conference in Florida, Stratolaunch‘s Stephen Corda said, “All the launch vehicles we are looking at fly through the hypersonic regime. If we want to design and fly all these different kinds of launch vehicles off our carrier aircraft, a Stratolaunch hypersonic testbed provides a really key component to providing technology development, risk reduction, and operational experience for these other vehicles.” If nothing else, this suggests that Stratolaunch is indeed serious about building more than just the world‘s largest airplane.
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After a break, PSLV has a successful launch. Following a five-month lull, India‘s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle launched two British satellites this week. These two small Earth observation satellites, developed and used by the United Kingdom, weighed a total of 889kg and were put into a 583km Sun-synchronous orbit, the .
Entering a busy period … India‘s space agency is now gearing up for a launch every two weeks for the rest of this year, with 18 more launches planned before March 2019. Many of those will be carried out by the PSLV, which for now remains one of the few launchers dedicated to smaller satellites.
Rocket Lab signs another customer for 2019. a number of Kleos Space satellites are scheduled to launch on an Electron rocket from the New Zealand-based Launch Complex 1 in mid-2019. Officials did not specify how many of the nanosatellites would launch on this mission. Eventually, Kleos plans to deploy a constellation of 20 satellites.
First to market, a good thing … This constellation will geolocate VHF transmissions from marine vessels to provide global activity-based intelligence data as a service. This launch contract indicates two things. One, there is a healthy launch market out there for small satellites. And two, if you‘re first to demonstrate a viable launch vehicle, you‘re going to be able to gobble up a lot of those contracts. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Spacecraft could be powered by quantized inertia? You‘ve probably heard of the EmDrive, which is based on a , but what about quantized inertia? It‘s not a physics concept we can claim to understand, but the theory is that there are variable amounts of something called Unruh radiation in space, and by understanding and exploiting these variations, a spacecraft might be able to propel itself through the cosmos.
Ummm … Yeah, we‘re not so sure about this either. However, a British scientist named Mike McCulloch has $1.3 million from the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for a four-year study to determine whether this might be feasible. “I believe QI could be a real game changer for space science,” McCulloch said. “I have always thought it could be used to convert light into thrust, but it also suggests ways to enhance that thrust. It is hugely exciting to now have the opportunity to test it.” We have low expectations, but it‘s great that someone is investigating this possibility. (submitted by dbayly)
Ariane 6 boss seeks more institutional launches. The French rocket company Arianespace is calling on Europe to translate its space-sovereignty ambitions into more public orders, . “We need more public orders for the new generation Ariane 6 rocket launcher,” Arianespace Chief Executive Officer Stephane Israël said during a recent news conference. “We‘re asking Europe to do what‘s done elsewhere, in the US, China, [and] Russia, when handing out contracts.”
Like in the United States … The Ariane 6 rocket, which is set to start operating in 2020, only has three firm orders from European public customers. Senior European officials, when asked about low-cost competitors like SpaceX, will often complain that that company receives unfair subsidies from NASA and the US military for its rockets. We‘re not sure it‘s the fault of SpaceX for being in a country with more government launch contracts up for offer.
Yes, SpaceX would launch weapons if necessary. During an appearance on Monday at the Air Force Association’s annual symposium, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell was asked a question she said she had never been asked before: “Would SpaceX launch military weapons?” In response, , she said, “If it‘s for the defense of this country, yes, I think we would.”
What about Chinese competition? … Shotwell was also asked if she worries about national security space threats from China or Russia, and she replied: “As the president of SpaceX, I am concerned about the competition coming from China and Russia, because they‘re backed heavily by their governments. As an American citizen, I worry more about China than Russia.” We are pretty sure that, from a competitive standpoint, her company worries more about China, too. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
The Delta II rocket ends its long, successful run. After first launching in 1989, the Delta II rocket has flown 154 successful missions and delivered more satellites into space than any other US rocket. Saturday‘s flight also brings an end to the lineage of rockets that date to the Thor IRBM developed in the 1950s. .
A victim of the modern era … So why retire the most successful rocket in US history? Because time moves on. Before its retirement, no rocket other than the Russian Soyuz booster had remained active longer than the Delta II. However, in recent decades more-capable, less-expensive options have emerged, including United Launch Alliance‘s own Atlas V and SpaceX‘s Falcon 9.
Ariane 5 nears its 100th launch. On September 25, Arianespace plans to launch its Ariane 5 rocket for the 100th time from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The mission will deliver the Horizons 3e and Azerspace-2/Intelsat 38 satellites to geostationary transfer orbit.
Are you Ariane aware? … To celebrate this event, ArianeGroup, the European and French space agencies, and Arianespace have sought to make more people in Europe aware of the successful European launcher. So far, according to Arianespace, more than 260,000 people visited the website, and more than 7,000 people have downloaded and installed the Snapchat Lens to take a photo of themselves with the Ariane 5 rocket. It‘s a clever marketing campaign.
Japan‘s H-IIB rocket continues to see delays. NASA is eagerly awaiting the delivery of five tons of cargo by Japan‘s HTV spacecraft, but the launch has faced several delays. Originally scheduled to launch on September 11, Japan Standard Time, bad weather from a typhoon forced flight controllers to delay the liftoff. JAXA then attempted to launch on September 15, but a problem with the H-IIB rocket forced another delay.
Still waiting … Japanese officials then of September 21 after resolving the technical issue with the rocket. However, more weather problems intervened, and a launch is now set for 2:52am September 23, Japan time. Hopefully this launch date will stick; NASA has a schedule of spacewalks ready to go after the HTV arrives. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Big Falcon Rocket gets its first customer. Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa has bought all of the seats on the first human flight of SpaceX‘s Big Falcon Rocket and upper stage spaceship for a sortie around the Moon as early as 2023. Although neither Elon Musk nor Maezawa would specify how much it had cost, , “This is a non-trivial amount that will have a material impact on the BFR program.”
A first step toward development … The big question surrounding the BFR has always been who will pay for the rocket. In this sense, a first customer is a big deal, especially if it leads to more customers. But for now, the rocket and spacecraft remain mostly theoretical, as SpaceX is devoting only about five percent of its time and resources to the new vehicles.
China may be accelerating development of Long March 9. At the World Conference on Science Literacy 2018 this week, an engineer with the China National Space Administration, Li Guoping, said the country planned to launch the Long March 9 booster in 2028. That would be two years earlier than previously anticipated, .
A truly titanic rocket … With a diameter of 10 meters, length of 90 meters, and a proposed lift capacity of 140 tons to low Earth orbit, the Long March 9 would be on par with the Saturn V rocket. Although China has released no formal or definitive plans, this rocket probably will serve as the backbone of a Chinese plan to send taikonauts, and possibly international astronauts, to the Moon beginning around 2030 or shortly thereafter.
Jeff Bezos declares intent to be a big player in defense launch. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos told the Air Force Association that he will invest $1 billion in the New Glenn rocket, alone, next year. “I want people in this audience to know how committed we are to this,” he said, . “We‘re in.” Bezos also said he has invested $1 billion in a rocket factory and launch site at the Florida space coast.
Perfectly clear message … We watched the Q&A session, and it seems clear that this venue was carefully chosen to send a message. Blue Origin intends to be a major player in the military‘s launch needs and intends to compete on price as well as rapid deployment capability. As he told the Air Force officials, Bezos is serious about this. We believe him.
Next three launches
Sept. 22: HII-B | HTV-7 mission to International Space Station | Tanegashima, Japan | 17:52 UTC
Sept. 25: Ariane 5 | Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38 & Horizons 3e satellites | Kourou, French Guiana | 21:53 UTC
Oct. 1: Rokot | Gonets-M24, Gonets-M25, Gonets-M26 satellites | Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia | TBD