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Welcome to Edition 1.22 of the Rocket Report! We have plenty to discuss this week, from Paul Allen‘s untimely passing to the Atlas V rocket‘s success as well as why SpaceX remains in Los Angeles despite California‘s high taxes and regulations. We also have a fun story about a Titan II missile silo for sale.
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.
Rocket Lab takes steps toward high launch cadence. It may have been nine months since Rocket Lab launched its Electron booster, but the company is growing both in people and facilities. The that Rocket Lab‘s staff has nearly doubled, to 330, in the past year, with around 200 in New Zealand and the remainder in the United States. The company plans to hire another 180 employees over the next year.
More production, too … Earlier this month, the company opened a second rocket development and production facility in Auckland, New Zealand. And on Wednesday, Rocket Lab announced the location of its second launch site, Wallops Island in Virginia, on the East Coast of the United States. “We‘re not focusing on the next rocket. We‘re focusing on the next 100 rockets,” CEO . Rocket Lab is making the right moves for long-term success. Now it just needs to execute. Its third launch could come in November. (submitted by platykurtic)
Paul Allen passes away. The co-founder of Microsoft did not get as much attention in aerospace as businessmen-turned-rocket builders like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos or even Richard Branson, but Allen made important contributions to commercial spaceflight through the Ansari X Prize and later his investments in Stratolaunch. at the age of 65.
He had the vision … Like Musk and Bezos, Allen shared a vision of bringing the worlds of science fiction he had read about in his youth into being today. He, too, realized that the first step toward this future was bringing down the cost of access to space. This is what he hoped the Stratolaunch aircraft and its fleet of rockets would accomplish. Allen‘s family said the Stratolaunch company will continue business as normal.
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NASA‘s Morpheus lander lives on. From 2010 to 2014, NASA developed and tested an innovative rocket-powered lander called Morpheus. Now, that technology lives on in flight code used by Exos Aerospace‘s SARGE suborbital rocket. After a maiden flight on August 25, Exos has big plans for the technology, .
Learning to walk before running … The orbital rocket will be capable of delivering up to 200 kilograms to low Earth orbit, but Exos has plans beyond just suborbital rockets. The company hopes to develop a reusable small-satellite launcher named Jaguar. The SARGE program will act as a test bed for the Jaguar vehicle, allowing Exos to advance operational capabilities before jumping into an orbital program. (submitted by Unrulycow and Ken the Bin)
Are you ready for the Fluffy Bunny? An Ohio-based company called says it is developing an inflatable spacecraft called the “Fluffy Bunny,” which will have a mass at takeoff that consists of 98 percent propellant. The video renderings are, uhh, interesting. For re-entry into Earth‘s atmosphere, large, low-mass spacecraft become an asset, the company says.
Not so fast … Unfortunately, this video was released back in 2016. And while Universal Transport Systems seems to be prolific at making YouTube videos, there isn‘t much hardware in evidence. That hasn‘t stopped the company from entering DARPA‘s Launch Challenge to demonstrate flexible and responsive launch capabilities, however. The company says it is developing the “FBR,” not to be confused with the BFR, to launch 10kg to a 400km orbit. Good luck?
Russia developing a plan for Soyuz return to flight. that Roscosmos will carry out three uncrewed launches before the next human Soyuz flight, according to its executive director for manned space programs, Sergei Krikalyov. The next flight with astronauts is now likely to occur in early December, he said.
A rapid return … This is business as usual for Russians. An investigative commission will likely find that a manufacturing defect with the side-mounted boosters contributed to the recent Soyuz , and this will be carefully inspected for future flights. And if there are more problems? Well, we‘ve learned this week once again just what a robust spacecraft the Soyuz is, with multiple escape modes. NASA really doesn‘t have a choice but to go along with the Russian decision to charge back toward a return to flight.
The Atlas V does Atlas V things. An Atlas V rocket launched early Wednesday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and delivered the $1.8 billion Advanced Extremely High Frequency AEHF-4 to a customized geostationary transfer orbit. that this was United Launch Alliance‘s 50th launch for the US Air Force.
An impressive record … Sure, the Atlas V costs a little more than some of its competitors, and it uses Russian engines, but it is a damn reliable rocket. And when you‘re launching multi-billion dollar payloads, launch costs matter less. It is remarkable how the aerospace community (in general) sort of takes the Atlas V reliability for granted. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Why does SpaceX remain in costly Los Angeles? The bulk of SpaceX‘s 7,000 employees work in Southern California. The company builds the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets there, and it will soon begin manufacturing the BFR there. As the , that‘s a lot of heavy manufacturing planned for a region that is often derided for chasing away factories and large headquarters operations with high costs and regulations.
Then why stay? … Because that is where some of the best aerospace people are. “The region has long been the center for major industries like automotive, aerospace, and tech and is home to some of the best talent in the nation,” Brian Bjelde, SpaceX’s vice president of human resources, told the paper. “We continue to recruit and retain the brightest employees from diverse industries who are attracted to our mission and to all that the area has to offer.” It‘s worth noting that a recent NASA IG report disclosed that Boeing has had trouble hiring people to work on the Space Launch System rocket. This is partly because there are fewer qualified people in southern Louisiana. (submitted by BH)
Much commercial crew work remains. According to members of NASA‘s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, engineers at both SpaceX and Boeing are examining their parachute designs after encountering failures during testing. These are among the problems that must be overcome before test launches can begin next year, .
Not what you want to hear … “We have not seen the (commercial crew) program make decisions detrimental to safety, but currently projected schedules for uncrewed and crewed test flights for both providers have considerable risk and do not appear achievable,” said Patricia Sanders, the safety board‘s chair. Meanwhile, the last two crewed Soyuz launches have had manufacturing defects. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Air Force gearing up for more Florida launches. The new commander of the 45th Space Wing and director of the Eastern Range, Brig. Gen. Douglas Schiess, said he fully endorses the Air Force‘s plan to support the launch of 48 rockets a year, . Twenty rockets have launched from the Cape this year, with five missions remaining on the manifest for 2018.
A more responsive range … One priority will be to upgrade the range infrastructure, including improvements in the use of mobile vans to receive telemetry and instrumentation data from satellites and increasing the use of autonomous flight safety systems, a technology that SpaceX already has deployed for its launches at Cape Canaveral. “That‘s where we want everyone to go to. It makes for a more responsive range because we don‘t have to bring out as many assets to do range safety. ULA and others will move towards that, too.” (submitted by Ken the Bin)
First Man isn‘t a movie about rockets, but… The movie about Neil Armstrong opened last Friday across the United States, and some audiences may have been expecting a movie about the Moon landings. However, First Man focuses on Armstrong, his family, and his motivations. Even so, for rocket fans there is plenty to love in the film.
A Titan II launch … First Man begins with a great scene of an X-15 rocket plane rocking and rolling underneath its carrier aircraft before blasting into the upper atmosphere. Then, there is a Titan II launch used for a Gemini mission, the likes of which has rarely (if ever?) been seen like this on the big screen. All in all, we found in the film.
Want to buy a Titan II missile silo? If so, we‘ve got good news. A new real estate listing recently appeared for a 12.75-acre parcel of land in Oracle, Arizona. The listing reads: “THE SITE HAS BEEN OPENED UP FOR YOUR USE. HAS GREAT VIEWS FOR YOUR HOME WITH UNDERGROUND SHELTER/BUNKER, WORK SHOP, ETC. THIS IS THE SURVIVALIST DREAM PROPERTY.” , the asking price is just $360,000.
A look inside … The website visited the silo and offers some great imagery and description: “The descent was hair-raising; if your steps became too rhythmic, the ladder wobbled until you stopped to let its motion dampen. But we all made it to the bottom safely.” The real estate agent ultimately offered them a five-percent discount.
Swedish firm buys a Falcon Heavy launch. A Swedish company with plans for a geostationary communications satellite said it has signed a contract with SpaceX for a Falcon Heavy launch no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2020, . “SpaceX offered a very competitive solution with the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle which will gain us access to space in a timely and reliable manner,” Ovzon CEO Per Wahlberg said.
Direct to GEO … The satellite operator was apparently interested in the direct-to-geostationary orbit capability the Falcon Heavy rocket demonstrated on its maiden flight. The launch contract gives the Falcon Heavy a manifest of at least six launches over the next two-to-three years. This strikes us as a healthy start for the rocket. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Next three launches
Oct. 20: Ariane 5 | BepiColombo Mercury probe | Kourou, French Guiana | 01:45 UTC
Oct. 25: Soyuz-2.1b | Lotos-S1 satellite | Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia | TBD
Oct. 26: Pegasus XL| NASA‘s Ionospheric Connection Explorer | Air launch to orbit | 08:05 UTC