Welcome to Rocket Report 4.33! Sorry for the lack of a report last week – I injured my wrist quite badly and had to type with one hand for a few days. This is not conducive to writing and editing a newsletter, which is often over 2,000 words. Also, there is one enormous a bunch of things happening in space and on earth, especially with Russia and Ukraine and the West. I’m working on a story about how space travel could be affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, so look for a story this Friday. Hopefully.
As always we Welcome reader contributions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form doesn’t appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report includes information on small, medium, and heavy rockets, as well as a brief preview of the next three launches on the calendar.
Relativity Space to quickly switch to the Aeon R engine.
To power its first Terran 1 rocket, Relativity Space is developing a small engine called the Aeon 1. But the company plans to use it for only a few flights. Instead, Relativity plans to quickly do a “block upgrade” for the Terran 1, intended to act as a bridge to the much larger, more powerful Terran R rocket. “We always envisioned Terran 1 as a development platform,” said Tim Ellis, co-founder and CEO of Relativity Space, in an interview with Ars. The California-based company, which plans to 3D print most of its rocket parts, is continuing to work on the first Launch of Terran 1 this year.
From nine to one to nine … Powered by nine Aeon-1 rocket engines, this small Terran-1 rocket has a lift capacity of 1.25 tons into low Earth orbit. After these three demonstration flights, Relativity plans to upgrade the Terran 1 by going from a nine-engine configuration to just a single Aeon-R engine. That engine, nine of which will eventually power the reusable Terran R rocket, is said to have about 300,000 pounds of thrust, or more than 10 times that of the Aeon 1 engine. Ellis said the goal is to get into Terran R flights as soon as possible which is in high demand, but Relativity will continue to produce the Terran 1 with a single engine.
Virgin Galactic now expects to be profitable by 2026. When Virgin Galactic went public in 2019, its public statements predicted that it would become profitable by 2021. Now those expectations have shifted significantly, Ars reports. During a conference call with financial analysts this week, the company’s CEO Michael Colglazier said Virgin is designing and developing a “Delta” class of spacecraft that will have lower flight costs and capable be able to fly one mission a week. This new generation of spaceplanes is expected to enter commercial service in 2025 or 2026, allowing Virgin Galactic to be cash flow positive in 2026.
You need to scale quickly … The company’s current flight rate is about one mission every 10 months, so be skeptical. Almost every space project in history has had difficulty expanding operations, either due to engineering challenges, production line problems, accidents, or all of the above. But it’s really about the company’s financial future. In the last quarter of 2021, Virgin Galactic reported revenue of $141,000 and a net loss of $80 million. According to the public company’s consolidated financial statements, Virgin Galactic has now lost $1 billion over the past two years.
Firefly says Alpha is ready for a second try. The Texas-based rocket company said last week that both the first and second stages of the Alpha rocket have completed acceptance testing and are “ready to fly”. Firefly has not set a target launch date for the second launch attempt of the Alpha rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Alpha’s first test flight failed in September 2021 after one of the rocket’s four main engines failed 15 seconds after launch.
“History will judge you all” … After months of uncertainty, the US government forced Firefly’s Ukrainian backer, Max Polyakov, to sell his remaining shares in the company. It is believed that Firefly was barred from working at Vandenberg while Polyakov was still the owner of the company. Matters came to a head in mid-February when Polyakov announced this on his Facebook page that he would sell his 58 percent stake in Firefly to CEO and co-founder Tom Markusic for $1. Polyakov accused US regulators of betraying him, saying: “I hope you are happy now. History will judge you all.” However, the story of the $1 does not appear to be entirely true, as private equity firm AE Industrial Partners announced Thursday it acquired Polyakov’s share for an undisclosed amount. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
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