Welcome to Rocket Report 4.28! As I write this introduction, I’m watching Virgin Orbit’s live stream for the Above the Clouds mission, and the company’s LauncherOne vehicle has successfully entered orbit. All systems appeared nominal due to staging, with great view from rocket when payload fairing broke off. That’s three successful missions in a row for the company after an initial failure in May 2020 – pretty damn impressive.
As always we Welcome reader contributions, and if you don’t want to miss any issue, please sign up using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the website). Each report includes information on small, medium and heavy missiles as well as a brief preview of the next three launches on the calendar.
A short version of Astra is brutal. When aerospace companies go public, they can often raise a lot of capital quickly. But when one embarks on the Special Purpose Acquisition Company path, a company’s records and finances also come under much closer scrutiny. Part of the process also allows traders to “short” a stock, betting that its value will fall. For Astra Space, one of the financial firms shorting the stock is Kerrisdale Capital, which recently gave its rationale for doing so in a report entitled On the way to Dis-Astra.
Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? Kerrisdale summarizes his report: “We are short shares of Astra Space, a $2.0 billion startup founded at the height of the 2021 SPAC bubble – with no revenue, no track record related to Reliability and no established market for its undersized vehicle. A story stock that is another example of shady companies going public through SPACs, Astra faces massive obstacles in its quest for a viable business model. The report is clearly biased against Astra, but it’s worth reading to better understand the economics of small launches.
Gilmour continues with engine testing. Australian startup company said Gilmour Space Technologies it successfully hot-ignited a hybrid rocket engine with 25,000 pounds of thrust. The company said this is the most powerful rocket engine ever developed in Australia. The test lasted 75 seconds, and next month Gilmour plans to qualify the engine for flight. Gilmour is developing a rocket called the Eris that is designed to deliver up to 305 kg into low Earth orbit.
So you tell me there’s a chance … As it addresses engineering challenges, Gilmour is also working with state and federal officials in Australia to greenlight a small spaceport at Abbot Point State Development Area in Bowen, North Queensland. “We hope to launch Australia’s first sovereignly manufactured rocket from Queensland sometime in the second half of 2022,” said Adam Gilmour, the company’s CEO. (submitted by Gibson and Ken the Bin)
Ariane 5 performance a blessing for Webb. Last weekend, NASA’s Mission Systems Engineer for the James Webb Space Telescope, Mike Menzel, said the agency had completed its analysis of how much “extra” fuel remained on board the telescope. Roughly speaking, Webb has enough fuel on board for 20 years of life. That’s double the conservative pre-launch estimate for Webb’s lifetime of a decade, and it’s largely related to the performance of Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket, which launched Webb on a precise trajectory on Christmas Day, Ars reports.
More like Ariane Fine, Amirite? Prior to launch, the telescope was refueled with 240 liters of hydrazine fuel and nitrous oxide oxidizer. Some of that fuel was needed for course adjustments on the journey to the point in space about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth where Webb will conduct scientific observations. The remainder will be used for station keeping and maintaining its orbit on Webb’s final orbit around the L2 Lagrange point. So every kilogram of fuel saved on Webb’s journey to the Lagrange point could be used to extend his life there.
Falcon 9 rocket launches its 550th satellite. With clear skies and moderate winds, SpaceX’s Transporter-3 ride-along mission launched safely into space on Thursday. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket launched its upper stage and a payload of 105 small satellites into low Earth orbit. Then the Falcon 9 first stage landed gently near its launch site, reports Ars.
A well-travelled rocket … The first stage completed its 10th flight. Remarkably, this first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket has now launched 550 satellites, 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 host a neutron production facility. This week, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, announced that the state is a finalist for a new facility to support parts production, assembly, integration and test operations for Rocket Lab’s Neutron Vehicle. This isn’t a huge surprise, as Neutron is expected to launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s east coast, and Rocket Lab wants to build the booster close to the launch site for logistical reasons.
Positive cash flow for Neutron rocket … Neutron, a medium-lift vehicle with a fully reusable first stage, is expected to make its first launch in the mid-2020s, depending on how its development goes. Virginia has offered to support the project with a one-time $30 million grant to Virginia Space to fund improvements to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. In addition, the state approved an investment of up to $15 million to support site improvements and construction of a 28-acre building to be leased to Rocket Lab as part of the proposal.
Russia plans to launch 30 missiles in 2022. On Thursday, Roscosmos published Remarks by its Director General Dmitry Rogozin on space activities in 2021 and an outlook for 2022. Using a Europeanized version of the Soyuz rocket, Roscosmos completed 25 orbital launches in 2021. Of these, 14 were held by the Baikonur Cosmodrome, five by Vostochny, five by Plesetsk and one by the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.
Taking “Big Risks”. … For this year, Rogozin said: “We are planning about 30 launches of space rockets, of which more than 10 will be commercial.” Rogozin also commented on last year’s launch and deployment of the Nauka module to the International Space Station with this cryptic remark: “This is a very important achievement, we did something that we were not able to do for many years, we made decisions, understood that there would be great risks.” We leave it to our readers to peruse these particular tea leaves.
India begins proficiency testing of upper stage engine. The Indian space agency ISRO said this week that it had successfully completed 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 deployed in Gaganyaan as part of the country’s manned spaceflight campaign.
Human flights within a few years … This test, according to the agency, “ensures the reliability and robustness of the cryogenic engine for introduction into the human-rated launch vehicle for Gaganyaan.” Currently, India is planning two orbital test flights by a manned spacecraft later this year and in 2023, followed by a manned flight in late 2023. It is not clear whether the COVID-19 pandemic will cause any further postponement of these dates. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)
ULA is working on the first launch in 2022. The United Launch Alliance kicks off its New Year’s campaign with the launch of the USSF-8 mission for the US Space Force, said the company. Two spacecraft from the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program were lifted aboard the Atlas V on Monday. The rocket launch is scheduled for January 21st. It will be the 75th Atlas V to depart from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Up the pace this year? … ULA launched five rockets in 2021, including four Atlas V missions and one Delta IV Heavy. The company should have up to 7 to 10 launches this year depending on customer readiness, and its new Vulcan rocket could potentially debut. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
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