Welcome to Rocket Report 5.19! Back from the Thanksgiving holiday, there’s plenty of news to tackle this week, including an SLS rocket performance bulletin (excellent) and some wild and woolly news from north of the US border. Read on to find out more.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please sign up using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled 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.
Virgin Orbit ends its security offer. The US-based launch company announced on the eve of Thanksgiving a “cease” of a securities offering. “Due to current market conditions, the company has elected not to proceed with an offer,” Virgin Orbit said in a statement. “Any future capital raising transaction will depend on future market conditions.” Earlier in October, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said the company was looking to raise additional capital after going public as a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.
It’s not great, but … As part of the SPAC process, the company has set a goal of raising $483 million. However, the company only raised $228 million a year ago. Virgin Orbit has an excellent track record of technical achievement, with four consecutive successes of its LauncherOne system. But there have long been questions about its financial viability, given the limited growth potential of an air-launched rocket. It’s certainly not the end of the road for Virgin Orbit, which is nearing a historic launch from Cornwall in the UK. Financially, he also has a hedge fund commitment to fall back on which is valued at $250 million.
ABL’s first launch attempt is canceled. The first test flight of ABL Space Systems’ new small satellite launcher from Alaska has been postponed to December at the earliest after technical issues halted a series of launch attempts in mid-November, Spaceflight reports. Now. ABL conducted three countdowns during a week-long launch period at the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska, in an attempt to send the company’s first RS1 rocket into the air, capable of lifting 1 metric ton in low Earth orbit.
Try again before Christmas … A Nov. 14 launch attempt was brushed aside about 30 minutes before liftoff due to unexpected data during propellant loading on the RS1 first stage, later found to be caused by a leaking valve in the pressurization system. A second launch attempt on November 17 was aborted at T-minus 1.8 seconds while igniting its nine kerosene-fueled E2 first-stage engines. Another countdown on November 21 was also interrupted during the engine start sequence. This was the last available launch attempt for ABL until the company’s next set of launch dates begin on December 7. (submitted by EllPeaTea)
Electron wins TROPICS launch contract. NASA said it chose Rocket Lab to provide launch service for the agency’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity mission with a Constellation of Smallsats, or TROPICS, mission. Rocket Lab will launch four CubeSats for NASA on two Electron rockets, slated for May 1 at the earliest.
Ready to go for next year … This delay will allow NASA to provide observations during the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, which begins June 1. The TROPICS constellation targets the formation and evolution of tropical cyclones, including hurricanes, and will provide rapidly updated observations of storm intensity. The launch of the first two TROPICS satellites earlier this year on an Astra rocket failed. (submitted by EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin)
Skyroot successfully makes its suborbital debut. Skyroot Aerospace successfully launched its small Vikram-S suborbital rocket on Nov. 18, TechCrunch reports. The 6-meter-tall rocket reached an altitude of 89.5 km, as the company predicted, officials from the Indian startup said. The company is part of India’s nascent commercial space sector.
orbit next … Founded in 2018 by former ISRO scientists Pawan Kumar Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka, Skyroot has raised $68 million in total, including $51 million in a Series B round led by GIC based in Singapore in September. It plans to develop a series of increasingly capable “Vikram” orbital rockets in the coming years. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Relativity Completes Terran 1 Stack. The company said it successfully coupled the first and second stages of the Terran 1 rocket ahead of a first launch. “The next time Terran 1 hits the pad, it will be stacked and vertical. Next steps: deploy, static fire, and launch,” the company said in its newsletter. The company also said it has completed thrust vector control testing.
Slipping into the new year … Given that Relativity has yet to deploy the Terran 1 to the pad for its static fire test, it seems increasingly unlikely that the rocket will debut in 2022. However, the company is in a good position to test its rocket additive manufacturing in early 2023, possibly even January.
Phantom Space lands launch contract with NASA. Phantom Space – yes, the Phantom Space co-founded by Jim Cantrell – received a “mission order” from NASA to launch four CubeSats on the company’s Daytona rocket. The CubeSats will launch no earlier than 2024, NASA said, as part of the agency’s Venture-class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) program. This is NASA’s program to accelerate a greater diversity of US rockets for government launch contracts.
Tolerate some higher risks … NASA will not launch any high-value satellites via VADR, which the agency says allows it to procure “commercial launch services for payloads that can tolerate higher risk.” There are currently 13 companies eligible to bid on VADR launch contracts, including established companies such as SpaceX and ULA, and less established companies such as L2 Solutions in Houston. It will be interesting to see if Phantom Space can successfully elevate the CubeSats for NASA. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Australian launch facility raises environmental concerns. Conservationists say planned rocket launches on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula pose an extinction-level threat to the wren, one of Australia’s smallest birds, reports The Guardian. The southern emu-wren subspecies at the site is listed as endangered under current law, but nationally vulnerable. Australian Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek is considering raising the national status to endangered. This change would be important for project approvals and funding decisions for the Southern Launch spaceport.
Regulatory approval is pending … The Nature Conservation Society of SA says land clearing, human disturbance including noise, vibration and cars, and an increased risk of bushfires, put the bird at extreme risk. Southern Launch chief executive Lloyd Damp said the company engaged “leading independent experts” as part of its environmental impact statement. “The results show that we will have a very positive effect on their habitat through environmental management, such as wildlife eradication programs,” he said. (submitted by Onychomys)
This Canadian company has ambitions, baby! I confess to not having heard of Edmonton-based Space Engine Systems until a spaceQ story crossed my desk this week. There’s a lot going on here, but if I can try to summarize, the company is working on a) a single-stage orbiting space plane, b) a hypersonic vehicle for point-to-point transport of organs for medical purposes transplants, c) a spacecraft compatible with the Moon, and d) a hypersonic drone named “Sexbomb” for defense applications.
It’s a full plate …Like I said, there’s a lot going on here. And it’s hard to guess if it’s all real. I suspect the answer is no, it is not. But it makes reading fun. Be sure to check out the image at the top of the article, which appears to be a comical low-fidelity rendering of a “high-temperature wing flex test facility.” Something is twisted, that’s for sure.
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