The Falcon 9 rocket has 50 times the lift capacity of a Pegasus vehicle.
Enlarge/ A Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
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Welcome to Edition 2.07 of the Rocket Report! On this most historic of rocket-launch weeks, we have news about the next mission to the MoonIndia’s soft lander and small roveras well as delays with the rocket America hopes to use to get its astronauts to the Moon, and possibly Mars, one day. There’s also this Chinese company that apparently likes asteroids…
As always, we welcome reader submissions, 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.
Vega rocket launch fails. The 15th launch of a European Vega rocket ended in failure July 10, resulting in the loss of an imaging satellite for the United Arab Emirates, SpaceNews reports. “About two minutes after liftoff, around the [Zefiro]-23 ignition, a major anomaly occurred, resulting in the loss of the mission,” Luce Fabreguettes (Arianespace’s executive vice president of Missions, Operations & Purchasing) said during the launch webcast.
Inquiry set up … Until now, the Italian-built smallsat launcher had had a perfect record, and it had been racking up customers for both the existing rocket and an upgrade named Vega-C. The four-stage rocket has been flying since 2012 and had two more launches scheduled for this year. The European Space Agency and Arianespace said they formed an independent inquiry commission to investigate the cause of the failure. (submitted by Tfargo04)
Firefly partners with Israel for lunar lander. Firefly is a rocket company, so when it was named as one of NASA’s chosen firms to send small payloads to the lunar surface, questions were raised. Like, how? Then, last week, the Texas-based rocket company announced that it had partnered with Israel Aerospace Industries for technology based on its Beresheet Lunar Lander.
Waiting for Beta … “Having access to flight-proven lunar-lander technology and the expertise of IAI engineers makes Firefly well placed to gain a foothold in the cislunar market,” Firefly’s CEO, Tom Markusic, said. In truth, the bigger challenge for Firefly will probably be the rocket. First, the company has to get Alpha flying, and then it has to put three cores together to build the Beta booster needed for the Moon. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
New Chinese company planning launch next March. One of the Chinese companies that is part of the country’s “second wave” of commercial launch ventures is prepping for a March 2020 test flight, Andrew Jones reports. The company will attempt to launch its Ceres-1 vehicle from Jiuquan. The solid-fuel rocket advertises a payload capacity of 350kg to low Earth orbit.
A thing for asteroid names … The company is also working on a larger, liquid-fueled rocket named Pallas-1 (Pallas is the second asteroid to have been discovered after Ceres). This vehicle has an advertised payload capacity of 4 tons to LEO, and the company recently tested the gas generator for its engine. From solids to liquids seems like a complex development curve for a new space company.
Component blamed for Atlas V, Delta IV delays. On Wednesday, United Launch Alliance announced that the Delta 4 launch of an Air Force GPS satellite originally scheduled for July 25 will be delayed until at least August 22. This follows a July 11 announcement that an Atlas V launch of an Air Force satellite planned for July 17 was rescheduled until no earlier than August 8. SpaceNews reports that the delays were due to a component in the upper stage common to both vehicles and thus affected both the Atlas and the Delta launches.
Fall of launch? … United Launch Alliance has flown just twice in 2019. A DoD official told SpaceNews, on condition of anonymity, that the anomaly was detected during a routine mission assurance check but declined to discuss specifics. These two delays are occurring at an inopportune time when the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center has been promoting a “Summer of Launch ’19” campaign during which it planned to carry out four launches within 31 days between June 24 and July 25. If it’s any consolation, we’re highly confident that late August will still feel like summer in Florida. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Falcon 9 beats Pegasus rocket on price. NASA awarded a launch contract to SpaceX on July 8 for the launch of a small astrophysics mission, as the company offered a previously flown Falcon 9 at a lower price than a much smaller rocket. NASA said that it selected SpaceX to launch the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission in April 2021 for $50.3 million, which includes the launch itself and other “mission-related” costs.
Talk about the value of reusability … Mission officials had base-lined the use of the Pegasus XL rocket to launch the spacecraft. Flying out of Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific, the Pegasus XL would have the performance to place IXPE into its desired orbit. But the Pegasus rocket would have cost more. Which is amazing, because the Falcon 9 rocket has 50 times the lift capacity of a Pegasus vehicle. (JohnCarter17)
Starliner flight test slips into September. An Orlando television station interviewed Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson about the company’s Starliner spacecraft, and he said progress continues. “We have an uncrewed test flight here in September. It’s looking very good. We were working late into the night last night doing test work, 24/7 operations,” Ferguson said, according to Parabolic Arc. “We are in the final push, and I’m optimistic that you’re going to see humans return to space from the Space Coast within the next several months. It’s been a long time.”
Crewed flights months away? … Ferguson suggested that a crewed flight of Starliner could still come before the end of this year. While that cannot be ruled out, we have heard that the first quarter of 2020 is a more reasonable timeframe. Such dates are also predicated on United Launch Alliance working out the issues, noted above, with its Atlas V rocket. Surprisingly, that vehicle has launched just once during the last 14 months. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Launch of Indian Moon mission reset to July 22. The launch of the Chandrayaan-2 mission to land on the Moon, aboard a GSLV Mk III rocket, is now planned for July 22, a delay of a week over its original launch date. The original launch was canceled after a leak was found in the rocket’s cryogenic stage, The Times of India reports.
Return to the Moon … This will be India’s second mission to the Moon, following Chandrayaan-1, and will include a soft lander with a small robotic rover. The primary goal of the mission, which will land at a latitude of 70° south, is to map the location and abundance of lunar water ice. This is an intriguing mission worth following. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
SLS first flight likely delayed until “late” 2021. As recently as last month, both NASA planning documents and officials with Boeing said the space agency was still working toward a 2020 launch of the Artemis 1 mission. However, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Wednesday said 2021 was “definitely achievable” for the big rocket’s first launch. In his written testimony before a Senate committee, Bridenstine said the NASA Office of the Chief Financial Officer performed a scheduled risk assessment of the Artemis 1 launch date. He did not discuss this study publicly.
More money, more delays? … However, a NASA source familiar with this assessment told Ars that the agency found that, under current plansincluding a “green run” test firing of the core stage at Stennis Space Center in 2020the Artemis 1 mission would not be ready for launch until at least “late 2021.” Moreover, NASA was likely to need more moneyabove the more than $2 billion it already receives annually for SLS developmentto realistically make a late 2021 launch date.
ArianeGroup completes engine testing for Ariane 6 rocket. On Thursday, the European rocket firm announced that it has completed qualification testing of the rocket’s main engine, Vulcan 2.1. A total of 26 engine tests were performed, for a duration of nearly four hours. The engine is an advanced version of the one that powers the Ariane 5 but with a reduced part count, a lower manufacturing cost, and a shorter production time.
Big year next year … Previously, ArianeGroup had announced the completion of qualification testing for the rocket’s upper-stage Vinci engine, meaning that all of Ariane 6’s liquid-propulsion engines were ready for flight. The final step in the qualification of the Ariane 6 engines entails the solid-fuel side boosters, and the third and final test firing of these motors will take place in French Guiana in early 2020. The rocket may make its first launch later next year.
Saturn V rocket projected onto Washington Monument. In one of the more clever tributes to the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, a full-scale, 363-foot Saturn V rocket has been digitally projected onto the landmark while a 17-minute show about the Apollo 11 mission plays on screens nearby. The event, which is free to the public, was commissioned by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Lighting up DC … “Our identity as Americans is defined in part by the historic act of landing humans on the Moon and returning them safely to the Earth,” Ellen Stofan, a director at the Air and Space Museum, said, according to Gizmodo. “The Washington Monument is a symbol of our collective national achievements and what we can and will achieve in the future.” We only wish we could have seen the show in person. (submitted by Tfargo04)
July 20: Soyuz-FG | MS-13 crew mission | Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan | 16:28 UTC
July 21: Falcon 9 | CRS-18 mission to supply the ISS | Cape Canaveral, Florida | 23:35 UTC
July 22: GSLV Mk. III | Chandrayaan-2 Moon mission | Sriharikota, India | 09:13 UTC (source)
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