Virgin Orbit Scrubs Launch for Sunday

Cosmic Girl with a fueled LauncherOne on approach to Mojave on April 12, 2020. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

UPDATE: Virgin Orbit will attempt a launch on Monday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. PDT.

Virgin Orbit has scrubbed the maiden flight of its LauncherOne booster that had been planned for Sunday over the Pacific Ocean.

The company tweeted that engineers discovered a problem with a sensor after fueling the booster at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, They drained the fuel and are addressing the problem.

Virgin Galactic has a backup launch date on Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The company has not yet confirmed that it will attempt a launch tomorrow.

LauncherOne will attempt to place an inert mass into orbit.

Ken Brown and I will be in Mojave to cover the takeoff and landing of the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 aircraft.

SpaceX Senior VP Jumps to Relativity Space Startup

Zachary Dunn

One of the lesser known aspects of SpaceX’s rise to the top of the space industry is how the company has seeded other companies with experienced personnel.

Throughout its existence, SpaceX has had fairly high employee turnover. People work at Elon Musk’s company and move on for reasons ranging from being fired or laid off to getting burned out from long hours to becoming frustrated over relatively low pay to simply wanting to do something else.

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Virgin Orbit Maiden Launch Set for Sunday

Cosmic Girl with LauncherOne under its wing. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit will attempt to air launch its LauncherOne rocket for the first time on Sunday, CNBC reports.

The website says the company’s Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 will take off with the rocket under its wing from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 1 p.m. and head out to the Pacific Ocean.

Parabolic Arc will be in Mojave to cover the takeoff and landing. Look for updates on Twitter @spacecom.

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Skyrora Completes UK’s First Complete Ground Rocket Test in 50 Years

Slylark-L hot fire (Credit: Skyrora)

EDINBURGH, Scotland, 20 May 2020 (Skyrora PR) – The UK’s Space race heats up as Skyrora effectively made the UK ready for launching rockets into space after a team successfully built a mobile launch complex and completed a full static fire test with the Skylark L rocket on it – in only five days.

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Japan Test Fires Engine for New H3 Launch Vehicle

H3 launch vehicle variants (Credit: JAXA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Japan continues to make progress toward the first flight of its new H3 launch vehicle with a successful test firing of the booster’s LE-9 first-stage engine on April 30.

JAXA reports that the engine fired for the planned duration of 240 seconds (4 minutes) at the space agency’s Tanegashima Space Center. It was the seventh hot fire of the new engine, which is powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

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Report: Market Unlikely to Support More than 2 Launch Providers

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (USAF PR) — Last summer, the Department of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Enterprise requested a RAND Corp. study of the heavy lift launch market.

The RAND study, released today, confirms the heavy lift launch market is unlikely to support more than two U.S. launch providers in the long term, and highlights the short term schedule risks of transitioning to new providers. The National Security Space Launch Phase 2 strategy assumes a limited market and mitigates much of the transition risk. The Department is pleased the RAND report supports the major elements of its National Security Space Launch strategy.

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ESA Issues Permanently Open Call for Commercial Space Transportation Services

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA has set up an ‘open call’ for proposals from European commercial entities for new services in the domain of space transportation to space, in space, returning from space, or any combination of these.

This permanently open call is part of Boost! – ESA’s Commercial Space Transportation Services Element 1 to support European economic operators in developing and deploying new commercial space transportation services.

To be eligible, the economic operator should demonstrate that its space transportation service is a ‘complete offering’. This means that customers should not need to procure any additional essential service elements such as access to facilities, transport or logistics, to obtain the full service.

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An Overview of North Korea’s Counterspace Strategy and Space Program

Unha-3 rocket on the launch pad.

Global Counterspace Capabilities:
An Open Source Assessment

Secure World Foundation
April 2020

Full Report

The following excerpts from the report summarize North Korea’s counterspace strategy and its launch vehicle and satellite programs.

NORTH KOREA

North Korea has no demonstrated capability to mount kinetic attacks on U.S. space assets: neither a direct ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) nor a co-orbital system. In its official statements, North Korea has never mentioned anti-satellite operations or intent, suggesting that there is no clear doctrine in Pyongyang’s thinking at this point.

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An Overview of Iran’s Counterspace Strategy and Space Program

Safir rocket on launch pad (Credit: ISA)

Global Counterspace Capabilities:
An Open Source Assessment

Secure World Foundation
April 2020

Full Report

The following excerpts from the report summarizes Iran’s counterspace strategy and its launch vehicle and satellite programs.

Country Summary

Iran has a nascent space program that includes building and launching small satellites that have limited capability, although it has experienced several recent failed launch attempts. Technologically, it is unlikely Iran has the capacity to build on-orbit or direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) capabilities, and little military motivations to do so at this point. Iran has demonstrated an EW capability to persistently interfere with commercial satellite signals, although the capability against military signals is difficult to ascertain.

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Virgin Orbit Conducts Cryogenic Flight Test with Fueled LauncherOne Booster

Cosmic Girl performs a pitch up maneuver during a flight test on April 12, 2020. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Orbit completed a cryogenic captive carry flight test with a fueled LauncherOne rocket aboard for the first time, clearing the last hurdle before Richard Branson’s company can conduct the maiden flight of the air-launched booster.

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Virgin Orbit Partners to Use Japanese Airport for Launches

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 taxis down runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port with the LauncherOne booster under its wing. Northrop Grumman’s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft, which also air launches the Pegasus XL rocket, can be seen in the background. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

OITA, Japan/LONG BEACH, Calif., April 2, 2020 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, the California-based small satellite launch company, has announced a new partnership with Oita Prefecture to bring horizontal launch to Japan.

With the support of regional partners ANA Holdings Inc. and the Space Port Japan Association, Virgin Orbit has identified Oita Airport as its preferred pilot launch site — yet another addition to the company’s growing global network of horizontal launch sites — in pursuit of a mission to space from Japan as early as 2022. 

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Stratolaunch Unveils Hypersonic Test Beds, Space Vehicle

Talon A hypersonic vehicle (Credit: Stratolaunch)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Stratolaunch has unveiled a pair of hypersonic test bed vehicles and a reusable spacecraft the company plans to launch from its giant dual fuselage airplane.

“Talon-A is a fully reusable, autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle with a length of 28 feet (8.5 m), wingspan of 11.3 feet (3.4 m), and a launch weight of approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 Kg),” the company’s website said.

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UK’s Black Arrow Startup Pursues Seaborne Satellite Launches

SWINDON, UK (Black Arrow PR) — On the 50th Anniversary of the first successful British rocket launch, the Black Arrow name is reinvigorated as Black Arrow Space Technologies starts up in business.

Black Arrow Space Technologies is a new British company developing spaceflight technologies designed to launch satellites into orbit. Black Arrow unique offer is their seaborne launch system – commercial rockets launched from their own Space Ship! This will enable Britain to offer a global service unavailable elsewhere in the world, bypassing many of the issues faced by land launches.

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SpaceX Looks to Raise More Money

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

CNBC reports that SpaceX is looking to raise another round of funding.

The company is seeking to bring in about $250 million at a price of $220 a share, according to people familiar with the financing. The new raise would value SpaceX at around $36 billion, up from $33.3 billion  previously.

The round is not expected to close until the second week of March, those people told CNBC, and includes an equivalent purchase offer to existing SpaceX shareholders.

SpaceX did not respond to CNBC’s requests for comment. The details of the raise could change depending on market conditions between now and the second week of March.

Last year SpaceX raised $1.33 billion across three funding rounds. It’s one of the most valuable private companies in the world and, with consistently oversubscribed capital raises, SpaceX shares rank as some of the most in demand of any pre-IPO companies as well.

The steady fundraising comes as SpaceX continues development on three important programs: Crew Dragon, Starlink and Starship.

Astra Emerges From Stealth, Shooting for $1 Million Per Launch

Astra Introduction Video from Chris Kemp on Vimeo.

Ashlee Vance also has a story at Bloomberg:

https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-astra-rocket/

Some interesting tidbits:

  • Astra’s next launch is scheduled for Feb. 21 from Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island;
  • previous two launches suffered in-flight failures;
  • payload will be up to 450 lb (204 kg) to low Earth orbit;
  • launch cost is $2.5 million, but Astra is working toward $1 million;
  • the company is using aluminum and simplified engines to keep costs down;
  • Astra has a staff of 150 people;
  • Former NASA Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Chris Kemp is CEO;
  • Astra’s CTO and co-founder is Adam London, who spent 12 years running Ventions;
  • The company has raised more than $100 million from investors;
  • Astra is the last of three companies standing in the DARPA Launch Challenge, under which it must launch twice from different locations in two weeks to win $12 million; and,
  • Other competitors included Vector Space, which has filed for bankruptcy, and Virgin Origin, which decided to pull out.