Suborbital launch used to be a sleepy field that rarely attracted much public attention. Let’s face it, atmospheric research and student experiments are not front-page news. Sounding rockets don’t have the majesty and power of a Falcon 9 or Atlas V.
In recent years, exciting new entrants in the field and widespread streaming of launches have made suborbital flights exciting. Last year saw important suborbital flight tests by SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Skyrora that garnered worldwide interest.
Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.
There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:
Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
SACRAMENTO, Calif., Aug. 13, 2014 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — Aerojet Rocketdyne, a GenCorp (GY) company, today announced that its Low Earth Orbiting Nanosatellite Integrated Defense Autonomous System (LEONIDAS) first stage solid propellant rocket motor (LEO-46) successfully completed a hot-fire static test at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA representatives participated in a media teleconference this morning to discuss the June 28, 2014 near-space test flight of the agency’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), which occurred off the coast of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.
A high-altitude balloon launch occurred at 8:45 a.m. HST (11:45 a.m. PDT/2:45 p.m. EDT) from the Hawaiian island facility. At 11:05 a.m. HST (2:05 p.m. PDT/5:05 p.m. EDT), the LDSD test vehicle dropped away from the balloon as planned and began powered flight. The balloon and test vehicle were about 120,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean at the time of the drop. The vehicle splashed down in the ocean at approximately 11:35 a.m. HST (2:35 p.m. PDT/5:35 p.m. EDT), after the engineering test flight concluded. The test vehicle hardware, black box data recorder and parachute were all recovered later in the day.
Navy officials in Hawaii have begun preparations for the debut of a new small satellite launcher by requesting the expansion of a danger zone around the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on Kauai, The Garden Islandreports.
If approved, the danger zone fronting PMRF would roughly triple in size, encompass about 7 miles of coastline — from Barking Sands to Kokole Point — and extend between 2.96 and 4.19 nautical miles out to sea.