India to Try Again With Cryogenic Upper Stage After Long Gap

Most rockets take about nine minutes to put their payloads into low Earth orbit, going from a dead stop on terra firma to 17,500 miles per hour.

In the case of India’s GSLV rocket, it takes several years longer. That’s the typical interval between launch attempts. You then have to add on a couple of more years to account for all of the GSLV’s launch failures. Of seven launches over nearly 12 years, India’s largest rocket has notched only two successes and one partial success. The last fully successful flight occurred in September 2004.

But, ISRO is, if nothing else,doggedly persistent. In April, the Indian space agency will attempt to launch a GSLV rocket fitted with its second domestically produced cryogenic upper stage. The launch will take place exactly three years after the turbo pump on the first homemade cryogenic engine malfunctioned, sending the GSAT-4 communications satellite into the Bay of Bengal. That failure came after 17 years of work on cryogenic technology.


Air Force Reusable Rocket Program Goes Bye-Bye

The U.S. Air Force’s reusable booster program has been canceled due to a lack of funding:

Due to “unexpected funding reductions,” the U.S. Air Force is discontinuing work on a prototype reusable rocket design effort that the U.S. National Research Council recently cited as a key steppingstone to an operational system.


ESA Studies Future of Europe’s Launch Services

Soyuz launch complex in Kourou. (Credit: ESA – S. Corvaja, 2011)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Today, Europe enjoys autonomous access to space, while holding a leading position in the world launch services market. ESA has begun work on a new strategy to ensure that both can be maintained sustainably in future.

ESA has begun investigating the feasibility of a new approach for European access to space, aimed at making Europe’s launch services fully self-sufficient over the long haul.

The idea behind this New European Launch Service – NELS – is to deliver competitive launch services to both governmental and private European customers while keeping pace with the rapidly changing worldwide launch market.


Funny or Fly! Cool New Launcher Chart With Stratolaunch

U.S. orbital launch vehicles, operational and in development. (Credit: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/

Stratolaunch Systems’ announcement last week has required me to revise the old launch vehicle charts. I couldn’t quite get the Stratolaunch graphic I wanted, but I think this is pretty close to scale. It certainly is on the wingspan. As you can see, it doesn’t quite fit in; if Stratolaunch were a reindeer, it would definitely be named Rudolph.

Despite its massive size, the Stratolaunch system is far down on the table because rockets on this graphic are arranged according to lifting capacity to low Earth orbit. Stratolaunch’s 6,100 kg. capacity is equal to the Delta II to its left. Unlike the Delta II, its first stage is reusable. (more…)

Roscosmos, ESA Discuss Ganymede Mission, Joint Rocket Development

Roscosmos and ESA have agreed to pursue missions aimed at returning soil samples from the south pole of the moon and landing a spacecraft on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, according to a Roscosmos press statement.

The decision was made during a Dec. 19 meeting between Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin and ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain.  The space agency chiefs also discussed the potential involvement of Russia in the U.S.-European ExoMars program and collaboration in developing new launch vehicles.


Europe Tests New Tech for Future Launchers

Texus 48 launch on 27 November 2011. (Credits: Thilo Kranz/DLR)

ESA PR — ESA and the DLR German Space Center fired a Texus rocket 263 km into space on 27 November to test a new way of handling propellants on Europe’s future rockets.

Texus 48 lifted off at 10:10 GMT (11:10 CET) from the Esrange Space Centre near Kiruna in northern Sweden on its 13-minute flight.
During the six minutes of weightlessness – mimicking the different stages of a full spaceflight – two new devices were tested for handling super-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellants and then recovered for analysis.


Argentina Plans First Domestic Satellite Launch

Tronador II rocket. (Credit: Sergio Panei Pitrau)

Argentina is looking to join the exclusive club of nations with the capacity to launch its own satellites by 2013.

Engineers are now working on the new Tronador II (Thunderer II) , a two-stage rocket that will be capable of launch a 200 kg payload into low-Earth orbit. According to El Argentino, engineering faculty at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata will begin tests on a Tronador prototype next year with the intention of having a vehicle ready to launch in 2013. The work is being overseen by the National Commission on Space Activities (CONAE). Argentina’s first domestic satellite mission will lift off from a new launch pad at a military base in Puerto Belgrano.

The 34-meter tall rocket is based on the Tronador I, a single-stage booster that was first launched in 2007. The earlier rocket served as a technological testbed and only reached 20 km in altitude.

The Tronador II project is a key part of Argentina’s National Space Plan, which also the domestic development of satellite systems, the establishment of the Institute of Space Studies, the creation of information systems using space data, and the expansion of ground infrastructure.

The most intriguing goal is the creation of a regional space agency. In late August, Argentina’s Defense Minister, Arturo Puricelli, proposed the development of a South American space agency to his Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim. Brazil has its own ambitions in space, which include launching Ukraine’s Cyclone-4 rocket from its Alcantara Launch Center and developing a family of boosters with Russia.



Vega Rocket Begins Trip to Kourou

Artist's impression of Vega on the launch pad at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Credit: ESA - J.Huart, 2011

ESA PR — The first elements of Europe’s new Vega small launcher left Italy last Thursday to begin their long journey to Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, marking the final step towards its inaugural flight in January.

After several intense weeks of checking the hardware and equipment – and the shipping paperwork – Vega’s Zefiro-23 and Zefiro-9 motors and the AVUM fourth stage were carefully packed and left Avio’s facility in Colleferro, where they were built.

During the night, the convoy headed to Livorno Harbour and the stages were loaded onto the MN Colibri, a vessel that is normally used by Arianespace to carry Ariane rocket components on the same route across the Atlantic Ocean.

It then departed on its first leg to Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

The fairing, built in Switzerland, the Dutch-built Interstage-1/2 structure that links the first two stages and the LARES laser relativity satellite from Italy’s ASI space agency will be loaded onto the vessel, which is scheduled to set sail on 6 October.

Some 18 days later, the ship will arrive at Dégrad de Cannes Harbour in Cayenne, French Guiana.

From there, the ship’s cargo will be taken by road to Kourou for mating with Vega’s P80 first stage, now undergoing final preparations in the Booster Integration Building.

The P80 solid-propellant motor, also built in Colleferro, awaits insertion of its igniter.

Vega’s first launch campaign

The three-month launch campaign will begin in November following the Flight Readiness Review on 13–14 October.

The first step will move the P80 stage to the pad for final testing of the thrust vector control system. The two solid-propellant second and third stages will then be added.

The campaign will continue with the integration of the AVUM – Attitude & Vernier Upper Module – and its fuelling, and further testing of the electrical systems and software controls.

Finally, the upper composite, comprising the fairing and the payload, will be mated with AVUM.

The payload for Vega’s first launch is the LARES satellite, together with nine small CubeSats from European universities.

ESA, CNES, ASI and industry teams will arrive at Europe’s Spaceport for the launch campaign in November.

“With all of the elements for Vega’s maiden flight in Kourou by mid-October, we are now looking forward to beginning the launch campaign, which will be the final step before the first flight of Europe’s new rocket,” says Stefano Bianchi, Vega Programme Manager.

This first launch, the Vega qualification flight, is planned for January 2012 and will pave the way for five missions that aim to demonstrate the system’s flexibility.

Vega is designed to cope with a wide range of missions and payload configurations in order to respond to different market opportunities. In particular, it offers configurations able to handle payloads ranging from a single satellite up to one main satellite plus six microsatellites.

Vega is compatible with payload masses ranging from 300 kg to 2500 kg, depending on the type and altitude of the orbit required by the customers. The benchmark is for 1500 kg into a 700 km-altitude polar orbit.

Ukraine Defense Minister Guarantees $250 Million for Joint Rocket Effort

Ukraine's Cyclone rocket

Brazilian Ministry of Defense PR — On a visit to the Brazilian Ministry of Defense, Defense Minister of Ukraine, Mykhailo Yezhel Bronislavovych, said today that Ukraine is transferring its part of investment in Alcântara Cyclone Space (ACS), a binational company created to market business services from rocket and satellite Maranhão.

“We have the resources of U.S. $250 million to be invested from October. We are also open to transfer technology to a new satellite launcher, the Cyclone 5, which will be produced jointly with Brazil,” he said.

The Brazilian Defense Minister, Celso Amorim, said that ACS is a strategic project for Brazil.

“Most of the program is under the control of the Brazilian Space Agency, the Defense Ministry has only a small share, but the promised contribution is excellent news, which bodes well for technological cooperation between the two countries,” he said.


South Africa Getting Back into the Space Business

SA to return to space: Pandor
Defence Web

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor says her department is looking at the possibility of reactivating and re-establishing space rocket launch facilities in South Africa, confirming a statement by an official in Parliament last year.

Nomfuneko Majaja, the government’s Chief Director Advanced Manufacturing Space Affairs at the Department of Trade and Industry told the National Assembly last July that “it was hoped that SA would be in a position to be a launching state in five to ten years time.”

Pandor was speaking at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) Satellite Applications Centre (SAC) at Hartebeeshoek, west of Pretoria, at an event at which a live video feed from South Africa’s SumbandilaSat microsatellite was publicly shown for the first time, the Engineering News and other media this morning reports.

“We intend to strengthen the technological and space skills in South Africa,” Pandor said. “Sumbandila is a very significant development for us. Our new satellite provides us with a number of cost and competitive advantages.” Pandor added SA has previously spent more than R60 million a year buying images from other satellite owners.

Read the full story.

Constellation Cancellation Presents Challenges, Opportunities for DOD

Obama’s Move To End Constellation Prompts Industrial Base Questions
Space News

[Air Force Gen. Robert] Kehler said the president’s decision to do away with Constellation and foster new commercial space transportation services presents both opportunities and challenges for the Air Force.

“I’m not a glass-half-empty kind of guy on this one,” he said. “I think we’ve got some opportunity there to go work together with NASA and commercial to make sure that we are preserving the essential pieces of the industrial base we have to go preserve.”


North Korea Prepares to Go Orbital

As if the world doesn’t have enough problems at the moment, the planet’s strangest regime is prepared to join the elite group of nations with the capability to put a satellite into orbit.


Russia to Test New Angara Rocket in 2010

Novesti reports that Russian officials have laid out a schedule for testing the nation’s new series of Angara rockets, which are designed to launch payloads of two to 24.5 metric tons to low-Earth orbit.

“Flight tests are due to start in 2010. In early 2011, a lighter version of Angara is to be launched and by the end of the same year a heavy-class, Angara-5 vehicle is to lift off,” said Vladimir Nesterov, director of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Center.

Big Announcement from XCOR Next Week

XCOR Aerospace will be holding a press conference in Beverly Hills, California on Wednesday, March 26, to announce what Rand Simberg of Transterrestrial Musings will be “a significant milestone” in commercial spaceflight. Simberg says he knows what the announcement will be but has an non-disclosure agreement with the Mojave, Calif.-based rocket company. His blog is buzzing with speculation on what XCOR will announce.

Meanwhile, author Michael Belfiore has this to report over at his blog:

“A mysterious project has been underway on the XCOR shop floor behind a black curtain for some time now, and the company has been incredibly successful lately, with contracts and money rolling in faster than ever before. In fact, XCOR made Inc. magazine’s list of 500 fastest growing companies in America last year.

Are we about to witness a new private spaceship unveiled?”