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.
KIRUNA, Sweden (ESA PR) — Later this month a Texus rocket will launch from Esrange, Sweden, that will travel about 260 km upwards and fall back to Earth offering researchers six minutes of zero gravity. Their experiment? Burning metal powder to understand a new type of fire.
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (NASA PR) — Several space technologies will be put to the test with the launch of a suborbital rocket at 8 p.m., EDT Tuesday, October 22, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The launch window for the mission is 8 p.m. to midnight. Backup launch days are Oct. 23 – 27. The Wallops NASA Visitor Center will open at 7 p.m. for launch viewing. Coverage of the mission will begin at 7:45 p.m. on the Wallops Facebook site. The launch may be visible in the Chesapeake Bay region.
The Japan Timesreports that Interstellar Technologies fourth launch of is Momo rocket failed on Saturday.
The vehicle only reached an altitude of 13 kilometers following the launch at 4:20 p.m., falling into the sea some 9 kilometers (about 5.5. miles) offshore from Taiki, Hokkaido, its test site, Interstellar Technologies said.
The rocket is the same model as Momo-3, measuring about 10 meters long, 50 centimeters in diameter and weighing 1 ton.
After failed attempts in 2017 and 2018, the startup finally found success with its third launch in May, with the rocket reaching an altitude of around 113 km before falling into the Pacific Ocean.
Founded in 2013 by former Livedoor Co. President Takafumi Horie, Interstellar Technologies aims to develop low-cost commercial rockets to carry satellites into space.
ADELAIDE, South Australia, 31 May 2019 (Australia Space Agency PR) — NASA is looking to Australian company Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) to conduct rocket launches.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Wallops Flight Facility has indicated it would like to progress discussions with ELA on their 2020 sounding rocket campaign. The campaign would provide temporary southern hemisphere launch facilities for sounding rockets for scientific investigations.
The proposed launch activities fall under the Space Activities Act 1998. The amended legislation to come into effect on 31 August 2019 (the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018). The Australian Space Agency is responsible for administering this legislation, including the relevant licenses and permits for launch sites and launch activities.
The Agency is also currently consulting with industry on draft rules under the amended Act. Ensuring the rules are in place for space activities is a priority for the Agency.
Head of the Australian Space Agency, Dr Megan Clark AC said, “NASA’s interest in conducting a sounding rocket campaign in Australia shows the increasing importance of commercial launch activities from Australia.
“As these activities build momentum, the Agency will continue its focus on creating a supportive regulatory environment that fosters industry growth, while ensuring public safety and considering our international obligations.”
The third time was the charm for Interstellar Technologies.
On Saturday, the company’s suborbital Momo-3 rocket lifted off from its launch pad in Hokkaido and reached an altitude of 110 km (68.4 miles) before falling into the Pacific Ocean about 10 minutes later, The Japan Timesreports.
“It was a complete success. We’ll work to achieve stable launches and mass-produce (rockets) in quick cycles,” company founder Takafumi Horie told The Japan Times.
Measuring 10 meters in length and 50 centimeters in diameter and weighing 1 ton, it was first due to be launched Tuesday, but that launch was shelved due to a glitch in the fuel system.
It was the venture company’s third launch attempt after previous tries failed in 2017 and 2018. In 2017, the operator lost contact with Momo-1 shortly after launch. In 2018, Momo-2 only made it some 20 meters off the ground before crashing and bursting into flames due to a problem with a control system.
The MOMO sounding rocket is designed to carry a payload weighting up to 20 kg (44 lb) on suborbital flights at a cost of approximately ¥50 million (~$450,000).
Interstellar is also developing the ZERO booster to carry payloads weighing up to 100 kg (220.5 lb) to a 500 km (310.7 mile) sun synchronous orbit. The company hopes to conduct ZERO’s first flight test in 2020.
Video Caption: Interstellar Technologies, founded by popular internet service provider Livedoor’s creator Takafumi Horie, launched the unmanned rocket, MOMO-2, from a test site in Taiki.
The outlandish, Ferrari-driving Horie — who helped drive Japan’s shift to an information-based economy in the late 1990s and the early 2000s but later spent nearly two years in jail for accounting fraud — founded Interstellar in 2013. However, privately backed efforts to explore space from Japan have so far failed to compete with the government-run Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (NASA PR) — The launch of a Black Brant IX sounding rocket carrying the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment or ASPIRE was successfully conducted at 12:19 p.m. EDT, March 31, 2018, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The next ASPIRE test at Wallops is currently scheduled for later this summer.
ASPIRE is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, with support from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program is based at Wallops. Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia, provides mission planning, engineering services and field operations through the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract. NASA’s Heliophysics Division in Washington manages the sounding rocket program for the agency.
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (NASA PR) — NASA will test a parachute for possible future missions to Mars from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Tuesday, March 27. Live coverage of the test is scheduled to begin at 6:15 a.m. EDT on the Wallops Ustream site.
The launch window for the 58-foot-tall Terrier-Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket is from 6:45 to 10:15 a.m. Backup launch days are March 28 to April 10.
The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference was held in Colorado earlier this week. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks tweeted the sessions:
Jeff Foust @jeff_foust Rand Simberg @Rand_Simberg Colorado Space News @CO_Space_News Laura Seward Forczyk @LauraForczyk
Below are summaries of a number of talks based on their tweets. The talks included Erika Wagner of Blue Origin, Dylan Taylor of Space Angels, John Quinn of Exos Aerospace, Tim Lachenmeier of Near Space Corporation, Lewis Groswald of the University of Colorado Boulder, and Alain Berinstain of Moon Express.
Canon, best known for its high-quality cameras, is getting into the space business. It is working with the Japanese space agency JAXA to upgrade a sounding rocket to launch microsats into orbit.
The company’s experience designing and manufacturing devices such as digital cameras will help the team choose the best rocket parts as well as make key control instruments smaller and lighter.
Systems for changing the rocket’s orientation or separating stages once in space have already been developed. IHI unit IHI Aerospace is handling development of key engine parts such as fuel injectors.
The three-stage rocket is an upgrade to JAXA’s two-stage SS-520, which carries instruments for research observations. Measuring 52cm in diameter and less than 10 meters in length, the new version will cost less than one-tenth as much to launch as leading rockets and is expected to be used to lift microsatellites in orbit.
An initial launch is slated for early next year from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.
DULLES, VA, 19 December 2013 (ORB PR) — Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB), one of the world’s leading space technology companies, announced today that Orbital’s NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract II (NSROC II) team at Wallops Island, Virginia recently completed its 40th consecutive successful mission over the last 24 months for NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program (NSRP).