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Home / Science / Rocket Report: SLS delays prompt NASA action, Brazil considering launch site

Rocket Report: SLS delays prompt NASA action, Brazil considering launch site

  A Falcon 9 rocket is launched from the Vandenberg Air Base.
Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket is launched from the Vandenberg Air Base.

Welcome to the 1.40 edition of the Rocket Report! There have been some tremendous developments of the Earth in a heavy lifting this week, with the announcement by NASA that it will consider using commercial rockets to perform the launch of the first moon of the Orion spacecraft. Readers have also presented a series of interesting stories, such as Brazil, which considers a launch site to rival Kourou in neighboring French Guiana.

As always, we welcome readers' presentations, and if you don't want to miss a problem, sign up using the box below (the form will not be displayed in AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small, medium and heavy rockets and a quick look at the next three launches on the calendar.

The Vega-C rocket enters the qualifying phase, but slips . The new European small satellite launch system has recently approved its Critical Design Review and is now ready to complete production and final tests as part of the qualification phase, according to the European Space Agency. The initial launch of the Vega-C booster, a cheaper version of Arianespace's Vega rocket, is now planned for the beginning of 2020 (this is a mistake by the end of 2019).

About a year earlier . .. The Vega-C rocket uses the new P120C solid rocket in Europe, which will also power Ariane 6. Commonality should help Arianespace reduce costs while trying to attract more than the small satellite launch market. "We have 12 months of difficulty, starting with four Vega launches between March and November and ending with the first Vega-C flight," said Stefano Bianchi, Head of the Space Transportation Development Department of ESA. (presented by Ken the Bin and Unrulycow)

LinkSpace is preparing to land the rockets . In a tweet the Chinese launch company published a photo of a rocket landing site with the message "Welcome to Earth". The company is expected to begin the suborbital testing of its landing demonstrator in the coming months.

Have we seen this before? … Founded in 2014, LinkSpace was one of the first Chinese private missile companies (more than a dozen followed). Try to develop a liquid fuel rocket with a reusable first stage capable of lifting about 200 kg in a Sun-synchronous orbit. The landing technology seems to be modeled on the Falcon 9 rocket.

Another new Chinese start-up enters the fray . Space Transportation had maintained a low profile since its founding in 2018, but recently announced that it had found a funding angel, reports the China Aerospace Blog. The company aims to develop reusable missiles for loads from 100 kg to 1,000 kg. [1965904] Reusability, with a twist … Space Transportation has proposed an ambitious sail landing system for missile reusability: Tian Xing -1 illustrations the rocket features a pair of pin-shaped wings that ( presumably) provide the lift necessary to allow gliding. Such a system faces technical challenges, of course, but it helps the new company stand out in a crowded field of Chinese start-ups.

Brazil could become a hub in aerospace . Brazil wants to attract launch customers by marketing itself as a cheaper alternative to Kourou, the European spaceport in neighboring French Guiana. Aerospace Boeing and Lockheed Martin owners visited the Alcântara launch center in December, Reuters reports. The Brazilian space agency also seeks to attract small businesses with its equatorial location

Necessary security agreement … For now, Brazil's goal to become a site of launch may depend on negotiating a technology safeguard agreement with the United States to protect the sensitive American space launch and satellite technology. (This agreement is necessary to launch American-made missiles). The safeguard agreement could be ready this year if the US State Department gets permission to negotiate. (sent by Alex)

The air-borne rocket Saber passes the PDR . The demonstration core of the Saber rocket propulsion system with pneumatic breathing by Reaction Engines has successfully passed a preliminary design review, Report of the Aviation Week . The evaluation opens the way for a subsequent critical review of the project, the subsequent development and testing of the core in a newly built facility in Westcott, England, in 2020. [1965904] It would be great .. The complete engine, built on the core to incorporate a pre-cooler, a rocket engine and a ramjet, it is designed to provide a respiratory boost from the track at Mach 5 and beyond for hypersonic aircraft. In rocket mode, it should also provide low-cost access to space. Bringing such promising technology into reality would be something very interesting to see, of course. But there is still a long way to go.

Europe seeks to encourage smaller rockets . The European Space Agency states that it is studying the best way to revive the launch industry of small satellites of the continent. To this end, the preparatory program for future ESA launchers has funded five industry proposals for an economically viable and commercially viable micro-launcher. The five proposals came from PLD Space, Deimos and Orbex, MT Aerospace, ArianeGroup and Avio.

Providing enough help … At the Space 19+ conference in November, ESA will propose a program to further promote the commercially viable ideas of European industry by supporting proposals for space transport services privately owned and privately funded, with an initial focus on micro-worker-based launch services. European officials believe that this will also help stimulate the development of successful commercial retail spaces in Europe.

Stofiel embarks on an unconventional journey into space . With his long biker hair and a messy basement, Brian Stofiel often looks like a mad rocket scientist, according to Riverfront Times . And the founder of Stofiel Aerospace in St. Louis has decidedly unconventional ideas about how to get things in space, using a combination of a balloon and a plastic rocket mostly named Hermes.

A funny story . .. Stofiel is a colorful personality and new ideas are always welcome in the aerospace industry. The fact that the industry has reached the point where a modestly wealthy family can self-finance missile experiments with 3D printed technology is a good thing. But for now, Stofiel has a long way to go before its aerospace ambitions become a reality. (presented by Millenix)

China launched its 300th rise in March along . A Chinese TV satellite took off last Saturday aboard a Long March 3B repeater. This marks the 300th orbital launch of the country's Long March rocket family since 1970, reports Spaceflight Now. On April 24, 1970, a rocket from the first spring of March brought the first Chinese satellite into space.

Launch speed accelerates … In recent years China's launch rate has increased. It took 37 years to make the first 100 Long March launches, eight years for the second 100 flights and four years for the third 100 missions. This is the umpteenth sign of the increasingly varied ambitions of space in the country. (presented by Ken the Bin)

SpaceX completes the commercial crew mission . Everything went almost flawlessly during the first SpaceX demonstration mission of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which exploded on Friday 8 March. However, the mission was almost not launched in time, as SpaceX engineers dealt with valve problems of the first phase in a Falcon 9 a few hours before launch.

It was not disclosed … The valve was replaced, and SpaceX was able to determine that there should be no other similar problems with the launch. The Falcon 9 was cleaned up before the NASA webcast started, so the problem was not shared with viewers. In any case, there were no problems with the launch itself or the performance of Dragon.

NASA proposes an Orion trade mission : at a remarkable turning point, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Wednesday that the space agency would consider launching its first Orion mission to the Moon on commercial missiles instead of the NASA Space Launch System. "I think we, as an agency, must stick to our commitment," Bridenstine said in a NASA audition. "If we tell you, and others, that we intend to launch around the Moon in June 2020, I think we should launch around the Moon in June 2020."

Such a mission would require two rockets … So what will they be? Bridenstine did not name the missiles during the hearing, but it seems almost certain that at least one of them would be a Delta IV Heavy built by the United Launch Alliance. NASA used this rocket to launch a version of the Orion spacecraft at an altitude of 3,600 km in 2014. Both the United Launch Alliance and SpaceX – with its Falcon Heavy rocket – would be invited to bid on the second launch.

SLS already under siege at the beginning of the week . President Donald Trump's 2020 budget request predicts a 17% budget reduction for NASA's Space Launch System rocket, once seen as the backbone of the space agency's efforts to explore deep space. The main cuts consisted of working on the Exploration Upper Stage, which was necessary to switch to a second more powerful variant known as Block 1B.

Raises all sorts of questions … The lack of this higher stage means that NASA cannot co-manifest both an Orion manned spacecraft and elements of the Lunar Gateway on the same SLS rocket launch . This, in turn, means that elements of the Gateway could (and would like) to be launched on commercial rockets. If this budget survives Congress, it will raise serious questions about the future of the launch vehicle.

Meanwhile, Boeing continues with SLS tests . Boeing, the main contractor for the Space Launch System stage core, is proceeding with rocket component testing, reports NASASpaceFlight.com. A team is involved in handling test cases on the intertank test article in a large test facility at the Marshall Space Flight Center. Meanwhile, another is preparing a tank of liquid hydrogen for his test runs in another large (but open) place along the road.

Head down, helmets on … The work also continues as a political questions about the future vortex of the great rocket. Test articles are squeezed, stretched, bent and folded after several hours of freezing to simulate the forces and the environment that flight structures should see during launch and ascent into space. These tests will help to qualify the facilities for the first flight and validate the fidelity of computer models. (presented by Ken the Bin)

The starship approaches the initial tests . Last week the first Raptor engine was delivered to the SpaceX plant in Brownsville, Texas. And within two days of the arrival of a new transporter, Starhopper has been moved from the construction site to the test launch platform. SpaceX purchased or rented a quartet of crawlers (probably used) in order to transport Starship between the sites of construction, launch and landing of South Texas, reports by Teslarati.

Looking ahead, always .. It was interesting to see the Starhopper moving in South Texas even when SpaceX was finishing its first commercial crew demonstration mission. It is a sign that the company always seems to have its eyes on the future and the final prize for sending people to Mars. There is still a long way to go, of course, but we are looking forward to the Starorbper suborbital tests by the end of this year. (presented by Ken the Bin)

Next three launches

March 15 : Delta IV | Global WideCave SATCOM spacecraft | Cape Canaveral, Florida 22:56 UTC

March 16 : Electron | DARPA Mission R3D2 | Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand | 22:30 UTC

March 22 : Vega | Earth observation satellite PRISMA | Kourou, French Guiana | 01:50 UTC

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