Rocket Report: Neutron may land in Virginia; it’s to be Starship for Starlink

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Trevor Mahleman / Ars Technica

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Welcome to version 4.28 of Rocket Report! As I write this intro, I’m watching Virgin Orbit’s livestream for its “Above the Clouds” mission, and the company’s LauncherOne vehicle has successfully reached orbit. All systems appeared nominally through the stage separation, with spectacular views from the rocket as the payload fairing ruptured. This makes three consecutive successful missions for the company after an initial failure in May 2020—quite impressive.

as always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to leave a problem, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on the small, medium and heavy-lift rockets, as well as a quick look at the next three launches on the calendar.


A Small Take on Astra Is Brutal, When space companies go public, they can often raise a lot of capital. But going the route of a special purpose acquisition company leaves the company’s records and financials open to a lot of scrutiny. Part of the process allows traders to “short” a stock by betting that its value will fall. As for Astra Space, one of the financial firms shorting the stock is Kerrisdale Capital, which published its rationale for doing so in a recent report. headed for dis-astra,

Other than Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play? Kerrisdale summarized their report as, “We are small stock of Astra Space, a $2.0bn space launch company formed at the peak of the 2021 SPAC bubble – with no revenue, no track record of reliability, And there’s no established market for its undersized vehicle. A story stock that’s yet another example of questionable businesses going public through SPAC, Astra faces huge hurdles in its quest to develop a viable business model Does matter.” Clearly the report is tilted against Astra, but it makes for worthwhile reading to better understand the economics of smaller launches.

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Gilmour moves forward with engine testing, australian launch company Gilmour Space Technologies said It has successfully heated a hybrid rocket engine with 25,000 pounds of thrust. The company said it is the most powerful rocket engine ever developed in Australia. The test lasted 75 seconds, and the following month Gilmour planned to move to a qualifying engine for flight. Gilmour is developing a rocket named Eris to deliver 305 kg to low-Earth orbit.

So you’re telling me there’s a chance … As it tackles technical challenges, Gilmour is working with state and federal officials in Australia to greenlight a small spaceport in the Abbot Point State Development Area in Bowen, North Queensland. “We expect to be able to launch Australia’s first sovereign-built rocket from Queensland sometime in late 2022,” said company CEO Adam Gilmour. (Submitted by Gibson and Ken the Bin)

Ariane 5’s performance is a boon for the web, Last weekend, Mike Menzel, NASA’s mission systems engineer for the James Webb Space Telescope, said the agency had completed its analysis of how much “extra” fuel is left in the telescope. Roughly speaking, Webb has enough propellant for a life of 20 years. That’s more than twice the conservative prelaunch estimate for Webb’s one-decade lifetime, and it largely comes down to the performance of the European Ariane 5 rocket that launched Webb on a precise trajectory on Christmas Day, Ars reports.

Ariane Fine, like Emirates? Prior to launch, the telescope was fueled with 240 liters of hydrazine fuel and dinitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. Some of this fuel was needed for course adjustments during its journey to the point in space, about 1.5 million km from Earth, where Webb would make science observations. The remainder will be used for station-keeping and maintaining its orbit around the L2 Lagrange point in Webb’s final orbit. So every kilogram of fuel saved in Webb’s journey to the Lagrange point can be used to extend its life there.

Falcon 9 rocket launches its 550th satellite, With clear skies and moderate winds, SpaceX’s Transporter-3 rideshare mission launched safely into space on Thursday. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket sent a payload with its upper stage and 105 smaller satellites into low Earth orbit. Then, the Falcon 9’s first stage made a smooth landing near its launch site, Ars reports.

a well-travelled rocket … the first stage was making its 10th flight. Remarkably, this single Falcon 9 rocket first stage has now launched 550 satellites into orbit, as well as a Cargo Dragon and a Crew Dragon. It has been flying an average of every two months since its first launch. Reusing rockets appears to be more of a fad.

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Neutron production facility likely to be established in Virginia, This week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, announced that the state is a finalist for a new facility to support partial production, assembly, integration and test operations for Rocket Lab’s Neutron Vehicle. That’s not a huge surprise, as the Neutron is expected to launch from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s east coast, and Rocket Lab wants to build the booster closer to the launch site for logistics purposes.

Positive cash flow for Neutron Rocket … A medium-lift vehicle with a fully reusable first stage, the Neutron is expected to launch for the first time during the mid-2020s, depending on how it develops. Virginia has offered to support the project through a one-time $30 million appropriation to Virginia Space to pay for improvements to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Additionally, the state approved an investment of up to $15 million for site improvements and construction of a building on 28 acres to lease to Rocket Lab as part of the proposal.

Russia wants to launch 30 rockets in 2022, on Thursday, Roscosmos released Looking forward to the comments of its Director General, Dmitry Rogozin, about space activities in 2021 and 2022. Counting a European version of the Soyuz rocket, Roscosmos completed 25 orbital launches in 2021. Of these, 14 took place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, five from Vostochny, five from Plesetsk, and one from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

Taking “Great Risks” … For this year, Rogozin said, “we are planning about 30 launches of space rockets, of which more than 10 are commercial rockets.” Rogozin also commented on last year’s launch and deployment of the ferry module to the International Space Station with this cryptic comment: “This is a very important achievement, we did something we hadn’t been able to do for many years, we decided Taken, understanding that there will be big risks.” We will leave it to our readers to read these special tea leaves.

India begins qualification testing of upper-stage engine, Indian space agency ISRO, said this week that it had successfully conducted a 720-second qualification test of the CE-20 rocket engine. This liquid-fuel engine powers the upper stage of the powerful GSLV Mk III rocket, which will be used as part of the country’s Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission.

Manned flights within a few years … This test, the agency said, “ensures the reliability and robustness of the cryogenic engine for incorporation into the manned-rated launch vehicle for Gaganyaan.” Currently, India is planning two orbital test flights of a manned spacecraft later this year and one in 2023, with a crewed flight in late 2023. It is not clear whether the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to a further drop in these dates. (Submitted by Ken the Bin and ElPeaTea)

ULA working towards first launch by 2022, United Launch Alliance will begin its campaign for the new year with the launch of the USSF-8 mission for the US Space Force. the company said, Two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program spacecraft were hoisted on the Atlas V on Monday. The rocket launch is scheduled for January 21. This will be the 75th Atlas V launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Is this year gaining momentum? … ULA launched five rockets in 2021, including four Atlas V missions and a Delta IV Heavy. The company should have at least seven to 10 launches this year, depending on its customer readiness, and its new Vulcan rocket could potentially launch. (Submitted by Ken the Bin)

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