Rocket Report: SpaceX fires up seven Raptors; SpinLaunch raises big funding round

Enlarge[1] / ArianeGroup seeks European funding to develop a reusable third stage for its launch vehicles.ArianeGroup

Welcome to Edition 5.11 of the Rocket Report! Apologies for the lack of a report last week, but I was on assignment[2] with the crew of the forthcoming Polaris Dawn mission. The upside is that this week's edition is extra-long--running to 2,500 words.

As always, we welcome reader submissions[3], and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Rocket Report: SpaceX fires up seven Raptors; SpinLaunch raises big funding round

SpinLaunch raises £71 million. The company developing a launch system that uses a centrifuge as a first stage announced this week that it has raised £71 million, Space News reports[4].

This brings the total funding secured by the company to £150 million, allowing it to develop a system that accelerates vehicles to hypersonic speeds. After the vehicles are, for lack of a better word, yeeted upward they use conventional rocket engines to reach space. SpinLaunch says this approach can enable a much higher flight rate than conventional rockets while also being more environmentally friendly.

Building a bigger centrifuge ... SpinLaunch built a smaller version of its centrifuge at Spaceport America in New Mexico, 33 meters in diameter, for suborbital tests. The company projects beginning orbital launches with a much larger accelerator, 100 meters across, as soon as 2026, and presumably the new funds will get it closer to that goal. I am interested to see if this approach works, as it is technically feasible.

However, the challenges ahead of the company are significant. (submitted by Ken the Bin) European launch CEO takes shots at startups. In an interview with L'Echo[5], CEO Andre-Hubert Roussel of Europe institutional launch developer Ariane Group took aim at the numerous launch startups around Europe, decrying the fact that these companies were pulling resources away from Ariane. Roussel appeared to target German microlauncher companies Rocket Factory Augsburg, Isar Aerospace, and HyImpulse in particular, although he did not name them directly, the Europe in Space newsletter reports[6].

Bringing nothing to the table? ... Roussel complained that these companies were duplicating what was already being done in launch and that in supporting these companies Europe was encouraging competition that brought "nothing" in terms of innovation to the table. Frankly, this is a really lousy attitude to have toward one's competition, and if I'm being honest it's hard not to root for the upstarts against the established industry.

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Some in Michigan worry spaceport talk is all hype.

After three years and £2.5 million in public dollars to study the creation of a spaceport in northern Michigan, some state officials are concerned about a lack of progress, Bridge Michigan reports[8]. The state is still awaiting a final report from the Michigan Launch Initiative, a part of the nonprofit Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers' Association, which was paid £2.5 million to study building launch sites. The concerns focus on project leader Gavin Brown, who said he secured the contract in 2019 after pitching it privately to former Gov.

Rick Snyder at the end of his administration. Announcement coming soon? ... State Sen.

Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) questioned whether Brown overpromised what he can deliver. "For me, the most important thing is for the people to get value for the investment," Irwin said. "He's now produced [work] that doesn't seem to be worth £2.5 million." Brown remains bullish, telling the publication that he'll prove critics wrong and hinting that a big announcement is coming soon. This echoes cautionary tales we heard in other states that were promised great riches from new spaceports. Skyrora to launch from Canada.

Scotland-based Skyrora announced this week[9] that it would launch its Skyrora XL rocket from a spaceport under development in Nova Scotia by Maritime Launch Services. The three-stage rocket is designed to loft a maximum of 350 kg into low Earth orbit, and Skyrora completed a successful second stage static hot fire test at Machrihanish Airbase in Scotland in August. A transatlantic partnership ...

As part of the agreement, Maritime Launch will purchase the vehicles and vehicle support staff from Skyrora for its satellite clients. Spaceport Nova Scotia will provide Skyrora a launch pad, ground and operations support, public safety services, regulatory approvals, and mission integration facilities and staff. Much work remains, but good luck to both. (submitted by JS)

PLD Space nears suborbital test. A Spanish company developing a small launch vehicle says it is ready to proceed with the launch of a suborbital mission after completing a static-fire test. PLD Space conducted a 122-second test of its Miura 1 rocket September 15 at a company facility in Teruel, Spain, Space News reports[10].

That firing, called the full mission test, came after two earlier static-fire tests lasting 5 and 20 seconds. The series of tests confirmed the vehicle is ready for an actual flight. A stepping stone to orbit ...

With the static-fire test campaign complete, PLD Space is ready to proceed with the first flight of the suborbital vehicle. That launch is scheduled for as soon as December from the El Arenosillo site in Southwestern Spain. "Our plan is to do two test flights," said Raul Verdu, chief operating officer. PLD Space has advertised the Miura 1 as a sounding rocket that can carry 100 kilograms to an altitude of 150 kilometers, generating up to four minutes of microgravity time.

Verdu said the primary purpose of Miura 1 is to demonstrate technology for its Miura 5 orbital launch vehicle under development. (submitted by Ken the Bin) Revisiting the 2014 crash of SpaceShipTwo. On Medium, an author who analyzes plane crashes recently called attention[11] to Virgin Galactic's fatal crash eight years ago. On October 31, 2014, an experimental space plane operating for Virgin Galactic abruptly disintegrated at an altitude of nearly 17 km during a test flight, scattering debris over a vast area of California's Mojave Desert.

Although one of the two test pilots was killed, the other remarkably survived, parachuting to safety against all odds. Falling short of the stars ... The destruction of the VSS Enterprise and the death of one of its pilots promised to be a major setback for the commercial space flight industry, which was then, as now, in its infancy.

I included this item in the Rocket Report not to call down scorn upon Virgin Galactic, but rather because it is an excellent analysis after the fact, complete with sobering photographs. It's a reminder of the challenges in this industry that we're all following with such avidity.

Rocket Report: SpaceX fires up seven Raptors; SpinLaunch raises big funding round

Ariane Group unveils reusable stage concept. At the International Astronautical Congress in Paris this week, ArianeGroup revealed a proposal[12] for a Smart Upper Stage for Innovative Exploration, or "Susie" vehicle. Susie is an entirely reusable rocket stage project that replaces the payload fairing and is capable of going into space and carrying out many different types of missions there--whether automated or crewed--and coming back to land on Earth.

A versatile vehicle ... According to ArianeGroup, Europe's state-funded developer of rockets, Susie would be able to fly both the new Ariane 64 rocket as well as a launcher of the following generation, paving the way for fully reusable launchers in the future. Missions made possible by Susie include towing, inspecting and upgrading satellites and other payloads, and supplying fuel, food, and equipment to space stations. It will also be able to carry out crew changeovers and facilitate human in-orbit activities.

There was no estimate of the costs, which likely would be in the billions of euros over many years if ArianeGroup won such a contract. The timing is perhaps not coincidental, with France saying it is willing to pay 25 percent[13] more for space activities. OneWeb nearing launch on Indian rocket.

OneWeb's latest batch of 36 broadband satellites has arrived in India ahead of plans to launch them next month on the country's largest rocket, Space News reports[14]. The British startup anticipates the commercial arm of Indian space agency ISRO will launch the satellites on a GSLV Mark 3 rocket in October. The mission would be the first dedicated commercial launch for ISRO's NewSpace India Limited using GSLV Mark 3. Pivoting away from Russia ... OneWeb has been unable to expand its constellation since sanctions on Russia forced Arianespace to suspend Soyuz launches in March.

Arianespace had deployed 428 of OneWeb's planned 648 satellites before hitting the brakes on their 19-launch contract. Arianespace had planned to carry out six more Soyuz missions to complete the constellation. OneWeb pivoted to India and SpaceX to launch the remaining satellites it needs to provide global services, which the operator said will take place across five missions before the end of spring 2023. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Rocket Lab will test engines at Stennis. Rocket Lab announced this week[15] that it would test its new Archimedes engine at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. This is the engine that will power the company's proposed Neutron vehicle, a medium-lift rocket with a reusable first stage and payload fairing. (The company provided more information about Neutron[16] during an Investor Day presentation on Wednesday).

The Archimedes Test Complex will include exclusive use and development of existing industrial NASA infrastructure and the center's A-3 Test Stand for 10 years, with an option to extend the lease for 10 more years. Modernizing in Mississippi ... "Creating a test complex from scratch to the scale and complexity needed to test and develop Archimedes would have had an inconceivably long lead time, so the fact that we've secured Stennis and can leverage its existing infrastructure and test stand puts us on the fast-track to Neutron's first launch," said Rocket Lab Founder and CEO Peter Beck. It's great to see companies like Rocket Lab, Relativity Space, and others utilize existing facilities at Stennis, which is finding new life as a commercial propulsion test bed. (submitted by EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin)

Rocket Report: SpaceX fires up seven Raptors; SpinLaunch raises big funding round

SpaceX completes seven-engine static fire test.

On Monday, SpaceX completed a static fire test of seven Raptor rocket engines on its Super Heavy booster, the largest number of these engines fired at a single time to date. NASASpaceflight.com has video of the test[17], which is rather dramatic. At full power, the Super Heavy booster will ignite 33 Raptor rocket engines, using their power to deliver the Starship upper stage into low Earth orbit. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Twitter that the static fire test was successful.

Boosters back and forth ... After the test, this rocket, Booster 7, was rolled back to the company's processing hangar in South Texas and re-placed on the test stand by Booster 8. This is all part of the company's testing plan ahead of an orbital launch attempt with Booster 7 (probably) in the coming months.

Following the test, Musk said[18] the launch could possibly come in October but that it was "highly likely" to occur in November. A launch any time before the end of 2022 would represent great progress by the company on the world's largest rocket. (submitted by Ken the Bin) Despite struggles, NASA says SLS tanking test a success.

The space agency said it completed all the objectives of a Space Launch System tanking test on Wednesday despite the reoccurrence of liquid hydrogen leaks, Space News reports[19]. The day-long test at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39B involved filling the SLS core stage and upper stage with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants, carrying out the "kickstart bleed" of liquid hydrogen into the core stage engines, and a "pre-press" test of the liquid hydrogen tank. A launch next week? ...

Early in the test, controllers reported a liquid hydrogen leak in the tail service mast umbilical, where liquid hydrogen is transferred from ground systems to the core stage, that exceeded limits and temporarily stopped loading. Another hydrogen leak took place during the pre-press test on a second, smaller liquid hydrogen line, with concentrations as high as 5 percent near the connection to the rocket. Engineers continued the test, and the leak diminished over time. NASA officials are now evaluating data from the test, and the potential for tropical weather, and will provide an update on the next launch attempt during a news conference Friday at 12:30 pm ET (16:30 UTC). (submitted by ElLPeaTea and Ken the Bin)

ULA still waiting for BE-4 rocket engines. Blue Origin shipped the first "flight" version of its BE-4 rocket engine to Texas for acceptance testing at the beginning of August. These tests, scheduled to take less than a month, marked the final step before Blue Origin delivered the much-anticipated rocket engines to its customer, United Launch Alliance. A second flight engine followed the first out of the factory in mid-August.

Theoretically, this kept United Launch Alliance on track to launch its new Vulcan rocket for the first time in 2022. Vulcan slips to at least 1Q of 2023 ... However, Ars reports[20], neither of these flight engines has yet been shipped from Texas to ULA's rocket factory in northern Alabama. In fact, the first flight engine had to be sent back to Blue Origin's production facilities in Kent, Washington, after a problem was found on the test stand.

As of this week, the second engine has yet to complete acceptance testing in Texas. Accordingly, ULA will now not receive its BE-4 flight engines before mid-October, at the earliest. Although the company says it continues to work toward a 2022 launch, that clearly will not happen.

China studying a response to Starship. An arm of China's state-owned space contractor is looking at developing a series of partially and fully reusable launch vehicles apparently in response to SpaceX's Starship, Space News reports[21]. A paper published in the journal Aerospace Technology outlines plans under consideration by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology for a number of launch vehicles with varying diameters and clusters of methalox engines. Scaling to larger rockets ...

A first generation of three launch vehicles with reusable first stages would have diameters of 3.35, 4.0, and 7.0 meters, powered by clusters of "Longyun" 70-ton-thrust engines. The 7.0-meter version is planned to be able to launch more than 20,000 kg to 700 km Sun-synchronous orbit. The paper states that the technologies needed for a first generation of reusable launch vehicles, including grid fins, navigation guidance and control, and reusable, restartable engines, has advanced to the point of being ready for flight demonstrations. (submitted by Ken the Bin) Final Delta IV set for launch from Vandenberg. A Delta IV Heavy rocket is set to blast off from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Space Force Base on Saturday, carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. The mission Saturday is codenamed NROL-91 and will mark the final Delta 4 launch from Vandenberg, Spaceflight Now reports[22].

Weather looks favorable for the launch window that opens at 5:53 pm ET (21:53 UTC). Only a handful remaining ... This will be the third-to-last flight overall for the Delta rocket family, which ULA is retiring in favor of the next-generation Vulcan rocket.

The Vulcan rocket will replace ULA's Atlas and Delta rocket fleets. The final Delta IV launches are scheduled for 2023 and 2024 from Cape Canaveral. Those missions will also haul top-secret spy satellites into orbit for the NRO.

Next three launches

Sept.

24: Delta IV Heavy | NROL-91 | Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif. | 21:53 UTC Sept.

24: Kuaizhou 1A | Unknown manifest | Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, China | 22:50 UTC Sept.

24: Falcon 9 | Starlink 4-35 | Cape Canaveral, Fla. | 23:32 UTC

Rocket Report: SpaceX fires up seven Raptors; SpinLaunch raises big funding round

References

  1. ^ Enlarge (cdn.arstechnica.net)
  2. ^ I was on assignment (twitter.com)
  3. ^ welcome reader submissions (arstechnica.wufoo.com)
  4. ^ Space News reports (spacenews.com)
  5. ^ an interview with L'Echo (www.lecho.be)
  6. ^ Europe in Space newsletter reports (www.lecho.be)
  7. ^ Sign Me Up! (arstechnica.com)
  8. ^ Bridge Michigan reports (www.bridgemi.com)
  9. ^ announced this week (www.businesswire.com)
  10. ^ Space News reports (spacenews.com)
  11. ^ recently called attention (admiralcloudberg.medium.com)
  12. ^ ArianeGroup revealed a proposal (press.ariane.group)
  13. ^ saying it is willing to pay 25 percent (spacenews.com)
  14. ^ Space News reports (spacenews.com)
  15. ^ announced this week (www.businesswire.com)
  16. ^ more information about Neutron (www.rocketlabusa.com)
  17. ^ NASASpaceflight.com has video of the test (www.youtube.com)
  18. ^ Musk said (twitter.com)
  19. ^ Space News reports (spacenews.com)
  20. ^ Ars reports (arstechnica.com)
  21. ^ Space News reports (spacenews.com)
  22. ^ Spaceflight Now reports (spaceflightnow.com)