Welcome to the first edition of the Rocket Report! This collaborative effort with readers of Ars Technica seeks to diversify our coverage of the blossoming launch industry. It publishes as a newsletter on Thursday and on this website every Friday morning.
We welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe in the box below. 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.
Another small booster company tests its engine. In a key step toward developing its Intrepid booster, Rocket Crafters has test fired a small-scale engine for 10 seconds. Florida Today reports the company's engine runs on a plastic-based hybrid fuel and that the Intrepid rocket could begin launching as soon as 2020. Under present designs, the Intrepid will carry up to half a ton into low Earth orbit. Rocket Crafters has already won a $650,000 contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to help develop a larger 5,000-pound thrust engine.
Speed matters … There are plenty of companies seeking to provide this kind of service for small satellites, so the sooner a company can get to market, the better. (submitted by: Kineo)
A new sea-based launch system is under development. A Norwegian company called Ripple Aerospace is seeking to develop a reusable rocket called Sea Serpent One. The rocket will have a capacity of 2.6 tons to LEO and launch from an ocean-based platform. The company is certainly thinking BIG. The planned Sea Serpent Three would be capable of lifting 140 tons. Ripple Aerospace was founded in 2016 out of a Facebook group.
Reality check … The company's website has no word on funding or an initial launch date, so we're taking it with a grain of sea salt. But the whole point of this newsletter is to learn something new about the launch industry. Job done. (submitted by: larsivi)
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A commercial Chinese startup? Chinese company OneSpace has successfully launched its first single-stage OS-X solid rocket to an altitude of around 40 km, marking a significant moment for the nascent commercial launch sector in China. gb Times says the OS-X has a mass of 7,200 kg and uses a solid engine with a thrust of 350 kilonewtons (kN). The company hopes to test launch an orbital rocket, the OS-M1, by the end of 2018. It will be able lift a few hundred kilograms to low Earth orbit. Inspired by SpaceX, China Daily reports that at least four private Chinese companies—OneSpace, Land-Space, LinkSpace and i-Space—have announced plans to develop, make, and launch carrier rockets.
Intriguing challenge … Arguably, the greatest advantage the United States has over other countries in space is a vibrant commercial sector. (submitted by: Piteo)
Orbital ATK's Antares 230 rocket flies for the third time. The booster successfully launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station on May 21 from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia. Space News says the launch could be the last for Orbital ATK as an independent company, because Northrop Grumman announced a deal last September to acquire Orbital ATK for $9.2 billion.
Redundancy matters … Antares isn't a flashy or particularly innovative rocket, but if it can provide a reliable service, it's worth a lot to NASA.
Europe grapples with SpaceX steamroller. In an interview, Alain Charmeau of the Ariane Group claimed that SpaceX receives unfair subsidies from the US government as a means toward putting the European rocket industry out of business. As the chief executive of the company which manages the Ariane 5 and is developing the Ariane 6 rocket, Charmeau's opinion carries some weight. Ars Technica has more.
Zut alors! … A few minutes later, Charmeau said the Ariane 6 rocket would not succeed without guaranteed government launches.
China takes a step toward the far side of the Moon. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation's Long March 4C flew from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Monday, May 21, and sent the Queqiao spacecraft toward a halo orbit of the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point L2. Ars Technica reports that this communications relay spacecraft paves the way for China to launch the Chang'e 4 spacecraft late this year, which will try to make an unprecedented soft landing on the far side of the Moon.
Context … This is a nice achievement, but the big test will come in December, with the launch and landing of the rover.
China also eyeing reusability. Popular Mechanics has some background on China's development of the Long March 8 rocket, which, like the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, will have a reusable first stage and use leftover fuel to land vertically. China has previously promised to make all its rockets reusable by 2035. The LM-8 is a medium-sized space launch vehicle, capable of carrying 7.7 tons to low Earth orbit, and it could launch as soon as 2020.
Standing out … China's space program seems to be taking reusability seriously, whereas NASA, ESA, and Roscosmos seem less interested. (submitted by: Tim Stovie)
A skeptical safety panel seems OK with load-and-go: According to Space News, members of a NASA safety panel said May 17 they believed that a SpaceX approach for fueling its Falcon 9 rockets known as "load-and-go" could be used for future commercial crew missions.
This matters … The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel has previously been skeptical of this idea, and these public comments suggest NASA may OK the procedure for crew flights in the (hopefully not to distant) future.
SLS may slip more. NASASpaceFlight.com reported on schedules relating to the development of the SLS rocket's core stage and found that, for some areas, little to no margin remains. The story raises questions about the viability of a June, 2020 launch date, but it does not include a response from NASA about the schedules reported upon.
Also, the core stage had some contamination problems. Space News had details from a recent Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel meeting that discussed an issue with tubing in part of the SLS rocket's core stage. NASA said this isn't a problem that will cause any delays.
Let's get real … The maiden launch of the SLS rocket has slipped from 2017, to 2018, and officially is about to slip from 2019 into mid-2020. Further delays seem inevitable, if unfortunate. We can start to have confidence in a launch date after the rocket undergoes a full-scale test firing of its core stage, which may occur next year.
Blue Origin may make a Moon announcement this year. According to Innovation.Aus, Blue Origin commercial director Ted McFarland made comments at a meeting in Australia about upcoming announcement by Jeff Bezos. At the International Astronautical Conference in September, the Blue Origin founder will make an announcement about returning to the Moon—and staying.
Blue Moon … It's not just a beer anymore. Bezos has been working to solidify government support for a commercial and public return to the Moon, which presumably would involve the company's heavy-lift New Glenn rocket. Announcing Moon plans at IAC would also offer an interesting counterpoint to Elon Musk's use of that venue in 2016 and 2017 to discuss his Mars plans.
Next three launches
May 31: Falcon 9 FT| SES-12 satellite | Space Launch Complex-40, Cape Canaveral | 04:29 UTC
June 1: China Long March 2C | Pakistan sensing satellite | Xichang Satellite Launch Center | 00:00 UTC
June 6: Soyuz FG | ISS crew launch | Baikonur Cosmodrome | 11:11 UTC