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Welcome to Edition 2.04 of the Rocket Report! We've got some up-to-the-minute news this week, with updated launch dates for NASA's commercial crew missions, BE-7 rocket engine tests, and a Falcon Heavy flight early next week. Thanks to everyone for their great contributions—nearly all of this week's content came from your tips.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, 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.

"Brutal consolidation" coming for small launch. In an interview with MIT Technology Review, Rocket Lab's Peter Beck talks about how his company does (and does not) use 3D printing technology for its rockets and engines. Beck also discusses a consistent theme of this newsletter, namely that despite all of the activity in launch vehicle development, a significant winnowing is coming in terms of providers.

Definitely a bubble … "There's a huge number of small launch vehicles in development," Beck said. "And it's funny, because everybody's quoting the same customers. So we're predicting a really brutal consolidation of the small-launch-vehicle market. Right now it's definitely in a bubble. I think small launch is in for a really brutal time in the next 12 to 18 months." Hard to disagree with that sentiment, although depending on the extent of US Department of Defense support, we can see at least two or three US smallsat launch companies making, as well as a like number in China.

Stratolaunch for sale. Holding company Vulcan is seeking to sell Stratolaunch for $400 million, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Vulcan is the investment conglomerate of late billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Allen died last October following complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The price includes ownership of the airplane as well as the intellectual property and facilities.

Who will buy? … It is not clear who might emerge as a buyer, although the report suggests that Virgin's Richard Branson has offered $1 for the airplane. This is an unfortunate, but probably predictable development for a company that never seemed to make that much sense from a business standpoint: using a very large airplane to launch relatively small rockets. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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Firefly offers free rides on its first launch. On Monday, Texas-based Firefly announced that it will accept some academic and educational payloads free of charge on the first flight of its Alpha rocket. "We've wanted to do something like this on our first flight from the beginning," CEO Tom Markusic said. The payloads will fly to a 300km circular orbit, with a 97-degree inclination. The company also has an (undisclosed) customer for the flight, Ars Technica reports.

So when is the launch? … Markusic admitted that pushing toward a December launch from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base is aggressive and that, to make it, the company must meet a tight schedule of milestones. Objectively, a December launch is doable. Historically, however, Markusic said he realizes that problems often occur during stage testing and other activities that have the potential to delay launch dates. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

NASA developing a new launchpad for smallsat rockets. Set for completion by the end of this year, NASA is developing Launch Complex 48 between Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 41 to the south. The space agency intends to use the facility for commercial companies wanting a pad from which to launch their small rockets, Florida Today reports.

Small rockets only … "This is a NASA capability that is being made available to whatever small launcher company wants to come in here and do small-vehicle launches," Tom Engler, Kennedy Space Center's director of planning and development, told the publication. Maximum liftoff weight for small rockets would be 300,000 pounds, and no landings would be allowed. This represents a fairly large change in thinking by NASA from a decade or two ago, and a welcome one. (submitted by trimeta)

Does Rocket Lab have to disclose its payloads? The company has not disclosed one of the seven payloads launcRead More – Source

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Ars Technica

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