Welcome to Edition 3.01 of the Rocket Report! Yes, we are entering our third year of producing this weekly report, and we hope to celebrate this weekend with a Crew Dragon launch. Until then, there is plenty of other news to cover.
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.
Virgin Orbit's first launch attempt ends quickly. After more than seven years of development, testing, and preparation, Virgin Orbit reached an important moment on Monday—dropping and igniting its LauncherOne rocket over the Pacific Ocean. After ignition, the engine burned for "a couple" of seconds before something happened with the booster and it exploded.
A hardware-rich firm … The company's vice president of special projects, Will Pomerantz, told Ars the rocket dropped from the plane as intended and in a controlled manner. The engine also ignited when and how the company expected—a real challenge for a mid-air, liquid-fueled rocket. "That is the biggest single technical risk of the program retired," Pomerantz said. Now they'll review the data and seek to fly again as soon as possible. Several follow-up rockets are in various states of production.
Rocket Lab celebrated third year of success. May 25 marked the third anniversary of the company's first launch attempt, when its Electron rocket made it to space but not all the way to orbit due to a software error. Since then, the company has flown a total of 11 missions. It also has two operational spaceports with a third on the way, the company's CEO Peter Beck wrote in an update.
A long and bumpy road … Three years after its success, Rocket Lab remains the only company in the new generation of smallsat launchers to successfully reach orbit. Its growing pains are notable, too. For all of its aspirations for rapid launch, its cadence is now up to about six launches a year. That's respectable, and the company is poised for growth, but it underscores the myriad difficulties with developing a rocket and manufacturing it at scale. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
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Picking China's top 30 space companies. We often talk about various milestones in the Chinese commercial space industry. Recently, China NewSpace translated a list of the "top 30" space companies in China. Of the top 30 firms, 11 are involved in launch or rocket manufacturing. Overall, more than 100 companies were considered for inclusion.
Rankings are subjective … Many of these companies are backed by state money or began with a technology transfer. "Most of these metrics are quite vague, and unfortunately the compilers did not include any of the data they used. Still, even if they are subjective, these rankings are a useful starting point to get your mind around the state of a rapidly growing industry," the website said. Indeed.
Norway to upgrade Andøya spaceport. The facility, located on an island above the Arctic Circle, has been launching suborbital sounding rockets since the 1960s. Now, reports NRK, the national broadcasting organization, the Norwegian government is poised to appropriate the necessary funds to expand the facility to handle small orbital rockets.
Private funds needed, too … The facility is suited for polar or high-inclination orbits due to its location. The government has committed about $36.5 million of the $130 million needed to upgrade the spaceport. The remainder is due to come from commercial sources, and the government funds will only be paid if private money is secured first. (submitted and translated by Polykin)
Historic Crew Dragon launch scrubs due to weather. SpaceX scrubbed the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft Wednesday a little less than 17 minutes before liftoff, Ars reports. Although weather conditions were improving at the launch site—thunderstorms rolled through earlier in the day, and a tornado warning was issued for Kennedy Space Center—they did not improve fast enough.
Part of the deal … Informed of the scrub, Dragon's commander, Doug Hurley, said from inside the spacecraft, "It was a good effort by the teams, and we understand. Everybody's probably a little bit bummed out. It's just part of the deal." There were no technical issues with Dragon or the rocket. Now SpaceX will work to recycle the systems for another launch attempt on Saturday at 3:22pm ET (19:22 UTC). A backup opportunity is available Sunday, but weather both days does not look great.
Russia wishes NASA success on Crew Dragon. In an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda radio station on Monday, Roscosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin acknowledged that the Russian space corporation would lose money when NASA stops buying Soyuz crew seats. However, he said via TASS, "We will be very glad, if the Americans have an alternative system for delivering crews to space station."
A matter of honor … Rogozin said Russia has felt pressure as the sole lifeline to the station. "No money can measure the emotional strain of the people responsible for crewed space missions," he said. Rogozin said he also understood America's pride at this achievement: "I can imagine what kind of feeling they had all these nine years, having no opportunity to deliver their astronauts to the ISS. It is a matter of honor and national pride. Let us wish them professional success." (submitted by dramamoose)
NASA's virtual invitation doesn't stop crowds. Before the launch of Crew Dragon, NASA invited people to attend the launch "virtually" with a number of online activities. And to be honest, the 4.5-hour countdown show airing on NASA TV that included NASA, SpaceX, and other hosts was excellent. NASA sought to minimize crowds and promote social distancing during the pandemic.
They came anyway … As Florida Today reported, thousands came all the same. Crowds, along with heavy rain, poured into coveted viewing spots across Brevard County before the eventual scrub of the mission scant minutes before the scheduled launch. And even after word dropped that the launch was a no-go, many made plans to return for the next attempt, set for Saturday. (submitted by Ken the Bin and JohnCarter17)
Mars rocket arrives at the Cape by aircraft. Two key pieces of hardware needed for NASA's next Mars rover—an Atlas rocket booster and sterile components of the rover's sample collection system—arrived at Cape Canaveral ahead of the mission's scheduled launch July 17. After unloading the booster from the cargo jet, ULA moved the rocket into the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center for post-shipment checks, Spaceflight Now reports.
A special delivery … The first stage of United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Skid Strip runway May 18 aboard a Ukrainian-built Antonov An-124 transport plane. ULA typically delivers rocket hardware launch sites using the company's oceangoing vessel named "RocketSRead More – Source