Link here. This excellent article is focused on whether these three new rockets, none of which has yet completed its first test flight, will be able to meet their launch contract obligations with Amazon, which needs to launch at least 1,600 satellites of its Kuiper broadband constellation by July 2026 to meet its FCC license requirements. Those requirements also obligate Amazon to have the full constellation of about 3,200 satellites in orbit by July 2029.
The launch contracts to these three untried rockets was the largest such contract ever issued, involving 83 launches and billions of dollars.
To sum up where things stand in terms of the first test launch of each rocket:
- ULA is still targeting December for the first Vulcan rocket launch.
- Blue Origin says it will begin launches of New Glenn in 2024, but remains very vague about a precise schedule.
- Arianespace plans to set the date of the first launch of Ariane-6 in October, pending completion of a final long-duration engine test. It expects however that the first flight will be in 2024.
At this stage of development, with both ULA and Arianespace doing actual engine and launchpad tests, we should consider their schedule to be reasonable firm. Both should begin flights next year. Whether both can ramp up production to complete the many launches Amazon requires in such a short time remains unknown.
Though Blue Origin says it will begin launches next year, don’t bet on it. The company will not only need to do that first launch, it will need to do a great deal launchpad and fueling tests and rehearsals, as well as the engine tests that both ULA and Arianespace are now completing, before an orbital test launch can occur. The company has done none of this as yet. It also continues to operate very slowly for a profit-oriented company.
In addition, Blue Origin will also need to ramp up production of its BE-4 engines in order to serve both ULA’s Vulcan rocket and New Glenn. At the moment it appears its production line is barely able to produce enough engines to meet Vulcan’s requirements, with few engines left over for New Glenn.
The article at the link also gives an update on the status of three other new rockets:
- Mitsubishi is now hoping to launch its H3 rocket by the end of this year.
- Relativity remains confident its Terran-R is on schedule for a 2026 launch date
- SpaceX continues to negotiate with the FAA for a launch licence to fly a second orbital test launch of Starship/Superheavy, though the best a company official would say about when that would be issues was “real soon” and “we’re almost there.”
On the last item, though it seems the FAA should be able now to quickly issue that launch licence, it hasn’t happened, and — as I have predicted since April, we should not be surprised if many weeks or even months pass before it is.
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