Spain’s government officially establishes a Spanish space agency

Spain’s Council of Ministers has voted to officially established a Spanish space agency, with operations beginning on March 7, 2023 with an initial budget of $753 million.

This announcement comes only a month before the private Spanish company, PLD, attempts its first suborbital launch from a Spanish spaceport of its Miura-1 rocket, its first stage designed to come back to Earth by parachute, recovered, and then reused. If successful the company hopes to then develop an orbital version.

The news from Europe increasing suggests that the members of the European Space Agency (ESA) are beginning to go their own way, relying less upon it. In addition to these developments in Spain, Germany now has three private companies developing rockets while Italy’s government has provided $308 million to its own Italian rocket company Avio. The United Kingdom meanwhile has had its own space agency for several years, is building several spaceports, and has been trying to develop its own space industry, with very mixed results. In addition, both Norway and Sweden are building spaceports for commercial operations.

ESA, while mouthing support for commercial space, has so far not done well in the past decade in transitioning from a government run, built, and owned operation to one owned by commercial companies. Its new Ariane-6 rocket, built and controlled by ArianeGroup but heavily managed by ESA, is still too expensive to compete with the new commercial rockets from the U.S. Nor does it appear ESA is moving very fast to fix this situation. It appears many people in Europe have recognized this state of affairs, and are looking for alternatives.

Virgin Orbit shuts down

Unable to secure new funding, the managers of Virgin Orbit have shuttered the company, possibly forever.

Virgin Orbit is ceasing operations “for the foreseeable future” after failing to secure a funding lifeline, CEO Dan Hart told employees during an all-hands meeting Thursday afternoon. The company will lay off nearly all of its workforce. “Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to secure the funding to provide a clear path for this company,” Hart said, according to audio of the 5 p.m. ET meeting obtained by CNBC.

The layoffs include all but 100 positions, about 85% of its workforce.

The company was killed because the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) took an extra six months approving a launch license, during which the company could launch nothing and thus make no money. Lacking revenue, it ran out of cash. If the company goes into bankruptcy, this detail is most intriguing:

Branson has first priority over Virgin Orbit’s assets, as the company raised $60 million in debt from the investment arm of Virgin Group.

In other words, Branson will be able to walk off with everything, and even resurrect the company as his own, for pennies on the dollar. If he does, I guarantee our bankrupt mainstream press will shower him with praise, calling him a hero.

New startup unveils 3D printer for making rocket tanks and fairings

Rosotics, a new startup focusing on providing manufacturing components for rocket companies, has now unveiled a prototype of its proposed 3D printer, dubbed Mantis, for making rocket tanks and fairings.

Mesa, Arizona-based Rosotics plans to begin delivering the Mantis in the third quarter of 2023 to customers who place $95,000 deposits and sign hardware-as-a-service contracts. After delivery, Rosotics “will install, maintain and upgrade your hardware over time without any cost to you,” LaRosa said.

While the Mantis can be configured for various tasks, the starting point is a one printhead to additively manufacture aluminum or steel structures ranging in size from 1.5 to 8 meters in diameter.

The idea is sell this manufacturing capability to rocket companies as well as other manufacturers who need large structures built. Rather than machining these large structures themselves, or have outside machining companies do it for them, the companies would buy Mantis to do it in-house instead.

Whether this model will work depends on price and operations. Is it cheaper and quicker to use this 3D printer to make large rocket parts, or traditional methods? Obviously, Rosotics thinks it is. We will find out if others think so if Rosotics survives.

H3 failure delays Japan’s entire space program

According to one official of Japan’s space agency JAXA, the failure of the first launch of its new H3 rocket in early March now threatens the schedule of much of Japan’s entire space program, even those missions being launched on the older H2A rocket.

The investigation into the launch failure, when the upper stage of the H3 rocket failed to ignite, remains unfinished with no word when it will be completed.

The H3 upper stage uses an engine designated LE-5B-3 developed by MHI [Mitsubishi Heavy Industries] and similar to the LE-5B engine used on the existing H-2A rocket. That is putting launches of the H-2A on hold while the investigation continues.

That may delay the upcoming launch of two science missions sharing an H-2A. The X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), an X-ray astronomy spacecraft, and the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), a lunar lander, were scheduled to launch together as soon as May on an H-2A.

The article notes that XRISM replaces a 2016 Japanese X-ray telescope that failed immediately after launch. That failure then was bad, but just as bad is the seven years it has taken JAXA to have a replacement ready.

The H3 failure also threatens a JAXA Mars mission scheduled for launch in 2024, during the next launch window to Mars.

Japan’s space program more and more resembles Russia’s. It is controlled entirely by the government, which it appears does not allow competition within Japan, as all major rocket work is apparently confined to Mitsubishi. There have been unending quality control problems, within many probes as well as in the development of both the H3 and the Epsilon rockets. And the pace of operations is slow, much slower than other nations or companies.

It seems a major reform is needed, and it should start with Japanese government officials reading Capitalism in Space. They need to open up competition and release their space program from the control of JAXA, especially because JAXA is not doing a very good job. Like NASA, it would be better if JAXA stopped being a designer and builder, and become merely a customer obtaining products from many different competing private companies.

In U.S. sales of dumb phones are up

It appears that American users of mobile phones are shifting every so slightly away from smart phones, with sales of simple flip-phones lacking a screen rising in the past year.

In the U.S., feature flip phone sales were up in 2022 for HMD Global, with tens of thousands sold each month. At the same time, HMD’s global feature phone sales were down, according to the company.

In 2022, almost 80% of feature phone sales in 2022 came from the Middle East, Africa and India, according to Counterpoint Research. But some see that number shifting, as a contingency of young people in the U.S. revert back to dumb or minimalist phones. “In North America, the market for dumb phones is pretty much flatlined,” said Moorhead. “But I could see it getting up to 5% increase in the next five years if nothing else, based on the public health concerns that are out there.”

Companies like Punkt and Light are catering to the trend, selling devices geared toward those with a desire to spend less time on their phones and social media. On YouTube, you will find a slew of influencers touting these phones.

It is not clear if this is a real trend, or merely a bit of press release salesmanship by HMD and others. If it is however I think it is a good trend. Smart phones do very little to make people smarter. Instead, they foster a shallow thinking process focused on emotion. The more people who get away from them the better.

Boeing & NASA; 1st Starliner manned mission to now launch on July 21

In a update posted by NASA today, agency and Boeing officials announced that they are now aiming to launch Boeing’s Starliner capsule on July 21, 2023 on its first manned mission to ISS.

The new target date provides NASA and Boeing the necessary time to complete subsystem verification testing and close out test flight certification products and aligns with the space station manifest and range launch opportunities.

The specifics behind this somewhat meaningless press release jargon can be found at this twitter thread. Apparently Boeing & NASA want to do more ground tests of the capsule’s parachute system as well as its flight software. There also appears to be some issue relating to the capsule’s batteries.

Boeing is also mulling a redesign of Starliner’s batteries for after this delayed crewed flight test. It also expects to redesign Starliner’s smart initiator system, which separates the crew from service module. NASA’s paying $24 million for that redesign amid added requirements

Though Boeing has a fixed price contract with NASA, if NASA demands redesigns or changes it has to pay for them. That Boeing and NASA are finding these issues at this late date, four years after Starliner was first supposed to launch, does not speak well of Boeing’s workmanship and quality control systems.

SpaceX launches another 56 Starlink satellites

SpaceX today successfully launched another 56 Starlink satellites, using its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The first stage successfully completed its fourth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

Russia was also launching at almost the exact same time a classified military satellite, using its Soyuz-2 rocket lifting off from Plesetsk spaceport in northern Russia, but at the moment there is no word on whether that launch was a success.

For the moment then the leaders in the 2023 launch race are as follows:

21 SpaceX
11 China
5 Russia (with a planned launch today)
3 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 24 to 11 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 24 to 20. SpaceX now trails the rest of the world, including other American companies, 21 to 23.

Hakuto-R1 snaps first picture of Moon from lunar orbit

Hakuto-R1's first released image from lunar orbit
Click for original image.

The science team for Ispace’s Hakuto-R1 privately-built lunar orbiter/lander earlier this week released the spacecraft’s first picture of the Moon since entering lunar orbit on March 20, 2023.

That image is to the right, cropped and reduced to post here. The photo resolution is quite good. It also demonstrates that the spacecraft’s attitude control systems for pointing the camera are working correctly.

Launched on December 11, 2022 by a Falcon 9 rocket, Hakuto-R1 will land in Atlas Crater on the northeast quadrant of the Moon’s visible hemisphere sometime in April, making it the first successful private commercial planetary lander to reach another world. If successful, it will then release the United Arab Emirates Rashid rover, that nation’s first planetary lander but its second planetary mission, following the Mars orbiter, Al-Amal, now circling Mars.

Virgin Orbit extends pause in operations, having failed to get new financing

Virgin Orbit has extended its worker furlough and pause in operations now that a $200 million deal with a Texas investor has fallen through.

Reuters reported last week that Texas-based Matthew Brown had been in talks to invest $200 million in the company. Those talks have collapsed, said two people familiar with the discussions who asked not to be identified. Brown declined to comment on Monday.

Virgin Orbit, teetering on bankruptcy after a January rocket failure and struggles to raise funds, furloughed nearly all its 750 employees on March 15 while it sought a financial lifeline that would allow it to focus on upgrading its launch business.

This is very bad news for the company, because it indicates that there might not be a financial savior for it.

German rocket startup raises $168 million in private investment capital

The German rocket startup Isar Aerospace has raised $168 million in new private investment capital, bringing the total it has raised to $310 million.

At present the company is targeting the second half of this year for the first launch of its Spectrum rocket, lifting off from a new spaceport in Norway.

Isar is one of three German rocket startups, with the other two Rocket Factory Augsburg and HyImpulse Technologies. Both Isar and Rocket Factory are getting close to launch.

Are launch prices up, or is the demand continuing to be high?

According to a Space News yesterday, high demand and inflation have resulted in an overall increase in launch prices in recent months.

At the recent Satellite 2023 conference, industry officials said they saw evidence of growing prices in the last year. Growing demand along with a constrained near-term supply that some have dubbed a “global shortage” is a factor, they say, along with inflation that has remained historically high for more than a year.

The only evidence of this increase that the article presents however is a 10% increase in SpaceX’s launch price, which the company claims is almost entirely due to inflation, not demand. Furthermore, this increase still leaves SpaceX’s launch prices well below the lowest prices that other launch companies can yet offer, which means the competition can’t really raise its prices significantly.

The important take-away from the article is not that the cost of rockets has gone up, but that the demand remains very high, which bodes well for the new startups trying to enter the market. For example, the article notes that the next SpaceX smallsat launch opportunity is 2025. There thus remains plenty of business for the many new rocket companies trying to enter the market in the next two years.

Momentus reports successful use of its new water-based thrusters on its orbiting Vigoride-5 tug

The orbital tug startup Momentus on March 23, 2023 reported the successful use of its new water-based thrusters on its orbiting Vigoride-5 prototype tug, proving the design works.

The Reaction Control System operates using the same propellant and tank with water as the Vigoride spacecraft’s primary MET propulsion system. The MET is designed to use water as a propellant and produce thrust by expelling extremely hot gases through a rocket nozzle. Unlike a conventional chemical rocket engine, which creates thrust through a chemical reaction, the MET is designed to create a plasma and thrust using microwave energy. When operational, the MET will be used to raise the orbital altitude and inclination of Vigoride-5.

Essentially this is a variation of an ion engine. The thrust will be low, but very efficient. The thrusters can therefore fire for a very long time, building up accelerations infeasible for chemical engines, and thus allowing the tug to significantly change the orbits of satellites in ways that was previously impossible.

This release came out the day before NASDAQ announced that Momentus has six months to raise the price of its stock above one dollar or be delisted from the stock exchange. Since its release, the stock price rose from $0.54 to $0.63, still below a dollar but going in the right direction, despite the NASDAQ announcement.

NASDAQ gives two more space companies delisting warning

NASDAQ yesterday told the space companies Momentus and Spire they have six months to get their stock price over $1 or the stock exchange will delist each.

Small satellite builder and data specialist Spire Global received a notice from the New York Stock Exchange, while spacecraft delivery company Momentus received a notice from the Nasdaq. Under the respective exchanges’ compliance rules, the companies have 180 days, or about six months, to get their stock prices back above $1 a share.

Spire’s stock closed at 69 cents a share on Friday, having first slipped below $1 a share on Mar. 7. Momentus’ stock closed at 63 cents a share, slipping below $1 a share on Feb. 7.

Both companies now join Astra under the same threat. Both also have indicated they will consider a reverse-stock split, combining stocks to reduce the total number in order to bring the price above one dollar.

India launches 36 OneWeb satellites

India’s space agency ISRO tonight successfully launched 36 OneWeb satellites using its LVM-M3 rocket, the largest version of its GSLV family of rockets.

This launch completes OneWeb’s constellation, with 618 satellites now in orbit, allowing them to now offer internet access worldwide in competition with Starlink. After Russia broke its contract and confiscated 36 OneWeb satellites, the company contracted SpaceX and ISRO to launch the satellites necessary to complete the constellation, with SpaceX doing three launches and ISRO two.

This was India’s second launch in 2023. The leaders in the 2023 launch race remain the same:

20 SpaceX
11 China
5 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 23 to 11 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 23 to 19. SpaceX by itself now trails the entire world, including other American companies, 20 to 22.

Blue Origin releases results of investigation into New Shepard flight failure

Blue Origin today released by email its results of its investigation into the New Shepard flight failure that occurred in September 2022, when the launch abort system activated soon after launch and released the capsule early so that it could return safely to Earth.

[T]he MIT [investigation team] determined the direct cause of the mishap to be a structural fatigue failure of the BE-3PM engine nozzle during powered flight. The structural fatigue was caused by operational temperatures that exceeded the expected and analyzed values of the nozzle material. Testing of the BE-3PM engine began immediately following the mishap and established that the flight configuration of the nozzle operated at hotter temperatures than previous design configurations. Forensic evaluation of the recovered nozzle fragments also showed clear evidence of thermal damage and hot streaks resulting from increased operating temperatures. The fatigue location on the flight nozzle is aligned with a persistent hot streak identified during the investigation.

The MIT determined that design changes made to the engine’s boundary layer cooling system accounted for an increase in nozzle heating and explained the hot streaks present. Blue Origin is implementing corrective actions, including design changes to the combustion chamber and operating parameters, which have reduced engine nozzle bulk and hot-streak temperatures. Additional design changes to the nozzle have improved structural performance under thermal and dynamic loads.

In other words, the company had made some design changes to the engine prior to launch, and these caused the hot spots that destroyed the nozzle.

The company’s email says it is fixing this issue and plans to launch “soon”, but issued no date.

Sierra Space pops another inflatable test space station module

Proposed Orbital Reef space station
Proposed Orbital Reef space station

Sierra Space announced yesterday that it had successfully completed its fourth test to failure of a one-third scale prototype inflatable space station module, dubbed LIFE, with work on the full scale module expected to begin next year and leading to the launch of its private commercial space station sometime later this decade.

In February, Sierra Space performed a month-long Accelerated Systematic Creep (ASC) test on LIFE – the first milestone in its 2023 testing campaign. Engineers loaded a one-third-scale version of the inflatable habitat with a sustained amount of pressure over an extended period until it failed. Per NASA’s recommended guidelines for inflatable softgoods certification, the test reached its goal of generating an additional data point – pressure and time to burst – which can be used to estimate the life of the primary pressure shell structure.

“Our testing campaign has demonstrated that our LIFE habitat pressure shell design has a predicted life of far greater than 60 years – or 525,600 hours – based on Sierra Space’s 15-year on-orbit life requirement and the applied 4x safety factor,” said Sierra Space Chief Engineer for LIFE, Shawn Buckley. “We are obviously simulating pressures well in excess of the norm.”

You can view video of the test here. The failure was so intense that it also blew up the test shack.

Sierra Space is part of a partnership with Blue Origin and others to build the Orbital Reef space station, one of four such stations with contracts with NASA. Sierra Space is building the station’s modules, while Boeing is providing the Starliner capsule for transportation. Blue Origin is supposed be providing larger modules and the New Glenn rocket for transportation, but the development of both continues to lag.

Starliner’s first manned mission to ISS delayed again

According to a tweet by a NASA official, the first manned mission to ISS of Boeing’s Starliner capsule, carrying two NASA astronauts, has been delayed again, from the planned late April launch to sometime during the summer.

No reasons for the delay were given, as yet. The second link notes however that a schedule conflict at ULA, which is launching Starliner on its Atlas-5 rocket, might be part of the reason.

A launch in late April [of Starliner on the Atlas-5] would have put it in conflict with the inaugural launch of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, currently scheduled for as soon as May 4. Vulcan and Atlas use the same launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, and ULA has been conducting tests of the Vulcan rocket on that pad. It has not shared updates on the status of the Atlas 5 used for Starliner.

This conflict might also explain why Starliner itself has not yet been fueled, since Boeing officials have said they want to do this within 60 days of launch to avoid the same kind of valve leaks that delayed the second unmanned demo mission for almost a year.

Starliner itself is years behind schedule, a long delay that has cost Boeing an enormous amount of income. First, the problems during the first unmanned demo flight in December 2019 forced the company to do a second unmanned demo flight, on its own dime costing about $400 million. That second flight was then delayed because of those valve issues. All the delays next cost Boeing income from NASA, as the agency was forced to purchase many manned flights from SpaceX that it had intended to buy from Boeing.

Rocket Lab and SpaceX successfully launch

There were two launches since yesterday, both American, both launching commercial satellites.

First, Rocket Lab put two Black Sky commercial Earth observation smallsats into orbit, using its Electron rocket launching from New Zealand. This was Rocket Lab’s second launch in less than a week.

Next, SpaceX put 56 Starlink satellites into orbit, launching from Cape Canaveral. The Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage completed its 10th flight, landing successfully in a drone ship in the Atlantic.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

20 SpaceX
11 China
5 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 23 to 11 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 23 to 18. SpaceX in turn trails the entire world combined, including American companies, by only 20 to 21.

SpaceX might get investment capital from Saudi and UAE investors

According to several reports in the business press, SpaceX is presently negotiating with investment companies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to possibly provide additional investment capital to the company.

Citing two individuals reportedly familiar with the matter, The Information noted that Saudi Arabia’s Water and Electricity Holding Company, Badeel, and the United Arab Emirates’ Alpha Dhabi are participating in the funding round. Morgan Stanley is reportedly organizing the investment effort.

At present it is unknown how much would be invested. It is also unclear if this foreign investment in an American rocket company can pass muster with the U.S. State Department.

SpaceX has already raised about $10 billion in private investment capital as well as $4 billion from NASA for the development of Starship/Superheavy.

Italy funds development by Avio of smallsat rocket and methane engine

In a move that might eventually separate Italy from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Arianespace commercial division, the Italian government on March 13, 2023 announced that it has committed $308 million to the Italian company Avio to develop both a methane-fueled engine and the smallsat rocket to go with it.

The money will be used by Avio on two projects, one to develop an upgraded version of its M10 methane-fueled engine that has already completed two dozen static fire tests, and the other to develop the smallsat rocket, with a targeted first launch in 2026.

While the investment is officially in partnership with the ESA, its wholly-Italian nature suggests in the end it will not be part of Arianespace, but function as an independent competing rocket operated and owned by Avio, which is also the company that developed Arianespace’s Vega family of rockets.

If Italy allows Avio to pull free of ESA and operate as a separate competing rocket company, it will do Europe a favor. Right now the monopolistic nature of ESA is preventing it from competing successfully in the new commercial launch market. Having separately owned and competing private companies will only energize this European industry, which has generally been moribund for years.

First set of SpaceX’s second generation Starlink satellites experiencing issues

According to a tweet from Elon Musk yesterday, the first set of 21 larger second generation Starlink satellites, launched on February 27, 2023 by a Falcon 9 rocket, have experiencing “some issues.”

Some sats will be deorbited, others will be tested thoroughly before raising altitude above Space Station.

More information here.

Starting around March 15, their orbital altitude started to decrease at varying rates: most gradually, but at least two more steeply, descending to about 365 kilometers. All 21 remain in orbit, but that unusual behavior prompted speculation of problems with the satellites.

The second set of new Starlink satellites is scheduled for launch no earlier than March 30, 2023, but expect that launch to be delayed in order for SpaceX engineers to troubleshoot these issues and then apply what they have learned on the new satellites.

Second stage on Relativity’s first launch fails to fire

The first test launch of Relativity’s 3D rocket, Terran-1, achieved the mission’s minimum goals, with the first stage performing exactly as planned and the 3D-printed rocket successfully completing engine cut-off and stage separation.

At that point the second stage engine failed to fire, and the upper stage fell into the ocean.

I have embedded the live stream from last night below. The company had made it clear that their number one goal for this flight was getting that 3D-printed rocket through max-q, the time when the atmospheric pressures on the rocket are their greatest. In this area the launch was a success.

This was also the first American launch of a methane-fueled rocket, and it was fascinating seeing the difference in the rocket’s plumes from other fuel types. Terran-1’s engine plumes were a clear distinct blue, quite different from the white and smokey plumes produced by solid-fueled and kerosene-fueled rocket engines, and the almost invisible plume of space shuttle’s hydrogen-fueled engines.

As yet, no methane-fueled rocket has reached orbit, though two Chinese companies and Relativity have tried. SpaceX will try itself when it launches Superheavy/Starship.
» Read more

Virgin Orbit resumes limited operations

In anticipation of a possibly deal to save the company, Virgin Orbit officials have resumed limited operations, bringing back a small number of employees to work on crucial issues required for its next launch.

“Our first step will begin Thursday of this week, when we plan to return a subset of our team to focus on critical areas for our next mission,” Virgin Orbit said in a statement. “We are looking forward to getting back to our mission and returning to orbit.”

…Reuters reported that Virgin Orbit is working on a $200 million infusion from Texas-based venture capital investor Matthew Brown via a private share placement, citing a term sheet. Following a meeting by Virgin Orbit’s board on Tuesday, the two sides plan to close the deal on Friday, according to the non-binding term sheet, Reuters said.

Should the company resume full operations and launch again, I am certain it will not launch from the United Kingdom, at least not until the UK has fixed its launch licensing bureau, the Civil Aviation Authority, which took so long to approve Virgin Orbit’s launch from Cornwall it practically bankrupted the company.

Hakuto-R1 enters lunar orbit

Lunar map showing Hakuto-R1's landing spot
Hakuto-R1’s planned landing site is in Atlas Crater.

The lunar lander Hakuto-R1, privately-built by the Japanese company Ispace, has now successfully entered lunar orbit in anticipation of its landing sometime next month.

Tokyo-based ispace said that its HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lander entered orbit at 9:24 p.m. Eastern March 20 after a burn by its main engine lasting several minutes. The company did not disclose the parameters of the orbit but said that the maneuver was a success.

…Entering orbit is the seventh of 10 milestones ispace set for the mission that started with launch preparations. The final three milestones are completing “orbital control maneuvers,” the landing itself and going into a steady state of activities after landing.

The spacecraft carries several payloads, the most significant of which is the United Arab Emirates Rashid rover.

If Hakuto-R1 completes its 10 milestones successfully, it will lay the groundwork for Ispace’s second Hakuto-R mission to the Moon in 2024, and an even larger lander on a third mission to follow, this time built in partnership with the American company Draper and carrying NASA payloads.

South Korean private rocket startup completes first suborbital rocket test

Innospace, a South Korean private rocket startup, on March 19, 2023 successfully completed the first test flight of a suborbital prototype, launching from Brazil’s Alcantara Launch Center.

The rocket flew for 4 minutes and 33 seconds before falling into the designated safety zone. The engine lasted for 106 seconds, which fell short of the previously planned 118 seconds, yet its performance was stable, according to Innospace. Hanbit-TLV, the test vehicle, is a 16.3-meter (53.5-foot) single-stage rocket designed to verify the performance of a 15-ton-thrust rocket engine developed by Innospace.

The company will now develop its full-scale orbital rocket, dubbed Hanbit-Nano, “capable of carrying 50-kilogram (110-pound) payload into space, equipped with a 15-ton-thrust hybrid engine powered by solid fuel and liquid oxidizer.” A 2024 launch is the goal, possibly from a new commercial spaceport in Norway.

More information here. The rocket also carried a payload for the Brazilian military, which is why by contract Innospace officials could not release the exact altitude reached by the rocket.

SpaceX launches two SES communication satellites

Only a few hours after SpaceX launched 52 Starlink satellites from California, the company successfully launched two communications satellites for the Luxembourg company SES, using its Falcon 9 rocket launching from Cape Canaveral.

The first stage completed its sixth flight, landing safely on a drone ship in the Atlantic. The rocket’s two fairings completed their third and seventh flights, respectively.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

19 SpaceX
11 China
4 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 21 to 11 in the national rankings of this year’s launches, and the whole world combined 21 to 17. SpaceX by itself is tied with the rest of the world, including other American companies, 19 to 19.

Starship launch still stalled by FAA

According to a tweet by Elon Musk today, Starship will be ready for its first orbital test launch in a few weeks.

Musk also noted however that SpaceX is still awaiting the FAA’s launch license, and because of this he now expects the launch in the third week in April.

Why it is taking months for the FAA to issue this license is disturbing, and suggests that under the Biden administration the feds are behaving more and more like the incompetent Civil Aviation Authority in the UK, which stonewalled Virgin Orbit’s launch for months so that the company now sits on the verge of bankruptcy.

Hat tip to BtB’s stringer Jay for this story, who will be gone for the next two weeks on vacation. Have fun Jay.

SpaceX launches another 52 Starlink satellites

SpaceX today successfully put another 52 Starlink satellites into orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The first stage completed its 8th flight, landing on a drone ship in the Pacific.

A second SpaceX launch today, this time from Cape Canaveral, Florida, is set to launch very shortly, so the leader board for the 2023 launch race will also change as well:

18 SpaceX
11 China
4 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 20 to 11 in the national rankings, and the entire globe combined 20 to 17. SpaceX now trails the entire world, including American companies. 18 to 19.

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