Several major rocket companies to the FCC: stay out!

In response to the proposal by managers at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it regulate satellite operations despite having no actual legal authority to do so, a cohort of major rocket companies as well as others have responded in firm opposition.

Major space companies, including SpaceX and Relativity, are urging the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stick to its purview — spectrum usage — as it looks to potentially update its rules for in-space servicing, assembly and manufacturing (ISAM) missions.

There is plenty that the FCC could — and should do — to support ISAM missions that sit squarely within its regulatory bounds, the companies said. SpaceX and others, as well as startups like Orbit Fab, which wants to build refueling depots in space, and Starfish Space, which is developing a satellite servicing vehicle, submitted recommendations related to spectrum and ISAM. The commission also heard from Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance and other space companies and industry groups.

…Relativity Space and the industry association Commercial Spaceflight Federation separately argued that the FCC’s involvement in issues outside of those related to spectrum could result in duplicative approvals processes. These could be especially challenging for smaller startups and newer space entrants to navigate.

It is likely that if the FCC tries to impose regulations outside of its legal authority, one or more of these companies are going to sue to nullify those regulations, and will likely win. In the process nothing will be gained, and much lost. Thus, this advice from the industry makes great sense, and the FCC and the Biden administration should stop playing empire-building games and focus on what it is legally supposed to do.

CAPSTONE successfully enters lunar orbit

CAPSTONE successfully entered orbit around the Moon today, putting it into the planned Lunar Gateway halo orbit to test operations in that location.

CAPSTONE is now in a near-rectilinear halo orbit, or NRHO. This particular NRHO is the same orbit that will be used by Gateway, the Moon-orbiting space station that will support NASA’s Artemis missions. CAPSTONE is the first spacecraft to fly an NRHO, and the first CubeSat to operate at the Moon.

Mission engineers plan two more engine burns over the next five days to refine the orbit more precisely.

SpaceX launches two Intelsat communications satellites

Using its Falcon 9 rocket SpaceX today successfully launched two Intelsat geosynchronous communications satellites into orbit.

The first stage completed its 14th flight, but was not recovered. This was not a failure, but intended because the rocket needed the fuel to instead get the satellite into its proper geosynchronous orbit.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

52 SpaceX
48 China
19 Russia
9 Rocket Lab
8 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 75 to 48 in the national rankings, and only trails the rest of the world combined 76 to 75.

November 11, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.

 

 

Advanced Space wins lunar orbiter contract with Air Force

Advanced Space, the company that is presently running the CAPSTONE mission that will arrive in lunar orbit on November 13th, has won a $72 million contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory to build and operate a new experimental lunar orbiter.

The mission, dubbed Oracle, is targeting a 2025 launch and will operate in lunar orbit for two years.

“Our primary goals for the program are to advance techniques to detect previously unknown objects through search and discovery, to detect small or distant objects, and to study spacecraft positioning and navigation in the XGEO realm,” said James Frith, the principal investigator. XGEO refers to the space beyond geosynchronous orbit out to the moon. Oracle will operate in the vicinity of Earth-moon Lagrange Point 1, about 200,000 miles from Earth. The GEO belt, by comparison, is about 22,000 miles above Earth.

An additional goal of Oracle is to help mature AFRL’s green propellant technology. “While there are no specific plans yet to refuel Oracle, AFRL wants to encourage civil and commercial development of on-orbit refueling services,” said Frith.

The federal government’s transition from the building rockets, spacecraft, and satellites to simply buying them from the private sector continues. In the past, when the Air Force attempted to design and build everything, a project like this would have cost at least five times more and taken two to five times longer to get launched. Now, it hires Advanced Space to do it, and gets what it wants quickly for lower cost.

UK govt requests public comment on Shetland spaceport

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of the United Kingdom, tasked with regulating space operations, has requested public comment on the environmental impact of the proposed Shetland spaceport, dubbed SaxaVord and presently under construction.

Shetland Islands Council granted planning permission in February, with Lockheed Martin and Skyrora among the companies looking at launching satellites, as early as next year.

One of the environmental considerations is for no launches or tests between mid-May and the end of June to avoid disturbing breeding birds. U nst’s 135 bird species include red-throated divers, merlins, puffins and Arctic terns.

The spaceport has said it expects to conduct at least 30 launches a year, once operational. That number is probably optimistic.

Meanwhile, it is beginning to appear that — at least in these early stages — the CAA is not going to be helpful to Great Britain’s effort to develop a space industry. Not only does this action suggest it is not enthused about this spaceport and is putting up barriers to it, it has slow-walked the licensing of the Virgin Orbit launch from Cornwall, costing that company so much money because of the delay that its liquidity was threatened.

Rocket Lab sets date for 1st launch from Wallops

On the same day it won a contract to build a control center for Globalstar’s satellite constellation, Rocket Lab also set December 7, 2022 as the target date for its first Electron launch from Wallops Island in Virginia.

The company had originally hoped to launch from Wallops two years ago, but delays caused by NASA’s bureaucracy in approving the flight termination software made that impossible.

With two operating launchpads, one in New Zealand and one in the U.S., Rocket Lab should now be able to ramp up its launch pace, assuming it has the customers. So far this year the company has done about one launch per month.

Atlas-5 completes last launch at Vandenberg

ULA’s Atlas-5 rocket early this morning successfully launched a NOAA weather satellite, completing this soon-to-be-retired rocket’s last launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

The company also successfully tested an inflatable heat shield it wants to use to safely recover and reuse the first stage engines on its new Vulcan rocket.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

51 SpaceX
48 China
19 Russia
9 Rocket Lab
8 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 74 to 48 in the national rankings, but trails the rest of the world combined 76 to 74.

Rocket Lab leases engine test facility at Stennis

Rocket Lab has finalized a 10-year lease for using one of the engine test facilities at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for developing the Archimedes rocket engine for its new Neutron rocket.

With the new agreement, the A-3 Test Stand and about 24 surrounding acres at Stennis will be incorporated into the Archimedes Test Complex. Archimedes is Rocket Lab’s new liquid oxygen and liquid methane rocket engine that will power its large, reusable Neutron rocket.

Rocket Lab will have exclusive access to use and develop the A-3 Test Stand area, including associated propellant barge docks and buildings. The initial 10-year agreement includes an option to extend an additional 10 years.

The Mississippi Development Authority is providing assistance for Rocket Lab to develop the new site and to relocate and install needed equipment.

With this agreement Rocket Lab is clearly moving forward aggressively in its project to build a new rocket that can complete head-to-head with SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

Arizona court kills local government’s real estate deal for World View

The Arizona court of appeals last month ruled that a land deal between Pima County and the high altitude balloon company World View was unconstitutional, and could not go forward.

Per the agreement, the county would fund the construction of facilities, including a 135,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, with office spaces and a launch pad, on property it already owned. World View would then lease the property from the county for 20 years. In return, the company would hire more than 400 employees, with an average salary of over $55,000, and spend $32.3 million on equipment.

Twenty years of lease payments were expected to total around $14 million, estimated to be the property’s value at that time. World View would then have the option to buy the facility for $10.

Six years ago the Goldwater Institute sued, saying this deal was illegal according to the state’s constitution. Last month the court agreed, killing the deal.

Since World View remains in operation in these facilities, Pima County will have to renegotiate at market rates. How that will effect the company itself, which now hopes to begin flying near-space tourist flights by 2024, charging $50K per person, remains unknown.

Another Indian rocket startup tests engine

According to India’s space agency ISRO, it recently provided the facilities for the Indian rocket startup company Agnikul Cosmos to complete a static fire engine test of its second-stage rocket engine.

The agency fired Agnikul’s fully 3D-printed second-stage rocket engine Agnilet for a duration of 15 seconds. Agnilet is a regeneratively cooled 1.4 kN semi-cryogenic engine that uses Liquid oxygen and Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) as propellants. According to Agnikul, the engine is capable of generating 3kN of thrust at sea level and would propel the upper stage of Agnibaan, the company’s under-development launch vehicle.

The company had said it hoped to complete its first launch this year, but that appears highly unlikely. Nonetheless, it has raised at least $14.1 million in investment capital.

Thus, it appears India now has two private rocket companies gearing up for launch in ’23, Agnikul Cosmos and Skyroot.

Astra to lay off 16% of its workforce

Astra, having abandoned its Rocket-3.3 in order to develop its larger Rocket-4 smallsat launcher, announced yesterday that is laying off 16% of its workforce as part of this change in direction.

The decision to abandon Rocket-3.3 has at this time removed the company as an operational rocket company, and has thus put it behind several other competitors which are now gearing up for launch. Its third quarter report also showed a $41 million loss this year, 26% larger than the same quarter last year.

As a result, the company’s stock value has declined 94%, and is now selling for 58 cents per share. If that price does not rise above $1 before April of next year, NASDAQ has said it would delist it.

German rocket startup unveils 2nd stage

The German rocket startup Rocket Factory Augsburg this week unveiled the second stage of its planned rocket, with its Helix engine attached.

This second stage will be used for engine tests in Sweden.

“The campaign will feature three main tests: The first test will last a few seconds, followed by one for around 10 seconds, then the full flight duration. Every engine is acceptance tested. Then each engine is fired a second time during stage acceptance and then started a third time for flight. We have already proven that we can fire the same engine 3x without switching out components with our long-duration hot-fire campaign. Now we want to repeat that achievement with a full upper stage.”

The company hopes to use this stage in the first orbital test flight of its RFA-1 rocket, targeting a launch late next year. That rocket will use nine more Helix engines in its first stage, and will thus be able to put into orbit slightly more mass than Firefly’s Alpha rocket or payload.

Virgin Orbit’s first launch from UK delayed by red tape

We’re here to help you: The first launch of a satellite from the United Kingdom, launched by Virgin Orbit by taking off from a runway in Cornwall, is experiencing prolonged delays getting its license approved by the British bureaucracy.

While the company says there are no specific issues holding up approval, the permit remains unapproved. Virgin Orbit had hoped initially to launch in the summer, but could not, and this delay has also delayed its later launches and thus reduced its profits in 2022, forcing it to obtain extra investment capital from Richard Branson’s Virgin Group in order to pay the bills.

Meanwhile, the British bureaucracy struggles to issue the licenses.

The delays have attracted the attention of a House of Commons committee, which released a report Nov. 4 criticizing those delays and calling for more personnel to be assigned to reviewing license applications. “For this initial set of licence applications, the Department for Transport must provide additional resource to the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] to ensure that the licensing process does not impede the feasibility of a launch this year,” the report stated.

A source familiar with the CAA’s licensing activities, speaking on background, noted that the CAA now had about 50 people working on license applications, up from the 35 mentioned in the report. That included one person seconded to the CAA from the U.S. Federation Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

As always, private enterprise gets it done, while government requires dozens of people and months to simply fill out forms. Worse, we all know the CAA is going to say yes. The delay is simply a game to justify its existence, not to really accomplish anything.

Cygnus successfully berthed at ISS

Cygnus approaching ISS on November 9, 2022

Despite on of its two solar panels only partly deployed, astronaut Nicole Mann was able to use the robot arm on ISS to grab Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus freighter and bring it into its port, where ground engineers successfully berthed it.

The image to the right is a screen capture from NASA TV as Cygnus approached. You can see the problematic panel at the bottom. Though it has folded out from its initial stored position, it has not opened up fully.

The freighter will stay docked to ISS until late January, during which the crew will unload about four tons of cargo and then fill it with garbage before sending it to burn up over the ocean. We should expect NASA and Northrop Grumman to also plan a spacewalk to not only inspect the panel to figure out what failed, but to see if it can still be deployed.

Cygnus freighter continues to target ISS rendezvous tomorrow

Though one of its two solar panels remains undeployed, engineers and Northrop Grumman and NASA have proceeded with four engine burns so as to rendezvous with ISS tomorrow, November 9th, with arrival in the early morning hours.

Expedition 68 NASA astronaut Nicole Mann will capture Cygnus with the station’s robotic arm, with NASA astronaut Josh Cassada acting as backup. After Cygnus capture, ground commands will be sent from mission control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for the station’s arm to rotate and install it on the station’s Unity module Earth-facing port.

According to this NASA update, it appears that NASA managers are confident that the stuck solar panel is not blocking the grapple point, preventing the arm from grabbing the capsule. At the same time, the wording in the update is just a bit vague, and also suggests that before this capture occurs they will be inspecting Cygnus very carefully.

Japan issues license allowing Ispace to do private business on Moon

With the launch of Ispace’s first lunar lander, Hakuto-R, only two weeks away, the private company has obtained a license from the Japanese government to conduct private transactions on the Moon.

The license allows Ispace to complete a contract awarded by NASA in December 2020, to acquire regolith from the lunar surface to sell to the space agency. During M1, Ispace is expected to collect regolith that accumulates on the footpad of the landing gear during the touchdown on the surface, photograph the collected regolith and conduct an “in-place” transfer of ownership of the lunar regolith to NASA. After ownership transfer, the collected material becomes the property of NASA, under the Artemis program. Under the contract, the lunar regolith will not be returned to Earth.

Under a second contract awarded to Ispace’s subsidiary [Ispace EU] … Ispace EU will acquire the lunar material on its second mission scheduled for 2024 as part of the HAKUTO-R program. An application for Mission 2 will be submitted to obtain a separate authorization.

This mission will also land the UAE’s first lunar rover, Rashid.

According to the Outer Space Treaty, it is the responsibility of each nation to regulate the private operations of its citizens in space. This action thus follows the laws that Japan has passed to supervise commercial space companies.

Bad news for Branson

Two stories today suggest that Richard Branson’s space empire continues to totter.

First, a judge ruled that the fraud lawsuit against Branson by other stockholders in the suborbital tourist company Virgin Galactic can go forward.

The suit claims Branson concealed safety problems while he sold off the bulk of his own stock at top dollar. Only after he had dumped his stock were those problems revealed, and the stock price plummeted, now trading at less than 10% of the peak in February 2021, when Branson sold.

Second, it appears that though Branson’s satellite orbital company Virgin Orbit is operational, it is not going to launch as many satellites this year as expected, and thus required an investment of $25 million on November 4th from Branson’s Virgin Group to stay liquid.

Branson clearly wanted to be a major player in space. In the end, he has mostly failed, though once again Virgin Orbit remains a viable launching company for smallsats.

India’s first private rocket company prepares for its first test suborbital launch

Skyroot, India’s first startup private rocket company, has now scheduled the first test launch of a suborbital version of its Vikram rocket for sometime between November 12the and 16th, depending on weather.

The rocket will be sent into space from ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre spaceport in Sriharikota, off the Andhra Pradesh coast.

The space sector was opened up to facilitate private sector participation in 2020. In 2021, Skyroot became the first space technology startup to ink an MoU with ISRO for sharing facilities and expertise.

…The company’s COO & co-founder, Naga Bharath Daka, said “The Vikram-S rocket getting launched is a single-stage sub-orbital launch vehicle, which would carry three customer payloads and help test and validate the majority of technologies in our Vikram series of space launch vehicles.” The four-year-old Skyroot has successfully built and tested India’s first privately developed cryogenic, hypergolic-liquid, and solid fuel-based rocket engines. The R&D and production activities extensively use advanced composite and 3D-printing technologies.

The company has raised $51 million in private investment capital, the most ever raised by a private Indian rocket company.

November 7, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s Twitter stringer, Jay.

 

  • Chinese spaceplane fantasy 1
  • Chinese spaceplane fantasy 2
  • The animated movies at both links are intriguing, but they mean nothing until we see some real footage of real hardware. Otherwise, this stuff is no different than the decades of powerpoint presentations NASA and Roscosmos would put out about what each intended to do, while doing nothing.

 

One of two solar panels on Cygnus capsule fails to deploy

The failure of one of the two solar panels on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus capsule to deploy today shortly after launch might cause some issues with getting the spacecraft docked to ISS.

Northrop Grumman has reported to NASA that Cygnus has sufficient power to rendezvous with the International Space Station on Wednesday, Nov. 9, to complete its primary mission, and NASA is assessing this and the configuration required for capture and berthing.

The capsule does not dock directly with the station, but is instead grabbed by a robot arm, which then brings it into its port. The grapple point that the arm uses is on the end where the solar panels are, with the docking port at the capsule’s other end. What is not presently clear is whether that point is blocked by the undeployed panel.

Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket launches Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Early this morning Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket successfully completed its second launch this year, lifting off from Wallops Island and carrying a Cygnus freighter for ISS.

This launch is also the next-to-last for this version of Antares. Northrop Grumman is using up the last few first stages built in the Ukraine that use Russian engines, after which it will send the next three Cygnus capsules into space using SpaceX’s Falcon 9. It hopes to introduce a new Antares using a Firefly first stage following that.

The leader board in the 2022 launch race remains the same:

51 SpaceX
48 China
19 Russia
9 Rocket Lab
7 ULA

American private enterprise still leads China 73 to 48 in the national rankings, but trails the rest of the world combined 76 to 73.

Long March 3B launches communications satellite

China’s Long March 3B rocket today launched a communications satellite from one of its interior spaceports.

No word on where the first stage landed. The satellite replaced one that had failed in 2019 immediately after launch.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

51 SpaceX
48 China
19 Russia
9 Rocket Lab
7 ULA

American private enterprise still leads China 72 to 48 in the national rankings, but trails the rest of the world combined 76 to 72.

A scheduled Antares launch of a Cygnus capsule from Wallops Island in Virginia was scrubbed today because a fire alarm when off in the capsule’s control center in Dulles, Virginia. It has been rescheduled for wee hours of tomorrow.

Rocket Lab successfully launches but fails to catch first stage

Rocket Lab today used its Electron rocket to successfully launch a Swedish atmospheric research satellite.

The attempt to catch the first stage with a helicopter as the stage came back to Earth on parachutes failed. Based on the live stream, the failure appears unrelated to the helicopter, which never even made an attempt to capture. Nor did the video from the copter ever show the stage in view. A later update explained that the helicopter had lost telemetry from the stage, and for safety reasons would not attempt a capture without that information.

The company will still recover the stage from the ocean and test its engines. An engine from a previous ocean recovery actually passed all subsequent engine tests, suggesting it could even be reused on a launch.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

51 SpaceX
47 China
19 Russia
9 Rocket Lab
7 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 72 to 47 in the national rankings, though it still trails the rest of the world combined 75 to 72.

Virgin Galactic losses 3x higher than last year

Even as Virgin Galactic has announced a contract with Axiom to fly a zero gravity suborbital training flight for one of its astronauts, the company also posted its 2021 third quarter statement, revealing losses three times higher than the previous year.

The company posted a net loss of $146 million for the three months ended Sept. 30, compared with a $48 million net loss in the same period last year. The widened loss was in part driven by increased research and development cost, which came at $97 million in the June-September quarter, three times higher than last year.

The company posted a net loss of $146 million for the three months ended Sept. 30, compared with a $48 million net loss in the same period last year. The widened loss was in part driven by increased research and development cost, which came at $97 million in the June-September quarter, three times higher than last year.

Quarterly revenue was only $767,000, down 70 percent from a year ago. Virgin Galactic hasn’t started commercial service of its suborbital spaceflight. The company currently makes money by taking deposits for future flights and providing engineering services to other companies.

Company officials still say that it will begin flying customers in the second quarter of ’23, as promised, though it also appears that the demand for its business has plummeted. At the same time, it reports it has $1.1 billion in its coffers for future development.

Orbital tug company signs launch agreement with German rocket startup Isar Aerospace

The German rocket startup company, Isar Aerospace, has now signed a launch agreement with a French orbital tug company, Exotrail, to put multiple tugs into orbit over a five year period.

The companies announced Nov. 3 they signed a launch services agreement to launch Exotrail’s spacevan vehicle on Isar’s Spectrum rocket on multiple missions between 2024 and 2029. The launches will take place from Andøya, Norway, and Kourou, French Guiana. The companies did not disclose a specific number of launches or the value of the agreement.

Exotrail will apparently act as the agent to get the satellite customer by providing that customer transportation to the desired orbit after deployment from Isar’s rocket.

This is the second orbital tug launch contract that Isar has won, with the first from the Italian company D-Orbit. Both deals will fly on Isar’s rocket Spectrum, which it hopes to launch for the first time next year.

Remains or DNA samples of numerous Star Trek actors/creators to be sent into space

Because the space burial company Celestis has now made agreements to fly into space the remains or DNA samples of so many actors or creators from the classic Star Trek television series on its next burial flight, it has named that flight its “Enterprise Mission.”

Slipping the gravitational bonds of Earth early next year, the Enterprise Flight will blast off in early 2023 using United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket carrying additional cremated remains and DNA samples of “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, his wife Majel Barrett Roddenberry, “Star Trek” engineer James “Scotty” Doohan, and “2001: A Space Odyssey” VFX wizard Douglas Trumbull.

The Enterprise Flight’s trajectory will send the spacecraft roughly 93 million miles to 186 million miles (150 million to 300 million kilometers) into deep space beyond our familiar Earth-moon system. Celestis’ memorial mission intends on launching over 200 space burial flight capsules comprised of cremated ash remains, special messages, mementos and DNA samples from a range of international customers headed towards the great mystery of interplanetary space.

The flight will also include the remains or DNA samples from special effects artist Greg Jein, the series original associated producer Robert H. Justman, and actors Nichelle Nichols and DeForest Kelly.

What makes this burial flight especially unique is that the cremated remains and DNA samples will apparently be on a part of the Vulcan rocket that will escape Earth orbit and enter solar orbit.

Watching Rocket Lab’s launch and attempt to recover its first stage

In its scheduled launch today, Rocket Lab will attempt to recover the first stage of its Electron rocket, using a helicopter to snatch its parachute as it descends slowly over the ocean. This will the second attempt to do so, the first time failing after capture when the helicopter pilot decided to release the stage due to unexpected stresses and vibrations.

I have embedded the live stream below. The launch is presently scheduled for around 10:30 am (Pacific).
» Read more

Travel agency buys two Space Perspective high altitude balloon flights

Space Perspective's Neptune Capsule
Graphic of Space Perspective’s Neptune capsule.

The travel agency Cruise Planners has reserved two future 20-mile-high flights on the high altitude balloon Spaceship Neptune, being built by the Florida-based company Space Perspective.

Cruise Planners has reserved two full capsules scheduled to fly in 2025 & 2027 respectively on Spaceship Neptune.

Spaceship Neptune will differ from other spacecraft by being attached and secured to the SpaceBalloon for the entirety of the flight, making it a safe and seamless journey for the traveler. Other vessels separate mid-flight and transfer to different flight systems. According to Space Perspective, Spaceship Neptune will be lifted to space by the SpaceBalloon, powered by renewable hydrogen with no rockets and no carbon footprint. Guests won’t have the jarring blastoff that is typical of space travel, but instead will ascend steadily at 12 mph, making the experience accessible for anyone who is able to fly with a commercial airline.

Space Perspective is one of three balloon companies now planning such high altitude flights. Ticket prices will range from $50K to $125K, depending on company. At the moment Space Perspective is charging the most, but expect that to change as the competition heats up.

NASA delays first manned Starliner mission again

NASA today announced that it has rescheduled the first manned demo mission of Boeing’s Starliner capsule to ISS from February to April, 2023.

The agency attributes the two month delay to scheduling conflicts with other visiting spacecraft at ISS. This might be true, but it also could be that Boeing wanted a little extra time to finish out the work it still needs to do to fix the anomalies that occurred on the unmanned demo mission, as well preparing the new capsule for launch.

This flight will carry two astronauts to ISS for about two weeks. The press release also noted this interesting tidbit:

The previously flown crew module, named Calypso, will be connected to a new service module later this year.

Apparently Boeing has decided to give names to these capsules, like SpaceX has. It also appears that the company and NASA are satisfied enough with the condition of the capsule after flying the unmanned demo flight to use it again for a manned mission.

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