Puerto Rico’s Ports Authority is looking for an operator to run the island’s own spaceport

Ceiba spaceport map
The arrow points to the city of Ceiba

Puerto Rico’s Ports Authority has now issued a call for proposals from potential operators of the spaceport the authority wishes built at an airport in the town of Ceiba on the island’s eastern tip.

The developer — which would operate the Spaceport for several years, depending on the negotiation — would design and build the infrastructure needed for horizontal launches at JAT, using private capital, equity and investment.

…“Vertical launches in Puerto Rico are challenging, considering the population density, among others. However, we want to do a feasibility study for vertical launches in Puerto Rico, with an emphasis on the use of barges and launches in high seas,” the agency stated in the RFP.

Note that the first goal would be to make the airport usable for rocket companies that use an airplane for their first stage, such as Virgin Orbit and Northrop Grumman. The next step would be figure out where a vertical launchpad could be safely and practically established.

ULA now targets May 4th for first Vulcan launch

According to ULA’s CEO, the company has now scheduled the first launch of its Vulcan rocket for May 4, 2023, a delay of about a month from the previous schedule.

The delay to the new date was caused by a variety of factors. First, the launch window for the prime payload, Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander, is only open certain days of the month. Second, that lander is just finishing final testing, and the extra time was needed to get it to Cape Canaveral and stacked on the rocket. Third, the extra time was needed to complete all the dress rehearsal countdown tests prior to launch. However, the biggest reason for the delay appears to have been one of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engines.

ULA and Blue Origin are finishing the formal qualification of the BE-4 engine, which Bruno described as the “pacing item” for the launch. “It’s taking a little bit longer than anticipated.”

He revealed that, in a qualification test of one of two engines, the liquid oxygen pump had about 5% higher performance than expected or seen on other engines. “When the performance of your hardware has even a small shift that you didn’t expect, sometimes that is telling us that there could be something else going on in the system that is potentially of greater concern.”

ULA and Blue Origin decided to take the engine off the test stand and disassemble it. Engineers concluded that the higher performance was just “unit-to-unit variation” and not a problem with the engine itself, Bruno said.

If Blue Origin was manufacturing and testing these engines as it needs to do, in large numbers, it would have known a long time ago the range of “unit-to-unit variation” in performance. That this is not known at this late time once again tells us that the company is still struggling to build these engines routinely. Yet it will soon need to produce plenty in short order in order to sustain not only ULA’s Vulcan launch schedule but the launch schedule of its own New Glenn rocket.

What to expect when SpaceX launches Starship on its first orbital flight

Link here. The article does a careful review of the previous dress rehearsal countdowns and static fire tests, especially the last which successfully fired 31 of Superheavy’s 33 Raptor-2 engines for 7 seconds, in order to understand what will happen during the countdown on the day the rocket does its first orbital launch, now expected within weeks.

It appears right now that SpaceX is preparing to replace one or both of those failed engines, and do it with Superheavy prototype #7 still mounted to the launchpad. Starship prototype #24 has not yet been stacked on top, but work is presently being done to it nearby to prepare it for launch. For example, workers recently have removed the attachment points used by cranes before the chopsticks existed and put thermal tiles there instead.

Based on the pace of work, SpaceX should be ready to launch by mid-March. All that will prevent this will be the FAA, which still has not approved the launch license.

SpaceX ready to launch Starship prototype #24 into orbit

According to a statement yesterday by one SpaceX official, the company is now ready to launch its Superheavy #7 booster, stacked with its Starship prototype #24, on an orbital test flight, with the only remaining obstacle to launch the launch license, not yet approved by the FAA.

Speaking on a panel at the Space Mobility conference here about “rocket cargo” delivery, Gary Henry, senior advisor for national security space solutions at SpaceX, said both the Super Heavy booster and its launch pad were in good shape after the Feb. 9 test, clearing the way for an orbital launch that is still pending a Federal Aviation Administration launch license. “We had a successful hot fire, and that was really the last box to check,” he said. “The vehicle is in good shape. The pad is in good shape.”

…“Pretty much all of the prerequisites to supporting an orbital demonstration attempt here in the next month or so look good,” he said.

Henry also outlined SpaceX’s overall plans for Starship in the next year or two, beginning with a series of test/operational launches that will iron out the kinks of the rocket while simultaneously placing Starlink satellites into orbit. At the same time, development will shift to creating a Moon lander version of Starship for NASA’S Artemis program, including doing refueling tests of Starship in orbit. These test flights will also lead quickly to the three private manned flights that SpaceX already has contracts for, including two around the Moon and one in Earth orbit.

Japanese startup enters the high altitude balloon space tourism business

A Japanese startup, Iwaya Giken, announced yesterday that it is building a two-person capsule that will carry two persons, a pilot and passenger, on high-altitude stratospheric tourist balloon flights for about $180K per ticket.

The company, Iwaya Giken, based in Sapporo in northern Japan, has been working on the project since 2012 and says it has developed an airtight two-seat cabin and a balloon capable of rising up to an altitude of 25 kilometers (15 miles), where the curve of the Earth can be clearly viewed. While passengers won’t be in outer space — the balloon only goes up to roughly the middle of the stratosphere — they’ll be higher than a jet plane flies and have an unobstructed view of outer space.

The company teamed up with major Japanese travel agency JTB Corp., which announced plans to collaborate on the project when the company is ready for a commercial trip. Initially, a flight would cost about 24 million yen ($180,000), but Iwaya said he aims to eventually bring it down to several million yen (tens of thousands of dollars).

No date for the first launch was mentioned. This company now joins two American balloon companies as well as a Spanish balloon company, all planning to offer rides to the edge of space.

First orbital tug from the startup Launcher fails shortly after deployment

The first orbital tug, dubbed Orbiter SN1, of the startup company Launcher failed shortly after deployment from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on January 3, 2023.

The vehicle communicated with a ground station on its first scheduled pass after deployment while on battery power. “We also communicated with the vehicle for the duration of expected battery life,” the company said.

However, the Hawthorne, California-based company said the spacecraft could not get into the proper attitude so that its solar cells could generate power, which it blamed on “an orientation control issue caused by a fault in our GPS antenna system.” That, in turn, kept Orbiter from deploying its satellite payloads.

The tug was carrying payloads from eight customers, four of which were satellites to be deployed while the others would remain on the tug, using it as the base of operations.

The company presently has plans to launch upgraded tugs on two different Falcon 9 launches, in June and October respectively.

SpaceX launches an Inmarsat communications satellite

SpaceX tonight used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch an Inmarsat communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

This was SpaceX’s second launch today. The first stage successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic, completing its third flight. Both fairings were also previously flown.

The 2023 launch race:

12 SpaceX
5 China
2 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan
1 India

American private enterprise now leads China 13 to 5 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 13 to 9. By itself SpaceX leads the world combined 12 to 9.

SpaceX launches 51 Starlink satellites from Vandenberg

At 11:12 (Pacific) SpaceX today successfully launched another 51 Starlink satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, using its Falcon 9 rocket with a first stage making its ninth flight.

The first stage successfully landed on its drone ship in the Pacific. The fairing halves completed their fifth and sixth flights.

The 2023 launch race:

11 SpaceX
5 China
2 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan
1 India

American private enterprise now leads China 12 to 5 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 12 to 9. By itself SpaceX leads the world combined 11 to 9, and that lead will grow later today should the next Falcon 9 launch at 10:59 pm (Eastern) tonight from Cape Canaveral succeed.

NASA outlines its expected needs as a space station customer

NASA has now published an updated detailed specification of what it will want to do on the four private space stations being built to replace ISS.

NASA published two white papers Feb. 13 as part of a request for information (RFI) for its Commercial Low Earth Orbit Destinations effort to support development of commercial stations. The documents provide new details about how NASA expects to work with companies operating those stations and the agency’s needs to conduct research there.

One white paper lists NASA’s anticipated resource needs for those stations, including crew time, power and volume, broken out for each of the major agency programs anticipated to use commercial stations. Companies had been seeking more details about NASA requirements to assist in the planning of their stations.

,,,The second white paper outlines the concept of operations NASA envisions for its use of commercial space stations. The 40-page document described in detail what it expects from such stations in terms of capabilities, resources and operations, as well as what oversight the agency anticipates having.

At the moment NASA has contracts with four different space station companies or partnerships, Axiom, Blue Origin, Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman, each of which is building its own station. Because NASA will initially be the biggest customer for these stations its requirements will help shape those stations significantly, which is why this information is of critical importance for the private companies.

At the same time, NASA is not dictating specific designs. The agency remains the customer, buying time on private facilities that will be owned privately and be free to sell their product to others. Thus, the designs of these stations might not match exactly what NASA desires, since even now there are other customers interested in buying space station time and space.

Imaging satellite builder Maxar signs contract with Umbra to use its radar satellites

Maxar, which operates a constellation of high resolution optical imaging satellites for commercial and military use, has now signed a contract with Umbra, which operates a constellation of high resolution radar satellites for commercial and military use.

The partnership will allow Maxar to directly task Umbra’s satellites and integrate synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data into its portfolio of Earth intelligence products and services, Tony Frazier, head of Maxar’s public sector Earth intelligence, told SpaceNews.

SAR is a specialized form of remote sensing that has been in growing demand since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. SAR satellites can capture images at night, through cloud cover, smoke and rain — conditions that impair traditional optical satellites like those operated by Maxar.

The contract will give Maxar “assured access” to the soon-to-be launched six and seven satellites in Umbra’s constellation.

Essentially, this deal enhances Maxar’s value. Its main customer is the U.S. military, and it can now offer that military a more enhanced observation capability. Umbra meanwhile gets a major customer quickly, rather than having to pitch its product to multiple potential buyers. Its radar product is also enhanced, because it will now come automatically partnered with optical imagery.

Dislodged fuel filter identified as cause of Virgin Orbit launch failure

Virgin Orbit yesterday revealed that a dislodged fuel filter in LauncherOne’s upper stage caused the failure of the rocket to reach orbit during its January 9, 2023 launch from Cornwall, UK.

The data is indicating that from the beginning of the second stage first burn, a fuel filter within the fuel feedline had been dislodged from its normal position. Additional data shows that the fuel pump that is downstream of the filter operated at a degraded efficiency level, resulting in the Newton 4 engine being starved for fuel. Performing in this anomalous manner resulted in the engine operating at a significantly higher than rated engine temperature.

Components downstream and in the vicinity of the abnormally hot engine eventually malfunctioned, causing the second stage thrust to terminate prematurely.

The rocket thus did not have enough velocity to reach orbit, and fell in the ocean.

No word yet on when the company will next launch, though it has said that launch will be from Mojave, California.

SpaceX abandons plan to convert floating oil platforms into Starship/Superheavy landing spots

SpaceX has decided not to convert the two floating oil rigs it had purchased in 2020 into Starship/Superheavy landing platforms, and has sold both.

According to SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell,

Shotwell said the company needed to first start launching Starship and better understand that vehicle before building offshore launch platforms. “We really need to fly this vehicle to understand it, to get to know this machine, and then we’ll figure out how we’re going to launch it.”

She said she expected offshore platforms to eventually play a role to support an extraordinarily high launch cadence. “We have designed Starship to be as much like aircraft operations as we possibly can get it,” she said in the conference presentation. “We want to talk about dozens of launches a day, if not hundreds of launches a day.”

This is a perfect example of this company’s intelligent ability to focus on the most important problems now, instead of getting distracted by future issues and challenges it knows exists but are not the priority at this time.

Intuitive Machines completes merger with SPAC as it goes public

Intuitive Machines, one of a handful of American companies building lunar landers for NASA and others, has completed its merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), thus becoming a publicly traded stock but raising less money than expected in the process.

Intuitive Machines said Feb. 13 it had closed its merger with Inflection Point Acquisition Corp., a SPAC that trades on the Nasdaq. The merged company, retaining the Intuitive Machines name, will trade on the Nasdaq starting Feb. 14 under the ticker symbol LUNR.

The companies announced the merger in September 2022, long after the mania surrounding SPACs has cooled both in the space industry and the overall market. Inflection Point had $301 million of cash in trust, and the companies said they had arranged an additional $55 million in investment from the SPAC’s sponsors and a founder of Intuitive Machines, along with $50 million CF Principal Investments LLC, an affiliate of Cantor Fitzgerald & Company. In an investor presentation linked to the merger announcement, the companies anticipated having more than $330 million in cash after transaction expenses.

However, in the Feb. 13 announcement that the merger had closed, the companies announced only $55 million of “committed capital from an affiliate of its sponsor and company founders.”

It appears that many investors in Inflection Point itself (30% of whom had voted against this merger) had pulled their money from the fund, depleting the $301 million that was originally promised. In addition, yesterday’s announcement made no mention of the $50 million that CF had also committed.

Essentially, the company’s future hinges on the success of its first lunar mission, presently scheduled for June. Should it succeed, the company should be able to replace from other investors the funds that it failed to raise in this merger. Should it fail, it is very possible it will go belly up, as it is likely it will find it difficult if not impossible to find further investment capital.

There is of course the possibility that NASA will keep the company afloat with additional funding, but if so it might be a case of throwing good money after bad, something our government is very good at doing.

One of Saudi Arabia’s two Axiom passengers later this year will be a woman

In announcing the two astronauts who will fly as passengers on Axiom’s commercial Ax-2 flight to ISS in the second quarter of 2023, Saudi Arabia also revealed that one will be the first female Arabian to fly in space.

Saudi nationals Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali al-Qarni will join the crew of the AX-2 space mission in an accomplishment that comes in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. The spaceflight is set to launch from the United States to the ISS.

There is an aggressive space race now in the Middle East between Arab nations. The UAE started it by making space exploration a major goal for diversifying its economy. Saudi Arabia has now followed with its own program. Turkey, Bahrain, and Oman have also joined in.

SpaceX launches 55 more Starlink satellites

Using its Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX tonight successfully launched 55 Starlink satellites into orbit, lifting off from Cape Canaveral.

The first stage successfully completed its 12th flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic. (These 1st stage landings have become so routine that no one at SpaceX even cheered tonight when the stage landed.) The fairing halves completed their 6th and 8th flights respectively. As of posting, the satellites had not yet been deployed.

The 2023 launch race:

10 SpaceX
5 China
2 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan
1 India

American private enterprise now leads China 11 to 5 in the national rankings, and the entire globe combined 11 to 9.

NASA awards launch contract to Blue Origin’s unlaunched New Glenn rocket

NASA yesterday awarded Blue Origin the launch contract for its smallsat ESCAPADE Mars orbiter mission, set to launch in late 2024.

ESCAPADE will launch on Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket from Space Launch Complex-36 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Launch is targeted for late 2024. Blue Origin is one of 13 companies NASA selected for VADR contracts in 2022. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, manages the VADR contracts. As part of VADR, the fixed-price indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts have a five-year ordering period with a maximum total value of $300 million across all contracts.

NASA’s VADR program is designed to give contracts to higher risk contractors to help those launch companies develop their rockets. Since New Glenn is years behind schedule and as-yet unlaunched, this contract is an attempt to help change that. Note however that it is fixed price, and does not set a deadline for Blue Origin to launch.

ESCAPADE will actually be two orbiters designed to study the faint artifacts of Mars’ magnetosphere left over from its past.

SpaceX completes 33-engine static fire test today of Superheavy prototype #7

Two seconds after ignition
Today’s Superheavy static fire test

SpaceX today successfully completed a 7-second-long static fire test of 31 of 33 Raptor-2 engines at the base Superheavy #7. The test ran for its full duration, and it appears no damage occurred to the launchpad. One engine shut down prior to test, and one shut down prematurely during the test. If this had happened during launch, the booster would still have had enough energy to get Starship to its required velocity to reach orbit.

The company will now have to analyze the test to determine whether it was sufficient to proceed to a March orbital launch. Certainly they will roll the booster back to the assembly building to exchange out the two engines that misfired.

All in all, it appears an orbital test flight of Starship could occur sometime in the next two months, assuming the FAA gets out of the way and issues the launch license.

Propellant loading is underway, and a rough time estimate for the actual static fire test is now 3 pm (Central).

Musk has now confirmed in a tweet that they are going to proceed to the test. It now appears that they have almost completed propellant loading. It appears they have filled the oxygen tanks, but not the methane tanks, and will probably not fill the methane tanks entirely for the test itself.

Original post:
No specific schedule has been announced of SpaceX’s attempt today to complete the first full 33-engine static fire test in Boca Chica of its seventh prototype of Superheavy, but a live stream is available from NASAspaceflight.com. I have embedded that live stream below.

The test will validate numerous systems, including the ground systems, the launchpad, the engines, and the systems for igniting all 33 in the proper sequence. Starship prototype #24 is not stacked on top of Superheavy in order to prevent any damage to it in case this test goes ugly. If so, SpaceX already has Superheavy prototype #9 ready to go in the nearby assembly building.

» Read more

ISRO successfully test fires a throttleable version of an engine used in two of its rockets

ISRO on January 30, 2023 successfully completed a static fire test of a throttleable version of its Vikas rocket engine, used in the upper stage of both its PSLV and GSLV rockets as well as in the GSLV’S first stage, running the engine at 67 percent power for a time period of 43 seconds.

The ability to adjust the power level of the engine during launch will give ISRO the ability to attempt the recovery of the first stages, as well as expand the ability of these rockets to place more satellites per launch in different orbits.

FCC approves the first 3,000+ satellites in Amazon’s Kuiper constellation

FCC has now given Amazon its license to launch the first 3,236 satellites in its Kuiper internet constellation, including with that license new de-orbiting requirements that exceed the FCC’s actual statutory authority.

The Federal Communications Commission approved Amazon’s plan Feb. 8 to deploy and operate 3,236 broadband satellites, subject to conditions that include measures for avoiding collisions in low Earth orbit (LEO).

Amazon got initial FCC clearance for its Ka-band Project Kuiper constellation in 2020 on the condition that it secured regulatory approval for an updated orbital debris mitigation plan. The FCC said its conditional approval of this mitigation plan allows “Kuiper to begin deployment of its constellation in order to bring high-speed broadband connectivity to customers around the world.” The conditions include semi-annual reports that Kuiper must give the FCC to detail the collision avoidance maneuvers its satellites have made, whether any have lost the ability to steer away from objects, and other debris risk indicators.

In the order, the FCC also requires Kuiper to ensure plans to de-orbit satellites after their seven-year mission keep inhabitable space stations in addition to the International Space Station in mind.

According to the license, Amazon must launch 1,600 of these satellites by 2026.

The de-orbit requirements are part of the FCC’s recent regulatory power grab, and has no legal basis. The FCC’s statutory authority involves regulating the frequency of signals satellites use, as well as acting as a traffic cop to make sure the orbits of different satellites do not interfere with other satellites. Nowhere has Congress given it the right to determine the lifespan of satellites, or the method in which they are de-orbited.

Right now however we no longer live in a republic run by elected officials. In Washington it is the bureaucracy that is in charge, Congress being too weak, divided, and corrupt to defend its legal power. Thus, the FCC can easily grab new powers that it has no right to have.

Update on CAPSTONE in lunar orbit

Link here. The key takeaway is that this commercial privately built and operated lunar smallsat is doing what it was designed to do, even as its operators continue to overcome periodic technical problems.

For example, beginning January 26th the spacecraft stopped receiving commands from ground controllers. The problem solved itself when on February 6th “an automatic command-loss timer rebooted” the spacecraft. Meanwhile,

CAPSTONE has completed more than 12 orbits in its near-rectilinear halo orbit – the same orbit [that will be used by Lunar] Gateway – surpassing one of the mission’s objectives to achieve at least six orbits. The mission team has performed two orbit maintenance maneuvers in this time. These maneuvers were originally scheduled to happen once per orbit, but the mission team was able to reduce the frequency while maintaining the correct orbit. This reduces risk and complexity for the mission and informs plans for future spacecraft flying in this orbit, like Gateway.

Essentially, mission controllers are figuring out the best and most efficient methods for eventually maintaining Lunar Gateway’s orbit around the Moon, when it gets there.

ULA stacks Vulcan-Centaur rocket for ground tests prior to first launch

ULA’s new Vulcan-Centaur rocket has finally been stacked in the company’s assembly facility at Cape Canaveral, ready to be rolled out for its first launchpad fueling tests prior to its first launch, tentatively scheduled for the end of March.

The odds of that launch date being met is quite uncertain. Right now neither the rocket’s payloads nor its solid rocket strap-on boosters have been added, and before that will happen the company plans to first roll the rocket out to the launchpad, do fueling and countdown tests. It will then roll it back to the assembly building to stack those components, and then roll it back to the launchpad for launch.

To meet that launch target everything must go perfectly during these preliminary operations, something that is generally unexpected for a rocket’s first launch. ULA however has an advantage, in that it has already done much of this testing using a dummy Vulcan, and it also has decades of experience launching rockets.

Much rides on this first launch. The payloads include Astrobotic’s first lunar lander, Peregrine, as well as Amazon’s first two test satellites for its Kuiper internet constellation. Also, ULA needs to complete two successful launches in order to get certified to begin its commercial launches for the military.

Virgin Orbit narrows cause of launch failure to $100 component

Though its investigation is not completed, Virgin Orbit has narrowed the cause of its January 9th launch failure from Cornwall to a $100 component in the second stage engine of its LaunchOne rocket.

Speaking on a panel at the SmallSat Symposium in Mountain View, California, Dan Hart said it was still premature to formally declare the root cause of the failed Jan. 9 flight of the company’s LauncherOne rocket on the “Start Me Up” mission from Spaceport Cornwall in England. However, he said while that investigation continues, evidence was pointing to a component in the rocket’s second stage engine.

“Everything points to, right now, a filter that was clearly there when we assembled the rocket but was not there as the second stage engine started, meaning it was dislodged and caused mischief downstream,” he said. He didn’t go into details about that component, other than to say that it was not an expensive item. “This is like a $100 part that took us out.”

Hart said the company would no longer use that filter and was “looking broadly” at other potential fixes.

No timeline as to when the company will complete the investigation or resume launches has been released. Since both the FAA and the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch are involved, we should expect it to take longer than necessary.

Relativity’s Terran-1 rocket on launchpad for final tests prior to first launch

Relativity has once again stacked its Terran-1 rocket on its launchpad at Cape Canaveral for its final ground tests prior to first launch, hopefully later this month.

The launch date has not been announced, nor has a specific schedule for those tests, which will likely include several dress rehearsal countdowns where the rocket will be fueled as if for launch.

Terran-1 is a smallsat rocket, most of which has been 3D printed. If successful, Relativity plans to follow it in 2024 with the 3D printed Terran-R, which would be comparable in size and power to SpaceX’s Falcon 9. The company also claims that rocket will be entirely reusable.

Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo mother ship unveiled after major overhaul

Virgin Galactic yesterday rolled its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship from its hanger after a 15-month overhaul in preparation for taxi and flight tests.

After some initial taxi and flight tests in Mojave in California, the plane will fly to New Mexico for further flight tests with Unity attached. Company officials hope to complete these test flights by the end of March, and then begin commercial flights shortly thereafter.

In comparing the pictures released yesterday at the link above with this 2009 picture, it appears the company completely replaced the central bar that connects the plane’s two passenger sections. In the older picture, that bar was not straight, but was built like a very shallow upside-down “V”, with the center point where a SpaceShipTwo spacecraft was attached.

The new bar is straight, and appears more robust.

SpaceX successfully launches commercial communications satellites

SpaceX tonight successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to place a commercial geosynchronous satellite into orbit for the company Hispasat.

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

The 2023 launch race:

9 SpaceX
5 China
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan
1 Russia

American private enterprise now leads China 10 to 5 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 10 to 7.

ULA closing facility in Texas that makes parts for the retiring Atlas-5 rocket

ULA has announced that it is shutting down its facility in Harlingen, Texas, that makes parts for the company’s soon-to-be retired Atlas-5 rocket.

The facility will shut down at the end of this year, with a loss of about 100 jobs.

This closure is actually a very positive sign for ULA. It indicates that it is streamlining its operations. For example, construction of the Vulcan rocket that replaces the Atlas-5 is all done in Alabama. One of the reasons Atlas-5 cost so much was the widespread distribution of its ULA facilities, probably done to satisfy congressional demands.

With Vulcan, ULA has instead been much more focused on making it less expensive so it can compete with SpaceX. Thus, it simplified its construction, putting everything in Alabama. (Choosing Alabama was likely to satisfy the most powerful senator at the time, porkmeister Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), who has now retired.)

Space station builder Voyager raises $80 million in private investment capital

Capitalism in space: Voyager Space, one of three companies that NASA has provided funds to build a private space station, has now raised $80 million in private investment capital.

The funding includes participation from NewSpace Capital, Midway Venture Partners and Industrious Ventures, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings and other documents viewed by TechCrunch. Seraphim Space also participated, TechCrunch has confirmed. The funding was filed with the SEC on January 27.

The company is building Starlab in partnership with Nanoracks (which is the majority owner of Voyager) and Lockheed Martin, which has already received $160 million from NASA.

Spanish airport to become a rocket spaceport

Teruel airport in Spain, located about 200 miles east of Madrid, has announced plans to expand its operations to make itself a rocket spaceport.

At a recent conference, it was announced that PDL Space plans to operate satellite micro launchers from the little-known airport, located some 300km east of the capital Madrid.

Another company, Sceye, plans to install stratospheric spacecraft at the airport, which, since coming into commission ten years ago, has been used primarily as a maintenance centre for large aircraft.

The airport is located in the eastern interior of Spain. Any orbital launches will have to cross considerable parts of the country, as well as other European and African countries. This however might not be a problem for the moment, as PDL at present appears to be building suborbital rockets.

Yuma funds and applies for spaceport

The city of Yuma in Arizona has provided $250 million to fund the cost for applying for an FAA license for a building a spaceport there.

The city hopes to build the spaceport just east of San Luis on a plot of land it owns, which is near the border, and right next to the Arizona State Prison complex. The spaceport itself would be a concrete slab, with aerospace companies bringing their own launching equipment.

Something however is fishy about this story. It doesn’t cost $250 million to put together such a license, unless Yuma also expects serious opposition that it will need to fight in court. And it should, as any launches from Yuma will have to cross parts of Mexico, and without that country’s permission such a spaceport will likely be blocked.

SpaceX successfully launches 53 Starlink satellites

Using its Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX early this morning successfully launched from Cape Canaveral another 53 Starlink satellites.

This was the 200th Falcon 9 launch. The first stage, making its fifth flight, landing successfully on a drone ship in the Atlantic. The two fairing halves completed their sixth and seventh flight respectively. At of this writing the satellites themselves have not yet been deployed.

The 2023 launch race:

8 SpaceX
5 China
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan

American private enterprise now leads China 9 to 5 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 9 to 6.

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