Rogozin suggests Russia will stay on ISS till at least ’24

In remarks this past weekend on Russian television, Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin said that Russia now plans to continue its international partnership on ISS till at least 2024.

“The ISS will work exactly as long as the Russian side needs to work on it,” Rogozin said. “There are technical problems. The station has been operating beyond its lifespan for a long time. We have a government decision that we are working until 2024.”

…Earlier this year, it was reported by some media outlets that Russia was planning to quit the ISS, blaming Western sanctions, following comments Rogozin made on state television. Rogozin said: “The decision has been taken already, we’re not obliged to talk about it publicly. I can say this only—in accordance with our obligations, we’ll inform our partners about the end of our work on the ISS with a year’s notice.”

The Russian government is presently attempting to develop its own space station for launch before the end of this decade. Since such Russian projects have for decades routinely been delayed, for decades, it is likely that the Putin government has decided that it is better to stay on ISS for the moment then quit and have no space station at all.

Russia has also been negotiating with China to partner with it on China’s space station. While China says it is willing, it also appears entirely uninterested in committing any of its funds to help Russia. It might allow a Russia astronaut to visit its station at some point, but that would likely be the limit of that space station partnership.

All in all, Russia’s space effort faces a dim future. ISS is going to be replaced with several private commercial stations owned by American companies, none of which want to partner with Russia. And Russia doesn’t really have the funds to build its own station. Nor does it have a competitive aerospace industry capable of developing its own stations.

Unless something significant changes soon, Russia’s place in space will shrink considerably in the next ten years.

South Korea cancels probe to asteroid Apophis

The South Korea government has canceled its proposed unmanned probe to asteroid Apophis that had been designed to reach the asteroid during its ’29 close approach of Earth and fly in formation with it.

The science ministry, which manages state-funded space programs, recently ruled the mission “unfeasible” and decided not to request the $307.7 million budget it initially sought for the mission. … “We’ve decided not to pursue Apophis probe mission because there were various issues making it difficult for the mission to be successful,” Shin Won-sik, a science ministry official, told SpaceNews. “To probe Apophis, we have to launch a spacecraft by 2027 at the latest. But with the rocket and spacecraft-making capabilities we have, it’s unrealistic to launch in time.”

South Korean officials insisted they are not abandoning all future asteroid missions, but merely shifting this effort to other asteroids in which there is less time pressure to launch. Right now they are considering a mission in the mid-2030s, which could also be an asteroid sample return mission.

France signs Artemis Accords

The U.S. State Department yesterday announced that France has become the twentieth nation to sign the Artemis Accords.

The full list of signatories so far: Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, the Ukraine, and the United States.

France’s signing is a major breakthrough, as both it and Germany, major players in the European Space Agency, have appeared to resist signing on because to do so would have limited their ability to partner with Russia on space projects (Russia opposes the accords). The Ukraine War has apparently ended France’s resistance. It no longer has any partnerships with Russia, and is not likely to form any new ones in the near future.

We should expect Germany to sign on in the near future as well.

As I wrote in May, the future factions in space are now becoming clearer. On one side we have the American Alliance, signers of the accords who support private property. On the other we have Russia and China, who oppose the accords because they also oppose private property.

In May I also included a third faction, made up of non-aligned space powers. That faction now appears to be fading away, though it still includes Germany and India.

France re-approves Starlink service

Capitalism in space: After finally completing what France’s telecom bureaucracy ARCEP calls “a public consultation,” the French government once again approved Starlink service on June 2nd.

ARCEP had authorized Starlink in February 2021, however, France’s highest administrative court revoked the license April 5 after ruling that the regulator should have first launched a public consultation.

That ruling came after two French environmental activist organizations submitted an appeal to challenge Starlink’s frequency rights, citing concerns including the impact of megaconstellations on views of the night sky and space debris.

This approval, combined with recent approvals of Starlink in the Philippines and Nigeria, continues the steady expansion of Starlink service globally.

Fuel leak scrubs launch of Dragon cargo capsule this week

A fuel leak detected during fueling of hydrazine in a Dragon cargo capsule as it was being prepared for a June 10th launch has forced SpaceX and NASA to delay the launch.

SpaceX detected “elevated vapor readings” of monomethyl hydrazine, or MMH, fuel in an “isolated region” of the Dragon spacecraft’s propulsion system during propellant loading ahead of this week’s launch, NASA said in a statement.

The fueling of the Dragon spacecraft is one of the final steps to prepare the capsule for flight, and typically occurs just before SpaceX moves the craft to the launch pad for integration with its Falcon 9 rocket.

The Dragon spacecraft has propellant tanks containing hydrazine fuel and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. The two propellants ignite upon contact with each other, providing an impulse for the cargo ship’s Draco thrusters used for in-orbit maneuvers.

Each Dragon spacecraft has 16 Draco thrusters, small rocket engines that generate about 90 pounds of thrust. The Draco engines are used for orbit adjustment burns and control the spacecraft’s approach to the space station, then fire at the end of the mission for a deorbit burn to guide the capsule back into the atmosphere for re-entry and splashdown.

According to the article, it is not yet confirmed that the leak came from the capsule. If so, however, it could become a more serious issue, especially with the recent story — denied strongly by NASA — that a hydrazine leak caused damage to the heat shield of Endeavour during the return of its Axiom commercial passenger flight.

China launches three astronauts to Tiangong station

The new colonial movement: Using its Long March 2F rocket, China has successfully launched three astronauts into orbit for a six month mission to its Tiangong space station.

The crew will be transported to the station in China’s Shenzhou capsule, docking about six hours after launch. During this mission China will also launch the last two large modules planned for the station, completing its initial construction by the end of the year.

I have embedded the live stream below the fold, cued to just before launch.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

22 SpaceX
18 China
8 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 31 to 18 in the national rankings, as well as the entire globe combined, 31 to 29.

» Read more

A look at World View, one of two balloon companies about to offer high altitude tourist flights

An artist's impression of a Worldview tourist balloon in flight
An artist’s impression of a World View tourist balloon in flight

The future of space tourism is not going to be limited to rockets, no matter how romantic those rockets might be. For a lot of people, getting into space might not be a good option simply because of cost. Moreover, even if one could afford the cheaper suborbital flights presently offered by Blue Origin and are promised someday from Virgin Galactic, the short length of the journey, no more than ten minutes in space, could for many people make these flights not worth doing.

There is an alternative however, one that won’t get you into space, but will fly you high enough that you will be above 90% of the atmosphere, see the curve of the Earth, and get to do it for hours for far less money. This alternative comes from the high altitude balloon companies that are now working hard to begin flying tourists sometime in the next two years.

There are presently two American companies on the verge of flying tourists to up about 20 miles altitude. One is Space Perspective in Florida. If all goes as planned, it will begin flying passengers on its Neptune balloon by ’24, at a ticket price of $125K per head. It is presently accepting reservations with a $1,000 deposit.

The second company is Tucson-based World View. Up until 2019 the company had been planning to fly tourists, but a change in leadership brought on by its failure to meet the terms of a local development deal caused it to put those plans aside. Then in 2021 it restarted those plans.

Tickets will cost $50,000 per person, with World View providing what it calls “flexible financing options.” The company expects the first flight no earlier than early 2024.

At the moment about 1000 people have put down a deposit of $500 for a flight.

Both companies will be offering flights lasting most of one day, with additional pre- and post-flight activities.

On May 18, 2022, I attended an event held by World View at its Tucson headquarters. The event showcased the company’s talent, its facilities, and the value of hi-tech high stratospheric balloons. To begin the event, CEO Ryan Hartman gave a short presentation describing his goals for the company and the strategy he is following to reach them. The two graphics below come from that presentation, and provide I think the clearest outline of those goals and strategy.
» Read more

India’s first private satellite manufacturing facility opens

Capitalism in space: At a ceremony today that included officials from the government, the private commercial company ANANTH opened India’s first private satellite manufacturing facility.

Located at Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board Aerospace Park, Bengaluru, the new establishment is equipped with clean rooms for spacecraft sub-systems manufacturing and is large enough to cater to four spacecraft simultaneously.

This unveiling is part of India’s effort to transition from a government-built space effort to one run by the private sector. In the past all satellite construction in India was designed, managed, and owned by India’s space agency ISRO. This facility will now take over that function, and do so not only for ISRO but for any private company that wishes to have a satellite built.

NASA awards Axiom & Collins Aerospace contracts to build spacesuits

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday awarded separate contracts to two different companies, Axiom and Collins Aerospace, to build spacesuits for its astronauts, either when they do spacewalks in space or when they are exploring the lunar surface.

The contract enables selected vendors to compete for task orders for missions that will provide a full suite of capabilities for NASA’s spacewalking needs during the period of performance through 2034. The indefinite delivery and indefinite quantity, milestone-based xEVAS contract has a combined maximum potential value of $3.5 billion for all task order awards. The first task orders to be competed under the contract will include the development and services for the first demonstration outside the space station in low-Earth orbit and for the Artemis III lunar landing.

Each partner has invested a significant amount of its own money into development. Partners will own the spacesuits and are encouraged to explore other non-NASA commercial applications for data and technologies they co-develop with NASA.

More information can be found in each companies’ press release, located here (Axiom) and here (Collins).

These commercial contracts replace NASA’s own failed effort to make its own Artemis spacesuits, which spent fourteen years and more than a billion dollars before being abandoned by the agency because wouldn’t be able to deliver anything on time.

The contracts also continue NASA’S transition — as recommended in my 2017 policy paper Capitalism in Space [pdf] — from a failed space contractor to merely being the customer buying products from the commercial sector. The result is we now have a vibrant and ever growing private space sector with products available quickly and cheaply not only for NASA, but for others. The Axiom press release illustrates these facts with this quote:

The Axiom spacesuit is key to the company’s commercial space services. This new NASA contract enables Axiom to build spacesuits that serve the company’s commercial customers and future space station goals while meeting NASA’s ISS and exploration needs.

SpaceX wins more NASA manned flights to ISS

Capitalism in space: NASA has now announced that it is buying five additional manned missions to ISS from SpaceX, beginning in ’26.

This new contract is in addition to a February ’22 NASA award that purchased three more Dragon flights.

After a thorough review of the long-term capabilities and responses from American industry, NASA’s assessment is that the SpaceX crew transportation system is the only one currently certified to maintain crewed flight to the space station while helping to ensure redundant and backup capabilities through 2030.

The current sole source modification does not preclude NASA from seeking additional contract modifications in the future for additional transportation services as needed.

The press release repeatedly makes it clear that NASA very much wishes to buy tickets on Boeing’s Starliner, but until it is declared operational it must give its business to SpaceX. Once Starliner begins flying, NASA will then buy seats on it and alternate between the two companies. Until then however this new SpaceX contract guarantees NASA enough flight capacity to keep ISS occupied, even if Starliner gets further delayed.

Regardless, Boeing has once again lost business to SpaceX because its Starliner capsule is not yet ready. In the long run this contract means fewer total flights for Boeing to ISS, which means less profits.

Ursa Major announces new rocket engine to replace what Russia previously provided

Capitalism in space: The new rocket engine company Ursa Major yesterday announced a new more powerful rocket engine, dubbed Arroway, designed to replace rocket engines that Russia had been selling.

Arroway is a 200,000-pound thrust liquid oxygen and methane staged combustion engine that will serve markets including current U.S. national security missions, commercial satellite launches, orbital space stations, and future missions not yet conceived. The reusable Arroway engine is available for order now, slated for initial hot-fire testing in 2023, and delivery in 2025.

Notably, Arroway engines will be one of very few commercially available engines that, when clustered together, can displace the Russian-made RD-180 and RD-181, which are no longer available to U.S. launch companies.

Arroway could replace the RD-181 engines that Northrop Grumman uses on the first stage of its Antares rocket. Both engines are comparable in size. However, with Arroway available no sooner than ’25 it still will leave a gap, since right now the company only has enough stock on hand to launch two more rockets, both of which should launch before ’24.

Arroway is also about half as powerful as Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine, so if ULA wishes to use it in its Vulcan rocket a major redesign would be required.

Either way, Ursa Major is demonstrating here again the value of freedom and competition, as well as the foolishness and negative consequences of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. In response to the international sanctions against it, Russia blocked future rocket engine sales to the U.S. Not only did that not get the sanctions lifted, Russia is now losing that U.S. business, as other American companies are stepping up to replace it.

China launches nine satellites for commercial data constellation

China today used its Long March 2C rocket to launch the first nine satellites in a commercial data collection constellation.

Owned by GeeSpace, a subsidiary of Geely Technology Group, the satellite constellation will be mainly used to research and validate technologies, such as travel services of intelligent connected vehicles, and vehicle/mobile phone and satellite interaction. It will also provide data support for marine environmental protection.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

22 SpaceX
17 China
7 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 31 to 17 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 31 to 27.

Blue Origin reschedules next New Shepard flight

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin announced yesterday that it has rescheduled the next New Shepard passenger flight for June 4.

The original launch date of May 20th had been scrubbed because of an unexplained issue with the spacecraft’s “back-up systems.” The company has not provided any further information on what had been wrong, or what had been done to fix it.

This flight will be New Shepard’s fifth passenger flight, and its 21st overall.

Rogozin: Russia’s first lunar lander in decades to launch by end of September

The landing area for Luna-25

The new colonial movement: Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s Roscosmos space corporation, revealed yesterday that it is now targeting the end of September for the launch of Luna-25, the first Russian lunar lander to the Moon since Luna-24 in 1976.

The Russians hope to land the rover near 60-mile-wide Boguslawsky crater, located about 550 miles from the Moon’s south pole. The map to the right, figure 1 from a 2018 paper, provides the reasoning for picking this location.

The Luna–Glob mission [the title for the entire Russian program of future lunar probes] is designed for investigations in the polar regions of the Moon and targeted primarily on testing a new generation of technologies for landing a descent module. In this regard, the choice of scientific tasks of this mission is rather subordinate. Further realization of our lunar program, inclusive of the Luna–Resource mission with an extended complex of scientific tasks, and subsequently, a new generation of lunar rovers and modules for lunar subsurface sampling and return to the Earth, depends on the results of the present mission [Luna-25]. …The detailed photo geological analysis of the surface in the Luna–Glob mission landing sector (70°–85° S, 0°–60° E) using high-resolution images and topographic data made it possible to select the definite landing site. This site (the eastern landing ellipse, 73.9° S, 43.9° E) on the Boguslawsky floor represents a higher scientific priority and also provides relatively safe landing conditions.

The Russians have been attempting to launch this Luna-Glob program for almost a quarter of a century. Hopefully the first launch will finally happen this year.

FAA once again delays approval for launching Starship from Boca Chica

Capitalism in space: The FAA today announced that it is once again delaying release of its environmental reassessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas, setting a new release date only two weeks hence.

The FAA intended to release the Final PEA on May 31, 2022. The FAA now plans to release the Final PEA on June 13, 2022 to account for ongoing interagency consultations. A notice will be sent to individuals and organizations on the project distribution list when the Final PEA is available.

The previous five delays had each been month-long. This two week delay strongly suggests that the bureaucrats are getting close to a final agreement. Whether that means SpaceX will receive an approval, which is what the initial draft had suggested back in December, or be blocked, we shall have to see. A statement SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell in mid-May that the company would be ready to launch Starship by June suggests it will be an approval.

I have been predicting since December that the month-by-month delays would continue until after the November election. I will be quite happy if that prediction ends up wrong.

The new satellite industry, energized by freedom

Liberty enlightening the world
Liberty enlightening the world, both on it and in space.

Last week SpaceX successfully completed its 22nd launch in 2022, sending 59 smallsats into orbit with its Falcon 9 rocket.

In the past few decades, the launch of a smallsat would generally have not merited much further coverage. These satellites, almost always based on the 10-centimeter (or 4-inch) square cubesat design, had generally been short term objects built almost always by university students not so much to do space research as to simply learn how to build satellites and learn how they operated in orbit.

This has now all changed, fueled both by the immense drop in launch costs generated by the competition between the new rockets built by SpaceX and the new emerging smallsat rocket companies (Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, and Astra) and by the improved capabilities of miniaturized components. Cubesats can now do far more despite being tiny, and they can be launched for much less money.

The result has been wonderfully illustrated by the satellites launched last week on that Falcon 9. Below is a short list of the press releases in the past few days, announcing the successful activation of these satellites:
» Read more

Boeing picks company to manufacture flight suits for passengers on Starliner

Dover's spacesuits
ILC Dover’s spacesuits.

Capitalism in space: On May 26th ILC Dover announced it has been chosen by Boeing as one of two companies to manufacture flight suits for passengers on Starliner.

The Boeing AES [Ascent/Entry Suit] is based off ILC Dover’s commercial Launch, Entry, and Abort suit, SOL™. ILC Dover worked with Boeing to tailor SOL for the Starliner spacecraft to provide protection for astronauts during the most critical phases of spaceflight, including launch, docking, re-entry and landing. With over 50 years of spacesuit experience, the AES suit was designed to provide maximum mobility to operate, enter and exit the spacecraft, as well as provide protection for astronauts in case of an emergency.

The black spacesuit on the left in the picture is Dover’s SOL suit, which it is adapting for Boeing. The white suit is the spacewalk suit it has made for NASA for use on ISS, which I also think is the same spacesuit that has for now almost a decade had repeated problems with water leaking into the helmet.

In other words, big space Boeing has hired another big space company to build its Starliner flight suits. I hope ILC Dover does a better job with the AES suit then it has with its EVA suit.

Egypt to create a “space city” for space research and development

The new colonial movement: Mohamed al-Qousy, the head of Egypt’s space agency, announced yesterday that by the end of this year it will open a 123-acre site devoted to space research and commercial space business.

Qousy explained that the space city will contain 23 buildings to serve space activities, including a space academy, a research center, a center for the assembly of satellites, and a museum in the form of tourism in addition to the African Space Agency.

The agency aims to develop and transfer space science and technology into Egypt to build satellites and launch them from Egyptian territories.

It is not clear how much of this facility will be government-run, or privately owned. It appears most will be run by the government.

India’s press: End the endless launch delays at ISRO

The new colonial movement: An op-ed yesterday in one of India’s major news outlets demanded that its space agency ISRO end the launch delays that have now gone for more than two years since the beginning of the Wuhan panic, and get a number of military satellites into orbit.

The details are not really that important. What this op-ed suggests is that India’s press, and possibly its public, is now beginning to lose patience with ISRO’S reluctance to resume launches. It also suggests their own fear of the Wuhan flu has subsided.

The bottom line is that India has lost a lot of business in the past two years by its refusal to launch, especially in the smallsat market, and the only chance it has to regain that business is to resume launches, with a vengence.

China begins preparing Long March 5B for launch of next space station module

The new colonial movement: The Long March 5B rocket that will launch in July the next large module for China’s Tiangong space station, dubbed Wentian, has arrived at the launch site.

China’s Long March-5B Y3 rocket, which will launch lab module Wentian for the country’s space station, arrived on Sunday at the launch site in the southern island province of Hainan. The rocket, along with the Wentian lab module already transported to the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, will be assembled and tested at the launch site, announced the China Manned Space Agency. [emphasis mine]

In all past launches of the Long March-5B the core first stage has crashed to Earth in an uncontrolled manner because its engine could not be restarted after it shut down. The highlighted “Y3” added to the rocket’s name above suggests China might have fixed this. Previous Long March-5B rockets used YF-77 engines. Adding Y3 to the name — which generally follows China’s system for naming its engines — could mean they will now be able to control the core stage’s de-orbit. This speculation is further strengthened by a previous report that China was testing a new engine for the core stage that implied it was restartable.

If so, China will avoid the kind of bad press it received with previous Long March 5B launches. It will also put it back in compliance with the Outer Space Treaty, which it violated with each past core stage crash.

Environmentalists sue local Boca Chica officials for closing beaches for SpaceX

Muskhate: The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have now sued a variety of local Boca Chica government agencies for periodically closing the beaches during hazardous SpaceX operations.

The Sierra Club, the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas and non-profit Save RGV have joined together in a lawsuit against the Texas General Land Office, Texas land commissioner George P. Bush and Cameron County in Texas for closing Boca Chica Beach periodically for SpaceX operations during Starship tests, the Sierra Club stated May 5. The Boca Chica beach is near SpaceX’s Starbase facility, where it is building Starship rocket prototypes and their massive Super Heavy boosters.

“Restricting access to a public beach, as the defendants have done, violates the Texas constitution,” the Sierra Club said in a statement. None of the allegations have been proven in court, and the statement does not name SpaceX among the entities pursued in the lawsuit.

These are the same groups that have been lobbying government officials for the past few years to shut SpaceX down. They claim that a change to the state’s laws allowing these closures that was passed in 2013 violates the state’s constitution, and want the courts to agree.

Of course, we all know these organizations really have no interest in keeping the beaches open for public use. What they really want is to shut down SpaceX in Boca Chica, because that company is actually doing something exciting and innovative while bringing billions of investment capital to the Rio Grand Valley, including tens of thousands of new jobs. (The group called “Save RGV” is especially ironic and dishonest, since RGV stands for Rio Grand Valley. If their effort succeeded, they would not save RGV, but destroy it. All those jobs and billions would vanish, leaving the area as depressed and as poor as it has been now for decades.)

These groups also wish to destroy Elon Musk, because he has recently made it clear that he no longer is a knee-jerk supporter of all leftist causes.

Nor will their effort cease should they lose this case in court. They will do what environmental groups have done now for decades, find another minor legal issue and sue again, and again, and again, and again.

Did SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule have issues with its heat shield during its most recent return to Earth?

According to a May 23rd Space Explored article based on anonymous sources, the heat shield on SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule experienced “dangerously excessive wear upon reentry” because of a propellant leak.

Hypergolic propellant made its way into the Crew Dragon Endeavour’s heat shield, according to sources at SpaceX and NASA who spoke with Space Explored. This hypergolic propellant is used by the Crew Dragon in its Draco engines – hypergolic means that the two parts spontaneously combust upon contact. It is believed that this hypergolic propellant impacted the integrity of the heatshield, causing dangerously excessive wear upon reentry.

NASA however has now bluntly denied these claims:

“The data associated with Dragon’s recent crew reentries was normal — the system performed as designed without dispute. There has not been a hypergol leak during the return of a crewed Dragon mission nor any contamination with the heat shield causing excessive wear,” the NASA statement reads, in part.

“SpaceX and NASA perform a full engineering review of the heat shield’s thermal protection system following each return, including prior to the launch of the Crew-4 mission currently at the International Space Station,” the NASA statement continues. “The heat shield composite structure (structure below the tile) was re-flown per normal planning and refurbishment processes. The thermal protection system on the primary heat shield for Crew-4 was new, as it has been for all human spaceflight missions.”

Such a flat out denial by NASA strongly suggests that the anonymous sources relied on by Space Explored are not reliable, and got their facts wrong. While NASA will often try to hide or spin any issues to make them seem less worrisome, it has almost never denied the existence of a serious problem, when it was revealed that such a problem had occurred.

I know to say this sounds paranoid, but this story also suggests this claim might be part of the growing effort within the federal bureaucracy and the press to attack SpaceX, because of its new irrational hostility to Elon Musk because he supports achievement and free speech.

At the same time, SpaceX has recently had to discard and replace a Dragon heat shield planned for a future mission because of discovered “manufacturing defect” during normal preflight testing. This confirmed story, combined with the unconfirmed and questionable story above, suggests SpaceX needs to take a closer look at the Dragon heat shield design.

Astroscale to deorbit OneWeb satellites, funded by the European Space Agency

Capitalism in space: Astroscale has obtained OneWeb as a major customer for its system to safely deorbit its defunct satellites, with the work partly funded by the European Space Agency (ESA). From the ESA press release:

There are currently two options for removing end-of-life OneWeb satellites from their orbits at the end of their predicted five to six years of service. Each has been allocated enough fuel to be able to actively deorbit at the end of its useful lifetime. But, in case of failure, each has also been built with either a magnetic or a grappling fixture [designed by Astroscale], so that a servicer spacecraft could collect and actively deorbit the satellite.

The servicer spacecraft that Astroscale will build and test is called “ELSA-M” and is planned for launch in 2024. The servicer spacecraft will be the first “space sweeper” capable of removing multiple defunct satellites from their orbits in a single mission.

Following this demonstration, Astroscale will offer a commercial service for clients that operate satellite constellations in low Earth orbit, providing the technology and capability to make in-orbit servicing part of routine satellite operations by 2030.

Apparently, the ESA will pay Astroscale a little less than $16 million to install its grappling fixture on OneWeb’s satellites as well as build and fly the test ELSA-M mission. Once that flight proves the technology by removing several satellites, OneWeb will be expected to pay for Astroscale’s services, as will any other satellite customers.

This deal gives Astroscale a significant leg up on any other junk removal companies, as it getting its grappling fixture in space on many satellites. If that fixture should become standard, it will allow Astroscale to become the dominate satellite junk removal company, at least for the near future.

First test flight of Momentus’s orbital tug has issues

Capitalism in space: According to a short press release from the company, tirst test flight of Momentus’s orbital tug — launched on a Falcon 9 on May 25th, has communications issues.

We have established two-way contact with the Vigoride Orbital Transfer Vehicle, and as is often the case with a new spacecraft, have had some initial anomalies. We are using an unplanned frequency as we work through this and are applying for a Special Temporary Authority (STA) with the FCC to address that in order to help command the vehicle back to nominal configuration. Our engineering and operations team is working to address the anomalies.

No further details have so far been released.

Part 2 of Elon Musk’s most recent tour of Starbase

Looking up from the bottom of the tower
Looking up from the bottom of the tower

Looking down from the top of the tower
Looking down from the top of the tower

Tim Dodd of Everyday Astronaut has now posted part two of his long and most recent tour of Starbase at Boca Chica with Elon Musk. This section is 33 minutes long, and takes us to the top of the new orbital launch tower that SpaceX will use to launch Starship and Superheavy, as well as eventually catch Superheavy upon its return.

Part 1 can be viewed here.

The two images to the right are screen captures from today’s tour.

I have embedded Part 2 below. It has the following interesting take-aways:

  • Musk: “At SpaceX, we specialize in converting the impossible into late.”
  • Musk and his engineers spent several minutes describing in detail how the tower’s chopsticks will work in conjunction with Superheavy as it comes down and the chopsticks grab it.
  • Musk also provided some details about the Starlink-2 satellites, explaining that it is impractical to launch them on Falcon 9, and thus Starship must become operational to fly them.
  • The tour not only stopped near the top of the tower to get a close look at the attachment points for the chopsticks, it went to the tower’s top, at 469 feet in the air, 106 feet taller than the Saturn-5 rocket.
  • In discussing how the economy is not zero sum, Musk revealed why he is at heart a conservative, and is slowly finding this out. That he still leaves out that forgotten word that makes this all possible, freedom, shows his journey is not quite complete.
  • Musk also added his thoughts on the importance of making human civilization multi-planetary. For him, it is really a question of survival.

» Read more

Spaceflight’s Sherpa-AC tug successfully deploys satellites


Capitalism in space: Spaceflight’s first orbital tug, dubbed Sherpa-AC and launched on SpaceX’s May 25th smallsat Falcon 9 mission, has successfully deployed its satellites as planned.

Spaceflight successfully delivered all five customer payloads, including two hosted payloads on the Sherpa OTV [Orbital Transfer Vehicle, or tug], to their desired orbital destinations.

The Transporter 5 mission marks Spaceflight’s 51st launch, its sixth in 2022, and the first launch of the Sherpa-AC OTV model. Sherpa-AC, named for its “Attitude Control” capabilities, augments Spaceflight’s base free-flying Sherpa with key functionality including a flight computer, attitude knowledge and control, and more, making it ideal for servicing hosted payloads on orbit.

Organizations on Spaceflight’s Transporter 5 mission include Xona Space’s Huginn mission, NearSpace Launch Inc.’s TROOP-3, MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Agile Micro Sat, and Missile Defense Agency’s CNCE Block 2.

The picture above, reduced to post here, shows Sherpa-AC as launched. According to Spaceflight’s webpage, Sherpa-AC can act either as the service module for a smallsat, providing power, attitude control, and communications, or as a tug, bringing the cubesat to its desired orbit and then deploying it. On this flight three cubesats were deployed, and two remain attached, using Sherpa-AC as their service module.

Update on Relativity’s operations and first launch attempt

Link here. The article provides a nice overview of the company, its rocket, and the status of both. Key quote:

Terran 1, much like SpaceX’s Falcon family, is designed around affordability. The company says a dedicated mission on Terran 1 should cost around $12 million and is capable of taking 2,750 pounds of payload to low-Earth orbit. That number drops to about 2,000 pounds when going to sun-synchronous orbit.

Though the 110-foot Terran 1 won’t be reusable and will be expended into the Atlantic Ocean, it should inform the company’s future development of the much larger, 216-foot Terran R rocket. That vehicle will be reusable and is expected to directly compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

Terran 1’s demonstration mission, appropriately labeled “Good Luck, Have Fun,” is slated to carry no customer payload. The company appears to be on track for its goal of flying before the year is out.

Terran-1 will thus be limited to the smallsat market that is presently held by Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, and Astra. It is bigger, however, and if successful will be able to put more or larger smallsats into orbit, and do so at a cheaper price.

Stratolaunch unveils first Talon-A test vehicle

The pylon and Talon test vehicle attached to Roc
Click for original image.

Capitalism in space: Stratolaunch yesterday released the first pictures of its first Talon-A test vehicle, dubbed TA-0, to be used to test in-flight the pylon on the company’s giant Roc airplane that the Talon-A will be attached to.

The photo to the right, reduced, enhanced, and annotated to post here, shows the test vehicle attached to the pylon which hangs from the bottom of Roc’s wing. From the press release:

The pylon, which was introduced during Roc’s fifth test flight on May 4, will be used to carry and release Talon-A hypersonic vehicles. The hardware is comprised of a mini-wing and adapter that is constructed with aluminum and carbon fiber skins. It weighs approximately 8,000 pounds and occupies 14 feet of Roc’s 95-foot center wingspan, allowing for adequate space between the aircraft’s dual fuselages for safe vehicle release and launch. The custom structure also features a winch system that will load Talon-A vehicles onto the platform from the ground, expediting launch preparation and reducing the need for ground support.

Although this first version of Talon-A will not be powered in flight, its future iterations will be rocket-powered, autonomous, reusable testbeds carrying customizable payloads at speeds above Mach 5. TA-0 will continue functional and integration testing in the coming months, culminating in a captive carry and vehicle flight later this year. After completing TA-0 separation testing, the company will transition to flying its first hypersonic test vehicle, TA-1. The team has also started fabrication of a third vehicle, TA-2, the first fully reusable hypersonic test vehicle.

The development and initial testing of Talon-A is partly funded from a contract with the Air Force. If successful, the Air Force will likely move on to purchasing actual hypersonic test flights.

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