Rocket Lab’s payload on its first suborbital test launch of its Electron rocket

Until today it was unclear whether the successful first suborbital launch of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket on June 17, 2023 carried a payload. Now we know it did:

The launch took place at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and demonstrated the Multi-Service Advanced Capability Hypersonic Test Bed, or MACH-TB, program’s first suborbital flight of a hypersonic payload.

MACH-TB is led by the Pentagon’s Test Resource Management Center and the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Crane Division. The team selected Leidos as the program’s prime integrator last September, and California-based space company Rocket Lab is one of 12 subcontractors supporting the effort.

It appears the Pentagon program that funded MACH-TB is a different program — from a different Pentagon office — from the one that is funding the next suborbital hypersonic test using Electron. Nor is this unusual for the military. The duplication of these Pentagon programs, with multiple bureaucracies, says a lot more about the utter waste and incompetence and corruption in DC than it does about hypersonic suborbital testing.

For Rocket Lab however this duplication is great news, as it provides the company at least two different customers for its suborbital rocket.

Defense offers much lower $5 billion Space Force cost

The deputy defense secretary yesterday said that the cost for creating a Space Force should be around $5 billion, not $13 billion as proposed by the Air Force.

The cost to create President Trump’s Space Force could be lower than $5 billion and certainly will be in the single-digit billions, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said at a briefing Thursday, pushing back against Air Force estimates that put the price tag at $13 billion or more.

Shanahan, the lead Pentagon official working on the Space Force, expressed confidence the project would come to fruition — even though Democrats taking over the House have opposed it and the White House has broadly ordered the Pentagon to cut costs.

It appears that he is proposing that the military avoid the creation of a full-fledged new branch of the military and simply reorganize its space bureaucracy into a single office. This would not require Congressional approval, and is also what the military has been considering for the last few years.

Five billion however for an office still seems an ungodly amount of money to me. But then, this is how corrupt Washington functions.

The shift to smallsats by the U.S. military

Link here. The story focuses on the first planned constellation of smallsats, hopefully set for launch by 2021.

[DARPA] has mounted a program called Blackjack, which aims to loft a network of 20 prototype spy satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO) in 2021. These craft will be incredibly cheap compared to the current crop: The goal is get each satellite built and launched for about $6 million, said Thomas, the Blackjack program manager.

Blackjack aims to meet this ambitious cost target by leveraging developments in the private space sector. Several companies plan to establish huge constellations in LEO in the next few years, to deliver cost-effective internet service to people around the globe. SpaceX’s Starlink network, for example, will feature thousands of individual satellites.

Blackjack will integrate reconnaissance and communications payloads into standard commercial satellite bodies (known as buses) and take advantage of the high launch rate required to loft the mega-constellations, Thomas said. “The Blackjack approach assumes that we’re not going to be an anchor tenant. We’re not going to be driving these companies,” he said during the FISO presentation. “But we want to take advantage of that production line of spacecraft, the buses especially, that they’re going to be building. We want to take advantage of that launch and take advantage of all of those pieces.”

There’s a lot more at the link. If this first constellation works out, they will upgrade it to a constellation of 90 satellites. And it will based on buying the bulk of its product from the private sector instead of having the military build it. This will provide a wealth of business for smallsat manufacturers as well as smallsat rocket companies.

Unsafe anthrax shipments more extensive than first revealed

Government marches on! The Defense Department has now admitted that the improper shipment of live anthrax samples was far more widespread than they originally told us.

“As of now, 24 laboratories in 11 states and two foreign countries are believed to have received suspect samples. We continue to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who is leading the ongoing investigation pursuit to its statutory authorities. The Department will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates to the public,” Defense Department said in a statement.

The Defense Department had previously reported labs in nine states and Osan Air Force Base in South Korea were impacted.

Words fail me.