Rocket Lab might forgo use of a helicopter in recovering its Electron 1st stages

According to Rocket Lab’s CEO, Peter Beck, the company might abandon the use of a helicopter and the in air capture of the first stages of its Electron rocket 1st stages and instead simply fish them out of the water, refurbish them, and then reuse them.

In the second attempt last November, Rocket Lab called off the helicopter catch because of a momentary loss of telemetry from the booster. The company instead allow the stage to splash down in the ocean, where a boat recovered it and returned it to Rocket Lab’s facilities. “This turned out to be quite a happy turn of events,” he said on the call. “Electron survived an ocean recovery in remarkably good condition, and in a lot of cases its components actually pass requalification for flight.”

He said the company is planning an ocean recovery on an upcoming flight after incorporating additional waterproofing into the vehicle “Pending this outcome of testing and analysis of the stage, the mission may move us towards sticking with marine recovery altogether and introduce significant savings to the whole operation.”

As Elon Musk has said, “The best part is no part.” It appears that by having the stage come down softly and controlled by parachutes it is possible to get it out of the water fast, without much damage. If the first stage can then be reflown then it makes sense not to bother with the helicopter recovery.

Beck also indicated during his phone presentation that the company is still targeting fifteen launches in 2023, and that the demand for launches has allowed the company to maintain its launch prices, with the prospect of raising them soon.

SpaceX successfully launches its Endeavour capsule carrying four astronauts

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight used its Falcon 9 rocket to successfully launch its Endeavour capsule from Cape Canaveral, carrying four astronauts to ISS.

This was Endeavour’s fourth flight. It will dock with ISS in about 24 hours. The four-person crew included two Americans, one Russian (the second to fly on a Dragon capsule), and the first citizen of the United Arab Emirates to fly on an American spacecraft. He will stay on the station for six months.

The Falcon 9 first stage was making its first flight, and successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic. This was only the fourth new first stage used by SpaceX since January 2022 (out of 75 launches), and the second launched this year.

The 2023 launch race:

14 SpaceX
7 China
3 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan
1 India

American private enterprise now leads China 15 to 7 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 15 to 12. SpaceX alone leads the entire world combined, including all other American companies, 14 to 13.

ULA about to be sold?

According to anonymous sources cited by Eric Berger at Ars Technica today, the rocket company ULA may be sold by the end of this year.

The potential sale has not been disclosed publicly, but three sources confirmed to Ars that potential buyers have been contacted about the opportunity. These sources said a deal is expected to be closed before the end of this year and that investment firm Morgan Stanley and consulting firm Bain & Company are managing the transaction.

Berger correctly lists either Lockheed Martin or Boeing as the most likely candidates to purchase the company, simply by buying out their partner in the consortium. Both companies have strong reasons to obtain this company after the Vulcan rocket is flying. Boeing’s future building SLS is questionable, especially once Starship/Superheavy becomes operational. Lockheed Martin meanwhile has been very carefully moving into the new industry, investing heavily in the rocket startups ABL and Rocket Lab. It might want to own outright ULA, so it can better manage it.

Berger also speculates that Amazon or Blue Origin might be bidders as well. Somehow I doubt any company associated with Jeff Bezos will buy ULA, since he already has his own plaything in Blue Origin. Stranger things however have happened.

Either way, once Vulcan flies successfully it will then be a perfect time to put it up for sale, and others to buy it. The uncertainty will be reduced, and ULA will no longer be saddled with two rocket families, Delta and Atlas-5, both of which are expensive and non-competitive. Instead, it will have solid launch contracts with Amazon and the military, using Vulcan.

Such a sale will obviously also force major changes at ULA, possibly for the better. At such times the new management often uses the change as an opportunity to clean out deadwood as well as force major shifts in thinking.

Intelsat develops airplane WiFi antenna that can access both Intelsat and OneWeb satellites

Intelsat has now completed flight tests of a new airplane WiFi antenna designed to access both Intelsat and OneWeb satellites during flight.

By using the Intelsat and OneWeb satellite networks together, Intelsat can offer the benefits of LEO’s low latency along with the redundancy GEO provides to address network hotspots that LEO networks on their own cannot address. Whether aircraft are flying polar regions or over the most populated cities in the world, the ESA antenna will offer seamless coverage from takeoff to touchdown.

At just 90 pounds and with no moving parts, the new antenna stands just 3.5 inches tall on the top of the aircraft. The terminal’s low profile has the lowest drag of any product Intelsat has ever offered.

With this antenna, Intelsat keeps itself in the game. Airlines can provide more complete coverage by using it and signing deals with both OneWeb and Intelsat to provide WiFi to passengers.

Researchers develop liquid nitrogen spray that removes lunar dust

In a significant breakthrough that might solve a problem that has been on on-going threat to future lunar exploration, researchers at Washington State University have developed a liquid nitrogen spray that appears able to remove the Moon dust that sticks to spacesuits and equipment.

The sprayer removed more than 98% of moon dust simulant in a vacuum environment with minimal damage to spacesuits, performing better than any techniques that have been investigated previously.

You can read their paper here.

During the Apollo lunar landings the astronauts found Moon dust to be a serious problem. It is not only abrasive and attaches itself to everything, it caused in some astronauts what they called “lunar hay fever”, suggesting that on longer Moon missions the dust could cause serious health issues.

The process is not yet perfected. For example, it has not yet been tested in lunar gravity. Moreover, techniques for applying this spray practically during actual lunar operations do not yet exist. Nonetheless, this appears to be the first technique found that might work.

No resolution in sight for Blue Origin’s investigation into New Shepard flight abort

According to one Blue Origin official, the company’s investigation into the New Shepard flight abort continues without resolution, nearly six months after the incident occurred shortly after launch on a flight in September 2022.

Speaking at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference here Feb. 28, Gary Lai, chief architect for New Shepard at Blue Origin, said the company was continuing to investigate the Sept. 12 uncrewed mission, designated NS-23. On that flight, the crew capsule, which had experiments but no people on board, fired its launch escape motor about a minute after liftoff from the company’s West Texas test site.

The company has provided few updates about the status of the investigation since the incident and has not estimated either when the investigation would be complete or when New Shepard flights would resume. “We are investigating that anomaly now, the cause of it,” he said after a talk about New Shepard at the conference. “We will get to the bottom of it. I can’t talk about specific timelines or plans for when we will resolve that situation other than to say that we fully intend to be back in business as soon as we are ready.”

The pace of this investigation fits the generally slow manner in which Blue Origin appears to do everything. Six months later and it appears as if its engineers are still unclear about the cause of the abort. Nor is the company able to say when it will resume launches. This slow response matches the very leisurely pace the company set to fix its BE-4 orbital rocket engines, a pace so slow it caused a three year delay in the launch of ULA’s Vulcan rocket, and an even longer delay (with no end in sight) for Blue Origin’s own New Glenn rocket.

Considering that it has customers waiting to fly, this slow pace will not recommend it to future or even present customers. It would not surprise me if several — for both the suborbital and orbital spacecraft — quietly jump ship and arrange launch services elsewhere.

ESA invites private companies to build lunar satellites for communications and navigation

Capitalism in space: The European Space Agency (ESA) has now invited European and Canadian companies to build the lunar communications and navigation satellites that will be needed to serve the many future manned and unmanned missions presently being planned by the U.S. and Europe.

Under its Moonlight programme, ESA is inviting space companies to create these lunar services.

By acting as an anchor customer, ESA is enabling space companies involved in Moonlight to create a telecommunication and navigation service for the agency, while being free to sell lunar services and solutions to other agencies and commercial ventures.

Once Moonlight is in place, companies could create new applications in areas such as education, media and entertainment – as well as inspiring young people to study science, technology, engineering and maths, which creates a highly qualified future workforce.

According to the press release, almost 100 companies have already expressed interest.

It is however unclear how much freedom the companies will have in designing and creating these satellites, based on ESA’s own descriptions of the project. It appears that ESA wants to design them, and is simply looking for private companies to build them. Under this arrangement, ownership will not belong to the companies, even if they are given the freedom to make money selling the capability to others. In fact, past history suggests that in the end, ESA will eventually retract this part of the deal, because of its desire to fully control the satellites it designed.

Ispace provides update on its Hakuto-R1 lunar lander on the way to the Moon

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

The CEO of the Japanese company Ispace yesterday gave a media briefing on the status of its Hakuto-R1 lunar lander, essentially stating that the spacecraft is doing fine and is on target to land on the Moon at the end of April as planned.

Ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada said during a media briefing Monday that the flight has provided operational data that will inform subsequent missions. “We have acquired tons of data and know-how” on the lander and its subsystems, he said. “They are very viable assets for ispace.”

That includes information on the lander’s structural performance during launch and deployment, as well as the performance of thermal, communication and power subsystems. “It’s almost impossible to assume everything perfectly before the mission,” Hakamada said. “It is inevitable to face off-nominal events.” Some off-nominal events in the mission so far include thermal temperatures hotter than the company anticipated and a brief, unexpected issues with communications after the lander deployed from the Falcon 9. The thermal issues have not affected operations.

This mission, while carrying commercial payloads such as the UAE’s Rashid lunar rover, is mainly aimed at finding out these engineering details in order to make the next two missions in ’24 and ’25 more likely to succeed. The ’24 mission is also planned as a test mission, but it will carry commercial payloads for both Japanese and Taiwanese customers. On the ’25 mission, the main customer is NASA.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launches 21 second generation Starlink satellites

SpaceX today successfully launched 21 second generation Starlink satellites, dubbed V2-minis because they are smaller than the full version that will be launched on Starship.

The Falcon 9 rocket used a first stage flying on its third flight. It successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic. The fairings were completing their second flight.

The 2023 launch race:

13 SpaceX
7 China
3 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan
1 India

American private enterprise now leads China 14 to 7 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 14 to 12. SpaceX alone leads the entire world combined 13 to 12.

The shift away from government schools, at all levels, accelerates

Parents are rejecting this in droves
Parents are rejecting this mantra in droves

It has been clear for decades that the public schools in most major urban areas — all of which have been run by Democrats — have been failing badly at their primary task of educating children. Two recent stories underlined this failure.

First, in Baltimore a study found that not one student in twenty-three of the city’s schools was proficient in math.

Through an analysis of 150 Baltimore City Schools, 23 of them, including 10 high schools, eight elementary schools, three high schools and two middle schools, no students met math grade-level expectations, according to a report by Project Baltimore. Approximately 2,000 students took the state administered math exams that tested proficiency levels.

…An additional 20 schools in the district had no more than two students proficient in math, Project Baltimore reported. Another three schools in the district, which are for incarcerated students and students with disabilities, had no students that met grade-level expectations.

Essentially, just under one third of all of Baltimore’s public schools failed to teach any of their students math. Period. For any school system to accept this level of failure is beyond disgusting. Everyone who works for Baltimore’s schools should be canned, now.

Then, just days later, another story revealed that fifty-five of Chicago’s public schools were also totally incompetent at teaching math or reading, and should find other work.
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New company aims at providing floating ocean-going spaceports for rocket companies

A new startup, The Spaceport Company, is building a floating ocean-going spaceport for smallsat rocket companies, with the company’s long term goal to provide a range of floating spaceports for rockets of all sizes.

The Spaceport Company is planning to demonstrate a sea-based launch platform in May, conducting four sounding rocket launches from a modified ship in the Gulf of Mexico. “That will help us prove out our logistical, operational and regulatory procedures,” said Tom Marotta, founder and chief executive of the company, during a panel at the SpaceCom conference Feb. 23.

Those tests will be a precursor to developing a full-scale sea-based platform, based on a ship design called a liftboat. That ship can sail to a location and lower legs to anchor itself on the seafloor. The boat can then lift itself out of the water and serve [as] a launch platform.

That first orbital platform would provide launch services for smallsat rockets capable of launching up to one ton, and if the company’s suborbital test launches go well and further investment capital arrives, could be operational by 2025.

Astroscale raises $76 million in private investment capital from Mitsubishi, space tourist Maezawa, and others

The Japanese startup Astroscale, which is focused on removing orbital space junk and robotic satellite repair, has raised $76 million in private investment capital, bringing the total it has raised from private sources to $376 million.

Astroscale Holdings Inc. (“Astroscale”), the market leader in satellite servicing and long-term sustainability across all orbits, has closed a Series G round with more than U.S. $76 million in funding from new investors Mitsubishi Electric, Yusaku Maezawa, Mitsubishi UFJ Bank, Mitsubishi Corporation, Development Bank of Japan, and FEL Corporation.

The investors are of interest. Billionaire Maezawa, who has already flown to ISS as a tourist and has purchased a lunar mission on SpaceX’s Starship, contributed $23 million of the $76 million. Mitsubishi in turn has contributed at least $25 million. Both suggest Astroscale is now on very solid financial ground.

It also appears that the big players in Japan see Astroscale’s business plan as viable and expected to be profitable.

Where to get legal help if you have been illegally blacklisted

Today’s blacklist column is a follow-up of an earlier column from August 2022, when I provided a detailed list of the various legal non-profit firms that now take on cases to defend the blacklisted. The number of such firms has grown, and I decided it was time to provide a new more complete list.

These non-profit law firms are all dedicated to fighting the left’s shameless effort to illegally and immorally blacklist, blackball, censor, and destroy its opposition, and have been increasingly successfully in winning their cases. The list, though obviously not all inclusive, describes what appear to be the most active and successful non-profit law firms presently winning first amendment cases nationwide. (Note too that the ACLU is not on the list, as that organization a long time ago abandoned its foundational goal of protecting free speech and has instead become an agent acting to increase the left’s power over ordinary citizens.)

In choosing among these law firms, make sure you review their entire website and the many cases they are handling. Some firms might be less appropriate for your situation, and it is necessary on your part to do the due diligence to figure this out.
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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.

Stop participating in the delusions of the insane

“Lily” Mestemacher

In a perfect example of the modern madness of our time, when a bearded heavy-set man using the name “Lily” Mestemacher was arrested in Arkansas for making bomb threats against a location in Mississippi, the local news organization reporting the story in Mississippi used female pronouns to describe him because he claimed he was a woman. To quote that February 13, 2023 news report:

On February 10th, Mestemacher was transported to Oxford where she was booked on the aforementioned warrant. She was taken before a Lafayette County Justice Court judge for her initial bond hearing and issued a $50,000 bond. [emphasis mine]

His arrest mugshot is to the right. This is a man. Just because he is somewhat deranged and wants to make believe he is a woman does not require that local news organization, called The Local Voice, to participate in that derangement.
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India’s government plans to sell tourist tickets on its future manned flights

The new colonial movement: It appears that once it completes its first manned mission in space, dubbed Gaganyaan, India’s government space agency ISRO intends to sell tourist tickets on future manned flights.

[Union Minister Jitendra] Singh, who also holds the portfolios of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, informed the House that the objective of India’s maiden human spaceflight programme, ‘Gaganyaan’, is demonstration of human spaceflight capability to low earth orbit (LEO), which is a precursor to the future space tourism programme. “The ISRO has carried out a few feasibility studies for a sub-orbital space tourism mission,” the Union Minister revealed while announcing that after the accomplishment of the ‘Gaganyaan’ mission, activities towards space tourism would be firmed up.

Selling commercial tickets on its spacecraft would be completely in line with ISRO’s decades-long policy of trying to make money from its space capabilities. Whether this action however will help or hinder India’s independent space industry remains unclear. Like NASA a decade ago, there is a turf war in ISRO over whether to cede power to private enterprise, or hold it entirely in ISRO’s grip. If ISRO sells manned spaceflight tickets it will make it harder for private tourism companies to gain investment capital.

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.

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.

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 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.

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