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.

» Read more

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.

Today’s blacklisted American: Previously blacklisted Oregon professor sues university for being further blacklisted because he tweeted “all men are created equal.”

Bruce Gilley
Bruce Gilley of Portland State University

They’re coming for you next: Professor Bruce Gilley of Portland State University in Oregon, who previously had a peer-reviewed paper on colonialism withdrawn from publication because of death threats, has now sued the university because the former communication manager for its Division of Equity and Inclusion blocked him from an internal college Twitter discussion group because he had the nerve to tweet “all men are created equal.”

You can read his lawsuit complaint here [pdf]. Gilley not only sued the university’s Division of Equity and Inclusion, he also sued directly Tova Stabin, the communications manager who blocked him.

What makes the case interesting is that the day after he filed his lawsuit, the university unblocked him and its lawyer sent him an apologetic letter. Here is part of that letter, as quoted in the lawsuit complaint:
» Read more

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.

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.

Is Amazon’s Kuiper Constellation project in trouble, or is it fleeing Seattle?

According to a on-going listing of open space-related jobs in Seattle, Amazon has almost completely ceased hiring in that city, even as it is about to launch the first prototype test satellites in its proposed internet Kuiper satellite constellation.

To see the decline, take a gander at the graph here.

The analyst at the first link also noted in a later tweet this fact about Amazon hiring in Seattle:

…Went from 189 at end of October to 14 yesterday (in WA state, not total). It’s unusual, at least in the nearly 3 years I’ve been monitoring. Could be due largely due to Amazon hiring freeze.

Amazon is required by its FCC license to get over 1,600 Kuiper satellites launched in the next 40 months. The first two are only scheduled for launch on the first Vulcan launch now targeting a late March liftoff. As test prototypes, they will have to be tested for a period of time in orbit, followed by an assessment that might require changes in the design and construction of later satellites. These satellites would then have to be launched at an unprecedented rate, almost faster than anything SpaceX has done with its Starlink constellation.

At the moment it thus seems impossible for Amazon to meet the FCC deadline.

That the company appears to have stopped hiring space-related positions in Seattle at this very moment makes that goal even more impossible. This hiring freeze thus suggests that management has decided that the Kuiper project is untenable and is quietly cutting it off at the knees.

Or it could be that the hiring freeze is instead an indication that Amazon is slowly shifting operations out of leftist and insane Washington state. If so, work on the Kuiper project, including hiring, might be going on elsewhere.

Regardless, the state of the Kuiper project continues to be tenuous and uncertain, at best.

Hat tip to Jay, BtB’s stringer.

Developments at the Houston Spaceport industry park

Link here. The article gives a detailed review of the various space-related businesses (Axiom, Intuitive Machines, Collins Aerospace) that have set up operations at this industry park focused on attracting space companies to the Houston area.

The park in a sense in misnamed, as it isn’t a launch facility. However, it is now building a taxiway that will connect the park directly to Ellington Airport, which for these businesses will help facilitate the transport of large space station modules and lunar landers.

SpaceX successfully launches 49 Starlink satellites and a D-Orbit space tug

SpaceX today successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch 49 Starlink satellites as well as a D-Orbit space tug carrying one of its own customer’s satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The first stage successfully completed its seventh flight, landing on a drone ship in the Pacific. The D-Orbit tug with its four payloads has also successfully deployed.

The 2023 launch race:

7 SpaceX
5 China
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan

American private enterprise leads China 8 to 5 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 8 to 6.

German rocket startup Isar Aerospace gets first American customer

The German rocket startup Isar Aerospace, which hopes to complete the first launch of its Spectrum rocket this year, has signed its first launch contract with an American company, the satellite broker and space tug company Spaceflight.

U.S.-based launch services provider Spaceflight said Jan. 25 it has booked a dedicated launch in 2026 from Isar Aerospace, the German rocket developer aiming to perform the first test flight of its Spectrum vehicle this year. The mission is slated to lift off from Isar’s launchpad in Andøya, Norway, to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

Their agreement also includes an option for an additional dedicated launch in 2025, which Isar chief commercial officer Stella Guillen told SpaceNews could also use a launchpad it is developing at the Guiana Space Center near Kourou, French Guiana.

Spaceflight has been scrambling to find rockets for its tugs, since SpaceX announced in March 2022 it would no longer carry them. It signed a deal with Arianespace to fly on its Vega rocket, but launch failures have delayed its launch.

Isar is one of three German rocket startups vying for business. The race to be the first to launch remains very tight.

SpaceX successfully launches a record 56 Starlink satellites

SpaceX early today successfully launched a record 56 Starlink satellites on a single Falcon 9 rocket, which also carried a record mass for the rocket.

The first stage successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic, completing its 9th flight. The fairing halves completed the 6th and 7th flights.

The 2023 launch race:

6 SpaceX
5 China
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan

American private enterprise now leads China 7 to 5 in the national ranks, and the entire world combined 7 to 6.

Arianespace’s chief condemns the idea of independent private European rocket companies

Stéphane Israël, the head of Arianespace, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) commercial rocket division, yesterday strongly condemned the idea of allowing independent private European rocket companies to develop and compete with his government operation.

“It is not possible to copy-paste the US model,” he said. “It is not possible. The level of space spending in the United States is five times higher than in Europe, and the private capital is not the same. So if the answer is to say let’s do what the US has done, I think we will not manage to do it.”

Moreover, Israël said the European Space Agency must resist supporting microlaunchers to the point where these companies might compete with the existing capabilities.

“A huge mistake would be that this focus on microlaunchers destabilizes Ariane 6 and Vega C—it would be a historic mistake,” he said. “Microlaunchers can be of support to boost innovation. But we should not make any confusion. This launcher will never give autonomous access to space to Europe. They’re on a niche market representing maybe 10 percent of the market, and less than that when it comes to European needs.”

He said this in Brussels at the 15th European Space Conference, where it appears he was trying to convince the ESA to block any competition with Arianespace.

Israël might say this, but not only has his track record in predicting the success of commercial space in the U.S. been bad, other European governments are not taking his advice. Both Germany and the United Kingdom have several rocket startups gearing up for their first launches this year, with others in Spain and France not far behind. Moreover, Israël doesn’t have much to offer in competition. Arianespace’s Vega rocket, intended to be a low cost option, has failed on three of its last eight launches. The Ariane 6 rocket is years behind schedule, and has not yet launched. And both are overpriced and cannot compete, not only with the American rocket startups but with India’s government rockets.

Moreover, those European governments have in recent years been taking control and power away from Israël and Arianespace. Unlike earlier rockets, the Ariane 6 rocket is not controlled or owned by Arianespace. Instead, it belongs to ArianeGroup, the partnership of Airbus and Safran that is building it. Arianespace’s role in operating it will be greatly limited, once it begins flying.

Stacked Starship and Superheavy complete first full wet dress rehearsal countdown

SpaceX yesterday successfully completed a full wet dress rehearsal countdown of its stacked Starship prototype #24 and Superheavy prototype #7, fueling both completely and taking the countdown down to T-0.

On this rehearsal however the Superheavy engines were not fired. From two SpaceX tweets:

Starship completed its first full flight-like wet dress rehearsal at Starbase today. This was the first time an integrated Ship and Booster were fully loaded with more than 10 million pounds of propellant

Today’s test will help verify a full launch countdown sequence, as well as the performance of Starship and the orbital pad for flight-like operations

Next step: Another full wet dress rehearsal countdown that includes a short static fire test of all 33 Superheavy Raptor-2 engines. Once that is done successfully, the company will be ready for that first orbital launch.

Meanwhile, SpaceX awaits its launch license from the FAA. I remain pessimistic that it will be issued on a timely manner, as there are clear signs the Biden administration wants to use its power against Musk, whom it now sees as an enemy.

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