Rocket Lab completes first full launch dress rehearsal at Wallops

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab announced yesterday that it had successfully completed its first full dress rehearsal of an Electron rocket launch from its new launchpad on Wallops Island, Virginia.

This clears the way for that first launch, though the actual launch date is not yet set.

Before a launch window can be set, NASA is conducting the final development and certification of its Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) software for the mission. This flight will be the first time an AFTS has been has flown from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and represents a valuable new capability for the spaceport.

The company has said it wishes to launch before the end of September, so expect an announcement momentarily. Once achieved Rocket Lab will have two launch sites, in New Zealand and the U.S., and will be able to double its launch rate.

Rocket Lab reveals it also launched its own satellite on August 30th

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today revealed that along with placing a customer’s commercial radar satellite into orbit on August 30th, it also launched the prototype of its own satellite during the Electron rocket launch.

The company calls its satellites Photons, but rather than number them it will give each their own name. This particular satellite has been dubbed “First Light.”

The satellite is primarily a technology demonstrator, a way to test Photon’s systems in orbit and show customers what the spacecraft is capable of. First Light will stay up for the next five or six years, if all goes according to plan, Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said during a teleconference with reporters today (Sept. 3).

Photon should be attractive to a variety of customers, allowing them to focus on their sensors and other instruments without having to worry about building and operating an entire spacecraft, Rocket Lab representatives have said.

The goal is to offer this smallsat as a platform to those who wish to launch an instrument into space but don’t want to spend the money building the satellite itself. The company also intends to use a Photon satellite for a science mission to Venus in 2023.

FAA issues Wallops Island launch license to Rocket Lab

Capitalism in space: The FAA has now issued a five year launch license to the smallsat rocket company Rocket Lab, allowing them to launch their Electron rocket from the company’s launch site on Wallops Island, Virginia.

The Launch Operator License allows for multiple launches of the Electron launch vehicle from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2, eliminating the need to obtain individual, launch-specific licenses for every mission and helping to streamline the path to orbit and enable responsive space access from U.S. soil.

The company hopes to do its first launch from the U.S. before the year is out. It will then have two spaceports, allowing it to double its launch rate.

Rocket Lab successfully launches a commercial radar satellite

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab tonight successfully resumed launches after its launch failure last month by placing a a commercial radar satellite into orbit.

This was Rocket Lab’s third successful launch in 2020, so they don’t make the leader board. The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

20 China
14 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 23 to 20 in the national rankings.

Five American launches in two days!

Capitalism in space: Though the first launches in the string of four American launches that was initially scheduled to begin two days ago and continue through the weekend was delayed because of weather and then technical issues, all these delays have done is pack those scheduled launches into a shorter time period, with the addition of a fifth launch!

If all goes as scheduled (hardly guaranteed), we will see five launches from three spaceports and four private companies in less than two days. The schedule, as of this moment:

August 29th at 2:04 am (Eastern): ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy to launch a military reconnaissance satellite from Cape Canaveral. The company’s webcast of the launch can be seen here.

August 29th at 11:05 pm (Eastern): Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket will launch a commercial radar satellite from New Zealand. The launch can be watched at the company’s live stream channel.

August 30th at 10:08 am (Eastern): SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will launch more of its Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral. All SpaceX launches are live streamed from SpaceX’s website, though the links are not yet up.

August 30th at 7:19 pm (Eastern): SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will launch an Argentinian Earth observation satellite from Cape Canaveral. All SpaceX launches are live streamed from SpaceX’s website, though the links are not yet up.

August 30th at 10:00 pm (Eastern): Astra will attempt the first orbital test launch of its privately built rocket from Kodiak, Alaska. They will not be live streaming their launch, but will provide updates at their Twitter feed.

All times and dates list only the beginning of the launch windows, which means they might launch, but not exactly at the times listed.

Also, SpaceX is aiming to do its second Starship test hop this weekend, the first for its sixth prototype.

Delta 4 Heavy launch scrubbed

Tonight’s launch of ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy was scrubbed due to a variety of technical problems. They have not set a new launch time, though they say they are aiming for the early morning hours of August 28.

This was to have been the first of four American launches in the next four days. The next, a Falcon 9 launch of an Argentinian radar Earth observation satellite, was scheduled for tomorrow, August 27th, at 7:19 pm (Eastern). No word on whether it is going forward as planned, though it might be since the ULA launch has shifted after it, to August 28th.

The third, by Rocket Lab, is presently scheduled also for August 28rd at 11:05 pm (Eastern), launching out of New Zealand.

The fourth, another SpaceX launch of more Starlink satellites, had been scheduled for 10:30 am (Eastern) on August 29th. Once again, this schedule could change due to tonight’s ULA scrub.

Stay tuned. I suspect all three companies are going to aggressively work to get all four launches off as fast as possible, even if not exactly as presently scheduled.

Four American launches in the four days

UPDATE: Rocket Lab’s launch has been delayed to 11:05 pm (Eastern) August 28 due of weather.

Beginning tomorrow, the next four days will be very busy for the American space rocket industry, with three companies attempting to complete four different launches.

First comes Rocket Lab, which will attempt its first launch of its Electron rocket since its first operational launch failure on July 4. Launch is scheduled for 11:05 pm (Eastern) on August 26th.

Next ULA is scheduled to use its most powerful rocket, the Delta 4 Heavy, to put a National Reconnaissance Office surveillance satellite into orbit. Launch is set for 2:12 am (Eastern) on August 27th. This very expensive rocket (which costs three to four times that of a Falcon Heavy) has only four launches left before being permanently retired.

Then SpaceX will attempt two launches in quick succession. The first will launch at 7:19 pm (Eastern) on August 27th, putting up an Argentinian Earth observation radar satellite. On this launch the first stage is a new one, and will attempt the first landing at Cape Canaveral since March 2020.

SpaceX will then follow with its third Starlink launch this month and twelfth overall, scheduled for 10:30 am (Eastern) on August 29th out of its facility at Cape Canaveral, assuming the other launches at Kennedy go as planned.

Moreover, the startup smallsat rocket company Astra is also aiming to attempt its first test launch before the end of August. The date is not yet set.

Busy times for sure, but note that this is only the beginning. I expect by the end of the 2020s the launch schedule will get increasingly packed. Soon having three three launches per week will seem routine.

Rocket Lab planning private Venus mission

Capitalism in space: According to its founder and CEO Peter Beck, the smallsat rocket company Rocket Lab is now planning a private Venus mission to be launched in 2023.

The 2023 mission will employ Rocket Lab’s two-stage Electron booster and Photon satellite bus. The 57-foot-tall (17 meters) Electron is a viable option for interplanetary missions now, thanks to recent advances in battery technology that boost the performance of the rocket’s Rutherford engines. With that improvement, Electron is now capable of lofting up to 660 lbs. (300 kilograms) of payload to low-Earth orbit instead of 500 lbs. (225 kg), Rocket Lab representatives have said.

“It opens the window for Venus, and it opens the window for recovery,” Beck said. (The company is working to recover and reuse the Electron’s first stage. Returning boosters will make guided re-entries to Earth’s atmosphere, which will require more fuel, which in turn will require more powerful engines to get the added weight off the ground.)

Photon, which has yet to make its spaceflight debut, won’t descend into Venus’ sulfurous skies on the coming mission. The current plan calls for the spacecraft to deploy one or more smaller probes into the planet’s atmosphere, Beck wrote in a Twitter post on Aug. 4.

There is a certain irony here, if Beck launches a private interplanetary science mission ahead of Elon Musk. Musk created the rocket company SpaceX expressly because he wanted to do a private science mission to Mars and needed an affordable rocket to do it. Since then he has been so focused on making that rocket company succeed he has not devoted any effort to that initial science mission concept. Beck, who came much later, now appears set to beat Musk to this first milestone.

Electrical disconnect caused Rocket Lab’s July 4th launch failure

Capitalism in space: According to Rocket Lab’s investigation into the July 4th launch failure, an electric connection detached and cut off power to the upper stage, causing it to cease firing prematurely.

Once the electrical system disconnected in flight, it cut power from the rocket’s battery to the electric turbopumps on the Electron’s second stage Rutherford engine. That caused the engine to switch off prematurely around five-and-a-half minutes after the rocket took off from Rocket Lab’s launch base in New Zealand.

The early engine shutdown prevented the rocket from reaching the velocity necessary to enter a stable orbit around Earth, according to Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab, a small satellite launch company headquartered in Long Beach, California.

But telemetry continued streaming from the launch vehicle back to Rocket Lab’s control center in Auckland, New Zealand, allowing engineers to analyze data and determine the cause of the failure. The kerosene-fueled second stage engine shut down in a controlled manner, and the rocket coasted to an altitude of around 121 miles (195 kilometers) before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up.

Now that the company understands what caused the detachment, it will institute testing to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The fix however will not require any redesign of the rocket, and so they are targeting late August for their next launch, followed in September with the first launch from Wallops Island, Virginia. They also still expect to complete one launch per month through the end of the year.

Rocket Lab launch failure

Electron 34 seconds from launch

UPDATE: Mere seconds after I uploaded the post below, Rocket Lab announced that something had gone wrong late in the launch, resulting in the loss of all seven satellites.

This failure is the company’s second since their first test launch attempt. It will certainly prevent them from their goal this year of monthly launches.

The failure also changes the launch standings below. Rocket Lab is no longer among the leaders, and the U.S. leads China 16 to 14.

The original post:
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Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully completed the thirteenth launch of its Electron rocket, placing seven smallsats into orbit.

The picture above, captured from their live feed 34 seconds before launch, is most amusing because of the white sheep and black cattle grazing in the foreground.

This launch, three weeks after their previous launch, was their fastest turn-around so far. They made no attempt this time to recover the first stage, but noted that they plan to do so on their seventeenth launch, four launches from now.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

14 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 17 to 14 in the national rankings.

A bunch of new contracts for smallsat rocket companies

Capitalism in space: Two news stories outlined today a bunch of new launch contracts for a number of smallsat rocket companies, with Rocket Lab getting the biggest share.

In the first award, the six companies were Rocket Lab, Aevum, Astra, X-Bow, Space Vector and VOX Space, of which only Rocket Lab is presently operational. The deal calls for the launch within the next 24 months of two cubesats from each company The money was authorized under the March Wuhan flu stimulus bill, and is apparently meant as reimbursement for each company’s losses because of the lock downs. No contract amount however was provided,

The second award to Rocket Lab came from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and is likely a reward for the company’s successful launch of three NRO satellites on June 12th. It also might involve two almost simultaneous launches on two different launchpads.

In a demonstration of its responsive launch capabilities, Rocket Lab said in a statement announcing the contract that the two launches will take place “within weeks” of each other. However, in an interview, Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck said he hopes the time between the two launches is much less than that. “We’re looking forward to having two vehicles sitting on two pads simultaneously, and we’ll see how close together we can actually get them to launch,” he said. “We’re planning internally to see how close we can get those two together.

The company is also hoping in the fall to attempt their first recovery of a first stage.

Next Rocket Lab launch scheduled only three weeks after last launch

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab yesterday announced that its next launch is now scheduled for July 3, less than three weeks after its previous launch, the fastest turnaround the company has attempted so far.

The July launch will place seven cubesats into orbit. The fast turnaround this time is part of the company’s attempt to complete one launch per month through the rest of the year, a pace they have been promising now since 2019 but have been as yet unable to achieve.

Successful Rocket Lab launch

Electron eleven seconds after liftoff

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today (June 13 in New Zealand) successfully launched five cubesats into orbit using its Electron rocket. The image to the right was taken eleven seconds after liftoff.

This was Rocket Lab’s second launch in 2020, delayed three months due to the Wuhan flu panic that shut down New Zealand. This does not put them in the leader board, but it does change the national rankings. The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

11 China
8 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 14 to 11 among the nations. Since SpaceX has its own Starlink launch later tonight, these numbers will likely change again before the night is over.

Chinese launch and Rocket Lab scrub

Electron on launchpad, June 11, 2020

Yesterday China used its Long March 2C rocket to launch an ocean observation satellite, while also testing both grid fins and a revamped fairing. The goal of the grid fins is to control the first stage’s return to Earth so that it won’t crash on top of any homes. The fairing change is to hopefully lead to their capture and reuse sometime in the future.

Late today, or actually early on June 11th, Rocket Lab tried to do its twelve commercial launch, but after three launch tries the high winds won out and they had to scrub. The image to the right shows the Electron rocket on the launchpad. If you look close, you can see the wind whipping the LOX evaporating off the rocket.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

11 China
8 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. continues to lead China 13 to 11 in the national rankings.

Rocket Lab to resume launches in June

Capitalism in space: With the New Zealand government finally lifting some of the Wuhan panic restrictions it imposed on its population, Rocket Lab has announced that it will resume launches in June.

The company announced May 28 it has rescheduled an Electron launch for June 11 local time from its launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. That launch was previously scheduled for March 30 but postponed because of a lockdown imposed by the New Zealand government in response to the pandemic.

The launch, called “Don’t Stop Me Now” by the company, has the same set of payloads as what the company originally announced in March. That includes three unidentified payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office, the ANDESITE (Ad-hoc Network Demonstration for Extended Satellite-based Inquiry and other Team Endeavors) cubesat built by students at Boston University and whose launch was arranged by NASA, and M2 Pathfinder built by the University of New South Wales Canberra.

I suspect that, because the launch business is normally filled with delays that can extend to two months, Rocket Lab has weathered this situation better than many others.

Rocket Lab completes new launchpad at Wallops

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has signaled the completion of new launchpad at Wallops Island in the U.S. by the first roll out of an Electron rocket.

The actual launch of a Space Force test satellite is set for sometime in the summer.

Meanwhile, the company is ready to resume launches in New Zealand, but is stymied by the Wuhan panic.

Beck tells the Herald that his company’s Mission Control centre in Auckland is now fully operational with NZ’s move to level 3.

However, its “Don’t Stop Me Now” mission from Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula – originally planned for March 24 – is still on hold, with no estimated launch date. “We’re now ready to launch, but currently border restrictions are preventing specialists from entering the country, which is having a negative impact. Our team is on standby to launch as soon as those restrictions are eased,” Beck says.

I hope the company has the resources to weather these government-imposed delays.

Rocket Lab steals Arianespace customer

Capitalism in space: It turns out that a new launch contract won by Rocket Lab this week was actually a payload that was originally going to fly on Arianespace’s Vega rocket.

What Tuesday’s announcement did not include was the fact that the Japanese company [Synspective] shuffled this launch from a Vega rocket onto Electron. The Vega rocket, which had its first failure in 15 launches last July, has yet to return to flight. The spaceport it launches from in French Guiana remains closed due to the coronavirus.

Synspective had signed a major agreement with Arianespace last year to launch what is hoped will become a 25-satellite constellation. It appears that because of the Vega rocket failure, along with its higher price, Rocket Lab is going to get that business instead. That Rocket Lab can provide Synspective a dedicated launch, to the orbit of its choice, also encouraged the switch.

The background of this deal suggests that Rocket Lab’s future is bright, assuming New Zealand and the United States are ever allowed to go back to normal as free and open countries.

Rocket Lab tests 1st stage capture using helicopters

Capitalism in space: In early March, prior to the shutdown of New Zealand due to the Wuhan panic, Rocket Lab successfully completed a test whereby one helicopter dropped a dummy first stage over the ocean, the stage’s parachutes released to slow it down, and then a second helicopter captured it and gently transported and deposited it safely on land.

This test was part of the company’s effort to recovery its first stages so they can be reused. Because of their small size and the difficulty of developing the software, they have decided that a vertical landing is not economical. This test however shows that capturing the stage by parachute is possible. The real trick will be getting the first stage back through the atmosphere to an expected target spot and be able to release its parachutes. Proving that part of the effort will have to wait until the panic is over and New Zealand releases its citizens from house arrest.

I have embedded video of the test below the fold.
» Read more

Rocket Lab suspends launches due to Wuhan virus

Chicken Little wins again! Rocket Lab announced yesterday that it is postponing its next launch from New Zealand, scheduled for March 30, due to the Wuhan virus.

The decision to postpone the launch came after the government of New Zealand announced March 23 that it was moving to Level 4, or its highest response level to the pandemic, effective just before midnight local time March 25. Under Level 4, residents are instructed to remain at home and only essential businesses allowed to remain open.

What the government considers essential is very limited. “Only the businesses absolutely essential to ensure the necessities of life, like supermarkets and pharmacies, can stay open. If in doubt, the business premises should be closed,” Paul Stocks, deputy chief executive of New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said in a March 24 statement.

My sense is that Rocket Lab was forced to do this by the government. The result is the government has become more powerful, and private enterprise weaker, partly because of the former, and partly because its profit margin will be slashed due to the unnecessary delay.

Rocket Lab gets launch contract for lunar cubesat

Capitalism in space: NASA has awarded Rocket Lab the contract to launch the privately-built, for NASA, lunar orbiting cubesat CAPSTONE, designed to test technologies and the orbital mechanics required to build its Gateway lunar space station.

This quote says it all:

The firm-fixed-price launch contract is valued at $9.95 million. In September, NASA awarded a $13.7 million contract to Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, to develop and operate the CubeSat.

Using two different private companies, one to build the satellite and the other to launch it, NASA will get a lunar orbiter for just over $23 million. That total equals the rounding error for almost all NASA-built projects.

The launch is set for early 2021.

Rocket Lab successfully launches U.S. reconnaissance satellite

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully launched a U.S. reconnaissance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.

They also had the first stage do a guided re-entry after stage separation, continuing their testing which they hope will eventually lead to the recovery and reuse of these stages.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

3 China
2 SpaceX
1 Arianespace (Europe)
1 Rocket Lab

The U.S. and China are now tied 3-3 in the national rankings.

Rocket Lab begins construction on 2nd New Zealand launchpad

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has begun construction on a second launchpad at its New Zealand spaceport.

The new pad, known as Launch Complex 1 Pad B, is due for completion in late 2020. Rocket Lab says LC-1B will support increased launch frequency; enable back-to-back missions within days; and ensure that a pad is always ready to support rapid call-up launch. The existing pad at New Zealand’s Launch Complex 1 will be LC-1A.

This new pad will give Rocket Lab three launchpads total, two in New Zealand and one in Virginia, and when all are operational the company says it will be able to launch more than 130 times per year. That’s more launches than the entire world routinely launches.

Rocket Lab opens Wallops Island launchpad

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab yesterday officially cut the ribbon on its first U.S.-based launchpad at Wallops Island, Virginia.

Rocket Lab aims to launch up to 12 missions a year from LC-2 [Wallops], about one a month, once flights begin in 2020. The first mission will launch in spring 2020 to deliver the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program 27RM (STP-27RM) mission into orbit. That mission will launch a microsatellite called Monolith to see if small satellites can effectively carry “large aperture” space weather payloads, said Lt. Col. Meagan Thrush, program element monitor for space launch and control for the Air Force, in a news conference here today.

The company has a similar launch rate capability at its New Zealand launch site. Thus, if they have the customers, Rocket Lab now has the ability to launch upwards of 24 times next year.

Successful Russia and Rocket Lab launches

Two launches successfully took place in the early morning hours today. First Rocket Lab launched seven small satellites into orbit, including one that will release an artificial meteor shower. During that launch they also obtained telemetry of their first stage as it fell to Earth.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck just tweeted that the Electron’s first stage performed well during today’s re-entry experiment. “Electron made it through wall! Solid telemetry all the way to sea level with a healthy stage. A massive step for recovery!!” Beck tweeted.

Russia in turn launched a Progress cargo capsule to ISS.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

27 China
19 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)
6 Rocket Lab

China now leads the U.S. 27 to 25 in the national rankings.

Rocket Lab announces new upper stage for taking satellites beyond Earth orbit

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab yesterday unveiled plans for a new upper stage to their Electron rocket that will allow them to send satellites to lunar orbit.

Rocket Lab will combine its Electron launch vehicle, Photon small spacecraft platform, and a dedicated bulk maneuver stage to accomplish extended-range missions and deliver small spacecraft to lunar flyby, Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), L1/L2 points, or Lunar orbit. These capabilities can then be expanded to deliver even larger payloads throughout cis-lunar space, including as high as geostationary orbit (GEO).

The satellites involved here would all be very small cubesats, but since these small satellites are increasingly becoming the satellite of choice for unmanned missions Rocket Lab’s timing here I think is excellent. They are putting themselves in position to garner this new market share.

Rocket Lab & China launch rockets

Rocket Lab and China successfully completed launches today.

Rocket Lab used its Electron rocket to put a large cubesat into the highest orbit the company has yet achieved. This was the company’s nineth successful launch, and the fifth in 2019.

China in turn used its Long March 3B rocket to place a military communications satellite into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

20 China
17 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
5 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 21 to 20 in the national rankings.

FAA gives Rocket Lab an umbrella 5-year launch license

Capitalism in space: The FAA has awarded the smallsat launch company Rocket Lab a 5-year launch license, allowing it to streamline its regulatory process so that it can up its launch pace.

Rocket Lab has received a new five-year Launch Operator License from the Federal Aviation Administration, which grants it permission to do multiple launches of its Electron rocket from its LC-1 launch site in New Zealand without having to seek individual clearance for each one. While not the only limiting factor, this should help Rocket Lab increase the frequency of its launches from LC-1, servicing more customers more often for commercial small satellite customers.

While Rocket Lab has yet to achieve its goal of launches every two weeks, or even one per month, this license should at least remove one obstacle.

Rocket Lab sets next launch date

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab yesterday announced its next launch window, beginning on October 15, while adding that it has switched out the payload planned for that commercial launch.

The launch, scheduled for a two-week window starting October 15, will take a single spacecraft created by Astro to low Earth orbit. Corvus — the genus to which crows and ravens belong — is the name of the series of imaging satellites the company has already put up there; hence the name of the mission.

But this mission wasn’t scheduled to launch for some time yet. October’s launch, the fifth this year from Rocket Lab, was set to be another customer’s, but that customer seems to have needed a bit of extra time to prepare — and simply requested a later launch date.

Rocket Lab correctly touts this late and fast switch as an example of its ability to provide on-demand service to its customers. Making a switch like this is rare in rocketry.

At the same time, Rocket Lab had hoped to launch as many as sixteen times in 2019, with launches occurring monthly beginning in the spring. They have not come close to that pace, and right now it does not look like the company will top ten launches in 2019. and will likely do much less.

Whether this is indicative of problems at Rocket Lab, or with its various customers, is not clear, though I suspect the latter. The rocket has been reliable and operational now for more than a year.

Rocket Lab & China launch satellites

Both Rocket Lab and China today launched rockets to put satellites into orbit, though it is as yet still unclear whether the Chinese launch was successful.

Rocket Lab successfully placed four smallsats into orbit. It was the company’s eightth consecutive successful launch, continuing its perfect launch record.

More important, the company now has completed four launches in 2019. Their goal, announced early this year, was to achieve a monthly pace by summer, then ramp up to twice a month by the end of the year. So far they are not quite meeting that goal, averaging one launch every 1.5 months (March, May, June, August). Still, this record is quite impressive, considering they are a very new and very small private company that it now is beginning to match or exceed the launch pace of other nations (India) as well as well-established companies (ULA).

China’s Long March 3B launched a civilian communications satellite, but according to the story at the link, “the usual announcement of a successful separation has yet to published by Chinese State media.” For the purposes of the launch standings, I will assume at the moment that this was a successful launch, but will revise this post should we learn the satellite did not reach orbit. Update: It appears the launch was successful, but the satellite is having problems. This would mean the launch counts below.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

13 China
12 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India
4 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 18 to 13 in the national rankings.

Rocket Lab to attempt recovery and reuse of Electron 1st stage

Capitalism in space: Faced with stiff competition from both other smallsat rocket companies as well as the big players like SpaceX, Rocket Lab has announced that they are going to try to recover the first stages of their Electron rocket for later reuse.

Their plan is to use the atmosphere and parachutes to slow the stage down as it returns to Earth, and then have a helicopter snag it and land it on a ship.

They had looked into the idea of vertically landing it, like SpaceX does with its Falcon 9, but found it would make their rocket to big and expensive.

This plan is not as radical as it sounds. The Air Force did something similar for almost a decade in the 1960s to recover film from its surveillance satellites.

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