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Rocket Report: SLS slows fast NASA action, Brazil is considering launch site

A Falcon 9 rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Welcome to Edition 1.40 of the Rocket Report! There were some developments in the area of ​​heavy lift this week, with the announcement by NASA that the use of commercial missiles will consider launching the first lunar launch of the Orion spacecraft. Readers have also submitted a number of interesting stories, such as Brazil considering a launch base to match Kourou in neighboring French Guiana.

As always, we are happy with the submissions of readers, and if you do not want to miss a problem, you can sign up using the box below (the form does not appear on AMP-compatible versions of the site). Each report contains information about small, medium and heavy rockets and a quick look ahead at the next three launches in the calendar.

Vega-C rocket enters qualification phase, but slips away. The new European small satellite launch system has recently passed its Critical Design Review and is now ready to complete production and final checks as part of the qualification phase, according to the European Space Agency. The first flight of the Vega-C booster, a more economical version of Arianespace's Vega rocket, is now scheduled for early 2020 (this is a slip of late 2019).

About a year to go … The Vega-C rocket uses Europe's new P120C rocket driver, which will also power the Ariane 6. Arialespace should help Arianespace save costs by attracting more from the small satellite launch market. "We have a challenging 12-month lead, starting with four Vega launches between March and November and ending with the first flight of Vega-C," said Stefano Bianchi, head of ESA's Space Development Department. (submitted by Ken the Bin and Unrulycow)

LinkSpace is getting ready to land rockets. In a tweet, the Chinese launch company had a photo of a missile landing site posted with the message "Welcome to Earth." The company is expected to launch suborbital tests of its landing demonstration in the coming months.

Have we seen this before? … LinkSpace, founded in 2014, was one of the first private Chinese rocket companies (more than a dozen has since followed). It is trying to develop a liquid fuel rocket with a reusable first stage that can lift about 200 kg to a synchronous orbit around the sun. The landing technique seems to be modeled after the Falcon 9 rocket.

A new Chinese start-up enters the battle. Space Transportation had had a low profile since it was founded in 2018, but recently it has announced it has found an angel funder, reports the China Aerospace Blog. The company strives to develop reusable rockets for loads from 100 kg to 1,000 kg.

Reusability, with a twist … Space Transportation has proposed an ambitious glide platform for rocket reuse: illustrations of the Tian Xing-1 rocket feature a pair of fin wings that (presumably) provide the lift needed to glide. Such a system faces technical challenges, but it helps the new company to stand out in a crowded area of ​​Chinese startups.

Brazil can become a hub in the aerospace industry. Brazil wants to attract launch customers by presenting itself as the cheaper alternative to Kourou, the European spaceport in neighboring French Guiana. Space travel titans Boeing and Lockheed Martin visited the Alcântara Launch Center in December, reports Reuters. The Brazilian space agency is also trying to attract smaller companies with its equatorial location.

Security agreement required … For the time being, Brazil's goal of becoming a launching base may depend on negotiating a technology security agreement with the United States to protect sensitive US satellite launches and satellite technology. (Such an agreement is required to launch rockets produced by the Americans). The safeguard agreement may be ready this year if the US Department of Foreign Affairs obtains a negotiating permit. (submitted by Alex)

Saber air breathing rocket passes PDR. The demonstrator core of the rocket propulsion system with rocket reactors from Reaction Engines has successfully passed an initial design review, Aviation Week reports. The assessment paves the way for a subsequent critical design review, subsequent development and core test in a newly built facility in Westcott, England, in 2020.

This would be great … The complete engine, which was ultimately built on the core to accommodate a pre-cooler, rocket engine and ramjet, is designed to provide air breathing blasts from the runway to Mach 5 and beyond for hypersonic aircraft. In rocket mode, it should also offer cheap access to space. Realizing such a promising technology would of course be very cool to see. But there is still a long way to go.

Europe aims for smaller rockets. The European Space Agency says it is investigating how the small satellite launch industry of the continent can best be stimulated. To this end, ESA's Future Launchers Preparatory Program has funded five industry proposals for an economically viable, commercially self-sustaining micro-launcher. The five proposals came from PLD Space, Deimos and Orbex, MT Aerospace, ArianeGroup and Avio.

Just provide enough help … At the Space 19+ conference in November, ESA will propose a program to further nurture commercially viable ideas from European industry by supporting proposals for privately run and privately funded space transport services, with a first focus on micro-launcher launch services. . European officials believe that this will also contribute to the development of successful commercial space ports in Europe.

Stofiel takes unconventional route to space. With his biker-guy long hair and messy basement, Brian Stofiel often seems like a crazy rocket scientist, according to Riverfront Times. And the founder of Stofiel Aerospace from St. Louis certainly has unconventional ideas about how to get things into space, using a combination of a balloon and a predominantly plastic rocket named Hermes.

A nice story … Stofiel is a colorful personality and new ideas are always welcome in the aerospace industry. It is a good thing that the industry has reached the point where a modestly well-to-do family can finance rocket experiments with 3D-printed technology. But for now, Stofiel still has a long way to go before his space ambitions become reality. (submitted by Millenix)

China has launched its 300th Long March booster. A Chinese television broadcast satellite was abolished last Saturday aboard a booster on March 3 of March. This marks the 300th orbital launch by the Long March rocket family since 1970, reports Spaceflight Now. On April 24, 1970, a long March 1 rocket launched China's first satellite into space.

Pace of launch accelerates … China & # 39; s launch pace has accelerated in recent years. It took 37 years to complete the first 100 long March launches, eight years for the second 100 flights and four years for the third 100 missions. This is another sign of the increasingly varied ambitions in space. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

SpaceX completes mission for commercial staff. Everything went smoothly during SpaceX & # 39; s first demonstration mission of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, which burst on Friday, March 8. However, the mission almost didn't start on time, as SpaceX engineers had to deal with first-stage valve problems in a Falcon 9 a few hours before launch.

Has not been disclosed … The valve was replaced and SpaceX was able to determine that there would be no more similar problems with the launch. The Falcon 9 was erased before the NASA webcast began, and therefore the problem was not shared with viewers. In any case, there were no problems with the launch itself or the performance of Dragon.

NASA proposes a commercial Orion mission: In a remarkable turnaround, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Wednesday that the space agency would consider launching its first Orion mission to the moon on commercial rockets instead of NASA & # 39; s own Space Launch System. "I think we as an agency must keep our promise," Bridenstine said during a NASA hearing. "If we tell you, and others, that we are going to launch around the moon in June 2020, I think we should start around the moon in June 2020."

Such a mission would require two missiles … What will they be? Bridenstine did not mention any missiles during the hearing, but it seems almost certain that at least one of them is a Delta IV Heavy built by United Launch Alliance. NASA used this rocket to launch a version of the Orion spacecraft to a height of 3,600 km in 2014. Both United Launch Alliance and SpaceX – with its Falcon Heavy rocket – would be invited to bid on the second launch.

SLS was besieged earlier in the week. President Donald Trump's budget request for FY 2020 calls for a 17 percent reduction in the budget for the NASA rocket Space Launch System, once seen as the backbone of space agency efforts to deepen deep space explore. The most important cuts would be to work on the Exploration Upper Stage, which was needed to upgrade to a second, more powerful variant known as Block 1B.

Does all kinds of questions arise … The absence of this upper stage means that NASA cannot simultaneously manifest a manned Orion spacecraft and elements of the Lunar Gateway at the same launch of the SLS rocket. This in turn means that elements of the Gateway can (and should) be launched on commercial rockets. If this budget survives Congress, it would raise serious questions about the future of the launch vehicle.

In the meantime, Boeing continues with SLS tests. The Space Launch System lead activist, Boeing, continues to test rocket components, NASASpaceFlight.com reports. One team is conducting test cases on the inter-tank test item in a large, covered test facility in the Marshall Space Flight Center. In the meantime, another is preparing a liquid hydrogen tank for his test drives in another large (but outside) stand on the road.

Heads down, helmet on … The work continues even as political questions about the future whirl of the big rocket. The test articles are squeezed, stretched, turned and bent after a few hours of freezing to simulate the forces and environment that flight structures are expected to see during the launch and take-off in space. These tests help to qualify the structures for the first flight and validate the reliability of computer models. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Starship is getting closer to the first tests. In the last week the first Raptor engine was delivered to the SpaceX facility in Brownsville, Texas. And within two days of the arrival of a new carrier, Starhopper was moved from the construction site to the launch platform for testing. SpaceX has purchased or rented a quartet of (probably used) crawlers for the purpose of transporting Starship between the company's construction, launch and landing sites in South Texas, Teslarati reports.

Looking forward, always … It was interesting to see the Starhopper in South Texas moving, even when SpaceX just finished its first commercial crew demonstration mission. It is a sign that the company always seems to have its eye on the future and the ultimate price to send people to Mars. Still a long way to go, of course, but we are eagerly awaiting Starhopper suborbital tests later this year. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Next three launches

March 15: Delta IV | Wideband Global SATCOM spacecraft | Cape Canaveral, Fla. | 22:56 UTC

March 16: Electron | DARPA R3D2 mission | Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand 22:30 UTC

March 22nd: Vega | PRISMA Earth observation satellite Kourou, French Guiana | 1:50 UTC

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