Welcome to version 5.24 of Rocket Report! I have a blurb about this below, but for me the news of the week is that SpaceX not only launched a Falcon Heavy rocket, but two more Falcon 9 missions to separate coasters as well in just five days. The operational challenges of this are enormous, and I think they’re underappreciated outside of the people directly involved in this kind of work.
As usual we are We welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please sign up using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small, medium and heavy rockets as well as a quick look at the next three launches in the calendar.
ABL updates on RS1 failures. Wednesday ABL Space Systems has provided an update On January 10, the RS1 launch vehicle failed. In short, the vehicle’s first stage suffered a “total loss of power” at 10.87 seconds into the flight, shutting down all nine of the vehicle’s main engines simultaneously. The missile fell to the ground, about 20 meters from the launch site. “Approximately 95 percent of the vehicle’s total propellant mass remained on board, causing a powerful explosion and excessive pressure wave that caused damage to nearby equipment and facilities,” the company said.
Fire on board the missile … the company launched an investigation into the anomaly. “There is some visual evidence of fire or smoke in the vicinity of the vehicle QD and engine bay after takeoff,” ABL wrote. “Shortly before the loss of power, a set of sensors began to go out in sequence. This evidence indicates that an unwanted fire spread to our avionics system, causing a system-wide failure.” The second RS1 missile is fully assembled and ready for phased testing, but the results of the anomalous investigation will be needed to inform a schedule for this launch. Kudos to ABL for a transparent and detailed update. (Submitted by Ken Penn)
European Reusable Rocket CEO slams reuse. In an interview with a French TV station, the CEO of Maia Space described the challenges of reusing small rockets. Yohann Leroy explained that while the company was looking at a two-thirds drop in performance when restoring a launcher, the model would not reduce the cost of a launcher by a similar amount, European Spaceflight Reports. “Ironically, implementing reuse on a small launcher has the consequences of increasing costs per kilogram launched,” Leroy said.
Zut alors! … The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ArianeGroup, which manufactures the Ariane missile fleet. Leroy made his comments as Maia Space opens itself up to third-party investors. The company has about 30 employees now and is seeking to develop a small reusable rocket before moving on to larger reusable launch vehicles. Leroy may not be wrong about the economics of small launch reuse, but I’m not sure that’s the best promotion – basically, “Our business is completely unsustainable!” – One can present it to potential investors. (Submitted by EllPeaTea)
Stratolaunch completes second flight. this week Announced Stratolaunch that its super-sized Roc aircraft has completed a second test flight carrying the Talon-A test vehicle. During the six-hour flight, the aircraft reached a maximum altitude of 22,500 feet, and the team gathered information about aerodynamic loads prior to the launch point of the reusable hypersonic Talon A vehicle.
Big plane, small vehicle … This was a test version of a small shuttle-like craft. The flight data review will determine the next steps in the test schedule. Stratolaunch said it continues to progress toward class testing and first hypersonic flight on the Talon A1 during the first half of 2023. That will be something to see. (Submitted by Ken Penn)
Chinese companies to build an African space port. Groups based in Hong Kong and Shanghai have reached a memorandum of understanding with the government of Djibouti to build a billion-dollar commercial spaceport in the Horn of Africa, Parabolic Arc reports. The Djibouti spaceport, which will be built in the northern Obock region near the entrance to the Red Sea, will be the first orbital spaceport in Africa. It is believed to cover an area of 10 square kilometres.
Not without geopolitical implications … According to the report, the construction of the spaceport is expected to start after the two parties sign a formal agreement in March. The project is expected to take five years. This would be a development worth pursuing, as Chinese companies’ interest in launching from a latitude about 10 degrees north of the equator is easy to understand. However, China’s adversaries also have interests in Djibouti. The US Navy operates nearby Camp Lemonnier, the only permanent US military base in Africa. France also has a large military base in the country.