Rocket Report: Starship May Really Be About to Lift Off; Chinese copycat booster projects

Welcome to Rocket Report 5.23! It’s been a rough week for rocket enthusiasts, with the back-to-back failures of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne and ABL Space’s RS1 vehicles on Monday and Tuesday. I certainly hope the two companies can find and resolve the technical issues and get into orbit soon.

As always, we welcome submissions from readers, and if you don’t want to miss any issues, please sign up using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will contain information on small, medium and heavy rockets, as well as a quick overview of the next three launches on the schedule.

UK Virgin Orbit launch fails to reach orbit. After cosmic girl The plane made a highly publicized takeoff from Cornwall, England, on Monday night, the Virgin Orbit mission ended in failure when the second stage failed to properly launch its nine payloads into orbit. In a press release published on Thursday morning, Virgin Orbit gives a little more information about the failure: “At an altitude of approximately 180 km, the upper stage presented an anomaly. This anomaly prematurely ended the first burning of the upper floor.”

Protecting these assets … It was the company’s first failure after an initial demonstration mission in 2020. Since then, LauncherOne has managed to reach orbit four times in a row, indicating that the launch system was fundamentally sound. The failure comes at an unfortunate time for Virgin Orbit, which Ars reports is struggling to raise funds. After Virgin ceased fundraising efforts in November, it turned to founder Richard Branson for an additional $20 million in December 2020. However, that convertible note came with restrictions – it gave Branson a guaranteed priority of interest. Essentially, Virgin Orbit appears to have pledged all of its assets to Branson. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

First launch of ABL Space fails. The first flight of ABL Space Systems’ RS1 rocket failed to reach orbit on Tuesday, reports Space News. The company said that all nine engines in the RS1 vehicle’s first stage simultaneously shut down after takeoff, causing the vehicle to fall onto the platform and explode. The company did not reveal when after takeoff the shutdown occurred or the altitude reached by the rocket. The explosion damaged the launch facility, but no personnel were injured.

next try to come … “This is not the result we expected today, but the one we prepared for,” the company said. The two-stage vehicle has nine of its E2 engines in its first stage and a vacuum-optimized E2 engine in the top stage, using kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants. The vehicle is designed to launch from facilities with minimal infrastructure and lift up to 1.35 metric tons into low Earth orbit. ABL has raised several hundred million dollars from venture capitalists, with Lockheed Martin being a strategic investor and a major customer. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)

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RFA will launch from the north of Scotland. German launch company Rocket Factory Augsburg announced on Wednesday that its first launch will take place from SaxaVord Spaceport, located in the Shetland Isles, in the far north of Scotland. The Scottish spaceport is ideally located for the RFA to launch payloads at high rate into sun-synchronized polar orbits, the company said. According to the press release, RFA will have exclusive access to the “Launch Pad Fredo” in the spaceport.

Will the RFA One fly this year? … From an attached image, it looks like a large steel launch support structure has already been built at the site. (RFA calls the structure a “launch bench,” but this familiar post will use an alternate term.) The company says the first launch of its RFA One vehicle could take place by the end of 2023, and that staged testing should begin in the middle of this year. We’ll have to see if that happens, but it looks like RFA’s first orbital launch isn’t that far in the future. (submitted by Brangdonj, EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin)

The race for a European release remains open. With the failure of Virgin Orbit’s first launch in the UK, the possibility of claiming to be the first country and the first company to launch into orbit from Western Europe remains open. The RFA One release mentioned above is a competitor. Another is Isar Aerospace, which has an agreement to launch from the Andøya spaceport in Norway, reports NRK.

Sweden too … The German company’s Spectrum rocket can launch about 1 metric ton into low Earth orbit, and Isar is looking to make its first orbital attempt this year. But wait, there’s more. His Majesty the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, will travel to the Esrange spaceport in northern Sweden on Friday to “cut the ribbon” on an orbital complex. However, an orbital launch tenant at Esrange has yet to be announced. (submitted by audunru)

Electron gets new US release date. After pulling out in late 2022 due to weather issues, Rocket Lab has set a new launch date for the first Electron flight from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. The launch window for the “Virginia is for Launch Lovers” mission is set for January 23, with save dates through early February. The daily launch opportunity runs from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM ET (11:00 PM to 1:00 AM UTC).

Hoping for calmer winds in the new year … This mission will deploy three satellites for radio frequency geospatial analytics provider HawkEye 360. The mission is the first of three electron launches for HawkEye 360 ​​under a contract that will see Rocket Lab deliver 15 satellites into low Earth orbit by the end of 2024. Electron’s US debut was delayed for over a year as the company sought a launch license, and the December attempt was thwarted by headwinds during the launch window. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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