Welcome to Rocket Report 5.24! I have a synopsis on that below, but for me the news of the week is that SpaceX has not only launched a Falcon Heavy rocket, but two other Falcon 9 missions to separate coasts in just five days. The operational challenges are immense and, I believe, underestimated outside of the people directly involved in this type of work.
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.
ABL updates on RS1 fault. On Wednesday, ABL Space Systems provided an update on the January 10 failure of its RS1 launch vehicle. Long story short, the vehicle’s first stage suffered a “complete loss of power” 10.87 seconds into the flight, causing all nine of the vehicle’s main engines to shut down simultaneously. The rocket landed about 20 meters from the launch site. “Around 95% of the vehicle’s total propellant mass was still on board, creating a massive explosion and pressure wave that damaged nearby equipment and facilities,” the company said.
A fire aboard the rocket … The company has launched an anomaly investigation. “There is visual evidence of fire or smoke near the vehicle’s QD and engine compartment after takeoff,” ABL wrote. “Shortly before the power outage, some sensors started to turn off sequentially. This evidence suggests that an unwanted fire spread to our avionics system, causing a system-wide failure.” The second RS1 rocket is fully assembled and ready for stage testing, but the results of the anomaly investigation will be needed to establish a timeline for that launch. Kudos to ABL for a transparent and detailed update. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
CEO of Europe’s reusable rocket criticizes reuse. In an interview with a French television channel, the general manager of Maia Space described the challenges of reusing small rockets. Yohann Leroy explained that although the company was considering a two-thirds drop in performance when recovering the launcher, the model would not reduce the cost of the launcher by a similar amount, reports European Spaceflight. “Paradoxically, implementing reuse on a small launcher results in higher costs per kilogram launched,” said Leroy.
Fuck then! … The company is a 100% subsidiary of the ArianeGroup, which manufactures the Ariane rocket fleet. Leroy made his comments as Maia Space opens up to third-party investors. The company currently has around 30 employees and intends to develop a small reusable rocket before moving on to larger reusable launchers. Leroy may be right about the economics of reusing small releases, but I’m not sure that’s the best argument – essentially, “Our business is completely unsustainable!” – that could be done for potential investors. (submitted by EllPeaTea)
Stratolaunch performs its second captive flight. This week, Stratolaunch announced that its full-size Roc aircraft completed a second test flight with a Talon-A test vehicle. During the six-hour flight, the aircraft reached a maximum altitude of 22,500 feet and the team gathered information on aerodynamic loads prior to the drop point of the Talon-A reusable hypersonic vehicle.
Big plane, small vehicle … It was a test version of the small space shuttle-like vehicle. A review of flight data will determine the next steps in the testing schedule. Stratolaunch said it continues to make progress towards a separation test and its first Talon-A 1 hypersonic flight in the first half of 2023. That will be something to see. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Chinese companies to build an African spaceport. Groups based in Hong Kong and Shanghai have entered into a memorandum of understanding with the government of Djibouti to build a multi-billion dollar commercial spaceport in the Horn of Africa, reports the Parabolic Arc. The Djibouti spaceport, to be built in the northern Obock region near the entrance to the Red Sea, would be Africa’s first orbital spaceport. It is believed to comprise an area of 10 square kilometers.
Not without geopolitical implications …According to the report, construction of the spaceport is expected to begin after the signing of a formal agreement between the parties in March. The project has an expected duration of five years. This will be an evolution to follow, because it is easy to see the interest of Chinese companies in launching from a latitude of about 10 degrees north of the equator. However, China’s rivals also have interests in Djibouti. The US Navy operates in close proximity to Camp Lemonnier, which is the only permanent US military base in Africa. France also has a large military base in the country.