Rocket Report: Long March 6A crashes after launch; SLS flies away for its debut

Enlarge / The Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft lift away from Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday morning.

Trevor Mahlman

Welcome to Rocket Report 5.18! What a year of spaceflight this has been. In late 2021, a European rocket successfully sent the James Webb Space Telescope into space, and 11 months later, NASA’s Space Launch System performed a target launch. This wraps up two massive development projects that I’ve tracked for much of my career as a space writer, and it’s so nice that both have a happy ending.

Please note that there will be no newsletter next week due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

As always, we Reader Submissions Welcome, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please sign up using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP 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.

Spaceport Cornwall Obtains Operator License. Spaceport Cornwall will be allowed to host the UK’s first space launch after obtaining an operating license from the Civil Aviation Authority, BBC reporting. This was a necessary step in the regulatory process, but not the last, before Virgin Orbit could fly its cosmic girl plane from England and send its LauncherOne rocket into orbit.

One step closer to launch … The license allows Virgin Orbit to undertake mission readiness preparations and conduct on-site testing. The company does not yet have a launch license, but the aviation authority said it was at “a very advanced stage” of granting launch and range licenses. “So we’re still looking at late November or early December, as long as all the technology is ready to go,” said Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)

A small satellite launched by electrons reaches the Moon. After a nearly five-month journey, far beyond the Moon and back, the small CAPSTONE spacecraft successfully entered lunar orbit, ARS reports. The spacecraft was launched in late June on an Electron rocket from New Zealand. Notably, Electron is the smallest rocket to launch a payload to the Moon, and its manufacturer, Rocket Lab, has emphasized the capabilities of the booster and its Photon upper stage to the maximum to send CAPSTONE on its long journey to the moon. This was Rocket Lab’s first deep space mission.

Special delivery to a special orbit … This spacecraft was built by Advanced Space and ended up in an important orbit for NASA: a near-rectilinear halo orbit. It’s special because this orbit is really stable, requiring only a tiny amount of propellant to maintain position. At its closest point to the Moon, this roughly week-long orbit passes within 3,000 km of the lunar surface, and at other points it is 70,000 km. NASA plans to build a small space station, called Lunar Gateway, here later this decade.

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SpaceRyde Inks Launch Contract. Canadian launch startup SpaceRyde this week revealed plans to launch four private commercial flights for ISILaunch, Space News reports. Customers will pay $250,000 to launch 25kg payloads on SpaceRyde’s Ryder rocket and Flying Spider balloon. Flights are expected to begin in 2024. For these SpaceRyde flights, ISILaunch will offer customization including planning weeks before launch, access to custom orbits and various fairing configurations.

Fill a gap ? … “SpaceRyde is thrilled to join ISILaunch’s portfolio of legacy launch partners,” SpaceRyde chief revenue officer Negar Feher said in a statement. “There is a gap for fast and reliable access to custom orbits in space at a competitive price. These four launches are just the beginning.” SpaceRyde, founded in 2018, develops the Rocket Network space transportation infrastructure to continuously transport goods between Earth, the Moon and intermediate destinations. It will be a cool launch tech if it comes together. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

RFA to test engines closer to you. Rocket Factory Augsburg has entered into an agreement with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) to test its Helix engines at the Institute for Space Propulsion in Lampoldshausen, Payload reports. RFA currently performs all of its engine testing at the Esrange space center in Sweden. However, Lampoldshausen is significantly closer to the company’s manufacturing plant in Augsburg.

Access to the establishment in a year? … RFA will use both Esrange and Lampoldshausen to increase its capacity. All testing of the integrated scene will still be carried out at Esrange. Before construction of the new testbed can begin, DLR must first complete construction of the supporting infrastructure. DLR plans to complete this by mid-2023, while RFA is aiming for the second half of the year to cut the ribbon on its new test bed. This all seems slightly theoretical, as Payload notes that RFA is currently not fully funded until the first flight of its RFA ONE rocket. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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