Welcome to Edition 2.24 of the Rocket Report! We have a shorter report this week due to the American holiday of Thanksgiving. But don’t worry, there is still plenty of interesting news from the world of lift—from strong anti-spaceport protests in England to continued problem with toxic rocket stages falling on people in China.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe 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-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.
Virgin eyes point-to-point travel. Virgin Galactic’s new chairman, venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya, recently suggested that the company’s long-term profitability may come more through travel than space tourism. At the Phocuswright travel industry conference last week, Palihapitiya spoke about his interest in point-to-point travel on Earth, Ars reports.
Going really fast … “As an investor, in order to build something that can send people to space and back, what you are really doing is validating a bunch of very difficult technical concepts,” he said. “When we start commercial operations, we will be the only company in the world who will be flying paid passengers at hypersonic speeds.” Palihapitiya spoke about going from San Francisco to London in 90 minutes, but one source told Ars that the company’s current vehicle probably only had a range of 100 miles.
Chaos erupts in Cornwall after spaceport vote. Located in England’s southwestern tip, developers on Cornwall are seeking to build a spaceport. As it happens, some locals are not happy about Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit and its plans for horizontal launch of satellites. At all. Chaos erupted in the Cornwall Council chamber after members agreed to a controversial grant of 10.3 million pounds ($13.3 million) toward Cornwall’s spaceport project, according to Cornwall Live.
This is wild … Ahead of the meeting, protesters from campaign group Extinction Rebellion and others opposed to the spaceport gathered outside County Hall. One carried a sign that read, “Labour against the rocket in Branson’s pocket.” The group’s Red Rebels and deathly looking Penitents were joined by locals carrying signs and flags who packed into the public gallery. After the vote, the gallery erupted with chants as protesters launched paper airplanes. The chamber was then cleared as the crowds continued to chant and shouted at councilors as they left, saying things like “shame on you.”
Australian company 3D prints a titanium rocket. A public company from Down Under named Titomic says it has printed a 5.5-meter rocket in less than 28 hours. The rocket is a scaled version of the a real-size spaceship, and the company claims to have the the capability to build a full-scale space rocket in 165 hours,
Y’all got any engines? … “It is a game changer—we can now build objects that you couldn’t think of a couple of weeks ago,” Titomic managing director Jeffrey Lang said. The company built the rocket with titanium powder. It is difficult to glean how far along Titomic actually is with its rocket in terms of engines and such (we always take companies that use the phrase “game changer” with a grain of salt or two). But we’ll have to track the company moving forward. (submitted by throx)
December will be a busy launch month in Florida. December is set to be a launch-packed month starting with SpaceX blasting a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to the International Space Station no earlier than December 4, Florida Today reports. Following this launch, Boeing is scheduled to send its Starliner capsule to the space station on an Atlas V rocket from Launch Complex 41 on December 17.
But wait, there’s more … A Falcon 9 will launch the JCSAT-18 / Kacific-1 commsat for Japan no earlier than December 15. According to NASA, SpaceX will also conduct an in-flight abort test for the Dragon spacecraft on an undetermined date in December, and the company may also seek to make its third launch of 60 Starlink satellites before the end of the month. Happy holidays?
China continues to drop toxic rocket parts on its people. On Friday, a Long March 3B rocket launched a pair of BeiDou satellites into orbit. The rocket’s ascent was normal, but its first-stage booster tumbled into a village down range from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the South Central China. A stage of the rocket with its toxic hypergolic propellant fell into the homes of several villagers, Ars reports.
What, Xi worry? … This problem has been going on for decades, with seemingly little regard from the Chinese authorities. Earlier this year, China began experimenting with grid fins to help steer the first stage of its rockets away from populated areas. However, it seems likely that China has invested in the grid-fin experiments more to emulate SpaceX’s ability to land and reuse first-stage boosters than protect its population.
Vandenberg charts path to “spaceport of the future.” Leaders at Vandenberg Air Force Base are trying to attract rocket manufacturers by penciling out launch sites and designating military land for offices, hangars or control centers, according to Noozhawk. “We might look back at this era that we’re in right now and say that’s the Entrepreneurial Space Age,” said Thomas Stevens, launch technical director for the 30th Operations Group at Vandenberg.
Businesses wanted … It has been a slow launch year at Vandenberg, and the US military’s primary West Coast spaceport has faced competition from new launch facilities. Stevens said a group at the base has worked for about a year to craft a plan that includes identifying multiple projects amounting to an investment of $100 million to position Vandenberg for its spaceport of the future. In a major philosophical switch, Vandenberg now wants to create “a mission district” or commercial development zone just outside the base’s strict security entrances. (submitted by BH)
Ariane 6 upgrades sought. This week, the European Space Agency is holding its ministerial conference, an important meeting when budgets and priorities are set by the member nations. Although the Ariane 6 rocket is a year away from its maiden flight, prime contractor ArianeGroup is already preparing upgrades its says can be introduced in the launcher’s first three years of service, SpaceNews reports.
Building a better booster … The European rocket company wants an enhanced payload adapter, additional funding for a reusable Prometheus engine, a carbon composite upper stage, and more. “We think now that this launcher has some further potential to evolve, to decrease costs and improve performance and mission capability,” Patrick Bonguet, ArianeGroup’s head of the Ariane 6 program, told the publication. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Air Force to revise launch selection criteria. The US Air Force will change the criteria for evaluating launch providers that have submitted proposals for the National Security Space Launch program, the Air Force’s senior acquisition executive Will Roper announced November 21, SpaceNews reports. The evaluation criteria was one of a series of objections raised by Blue Origin in a pre-award protest filed August 12 with the Government Accountability Office.
Awards still coming next year … In a request for proposals issued May 3, the Air Force said it would make two awards by picking two independently developed proposals that, “when combined,” offered the best value to the government. Roper said the “when combined” clause will be removed in accordance with what GAO recommended. In the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement, the Air Force intends to award two providers with five-year contracts in mid-2020. Four companies submitted proposals: Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Next three launches
Nov. 27: Long March 4C | Undisclosed payload | Taiyuan, China | 23:50 UTC
Nov. 29: Electron | ALE-2 microsatellite, six PocketQube picosatellites | Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand | 07:56 UTC
Dec. 4: Falcon 9 | CRS-19 ISS supply mission | Cape Canaveral, Florida | 17:51 UTC