Rocket Report: Big dreams in Sin City; SpaceX and FAA seek to halt lawsuit

Rocket Report: Big dreams in Sin City; SpaceX and FAA seek to halt lawsuit

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- Jul 7, 2023 10:37 am UTC

Welcome to Edition 6.01 of the Rocket Report! Due to the fact that we are up to Edition 6, it means that Ars has been publishing this newsletter for five years. I genuinely want to thank everyone for their contributions over the years, whether you've submitted a story (Ken the Bin for MVP?) or just passed the newsletter along to a friend to subscribe. Also, starting next week our new space hire, Stephen Clark, will alternate publication of the newsletter with me. Hopefully, there will be no missed issues going forward.

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 Galactic flies commercial mission. The space tourism company founded by Richard Branson launched three Italian researchers and three company employees on the suborbital operator’s first commercial flight to the edge of space on June 29, Ars reports. The spacecraft rocketed to an altitude of more than 279,000 feet, higher than the 50-mile height recognized as the boundary of space by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Next flight in August ... Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, hailed the flight Thursday as the start of a new era of repeatable and reliable access to space for private passengers and researchers. But it hasn't been an easy road for Virgin Galactic to reach this point, and the company is still facing headwinds. Another commercial flight by Virgin Galactic is planned in August, followed by monthly revenue-earning suborbital missions. (submitted by EllPeaTea)

Vega C rocket still struggling. A static fire test of a Vega C Zefiro 40 second stage conducted on June 28 ended in failure. Avio, the rocket's Italy-based manufacturer, said of the test, The new carbon-carbon material showed a nominal performance, closely linked to prediction. However, after 40 seconds into the test, another anomaly was revealed, leading to a reduction in overall pressure performance of the motor before the test completion planned at 97 seconds.

Vega C in 2023 is not meant to be ... The test comes as the new rocket, intended to replace the original Vega model, attempts a return to flight after a failure on the booster's second flight in December 2022. European Spaceflight reports that the European Space Agency has established an Independent Enquiry Commission to investigate the failure during the static fire test. Progress on returning Vega C to flight will be halted until the investigation's conclusion, likely pushing its return into the first quarter of 2024 at the earliest. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)

Astra creates spacecraft engine subsidiary. Astra is carving out its spacecraft engine business as a wholly owned subsidiary, a corporate restructuring that will provide greater flexibility in hiring and financing, TechCrunch reports. The publication suggests that one of the restructuring goals is to hire well-qualified employees who are not US citizens, as American launch companies are governed by strict export control rules known as International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

Finding new hires ... The company acquired electric propulsion company Apollo Fusion in July 2021, right after going public via SPAC merger. But according to LinkedIn, of the employees that list Apollo Fusion under their prior work experience, nearly all of them have since moved on from Astra. Honestly, I don't know what this means for Astra's launch business and its Rocket 4 vehicle, but I'll remain skeptical about its prospects until the vehicle is on the launch pad. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

PLD Space postpones debut launch. Spanish launch vehicle startup PLD Space has postponed a suborbital test flight to September after weather and a technical glitch scrubbed earlier launch attempts, Space News reports. The company announced on June 27 that the launch of its Miura 1 rocket from a military base in southwestern Spain would be rescheduled for September. The company cited “obligatory compliance” with a Spanish law and military directive that restrict such activities to prevent wildfires.

It's probably more than the wildfires ... During a launch attempt on June 17, the countdown reached T-0 and the vehicle’s first-stage engine ignited, only to immediately shut down. PLD Space later said it aborted the launch because not all the umbilical cables attached to the rocket’s avionics bay separated as required. Miura 1 is a suborbital vehicle whose single stage is designed to splash down under a parachute and be recovered. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)

Canadian spaceport hosts its first launch. On Thursday, a rocketry team from Ontario’s York University, Arbalest Rocketry, launched its amateur ‘Goose 3’ rocket from the Spaceport Nova Scotia launchpad. The largely ceremonial event was billed as a demonstration that Canadian rocketry and engineering education is making significant progress and developing space sector excellence by Maritime Launch, which is developing the spaceport in Nova Scotia.

How high did it go? ... In the news release about the launch, there were no details about the rocket or its altitude. It was regulated to achieve a maximum altitude of 25 km, however. Development of the spaceport remains in its initial phases, and while there is talk of orbital rocket tenants, so far, there are no firm, publicly announced plans for what companies, or rockets, will launch from the Canadian site. (submitted by Joey-SIVB)

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