Rocket Report: China to copy SpaceX’s Super Heavy? Vulcan slips to 2022


During a presentation on Thursday, a Chinese space official showcased a new design for the Long March 9 that, umm, resembles a Super Heavy booster.
Enlarge / During a presentation on Thursday, a Chinese space official showcased a new design for the Long March 9 that, umm, resembles a Super Heavy booster.

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Welcome to Edition 4.04 of the Rocket Report! About two months ago, we reported on China’s state rocket company releasing a rendering of a spacecraft that looked a lot like SpaceX’s Starship vehicle. Now, a senior Chinese space official says the country is modifying its plans for a very large rocket, the Long March 9. This booster, it turns out, also looks similar to the design of SpaceX’s Super Heavy booster, which will serve as the first stage of Starship.

More details below.

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.

Another Iranian rocket launch fails. In mid-June, the government of Iran attempted to launch a satellite from its Khomeini facility, located about 300 km east of Tehran. However, the launch failed. “US Space Command is aware of the Iranian rocket launch failure which occurred early June 12th,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah Orland told CNN.

Struggling with Simorgh … US military officials did not identify the rocket used, but Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said it was likely the Simorgh rocket. This three-stage rocket uses main engines based on a North Korean design. “The failed launch attempt is the fourth consecutive failure of the Simorgh launcher,” Lewis said. “Iran seems to be struggling with this specific system. Other Iranian rockets of different designs have been more successful.” (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Virgin Orbit now targeting June 30. After completing a wet dress rehearsal of its LauncherOne vehicle, Virgin Orbit said it is targeting June 30 or “the early days of July” for the next launch of its booster. “We will only proceed with the mission if all conditions for launch are nominal. If for some reason the launch is delayed, we have backup windows extending through July,” the company said.

Enjoy a live broadcast … The mission, named Tubular Bells: Part One, will carry seven satellites into low Earth orbit, including three payloads for the US Department of Defense’s Space Test Program. The company is now working through its final “routine items” on its preflight checklist. The company will provide a public webcast on YouTube. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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Good overview of the small launch industry. For anyone who wants a basic primer on the current state of small-satellite launch vehicles, aerospace engineer Ian Vorbach has written a concise summary of the industry on Substack. He reviews six of the major players in the United States as well as Europe’s Vega rocket. There are, of course, many more companies and lots of new players in Europe, India, and China. But this provides a good look at the US companies closest to market.

When you subtract Starlink and OneWeb … Vorbach also analyzes the demand for small-satellite launches, and the result is fairly pessimistic, finding a relatively small market size of a few dozen satellites a year. “With so many small launch vehicles coming to market in the coming year, and some stating aspirational goals of one launch per week or even per day, this feels incongruous from the hundreds of launches per year that would be required to sustain all of the vehicles being developed,” Vorbach writes.

Turkey aims to develop a domestic launch capability. Turkey plans to send a rover to the Moon by the end of the decade using a domestically built rocket engine, Space.com reports. Serdar Hüseyin Yildirim, president of the Turkish Space Agency, shared details of this effort at the Global Space Exploration Conference this month. The rover—which will be launched in 2028 or 2029—will land softly on the Moon and collect scientific data.

And a GPS, too … The rocket that launches the Moon rover will use a hybrid engine that is currently being developed in Turkey, Yildirim said. Turkey created its space agency in 2018 and released a report earlier this year that foresees the establishment of a local Turkish spaceport and the development of a domestic regional positioning and timing satellite system. The development of Turkey’s space agency is worth watching as the country’s GDP ranks in the top 10 globally. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Space Force says autonomous flight safety system works well. A few years after its introduction, the Space Force says an automated flight safety system (AFFS) pioneered by SpaceX at Cape Canaveral is allowing for a more rapid launch cadence. “The AFSS moves computing and analysis to the onboard flight computer so the launch vehicle receives tracking information, GPS, and can determine if it is heading off course,” said 1st Lt. Stephen Pitre, range engineer, 1st Range Operations Squadron.

From experiment to reality … The difference between a traditional flight-termination system and the AFSS is the use of instruments. With the AFSS not requiring the use of all ground-based instruments, this eliminates range-maintenance periods, line-of-sight requirements, coverage and transmission issues, along with the need for personnel on the ground. “With this system in play, we are able to better support the demands of our launch partners,” the Space Force said. SpaceX first demonstrated use of the AFSS in 2017. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

ULA delivers Starliner crew launch rocket. United Launch Alliance said this week it has delivered the Atlas V rocket to Cape Canaveral, Florida, where it will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft with three NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. The rocket traveled by barge to the launch site from the company’s factory in Decatur, Alabama.

When will it fly? … Boeing must first demonstrate the safety of Starliner with its second demonstration mission, OFT, scheduled to launch late next month. NASA recently said that if “Starliner’s second uncrewed mission meets all necessary objectives, NASA and Boeing will look for opportunities toward the end of this year to fly Starliner’s first crewed mission.” A good source tells me that date is optimistic and that the second or third quarter of 2022 is more likely. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Nauka module being connected to Proton upper stage. The launch of a new Russian segment of the International Space Station is becoming more and more real. This week, RSC Energia, a leading Russian space manufacturer that jointly developed the hardware, said the Nauka module has been mated to the adapter section of the Proton’s third stage. Although delayed, the Russian addition to the space station is much anticipated.

Bound for Zvezda … Next up, as part of the processing, will be a mass check and then fueling of Nauka’s main propellant tanks. The scientific module is currently scheduled for a launch in mid-July, after which it will be installed to the nadir port of the Zvezda Service Module. (submitted by EllPeaTea)



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