Rocket Report: SpaceX Launch Delayed Indefinitely; Virgin Orbit cancels funding round
Welcome to the 5.19 release of Rocket Report! Back from the Thanksgiving holiday, there’s plenty of news to come this week, including the SLS rocket performance report (excellent) and some wild and woolly news from north of the US border. Read on for more.
As always, we welcome readers, and if you don’t want to miss the issue, subscribe using the box below (the form won’t appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small, medium and heavy rockets, as well as a quick overview of the next three launches on the calendar.
Virgin Orbit is discontinuing its safety offer. The US-based company announced the evening before Thanksgiving that it was “terminating” the securities offering. “Due to current market conditions, the company has decided not to proceed with the offer,” Virgin Orbit said in a statement. “Any future capital raising transactions will depend on future market conditions.” Previously, in October, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said the company was looking to raise additional capital after going public as a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.
It’s not great, but … As part of the SPAC process, the company has set a goal of raising $483 million. However, the company raised only $228 million a year ago. Virgin Orbit has an excellent record of technical achievement, with four consecutive successes of its LauncherOne system. But there is questions have long been raised about its financial viability, given the limited potential for growth with an air-to-air missile. This is certainly not the end of the road for Virgin Orbit, which is closing in on a historic launch from Cornwall, United Kingdom. Financially, she also has a hedge fund liability to fall back on, valued at $250 million.
Attempted ABL debut launch scrapped. The first test flight of Alaska-based ABL Space Systems’ new small satellite launcher has been delayed until December at the latest after technical problems interrupted a series of launch attempts in mid-November, Spaceflight Now reports. ABL completed three countdowns during a one-week launch period at the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska, to attempt to send the company’s first RS1 rocket, capable of lifting 1 metric ton into low Earth orbit.
Please try again before Christmas … The Nov. 14 launch attempt was aborted about 30 minutes before liftoff due to unexpected data during refueling of the RS1 first stage, which was later found to be caused by a leaking valve in the pressurization system. A second launch attempt on November 17 was aborted at T-minus 1.8 seconds during the firing of its nine E2 first stage kerosene engines. Another November 21 countdown was also interrupted during the engine start sequence. It was the last launch attempt available to ABL until the company’s next batch of launch dates begins on December 7. (submitted by EllPeaTea)
Electron takes over TROPICS launch contract. NASA said has selected Rocket Lab to provide launch services for the agency’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with the Small Satellite Constellation, or TROPICS, mission. Rocket Lab will launch four CubeSats for NASA on two Electron rockets, targeted no earlier than May 1.
Ready for next year … This timeframe will allow NASA to provide observations during the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, which begins June 1. The TROPICS constellation targets the formation and evolution of tropical cyclones, including hurricanes, and will provide rapid updates of storm intensity observations. The launch of the first two TROPICS satellites, earlier this year on an Astra rocket, failed. (submitted by EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin)
Skyroot makes a successful suborbital debut. Skyroot Aerospace successfully launched its Vikram-S small suborbital rocket on November 18, TechCrunch reports. The 6-meter-tall rocket reached an altitude of 89.5 km, as planned by the company, officials at the Indian startup said. The company is part of India’s emerging commercial space sector.
Orbit up … Founded in 2018 by former ISRO scientists Pawan Kumar Chandan and Naga Bharath Dak, Skyroot has raised a total of $68 million, including a $51 million Series B round led by Singapore-based GIC in September. It plans to develop a series of increasingly capable Vikram orbital rockets in the coming years. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Relativity completes Terran 1 stacking. The company said it successfully mated the first and second stages of the Terran 1 rocket before its debut launch. “The next time the Terran 1 is out, it will be complex and vertical. Upcoming milestones to watch: introduction, static firing and launch,” the company said in its newsletter. The company also said it has completed testing of thrust vectoring control.
Entering the new year … With Relativity yet to launch the Terran 1 onto a pad for its static fire test, the rocket is increasingly unlikely to make its debut in 2022. However, the company is well positioned to test its additively manufactured rocket early 2023, maybe even in January.
Phantom Space wins NASA launch contract. Phantom Space—yes, the Phantom Space co-founded by Jim Cantrell—has received a “task order” from NASA to launch four CubeSats on the company’s Daytona rocket. CubeSats will be launched no later than 2024. NASA said, as part of the agency’s acquisition program dedicated to Rideshare (VADR) in the venture class. This is NASA’s program to increase the diversity of US rockets for government launch contracts.
Tolerating some bigger risks … NASA will not launch any high-value satellites through VADR, which the agency says allows it to procure “commercial launch services for payloads that can tolerate higher risk.” They currently exist 13 companies are eligible bid for VADR launch contracts, including established firms such as SpaceX and ULA, and less established firms such as L2 Solutions in Houston. It will be interesting to see if Phantom Space can succeed in lofting CubeSats for NASA. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Australia’s launch facility raises environmental concerns. Conservationists say a planned rocket launch on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula poses an extinction-level threat to the crow, one of Australia’s smallest birds, The Guardian reports. The southern emu-wren subspecies at the site is listed as endangered under existing law, but as vulnerable nationally. Australia’s Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, is considering ending the national endangered status. That change would be important for project approvals and funding decisions for the Southern Launch spaceport.
Regulatory approval is pending … The Nature Conservancy of SA says land clearing, human disturbance including noise, vibration and cars, as well as increased fire risk, are putting the bird at extreme risk. Southern Launch chief executive Lloyd Damp said the company had engaged “eminent independent experts” as part of its environmental impact statement. “The results show that we will have a very positive effect on their habitat through environmental management, such as wildlife eradication programs,” he said. (submitted by Onychomys)
This Canadian company has ambitions, baby! I confess that I had never heard of Space Engine Systems of Edmonton until now SpaceQ story crossed my desk this week. There’s a lot going on here, but if I can try to summarize, the company is working on a) a single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane, b) a hypersonic point-to-point organ transport vehicle for medical purposes. transplants, c) a moon-capable spacecraft, and id) a hypersonic drone called “Sexbomb” for defense applications.
That’s a full plate … Like I said, there’s a lot going on here. And it’s hard to guess if any of this is real. I guess the answer is no, it isn’t. But it makes for fun reading. Be sure to check out the image at the top of the article, which appears to be a comically low-fidelity rendering of a “high-temperature wing bending test facility.” Something is bent, that’s for sure.
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