Welcome to Rocket Report Edition 5.06! The big news this week is Northrop Grumman’s deal with Firefly and SpaceX to ensure it can continue to fly the Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station. This is a bold move that builds on the deep US commercial space industry to meet NASA’s needs in space. It’s great to see this kind of cooperation in the aerospace community.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an 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 look at the next three launches on the schedule.
Astra pivots to a larger rocket. Astra will depart from its previous mantra of being light on personnel, moving at breakneck speed, and tolerating a few glitches in launch vehicles, Ars reports. It will also be larger in terms of its rocket size. “First, we have increased the payload capacity target for the 2.0 launch system from 300kg to 600kg,” said CEO Chris Kemp. “Secondly, we are working with all of our launch service customers to re-manifest the launch system 2.0. As such, we will not have any additional flights in 2022. And thirdly, we are increasing investments in tests and grading”.
The rocket starter is not a starter … The company announced the change in strategy after five failures in seven attempts to launch its smallest booster, the Rocket 3.3. Kemp said Astra plans to test launch its new, larger rocket next year, but cannot commit to starting commercial service with the rocket in 2023. It is unclear whether Astra has the finances to survive d ‘one to two years of development work. Astra posted a net loss of $168 million for the first half of 2022, on revenue of just $6.5 million. Meanwhile, the company has cash and marketable securities of about $200 million on hand. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
India’s SSLV fails on debut. India’s space agency said Sunday that the maiden demonstration flight of the country’s new small satellite launch vehicle failed to place two satellites into its low-Earth orbit, Spaceflight Now reports . The first phases of the mission went according to plan, according to the Indian Space Research Organization. But the launch team could not confirm that the rocket’s final stage completed its job of putting two small satellites into orbit.
Come back soon … The problem appears to have been due to a sensor problem in the fourth stage that caused a premature shutdown. As a result, the two small satellites were injected into an orbit with a perigee of only 76 km. ISRO developed the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle to join the Indian rocket fleet that includes the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk.3, GSLV Mk.2 and the Satellite Launch Vehicle polar With a production cost of $4 million, the rocket aims to compete with Western commercial small satellite launchers. (submitted by EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin)
Rocket Lab’s cadence driven by market demand. The Electron vehicle has been in service for half a decade, and the company can build a new one every 18 days, says Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck. “We invested a tremendous amount in all the systems and processes to be able to do this,” Beck said in an interview with Ars. “All of our production systems are really mature.” The company could build even more electrons than that, if needed. But there isn’t the demand or the customer readiness right now, Beck said.
A niche market … “The reality is, we built everything so we could launch once a week,” Beck said. “Everything in the factory is designed to be able to process and propel one rocket a week. So from an infrastructure perspective, we can do it. And from a system perspective, we can do it . It would just take a bigger workforce. But the reality is that the market is the driver. For us, our cadence today is 100 percent driven by market demand.”
NASA is looking for a new trip for the TROPICS mission. Astra’s decision to retire the Rocket 3.3 vehicle has left four small NASA satellites stranded. Although the first two TROPICS cubesats were lost after a June 12 launch failure on a Rocket 3.3 vehicle, four additional TROPICS cubesats were to be launched on two Rocket 3.3 vehicles. With that rocket no longer available, NASA is looking at alternative options to launch the remaining TROPICS cubesats, Space News reports.
Probably not Astra … “We’re still looking for a trip, and once the trip is found, we’ll launch it,” Sachidananda Babu, program manager in NASA’s Earth science division, said during a town hall meeting in NASA at the Small Satellite Conference. . Astra said it was working with NASA to launch the cubesats on its new, larger launch vehicle, but that rocket may be outclassed for small ones. (And it may not be ready until at least 2024.) Agency sources said they were surprised by Astra’s announcement that the company was discontinuing the Rocket 3.3. Switching vehicles poses cost and schedule challenges that NASA is still studying.
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