Rocket Report: Europe Has a Rocket Problem, FAA Tests Safety of Methane

By | May 26, 2023

Magnify / Korea’s Nuri rocket was launched for the third time on Thursday.


Welcome to issue 5.40 of Rocket Report! I want to congratulate Virgin Galactic on its successful return to space Thursday morning over the state of New Mexico. It has been a long period of time, almost two years, since the company’s last human spaceflight. We hope that the company can reach a normal flight price soon.

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 takes to the skies again. On Thursday morning, Virgin Galactic successfully returned to human spaceflight after a nearly two-year hiatus. In a press release, the company said so VSS Unity the spacecraft reached an apogee of 87.2 km before landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic says it is now preparing the vehicle for the start of long-awaited commercial operations, with the “Galactic 01” mission scheduled for late June.

A sunny experience … Mission Specialists Jamila Gilbert, Christopher Huie and Luke Mays became the newest Virgin Galactic Astronauts as they evaluated the end-to-end astronaut training and spaceflight experience with Beth Moses in the main cabin. The flight was commanded by Mike Masucci, with CJ Sturckow as pilot. “Witnessing our inspiring crew’s pure joy upon landing gives me complete confidence in the unique astronaut experience we’ve built for our customers,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of the company.

Virgin Orbit’s assets are being sold. It’s now official – launch company Virgin Orbit is being sold for parts. In a new filing this week as part of bankruptcy proceedings, Rocket Lab bought the company’s main manufacturing facility in Long Beach, California, to support its neutron rocket. Stratolaunch acquired Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 aircraft and related equipment. And Launcher bought the company’s lease on a test site in Mojave. That’s it. After six years, Virgin Orbit is finished, and LauncherOne will no longer fly.

A non-final business case … In an analysis, Ars Technica explains how the company’s business plan didn’t make much sense from the beginning. It seemed pretty obvious that with the large workforce employed by CEO Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit would likely never break even. The company’s personnel bill alone was probably around $150 million per year, and that did not include facilities, leases, equipment and hardware costs. Assuming a profit of $10 million per launch – an exceedingly generous figure – Virgin Orbit would have to launch something like 30 times a year to break even. Clearly there was no satellite market to support this, and even reaching such a cadence would have required several years.

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The South Korean rocket flies again. The country’s Nuri rocket, also called KSLV-II, completed its third launch on Thursday, Payload reports. This is the first time a Korean launch vehicle has carried a commercial payload into space. The Nuri rocket launched eight satellites into orbit, including three from domestic companies: Lumir, Justek and Kairo Space. However, one of the CubeSats was not accounted for.

Nuri becomes commercial … After winning a technology transfer contract from the Korean Space Agency last year to jointly advance the rocket’s capabilities for its cadence of launches through 2027, Hanwha Aerospace, a leading Korean aircraft engine manufacturer, oversaw the supply and integration aspects of the rocket. Hanwha aims to make the small launch vehicle, which can lift around 3 tons to low Earth orbit, more competitive. (submitted by EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin)

Rockets could soon be flying from the Gulf of Mexico. The Spaceport Company announced Tuesday that it hosted four rocket launches with support from Evolution Space on Monday from a platform in the Gulf of Mexico, Space News reports. The launches were part of a proof-of-concept test of the ability to carry out launches from an offshore platform. The Spaceport Company said the low-altitude launches were intended to practice the procedures needed to conduct an orbital launch from such a platform.

Start site with a view … This includes obtaining approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration and the US Coast Guard, clearing airspace and waters to allow for a safe launch and remote launch of the rocket. The launches used propulsion systems provided by Evolution Space, a Mojave, Calif.-based company that works on solid-fuel launch vehicles for defense and aerospace applications. The company conducted its first launch that crossed the 100 kilometer Kármán line on April 22 from the California desert, reaching a peak altitude of 124.5 kilometers. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

A spaceport map of the world. There are more spaceports in the world than you probably think. The team of analysts at BryceTech has characterized more than 80 operational, planned and announced spaceports and major ballistic missile test sites globally.

A British thing … You can download a copy of the map here. There are so many proposed spaceports in the UK – seven – that the map includes a breakout section showing just England, Scotland and Ireland. No wonder I’ve had trouble keeping track of all the UK spaceport proposals.

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