Rocket Report: Virgin Galactic delayed again, June targeted for next SLS test

Enlarge / Tory Bruno shared an image of a brightly painted Vulcan rocket first stage tank this week on Twitter.

Tory Bruno

Welcome to Edition 4.42 of the Rocket Report! I am sorry to say there will be no Rocket Report next week as I will be traveling to Washington, DC, to participate in the Ars Frontiers conference on Thursday. I’ll be speaking with former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver about commercial spaceflight and to an esteemed panel about the problem of space debris.

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.

Rocket Lab grabs a booster from the sky. For the first time on Monday evening, Rocket Lab attempted to catch the falling first stage of its Electron booster with a helicopter. And briefly, it succeeded with this mid-air recovery, Ars reports. As the rocket descended beneath its main parachute at about 10 meters per second, a drogue chute trailed behind with a 50-meter line. A Sikorsky S-92 helicopter tracked this descending rocket, and it, too, had a 50-meter line with a hook on the end of it.

Sounds like an easy fix … “It’s kind of like Ghostbusters in some way, “said Peter Beck, founder and chief executive of Rocket Lab, in a call with reporters on Monday night.” You want those two streams to cross. Those two lines cross, and slide up one another, and then there’s a grapple and capture. “That’s exactly what happened on Monday before the pilots of the helicopter felt that the load induced on the vehicle was outside of what had been predicted in simulations. So they jettisoned the rocket, where it was recovered at sea. Beck said, with real data in hand, solving this problem for the next Electron recovery attempt should be “trivial.” (Submitted by platykurtic, Ken the Bin, and EllPeaTea)

Angara 1.2 successfully takes flight. Last Friday Russia’s Angara 1.2 rocket launched a payload for the Russian Aerospace Forces in its operational flight. Previously, the Angara rocket has made one suborbital test flight to verify that all systems worked, as well as three test flights of the A5 variant to prove its ability to launch payloads to a geostationary orbit, NASASpaceflight.com reports. The mission was launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

Little and big versions … While the Angara 1.2 can only launch 3,800 kg to low Earth orbit, the more capable version, the Angara A5, has flown the majority of the Angara missions to date. Angara A5 uses four strap-on URM-1s, a larger second stage, and can opt to use a third stage based on the requirements of the mission. This is the first of three planned Angara launches in 2022, with one more launch planned for Roscosmos, the Russian state space agency, and one commercial flight for South Korea. (submitted by EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin)

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Virgin Galactic delays start of commercial service. In its first-quarter 2022 financial results released Thursday, Virgin Galactic said it now plans to resume flights of its VSS Unity spacecraft in the fourth quarter of 2022, and start commercial service during the first quarter of 2023. Previously the company had been planning to start commercial flights before the end of this year. “Against a backdrop of escalating supply chain and labor constraints, our teams are containing the majority of these issues to minimize impact on schedules,” Vigin Galatic CEO Michael Colglazier said.

It’s not a question of demand … Virgin Galactic had a net loss of $ 93 million during the first quarter of this year but said demand for its services was strong, and that it had “cash equivalents, restricted cash and marketable securities of $ 1.22 billion” on hand. The issue for Virgin Galactic is not demand, the issue is whether it can meet that demand with a vehicle that to date has had a very low flight rate compared to the company’s projections. Now it will be at least another year before we begin to get an answer to that question.

Canadian spaceport names a tenant launch. A spaceport under development in Nova Scotia, Canada, this week named the first launch company that will use the facility. Reaction Dynamics, which is based in Quebec, plans to launch its small hybrid-fueled rocket as early as 2024, the Toronto Star reports. “Canada’s first launch is going to include a Canadian launch site, a Canadian launch vehicle — Reaction Dynamics’ — and Canadian satellites,” said spaceport developer Stephen Matier of Maritime Launch Services.

There are a few caveats … I should probably note that the Nova Scotia spaceport has not actually been built yet, and there is some local opposition to the project. Also, this is the first time I’ve heard of Reaction Dynamics. And with absolutely no disrespect intended, the founder of the company, Bachar Elzein, appears to have started the company after working as a research assistant at Polytechnique Montréal. And according to his LinkedIn page, the company’s “propulsion test lead” seems to have worked as a ski instructor for two years before joining the company. So 2024? Maybe not. (submitted by JoeySIV-B)

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