The Vulcan rocket for the Cert-1 mission is at SLC-41 during a test in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 12, 2023.

United Launch Alliance

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Overview: Get Recognized

The phrase “This is why we test” exists for a reason. I’ve seen it mentioned many times over the past few days. Unfortunately, and most importantly, it ignores that tests happen for different reasons.

Let’s start discussing this, especially considering that During a recent test by Blue Origin in Texas, a BE-4 rocket motor exploded. The engine will be used on the second launch of its customer United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket.

It is worth understanding the three main phases of rocket engine testing: development, qualification, and acceptance.Industry experts with over a decade of experience in this type of testing Posted a useful synopsis About how the stages differ. Here’s a tl;dr version:

  1. Development: Prototypes and smaller scale versions of the engines. You’re pushing them hard, accepting failure as part of the process of finding limitations and flaws.
  2. Eligibility: A substantially completed design. You are now verifying the margin of engine capacity. Damage to the engine can happen, but shouldn’t be a common occurrence.
  3. Acceptance: Checking the launched production engine. You might be a little longer than it takes to start up, but it’s less of a mess because you want to make sure it goes smoothly.

I’m not going to report every exploding rocket motor. Most of the ones I hear are in the first two stages. But more importantly, the BE-4 is several years behind schedule (the first flight engines were initially contracted for delivery in 2017), and it is the third production engine. Of course, losing an engine during testing is better than losing it during launch, especially for a rocket that cannot be successful without losing an engine, but that’s an overly trivial way of looking at the loss of expensive production hardware — let alone Another setback came.

Downstream effects are especially important. The first pair of BE-4 engines recently passed a critical first launch test aboard the Vulcan. ULA CEO Tory Bruno insisted that the event is “unlikely” to delay the timetable for Cert-1, currently scheduled for the fourth quarter. (Bruno will join reporters on Thursday for a roundtable that was scheduled ahead of news of the BE-4 incident. I’ll be listening — so stay tuned for more potential details on the Vulcan situation.)

But ULA needs more than Cert-1 to fly: The company needs the Vulcan to complete two successful launches before the U.S. Space Force can clear it for critical national security missions. SpaceX is dominating the launch market, and many in the industry, including competitors and customers, fear a monopoly. All six of ULA’s recently assigned Space Force missions will fly on Vulcan as the rockets the company currently operates are nearing retirement.

So maybe this doesn’t affect Cert-1, but does Cert-2? According to Bruno, the failure of the BE-4 in the acceptance test did not affect the qualification tests that Blue Origin had previously done. Even if they don’t need to re-qualify the engine, they still need to wrap up the investigation — Blue Origin says it has found a possible cause of the explosion — check future production engines for the same flaw, and test a replacement.

As one propulsion engineer wrote on social media: “You learn a lot in development testing. You learn a little in qualification testing. Blessed are those who continue to learn in acceptance testing.”

Which brings us to another phrase I’ve seen mentioning the past few days: “Space is tough.” That sounds a little too much like “think and pray” these days.

How is this going

industry exercise

  • plate and echo star Reportedly analyzing potential mergerCharlie Ergen spun off the two companies 15 years ago in a move that will bring them back together. – traffic light
  • Private equity and defense firms join forces to buy Ball Aerospace, CNBC previously reported that parent company Ball is selling the company. Blackstone and Veritas Capital are competing with defense companies BAE Systems, General Dynamics and Textron to acquire Ball Aerospace, according to a report. – Reuters
  • Satellite intelligence firm HawkEye 360 ​​raises $58 million from BlackRock, along with Manhattan Venture Partners, Insight Partners, NightDragon, Strategic Development Fund (SDF), Razor’s Edge, Alumni Ventures and Adage Capital. The company plans to use the funding to develop new systems and expand its analytical capabilities, particularly “in support of high-value defense missions.” The company currently has 21 satellites in orbit. – Hawkeye 360
  • Satellite propulsion startup Benchmark Space Systems raises $33 million, from an unnamed investor. Chief Executive Officer Ryan McDevitt said the raise “is not directly related” to recent layoffs at the Vermont-based company. – space news
  • Axiom and Collins each receive $5 million spacesuit contracts from NASA pertaining to transactions previously awarded by the agency. The new awards are intended to fund Axiom’s development of spacesuits for low-Earth orbit and Collins’ spacesuits for the lunar surface. – nasa
  • HawkEye 360 ​​Awarded Australian Fisheries Monitoring Contract, for an undisclosed amount. The contract is part of a pilot program in Australia to increase marine awareness across the country and surrounding islands. – Hawkeye 360

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