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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Astranis Signs Agreement for Philippines’ First Dedicated Internet Satellite: The company will provide capacity to local Internet service provider HTechCorp in the Philippines through a long-term agreement with Orbits Corp. Astranis expects to launch the satellite next year as part of a fleet of five satellites, and estimates the service will help connect up to two million people. – CNBC
- China’s Blue Arrow enters orbit with methane-fueled rocket for first time: The “private” company launched the Suzaku II rocket and declared it successfully into orbit, an achievement verified by tracking data from the U.S. Space Force. – space news
- Saudi and Chinese representatives meet to discuss space cooperation: The chairman of the Saudi Space Agency held a meeting with senior Chinese space officials in Riyadh as part of efforts to boost political and economic ties between the two countries. – arab news
- Maxar launches new satellite imagery platform, in an effort to expand the use of the company’s Earth observation capabilities. The Maxar Geospatial Platform (MGP) includes imagery, 3D models, change detection, and more. – via satellite
- virgin galactic Announcing timeline targets for second commercial mission, a window of the Galaxy 02 was opened on Aug. 10, carrying three private passengers. – virgin galactic
- NASA cancels Janus mission to asteroid, which will fly on the delayed Psyche asteroid mission. The agency plans to store the spacecraft long-term. – space news
- astra develop the spacecraft business, Established subsidiary Astra Spacecraft Engines. The move will reportedly give Astra greater flexibility in hiring and financing the unit. – TechCrunch
- rewire Constructing a Microgravity Payload Development Facility in Indiana, Construction on the 30,000-square-foot facility will begin in the fourth quarter. – rewire
- British rocket maker Orbex announces expansion: The company is building further facilities in Scotland and Denmark to increase its rocket production and propulsion manufacturing capabilities. – Aubex
- 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
- Via Satellite Stocks heading for worst trading day ever After disclosing that a large reflector deployed on its recently launched ViaSat-3 Americas satellite failed. The company said it was working with the reflector manufacturer to try to resolve the issue, but said the problem “could have a significant impact on the satellite’s performance.” Northrop Grumman appears to be the manufacturer. On Thursday, Viasat shares posted their biggest one-day drop since its December 1996 initial public offering. CNBC
- Astra board approves 1-for-15 reverse stock splitThe company had previously outlined the move as part of its plan to avoid delisting from the Nasdaq exchange. Astra is also seeking to raise up to $65 million in an “on-the-market” common stock offering by Roth Capital and has terminated a previous agreement with B. Riley to sell up to $100 million of the company’s common stock, which it signed in August. – CNBC
- Garrett Reisman joins Vast as Human Spaceflight Advisor: The retired astronaut and former SpaceX director came to Vast as the company looks to enhance its human spaceflight and space habitat capabilities. – Broad
- Mike Kerrigan Named Chief Commercial Officer of Myriota, an Australian satellite IoT company. Kerrigan previously served as vice president of strategy at Palo Alto Networks. – Miriota
on the horizon
- July 14: India’s LVM-3 launches Chandrayaan-3 mission to the moon From Sriharikota.
- July 14: rocket lab electron launch satellite From New Zealand, carrying Telesat’s LEO 3, two Spire satellites and NASA’s four Starling satellites.
- July 14: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launches Starlink satellites from Florida.
- July 18: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launches Starlink satellites from California.