Welcome to Rocket Report 5.03! It’s been a big week for small launch news, with a successful debut for Europe’s Vega-C rocket, a reactive launch by Rocket Lab’s Electron vehicle, and a big static test shot by ABL Space Systems’ RS1 rocket. . Congratulations to everyone involved in these projects.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please sign up using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP versions of the site). Each report will contain information on small, medium and heavy rockets as well as a quick overview of the next three launches on the schedule.
European rocket Vega-C successfully debuts. Europe’s new Vega-C rocket made its maiden flight on Wednesday, carrying an Italian physics satellite and six cubesats, Space News reports. The four-stage rocket launched from Kourou, French Guiana at the end of a two-hour launch window. Technical problems had twice interrupted the countdown sequence. The success of the mission means that Europe can now start using the Vega-C rocket for operational launches, starting in November with the Pléiades Neo 5 and 6 Earth imaging satellites. Arianespace says it has already sold seven Vega-C launches.
Bigger and stronger … Vega C has more powerful rocket engines and a larger payload volume than the original Vega rocket, which is retiring after its first launch ten years ago. The upgraded rocket can carry about 2.3 metric tons to a polar orbit at 700 kilometers altitude, compared to 1.5 metric tons for its predecessor. Vega-C’s first stage is powered by a solid-fuel P120 engine that will also be used by Europe’s upcoming Ariane 6 launcher, which has two variants to replace the European Ariane 5 heavy rocket and the Soyuz medium rocket that originated in Russia. Wednesday’s success gave the European institutional launch industry a much-needed victory. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
ABL Space completes stage one test. The California-based company said this week that it had successfully completed a static firing test of the first stage of its RS1 rocket. “The operation verified our start sequence and engine performance at the stages,” Harry O’Hanley said in a statement emailed to Ars. “It was also a key demonstration of our GS0 Launch Stool, which stows in a container and allows launching from a flat pad. A testament to our team’s intense preparation, we completed the test on the first try. .”
A fall launch for RS1? … The company has now completed testing of the first and second stages of the RS1 rocket. Next, ABL prepares to couple the two stages and perform final checks on the fully stacked vehicle before a repeat wet test. After that, the hardware should be ready for launch. The company won’t set a date until it verifies the readiness of the hardware, and it will take at least another six weeks to get regulatory approval and complete launch documents. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)
A year has passed since Virgin Galactic’s last flight. More than 12 months have now passed since Sir Richard Branson briefly left this world, only to make a feathered return to Earth, landing on a hot, dusty runway in rural New Mexico. However, the VSS Unity the spacecraft has yet to fly, Ars reports, and may not until at least this winter. In an article, the publication explores why the spacecraft hasn’t returned to flight and what that means for the future of Virgin Galactic as competitor Blue Origin increases its flight rate New Shepard.
How many flights needed for profitability? …Virgin Galactic is losing nearly $100 million a quarter, and since it won’t be flying again anytime soon, the losses will continue to mount. To achieve profitability, given its ongoing expenses, it is likely that Virgin Galactic would need to fly at least 150 or 200 revenue flights per year, consisting of a mix of passenger missions and research payload. But this number can be even higher. Virgin Galactic chief executive Michael Colglazier said last week that the company was working to build a fleet of spacecraft and carrier aircraft to support 400 flights a year from its base at Spaceport America in New Mexico. This would require a huge leap forward in operational efficiency.
Rocket Lab launches first of two NRO missions. The company said it successfully launched the first of two responsive space missions for the US National Reconnaissance Office on Wednesday from New Zealand. This NROL-162 mission is the first of a pair of consecutive flights ordered by the NRO for a dedicated launch on Electron. NROL-199 is scheduled to launch from Pad B at Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on July 22.
One step forward … “No other small launch vendor has ever prepared a dedicated launch for a small national security payload in such a short time, and we aim to deliver the next NRO mission to space in record time” , Rocket Lab General Manager Peter Beck said in a press release. If Rocket Lab pulls off this flight, it would represent an impressive uptick in momentum for the company. When you add CAPSTONE’s recent launch to the Moon, Rocket Lab is having a very good year. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
A clue to the price of New Shepard seats? Beyond disclosing the winner of the auction for a seat on New Shepard’s first flight alongside Jeff Bezos – $28 million – Blue Origin has not disclosed the per-seat price it charges for New Shepard tourist space flights. Sources said the top spots on the first handful of missions cost well north of $1 million, but the price was expected to drop as the company flew more. Well, not yet, apparently.
The market sets the price … In April, Blue Origin said that a crypto firm named Moon DAO had purchased seats on a future New Shepard flight. Based on an analysis of cryptographic transfers, it appears Moon DAO transferred $2.575 million to Blue Origin in early April and set aside a fee that likely values the cost of a New Shepard seat in 2022 at $1.25 million. When you’re the only company stealing, it may make financial sense to charge what the market will bear. This is especially true since I heard that Bezos wanted the New Shepard program to become self-sufficient soon.