Welcome to Edition 4.15 of the Rocket Report! This week, we have an update on the cause of the Alpha rocket launch failure and scads of news about medium-lift rockets. Also, for email subscribers, please accept our apologies for sending out an old edition of the newsletter.
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.
Alpha rocket explodes due to engine-out. Firefly Aerospace’s first launch of its Alpha rocket ended in failure when the rocket exploded 2.5 minutes after liftoff last Thursday, September 2. The video can be seen here. Two days after the launch, Firefly said the rocket failed when one of its first-stage engines shut down seconds after liftoff, SpaceNews reports. One of the four Reaver engines in the rocket’s first stage, designated engine 2, shut down 15 seconds into the flight.
No more fuel to burn … “It was an uneventful shutdown—the engine didn’t fail—the propellant main valves on the engine simply closed and thrust terminated from engine 2,” the company stated. The rocket continued to ascend using the remaining three engines—but with reduced thrust. That would explain the underperformance apparent in the flight: according to the company’s press kit, the vehicle was supposed to reach Mach 1 67 seconds into the flight, but launch controllers did not report that the vehicle was supersonic until 2 minutes 20 seconds after liftoff. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Rocket Lab lands multilaunch contract. The company said it has been awarded a contract to deploy an entire satellite constellation across five dedicated Electron missions for Kinéis, a global Internet-of-Things connectivity provider. The constellation will be deployed in rapid succession, beginning in the second quarter of 2023. Terms were not disclosed.
A big contract for a small rocket … “We are glad to entrust our constellation of 25 satellites to Rocket Lab,” said Kinéis CEO Alexandre Tisserant. “They are the leaders in small satellite launch and the obvious choice as launch partner to activate our constellation at such a pace.” (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Rocket Lab seeks to catch up on lost “delta” revenues … The block-buy contract with Kinéis came as Rocket Lab disclosed a net loss of $32.5 million for the first half of 2022, Stuff reports. Founder Peter Beck expressed hope New Zealand’s tough lockdown restrictions will lift by the end of September, allowing the company to catch up on launches that have been delayed because of the COVID-19 delta variant outbreak.
Strict borders policy … According to Beck, Rocket Lab previously had three launches scheduled for late August and September, before the delta outbreak. New Zealand had some of the “most restrictive Covid measures globally” including current ‘stay at home orders’ which prevented launch operations from taking place, Beck said. “In addition, New Zealand’s strict international border restrictions have created delays. However, we have been successful in securing our customers’ entry into New Zealand so far,” he said. (submitted by platykurtic)
Korea seeks to develop commercial space industry. Starting next year, South Korea’s government will transfer state-owned space-launch-vehicle technologies to domestic aerospace companies, SpaceNews reports. To accomplish this, the government plans to spend $593 million from 2022 through 2027. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute, a state-run space technology developer that has played a central role in developing the nation’s first domestic space launch vehicle, KSLV-2, will be responsible for the public-to-private transfer.
Getting private companies involved … The transfer will be done so that the Korean aerospace institute and selected companies can do joint development and launch tests. “The time has come to make a departure from state-led development of space launch vehicles toward one in which the private sector plays an expanded and more active role,” said Yong Hong-taek, the science ministry’s vice minister. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Dawn Aerospace completes first round of test flights. The New Zealand-based space company has been working toward developing a reusable, uncrewed spaceplane. It took a step toward that goal this summer with a series of test flights of its Mk-II Aurora suborbital vehicle. The flights reached about 1 km in altitude and used jet engines instead of rocket engines, Stuff reports.
Big plans in the offing … The company hopes its suborbital Mk-II plane, the predecessor to the two-stage-to-orbit vehicle Mk-III, will be the first vehicle to access space multiple times per day. The Mk-II serves as a technology demonstrator for the Mk-III and will be used to capture atmospheric data for weather and climate modelling and scientific research. (submitted by platykurtic and Nicholas)