Rocket Report: Webb telescope ready for launch, LOX shortage slows SpaceX


A suggestively shaped model rocket.
Enlarge / Estes is now selling a New Shepard model rocket for $69.99.

Welcome to Edition 4.13 of the Rocket Report! While there may be a LOX shortage in launch, there is no shortage of launch news this week. So this report runs long.

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.

Virgin Orbit to go public, expand offerings. Virgin Orbit will use the proceeds of a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company to expand its launch business and develop a satellite constellation for Internet-of-things and Earth-observation services. After merging with NextGen Acquisition Corp. II in a deal expected to close at the end of this year, Virgin Orbit will receive as much as $483 million in capital before transaction expenses. The deal includes $100 million in funding from Boeing and AE Industrial Partners, SpaceNews reports.

Plans for vehicle upgrades … About 40 percent of the proceeds from the deal would go toward scaling up production of the LauncherOne system, including investments in advanced manufacturing capabilities. The company plans to spend 35 percent of the proceeds of the deal on research and development, such as launch upgrades. The investor presentation briefly outlined a “future technology development roadmap” that includes upgrades to the rocket to roughly double its payload performance to 500–600 kilograms. The company is studying an upper stage and orbital transfer vehicle as well as evaluating the ability to recover and reuse the first stage. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Blue Origin completes 17th New Shepard launch. The uncrewed flight carried payloads supported by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program and included a second flight of the Deorbit, Descent, and Landing Sensor Demonstration under a NASA Tipping Point partnership, Blue Origin said. This demo mission, which flew for the second time mounted on the exterior of New Shepard’s booster, tested technology designed to achieve high-accuracy landing for future Moon missions.

Smith says … “After flying more than 100 payloads to space on New Shepard, today’s 8th flight of this vehicle carried NASA-sponsored and commercial experiments, including the second flight of NASA’s lunar landing technology that will one day allow us to further explore the Moon’s surface,” said Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin. “We are grateful to NASA for partnering with us once again on this experiment, and we are proud of the Blue Origin team for executing a great flight in support of all our customers.” (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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Billionaire challenge to Scottish spaceport shot down. A Scottish court has thrown out objections of a billionaire landowner against a planning permission granted to an operator of a prospective spaceport in the north of Scotland, Space.com reports. Anders Povlsen, a Danish fashion tycoon who owns more land in the UK than the queen and the Church of Scotland combined, launched a judicial review against Space Hub Sutherland earlier this year.

Full steam ahead … However, Judge Raymond Doherty of the Supreme Courts of Scotland rejected all points of Povlsen’s petition in a 30-page ruling released on Friday, saying, “none of the grounds of the challenge is well founded.” Povlsen’s nature conservation and tourism company Wildland Limited, which owns an estate adjacent to the prospective spaceport, protested against the decision of the local authority, the Highlands Council, which greenlighted the construction of the space hub in August 2020. If granted, the challenge could have halted plans to see rockets fly from the UK soil next year. (submitted by EllPeaTea)

Relativity delays debut of Terran 1 rocket to early 2022. 3D-rocket-printing company Relativity Space has pushed back the date of the demonstration launch of its lightweight Terran 1 rocket from winter 2021 to early 2022. The company announced the updated schedule on Twitter, while also confirming that the launch will take place out of Cape Canaveral in Florida, TechCrunch reports.

Seeking better coordination … A company spokesperson told the publication that there is “no one single reason” why the launch date has been pushed back. “Over the past year, Relativity has… refined Terran 1’s architecture, developed a brand new engine and upgraded its material while COVID slowed a few of its processes down,” the spokesperson added. “They updated the demonstration launch to early 2022 so they can better coordinate with partners.” (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Price of Virgin Galactic seat reservation increases. Virgin Galactic is seeking deposits of $149,000 from future passengers on its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, according to Parabolic Arc. The amount is just under one-third of the $450,000 ticket price for the trip to the edge of space. The message was sent to a customer who had put down a $1,000 deposit on a seat.

A chance to get your grand back … If the prospective flyer decides to go forward, Virgin Galactic will send out a spaceflight application on September 1. The message said the $1,000 deposit will be refunded if the person decides not to proceed. When seats first went on sale way back in 2005, tickets cost $200,000, and the minimum refundable deposit required was $20,000. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Australian government permits rocket launch. The federal government has given regulatory approval for a commercial rocket launch to take place later this year from a newly licensed launch facility in South Australia. Taiwanese company TiSPACE will conduct a test flight of its Hapith I rocket from the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex, which is operated by Southern Launch, the government said.

Building rockets, too? … The booster is a 10-meter-tall, two-stage suborbital rocket, and the date for the launch will be determined by TiSPACE and Southern Launch in the coming months. Additionally, TiSPACE is considering bringing manufacturing of complete rocket systems to Australia. Government officials touted the potential benefits of becoming a more active player in space. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Want to own a piece of New Shepard? Blue Origin’s Club for the Future charity has announced that the Estes New Shepard model rocket will launch in November. Manufactured by Estes Industries, the model has been reduced to 1/66th scale of Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle to ignite the imagination of families nationwide. Each box comes with a Club for the Future postcard.

A provocative price point … According to Estes, the rocket is fully reusable and follows the same flight profile as the actual rocket. The capsule is payload-capable and separates from the booster near its apogee of nearly 400 feet. It then floats back to Earth under a parachute for a gentle touchdown. You can buy it for $69.99 on the Estes website.



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