While the SpaceX Crew Dragon is making regular trips to and from the International Space Station, the other vehicle NASA was planning to rely on for crew transportation keeps running into problems and delays. Boeing and NASA just announced another set of delays for the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, pushing it even further back from its proposed July launch window — which was already years behind schedule.
Problems with its parachute lines and the electrical system were identified, and the program manager isn’t sure if Starliner will even fly by the end of 2023.
The commercial space sector (aka. NewSpace) is one of the fastest-growing industries of the 21st century. In the past twenty years, what was once considered an ambitious venture or far-off prospect has become a rapidly-accelerating reality. Today, companies are conducting launches using their own rockets and spacecraft, often from their own facilities, to send everything from satellites and cargo to astronauts (commercial and professional) into space. The growing number of launch providers has also led to a dramatic increase in demand for launch-related services.
This includes retrieval operations designed to provide launch flexibility and safe retrieval. This is the purpose behind The Spaceport Company, a Virginia-based aerospace company dedicated to creating a global network of mobile, sea-based launch and landing site systems. On Monday, May 22nd, the company successfully tested its prototype platform by conducting the first-ever commercial rocket launches from U.S. water. This test demonstrated the potential for mobile sea platforms to ease congestion at on-shore launch facilities and expedite the delivery of payloads to orbit.
With Virgin Orbit going through bankruptcy, other launch providers are purchasing various parts of the business. This week we learned that Stratolaunch’s bid to buy Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 carrier aircraft has been approved by the U.S Bankruptcy Court, enabling Stratolaunch to use the 747 to carry its Talon-A hypersonic vehicles, ideally beginning operation by 2024.
New images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) appear to show the crash site where the Japanese Hakuto-R Mission 1 lunar lander impacted the surface of the Moon a month ago.
The refrigerator-sized HAKUTO-R was built by the startup company iSpace and was launched in December 2022 with the goal of becoming the first commercial lunar lander to touch down safely on the Moon. However, during landing operations on April 25, 2023, communications ceased just moments before touchdown should have occurred, and the lander was presumed lost.
On Sunday, May 21, the 4-person crew of Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) blasted off to the International Space Station (ISS) on board a SpaceX Crew Dragon, and today, May 22, the private astronaut crew boarded the International Space Station for a scheduled 10-day stay.
SpaceX’s second private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Axiom-2 aka Ax-2, which is sponsored Axiom Space, received a “go” for launch from NASA on May 15 followed by a stamp of approval from Mother Nature on May 19, and finally a completion of the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) on May 20. Liftoff is currently scheduled for May 21 at 5:37pm EDT (2:37pm PDT) from NASA Kennedy Space Center’s historic launch complex 39A, which was the launch site for all crewed Apollo-Saturn V launches starting with Apollo 8, along with Skylab, dozens of Space Shuttle launches, and starting in 2017 with SpaceX.
Well, buckle up! The European multinational aerospace giant Airbus has thrown its hat into the ring! In a recently-released video, the company detailed its proposal for a Multi-Purpose Orbital Module (MPOP) called the Airbus LOOP. This modular space segment contains three decks, a centrifuge, and enough volume for a crew of four, making it suitable for future space stations and long-duration missions to Mars. The LOOP builds on the company’s long history of human spaceflight programs, like the ISS Columbus Module, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), and the Orion European Service Module (ESM).
This past week was a mixed bag for Relativity Space and their 3D-printed methane-fueled rocket engine. While the company’s Terran 1 rocket blasted off successfully on Wednesday, March 22, the second stage failed to ignite a few minutes after launch. The rocket coasted to an altitude of about 129 km and then returned to Earth, crashing a few hundred kilometers downrange.
But Relativity Space counted this first launch attempt as a success.
Another day, another static fire test, another milestone on the road to space! For months, crews at the SpaceX Starbase near Boca Chica, Texas, have been conducting static fire tests of the B7 Super Heavy booster prototype. In previous tests, the ground crews test-fired 7 to 14 of the B7s Raptor 2 engines for periods lasting 7 to 13 seconds. Today, the crews prepped the BN7 Booster for the first static fire test, where all thirty-three engines would fire simultaneously. While two of its Raptors did not fire, the test was a success and set a new record for the amount of thrust produced in a single booster fire.