Welcome to Rocket Report Release 5.23! It’s been a tough week for rocket enthusiasts with back-to-back failures of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne and ABL Space’s RS1 on Monday and Tuesday. I hope that both companies will find and fix the technical problems and get back into orbit soon.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form won’t appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will provide information on small, medium and heavy launch vehicles, as well as a brief overview of the next three launches on the calendar.
A Virgin Orbit launch from Great Britain failed to reach orbit. after Space Girl plane lifted off in spectacular fashion Monday night from Cornwall, England, after Virgin Orbit’s mission ended in failure when the second stage misplaced its nine payloads into orbit. In a statement released Thursday morning, Virgin Orbit gave a little more detail about the failure: “An upper stage anomaly was experienced at an altitude of approximately 180 km. This anomaly prematurely ended the first burn of the upper stage.”
Securing these assets … It was the company’s first failure since the initial demonstration mission in 2020. Since then, LauncherOne has successfully launched into orbit four times in a row, indicating that the launch system is fundamentally sound. The setback comes at an unfortunate time for Virgin Orbit, which has struggled to raise funding, according to Ars data. Virgin turned to founder Richard Branson for an additional $20 million in December 2020, after suspending fundraising efforts in November. However, this convertible note came with a bonus—it gave Branson a first-priority secured interest. In fact, Virgin Orbit appears to have pledged all of its assets to Branson. (Submitted by Ken Bean)
ABL Space debut release failed. The first flight of ABL Space Systems’ RS1 rocket failed to reach orbit on Tuesday, Space News reports. The company said nine engines in the RS1’s first stage shut down simultaneously after takeoff, causing the car to fall back under the pad and explode. The company did not say when the shutdown occurred after takeoff or how high the rocket reached. The explosion damaged the launcher, but no one was injured.
The next attempt will come … “This is not the result we expect today, but the result we are preparing,” the company said. The two-stage vehicle has nine E2 engines in the first stage and one vacuum-optimized E2 engine in the upper stage that uses kerosene and liquid-oxygen fuels. The vehicle is designed to launch from facilities with minimal infrastructure and lift up to 1.35 metric tons into low Earth orbit. ABL has raised several hundred million dollars from venture capital firms with Lockheed Martin as both a strategic investor and a key customer. (Submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)
The RFA will start from Northern Scotland. German launch company Rocket Factory Augsburg announced on Tuesday that the debut launch will take place from the SaxaVord Spaceport in the northernmost part of the Shetland Islands in Northern Scotland. The Scottish spaceport is ideally located for RFA to launch payloads into polar sun-synchronous orbits at high cadence, the company said. RFA will reportedly have exclusive access to Launch Pad Fredo at the spaceport.
Will RFA One fly this year? … The accompanying image shows that a large, steel spin support structure has already been constructed on site. (RFA calls the structure a “launch stool,” but this family-friendly publication will use an alternative term.) The company says the debut of the RFA One could happen by the end of 2023, when testing will begin. in the middle of this year. We’ll have to see if that happens, but RFA’s first orbital launch isn’t that far off in the future. (Submitted by Brangdonj, EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin)
The European starting race remains open. With the failure of Virgin Orbit’s debut launch from the UK, the opportunity remains open to declare itself the first country and company to launch into orbit from Western Europe. The aforementioned RFA One release is a contender. The other is Isar Aerospace, which has an agreement to launch from Andoya Cosmodrome in Norway, NRK reports.
Sweden too … The German company’s Spectrum rocket can be launched into low-Earth orbit weighing about 1 metric ton, and Isar is trying to make its debut orbital attempt this year. But wait, there’s more. His Majesty Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden will visit the Esrange Spaceport in northern Sweden on Friday to “cut the ribbon” for the orbital complex. However, an orbital launch tenant at Esrange has yet to be announced. (submitted by audunru)
Electron is getting a new US release date. Rocket Lab has set a new launch date for Electron’s first flight from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport after a weather-related holdup of late 2022. The launch window for the “Virginia is for Launch Lovers” mission is scheduled to open on January 23, with backup dates through early February. The daily launch opportunity is from 18:00 to 20:00 ET (23:00 to 1:00 UTC).
Here’s hoping for calmer winds in the new year … This mission will deploy three satellites for the HawkEye 360 radio frequency geospatial analytics provider. The mission is the first of three Electron launches for HawkEye 360, which will see Rocket Lab deliver 15 satellites into low Earth orbit by the end of 2010. 2024. The Electron’s U.S. debut was delayed for more than a year while the company tried to obtain a launch license, and a December effort was thwarted by unfavorable upper-level winds during the launch window. (Submitted by Ken Bean)