Monday, February 05, 2018

Falcon Heavy Ready for Launch, plus JAXA, ESA & UK/ Ukrainian Microsat Launcher Updates

         By Chuck Black

The first SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket is currently scheduled for launch on Tuesday, February 6th, 2018 from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in order to take advantage of a launch window that opens between 1:30 pm EST and 4pm EST.

As outlined in the February 3rd, 2018 YouTube post, "Mars Mission Update: January 2018," it's an important mission for SpaceX and for the space industry in general. But it's not the only noteworthy recent activity involving innovative rocket builders.

Here's a few more:
  • Only a year after failing its first attempt, a small, experimental rocket funded by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has succeeded in launching an experimental micro-sat into orbit using a domestically produced launcher. 
As outlined in the February 3rd, 2018 The Verge post, "Japan’s space agency just launched the tiniest rocket to carry a satellite into orbit," the Japanese built SS-520-5 sounding rocket (part of their S-series sounding rocket family) is the smallest rocket to ever deliver a satellite into orbit. 
The vehicle had been modified with the addition of a third stage, which helped push the payload, a TRICOM-1R cubeSat built by the University of Tokyo, into a 180 km × 1500 km orbit with 31° inclination. The rocket is manufactured by Tokyo, Japan based IHI Aerospace and operated by the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS).
The JAXA mission follows close on the heals of the January 2018 launch of the Huntington CA based Rocket Lab Electron rocket which, as outlined in the January 22nd, 2018 post, "The Rocket Lab Electron Rocket Has Placed Three Satellites in Orbit," placed three micro-sats into orbit and became the first operational micro-sat launcher earlier this year.

As outlined in the post: 
The microlauncher study, a part of the ESA's Future Launcher Preparatory Programme, will refine the definition of the European small satellite launcher project proposed by PLD Space, named ARION 2. 
In this study, ESA has also tasked PLD Space with proposing and defining - both technically and economically - a new European spaceport, which will be dedicated to launching small satellites to polar and heliosynchronous orbits. 
The proposed spaceport would likely be located in Spain, which would allow the country to become the tenth country in the world with independent access to space. 
The ARION 2 rocket is expected to enter service in 2021 and will compete with the JAXA micro-sat launcher described above, along with companies like Rocket Lab and Long Beach, CA based Virgin Orbit
The market for small-sat rocket launcher services is expected to grow to over €5.5Bln Euros ($8.5Bln CDN) by 2020. 
Skyrora rocket. Graphic c/o Ukranian News UP.
  • Of course, Canada isn't the only place where a Ukrainian rocket company has promised to build a launch facility.
As outlined in the February 1st, 2018 Space News post, "UK-Ukrainian launch vehicle developer Skyrora to establish smallsat launch site," Edinburgh, UK based Skyrora has moved ahead with its plans to set up a facility to launch small-sats from Scotland using a combination of UK and Ukrainian based technology. 
According to the post, "the company is in the process of finalizing the suborbital build and will be testing its engine in the UK during the first quarter of 2018." 
Unlike the situation in Canada, where as outlined in the November 9th, 2017 post, "Commercial Space and Rocket Port Shenanigans," Canadian based Maritime Launch Services (MLS) plans to design and develop their launcher in the Ukraine and then transport the finished product to Canada for launch, Skyrora intends to take advantage of UK expertise:
Skyrora’s rockets run on hydrogen peroxide and kerosene. In this respect, the company is following in the steps of the U.K,’s Black Arrow, the program that allowed London to launch its first rocket in October 1971, orbiting the Prospero satellite. 
(... According to Daniel Smith, the UK based business development manager at Skyrora) the company is drawing from the experiences of the U.K. space industry and says he finds pride in the fact that “we’re using the same propellant as Black Arrow did and essentially combining their successfully proven, 50-year-old ideas with today’s most advanced technology.”
We expect to grow our U.K. team substantially in Q1 2018, particularly on the manufacturing side of the business,” Smith said.
For more, on rockets and on the other items, check out future issues of the Commercial Space blog. 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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