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    The Falcon 9 may double the record for consecutive launch success tonight / ArsTechnica · 4 days ago - 14:06

A Falcon 9 rocket launches in March, 2023.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches in March, 2023. (credit: SpaceX)

Nearly seven years ago, on a steamy morning in Florida, a small team of SpaceX engineers was fueling a Falcon 9 rocket for a pre-launch firing test of its nine Merlin engines.

It had been a difficult but successful year for the California rocket company, which finally was starting to deliver on a long-promised increase in cadence of launches. A team of dozens of engineers and technicians at SpaceX's facilities in Cape Canaveral had suffered through grueling months of perfecting the "load-and-go" fueling process involved with the Falcon 9 rocket.

To maximize its payload capacity, the booster used super-chilled liquid oxygen to cram as much on board the rocket as possible. But once it was fueled, the rocket had to go quickly or the liquid oxygen would rapidly warm in the Florida heat. That summer the team of engineers had been pushing hard to compress the propellant loading time to launch with the coldest oxygen possible and max out the vehicle's performance.

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    At long last, the glorious future we were promised in space is on the way / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 25 May - 11:45

In this illustration, SpaceX's Starship vehicle is seen landing on the Moon.

Enlarge / In this illustration, SpaceX's Starship vehicle is seen landing on the Moon. (credit: NASA)

Last Friday, NASA awarded a $3.4 billion contract to a team led by Blue Origin for the design and construction of a second Human Landing System to fly astronauts down to the Moon.

The announcement capped a furious, two-year lobbying campaign by Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos to obtain a coveted piece of NASA's Artemis Program. NASA also notched a big win, gaining the competition with SpaceX it sought for landing services. But there is a more profound takeaway from the announcement.

After losing the initial lander contract to SpaceX two years ago, Blue Origin did not just bid a lower price this time around. Instead, it radically transformed the means by which it would put humans on the Moon. The Blue Moon lander is now completely reusable; it will remain in lunar orbit, going up and down to the surface. It will be serviced by a transport vehicle that will be fueled in low-Earth orbit and then deliver propellant to the Moon. This transporter, in turn, will be refilled by multiple launches of the reusable New Glenn rocket.

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    No one should be surprised Virgin Orbit failed—it had a terrible business plan / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 24 May - 16:46

Branson dug the 747 aircraft acquired by Virgin Orbit.

Branson dug the 747 aircraft acquired by Virgin Orbit. (credit: Eric Berger)

It's now official—the launch company Virgin Orbit is being sold for parts. In a new filing as part of the bankruptcy process, Rocket Lab purchased the company's main production facility in Long Beach, California, to support its Neutron rocket. Stratolaunch bought Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 aircraft and related equipment. And Launcher acquired the company's lease on a test site in Mojave.

That's it. After six years, Virgin Orbit is done, and its LauncherOne will fly no more. The purpose of this article is not to criticize the company's technology or employees. In truth, the engineering teams did a magnificent job of getting a liquid-fueled rocket to drop from a 747 aircraft, ignite its engine, and reach space.

No, the problem was Virgin Orbit's management, including Chief Executive Officer Dan Hart and its founder, Sir Richard Branson. Due to their leadership, the company had a terrible, unsupportable business plan and compounded those issues by hiring an unsustainable workforce of 700 people.

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    How NASA plans to melt the Moon—and build on Mars / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 24 May - 14:17 · 1 minute

Mars Dune Alpha is the first structure built for NASA by the Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technology team.

Enlarge / Mars Dune Alpha is the first structure built for NASA by the Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technology team. (credit: ICON)

In June a four-person crew will enter a hangar at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and spend one year inside a 3D-printed building. Made of a slurry that—before it dried—looked like neatly laid lines of soft-serve ice cream, Mars Dune Alpha has crew quarters, shared living space, and dedicated areas for administering medical care and growing food. The 1,700-square-foot space, which is the color of Martian soil, was designed by architecture firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group and 3D printed by Icon Technology.

Experiments inside the structure will focus on the physical and behavioral health challenges people will encounter during long-term residencies in space. But it’s also the first structure built for a NASA mission by the Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technology (MMPACT) team, which is preparing now for the first construction projects on a planetary body beyond Earth.

When humanity returns to the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program , astronauts will first live in places like an orbiting space station, on a lunar lander, or in inflatable surface habitats. But the MMPACT team is preparing for the construction of sustainable, long-lasting structures. To avoid the high cost of shipping material from Earth, which would require massive rockets and fuel expenditures, that means using the regolith that’s already there, turning it into a paste that can be 3D printed into thin layers or different shapes.

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    Internet from a small satellite in geostationary orbit? Sure, why not / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 24 May - 13:06

Employees at Astranis' headquarters in San Francisco react to deployment of the Arcturus satellite this month.

Enlarge / Employees at Astranis' headquarters in San Francisco react to deployment of the Arcturus satellite this month. (credit: Astranis)

A startup space company says it has successfully deployed and tested a kitchen-stove-sized satellite in geostationary orbit and begun delivering Internet service to Alaska.

Earlier this month, the 'Arcturus' satellite, built by a company named Astranis, launched as a rideshare payload on a Falcon Heavy rocket, separating a few hours after liftoff and successfully deploying its solar arrays, boom, and a subreflector.

After gaining control of the satellite, Astranis began to send commands and update the flight software before raising Arcturus' orbit and slotting it into a geostationary position directly over Alaska. Once there, the satellite linked up with an Internet gateway in Utah and communicated with multiple user terminals in Alaska, where Astranis will provide high-speed bandwidth to an Internet service provider, Pacific Dataport.

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    SpaceX launches tenth crewed mission, third fully commercial flight / ArsTechnica · Monday, 22 May - 12:14

A Falcon 9 rocket launches the Axiom-2 mission on May 21, 2023.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches the Axiom-2 mission on May 21, 2023. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX on Sunday evening launched a commercial mission to the International Space Station carrying four people, including former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson.

This "Axiom-2" mission was commanded by Whitson and carried a paying customer named John Shoffner, who served as pilot, as well as two Saudi Arabian mission specialists, Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi. Shoffner and the government of Saudi Arabia procured the seats on Crew Dragon from Axiom, a Houston-based spaceflight company that brokered the mission to the space station. Whitson is an employee of Axiom.

The crew of four is flying the second fully private mission to the International Space Station and will spend about a week on board the orbiting laboratory before departing for Earth—weather permitting—on May 30.

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    The Ariane 6 rocket will now debut no earlier than the spring of 2024 / ArsTechnica · Friday, 12 May - 14:53

Night time at a giant rocket hanger.

Enlarge / Under the stars with the Ariane 6 launch base at Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. (credit: ESA )

The European Space Agency posted an update Friday on the status of its flagship rocket, the Ariane 6 vehicle. While the space agency did not provide a concrete launch target for the rocket's debut flight, it shared information on key milestones to be completed, including a test firing of the rocket's first stage in French Guiana.

Even without an updated launch date, it can reasonably be inferred from the new information that the Ariane 6 rocket will not launch this year. The question now is how far the debut of the much-anticipated rocket will slip into 2024.

Here's why: During a news conference in October 2022, the director general of the European Space Agency, Josef Aschbacher, laid out the pathway for the Ariane 6 rocket to make its debut in 2023. "There are three very big milestones ahead of us that need to be accomplished by the first quarter of 2023 in order for the inaugural flight by the end of next year," he said at the time.

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    Rocket Report: SpaceX hits success milestone, Vulcan to resume testing / ArsTechnica · Friday, 12 May - 11:00 · 1 minute

ULA's Vulcan rocket rolls to the launch pad on Thursday morning.

Enlarge / ULA's Vulcan rocket rolls to the launch pad on Thursday morning. (credit: United Launch Alliance)

Welcome to Edition 5.37 of the Rocket Report! I am happy to share some good news this week, with the Vulcan rocket rolling back to the launch site for a new round of tests, and India making progress on its next-generation engine. It's great to see all of the progress in this industry.

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 Galactic burns through more money . The space tourism company reported a net loss of $159 million in the first quarter of 2023, compared to $93 million in the first quarter of 2022. The company said it needed the extra spending as it prepares for its first commercial flight later this year and invests heavily in its next-gen Delta spacecrafts, Payload reports . Virgin Galactic announced it will perform a final test flight in late May, sending two pilots and four Virgin Galactic employees to suborbital space.

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