Welcome to Edition 4.21 of the Rocket Report! Plenty of news this week across the realm of rockets, from a near-success in South Korea (better luck next time, Nuri rocket) to the long-awaited stacking of NASA’s Space Launch System vehicle.
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.
Rocket Lab to recover next rocket. After its next launch, “Love at First Insight,” Rocket Lab will attempt to make a controlled ocean splashdown of its Electron rocket first stage and then recover the vehicle from the water. For the first time, a helicopter will be stationed in the recovery zone around 200 nautical miles offshore to track and visually observe the descending stage in preparation for future aerial capture attempts.
Learning lessons for future recoveries… The launch will occur no earlier than November 11, with the primary objective of deploying two Earth-observation satellites for global-monitoring company BlackSky. The mission will be Rocket Lab’s third ocean recovery of an Electron stage. “I’m excited to take what we learn from this launch and put it into practice with aerial capture missions in future,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a news release. (Submitted by Tfargo04, EllPeaTea, and Ken the Bin.)
South Korean rocket fails to reach orbit. The first domestically built Korean rocket, named Nuri, successfully launched on Thursday from the Naro Space Center. The rocket’s first and second stages performed nominally, but due to an early third-stage shutdown issue, the boilerplate payload failed to reach a stable orbit. The Nuri rocket is designed to lift 1.5 tons to low-Earth orbit.
A new space age dawns soon… Since the first and second stages performed well, South Korea is likely to move forward with a second Nuri launch attempt next May. According to Reuters, South Korean President Moon Jae-in watched the launch from the space center. “It’s not long before we’ll be able to launch it exactly into the target trajectory,” he said. “The ‘Korea Space Age’ is approaching.” (Submitted by EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin.)
Virgin Galactic pilot moves to Blue Origin. Mark “Forger” Stucky—who for six years headed the test-pilot program at space company Virgin Galactic before he says he was fired earlier this year—is taking a job at Blue Origin, CNN reports. Stucky piloted the first flight aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo that reached the edge of space in 2018.
Advancing the Blue Origin vision… Stucky said he will join Blue Origin’s “Advanced Development Programs” team, where he told the broadcast network he will “do my best to contribute to [CEO Jeff Bezos’] amazing vision of humans not just having a continuous presence in space but truly becoming a space-faring species.” Blue Origin confirmed Stucky’s hiring.
Morgan Stanley lowers Virgin Galactic price target. In a report issued to Morgan Stanley investors on Tuesday, the firm said it was decreasing its price target for Virgin Galactic’s stock from $25 to $17. The investment bank said it was no longer certain that the second SpaceShip III vehicle, named Inspire, would actually be built. It was also concerned by the recently announced delay to the Unity 23 flight.
More near-term negatives than positives … “Considering that Eve (mothership) will be grounded for its eight-month enhancement period ending ~June 2022 at the earliest, we do not see any meaningful positive catalysts for the stock until then,” Morgan Stanley wrote. “To the contrary, we see a potential negative catalyst on the horizon for the stock as the lock-up period for ~28% of shares outstanding ends on October 25, 2021, potentially furthering near-term pressure on the stock.”
Starliner grounded until 2022. NASA and Boeing officials said Tuesday that they have successfully removed two valves from the Starliner spacecraft and have shipped them to Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama for further analysis, Ars reports. The forensic examination—the two valves will be inspected with a variety of techniques, including a CT scan—is part of Boeing’s ongoing effort to diagnose the “stuck” valve issue that caused an abort of Starliner’s uncrewed test flight on August 3.
May the force be with Starliner?… The company and NASA will press ahead with test and analysis work in Florida and Alabama and at Boeing’s test site in White Sands, New Mexico. The effort to identify a root cause and a fix will take time, acknowledged Boeing’s program manager for commercial crew, John Vollmer. He said Boeing is now targeting the “first half” of 2022 for the OFT-2 uncrewed test flight of Starliner. One source told Ars the “no earlier than” date is May 2022.
Chinese crewed mission safely launches. A second crew of three astronauts blasted off to China’s Tianhe space station aboard the Shenzhou-13 mission Friday. A Long March 2F lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert at 12:23 pm EDT on October 15, SpaceNews reports.
Setting a new duration record … Commander Zhai Zhigang and colleagues Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu made up the crew of the three-module Shenzhou-13. The spacecraft successfully performed a radial rendezvous with Tianhe. The trio is expected to stay aboard the 16.6-meter-long, 4.2-meter-diameter Tianhe for six months, which would be China’s longest stay by three months. (Submitted by Ken the Bin.)
Next Ariane 5 mission to be its heaviest ever. The Ariane 5 rocket’s next launch is scheduled for Friday, October 22, at 9:01 pm EDT (01:01 UTC Saturday). With a total performance of approximately 11.2 tons, this will be the heaviest payload ever launched by Ariane 5 ECA, surpassing the previous record reached in 2017 with VA237 by nearly 300 kg, Arianespace said.
Standing tall… The cumulative mass of its two payloads will reach 10.2 tons, making it the heaviest-ever mass launched toward GTO orbit by the rocket. This mission will also be the tallest Ariane 5 ever launched, with a fairing raised by 1.5 meters compared to the standard configuration. This is the final launch before the James Webb Space Telescope is due to launch on an Ariane 5 in December. (Submitted by Ken the Bin.)
Next NASA crew launch date delayed a day. NASA and SpaceX are now targeting 2:21 am EDT (06:21 UTC) on October 31 for the agency’s Crew-3 launch to the International Space Station, the space agency said this week. This will allow additional time for spacecraft processing. The backup launch time and date is 1:10 am Wednesday, November 3.
A Halloween liftoff… NASA astronauts Raja Chari (mission commander,) Tom Marshburn (pilot), and Kayla Barron (mission specialist), as well as European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, also a mission specialist, will launch on the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Submitted by Ken the Bin and Tfargo04.)
DART mission arrives at launch site. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft has arrived in California, where it will launch from in late November on a Falcon 9 rocket. The truck, spacecraft, and a small motorcade of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory engineers and technicians pulled into Vandenberg Space Force Base near Lompoc on October 2, NASA said.
Dimorphos had it coming… DART will be the world’s first mission to test planetary defense techniques. It will demonstrate one mitigation method of asteroid deflection, called kinetic impact. DART will impact the small asteroid moonlet Dimorphos (which orbits a larger companion, Didymos, in a binary asteroid system) to change its orbital period. (Submitted by Ken the Bin.)