Rocket Report: SpaceX Launch Delayed Indefinitely; Virgin Orbit cancels funding round

Welcome to Rocket Report 5.19! Back from the Thanksgiving break, there’s plenty of news to catch up on this week, including an SLS rocket performance bulletin (excellent) and some wild and woolly news from north of the US border. Read on to find out more.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please sign up 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 rockets, as well as a quick overview of the next three launches on the schedule.

Virgin Orbit is ending its safety offering. The US-based launch company announced on the eve of Thanksgiving a “cessation” of a securities offering. “Due to current market conditions, the company has chosen not to proceed with an offer,” Virgin Orbit said in a statement. “Any future capital raising transaction will depend on future market conditions.” Earlier in October, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said the company was looking to raise additional capital after going public as a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.

It’s not great, though … As part of the SPAC process, the company has set a goal of raising $483 million. However, the company raised just $228 million a year ago. Virgin Orbit has an excellent track record of technical achievement, with four consecutive successes of its LauncherOne system. But there have long been questions about its economic viability given the limited growth potential of an air-launched rocket. It is certainly not the end of the road for Virgin Orbit, which is approaching a historic launch from Cornwall, UK. Financially, he also has a hedge fund liability to fall back on, estimated at $250 million.

ABL’s first launch attempt has been cancelled. The first test flight of ABL Space Systems’ new small satellite launch pad from Alaska has been pushed back to December at the earliest after technical problems halted a series of launch attempts in mid-November, Spaceflight reports. Now. ABL completed three countdowns during a weeklong launch period at the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska, in an attempt to launch the company’s first RS1 rocket, capable of lifting 1 ton into low Earth orbit.

Try again before Christmas … A launch attempt on November 14 was aborted about 30 minutes before liftoff due to unexpected data during propellant loading of the RS1 first stage, which was later found to be caused by a leaking valve in the booster system. A second launch attempt on November 17 was aborted at T-minus 1.8 seconds while igniting its nine petroleum-fueled E2 first-stage engines. Another countdown on November 21 was also interrupted during the engine start sequence. This was the last available launch attempt for ABL until the company’s next set of launch dates begins on December 7. (submitted by EllPeaTea)

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Electron wins TROPICS launch contract. NASA said it selected Rocket Lab to provide launch service for the agency’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity mission with a Constellation of Smallsats, or TROPICS, mission. Rocket Lab will launch four CubeSats for NASA on two Electron rockets, scheduled for May 1 at the earliest.

Ready for next year … This delay will allow NASA to provide observations during the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, which begins June 1. The TROPICS constellation targets the formation and development of tropical cyclones, including hurricanes, and will provide rapidly updated observations of storm intensity. The launch of the first two TROPICS satellites earlier this year on an Astra rocket failed. (submitted by EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin)

Skyroot successfully makes its suborbital debut. Skyroot Aerospace successfully launched its tiny Vikram-S suborbital rocket on November 18, TechCrunch reports. The 6-meter-tall rocket reached an altitude of 89.5 km, as the company predicted, officials from the Indian startup said. The company is part of India’s burgeoning commercial space sector.

lane next … Founded in 2018 by former ISRO scientists Pawan Kumar Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka, Skyroot has raised $68 million in total, including $51 million in a Series B round led by Singapore-based GIC in September. It plans to develop a series of increasingly capable “Vikram” orbital rockets in the coming years. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Relativity completes Terran 1 stack. The company said it succeeded in coupling the first and second stages of the Terran 1 rocket ahead of a first launch. “The next time Terran 1 comes out on the pad, it will be stacked and vertical. The next steps must be followed: deployment, static fire and launch,” the company said in its newsletter. The company also said it has completed pressure vector control tests.

Sliding into the new year …Given that Relativity has yet to deploy the Terran 1 to the pad for its static fire test, it seems increasingly unlikely that the rocket will debut in 2022. However, the company is in a good position to test its rocket additive manufacturing in early 2023 , possibly even January.

Phantom Space gets launch contract with NASA. Phantom Space — yes, the Phantom Space co-founded by Jim Cantrell — received a “mission order” from NASA to launch four CubeSats on the company’s Daytona rocket. The CubeSats will not launch until 2024, NASA said, as part of the agency’s Venture-class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) program. This is NASA’s program to expedite a greater variety of US rockets for government launch contracts.

Tolerate some higher risks … NASA will not launch any high-value satellites via VADR, which the agency says allows it to provide “commercial launch services for payloads that can tolerate higher risk.” There are currently 13 companies eligible to bid on VADR launch contracts, including established companies such as SpaceX and ULA, and smaller established companies such as L2 Solutions in Houston. It will be interesting to see if Phantom Space can successfully raise CubeSats for NASA. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

The Australian launch facility raises environmental concerns. Conservationists say planned rocket launches on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula pose an extinction-level threat to the wren, one of Australia’s smallest birds, The Guardian reports. The southern emu subspecies at the site is listed as endangered under current legislation, but nationally vulnerable. Australian Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek is considering raising the national status to threatened. This change would be important for project approvals and funding decisions for the Southern Launch spaceport.

Authority approval is pending … The Nature Conservation Society of SA says land clearing, human disturbance including noise, vibration and cars, and an increased risk of bushfires, put the bird at extreme risk. Southern Launch chief executive Lloyd Damp said the company had engaged “leading independent experts” as part of its environmental impact statement. “The results show that we will have a very positive effect on their habitat through environmental management, such as wildlife eradication programs,” he said. (submitted by Onychomys)

This Canadian company has ambitions, baby! I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of Edmonton-based Space Engine Systems until a spaceQ story crossed my desk this week. There’s a lot going on here, but if I can try to summarize, the company is working on a) a single-stage orbiter, b) a hypersonic vehicle for point-to-point transport of body organs for medical transplants, c) a spacecraft, that is compatible with the Moon, and d) a hypersonic drone named “Sexbomb” for defense applications.

That’s a full plate … Like I said, there’s a lot going on here. And it’s hard to guess if it’s all real. I suspect the answer is no, it isn’t. But it makes for fun reading. Be sure to check out the image at the top of the article, which appears to be a comically low-fidelity rendering of a “high temperature wing flex test facility.” Something is twisted, that’s for sure.

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