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Rocket Report: NASA suspends SLS work, Astra suffers a setback

Enlarge / The Electron launch vehicle is ready to soar.Rocket Lab
Welcome to Edition 2.37 of the Roc..

By admin , in Tech , at March 27, 2020

Enlarge / The Electron launch vehicle is ready to soar.Rocket Lab

Welcome to Edition 2.37 of the Rocket Report! As COVID-19 sweeps the globe and spreads across the United States, the world of launch continues to move along, too. However, we should not that—after Thursday's launch of an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station—there are just two additional launches in the coming year with confirmed dates: a Soyuz crew and Progress cargo mission in April.

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 Orbit assessing plans amid pandemic. The Long Beach, California-based company is reassessing the schedule for the first orbital-flight demonstration of its LauncherOne vehicle, which had been scheduled for April. "We're mindful that COVID-19 is putting added burdens and stresses on our teams and leaders, so we are assessing things daily and keeping momentum up as best we can while doing everything we can to protect the health of our people," Virgin Orbit spokesman Kendall Russell told SpaceNews.

One more big step before orbit … Most employees are working from home to help control the spread of the disease, and the pandemic comes at a crucial time during operations. Earlier in March, the company performed a taxi test at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The next step before the orbital launch will be a captive carry test flight with the rocket attached to the plane. It is not clear when that test will take place now. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Firefly targets summer launch, expands vision. Like almost every other company in the world, Firefly has been grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic in recent weeks. However, founder Tom Markusic told Ars that Firefly is on track to launch the Alpha rocket for the first time this summer. He anticipates shipping flight hardware to Vandenberg Air Force Base in June, when the vehicle will be assembled, rolled out for tests, and ultimately given a launch attempt.

Eyes on the Moon … Markusic also revealed that the company recently submitted a bid for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program's fourth task order, 19C, to deliver scientific instruments to one of the lunar poles. To fulfill the NASA program's goals, Firefly is partnering with other aerospace ventures to build the Genesis lunar lander and an orbital transfer vehicle. Awards may be made some time in April

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Astra suffers a setback. The small-launch-vehicle startup has postponed its next launch attempt after the rocket was damaged in what local officials say was an "anomaly" during a prelaunch test, SpaceNews reports. Astra had been preparing for a launch of its "Rocket 3.0" vehicle as soon as March 24 from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska.

No new launch date set … Local radio station KMXT reported that there was a problem at the launch site on Kodiak Island that prompted an emergency response. No injuries were reported, but the area was cordoned off. "The area is still hazardous and should be avoided. There will be personnel on site overnight to monitor," Mark Lester, chief executive of Alaska Aerospace, which operates the spaceport, told KMXT. (submitted by trimeta, ABaMD, Unrulycow, Ken the Bin, and JohnCarter17)

Atlas V launches first Space Force mission. United Launch Alliance's V rocket lifted off on Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It carried a military communications satellite, AEHF-6, into a geostationary transfer orbit. This is the first launch under the command of the newly constituted US Space Force, Ars reports.

Tracking coronavirus, but moving ahead … While United Launch Alliance has scaled back some aspects of its outreach for this mission due to the spread of COVID-19—for example, a social media event has already been canceled—the company is following protocols outlined in its internal Pandemic Plan and pressing ahead with essential activities. It so far does not anticipate significant effects to its launch manifest for 2020.

OneWeb orbits more satellites, but financial woes loom. On Saturday, the global communications company OneWeb launched its second large batch of satellites into low Earth orbit—the additional 34 spacecraft brought its overall constellation to 74 satellites. The launch occurred on a Soyuz rocket, which lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The company had hoped to complete the initial phase of its satellite Internet constellation next year.

Delays are "inevitable" … However, even before Saturday's launch, there were warning signs on the horizon, Ars reports. Last week, Bloomberg reported that OneWeb is considering filing for bankruptcy protection as it deals with a cash crunch. Prior to Saturday's launch, OneWeb acknowledged these financial difficulties in a statement, saying, "We think it is inevitable that there will be delays to our launch schedule and satellite manufacturing." There will be an unspecified number of layoffs. (submitted by JohnCarter17)

Japan still seeks H3 launch in 2020. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries still expects to conduct the maiden flight of Japan's H3 rocket this year, notwithstanding the coronavirus pandemic. MHI has remained productive on H3 despite many employees required to telework amid school closures and other social-distancing measures taken to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, SpaceNews reports.

Ready to go to GTO … "[The] coronavirus situation is quite unclear and may get worse globally," Ko Ogasawara, MHI's vice president and general manager for space systems, said by email March 23. "This might affect our plan in the end. But again, today, we will do our best to attain our schedule." Funded by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, H3 is MHI's cost-conscious answer to SpaceX's Falcon 9, Arianespace's Ariane 6, and other launch vehicles that can launch upward of 6,500kg to geostationary transfer orbit. (submitted by platykurtic)

NASA joins Falcon 9 investigation. Space agency personnel will be part of an ongoing SpaceX investigation into an engine anomaly on a recent Falcon 9 launch as the company prepares for a Crew Dragon mission carrying two NASA astronauts.

NASA spokesman Josh Finch told SpaceNews that employees from NASA's commercial crew program will be represented in SpaceX's investigation of an engine that prematurely shut down during a March 18 launch of 60 Starlink satellites.

First time for a fifth flight … "According to the CCtCap contracts, SpaceX is required to make available to NASA all data and resulting reports," Finch said. "SpaceX, with NASA's concurrence, would need to implement any corrective actions found during the investigation related to its commercial crew work prior to its flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station." During the March 18 launch, one of nine Merlin engines in the rocket's first stage shut down early (the rocket still safely made it or orbit). It seems likely this failure may have occurred because this first stage was making its fifth flight. (submitted by Ken the Bin, platykurtic, and JohnCarter17)

Launch-weather forecasters feeling the high pressure. An increasingly crowded launch schedule is requiring more forecast services, Air Force Magazine reports. As Cape Canaveral looks at hosting about 50 launchesRead More – Source