Stratolaunch takes to the skies

A test flight of the Stratolaunch platform took off from Mojave Spaceport today, putting the space startup one step closer to delivering a unique pathway for satellites to reach orbit.

Flight tracking data from FlightAware is not yet publicly available at this time, but made it out to Mojave to collect video.

Stratolaunch is among the quieter of the recent space startups, so its launch today came as a pleasant surprise. Clouds have hung over the firm’s future following the death of founder Paul Allen and its cancellation of its own second stage rocket platform.

What Stratolaunch offers now is not strictly new – it’s the same Pegasus 30XL rocket that can be fired off by Northrop Grumman itself off its aging L1011. However, the platform was designed to accommodate larger rockets, which still provides an interesting opportunity for other firms to make a match. Stratolaunch’s niche right now is in having the world’s largest vehicle dedicated to skipping the first stage of a rocket, which can multiply the effectiveness of platforms that are otherwise unremarkable.

Outfits like Virgin Orbit offer essentially the same concept, but unlike Stratolaunch, which offers just the first stage, Virgin Orbit handles the full stack with its own 747 air stage and LauncherOne orbital rocket. Whether the business locus will continue to be “buying a launch” from a service provider, or if a diversified market of piecemeal services will arise, depends entirely upon the willingness of aviation first stage firms like Stratolaunch to open their platform to a broader range of launch options — and for other rocket companies to make a serious effort to solve air-launch problems.

Falcon Heavy launches Arabsat-6A

Falcon Heavy’s first commercial launch occurred at Kennedy Space Center, 11 April 2019 at 2235 UTC. SpaceX delivered Arabsat-6A to geostationary transfer orbit shortly thereafter at about 2309 UTC. The 3520 kg communications satellite, built for the Arabsat organization around the Lockheed LM2100 bus, will serve the Middle East and Africa from 30.5° E. The new spacecraft will replace the older Arabsat-5A.

SpaceX recovered all three of the first-stage boosters, including the core booster, which was not recovered during Falcon Heavy’s only other launch – the dramatic “Starman” mission – a test launch which, in the absence of a third party customer, instead launched a Tesla Roadster helmed by a spacesuited mannequin deep into interplanetary space.

Now that Falcon Heavy is operational, its future appears bright, as the heavy-lift rocket has been cited as an off-the-shelf fallback option for the United States’ ambitious schedule for crewed lunar missions, as the oft-delayed Space Launch System (SLS) program struggles through its test phase.

Beresheet leaves its mark on the Moon

Israeli PM Netanyahu speaks briefly with SpaceIL officials following the Beresheet crash-landing. (Credit: SpaceIL)

SpaceIL engineers looked on in concern as the Beresheet spacecraft’s main engine unintentionally shut down during the critical landing phase of its mission, in the moments after 1919 UT 11 April 2019.

SpaceIL valiantly attempted to reset the spacecraft control systems. However, by the designated landing time the spacecraft did not check in. While Israel became the fourth country to land on the Moon, rather than pictures of the surface, there is at least an artificial crater in the Sea of Serenity.

Post-spacewalk Saint-Jacques talk

David Saint-Jacques shows off the spacesuit worn during EVA216 (Canadian Space Agency)

Today, David Saint-Jacques showed off the suit that carried him on his recent spacewalk, and shed light on the human experience of space travel, with journalists in Montréal. Following the walk, Saint-Jacques was tired but happy, and as always proud to represent Canada, Québec, Montréal, the future of science and technology, and the dream of space travel.

Watch the video: 20 minutes, mainly in French, at the Canadian Space Agency YouTube channel.

Shortly afterward, Saint-Jacques spoke with high school students from Shaftesbury High School in Winnipeg via amateur radio.

Hayabusa2 blasts Ryugu, SpaceX test fires Falcon Heavy

Blast on Ryugu! (JAXA)

Ryugu is a little bit smaller after a controlled explosion was set off on its upper limb this morning. Hayabusa2’s detachable camera DCAM3 captured the image while the larger probe was safely on the far side of the asteroid.

Falcon Heavy’s launch of ArabSat-6A slipped to “not earlier than” Tuesday 9 April, even as a successful static test concluded at the Kennedy Space Centre. Weather reports indicate a probable delay to Wednesday.

Not much to see at Boca Chica, 5 April 2019 (Credit:

Meanwhile, at the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas, the Starship “Hopper” testbed was obscured by fog as watchers waited for it to fire a second time after its dramatic 3 April lighting.

CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques spoke in French and English to FIRST Robotics students in Québec this afternoon, amid preparations for his first spacewalk scheduled for Monday morning alongside Anne McClain.

Also, yesterday SpaceIL’s Beresheet probe completed its insertion into lunar orbit. If you’d like to check its progress, there’s a nice website where you can view its current and historical trajectory, as it counts down a little more than 6 days to a lunar landing.

Progress and o3b reach orbit

April 4 saw two orbital missions, one space probe milestone, and a rocket ground test.

The Progress MS-11 resupply mission reached the International Space Station at 1422 UT, following two orbits and a launch from Baikonur on a Soyuz-2 rocket at 1101. The capsule delivered 3.4 t of spare parts, fuel, and consumables. The successful mission is another sign that life is returning to normal on the station, which returned to a full crew of six astronauts after Soyuz MS-12 arrived three weeks ago.

Soyuz VS22 carries 4 o3b commsats to MEO (Arianespace)

At 1704, Arianespace launched four commsats for SES/o3b on Soyuz mission VS22. Much like the existing o3b fleet, the new satellites will operate at a 8000-km medium-earth orbit, and provide high-speed internet through targetable spot-beams. Though other firms are building low-earth orbit Internet constellations, for the moment o3b is the highest-performance option among systems that are fully operational. It is also relatively expensive and mainly filling an enterprise backhaul role for ISPs and wireless providers, rather than a direct-to-consumer model.

Continue reading “Progress and o3b reach orbit”

Fargo Orbit set to launch

We are happy to announce The Fargo Orbit, which will provide news on aerospace and scientific endeavours in central North America, from the Great Plains to Hudson’s Bay, from the Great Lakes to the Rockies, and beyond!

We are inspired by new frontiers in space and knowledge, and plan to share the latest events with the general public with clarity and exactitude. Together with the expert artists, businesspeople, educators, engineers, journalists, and scientists who are our peers and sources, we will provide a vital dialogue to advance the state of the arts and the boundaries of human existence.

We will maintain our honesty and editorial independence to the best of our abilities. We will put the truth first, not revenue or pageloads. Our supporters can expect to review on a regular basis, our full report of our operation.

The Fargo Orbit is published by Table Heavy Industries LLC in a special project for the public benefit.