Consortium Eyes Scottish Peninsula for Spaceport

The UK is going all cuckoo for Cocao Puffs over spaceports. Everybody seems to want one, raising the possibility the nation will repeat America’s experience of having too many spaceports without enough vehicles to launch from them.

In any event, the latest candidate to surface involves a remote peninsula in the Scottish Highlands.

A consortium that includes Lockheed Martin, the US aerospace firm, believes that the A’Mhoine peninsula, between Dounreay and Cape Wrath, is the best location in Britain for a spaceport facility.

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Mid-Year Launch Report: U.S. (& SpaceX) in the Lead

Screenshot of SpaceX Falcon 9 Bulgaria 1 satellite launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

We are now halfway through 2017, so it seems like a good time to take a look at the year in orbital launches.

ORBITAL LAUNCHES THROUGH JUNE 2017
NATIONSUCCESSES
FAILURES
PARTIAL FAILURESTOTAL
United States130013
Russia8008
China6017
Europe5005
India4004
Japan3104
New Zealand0101
TOTAL392142

A total of 42 launches have been conducted thus far, with 39 successes, two failures and one partial failure. The two failures were inaugural flight tests of new boosters.

American companies have launched 13 times. Nine of those flights have been conducted by SpaceX, giving the company more launches than anyone else thus far. United Launch Alliance successfully three three Atlas V boosters and one Delta IV rocket.

Russia has conducted eight launches. Included in the total are two Russian Soyuz flights conducted from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.

China is close behind with seven launches. Six flights were successful, but a Long March 3B booster suffered a partial failure earlier this month that left a spacecraft in a lower-than-planned orbit.

LAUNCHES BY VEHICLE THROUGH JUNE 2017
LAUNCH VEHICLENATIONSUCCESSES
FAILURES
PARTIAL FAILURESTOTAL
 Falcon 9United States9009
 Soyuz 2Russia6006
 Ariane 5 Europe4004
 Atlas VUnited States 300 3
 H-IIAJapan3003
 Long March 3BChina2013
 PSLVIndia2002
 Delta IV United States1 001
 GSLV Mk II India 1 001
 GSLV Mk III India 1 001
KT-2 China 1 001
 Kuaizhou 1 China 1 001
 Long March 2D China 1 001
 Long March 7 China 1 001
 Proton Russia 1 001
 Soyuz-2.1vRussia 1 001
 VegaEurope 1001
 Electron New Zealand0101
 S-520-4 Japan010 1
TOTAL392142

Europe follows with five successful launches, including four using the Ariane 5 booster and one using the Vega launcher.

India launched four times, with the highlight being the successful first orbital test of the new GSLV Mk. III booster. The launch vehicle — the nation’s most powerful to date — had been previously tested during a suborbital flight without an upper stage.

Japan also launched four times with three successes. The maiden flight test of Japan’s new SS-520-4 nanosat launcher failed in January, destroying some CubeSats.

New Zealand made the orbital launch list for the first time this year. The maiden flight test of Rocket Lab’s Electron booster failed to orbit an inert mass. Rocket Lab is a U.S.-New Zealand company.

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Rocket Lab Reaches Space But Not Orbit on First Flight

Electron lifts off on maiden flight from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab conducted the maiden flight of its new Electron small-satellite launcher on Thursday from New Zealand. The company reports the booster reached space, but it did not orbit its inert payload as planned.

It was the first of three flight tests of the launch vehicle for the New Zealand-American company from Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula. Despite failing to reach orbit, Rocket Lab officials were happy with the results.

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Rocket Lab Reschedules Flight Test for Thursday

First Electron rocket on launch pad. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab Press Release

Rocket Lab, an American-New Zealand aerospace company, has postponed the test launch of its Electron vehicle today due to weather conditions. The planned launch attempt will now take place on Thursday, May 25, 2017.

Peter Beck, CEO and founder of Rocket Lab, says poor weather is delaying the launch attempt of Rocket Lab’s first test rocket titled ‘It’s a Test’.

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Rocket Lab Postpones First Electron Launch Attempt

First Electron rocket on launch pad. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab postponed the first launch attempt of its Electon booster on Monday due to high winds. company officials said.

The delay occurred on the first day of a planned 10-day launch window at the company’s base on Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The company plans to try again as early as Tuesday if conditions are acceptable.

The first Electron carries an inert payload. Rocket Lab plans three flight tests of the booster with inert payloads before launch satellites.

Electron is designed to place payloads weighing up to 150 kg (330 lb) into a 500 km (311 mile) sun-synchronous orbit.

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Jain Optimistic About Flying to Moon on Rocket Lab’s Electron “or Some Other Rocket”

Naveen Jain

Moon Express’s Naveen Jain is optimistic his company and the Rocket Lab will be ready to fly to the moon by the end of the year n an attempt to win the Google Lunar X Prize.

Moon Express is building a lander and hopper in an effort to win the $20 million first prize. Rocket Lab is hoping to launch the maiden flight of its Electron booster as early as Tuesday.

As it stands today, Jain’s space company appears to be the private-industry leader in the race to reach the Moon….

Jain notes Moon Express—not Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, or Blue Origin—remains the only company to secure all the necessary permissions from the US government to launch beyond low-Earth orbit toward the Moon. And in January, his co-founder (and current CEO) Bob Richards announced the company fully hit its funding goals as well. However, the team has yet to solidify the third component for its success. Moon Express secured an initial flight contract with Rocket Lab, another US space company with a subsidiary in New Zealand. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, however, has yet to even run a test launch.

Fear not, Jain says. If that vehicle doesn’t look to be panning out in time, he indicates Moon Express will look for workable alternatives without hesitation.

“We are completely ready to go for the end of this year,” Jain says. “And I believe Rocket Lab will be, too. I believe, by the end of the year, they will have done four or five tests by the time we go. But just to be clear, we are not married to any rocket. That means we could be using a Launcher One from Virgin Galactic, if it is ready. We could be using SpaceX. We could be using some other rocket.”

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FAA Licenses Rocket Lab Launches From New Zealand

First Electron rocket on launch pad. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

The Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) has licensed Rocket Lab for three test launches of its Eloctron booster from New Zealand.

The license, issued on May 15, authorizes the new booster to carry inert payloads into Earth orbit on each of the flights.

Rocket Lab has established a 10-day window beginning on May 22 for the maiden flight of the new booster. Electron is designed to place payloads weighing up to 150 kg  (330 lb) into a 500 km (311 mile) sun-synchronous orbit.

The flights by the New Zealand-American company will take place from a launch pad on Mahia Peninsula on Hawkes Bay.

Spaceflight Purchases an Electron Rocket from Rocket Lab

First Electron rocket on launch pad. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

SEATTLE, May 17, 2017 (Spaceflight PR) — Spaceflight, the company reinventing the model for launching small satellites into space, today announced the purchase of a Rocket Lab Electron rocket to increase the frequency of its dedicated rideshare missions. The Electron is an ideal launch vehicle for dedicated and rideshare missions, especially those serving difficult-to-come-by launch destinations such as mid-inclination orbits for remote sensing satellites. In late 2015, Spaceflight began its dedicated rideshare launch service with the purchase of a SpaceX Falcon 9 and now expands the rocket partnership to Rocket Lab with the Electron.

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Rocket Lab to Open 10 Day Launch Window for Electron

First Electron rocket at launch site. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab announced that it will open a 10-day window beginning on May 22 for the maiden flight of its new Electron small-satellite launch vehicle.

“The launch, titled ‘It’s a Test’, will take place from our private orbital launch site, Launch Complex 1, on the Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand,” CEO Peter Beck wrote in a post on the company’s website.

“‘It’s a Test’ is all about gathering data,” he added. “There are over 20,000 channels collected during the flight. We will use this information to learn and iterate.”

Electron is designed to place payloads weighing up to 150 kg  (330 lb) into a 500 km (311 mile) sun-synchronous orbit.

Report: Google Lunar XPrize Field Narrows

SpaceIL lander (Credit: SpaceIL)

It looks as if Team SpaceIL is out of the $30 million Google Lunar XPrize.

Quartz reports the Israeli team will not be able to launch its lander/rover to the moon aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster until some time next year — too late to meet the end-of-2017 deadline required to win the prize.

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Rocket Lab Raises $75 Million Series D Funding Round

First Electron rocket at launch site. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

By Peter Beck,
Rocket Lab CEO

Today, we announced that Rocket Lab has closed a $75m Series D financing round, led by Data Collective, with additional investors Promus Ventures and an undisclosed investor. We’ve partnered with this esteemed group of investors because of their experience in the space industry.  We also had renewed participation in this round from our existing investors – Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and K1W1 – who have provided continued expertise and support as we work to make space accessible to everyone. The closure of the round brings the total funding Rocket Lab has received to date to $148 million, with the company value now in excess of $1 billion (USD).

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First Electron Rocket Arrives at Rocket Lab Launch Site

First Electron rocket at launch site. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab Program Update

Rocket Lab delivered its first Electron vehicle to Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 late last night marking the beginning of pre-flight checkouts.

The rocket was trucked to the Mahia Peninsula from Rocket Lab’s Auckland facility.

“It’s an important milestone for our team and for the space industry. In the past, it’s been countries that go to space, not companies,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO. “Through the innovative use of new technologies our team has created a launch vehicle designed for manufacture at scale. Our ultimate goal is to change our ability to access space.”

“Since we commenced this project three years ago, our team has accomplished an incredible amount – the vehicle has gone through rigorous qualification and acceptance testing, Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 has been completed and major tracking infrastructure has been installed in remote locations.”

Over the coming weeks, a series of tests and checkouts will be conducted at the site before the rocket, named It’s a Test, is signed-off to fly.

“We put it out to our team to name the vehicle,” said Beck. “We wanted to acknowledge the intensive research and development Electron has undergone and that continues with these test flights.”

The launch, which will be the first orbital launch attempt from New Zealand, is the first of three planned tests before Rocket Lab begins providing customers commercial satellite launches.

Moon Express Raises $20 Million for Lunar Flight

Moon Express MX-1 spacecraft orbits the Moon in preparation for landing. MX-1 will deliver commercial, academic and government instruments to explore the Moon for science and resources. (Credit: Moon Express)
Moon Express MX-1 spacecraft orbits the Moon in preparation for landing. MX-1 will deliver commercial, academic and government instruments to explore the Moon for science and resources. (Credit: Moon Express)

Moon Express has announced that it has raised $20 million in a Series B funding round from Founders Fund, Autodesk and Collaborative Fund.

The company says it is fully funded to land a spacecraft on the moon later this year. The flight will be an attempt to win the $20 million first prize in the Google Lunar X Prize for the first privately built vehicle to land on the moon and travel 500 meters across the surface. There is a $5 million prize for the second team to achieve the goal.

Moon Express’ spacecraft will launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket. Rocket Lab expects to launch the Electron on its first flight test in February.

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The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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