Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.
There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:
Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
Exos is in the process of evaluating video and telemetry data from the flight and intends to implement lessons learned from its first three SARGE launches. The company stated in a press release its plans to work closely with the Federal Aviation Administration on a return-to-flight protocol and planned vehicle upgrades in advance of flying again by mid-2020.
The fourth launch of a suborbital SARGE rocket by Exos Aerospace ended with a crash of the booster near its launch pad after a brief flight at Spaceport America on Saturday.
The booster appeared to wobble as it gained altitude after lift off. Data displayed on the Exos website indicated that the rocket reached an altitude of 41,464 ft (12,638 m) and a velocity of 1,264 mph (2,034 k/h).
SARGE’s main stage crashed without its parachute deploying after a flight of less than 3.5 minutes. The nose cone had earlier separated and descended separately.
SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM — EXOS Aerospace’s SARGE 3 launch went awry shortly after liftoff from Spaceport America on Saturday as the suborbital rocket suffered control problems only seconds into its flight.
Liftoff appeared nominal, but then the rocket began to veer from side to side as it ascended. It was not clear from the webcast what altitude the booster reached.
Ground control team members lost sight of the rocket for a period. They then spotted it dumping fuel as it descended under a parachute guided by GPS.
The reusable rocket successfully touched down not far from its launch site. The rocket’s nose cone also landed in the New Mexican desert under a drogue parachute.
At the end of the company’s webcast, an official said the booster had apparently suffered a problem with its gimbal system.
EXOS, which is based in Caddo Mills, Texas, is attempting to build a business flying payloads on suborbital flights. The company also has plans for an orbital launcher that would carry small satellites.
EXOS uses technology originally pioneered by Armadillo Aerospace, a now-defunct company founded by gaming programmer John Carmack.
An Exos Aerospace SARGE rocket reached 19.8 km (12.3 miles) before the flight abort after launch from Spaceport America on March 2, the company announced in a statement.
SARGE’s autonomous control system aborted the flight at about 65,000 ft after the rocket reached its instantaneous impact point (IIP) limit, Exos said. In essence, booster determined it was likely to land outside of the permissible range.
The flight had aimed to reach 80 km (49.7 miles). Despite the early abort, the company said it was pleased with the results of the second flight of the reusable booster, which previously flew last August.
The reusable, suborbital rocket landed back in the desert under a parachute. No information yet on altitude.
Flight programs and associated payloads on the flight included:
SPACEedu… Help your school fund, build, fly and reuse CubeSat projects for their S.T.E.M research programs. Having already flown for many schools, Exos is literally taking education to a higher level. P1. Arete’ Greater Nanticoke Area Trojans (space thermal energy transfer experiment).
SPACEbuild… Test or manufacture in space aboard an Exos vehicle for premium exposure to space flight conditions. The reduced cost of suborbital flights makes it a preferred risk mitigation step for qualifying orbital payloads. P2. NASA (Vibration Damper – TRL advancement), P3. University of Central Florida (Dust Aggregation experiment – SPACE-2 NASA REDDI Payload), P4. Agronautics, LLC (Space hops & grain), P5. SOLGW (memorabilia)
SPACEaid… Perform breakthrough medical research by leveraging the ability to test in the microgravity and vacuum of space. With Exos we can return your payload within minutes of landing. Our soft (5G) launch and fin stabilization means a gentle ride for your payload requiring less effort in payload design over other commercial launch options. P6. Center for Applied Space Technologies (Sponsoring Mayo Clinic for two “BRIC66” payloads performing cell research)
SPACEship… Launch from Spaceport American in New Mexico and we’ll deliver your payload to space and eject it to perform your test outside our vehicle.* (LEO target aboard our reusable (first stage) Jaguar vehicle – late 2022).
GREENVILLE, Texas (EXOS Aerospace PR) — EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technologies, Inc., a leading developer of reusable space launch vehicles based in Greenville, Texas, announces, “Reuse Viability Test” for their SARGE Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicle (SRLV).
Texas firm sets March 2nd, 2019 for the first reuse flight (Mission 1) of their Suborbital Autonomous Rocket with GuidancE (SARGE)
There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.
The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.
A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.
Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.
The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)
Spaceport America, NM and Greenville, TX (EXOS Aerospace/Spaceport America PR) – Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport and EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technologies, Inc., a leading developer of reusable space launch vehicles based in Greenville, Texas, announce a successful test launch of their newest vehicle, SARGE.
Space Newsreports that Exos Aerospace’s SARGE launch from Spaceport America last month failed to reach its intended altitude due to a glitch in its GPS system.
In a mission report provided by the company a week and a half after the launch, Exos said that a GPS receiver on the rocket stopped providing data during the rocket’s ascent. That triggered an automatic shutdown of the rocket’s engine 38 seconds after liftoff, versus a planned duration of 62 to 65 seconds, said John Quinn, chief operating officer of Exos, Sept. 5.
As a result of the early engine shutdown, the rocket reached a peak altitude of 28 kilometers, rather than the planned 80 kilometers. Quinn said an extrapolation of the rocket’s performance during that powered phase indicated the rocket might have been able to reach nearly 90 kilometers had the engine fired for the full duration.
The cause of the GPS unit malfunction in the rocket is still being studied. The unit started providing data again later in the flight, and an inspection turned up no obvious damage to the unit, cabling or antennas. There were separate dropouts of telemetry from the rocket during the flight, according to the mission report.
SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM (NMSA PR) – EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technologies, Inc of Greenville, Texas, has selected Spaceport America for final testing of a reusable space launch vehicle known as SARGE (Suborbital Autonomous Rocket with GuidancE).
EXOS has completed the design, test and build; has received its FAA launch license and completed the final integration and test hovering for the rocket. A successful test flight is needed to solidify the company’s plans to use the technology as the basis for a planned reusable Orbital class vehicle, the company said in a press release issued Tuesday.
SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM and CADDO Mills, Texas (EXOS Aerospace/NMSA PR) — Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport and EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technologies, Inc., a leading developer of reusable space launch vehicles based in Caddo Mills, Texas, announce significant progress towards launch of their newest vehicle SARGE. The date and time target was selected in honor of Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr’s Suborbital Mercury Redstone 3 launch on May 5, 1961 @ 09:34AM.