Rocket Report: NASA validates new engine design; Chinese firm tests mini Starship

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Rocket Report: NASA validates new engine design; Chinese firm tests mini Starship
Enlarge / United Launch Alliance hoists its Vulcan Cert-1 booster into the vertical integration facility at Cape Canaveral.

United Launch Alliance

Welcome to issue 5.23 of the Rocket Report! It was a very fun week for American rockets: Electron made a smashing debut in a launch from Virginia, Vulcan went vertical in Florida, and Starship passed a key test on its way to its first orbital launch. I look forward to more big leaps in launch later this year.

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 at the next three launches on the calendar.

Rocket Lab makes successful US debut. For years, the Electron rocket and the company behind it were stuck in limbo at the Virginia launch site, awaiting various approvals—for regulatory agencies to share enough paperwork with each other to convince everyone that the launch was safe. Then weather and the end-of-year holiday kept pushing back the launch. But on Tuesday, everything went as smoothly as it’s possible to imagine, and the Elektron shot into orbit almost as soon as the launch window opened, reports Ars.

Important to the local community … The launch was celebrated by the surrounding community in Virginia, which has seen relatively few launches from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. But Electron is designed to be built and deployed quickly, so it has the potential to dramatically increase the number of launches from Virginia. In fact, Rocket Lab already had a second vehicle in the assembly building the day the first was sent into orbit. The increased use has the potential to bring many benefits: More experience with introductions can streamline procedures, a greater use of facilities can build up additional services, and so on. (submitted by EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin)

NASA validates rotary explosion engine. The space agency said this week it has completed testing at Marshall Space Flight Center of an advanced rocket engine design that could significantly change how future propulsion systems are built. This full-scale rotating rocket motor was fired more than a dozen times, lasting nearly 10 minutes, the agency said. Operating at full throttle, the engine produced more than 4,000 pounds of thrust for nearly a minute at an average chamber pressure of 622 pounds per square inch. NASA worked with IN Space LLC, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, on the project.

Move to a larger version … As a result of NASA’s recent success with this engine, follow-up work is being done by NASA engineers to develop a fully reusable 10,000-pound class rotary detonation engine to identify performance advantages over traditional liquid rocket engines. This design differs from a traditional chemical rocket engine by generating thrust using a supersonic combustion phenomenon known as a detonation. This design produces more power while using less fuel than today’s propulsion systems and has the potential to propel both human landers and interplanetary vehicles to deep space destinations, such as the Moon and Mars. The technology is being researched around the world. (contributed by YetAnotherBoris)

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Canada moves to regulate launches. Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Friday that the federal government will develop the regulatory requirements, safety standards and licensing conditions needed to authorize commercial satellite space launches from Canada within the next three years, CBC reports. Alghabra said the country was also ready to approve launches in the interim period on a case-by-case basis, and he invited private companies to come forward with projects.

Bring that launch business back home … “For many years, Canadian satellites have been launched from sites in other countries,” he said at the Canadian Space Agency’s headquarters in Longueuil, Quebec, south of Montreal. “It’s time we start introducing them right here at home.” Alghabra said he is confident the first Canadian runway launch will happen within the next three years. (contributed by Ken the Bin and brianrhurley)

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