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TWIRL 3: Rocket Lab to attempt launch of delayed mission
by Paul Hill
Last week was quite good for SpaceX with it almost successfully landing its Starship rocket during a test, unfortunately, it caught fire and exploded on the pad. Rocket Lab also had to delay its “They Go Up So Fast” mission which we covered in This Week in Rocket Launches #2 but will make another go of it this week.
Aside from Rocket Lab’s mission to put several satellites into orbit, there will be two SpaceX launches carrying more satellites for the Starlink constellation as well as a Chinese mission carrying an experimental satellite called Xin Jishu Yanzheng 6 which replaces a satellite that was lost last year.
Rocket Lab’s launch will be performed by one of its Electron rockets, it will carry the Blacksky Global satellite and several CubeSats named Centauri 3, Gunsmoke-J, M2 (A/B), Myriota 7, and Veery Hatchling. Electron rockets are very light, weighing in at just 12,500 kg; this is probably where the inspiration for the name of the mission came from. The launch will be live-streamed on the company’s website on or around Wednesday if the launch goes ahead.
On Wednesday and Saturday, SpaceX will launch Falcon 9 rockets, both carrying 60 Starlink satellites. Internally, the missions are known as Starlink V1.0-L20 and Starlink V1.0-L21 respectively and the total payload mass weighs in at 15.6 tonnes with each satellite weighing 260 kg. There are 1141 Starlink satellites in orbit but the firm plans to orbit nearer 10,000 satellites eventually before ramping the number up above 30,000 so we’ll see these launches for a long time. To watch these launches, check out SpaceX’s YouTube channel which will carry recordings if you miss the live events.
Before SpaceX’s second launch, China will send up its Long March CZ-7A carrying the Xin Jishu Yanzheng 6 satellite. The satellite is experimental and a part of a series of demonstration missions being carried out by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA). As is typical with Chinese launches, video and photos of the launch will appear online following the launch but there likely will be no live stream.
There are plenty more rocket launches every week for the remainder of the month so be sure to look out for next week’s This Week in Rocket Launches (TWIRL).
SpaceX almost lands Starship successfully on the third attempt
by Paul Hill
SpaceX has gotten closer to landing Starship SN10 succesfuilly after two failures with SN8 and SN9 in December and January respectively. While the Starship did manage a landing this time, a fire broke out which spread to the propellant leading to a massive explosion destroying the rocket around 8 minutes after landing.
Today’s mission looked uncertain for a while, initially, it was due to take off several hours ago but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted out to say that the launch was aborted to adjust the thrust limit which he described as “slightly conservative”. After recycling the propellant, the rocket was set for another launch attempt which it carried out successfully.
Today’s mission brings SpaceX one step closer to getting humans to Mars. In the future, Starship with use two stages - the first is a booster stage called Super Heavy and the upper stage is called Starship. Super Heavy will be used to take off from Earth but when taking off from the Moon and Mars, only the upper stage will be needed. During the tests, Starship has been using three Raptor engines but it’s intended that six will be used in the future.
With Starship set to be used for human transportation in a couple of years, it will undergo more testing until the company can get the landing right. It will also have to be trialled using the six Raptor engines at some point and launching atop the Super Heavy booster.
If you missed the test, you can watch it in full above and If you want to know when SpaceX has an upcoming Starship launch, be sure to read This Week in Rocket Launches, a new weekly series posted each weekend detailing all the missions that are planned for the coming week.
Rocket Lab releases plans for reusable Neutron rocket
by Paul Hill
Rocket Lab, one of the many private space firms, has revealed plans for a new reusable rocket called Neutron. The firm said that the 8-ton payload launch vehicle will deploy satellite constellations, go to other planets and take humans into space.
If you’ve been following Neowin’s new This Week in Rocket Launches (TWIRL) series, you’ll know that Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket already delivers satellites into space. While Electron is limited to launching 300 kg satellites, the new rocket will be able to lift 8,000 kg to low-Earth orbit, 2,000 kg to the Moon, and 1,500 kg to Mars and Venus.
Speaking about the announcement, Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said:
Much like SpaceX has been doing with its rockets, Neutron’s first of two stages will be designed to land on an ocean platform, this will allow the company to lower costs for customers and get more launches done. Rocket Lab expects to perform Neutron launches from Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Launching from this facility will eliminate the need for Rocket Lab to build a new pad which will accelerate the time to launch.
The firm said it expects to begin launches of Neutron rockets from 2024 and is looking for sites across America to build a new factory that will support the manufacture of the Neutron rocket and create hundreds of jobs.
TWIRL 2: SpaceX's Starship SN10 could take flight
by Paul Hill
Things are a little quieter this week on the space launch front compared with last week. This week we can expect to see Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket launch a Blacksky Global satellite among others, Iran’s Pars 1 satellite is set to make another launch attempt, and SpaceX is expected to launch the successor to Starship SN9 which exploded several weeks ago.
The first launch of the week is due on Monday from New Zealand where Rocket Lab will launch an Electron rocket carrying Blacksky Global satellite and several CubeSats dubbed Centauri 3, Gunsmoke-J, M2 (A/B), Myriota 7, and Veery Hatchling. The firm has decided to call the mission “They Go Up So Fast” - something which is actually true thanks to the rocket weighing just 12,500 kg. On the day of launch, Rocket Lab will publish a live stream on its website.
Next up, again on Monday, is Iran’s Simorgh rocket which will deliver the Pars 1 satellite into orbit. The mission was originally scheduled for last Thursday but it appears to have been pushed back. The rocket will launch from the Imam Khomeini Space Launch Center in Semnan. The satellite is equipped with remote-sensing technologies which will monitor the country’s agricultural lands, forests and lakes, and monitor any damage from fires and floods that may happen in the future.
Finally, we’ve got SpaceX’s Starship SN10 which is due for a test launch, possibly in the coming days. This is not a launch to space and is just a test so there’s no fixed schedule but it could happen as soon as tomorrow. In this test launch, we will be keenly watching to see whether the company can finally pull off the landing which it has failed to do with SN8 and SN9 which have launched since December. The NASASpaceFlight YouTube channel and SpaceX’s official YouTube channel will cover the event when it finally happens but don’t be surprised if it gets scrubbed several times.
That’s all for the first week of March but the month ahead is packed with launches every week so be on the lookout for future This Week in Rocket Launches posts over the coming weekends.
NASA unveils Perseverance landing footage and Mars audio
by Paul Hill
Just days after the successful landing of its Perseverance rover, NASA has released extraordinary footage of the landing sequence as well as audio from the surface of the planet where you can make out the sound of the wind blowing. High definition cameras that give a view above and below the rover, as well as the one looking from the vantage point of the sky crane, caught all the action beginning 11 kilometres from the surface to the rover’s landing.
Some of the highlights of the three-and-a-half-minute clip include seeing the Martian surface from a high altitude, seeing the dust on the surface come to life as the rover was close to landing, seeing the sky crane fly off after the rover had touched down and seeing the parachute unfurl. According to NASA, the parachute is also the most massive ever to be sent to another planet.
Commenting on the content, NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said:
To watch the descent, check out the embedded video below. To hear the audio from the rover, skip to 40:48 in this NASA event.
Since landing, NASA has been busy checking equipment on the rover to ensure there are no problems. Some of the instruments being checked this week include the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer to look at the weather in the area and the Mastcam-Z which can take panoramic shots of the Jezero crater. The crater used to be a lakebed and contains rocks and sediment which the rover plans to collect up so that it can be examined to find out whether life ever existed on Mars.
Aside from searching for evidence of ancient life, the rover is also carrying the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) which will try to produce oxygen. This part of the mission is key for future human-led missions to Mars where resources will be scarce and the ability to generate oxygen essential.