Virgin Orbit names next mission and expands operations to Brazil

Following the first successful launch of LauncherOne in January, Virgin Orbit is aiming for their… The post Virgin Orbit names next mission and expands operations to Brazil appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

Virgin Orbit names next mission and expands operations to Brazil

Following the first successful launch of LauncherOne in January, Virgin Orbit is aiming for their next mission to lift off in June. While the launch campaign is underway, the small satellite launch provider continues to secure additional launch sites around the world for expending launch operations, adding their newest site in Brazil.

In a ceremony held at Brasília Air Base, in the capital of the country, the company was one of those qualified to proceed to the contracting and operating phase of its rockets at the Alcântara Launch Center (CLA). Virgin Orbit’s goal is to use the airport’s military base as a mobile operations center, increasing its mission cadence and serving more customers.

LauncherOne Flight Three targeted for June

In January, the LauncherOne rocket successfully reached orbit with ten NASA satellites on board. The Launch Demo 2 mission was Virgin Orbit’s second orbital launch attempt, following an unsuccessful maiden flight in May 2020.

With demonstration missions complete, the company is now gearing up for their third launch, targeted to occur no earlier than June. The mission has been named “Tubular Bells, Part One,” after the first album recorded by Virgin Records.

On board will be multiple payloads from government and commercial customers. Three CubeSats from the United States Department of Defense, under the mission designation STP-27VPA, will be launched as part of the Space Test Program.

Also on board will be the Brik II satellite, built by Innovative Solutions in Space for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Brik II will be the Netherlands’ first military satellite, serving primarily as a 6U CubeSat communications testbed.

Finally, two commercial satellites for Polish company SatRevolution’s STORK constellation will be launched on the mission. STORK-4 and 5 will be the first two of 14 3U CubeSats to be launched for the optical Earth observation constellation.

The LauncherOne Flight Three vehicle in pre-launch processing in Virgin Orbit’s Long Beach, California facility – via Virgin Orbit

The satellites will be deployed into circular 500 kilometer orbit, inclined 60 degrees. The mission, like both LauncherOne flights beforehand, will be conducted out of the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, the first of several launch sites Virgin Orbit has been developing or LauncherOne operations.

A New Home for Cosmic Girl

On April 28, the Brazilian Air Force Command and the Brazilian Space Agency announced the companies selected to operate space activities at an event that counted on several authorities, such as the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, and the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovations and the only Brazilian astronaut, Marcos Pontes, in addition to representatives of companies and ambassadors of the countries of origin.

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  • The selection process started in 2020 and was completed with four companies that will operate in different parts of the launch center, with emphasis on Virgin Orbit, for being the most recent member of the orbital launchers’ club, after achieving orbit in January 2021.

    Chosen to operate at the airport, the company will have a base of operations in a privileged location, which will facilitate more efficient orbital insertion and, consequently, greater payload performance from the LauncherOne rocket. Because it is located about two degrees from the Equator, the Alcântara Launch Center (CLA) allows launching to equatorial orbits with greater ease, which translates into a great increase in efficiency for rockets launching to low inclination orbits such as geostationary orbits.

    Despite the advantages, Virgin will need to overcome many difficulties in the region, such as the lack of infrastructure both at the airport, which will have to be modernized to receive the company’s Cosmic Girl Boeing 747-400 carrier aircraft, and in the vicinity of the base, as it is a very poor municipality that lacks basic health services, basic sanitation and connection with the city of São Luís.

    The launch center itself has limited access to the internet, besides the need for travelling by helicopter to get to the region faster than the about three hours of travel using a ferry boat and the roads of the interior of the state of Maranhão.

    LauncherOne’s first stage ignites on the way to orbit during the Launch Demo 2 mission in January – via Virgin Orbit

    The company’s objective will be to move all the equipment necessary for the operation of LauncherOne together with Cosmic Girl, using the airport only as a provisional base, allowing for final preparations for launch, as well as refueling activities and eventual mission scrubs before return to the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, United States.

    The balance for Virgin Orbit tends to be positive if it manages to make a favorable agreement with the Brazilian government, which will require the company to invest in the modernization and improvement of infrastructure on the ground, in addition to payments for the use of the base. Furthermore, there is a social commitment to quilombola communities living in the region, which are formed by descendants of fugitive slaves and who have lived in the surroundings of the launch center for centuries, which has already generated many conflicts between government officials and human rights groups that seek to preserve the culture and traditions of these peoples.

    After many setbacks and major errors in its space program, Brazil opens its territory to the operation of private companies. With the permission granted to Virgin Orbit, the largest country in Latin America will finally be able to carry out an orbital launch and get a slice of the multi-billion dollar space market, which is forecasted to become a trillion dollar market in the coming decades.

    Up to now, the country has launched only sounding and suborbital rockets, lacking a broader and more consistent project for an orbital launch program. There was an attempt with the Satellite Launch Vehicle (VLS), which ended in a tragic accident days before launching, killing 21 people after a rocket explosion inside the VAB. Since then, every attempt of the country to create new orbital rockets has been unfounded.

    But after signing the Technological Safeguards Agreement with the United States in 2019, the country obtained authorization to launch rockets with American components guaranteeing the protection of its intellectual property. With these new partnerships, Brazil’s space agency is open for business and preparing to lift off.

    (Lead photo of Cosmic Girl at the Mojave Air and Space Port – via Jack Beyer for NSF/L2)

    The post Virgin Orbit names next mission and expands operations to Brazil appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

    Source : NASA More   

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    Following Starship SN15’s success, SpaceX evaluating next steps toward orbital goals

    SpaceX is considering numerous options for the upcoming Starship test schedule as the goal of… The post Following Starship SN15’s success, SpaceX evaluating next steps toward orbital goals appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

    Following Starship SN15’s success, SpaceX evaluating next steps toward orbital goals

    SpaceX is considering numerous options for the upcoming Starship test schedule as the goal of reaching orbit by the summer becomes increasingly realistic.

    Following Starship SN15’s successful test, options include reflying the vehicle to achieve key reusability objectives, launch SN16 to a higher altitude, or push straight through to orbital testing on Super Heavy.

    Starship SN15:

    Testing numerous modifications to the vehicle, Starship SN15 validated the improvements by conducting a smooth launch site campaign without the need to swap out a Raptor engine following its static fire tests.

    Once SN15 was pressed into the countdown, marked by the visible sign of the CH4 (Liquid Methane) condenser being turned on, the count proceeded smoothly without any obvious mini-holds observed during previous launches.

    Rising into a thick cloud layer under the power of Raptors SN54, SN61, and SN66 – along with some intermittent onboard views as a likely result of the thick clouds – most of the powered ascent was obscured from view.

    The vehicle once again conducted the hover before then flipping to transition for the “bellyflop” return to the launch site, with another stable descent with good control via its aero surfaces. This element of flight has been one of the key successes per Starship’s initial test objectives.

    SpaceX SN15 Updates
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  • Per SpaceX’s Jon Insprucker’s pre-launch commentary,  SN15 was expected to conduct a three-engine flip, followed by a single-engine landing. However, onboard views showed two engines relit for the flip, remaining on through to touchdown.

    No official reason has been provided, although Starship’s flight computer does hold the option to alter the engine ignition sequence. In addition, it has been suggested that one engine may have suffered an issue during ascent, resulting in SN15 opting not to select that engine for the relight ahead of landing.

    SpaceX Chief Designer Elon Musk had previously referred to an option-based selection process, specifically on the point of redundancy. For example, Starship can relight all three engines, then immediately deselect the engine with the least lever arm as a way of ensuring the maneuver is completed.

    Pending official information, the end result will be considered a bonus based on SN15 ultimately succeeding with the flip and landing via the two selected engines.

    Although there was also a small fire near the aft of the vehicle post-landing, pad fire suppression hoses successfully put out the flames as the vehicle conducted safing operations, as observed via the well-known double depress vent.

    Now, with SN15 secured on the landing pad, SpaceX engineers will be able to fully examine a flown Starship, which will provide valuable data for the test program.

    It was considered as likely, based on the numerous Starships waiting in the wings, that SN15 would be retired to become a lawn ornament at SpaceX Starbase, or even scrapped, as seen with the 150-meter hop twins, SN5 and SN6.

    Then Musk tweeted a potential plan to refly SN15.  His use of “might” also provided clues into SpaceX’s often fluid plans involving Starship testing.

    If the option is taken, reflying SN15 will achieve another required milestone for Starship testing, given this is one of the vehicle’s unique selling points. Eventually, Starship will become rapidly reusable, with the ability to relaunch the same day as landing.

    Also, during SpaceX’s pre-launch coverage of Falcon 9 B1051-10’s Starlink mission, an overview of SN15’s flight was provided along with the words “stay tuned for additional test flights in the days ahead” – as much as that could be just a case of generic wording.

    Starship SN16 and SN17:

    Over at the Production Site, Starship SN16 has continued to be prepared inside the High Bay.

    Following the mating of its nosecone, all of its aero surfaces have now been installed, technically ready to make the roll down Highway 4 to the launch site.

    Latest overview via @_brendan_lewis on Starship/Super Heavy Section Status.

    Numerous options are on the table, ranging from delaying SN16’s campaign until after SN15 reflies, through tasking SN16 with a higher altitude target of 20 km, through to simply not flying the vehicle per a potential acceleration of moving to the orbital-class vehicles.
    Notably, SN16 was moved deeper into the High Bay on Saturday, likely to make room for the stacking operations of the next Super Heavy prototype that will be required for the orbital tests.

    The latter option would also impact SN17, which currently has its sections prepared for stacking operations – with the SN17 mid-LOX section recently staged outside the Mid Bay after pre-stacking work.

    While opting against flying at least a few more Starship hops before orbital attempts may seem unpalatable to some observers, there is evidence of SpaceX being highly focused on pushing to orbit.

    Orbital Starship:

    As previously reported by NASASpaceflight.com – and confirmed as “That’s our goal” by Musk on Twitter, the first orbital flight was cited in documentation as launching “with a goal to get to orbit by July 1”.

    That documentation noted it would involve Starship SN20 on Super Heavy BN3.

    Starship SN20 is already being assembled. It will be a key watch item to see how many TPS (Thermal Protection System) tiles they will receive – as will be required on the windward side of the vehicle to cope with the heat of re-entry.
    However, as with Super Heavy BN3, the aforementioned fluid nature of SpaceX’s Starship planning could alter which vehicle takes the leap to orbit.

    BN3 sections have already been spotted by Mary (@bocachicagal), along with BN2 and even BN2.1 sections, which may likely involve a Super Heavy – and/or Test Tank – for ground testing to pave the way for BN3’s launch.

    Orbital Launch Site:

    While vehicle hardware is being staged at the Production Site, the ever-changing skyline down Highway 4 at the Launch Site visually portrays SpaceX’s orbital aspirations.

    A huge amount of work continues to occur next door to Starship’s current home, with the Orbital Launch Site (OLS) working on the installation of GSE (Ground Support Equipment) and the huge Launch Integration Tower.

    The tower will be the tallest structure in the area when complete, with the base and opening section already constructed while additional sections are being fabricated ahead of rolling to the OLS for installation.

    It has been speculated that any potential leap from SN15 to the orbital attempt would have added benefits of mitigating disruption to the OLS construction efforts.

    Numerous pieces of the Super Heavy pad still need to be assembled in-situ, with the launch table currently at the production site, along with additional GSE that will be required to cater for the thirsty Super Heavy booster.

    The Launch Tower will also sport a crane for mating Starship atop Super Heavy and eventually large mechanical arms that will “catch” the booster when it returns to the launch site.

    The latter is not expected to occur during the first few flights, likely resulting in SpaceX undertaking the path it used during the first Falcon 9 booster landings, with a soft touchdown on water.

    Raptor Supply:

    A major bonus of SN15’s safe landing was the recovery of the three Raptors it flew with. They will provide priceless post-flight data on performance in tandem with the information beamed back to launch control via live telemetry.

    However, it can’t be understated how valuable hands-on examination of the engines will be for the test program, along with the allowance for potentially reusing them on future flights.

    Regardless, SpaceX’s Starship program will require a huge supply of engines, not least the Super Heavy boosters, each of which will require a stock of 28 engines per booster.

    Although production status at Hawthorne in California is unknown, test capability at SpaceX McGregor is being expanded.

    SpaceX tests Raptors in two horizontal test bays while the converted tripod stand caters for vertical test firings. In addition, McGregor recently started construction of a new test stand next to the horizontal stand. In typical SpaceX fashion, this new dual-bay stand has been all but completed in a matter of weeks.

    Via NSF’s Gary Blair in the L2 McGregor section, a local who flies past the test site at around 3,000 feet AGL, a Raptor has already been seen in one of the bays on the new stand, likely for fit checks.
    The current horizontal stand has already seen at least two Vacuum optimized Raptors tested, which also shows how far in advance SpaceX is has been moving to lay the path for taking Starship on orbital missions.

    The only question is schedule planning, which can change almost by the day. However, with SN15 achieving the latest milestone, SpaceX’s “Test, Fly, Fail, Fix, Fly” approach is clearly working and continues to be fascinating to follow.

    For live updates, follow NASASpaceFlight’s Twitter account and the NSF Starship Forum Sections.

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    The post Following Starship SN15’s success, SpaceX evaluating next steps toward orbital goals appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

    Source : NASA More   

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