Rocket report: NASA scrubs third SLS fuel test, Pythom Space strikes back

Enlarge / A United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster will be delivered to Cape Canaveral by NASA’s Pegasus barge this week.

United Launch Alliance

Welcome to issue 4.39 of Rocket Report! As usual, there is plenty to discuss in the launch world this week, ranging from a successful hot fire test in Spain to a not-so-successful fuel test at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. So without further ado, read on.

As always, we welcome reader posts, and if you do not want to miss a problem, 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 missiles as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Pythom Space tests the Eiger rocket, receives recoil. On March 19, the California small launch company conducted a hold-down test of the first phase of its single-engine Eiger rocket. (The complete first phase will have nine small engines.) The company uploaded a video with this recording about three weeks ago. The video lasts about 2 minutes and 40 seconds and shows cases where Pythom employees appear to handle the Eiger rocket and its hypergolic propellants with less care than industry standard. At one point in the company’s advertising video, a handful of employees can be seen running from an expanding cloud of dust and exhaust.

Responds to the setback … The video went largely unnoticed until a source passed it on to Ars and we reported on it. The video received hundreds of responses, including some from rather horrific rocket scientists. In response to this report, Pythom Space pushed back with an update listing other crashes from other launch companies. Then it added: “Our message to the space community is simply this. Should we only allow billionaires and formal space engineers to lead our way into space? Or should we encourage all space enthusiasts who cheer on the sidelines to actually start building themselves, step by step, even though they are not part of the traditional space? ” Be sure to check the image credit.

PLD Space conducts static fire testing. Wednesday the Spanish launch company announced on Twitter that it had successfully completed the first static fire test of its Miura 1 launcher. RaĂșl Torres, the company’s CEO, added it PLD Space was “almost ready” for its first test flight of the suborbital launcher. It will take place from Teruel Airport in eastern Spain, possibly during the second half of this year.

From one to five … The Miura 1 rocket is basically a technological demonstrator for the company, which was founded a decade ago. PLD Space intends to take what it has learned from the Miura 1 and develop the Miura 5 rocket, which would be able to put as much as 300 kg into a sun-synchronous orbit. The company is among a handful of launch startups in Europe trying to kickstart a new space industry on the continent.

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The consortium wins bids to build Indian rockets. As part of India’s efforts to develop a commercial space agency, in 2020 the country’s space agency, ISRO, offered private companies the chance to independently build the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. Now, BusinessToday.In reports that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and the L&T consortium have proven to be the lowest bidder to make five Polar Space Launch Vehicles for ISRO by the middle of this decade.

Satellite bus up next time … The first privately built rocket is expected to be completed sometime during the second half of 2024, with the remaining four rockets to be delivered in 2025 and 2026. This is the first time in ISRO’s history that an entire rocket, incl. heat shield, must be made outside the space organization. As a next step towards exploiting India’s burgeoning private space industry, ISRO is exploring the possibility of having the industry build India Mini Satellite-1 Bus.

Astra sells electric thrusters. Astra Space said on Tuesday that it had reached an agreement to sell electric thrusters by LeoStella, part of the company’s efforts to move beyond launch, reports Space News. Astra said it sold “more” Astra spacecraft engines to LeoStella, the Seattle-based smallsat manufacturer. The companies did not disclose the value of the deal or even the number of thrusters ordered, but Astra said those thrusters will be delivered from later this year and continue into 2023.

To move around the room … Tod Byquist, Director of Programs and Supply Chain at LeoStella, said in a statement that his company was looking for “innovative options” to deliver propulsion to the satellites it manufactures. “Astra’s spacecraft engine has a good flight heritage and the performance we need to get our satellites into space on time,” he said. Astra got the engine technology from Apollo Fusion, a startup with electric propulsion that Astra acquired in 2021. The thruster can use krypton or xenon propellants that produce between 18 and 25 millinewtons of pressure with an input power of 400 watts. (Submitted by Ken the Bin)

Maine creates a space company. The Maine Senate passed a motion to establish the Maine Space Corporation on Monday. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Members of the aviation industry have taken an interest in Maine in recent years, in part because it is home to the former Loring Airforce Base and Brunswick Landing.

Moving to Maine … The state’s geography and existing infrastructure make it a candidate to serve as a site for small launches, industry officials told the legislature. The proposal still needs to be signed by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. The bill is likely to benefit Blueshift Aerospace, which is based in Maine. Earlier, the small launch company had said it would have to explore the possibilities of launching from the Kennedy Space Center after residents of Jonesport, Maine, overwhelmingly voted to impose a moratorium on any aerospace activities in the city. (Submitted by MR)

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