June 5, 2023

Enlarge / Starship and Super Heavy are ready to fly, with Starhopper in the foreground for scale.


Welcome to Edition 5.33 of the Rocket Report! Phew, there is a lot going on this week. The “Heavy rockets” section of this week’s report is loaded with news this week about Starship, New Glenn, and Vulcan. Be sure to check it out. And maybe also reserve some time your calendars Monday morning.

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 ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Relativity Space retires Terran 1, goes bigger. This may be one of the final times that Relativity Space falls under the “small rocket” category in this report. Why? Because Relativity Space made a flurry of announcements on Wednesday about its past and future, including the retirement of its Terran 1 rocket after just a single launch attempt last month. “Terran 1 was always meant to develop technologies that were pushing the bounds for what was needed for Terran R,” the company’s chief executive, Tim Ellis, told Ars.

All in on Terran R … Relativity also announced some major changes to the Terran R. It will be larger and more powerful than previously disclosed, with a total thrust of 3.35 million pounds and fully expendable lift capacity of 33.5 metric tons. The company is setting aside second stage reuse for now—it’s not economically viable, Ellis said—and will focus on first stage reuse similar to what SpaceX does with the Falcon 9. Relativity is also moving away from an approach of additively manufacturing the entire rocket and will use aluminum alloy straight-section barrels. It’s a bold move that puts Relativity in competition alongside United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin, and Rocket Lab to be the “second” US launch company after SpaceX.

Rocket Lab to launch two TROPICS missions in May. The two dedicated missions, each consisting of two CubeSats, flying on Electron are expected to launch within approximately two weeks of each other in May 2023, the company said. The TROPICS constellation will monitor the formation and evolution of tropical cyclones, including hurricanes, and will provide rapidly updating observations of storm intensity for NASA.

Racing the start of the Atlantic hurricane season … The two missions were initially scheduled to lift off from Launch Complex 2 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport within NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia but will now take place at Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand to support a second-quarter launch window that will see the satellites reach orbit in time for the North American 2023 hurricane season. Originally, the satellites were to launch on Astra’s 3.3 vehicle. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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Firefly completes static fire test for next mission. The Texas-based launch company said Wednesday night that it completed a full-duration static fire test for the third launch of its Alpha rocket, confirming that “all systems and components are operating within flight parameters before launch.” The test was conducted at the company’s facilities at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

An uncertain launch date … The company has not provided a launch date for the mission. In fact, as part of the Space Force’s VICTUS NOX responsive space mission, Firefly will need to have the payload encapsulated, mated, launched, and placed into low-Earth orbit within 24 hours of receiving the launch notice and orbit requirements. The program aims to demonstrate the United States’ capability to rapidly respond to on-orbit needs during a conflict.

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