Rocket Report: Starship RUDs on the way to space; Rocket Lab to reuse engine
Welcome to Edition 5.34 of the Rocket Report! Wow, what a half year it has been for launch. In the last six months, we have seen the two most powerful rockets ever take flight, the Space Launch System and Starship. What a time for the industry and enthusiasts—the future looks so bright!
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.
Rocket Lab will reuse a first stage engine. Rocket Lab said Wednesday it plans to refly a Rutherford rocket engine for the first time in the third quarter of this year. The 3D-printed engine, previously flown on the ‘There and Back Again’ mission launched in May 2022, has undergone extensive qualification and acceptance testing to certify it for re-flight. This includes multiple full mission-duration hot fires where the pre-flown engine performed as if it were a newly built one.
Step by step … Although the engine is ready for re-flight now, the Electron rockets scheduled for launch in the second quarter are already built. The company, which seeks to eventually reuse the entirety of Electron’s first stage, said re-flying this engine is the latest milestone in its “iterative and methodical” reusability program. Rocket Lab has recovered hardware and first stages from six Electron missions to date, with the latest stage recovered last month. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)
Virgin Orbit nears completion of anomaly investigation. The California-based launch company said Wednesday it has successfully completed a month-long, full-scale test series to verify the root cause of the January 9 failure of its LauncherOne rocket. The investigation focused on a filter in the fuel tank outlet, and the test campaign re-created flight conditions and demonstrated the dislodging and subsequent travel of the filter into the Newton-4 engine. This high-fidelity test article included all the key elements of the fuel feed system up to the engine inlet.
Still some funding issues to sort out … Ground test results matched flight data, confirming the dislodging of the filter as the initiation event of the January launch failure. A series of nine tests verified the performance of a redesigned filter. A fix has been incorporated into Virgin Orbit’s next rocket, which could fly from Mojave Air and Space Port later this year. Such a scenario assumes the company gets its funding issues sorted out and emerges from the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process with a sale next month. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)
South Korea prepping next KSLV-2 launch. South Korea’s natively developed KSLV-2 rocket is slated to launch May 24, carrying a 180-kilogram technology-demonstration satellite and seven cubesats, Space News reports. The mission comes 11 months after the KSLV-2’s first successful satellite launch. The rocket, which is fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen, can lift up to 1.9 metric tons to low-Earth orbit.
Gearing up for something bigger … South Korea plans to conduct four more launches of this rocket, including the upcoming one, through 2027 to improve the rocket’s technical reliability. After that, the company plans to deploy the larger KSLV-3 rocket, which is anticipated to be able to lift 10 metric tons to low-Earth orbit. South Korea plans to launch a domestically developed robotic lunar lander on KSLV-3 by 2032. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
A new air-launch contender emerges. A Spanish propulsion company named Pangea Aerospace announced this week that it is partnering with a New York-based launch startup named Tehiru. Tehiru is developing a reusable air-launched rocket capable of carrying 550-kilogram payloads to low-Earth orbit, European Spaceflight reports. The company has stated that it is working on an “innovative electric landing mechanism” that will be used to recover the rocket following a launch. Tehiru projects that it will be capable of reusing its rocket up to 50 times.
That’s an ambitious project … Pangea will supply Tehiru with the company’s 67,000-lb ARCOS aerospike engines that will power the rocket’s first stage. It’s not clear if the agreement includes any upfront payment. It’s also unclear if Tehiru has raised any significant funding to date. What does seem clear to me is that developing a small, reusable rocket with an electric landing mechanism and aerospike first stage engines is extremely difficult. Especially one that’s air-launched. Good luck with that. (submitted by brianrhurley)