Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Another Space News Roundup

We don't get a Falcon Heavy launch this month. 

Back in early September, we heard there was to be a Falcon Heavy launch No Earlier Than (NET) October 9th.   

After the Inspiration4 mission, SpaceX needs to reconfigure the pad for a the first Falcon Heavy launch since 2019, carrying the classified USSF-44 mission NET October 9th.  The liftoff time is apparently not publicly available yet.  This mission was initially scheduled for a late-2020 target, gradually slipping to Q1, Q2, Q3, and finally Q4 (October) of 2021.  These were all due to delays from the payload, not the rocket.

The often-delayed payload has been delayed again, and the mission currently doesn't have a declared date, but will be in "early 2022."  Hey, it's only a six month window of uncertainty.  I'd been looking forward to this one but noticed a launch date wasn't appearing in any of the usual places I look.


The delay is going to have quite an impact on SpaceX operations at the Kennedy Space Center.  Falcon Heavy launches use Launch Complex 39A.  Regular Falcon 9 missions can use their other pad, LC-40, but they have several missions for LC-39A.  

USSF-44’s latest delay means that SpaceX is now likely to go a full 30 months between Falcon Heavy flights after completing the rocket’s third and most recent launch in June 2019. The slip to “early 2022” also leaves the company with an extremely ambitious launch manifest in the first half of 2022. Barring one or several significant delays, which now seems like the most plausible outcome, SpaceX has four major Falcon Heavy missions – USSF-44, USSF-52, ViaSat-3, and NASA’s Psyche probe – scheduled to launch by August, with three of the four scheduled in H1 2022. A fifth mission – USSF-67 – is scheduled to launch in Q4 2022 and likely on another Falcon Heavy rocket, though the US military has yet to specify the Falcon variant.

Further, requiring the use of the same Kennedy Space Center (KSC) LC-39A pad, SpaceX also has at least six Crew and Cargo Dragon launches scheduled in February (Ax-1), April (Crew-4), May (CRS-25), Q3 (Ax-2), September (CRS-26), and October 2022 (Crew-5). In other words, in Dragon and Falcon Heavy missions alone, SpaceX already has 10-11 launches scheduled in 2022 – all of which require the use of Pad 39A. If SpaceX manages to pull that off on top of a myriad of other commercial and Starlink launches scheduled next year, it will be a feat to remember.

SpaceX Awarded a Contract to launch Italian satellite after Arianespace Vega rocket failed twice in three attempts.   

Over the years of blogging, certain stories tend to lodge in my brain and certain quotes become part of me.  In this case, the story is from July of '18, mainly about how the US launch companies - and SpaceX in particular - were dominating the rest of the world.  The essence of the money quote there was the European Space Agency was a make-work program.  They didn't want to make reusable rockets because it would mean they made fewer jobs. 

Truthfully, if Europe ever did develop a reusable rocket, one that could fly all the missions in a year, this would be unhelpful politically. What would the engine and booster factories sprinkled across Europe do if they built one rocket and then had 11 months off? The member states value the jobs too much. This is one difference between rocket-by-government and rocket-by-billionaire programs.

As I said at the time, "rocket by billionaire"?  How about rocket by private sector that's driven to optimize service for all customers?  But that quote makes it completely understandable why those countries in Europe were not allowed to go to SpaceX for launch services.  Under EU agreements those nations are required to launch domestic satellites and spacecraft on the Ariane 5, Ariane 6, and Italian Vega rockets, "if at all possible."  In this case, it's the Italian Vega rocket that was set to launch the Italian satellite, the COSMO SkyMed CSG-2 Earth observation satellite.  

Weighing around 2.2 tons (~4900 lb), SkyMed CSG-2 is the second of four synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites designed to “[observe] Earth from space, meter by meter, day and night, in any weather conditions, to help predict landslides and floods, coordinate relief efforts in case of earthquakes or fires, [and] check crisis areas.” Primarily focused on the Mediterranean, the nature of sun-synchronous orbits (SSOs) nevertheless give SkyMed satellites views of most of the Earth’s surface every day.

In this case, the group responsible for the satellite argued that the delays caused by the rocket problems was going to impact their planned mission and they were allowed to contract with SpaceX.  No launch date has been set. 

Finally, a little story worth noting is that Starship prototype S20 underwent some tests of its flaps late Sunday night/early Monday morning.  While not unusual for Starships, it marks another test for the S20 Booster B4 combination in the move toward the first orbital flight, hopefully before the end of the calendar year.  

(Image source, Mary @bocachicagal for NASA Spaceflight.com)

Cameron County's road closure web site is saying the next road closure is Thursday, October 7, from 5 PM to midnight (CDT) with a beach closure.  While too early to tell, the long closure in the evening hours could conceivably be a static fire of S20.  The cryogenic tests last week were declared successful by Elon Musk on Twitter, so a static fire isn't out of the question and may even be the next step. 



1 comment:

  1. Sounds like Miley and Austin are working with Boeing and Bezos on the payload project.