Friday, August 26, 2022

Another Small Space News Story Roundup

The One-Ton-Class Orbital Rocket Race heats up a bit.  In that article two weeks ago, I went on published data saying ABL Space Systems had announced a several day launch window for their RS-1 vehicle toward the end of August, potentially as early as August 29th, from their launch site at Alaska's Pacific Spaceport Complex.  The piece also highlighted that Firefly Aerospace, Relativity Space, and ABL Space are all neck and neck in the race to be the first to achieve orbit.  

A bit of a look at the Alaska Pacific Spaceport Complex (green button - pdf) shows that the ABL launch is now looking to be No Earlier Than September 6, meaning it has slipped one week (the launch is coded P137 on the calendar).  Poking around the forums on NASA shows that the week they've been claiming they'll be ready to launch seems to have been slipping later over the course of the year, which isn't surprising.    

This week, Firefly Aerospace announced the launch window for the second flight of its Alpha rocket. The launch is NET September 11th from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, with a launch window that opens at 3 pm local Pacific time (22:00 UTC). (Hat tip to Ars Technica's weekly Rocket Report.)  September 11th is toward the end of the window the Pacific Spaceport shows for ABL's launch, but it's always possible one or both of these first launches won't actually happen or that one or both won't be successful.    

For its second demonstration flight, Alpha will attempt to launch multiple satellites to low Earth orbit at an altitude of 300 km. Payloads include a 3U Cubesat for NASA and a 3U Cubesat for Teachers in Space to collect atmospheric data for the education community. 

Not to be left out, Relativity Space also had an important test this week.

This week Relativity chief executive Tim Ellis said the company completed a 20-second test firing of its Terran 1 rocket's first stage. In doing so, Ellis said on Twitter that the company remains on track to become the first liquid oxygen-methane rocket to reach orbit. The company completed the test on its launch mount at Launch Complex 16 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The video of the test, with sound, is worth watching.  It's 20 seconds of engine test and 35 seconds total.   

Also earlier in the month, I posted that Astra was pivoting from the small satellite launch business toward bigger payloads. That didn't go over well with investors. 

The New Space Economy website, which has offered bearish coverage of the launch firm Astra, notes that the company's stock is at risk of being delisted from the Nasdaq stock exchange. "Astra has now lost more than 90 percent of its market value as of August 24, 2022. As Astra’s stock price continues its downward plummet, their stock price has passed below the $1 minimum bid price requirement to be listed on the Nasdaq," the site reports.

Nasdaq's rules on this aren't going to immediately cause Astra trouble; it could take over a year for them to actually be booted off the exchange.  If Astra’s stock price trades below $1 for 30 consecutive business days, the company will be notified that it is non-compliant with Nasdaq listing requirements and given 180 calendar days to become compliant.  After 180 days with stock under $1, the company may be notified that it's being delisted, but under some some circumstances may be given another 180 days.  Confused?  Me, too.

The issue is that with no commercial launches this year or probably next, it's difficult to see what might make Astra's stock increase in value in the coming months, outside of a large outside investment, or significant sales of its in-space thruster.

This weekend's dual Falcon 9 Starlink launches have slipped around.  The original schedule had a Vandenberg launch (Starlink 3-4) early this morning: 0530 UTC on the 27th, 1:30AM Saturday Eastern but 10:30 PM on the 26th Pacific time.  That would be followed with a launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station SLC 40 (Starlink 4-23) early Sunday morning UTC, 0222, which is 10:22 PM EDT Saturday.  The Vandenberg launch has been rescheduled to Wednesday, August 31, at 0540 UTC. 

The interesting part of the launch from SLC 40 is that this is Booster 1069.  This is the one SpaceX almost lost last December when it apparently landed harder than it should have, or perhaps landed on the octagrabber robot that helps keep the booster from sliding off the deck.  The booster required more than the usual amount of rework to make it flight worthy again, including replacing a few Merlin 1D engines.

B1069 on arrival at Cape Canaveral on the deck of recovery drone Just Read The Instructions.  The yellow I-beam, bottom just left of center, is a rail that helps keep the booster on deck in rough seas.  In the background, above the bent rail you can see the Merlin engines that were damaged and bent up.  


1 comment:

  1. Perhaps Musk should have bought the (ex)USS Kittyhawk, now on her way to the scrapyard in Texas.

    Bigger landing platform, self propelled, etc.

    Plus he could use it as his private yacht when not recovering boosters.