Friday, March 24, 2023

Weekly Small Space News Story Roundup 4

Sort of Weekly?  #3 was two weeks ago.

Virgin Orbit May Have a Financial Future

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the company may have arranged a $200 million deal with Texas-based venture capital investor Matthew Brown.  

The space startup did not comment on the likely deal, but said on Wednesday it would resume operations on March 23 and prepare for its next mission by recalling some of its employees, sending its shares up 60% in premarket trading.

The two parties (Virgin Orbit and Matthew Brown) aimed to complete the deal by Friday (today) with Virgin saying more employees will be back to work on March 27, Monday.  As of this afternoon's updates, I see that Virgin stock is up 50% on the day but nothing saying the deal has been finalized.

April will be a Heavy Lift Month's extended schedule today is showing that April will feature a launch of Falcon Heavy on the 8th and a Delta IV Heavy 12 days later.  Both dates should be considered No Earlier Than and preliminary/subject to change.  There are launches between these two but a little semi-skilled photo editing makes it look like they're this close.

ULA has only two remaining Delta IV Heavy rockets; the one for this mission and one set to fly in 2024.

Since SLS has successfully flown, although still not out of its qualification missions, it's now the most powerful rocket in the US inventory.  Falcon Heavy is number two and Delta IV Heavy is number three.  

Looks Like Another Month Before Starship Flies

I've long since lost count of the number of tentative launch dates for SpaceX's Starship's first orbital attempt that have been cancelled. reports. "SpaceX will be ready to launch Starship in a few weeks, then launch timing depends on FAA license approval. Assuming that takes a few weeks, first launch attempt will be near end of third week of April, aka …" SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter.

The "aka..." bit, by the way, is presumably a nod to the possibility that Starship could launch on April 20, which is a sort of holiday for cannabis culture. Musk is fond of making 4/20 references and jokes.

Considering the number of times this test flight has been talked about and then postponed, it's best to consider this Extremely Preliminary. 

Speaking of Launch Delays is reporting the Boeing's Crew Flight Test of their Starliner Capsule has been bumped out from the planned April launch date, NET May but probably into the summer. 

"We're adjusting the @Space_Station schedule including the launch date for our Boeing Crew Flight Test as teams assess readiness and complete verification work. CFT now will launch following Axiom Mission 2 for optimized station operations," NASA human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders said via Twitter on Thursday (March 23).

Axiom Mission 2, or Ax-2 for short, will be the second crewed mission to the ISS operated by Houston-based company Axiom Space. It will employ a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, as Ax-1 did in April 2022, and is tentatively scheduled to launch in early May.

I find it a little curious that Boeing's CFT is being assigned lower priority as a mission than Axiom Space's Ax-2.  I think Boeing's CFT is under their contract with NASA to deliver "taxi rides" to the ISS, so while it's arguable Ax-2 is a private mission, CFT is a NASA-Boeing mission.  Perhaps Ax-2 is a paying customer while CFT isn't?  Or is that too cynical?


  1. I wonder how far 200 million goes in space programs?

    1. All I can add is "not very far." It'll make payroll for a while - probably with a bunch of layoffs and other cuts. Long enough for another launch to "redeem themselves?" Your guess is as good as mine. The Business Insider link in the story says that Brown will be the defacto owner of Virgin Orbit when this is over.

      At the moment, that would be like buying "Bed Bath and Beyond" or any other stock on the verge of bankruptcy.

  2. Nope, SiG, no Cynicisim Here. Just Reality biting Boeing in the butt - if they can't perform in spite of costing almost TWICE what was paid to SpaceX then they deserve very little consideration for launchplanning. They aren't cutting the mustard and I'm pretty sure there are a lot of *snorts* when Boeing is mentioned in the halls of NASA!

    Thank you, Matt Brown, for giving Virgin Orbit another chance - here's rooting for Virgin Orbit to succeed!
    And here's hoping your interest and largesse is not misplaced, either!!

  3. BTW, don't call this a "weekly roundup", instead call it a "Semi-periodical small space news update"
    (Yeah, yeah - I'm being pedantic...)
    Just trying to help here.