Good morning. 🚀🚀🚀. That’s all.
In today's newsletter:
🌕 SLS blasts off; Orion heads for Moon
🏗️ RFA preps for Lampoldshausen
🗣️ Don't miss today's webinar
💸 And finally...the term sheet
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We. Are. Going.
We’re on our way back to the Moon.
In the wee hours of the morning, NASA finally got the 322-foot-tall Artemis I off the ground. This was the third attempt to launch the $4.1B Mega Moon Rocket. Previous attempts dating back to August were foiled by leaky hydrogen lines, faulty sensors, and two hurricanes.
The journey to launch has not been a smooth one. Last week, NASA made the decision to leave SLS at the pad during Hurricane Nicole rather than rush it back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).
- “Rush” may be a bit of a misnomer…at 6.65 million pounds, the Crawler-Transporter 2 that hauled SLS to and from the pad has a top speed of 1 mph while loaded with the mega rocket.
- And while we’re talking mind-bending statistics…SLS can carry 27 tons (59,500 lbs.) to orbits beyond the Moon, per NASA.
But, back to Hurricane Nicole…The high winds, exceeding the rocket’s design limitations, did cause some minor damage—peeling off a strip of sealant where the rocket meets Orion and damaging an electrical fitting—but the mission management team decided on Monday that these risks were acceptable and gave the go orders for the third attempt.
And early this morning, the countdown was halted due to an on-and-off leak with a hydrogen valve and a radar glitch. In one of the more memorable—and hair-raising—moments of the morning, NASA paused hydrogen fueling and dispatched a “red crew” to the pad (and into the blast danger zone) to ensure a valve in the base of the mobile launcher remained tight.
Third time’s the charm
At 1:47am ET, the world’s most powerful rocket (for now) lifted off from the historic Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center. Artemis I was hoisted spaceward by two solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 engines. The vehicle passed through Max Q—the point in which a rocket experiences maximum mechanical stress—at ~T+1:08.
At T+8:30, SLS’s core stage separated from the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS). In space, ICPS completed an ~18-minute trans-lunar injection burn, and roughly two hours after liftoff, the human-rated, uncrewed Orion spacecraft fired its thrusters and separated from the ICPS.
But ICPS’s job was not done—the stage also deployed ten cubesats that will perform a variety of science mission over the coming months.
More importantly, Orion is now on its way to lunar orbit.
Orion’s journey to the Moon will take several days. At its closest approach, the spacecraft will be about 60 miles from the surface. The craft will use the Moon’s gravity as a slingshot to propel itself ~40,000 miles further, breaking the distance record set during the Apollo era for a human-rated spacecraft.
Later, Orion will swing back from that distant retrograde orbit and use the Moon’s gravity once again to swing back towards Earth, splashing down nearly 26 days after launch.
What they’re saying (or playing)
- NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, at the chipper hour of 5AM, said in a post-launch presser that “what we saw tonight, it’s an A+.”
- Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson told her team: “You have earned your place in the room…You have earned your place in history…What you have done today will inspire generations to come.”
- Trent Annis, part of Artemis’s red crew, said that he “was ready to get up there and go,” after getting the call to head to the pad.
- At 3:49am ET, NASA posted a pre-recorded performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by singer Josh Groban and jazz pianist Herbie Hancock.
- Separately, cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed a rendition of “America the Beautiful” with the Philadelphia Orchestra to commemorate the launch.
And finally, from this Twitter account that’s sent 760 tweets:
Share this everyone who needs to know about the dawn of the Artemis era:
RFA 🤝 DLR
Rocket Factory Augsburg has struck an agreement with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) to test its Helix engines at the historic Institute of Space Propulsion in Lampoldshausen. RFA currently does all its engine testing at the Esrange Space Center in Sweden. Lampoldshausen is closer to home and will help RFA augment its test capacity.
Before construction of the new test stand can commence, DLR must first finish building support infrastructure. DLR expects to complete that by mid-2023, while RFA is targeting the back half of the year to cut the ribbon on its new test stand.
The road to the launchpad
RFA unveiled the second stage for its maiden launcher just last week, and the stage has already arrived at Esrange for testing. The startup expects to begin a hot fire campaign before the year is out.
Takes two to tango…Work on the first stage is currently underway, and RFA is targeting mid-2023 for its first stage hot fire. The company has already completed its dedicated launchpad at Norway's Andøya Space. The surrounding infrastructure that will be needed to launch an RFA ONE still needs to be completed.
Watch the timeline…RFA is currently targeting Q4 2023 for RFA ONE’s maiden flight. If you’re an adherent of Berger’s Law (a term coined by Ars Technica’s Eric Berger), this likely means that it will slip into Q1 2024 at the earliest.
Capital raise inbound? The road to the launchpad is, however, not completely clear. RFA is currently not fully funded up to a maiden flight of RFA ONE. According to a leaked funding memo, the startup is currently trying to raise €70M– €75M to get it through two RFA ONE test flights.
👀 Click here to read our full story, which has more details on Lampoldshausen, RFA's testing campaign, and rumors about a larger vehicle.
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In Other News
- Emergency SOS—a feature powered by satellites—rolled out to North American iPhone 14s yesterday. The service will arrive in France, Germany, Ireland, and the UK next month.
- The UK Civil Aviation Authority has issued the country’s first-ever spaceport license to Spaceport Cornwall.
- ABL, after scrubbing Monday, will attempt its first orbital launch tomorrow.
- Slingshot and LeoLabs published one-year postmortems on Russia’s Nov. 15, 2021 ASAT test against a defunct Soviet spy satellite.
- China launched five satellites early in the morning on the Ceres 1 Y4 rocket. And on Monday, a Long March 4C launched the Yaogan-34 “remote-sensing” satellite.
- ESA’s engineers recently completed a critical design review of Space Rider.
- Payload’s Mo Islam went on Village Global’s Solarpunk podcast to discuss the future of the space economy.
The Term Sheet
- SpaceX is looking to raise at a valuation north of $150B, according to Bloomberg. In a one-word response, Elon tweeted “false.”
- Apple ($AAPL) said a $450M investment out of its Advanced Manufacturing Fund helped Globalstar ($GSAT) upgrade its ground segment and enable the rollout of Emergency SOS.
- AE Industrial Partners said Monday that it had completed its investment in York Space Systems. While the aerospace-focused PE firm didn’t disclose terms, CNBC reported in October that the deal valued York at ~$1.3B.
- Eutelsat's (ETL.PA) board voted to approve the proposed merger with OneWeb.
The (Simulated) View from Space
Here’s a screenshot (taken at 5:35am ET) from NASA’s Artemis I Orion tracker—give it a spin if you wanna see what Orion is up to. Just make sure you don’t have too many tabs open.