Good morning. We hope all the Payload moms had a great Mother’s Day yesterday filled with whatever makes you happy.
In today's edition...
🖖 More Vulcan tests this week
✈️ Stratolaunch test success
🗓️ The week ahead
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ULA Prepares for Vulcan’s Maiden Flight
ULA rolled its Vulcan rocket to the pad Friday and completed tank testing ahead of its expected first flight readiness firing test of its BE-4 engine later this week.
“With success here, and a resolution of the Centaur V ground test anomaly, we are projecting for a Vulcan Cert-1 Launch this summer,” said ULA chief Tory Bruno.
Hitting these pre-launch milestones comes after years of delays and setbacks, including a long wait for Blue Origin to deliver the engines it’s contributing to the rocket.
Most recently, on March 29, a Centaur hydrogen leak caused an explosion that postponed the May 4 launch.
Vulcan 101: Vulcan is ULA’s next-gen launch vehicle. The rocket is capable of transporting 27.2 T to LEO, giving it a greater payload capacity than SpaceX’s Falcon 9. The launch system is designed with four distinct configurations, allowing it to support a wide range of missions.
Maiden launch: Vulcan’s first flight will be the Cert-1 mission, planned for June or July. The launch will send two of Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellites to LEO, an Astrobotic lunar lander to the Moon, and a Celestis Memorial payload to deep space.
Vulcan must demonstrate two certification launches before it can fly lucrative national security payloads.
Kepler supports out-of-this-world communications
Kepler is delivering on-orbit data at lightspeed with a constellation of optical satellites designed to act as Internet exchange points for space-to-space data relay.
The Internet-ready constellation will deliver data to and from spacecraft in real time, helping customers to get more from their data. The hybrid network will modernize on-orbit communications with a combination of SDA-standard optical technology, RF inter-satellite links, and a high-speed backhaul link to move space-generated data efficiently back to Earth.
Kepler’s services are solving the downlink bottleneck by providing real-time access to satellite data, optimized latency, and high-speed downlinking capabilities. Kepler offers customers a service-level agreement and turnkey solution to satisfy the complete communications requirements of a mission, including:
Communications payloads for both optical and RF
Kepler’s services will expand customer mission potential, solving the current and future gaps in global space communications.
Stratolaunch Completes Preliminary Hypersonic Vehicle Test
Stratolaunch successfully completed a key step on the way to flying its hypersonic vehicle on Saturday with the separation and landing of its Talon-A test vehicle from the Roc carrier aircraft.
Stratolaunch 101: The Mojave, CA-based company was founded in 2011 by late Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen with ambitions to build hypersonic test vehicles. Its huge carrier aircraft, Roc, boasts six Boeing 787 engines, a 385-ft wingspan, and 50,000+ lb. carrying capacity to air-launch hypersonic vehicles.
About a year ago, Stratolaunch unveiled its Talon-A vehicle, a hypersonic glide vehicle designed to reach Mach 6 (that’s six times the speed of sound, for the uninitiated). The first flight-ready craft, dubbed TA-0, was built for separation tests only and is not powered in flight.
TA-1, the company’s first functional hypersonic vehicle, will come equipped with Ursa Major engines and is meant to be fully reusable and autonomous.
The test: After months of delays due to weather and field restrictions, Saturday marked the first time that Stratolaunch attempted to deploy TA-0 from the Roc craft.
During the test, Stratolaunch “accomplished a number of primary and secondary objectives, including a clean release, stabilized flight all the way to flare and landing in the water,” Zachary Krevor, CEO and president of Stratolaunch, said in a press call.
Roc reached its target altitude and speed parameters, Krevor said. Aviation Week reports that about halfway through the flight, Roc was at 21,650 ft altitude and clipping along at 240 knots.
TA-0 sustained some damage upon its water landing, but remained intact.
The successful test of TA-0 paves the way for the first flight of TA-1, which is currently undergoing vehicle-level testing ahead of integration and a target launch late this summer. TA-2 and 3 are also being assembled at the company’s Mojave facility.
The big picture: Things are heating up in the global hypersonic arena. China performed a successful test flight of a LEO hypersonic glide vehicle in 2021, and Russia has also tested its own capabilities. The Pentagon is keen on building out homegrown hypersonic tech, and companies like Stratolaunch and Rocket Lab, which announced its own hypersonic test program last month, are poised to fill that need.
See You in LA
Join Payload with Machina Labs, Bank of America, and Moss Adams for a space industry happy hour in LA on May 17th. Food and beverages will be provided.
In Other News
Ariane 6’s inaugural launch will likely slip to 2024.
SpaceX is testing Raptor V3, hitting 350 bar chamber pressure in a recent firing.
JUICE's antenna finally sprang loose after weeks of troubleshooting.
Sentinel-6, one of the world’s largest EO birds, detected early signs of a developing El Niño.
Apple launched emergency SOS services in Australia and New Zealand.
ISRO conducted its final qualification tests for the Gaganyaan crew module propulsion system.
NASA has called it quits on Lunar Flashlight, a small Moon-bound mission that failed to fire up its propulsion system following its December launch.
The Week Ahead
All times in Eastern.
Monday, May 15: At 9:30am, NASA’s Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee will kick off two days of meetings. At 10am, the FAA’s COMSTAC committee will meet. Terran Orbital ($LLAP) will report Q1 financials at 11am, followed by Astra ($ASTR) and AST SpaceMobile ($ASTS) after the bell.
Tuesday, May 16: At 10am, Administrator Bill Nelson will testify at the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on NASA’s FY2024 budget. Explore Mars will host the 2023 Humans to Mars seminar, lasting three days. Lastly, New Space New Mexico will kick off four days of Space Industrial Base 2023 workshops.
Wednesday, May 17: At 8am, ASU will host the Preventing Space War summit.
Friday, May 19: Just after midnight, at 12:10am, SpaceX plans to launch a batch of Starlink birds out of Cape Canaveral. At 8:18am, SpaceX also expects to launch five Iridium satellites and 16 OneWeb satellites from Vandenberg.
Sunday, May 21: At 5:37pm, SpaceX plans to launch the Ax-2 mission, carrying four private astronauts aboard Crew Dragon to the ISS. To close out the week, at 11:20pm, SpaceX is set to launch an Arabsat bird to GEO.
The View from Space
Image: Andrew McCarthy
Astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy combined 280,000+ pictures to compile this detailed image of the Moon, dubbed the GigaMoon because the high-res image (which allows you to zoom in!) is more than a gigapixel.