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SPACETIDE 2021 Spring: Annual Conference


SPACETIDE works across industries paving the way to access new space business. The main conference, which has been held annually since 2015, has been an important platform where individuals such as entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, designers, and researchers can interact with organizations such as space ventures, major aerospace companies, non-space companies, and government agencies. The concept of our 5th conference, SPACETIDE 2021 Spring, is ‘the beginning of the space commercialization phase’. Although the space industry already has significant funding and has seen technological developments to complement a variety of visions held by space actors, the widespread commercialization of the industry has just begun. The trend is spreading not only within the United States and various European countries, but also to Asian countries. This year, more than 60 speakers from over 10 countries/regions will gather to discuss topics at the forefront of the industry. We invite you to participate in SPACETIDE 2021 Spring.


Info & Schedule

Date, Time and Location

Day 1 (virtual event)
– Date and Time (Japanese Standard Time) : March 23 (Tue), 2021. 09:00-19:00
– Location : EventHub (online event platform):

Day 2 (in-person event)
– Date and Time (Japanese Standard Time) : March 24 (Wed), 2021. 09:15-16:30 (doors will open at 08:30)
– Location : Tokyo Toranomon Hills Mori Tower 5th floor, 1-23-3 Toranomon, Minato-ku, 105-6390 Tokyo, Japan. (Directly connected to B1 Exit of Toranomon Hills Station of the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line)
Access Map :
* The recordings for both Day 1 and Day 2 will be available to purchase for specific Ticket holders . Please check the Ticket Type for details before you purchase.
* Simultaneous interpretation in Japanese and English is available1. We will inform you how to view th recording after your purchase.


Ticket Type

Ticket A :
30,000JPY (Approx. 300USD)(Only 60 tickets available)
Day 1 virtual participation + Day2 in-person participation *1 *2 *3

Ticket B :
10,000JPY (Approx. 100USD)(Only 100 tickets available)
Day 1 virtual participation + Day 2 recording *1 *2 *3

Ticket C :
3,000JPY (Approx. 30USD)(Only 300 tickets available)
Only Day 1 virtual participation *1 *2

*1 All ticket holders (Ticket A/B/C) will be able to access the Day 1 recording from March 29, 2021 to June 30, 2021. We will inform you how to view th recording after your purchase.
*2 All ticket holders (Ticket A/B/C) will be able to network with other ticket holders during Day 1 on the virtual event platform, EventHub.
*3 The holders of Ticket A or B can access the Day 2 recording from March 29, 2021 to June 30, 2021. We will inform you how to view th recording after your purchase.



SPACETIDE Foundation



Kyocera Corporation,

SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation,

Sakura internet Inc. (exhibited instead of sponsorship),

Mitsubishi Electric Corporation,

Shimizu Corporation,

SMBC Nikko Securities Co., Ltd.,

Taisho Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.,

Tokai Tokyo Securities Co., Ltd.


MORI Building co.,Ltd


Supported By


Safety notice for those who participate in Day 2

The event will be conducted in accordance with the guidelines of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) and also with that of the venue. Seats will be arranged at pre-defined distances. Please note, the event may be postponed or canceled in the event that MHLW, government agencies, or regulatory authorities request us to do so. Furthermore, even if in the absence of a formal request from the aforementioned parties, SPACETIDE may choose to postpone, cancel or change the contents of the event to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection, should we feel this is necessary.


Requests to those who participate in Day 2

On the day of the event, please ensure your temperature is below 37.5 degrees Celsius and please wear a mask upon arrival at the venue. Those who are not wearing masks will not be permitted entry. Wearing a mask for the duration of the event including when you leave is mandatory.
– We will measure your temperature upon entry, for which we request your kind cooperation. Any participants whose temperature is 37.5 degrees Celsius or above will not be admitted into the event.
*Note that tickets will not be refunded in this instance.
– We ask that you disinfect your hands with alcohol when you enter and leave the venue. Please observe our behavioral restrictions to prevent infection.
– Please refrain from lending, borrowing and exchanging goods between participants and guests at the event
– If there is a possibility of infection at the venue, or should there be a disclosure request from a local government or health center, we may provide information to designated organizations for the purpose of identifying infected person(s). In addition, we may ask all participants to cooperate in surveys and interviews.
– Please refrain from coughing / sneezing, wash your hands diligently, and disinfect your hands.- If you meet any of the following conditions, please refrain from visiting:
□ Have/have had a temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius or above
□ Have cold symptoms (fever, cough, sneezing, sore throat, etc.)
□ Have strong fatigue / tiredness (malaise) or dyspnea / shortness of breath (dyspnea)
□ Have received a positive test for new coronavirus
□ Have received instructions from a medical professional to stay home within the last 14 days
□ Have come into close contact with someone diagnosed with new coronavirus
□ Have spent less than 14 days in Japan since visiting a country / region where the government has immigration restrictions
□ Have any concerns about other physical health conditions


aerospace Astra Space astronomy cubesats Momentus nasa Rocket Lab spacex Starship Virgin Orbit

SpaceX bid on launch of NASA cubesat mission

Starship SN10 liftoff

WASHINGTON — A NASA competition to launch a cluster of cubesats attracted a bid from SpaceX, who appeared to offer a vehicle other than its current Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy.

NASA released March 11 the source selection statement from the competition to launch the Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission, a group of six cubesats to be launched into three orbital planes in 2022 to study tropical weather systems. NASA awarded a contract for the launch to Astra Feb. 26, valued at $7.95 million.

The agency said in the statement that it received five proposals last August for the mission. Besides Astra, two other small launch vehicle companies, Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, submitted bids. A fourth came from Momentus, which offers in-space transportation services for satellites launched on rideshare missions.

The fifth bid came from SpaceX, which has a smallsat rideshare program, bundling groups of cubesats and other small satellites on Falcon 9 launches. However, the company did not appear to offer launch services from that program for the TROPICS competition.

In its assessment of the bidders, NASA noted a weakness in SpaceX’s proposal because the company “did not clearly demonstrate progress toward the resolution of the environmental assessment which results in risk associated with obtaining an FAA launch license, increasing the likelihood of delays that would affect contract performance.”

The source selection statement also identified a significant weakness regarding the “risk to launch approach” for the mission, noting the company had not updated an integrated master schedule in its initial proposal. “As a result, there is significant risk in the proposed launch approach based on the required launch date and the current status of the proposed launch vehicle that increases the likelihood of unsuccessful contract performance.”

Neither criticism would appear to apply to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles currently in service. Both vehicles have launch licenses from the Federal Aviation Administration, which updated an environmental assessment for launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center in July 2020. SpaceX has won a series of contracts for launches of larger NASA missions using those vehicles.

An intriguing possibility is that SpaceX instead offered its Starship vehicle under development. That vehicle has an FAA launch license today only for its current series of suborbital test flights. The FAA is also performing an environmental assessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas, site for orbital launches of that vehicle. The agency recently published a “scoping summary report” outlining public comments it received in the scoping process of the assessment, but did not issue a schedule for the release of a draft version of the environmental assessment.

Starship would appear to be massively oversized for TROPICS. When launched with a booster called Super Heavy, Starship will be able to place more than 100 metric tons into low Earth orbit. SpaceX has previously suggested, though, that the Starship upper stage alone may be able to reach orbit, but without a significant payload. That could be sufficient for TROPICS, whose combined mass is about 56 kilograms.

SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment on its proposal for TROPICS.

In the source selection statement, NASA compared SpaceX’s proposal with that from Astra, whose Rocket 3 small launch vehicle has yet to reach orbit but which the company has declared orbit-capable after two test launches. Astra was cited for a weakness in its proposed launch site, citing development and range conflict issues. The statement did not disclose the launch site, but in the announcement of the contract last month, NASA said the launches would take place from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

While SpaceX also had a launch site risk “with obtaining an FAA launch license in time to support orbital test flights,” NASA concluded that the “risk in its launch approach based on the required launch date and current status of the proposed launch vehicle” was a bigger concern. That resulted in Astra being rated slightly higher than SpaceX regarding technical and management capability. SpaceX’s proposed price was also “somewhat higher” than Astra’s bid.

NASA also eliminated Virgin Orbit because its original bid did not fall in the “competitive range” the agency established, and it was the only bidder not asked to provide an updated proposal, due Feb. 5. Momentus was eliminated from consideration because its proposal did not demonstrate it could meet all the requirements of the launch services interface requirements document, which “places the government at extreme risk of unsuccessful contract performance.”

The competition came down to Astra and Rocket Lab, whose proposal had several strengths, but also a “significantly higher” price than Astra. NASA concluded that “after reviewing the benefits associated with Rocket Lab’s proposal and Astra’s assessed risk in combination with their significantly lower price, the technical benefits do not offset the significant difference in price” and selected Astra for launching the TROPICS mission.


aerospace astronomy rideshare Rocket Lab spacex Virgin Orbit

SpaceX sees strong demand for smallsat rideshare launch services

Transporter-1 launch

WASHINGTON — SpaceX is seeing strong demand for its dedicated smallsat rideshare missions, a program that is putting pricing pressure on small launch vehicle developers.

During a panel discussion at the 2021 SmallSat Symposium Feb. 9, a SpaceX official said the company has two more dedicated rideshare missions scheduled this year after its Falcon 9 Transporter-1 launch Jan. 24 that placed a world-record 143 satellites into orbit.

“Customer demand has been extremely strong. Demand is growing, so we’re certainly going to have some very full rockets coming up,” said Jarrod McLachlan, senior manager of rideshare sales at SpaceX.

He declined to speculate if those future rideshare missions might exceed the 143 satellites on Transporter-1, since it depends on the mix of customers and their payloads. He noted the company is seeing a trend to “slightly larger microsats” that might reduce the total number of satellites on those upcoming launches compared to Transporter-1.

Some customers, McLachlan said, are designing their spacecraft specifically to use those rideshare launches based on the size, mass and other interface requirements SpaceX publishes for those launches.

“We’re seeing some people who are optimizing their spacecraft and their constellation design around that volume, as well as some of the integrator/broker partners out there who are doing multiple spacecraft in a single port,” he said. “Being so public with our pricing and our requirements is really enabling people to be creative.”

The upcoming dedicated rideshare missions, like Transporter-1, will go to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). That’s driven by customer demand for that class of orbits, McLachlan said. SpaceX also offers rideshare services to mid-inclination orbits by flying satellites as secondary payloads on Starlink launches. “If we see demand from something outside of SSO or mid-inclined orbits,” he said, “we’ll certainly take a look at that.”

While rideshare launches of smallsats on larger launch vehicles are not new, the scale of SpaceX’s effort, and its prices, have attracted widespread interest. That program is also seen as a major competitor for the growing number of small launch vehicle developers that can’t match the per-kilogram price SpaceX quotes for its rideshare customers.

Those companies are instead focusing on their ability to meet specific customer requirements not possible on rideshare missions, such as schedule and orbit. “To do that, you need different types of mission solutions, and that’s where Virgin Orbit comes in,” said Stephen Eisele, vice president at Virgin Orbit, on the panel.

Virgin Orbit successfully demonstrated its LauncherOne rocket on the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission Jan. 17. That mission placed 10 cubesats into orbit on a NASA-funded launch.

Eisele said the company is preparing for its next LauncherOne mission “in a few months,” estimating it to be in late in the first quarter or early in the second quarter of 2021. “We will take a little bit more time to analyze the data from our last Demo 2 launch,” he said, noting that the rocket for the upcoming mission is now in final integration.

That launch will carry payloads for the U.S. Air Force as well as a 6U cubesat for the Dutch air force, a contract announced Jan. 25. Eisele said the launch will also carry two 3U cubesats from SatRevolution, a Polish company developing a 14-satellite constellation to provide medium-resolution multispectral imagery. Virgin Orbit announced the deal with SatRevolution shortly before the panel Feb. 9, but did not disclose when the satellites would launch beyond later this year.

“We’re pleased to have them all on our next launch, and we look forward to continuing to provide a high cadence and flexibility going forward,” he said.

Rocket Lab also announced the manifest for its next Electron mission, scheduled for mid-March from New Zealand. That launch will carry seven satellites for a mix of government and commercial customers, including Rocket Lab’s second Photon satellite. The Photon will test technologies needed for the launch later this year of NASA’s CAPSTONE lunar spacecraft, which will use Photon as a kick stage.

“We’re over 90% booked on both our launch and our space systems division” for this year, said Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, during the conference panel.


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Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit lead a new class of small rockets with big ambitions for 2021

SpaceX’s reign as the only privately funded American spaceflight company to reach and successfully deploy small satellite payloads into orbit ended on January 21, 2018, when Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket delivered three customer CubeSats to orbit for the first time.

SpaceX and Rocket Lab have since been the only private American companies to offer dedicated and rideshare delivery of small satellites to orbit. That is until Virgin Orbit joined the competition with the success of its Launch Demo 2 mission earlier this week.

Airdropping rockets

On Sunday, January 17, Virgin Orbit – one of two spaceflight companies backed by billionaire Richard Branson – joined SpaceX and Rocket Lab as the next private American rocket launcher sending small satellites to space. Virgin Orbit delivers its payload slightly differently than SpaceX and Rocket Lab. Virgin Orbit can uniquely offer its customers the flexibility of launch site because its liquid-fueled rocket is dropped mid-air from under the wing of a massive Boeing 747 before propelling itself to space.

In the Spring of 2020 Virgin Orbit conducted its first Launch Demo mission off of the coast of southern California. Prior to the rocket’s first stage ignition, the company achieved the majority of its intended test flight targets. Just after LauncherOne’s first stage ignition the rocket prematurely shut down resulting in the complete loss of the rocket and its payload as it fell to the ocean.

LauncherOne arrives on the runway at Long Beach Airport for a fit check with Cosmic Girl in October 2018. Credit: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.

After months of investigation, Virgin Orbit attributed the prematurely terminated flight to a component failure that led to a breach of a high-pressure line starving the engine of Liquid Oxygen resulting in the immediate loss of propulsion. The issue was remedied quickly and Virgin Orbit aimed to fly and launch again in December 2020 for its Launch Demo 2 mission attempting to successfully achieve orbit by the close of the year. In mid-December, the launch date of Launch Demo 2 was postponed until January 2021 due to impacts to operation and scheduling caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Virgin Orbit’s 747, Cosmic Girl, piloted by Kelly Latimer took to the skies on Sunday, January 17 with a fully fueled LauncherOne rocket loaded with a payload of nine CubeSat missions made up of ten spacecraft for NASA’s Educational Launch of NanoSatellites (ELaNa XX) series contracted under NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program.

Cosmic Girl releases LauncherOne mid-air for the first time during a July 2019 drop test. Credit: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.

The Launch Demo 2 mission went off without a hitch. Just as with the first Launch Demo, all pre-launch activities proceeded nominally with Cosmic Girl reaching an altitude of 30,000 feet prior to the release of LauncherOne over the Pacific Ocean. Once released into free flight, the rocket’s first stage engine ignited and carried it through the atmosphere until separation and second stage engine ignition beyond the Kármán line – the recognized point at which “space” is defined beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Eventually, all nine payloads were successfully deployed into orbit completing the first-ever successful mission of an orbital class, liquid-fueled, air-launched rocket to reach space.

Another One Leaves The Crust

SpaceX has set the pace for space in 2021 successfully achieving two orbital-class launches within the first twenty days of the year with a third mission scheduled to depart Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Base in Florida on Friday, January 22. Likewise, Rocket Lab looks to aggressively exceed its previous launch record of seven missions in one calendar year. The only way to demolish a previous record is to launch frequently from multiple spaceports. SpaceX currently has three active launchpads, two in Florida and one in California. Within 2021, Rocket Lab will also have three operational launchpads, two in New Zealand and one in Virginia.

On Wednesday, January 20, 2021 – its third anniversary of first making it to orbit – Rocket Lab successfully launched its first Electron mission of 2021 nicknamed “Another One Leaves The Crust.” After standing down from a previous launch attempt on January 16 due to an erroneous sensor, the eighteenth overall mission of the Electron rocket successfully launched and deployed a single communications microsatellite for the European space technology company, OHB Group. The mission took place from Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand at 07:26 UTC. This mission brings the total satellites deployed by Rocket Lab to 97.

In a statement provided by Rocket Lab, founder and CEO, Peter Beck, states that “We’re proud to be delivering a speedy and streamlined path to orbit for OHB Group on this mission, with launch taking place within six months of contract signing. By flying as a dedicated mission on Electron, OHB and their mission partners have control over launch timing, orbit, integration schedule, and other mission parameters.”

2021 – The year of the small satellite launcher

Expect SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and Virgin Orbit to be joined by other small launchers looking to break into the market sooner rather than later. Another NASA Venture Class Launch Services provider, Astra – a California-based small satellite launcher that launches from Kodiak, Alaska – narrowly missed beating out Virgin Orbit for the third-place slot in the competition to deliver small satellites to orbit.

On December 15, 2020, Astra launched its small orbital-class vehicle, Rocket 3.2, for the second time from Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska. The vehicle soared past the Kármán line with the upper stage reaching its targeted altitude of 380 kilometers at 7.2 km/sec but falling just shy of achieving orbital velocity at 7.68 km/sec.

Astra is not the only small private spaceflight company looking to join the ranks of SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and now Virgin Orbit. Texas-based Firefly Aerospace is also expected to join the elite group of privately funded spacefaring companies this year.

In October 2020, Firefly successfully completed acceptance testing of the first stage of its small class Alpha rocket. The stage completed a 35-second static fire demonstrating a full range of thrust vector control maneuvers. The first stage of the Alpha rocket has since been shipped to Firefly’s launch complex at Space Launch Complex 2 West (SLC-2W) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. In Novemeber 2020 Firelfy began the integration process of the payloads for the maiden Alpha launch.

In December 2020, Astra and Firefly were awarded Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 firm fixed-priced contracts by NASA’s Launch Services Program along with a third small class launcher, California based Relativity Space. Astra received $3.9 million in funding while Firefly was awarded $9.8 million and Relativity received $3 million to place CubeSats in Low Earth Orbit.

SmallSats and CubeSats are quickly becoming the preferred method of operating in orbit because it is technology and opportunity that is attainable for many smaller companies and other parties interested in reaching space such as universities. As SmallSats continue to rise in popularity so too will the demand to launch them. 2021 is already shaping up to become the year that produces the highest amount of private commercialized spaceflight, ever.

Check out Teslarati’s newsletters for prompt updates, on-the-ground perspectives, and unique glimpses of SpaceX’s rocket launch and recovery processes.

The post Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit lead a new class of small rockets with big ambitions for 2021 appeared first on TESLARATI.

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Large launch companies cast doubt on viability of small launch vehicle market

Rocket Lab Flight 14 launch

WASHINGTON — Executives of major launch companies said they doubted there was sufficient demand for more than a few small launch vehicle developers, citing their own efforts to provide rideshare launch services for smallsats.

During a panel discussion at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week Virtual Edition conference Nov. 9, Tory Bruno, chief executive and president of United Launch Alliance, said a year ago he was tracking more than 120 ventures in the small launch vehicle or “microlauncher” market. There is now a “significantly smaller” number of such companies, he said, because of fundraising challenges linked to the pandemic.

“I don’t expect that market to recover because that market would have been grossly — like order of magnitude — oversupplied had all of those startups succeeded,” he said. “There’s really only room, in our judgment, for maybe two or three of these.”

How many companies are actively pursuing small launch vehicles can be difficult to determine, and even companies that go out of business can come back, as was the case with Vector, which recently resumed operations under new ownership after filing for bankruptcy last year. However, other panelists agreed that there is demand for only a few small launch vehicle companies, at most.

“The market needs to evolve,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX. “It’s a tough business.” Shotwell has previously noted that SpaceX’s original small launch vehicle, Falcon 1, was retired because of a lack of demand.

“I don’t think there’s room for dozens of these,” she said, concluding that there is only demand currently for two or three companies.

At least one small launch vehicle company, Rocket Lab, does appear to be successful, having performed 15 launches of its Electron rocket to date with its next scheduled for later this month. But Stéphane Israël, chairman and chief executive of Arianespace, argued that the company relied heavily on business from U.S. government agencies.

“The U.S., in its strategy for autonomous access to space, also wants to have quick and responsive access to space, and are ready to pay much more,” he said. “If Electron was only relying on the commercial market, I think they would have a problem with their business case.”

“For these microlaunchers, it’s more of addressing a government need for immediate access to space,” said Tiphaine Louradour, president of the International Launch Services, which markets the Russian Angara, Proton and Soyuz rockets.

Panelists, all representing companies that offer large launch vehicles, argued their vehicles were more cost effective, both for deployment of constellations of smallsats as well as launching smallsats as secondary rideshare payloads.

“We’re responding to customer demand with New Glenn, and what we see is customers asking to take advantage of our seven-meter fairing and heavy-lift capability so we can launch 30, 40, 50, 60 satellites per mission to get them into orbit quickly,” said Clay Mowry, vice president at Blue Origin.

Those companies expect to see smallsat rideshare missions, either managed by themselves or through third-party brokers, to continue to be part of their overall launch business. “It’s here to stay,” Bruno said, noting it factored into the design of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket. “Will there be only single launches or will there be a rideshare market? Our answer was yes, so we designed the rocket to be flexible enough to handle all of that.”

“We are now having discussions with matchmakers, matching the small satellites into one big payload,” said Ko Ogasawara, vice president and senior chief engineer at the Space Systems Division of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which markets the H-2 and upcoming H3 rockets. The company is working on smallsat and cubesat dispensers for such missions on the H3.

SpaceX has been perhaps the most aggressive in courting rideshare missions, with both dedicated rideshare launches and flying payloads on its Starlink launches, something Shotwell said will continue. “We’re a launch business. We want to make sure that everybody who wants to get to space gets to space, and we’re happy to accommodate almost any way of doing so,” she said.


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SpaceX, Rocket Lab, ULA all have rocket launches planned this weekend

The final weekend of August 2020 is shaping up to be an exciting one in the world of rocket launching. United Launch Alliance (ULA) looks to kick off weekend activities early on Saturday morning with the launch of its Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a classified satellite payload for the National Reconnaissance Office at 2:04 am EDT (0604 UTC) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 37. Following a successful ULA launch, the weekend’s activity will kick into high gear. Even SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk, agrees that this weekend could be “intense” as stated in a post to his Twitter account Friday, August 28.

According to weather Launch Mission Execution Forecasts provided by the 45th Weather Squadron and confirmed via the company’s Twitter account, SpaceX aims to get two Falcon 9’s launched from the Florida coast just nine hours apart. The company also has a possible flight test of its Starship prototype vehicle on the books from Boca Chica, Texas this weekend. Rocket Lab looks to join in the launching activity with the return to flight mission of its Electron rocket following the wrap-up of its recent in-flight anomaly investigation.

The weather forecasts provided by the 45th Weather Squadron for SpaceX’s Sunday double Falcon 9 header looks iffy. (45th Weather Squadron)

SpaceX can only launch this weekend if ULA does too

As SpaceX and ULA both launch from what is referred to as the eastern range – the location of all launches originating from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station or Kennedy Space Center – only one launch provider can be supported at a time by the 45th Space Wing and 45th Weather Squadron which oversee eastern range operations.

As a part of the reservation process ahead of securing a launch date with the eastern range, each launch provider chooses a targeted launch date and secures a number of back-up launch opportunities should a delay occur.

In the case of ULA’s NROL-44 mission, a primary launch opportunity and two back-up opportunities – 24 hours and 48 hours after the initial launch attempt – have been identified. This means that should the Delta IV Heavy suffer another critical issue resulting in a delay during its Saturday, August 29 primary launch attempt, both of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch opportunities will be delayed as well.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket waits inside the protective Mobile Serive Tower ahead of a launch attempt. (Richard Angle)

ULA’s NROL-44 Delta IV Heavy carries a classified satellite payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, a national security division of the United States government. As such, the NROL-44 mission is a matter of national security and takes precedence over both SpaceX’s internal Starlink mission and SAOCOM-1B payload for customer Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales, Argentina’s national space agency.

If the ULA NROL-44 mission is delayed through both back-up launch opportunities SpaceX, presumably, would have to wait until no earlier than Tuesday, September 1 to launch a Falcon 9.

Rocket Lab “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical”

While SpaceX will have to wait for ULA’s Delta IV Heavy to clear its pad before attempting either of the planned Falcon 9 launches, Rocket Lab will attempt the return to flight mission of its Electron rocket – the fourteenth flight overall – regardless (weather permitting).

The launch attempt initially scheduled for 11:04pm ET (0304 UTC) Friday, August 28 was rescheduled due to high winds and heavy cloud cover over Launch Complex-1A in Mahia, New Zealand. The next available launch attempt at 11:05 pm ET Sunday, August 30 (0305 UTC Monday, August 31) lines up for Electron to take off just four hours after SpaceX’s SAOCOM-1B mission.

Following an in-flight anomaly during Electron’s thirteenth mission in July, Rocket Lab was forced to stand down from active launching status to complete a full investigation into the incident. In about a month’s time, Rocket Lab was able to track down and remedy an overheating issue with a single electrical connection on Electron’s second stage.

After receiving clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to resume operational launches, Rocket Lab has announced that Electron’s fourteenth flight -nicknamed “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical” – will be a dedicated mission for Capella Space, a California-based company that utilizes Earth observation data to provide information services.

According to a statement provided by Rocket Lab, the satellite payload called “Sequoia” is “a single 100 kg class microsatellite which will be the first publicly available satellite in the company’s commercial Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) constellation.”

The fairing of Rocket Lab’s Electron features mission-specific artwork for the upcoming fourteenth flight – a dedicated payload for Capella Space. (Rocket Lab)

A big goal of Rocket Lab’s is to join competitor SpaceX in a class of launchers that regularly recovers and reuses orbital-class boosters. Rocket Lab intends to catch an Electron first-stage booster in-flight once it has been dispensed by catching the falling booster’s parachute canopy with a grappling hook secured to a helicopter.

However, the company has stated that a full-scale demonstration of this effort is targeted for no earlier than the seventeenth mission of Electron currently slated to occur in Fall 2020.

If all proceeds as planned, this weekend could end up as a launchfest of rockets and spaceship prototypes. At the time of publishing, all is proceeding as expected for ULA’s Delta IV Heavy launch attempt and the weather looks good on Saturday, August 29.

ULA has confirmed that the previous issues that caused a launch attempt delay have all been cleared and weather outlook remains at an 80% chance of favorable launching conditions.

The launch attempt will be streamed live and is expected to begin at 1:43 am EDT (0543 UTC) on the company’s website or viewed below.

The post SpaceX, Rocket Lab, ULA all have rocket launches planned this weekend appeared first on TESLARATI.

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Commercial launch industry off to slow start in 2020

Falcon 9 Starlink launch April 2020

WASHINGTON — The first half of 2020 has been sluggish for the commercial launch industry, but its problems can’t be explained solely by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to statistics compiled by SpaceNews, there were 45 orbital launch attempts in first six months of 2020, including four failed launches. That would put the overall launch industry on a pace for 90 launches in the year, somewhat less than the 102 launches attempted in 2019.

Of those 45 launches, just over half — 23 — were carried out or otherwise brokered by Western launch companies. That includes Arianespace, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), Northrop Grumman, Rocket Lab, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and Virgin Orbit. The rest were performed by Chinese organizations, the Russian government and Iran.

Most of those 23 launches, though, were not for commercial customers. Arianespace performed two Ariane 5 launches early in the year that carried either commercial communications satellites or government satellites whose launches were commercially competed. It also brokered two Soyuz launches of OneWeb satellites before OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March.

Other launch companies have relied on government or internal customers. MHI’s two H-2 launches have been for the Japanese government, one carrying a reconnaissance satellite and the other an HTV cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. Northrop Grumman’s sole Antares launch was also an ISS cargo mission. ULA has performed three Atlas 5 launches, two carrying payloads for the U.S. military and the other the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft.

On the small launch vehicle market, Rocket Lab has carried out two Electron launches to date, with the National Reconnaissance Office the primary customer in both cases. Virgin Orbit’s first LauncherOne launch May 25, which failed to reach orbit, carried a demonstration payload only.

Among Western launch companies, SpaceX has been the most active, with 10 Falcon 9 launches so far. However, seven of those launches have been for the company’s own Starlink satellites, and did not generate any launch revenue beyond a small amount from carrying three SkySat secondary payloads for Planet on the most recent Starlink mission June 13. The other three launches were for U.S. government customers: an ISS cargo spacecraft, the Demo-2 commercial crew mission and the June 30 launch of a GPS 3 satellite for the U.S. Space Force.

The lack of commercial launches can be blamed in part on the pandemic. Some companies, like Arianespace and Rocket Lab, temporarily suspended launch operations because of government restrictions. A SpaceX launch of Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B satellite, which was commercially procured, was postponed this spring because of international travel restrictions.

The pandemic alone, though, is not responsible for the dearth of launches. “I think it would have been a rough year, no matter what,” said Janice Starzyk, vice president of commercial space at Bryce Space and Technology, in a July 1 interview.

That assessment is based on the sharp drop in orders for commercial geostationary orbit communications satellites in recent years. That decline in orders is showing up now as a lack of launches. “2020 was going to be a fairly slow year,” she said. “There just weren’t that many satellites ordered to launch this year.”

Starzyk said she did not expect an uptick in commercial launch activity in the rest of the year given that lack of orders. Another factor is OneWeb’s bankruptcy, which has halted what was to be a steady cadence of launches this year.

There are some signs of renewed commercial launch activity. Rocket Lab’s next Electron launch, scheduled for July 5, will carry a set of commercial satellites for Canon, Planet and In-Space Missions. Arianespace will resume Ariane 5 launches in late July with satellites for Intelsat and B-SAT, while a long-delayed Vega launch carrying dozens of smallsats is now scheduled for mid-August. SpaceX is expected to launch Anasis 2, a South Korean military satellite whose launch was commercially procured, in July as well.

Looking beyond 2020, there’s been an increase in commercial GEO satellite orders, including 10 C-band satellites ordered in recent weeks by Intelsat and SES as part of the FCC effort to clear satellite C-band spectrum for use by terrestrial 5G systems. While no launch contracts have been announced yet for those satellites, Starzyk said it’s likely Intelsat and SES have already arranged launches for them to ensure that the companies can meet the FCC’s deadlines for clearing that spectrum.

“It’s going to be a decent year” for the launch industry overall, she said. “It’s not going to be a great year, but it’s not going to be a horrible year.”