Another Rocket Setback, This Time in Alaska

Credit: ABL Space Systems

Virgin orbit is not the only rocket company having a bad week. CNN reports that on Tuesday U.S. rocket company ABL Space Systems ran problems off the Alaska coast when its RS1 rocket shut down prematurely during its maiden launch. The rocket and the two satellites it was carrying were lost.

It was a bad week, but the space industry is growing and persistence will pay off. It is also important to have deep pockets to cover early failures. SpaceX and Blue Origin benefited from billionaire backers, and ABL is lucky to have Lockheed Martin in its corner. With an initial order of 58 rocket launches, Lockheed Martin has every reason to encourage continued progress.

Update: As of earlier today, ABL Space Systems has not issued a press release on the Alaska incident, but in a Tweet the company stated:

As expected in this scenario, there is damage to the launch facility. All personnel are safe, and fires have subsided. We’ll plan our return to flight after investigations are complete. Thanks to our stakeholders and the space community for the expressions of support.

The Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska, earlier called the Kodiak Launch Complex, is a dual-use (commercial/government) facility owned and operated by the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, which is a public corporation of the State of Alaska. Opened in 1998, the spaceport complex is located on Kodiak Island in Alaska.

Space Stories: Bezos on the Moon, Strange Oort Objects, and Europe Visits Venus

Image (Credit): Artist’s rending of the Blue Origin lunar cargo lander. (Blue Origin)

Here are some recent stories of interest.

Reuters: “Bezos’ Space Company Teams with Lockheed, Boeing for NASA Moon Lander Pitch

Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin is partnering with Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp to pitch a lunar lander to NASA as the agency seeks to send humans to the moon again, the companies announced on Tuesday. The joint moon lander proposal, led by Blue Origin, marks the companies’ second attempt to win a coveted moon lander contract as NASA seeks more options for getting astronauts to the lunar surface under its multibillion dollar Artemis program.

Western University: “‘Unexpected’ Space Traveller Defies Theories About Origin of Solar System

Researchers from Western have shown that a fireball that originated at the edge of the Solar System was likely made of rock, not ice, challenging long-held beliefs about how the Solar System was formed. Just at the edge of our Solar System and halfway to the nearest stars is a collection of icy objects sailing through space, known as the Oort Cloud. Passing stars sometimes nudge these icy travellers towards the Sun, and we see them as comets with long tails. Scientists have yet to observe any objects in the Oort Cloud directly, but everything detected so far coming from its direction has been made of ice. Theoretically, the very basis of understanding our Solar System’s beginnings is built upon the foundation that only icy objects exist in these outer reaches and certainly, nothing made of rock.

Universe Today: “ESA’s Upcoming Mission Will Tell us if Venus is Still Volcanically Active

The EnVision mission is ESA’s fifth medium-class mission to Venus. It’s being planned in a partnership between NASA and ESA, and NASA will be providing the synthetic aperture radar instrument, which will map the surface (much as Magellan did). In addition to the two radars, the orbiter will carry spectrometers to study the atmosphere and surface. They will monitor trace gases in the atmosphere and analyze surface composition. The idea is to look for surface changes that might be linked to signs of active volcanism. Along with the VERITAS and DAVINCI missions, EnVision should reveal all we need to know about volcanic activity on Venus.

Space Quote: Captain Kirk, The Singer

Image (Credit): The Knight performs on season eight of The Masked Singer. (Fox)

The Masked Singer is the most extraordinary experience I’ve ever had. Well, I mean, the wardrobe was impossible. You can’t see, you can’t breathe, you can’t hear, you can’t think. There was no oxygen in there. I had a panic thinking, “Wait a minute, I can’t breathe. And I’m supposed to sing.” You know how you sing? You take a breath and air comes out. That’s how you sing, and I couldn’t get a breath. It was incredible.”

-William Shatner’s response to a question from Entertainment Weekly Entertainment, “Speaking of your busy schedule, in the last year, you went to space and appeared on The Masked Singer. Be honest, which experience was wilder for you?” Jeff Bezos may not be too happy to hear this after he flew Mr. Shatner to the edge of space last year on one of his Blue Origin rockets. Maybe he should have added a Karaoke machine to the flight.

Blue Origin Booster Mishap

Image (Credit): Blue Origin’s NS-23 capsule returning to Earth after the mishap. (Blue Origin)

Delays and accidents are clear risks in the space industry, as we learned with the Artemis mission and now Blue Origin’s latest rocket launch. On Monday, a crewless New Shepard rocket launch (NS-23) went wrong, with the booster failing shortly after takeoff. Fortunately, the emergency system worked fine, indicating a crew would have returned safely in the capsule. In this case, the capsule was carrying a variety of experiments.

This same mission was scrubbed back on August 31st and September 1st due to weather issues. With this latest incident, future missions are on hold until the booster problem can be investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration. This was the first failure in the 23 New Shepard rocket missions launched to date.

Image (Credit): Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket system. (Blue Origin)

China Needs Reusable Rockets

Image (Credit): The July 24th launch of a Long March 5B rocket transporting China’s second module for its Tiangong space station. (CNS/AFP/Getty Images)

A few days ago debris from China’s Long March 5B rocket landed in the waters off the Philippine island of Palawan. The 1.8 million pounds of rocket brought a module to the Chinese space station. Such problems with Chinese rocket debris is a clear example that China needs to follow both SpaceX and Blue Origin and start using resusable rockets in the future.

NASA’s Administrator was not happy, tweeting:

The People’s Republic of China did not share specific trajectory information as their Long March 5B rocket fell back to Earth.

All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices, and do their part to share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk, especially for heavy-lift vehicles, like the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property.

Doing so is critical to the responsible use of space and to ensure the safety of people here on Earth.

China has plans to develop reusable rockets for future heavy-lift missions to its space station and the Moon. This would certainly reduce the risk to parties below and hopefully add some efficiencies to the launch process.

Of course, China is not alone when it comes to falling space debris. SpaceX appears to be responsible for debris that landed in Australia last month (see below). While confirmation is still needed, the material appears to be from a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

Image (Credit): One of the panels of the debris found in Australia. (The Guardian/Brad Tucker)