Rocket Report: Astroscale chases a dead rocket; Ariane 6 on the podium

Zoom in / This image taken by Astroscale's ADRAS-J satellite shows the discarded upper stage of a Japanese H-IIA rocket.

Welcome to Rocket Report version 6.42! Several major missions are scheduled to be launched in the next few months. These include the first crew flight on Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, which is scheduled to lift off on May 6, and the next test flight of SpaceX's Starship rocket, which could take place before the end of May. Perhaps in early summer, SpaceX could launch a Polaris Dawn mission with four private astronauts, who will perform the first fully commercial spacewalk in orbit. In June or July, the new European rocket Ariane 6 is scheduled to be launched for the first time. Rest assured, Ars has you covered.

As always, we are Reader submissions are welcomeIf you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small, medium and heavy missiles as well as a quick look at the next three launches on the calendar.

A German rocket arrives at a Scottish spaceport. Rocket Factory Augsburg has delivered a booster for its specially developed RFA One rocket to the SaxaVord Spaceport in Scotland. The company announced on X. The first stage of the RFA One rocket was installed on the launch pad at SaxaVord to undergo static fire test preparations. The booster arrived at the Scottish launch site equipped with five kerosene-fueled Helix engines. The remaining four Helix engines, for a total of nine, will be installed on SaxaVord's RFA One booster, the company said.

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Aiming to fly this year… RFA hopes to launch its first orbital rocket by the end of 2024. The UK Civil Aviation Authority last month granted a range license to the SaxaVord spaceport to allow the spaceport operator to control the sea and airspace during the launch. The RFA is primarily privately funded but has received financial support from the European Space Agency, the British Space Agency, and the German Space Agency, known as DLR. The RFA One rocket will have three stages, stand about 100 feet (30 meters) tall, and can carry approximately 2,900 pounds (1,300 kg) of payload to a sun-synchronous polar orbit.

Arianespace wins ESA launch contract. The European Space Agency has awarded Arianespace a contract to launch a joint European-Chinese space science satellite in late 2025. European Spaceflight Reports. The Solar Wind Magnetospheric Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) is a 4,850-pound (2,200 kg) spacecraft that will study Earth's magnetic environment on a global scale. The goal of the mission is to build a more complete understanding of the connection between the Sun and Earth. The European Space Agency on Tuesday officially signed a contract with Arianespace to launch SMILE aboard a Vega C rocket, built by Italian rocket manufacturer Avio.

But she may not maintain it …in late 2023, ESA member states agreed To allow Avio to market and manage the launch of Vega C flights independently of Arianespace. When the deal was initially struck, 17 flights were contracted through Arianespace for launch aboard Vega vehicles. While Arianespace still manages these missions, Avio is working with the launch provider to finalize a deal that would allow the Italian rocket builder to take over management of all Vega flights. The Vega C rocket has been grounded since a launch failure in 2022 forced Avio to redesign the solid-fuel rocket's second-stage engine nozzle. The Vega C is scheduled to return to flying before the end of 2024. (Submitted by Ken the Bin)

Update on the second launch of ABL. ABL Space Systems expected to launch its second RS1 light-class rocket earlier this year, but the company encountered an anomaly during ground testing at the launch site in Alaska. According to TechCrunch's Aria Al-Amalhadi. Kevin Sages, ABL's chief engineer, said there was “no significant delay” in the launch of the second RS1 rocket, but the company did not announce a specific timeline. “During the ground test designed to check the vehicle for flight, a problem arose that caused us to return to the hangar,” Sagis said, according to Alam Al-Hidai. “We have since resolved and eliminated the issue. There has been no loss of hardware and we have validated the vehicle back on the stand. We are continuing preparations for static firing and launch.”

Almost 16 months without a launch … The first test flight of the RS1 for ABL in January 2023 ended seconds after takeoff with the premature shutdown of its liquid-propellant engines. The missile collided again with its launch pad in Alaska. The investigation revealed that a fire had started in the back of the RS1 booster through the wiring harness, causing the rocket to lose power and shut down its engines. Engineers believe the rocket's mobile launch pad was too small, bringing the rocket too close to the ground when it ignited its engines. This caused hot engine exhaust to recirculate under the rocket and led to a fire in the engine compartment during takeoff.

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