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Rocket Report: SpaceX sues the federal government, Chinese launch error

  The Electron launch cart is ready to hover.
Enlarge / The Electron launch cart is ready to hover.

Welcome to edition 2.01 of Rocket Report! This week marks a year since the first report. What started out as an experiment has grown into something that people read. So thank you for attending. And if you appreciate this weekly report and the effort that goes into it, I encourage you to subscribe to Ars Technica. It doesn't cost much and there are perks. But most of you know that you support independent journalism like this. Thank you for considering it.

As always, we welcome reader posts, and if you do not want to miss a problem, 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-lift rockets, and a quick glance at the next three launches on the calendar.

Virgin performs hot-fire test . On Tuesday, Virgin Orbit announced it had completed the final stage of "Final full-duration, full-scale, full-thrust hell, full" -test-firing "of its LauncherOne rocket. The launch lasted more than 180 seconds and was quite successful, the company reported. Virgin said the rocket, which will be launched during the plane's wing, was within an "arm reach" of its first bypass test.

Time to fly .. With the full-duration hotfire test completed, Virgin officials said they have now tested every aspect of LauncherOne rocket, from hardware through software, to terrestrial stands, all that remains between now and the orbital test flight is the final collection of The first rocket and a few further test flights of Virgin's modified 747, Cosmic Girl, we hope for a launch some time this summer.

College rocket reaches space, probably . hold students from the University of Southern California's "Traveler IV" rocket from Spaceport America. The vehicle reached a maximum speed of Mach 5.1 and the students estimated their altitude above the Karman line of 100 km. But they are not 100 percent safe.

Better data is needed … The rocket has a diameter of only 20cm, so the height of the rocket should be estimated according to the fact of an after-plane analysis based on data collected by Traveler's avionics. The goal was to reconstruct the vehicle's flight path and determine its apogee. Based on Monte Carlo flight simulations, the pupil team estimates the rocket to exceed 100 km with 90 percent confidence. "The quality of the recovered dataset requires improvement before the next flight," the students recognized in their analysis. Regardless of the actual height, this was an impressive achievement by USC students. (submitted by Ars Lurker and Ken the Bin)

An Alabama boot rocket looks familiar . A company called Earth to Sky says it will offer "first class service" to the low ground with its "Slim Eagle" rocket. Booster has a capacity of 1.2 tons for low ground and a cost of $ 14 million, according to Earth to Sky's website.

Is it a Falcon Heavy Lite? … What struck us about the vehicle is that it looks much like the (much larger) Falcon Heavy Booster built by SpaceX. The fuel appears to be similar, as the slim eagle uses a pressure-lined liquid oxygen / petroleum propulsion system. Unfortunately, we are not sure that we will ever see the sleek Eagle fly despite the sleek website design.

Long March 4C launch error . On Thursday more than 14 hours after the liftoff, Chinese state media confirmed a launch error in China's medium-sized Long March 4C rocket. The cargo load was Yaogan-33, probably a military reconnaissance satellite, and failed to reach the track for a problem with the rocket's third stage. The launch took place from China's Taiyuan-based facility.

Had been busy year … This is the second error in the Long March 4C booster, which has a capacity of 4.2 tons for low ground in the last seven missions. (All in all, the rocket now has a record of 24 out of 26 successful flights). It is unclear what effect a bug would have on Chinese launch plans for this year, as sources in the country have reported it planned 10 launches of the radar's long March 4, and it was only the second attempt. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Engineering Inspection Reports for Falcon Rockets . New York Prosecutors say a Rochester engineer falsified payload component inspection reports purchased by SpaceX for their Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Prosecutors say the suspect, James Smalley, served as PMI Industries Quality Assurance Engineer, according to Rochester First.

Conclusions of the relationship … After a review in February 2018, officials found that Smalley sacked at least 38 source inspection reports. In legal documents, prosecutors say that Smalley admitted to copying signatures from other inspectors for reports. Asked why he did it, Smalley said he wanted to "send more product to the company." SpaceX has terminated its relationship with PMI. (submitted by GE, Ken the Bin and JohnCarter17).

The United States launches companies do not worry about China . While more than a dozen launch startups have emerged in China, all US business executives said they were not worried about potential competition from them, SpaceNews reports. Some in the industry believe that if any of these companies were to succeed, they could offer launches at significantly lower prices than US or other Western vehicles.

We will not be under investigation … Relativity CEO Tim Ellis said, however, that his company's Terran 1 rocket will not be undercut by Chinese cars on price. The company offers launches of Terran 1, which can place up to 1,250 kg in low ground, for $ 10 million each. "When we look at price competition," Ellis said, "we can be competitive with Chinese launchers." In the coming years there will be a fierce competition for commercial launch of small satellites, but it will probably only be one-third to half of the overall market. The government launches will be another large segment of small launch, and that is why large governments like China and the United States will have at least one or two cheap, native smallsat launch companies to survive. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

There is a new impetus to the marketing of the proton racket . Obsessed with the latest mistakes and the rise of cheap competitors, the US based International Launch Services has proclaimed a new relationship with the Russian space agency and Glavkosmos as a means of reducing proton rocket prices. ILS is responsible for the commercial sale of the proton racket, and the new management system gives ILS a more pleasant relationship with Roscosmos, Spaceflight Now reports.

A "difficult" market … "We believe this now helps us create a new set of products, sets of processes that allow us to compete more effectively, "said Kirk Pysher, president of the ILS, during a press release at the Washington DC satellite conference. "It's a difficult market, but the reality is that Proton won't go away. It will still be there, so let's see if we can make some money on it on a commercial basis." Good luck with that.

SpaceX sue government over Air Force awards . A week ago, SpaceX filed a lawsuit, but Geek Wire first reported the protest of an Air Force rocket development agreement awarded last October to United Launch Alliance, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin. SpaceX was excluded from the contract award, presumably because it asked for funding for its Starship project, which the military was not interested in funding. The full complaint was released Wednesday and it provides interesting reading. Essentially, the draft represents a fiercely condemned condemnation of Air Force's launch supplier selection criteria and is particularly critical of what SpaceX claims is an institutional bias against long-time launch provider ULA.

Others participate in … Blue Origin and a United Launch Alliance subsidiary also filed proposals in the US courts where they wanted to participate in the trial because a decision that goes into SpaceX's way could cause them financial losses. SpaceX has been successful with these types of lawsuits in the past, but not always. The new trial comes as the Air Force weighs which two providers it will choose for national defense launches from 2022 to 2026. (submitted by NezumiRho, Ken the Bin and JohnCarter17)

NASA's full Artemis Moon landing plane revealed . It's ambitious. This decade-long plan, involving 37 launches of private and NASA rockets as well as a mix of robotic and human runways, culminates in a "Lunar Surface Asset Deployment" in 2028, probably the start of a long-term surface post crew.

Big obstacles remain … One thing is missing is its cost. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has requested an additional $ 1.6 billion in fiscal year 2020 as a down payment for jump-start land development. But all the missions in this chart would cost a lot, much more. Sources continue to tell Ars that the internal estimated price is $ 6 billion to $ 8 billion a year in addition to NASA's existing $ 20 billion budget.

Vulcan Centaur completes the final design overview . The United Launch Alliance said it has completed an important milestone with the conclusion of the critical design review for its new Vulcan Centaur rocket. System level CDR is the final review of the design of the overall rocket.

Still eyeing 2021 … "This is a great achievement for the ULA team and an important milestone in the development of a rocket that signals the completion of the design phase and the start of formal qualification. "says Tory Bruno, ULA's CEO. The company says the new rocket will make its first flight in "less than two years." (submitted by Unrulycow and Ken the Bin)

The Apollo 50th anniversary starts soon . We have been flooded with messages about books, movies, podcasts and events to celebrate the coming 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon Landing. It is certainly an historic event that deserves to celebrate, but it is a little overwhelming. That being said, we will share some of our favorite things in connection with the anniversary.

Collins, Bezos and Kennedy … One of the coolest events should be July 19 at. the Boston-based John F. Kennedy Library, where former Ambassador Caroline Kennedy will host the Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos and Apollo 11 Lunar Command Module pilot Michael Collins. Kennedy's father, of course, put NASA on a course for the moon; Collins flew the spacecraft there in 1969, and Bezos can self-finance critical aspects of a human return.

Next three launches

May 24 : Falcon 9 | Starlink mission | Cape Canaveral, Fla. | 02:30 UTC

May 27 : Soyuz 2.1b | Glonass-M satellite | Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia 06:00 UTC

May 30 : Proton-M | Yamal 601 Telecom Satellite | Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan | 17:42 UTC

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