Elon Musk’s Mars plans crash to Earth as high winds blow over part of his 120-foot-tall Starship …

It certainly wasn’t a rocket you’d want to go to space in, but Elon Musk’s Mars ‘Starship’ prototype has been revealed as far more fragile than thought …

It certainly wasn’t a rocket you’d want to go to space in, but Elon Musk’s Mars ‘Starship’ prototype has been revealed as far more fragile than thought – after high winds knocked part of it over.

The prototype, known as a ‘hopper’, was set to be used to test the propulsion systems in the rocket before a full scale prototype was built.

However, images from the Texas spaceport where it was being built have revealed strong winds knocked over the top half of the rocket, crushing it as it hit the ground.

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Whoops. Starship Hopper nosecone has been blown over in high winds.

📸NSF’s BocaChicaGal https://t.co/liIk970sm5pic.twitter.com/6rgGtZmAE2

— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) January 23, 2019

The crushed nosecone of the Starship ‘hopper’ prototype in a picture posted to Twitter

WHAT IS THE ‘HOPPER’ PROTOTYPE?

The prototype, known as a ‘hopper’, is set to be used to test the propulsion systems in the rocket before a full scale prototype was built.

It will be used for suborbital vertical takeoff and landing test flights, reaching around 16,400 feet, known as hops.

SpaceX used a similar hopper to develop its Falcon rockets.

The upper section of the rocket was already detached from the booster when it blew it over, it is believed.

However, Musk claims the damage is easy to repair – as the nosecone was simply a hollow structure welded together to give the test craft the appearance of a real rocket.

‘I just heard. 50 mph winds broke the mooring blocks late last night & fairing was blown over. Will take a few weeks to repair,’ Musk said in a tweet.

‘Actual tanks are fine,’ he later added.

One space enthusiast who saw the damage wrote on a YouTube video showing the damage: ‘Starship upper fairing was completely destroyed in an overnight windstorm at SpaceX South Texas launch site at Boca Chica.

‘Winds gusting in excess of 50mph toppled the nose cone, crushing it upon impact.

‘The lower portion including fuel tanks were undamaged.

‘The nose cone fairing contained no critical components and should be re-constructed quickly, little if any delay in launch tests are expected.’

Last month Elon Musk revealed images of the 120-foot tall Starship hopper test rocket prototype.

The maverick billionaire entrepreneur unveiled his retro-styled spacecraft which has drawn comparisons to sci-fi films of yesteryear.

'I just heard. 50 mph winds broke the mooring blocks late last night & fairing was blown over. Will take a few weeks to repair,' Musk said in a tweet.

'I just heard. 50 mph winds broke the mooring blocks late last night & fairing was blown over. Will take a few weeks to repair,' Musk said in a tweet.

‘I just heard. 50 mph winds broke the mooring blocks late last night & fairing was blown over. Will take a few weeks to repair,’ Musk said in a tweet.

Twitter users pointed out the similarities of Musk’s creation with the contraption Tintin used in the 1954 adventure ‘Explorers on the Moon’.

Others said the sleek design and prominent fins closely resemble spaceships depicted in 1950s/60s films, Wallace and Gromit and even Toy Story.

SpaceX founder Musk shared the first real images of the prototype from its Texas launch site and reassured his followers it is ‘not a rendering’.

The SpaceX prototype Starship hopper stands at the Boca Chica Beach site in Texas on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, seen from Texas Highway 4.

The SpaceX prototype Starship hopper stands at the Boca Chica Beach site in Texas on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, seen from Texas Highway 4.

The SpaceX prototype Starship hopper stands at the Boca Chica Beach site in Texas on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, seen from Texas Highway 4.

Twitter users pointed out the similarities of Musk's creation with the contraption Tintin used in the 1954 adventure 'Explorers on the Moon' (pictured)

Twitter users pointed out the similarities of Musk's creation with the contraption Tintin used in the 1954 adventure 'Explorers on the Moon' (pictured)

Twitter users pointed out the similarities of Musk’s creation with the contraption Tintin used in the 1954 adventure ‘Explorers on the Moon’ (pictured)

‘This is for suborbital VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) tests,’ Mr Musk explained.

‘Orbital version is taller, has thicker skins (won’t wrinkle) & a smoothly curving nose section.’

This particular model will be used to test short launches and landings.

The undamaged nosecone on Jan 2nd at the Boca Chica Beach site, near Brownsville, Texas

The undamaged nosecone on Jan 2nd at the Boca Chica Beach site, near Brownsville, Texas

The undamaged nosecone on Jan 2nd at the Boca Chica Beach site, near Brownsville, Texas

Earlier this month, the billionaire said SpaceX was aiming to carry out test flights within four weeks, but admitted it could be as long as eight weeks when unforeseen issues are factored in.

Responding to questions from space enthusiasts, Mr Musk said that the first orbital prototype should be ready by June.

The SpaceX founder also added that the real, finished version would ‘[obviously] have windows, etc.’

SpaceX first Starship hopper under Texas Boca Chica Beach’s cloudy sky.@elonmusk#Starship#SpaceXpic.twitter.com/hVg5Ken7Vp

— Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo (@JaneidyEve) January 10, 2019

Musk also later retweeted this video filmed by a passer by showing the prototype rocket

Elon Musk has revealed images of his fully-assembled 120-foot tall Starship hopper test rocket (pictured)

Elon Musk has revealed images of his fully-assembled 120-foot tall Starship hopper test rocket (pictured)

Elon Musk has revealed images of his fully-assembled 120-foot tall Starship hopper test rocket (pictured)

This work is taking place at both SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and the company’s test site in South Texas, near the border city of Brownsville, where the first flights will take place.

After its unveiling on social media the tech tycoon’s Starship drew immediate comparisons to fictional rockets.

One user, known as John Drury, pointed out the similarities to the Toy Story rocket which is hope to ‘the claw’ and, briefly, Buzz and Woody.

He tweeted: ‘Lol wow. Reminds me of the rocket ship in Toy Story’

One twitter user also said: ‘I love SpaceX and their people are amazing but it does look like a Wallace and Gromit rocket but I’m sure it will be immense’

After its unveiling on social media the tech tycoon's Starship drew immediate comparisons to fictional rockets. One twitter user said: 'I love SpaceX and their people are amazing but it does look like a Wallace and Gromit rocket but I'm sure it will be immense' (pictured)

After its unveiling on social media the tech tycoon's Starship drew immediate comparisons to fictional rockets. One twitter user said: 'I love SpaceX and their people are amazing but it does look like a Wallace and Gromit rocket but I'm sure it will be immense' (pictured)

After its unveiling on social media the tech tycoon’s Starship drew immediate comparisons to fictional rockets. One twitter user said: ‘I love SpaceX and their people are amazing but it does look like a Wallace and Gromit rocket but I’m sure it will be immense’ (pictured)

Atomic illustration of a man and woman riding a rocket in space from the 1940s bears a striking similarity to Musk's 2019 rocket which he says will reach space later this year

Atomic illustration of a man and woman riding a rocket in space from the 1940s bears a striking similarity to Musk's 2019 rocket which he says will reach space later this year

Atomic illustration of a man and woman riding a rocket in space from the 1940s bears a striking similarity to Musk’s 2019 rocket which he says will reach space later this year

Musk may have been inspired by the 1950 film 'Destination Moon', where a group of actors discuss a model space rocket (pictured). The films surprisingly accurate prediction of space travel won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects

Musk may have been inspired by the 1950 film 'Destination Moon', where a group of actors discuss a model space rocket (pictured). The films surprisingly accurate prediction of space travel won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects

Musk may have been inspired by the 1950 film ‘Destination Moon’, where a group of actors discuss a model space rocket (pictured). The films surprisingly accurate prediction of space travel won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects

The latest images provide a clearer view of the two components previewed by Musk at the end of last month, showing engineers in cherry-pickers at work on the nose cone and another large piece of the system.

A large American flag can be seen plastered on the side of one of the huge metal cylinders.

The progress comes as SpaceX ramps up work on the test hopper ahead of planned flights later this year

Musk says this spacecraft will perform suborbital flights and a taller version with 'thicker skins' will take passengers to Mars

Musk says this spacecraft will perform suborbital flights and a taller version with 'thicker skins' will take passengers to Mars

Musk says this spacecraft will perform suborbital flights and a taller version with ‘thicker skins’ will take passengers to Mars

The maverick billionaire entrepreneur continues to explore ways of one day sending people to places as far as Mars. he previously posted this mock-up image

The maverick billionaire entrepreneur continues to explore ways of one day sending people to places as far as Mars. he previously posted this mock-up image

The maverick billionaire entrepreneur continues to explore ways of one day sending people to places as far as Mars. he previously posted this mock-up image

SpaceX's prototype starship that is being called "test hopper" stands at the Boca Chica Beach site, near Brownsville, Texas on January 2

SpaceX's prototype starship that is being called "test hopper" stands at the Boca Chica Beach site, near Brownsville, Texas on January 2

SpaceX’s prototype starship that is being called ‘test hopper’ stands at the Boca Chica Beach site, near Brownsville, Texas on January 2

The svelte 120-foot-tall Starship design is similar to that of 1950s sci-fi favourite Destination Moon

The svelte 120-foot-tall Starship design is similar to that of 1950s sci-fi favourite Destination Moon

The svelte 120-foot-tall Starship design is similar to that of 1950s sci-fi favourite Destination Moon

Starship – previously known as BFR, Big Falcon Rocket, or the Big F***ing Rocket – is key to Musk’s plans to send humans to Mars.

Musk tweeted out the first photo at the end of December, captioning it simply, ‘Stainless Steel Starship.’

In a series of tweets that followed, however, the CEO elaborated on the plans for the test vehicle.

The first crewed Red Planet mission for the rocket and 100-passenger Starship could come as early as the mid-2020s if development and testing go well, Musk has said

WHAT IS ELON MUSK’S ‘BFR’?

The BFR (Big F***ing Rocket), now known as Starship, will complete all missions and is smaller than the ones Musk announced in 2016.

The SpaceX CEO said the rocket would take its first trip to the red planet in 2022, carrying only cargo, followed by a manned mission in 2024 and claimed other SpaceX’s products would be ‘cannibalised’ to pay for it.

The rocket would be partially reusable and capable of flight directly from Earth to Mars.

Once built, Musk believes the rocket could be used for travel on Earth – saying that passengers would be able to get anywhere in under an hour.

 This particular model will be used to test short launches and landings. Earlier this month, the billionaire said SpaceX was aiming to carry out test flights within four weeks

 This particular model will be used to test short launches and landings. Earlier this month, the billionaire said SpaceX was aiming to carry out test flights within four weeks

This particular model will be used to test short launches and landings. Earlier this month, the billionaire said SpaceX was aiming to carry out test flights within four weeks

Elon Musk revealed his 'hopper' spaceship that could one day take man to the moon earlier this week and claims it could eventually take people to Mars

Elon Musk revealed his 'hopper' spaceship that could one day take man to the moon earlier this week and claims it could eventually take people to Mars

Elon Musk revealed his ‘hopper’ spaceship that could one day take man to the moon earlier this week and claims it could eventually take people to Mars

Just last month, the SpaceX boss doubled down on his earlier claims that he would likely be among the interplanetary travellers who make the trip to Mars, despite there being a ‘good chance’ that he’ll die there.

Tickets on Elon Musk’s spaceship to Mars will cost around $200,000 per person.

SpaceX shared new details about the 387ft rocket in September, saying it hopes to begin unmanned launch tests of the spacecraft in late 2019.

In the future, Starship will be able to carry out lunar missions as well as long-distance flights to Mars and beyond.

The firm hopes to stage an uncrewed flight to Mars in 2022, then a manned flight in 2024.

In between those missions, SpaceX has planned for a private mission with a passenger on board in 2023.

‘We would like to put large cargo on the surface of the moon by 2022,’ SpaceX chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said recently.

‘And we have our eyes on the prize to send people to Mars in 2024.’

THE BILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE

Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin's space capsule

Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin's space capsule

Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin’s space capsule

Jeff Bezos’ space tourism project with Blue Origin is competing with a similar programme in development by Space X, the rocket firm founded and run by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Virgin Galactic, backed by Richard Branson.

Bezos revealed in April 2017 that he finances Blue Origin with around $1 billion (ÂŁ720 million) of Amazon stock each year.

The system consists of a pressurised crew capsule atop a reusable ‘New Shepard’ booster rocket.

The richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos is pursuing Blue Origin with vigour as he tries to launch his ‘New Glenn’ rocket into low-Earth orbit by 2020.

Whilst Bezos is yet to leave the atmosphere of Earth, despite several successful launches, Elon Musk’s SpaceX programme has already sent the Falcon Heavy rocket into space.

On February 6 2018, SpaceX sent the rocket towards the orbit of Mars, 140 million miles away.

On board was a red Tesla roadster that belonged to Musk himself.

Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule

Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule

Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule

SpaceX have won several multi-million dollar contracts from Nasa as the space agency hopes to use the rockets as a fast-track for its colonisation of the red planet.

Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic recently successfully conducted a test flight of the Virgin Galactic’s Unity spaceplane.

The flight accelerated to over 1,400 miles per hour (Mach 1.87).

Calling space ‘tantalisingly close’, Branson also said last year that suborbital space in test flights could be happening by this spring.

More than 700 affluent customers to date, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have reserved a $250,000 (ÂŁ200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space trips,

The billionaire mogul also said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket firm SpaceX.

Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft

Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft

Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft

SpaceShipTwo will carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows – one to the side and one overhead.

The space ship is 60ft long with a 90inch diameter cabin allowing maximum room for the astronauts to float in zero gravity.

A climb to 50,000ft before the rocket engine ignites. Passengers become ‘astronauts’ when they reach the Karman line, the boundary of Earth’s atmosphere, at which point SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier aircraft, White Knight II.

The spaceship will then make a sub-orbital journey with approximately six minutes of weightlessness, with the entire flight lasting approximately 3.5 hours.

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New Animation Shows Off Blue Origin’s Redesigned Heavy Load Rocket

Yes, that last part is similar to how SpaceX reuses its Falcon 9 boosters, down to the way legs (the Falcon 9 has four while the New Glenn will have …

Heavy Load

In a new animation, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ space agency Blue Origin showed off a new design for its heavy load “New Glenn” rocket. The animation shows the two stage rocket take off from a launch pad before separating a bullet-shaped payload fairing in space as the booster re-enters the atmosphere and lands on a ship.

Yes, that last part is similar to how SpaceX reuses its Falcon 9 boosters, down to the way legs (the Falcon 9 has four while the New Glenn will have six) splay out of the bottom of the booster to stabilize it during touchdown. While it’s not exactly a new idea — even for Blue Origin — a previous New Glenn animation from 2017 showed a slightly different leg design that folded out of the sides of the booster, rather than swinging out.

Glengarry Glen Ross

In terms of specs, Blue Origin is promising that the New Glenn will be capable of delivering about 50 metric tons to low Earth orbit, while SpaceX’s Heavy Falcon will eventually be capable of delivering just over 70 tons. The New Glenn will stand 83 feet taller than the Heavy Falcon at a massive 313 feet (95 m) tall.

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Completion of SpaceX’s Mammoth Starship/Super Heavy Rocket Set For 2020

SpaceX has indicated it still plans to fully replace its entire launch vehicle fleet with the new “Starship/Super Heavy” super heavy-lift launch vehicle …

SpaceX has indicated it still plans to fully replace its entire launch vehicle fleet with the new “Starship/Super Heavy” super heavy-lift launch vehicle capable of lofting more than 150 tons (136,000 kg) into low Earth orbit (LEO).

Starship/Super Heavy will replace all of the company’s existing launch vehicles and spacecraft: the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, and the Dragon capsule (manned and unmanned versions).

Super Heavy refers to the recoverable first stage booster while Starship is a reusable second stage with an integrated payload section.

A starship can operate as a long-duration spacecraft on flights both in and beyond Earth orbit (BEO). It will be built in three versions.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk recently tweeted an actual picture, and not rendering, of a prototype Starship built at the company’s facility in South Texas, signifying it was all systems go for his plans for Starship/Super Heavy.

“Starship test flight rocket just finished assembly at the @SpaceX Texas launch site,” tweeted Musk. He added that it (Starship) needed to be made real but clarified the Starship that SpaceX just built is a prototype for suborbital vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) tests.

The prototype will prove the world’s biggest-ever spaceship can both launch from and land back on Earth, just like the smaller Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. After the prototype’s VTOL tests are complete, SpaceX will proceed with building an “orbital version” of Starship/Super Heavy that will be taller with thicker skins and a smoothly curving nose section, according to Musk.

Starship/Super Heavy was once referred to by Musk as BFR (Big Falcon Rocket). The first flight for Starship/Super Heavy — the biggest and most powerful spacecraft on Earth — is still scheduled for 2020. Like Falcon 9, the first stage booster of Starship/Super Heavy will be capable of re-use after landing

Only a few days ago, SpaceX said it will develop and build Starship/Super Heavy at South Texas instead of at the Port of Los Angeles to save on time and money.

In October 2017, Musk said the goal of BFR (now Starship/Super Heavy) is to make the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy rockets and the crew/uncrewed Dragon spacecraft redundant. This move will allow SpaceX to shift all its resources and funding to Starship/Super Heavy.

Musk said Starship/Super Heavy will perform the same LEO and BEO missions as Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, but on a more economical scale as more satellites will be able to launch at the same time and on the same rocket due to the immense size of Starship/Super Heavy.

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Future SpaceX & Blue Origin rocket recoveries may use largest mobile crane in the US

While there’s a good chance that SpaceX will avoid changing their current Port Canaveral recovery operations and the complement of cranes they …

Florida’s Canaveral Port Authority took delivery of what is now the largest mobile crane on U.S. soil, originally purchased in order to support both extremely large cargo ships (known as New-Panamax-class) and the unique needs of orbital-class rocket recovery operations for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy and Blue Origin’s prospective New Glenn launch vehicle.

While there’s a good chance that SpaceX will avoid changing their current Port Canaveral recovery operations and the complement of cranes they already lease or own, Blue Origin will almost certainly take advantage of Port Canaveral’s vast new crane, capable of lifting more than 200 metric tons (~450,000 lbs) at heights greater than 50 meters (160 ft).

I know @AstroVicnet had some questions about the new mobile crane and how it will be used in Port Canaveral. Here is an explainer and how it connects to our Spaceport partners like @SpaceX and @blueorigin. #SpaceXFleethttps://t.co/UQqItZbdIr

— Julia (@julia_bergeron) January 19, 2019

To put the scale of the crane (and perhaps SpaceX and Blue Origin rockets) into perspective, Falcon 9’s booster – on its own – stands an incredibly 45m (~150 ft) tall or almost the same height as the LHM 600’s main boom (the gray cylinder/tower in the photos above), while Blue Origin’s New Glenn first stage – set to debut as early as 2021 – would tower an extraordinary 57.5m (~190 ft) tall, probably 60m if its small legs are deployed. While SpaceX’s BFR booster (now Super Heavy) is expected to attempt recoveries on the actual launch pad mount, it would stand around 63m (~210 ft) tall. New Glenn and Super Heavy are likely to weigh 50-150+ tons empty.

COLOSSAL CRANE ARRIVES: A 270-foot-tall mobile harbor crane billed as the largest in the United States sails into Port Canaveral aboard the cargo vessel Happy Dover on Friday morning. The 87-foot-long, 1.1-million-pound Liebherr LHM 600 is set to go into service later this year. pic.twitter.com/51DP8Hdb0w

— Port Canaveral (@PortCanaveral) January 18, 2019

The point is that for monolithic objects that are as tall as large rocket boosters, the logistics of actually moving them around can be surprisingly complex and challenging. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Heavy boosters happen to be short enough to be conveniently moved and manipulated by cranes that are quite large but still fairly common and easy enough to lease or purchase. SpaceX consistently uses similar tall, yellow cranes for the process of actually lifting Falcon 9 boosters – around 30t (~66,000 lbs) dry – off of their drone ships and onto land, while far smaller wheeled cranes can be used for the process of manipulating Falcon boosters once they are horizontal.

Given just how relatively light Falcon boosters are compared to their towering height, the cranes that can safely lift such tall and delicate objects tend to be designed to easily lift 5-10X as much weight at once. The next-generation rocket boosters (and even SpaceX’s Starship upper stage) will continue to push the height performance and begin to test the mass capabilities of modern cranes, particularly mobile varieties like the one that just arrived in Port Canaveral. One massive benefit of wheeled cranes like LHM 600 is how versatile and flexible they are, while tracked cranes like the largest ones SpaceX currently uses simply can’t move without risking the destruction of the ground beneath them, requiring that they use advanced mass-spreading technologies (i.e. giant beams of hardwood) wherever they crawl.

Another view of Port Canaveral’s shiny new LHM 600 crane shortly after arriving ashore. (Canaveral Port Authority)

Teslarati photographer Tom Cross managed to catch Port Canaveral’s new crane shortly after sunset, January 18th. (Tom Cross)

One of several large cranes used by SpaceX to vertically transport Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters is pictured here during third recovery of Falcon 9 B1046, December 2018. (Pauline Acalin)

Blue Origin’s New Glenn visualized shortly after landing aboard a recovery vessel. (Blue Origin)

Liebherr’s mobile harbor cranes offer a far more mobile solution in the form of traditional rubber tires and multiple large spreader plates that can be deployed and retracted when stationary. It will be genuinely interesting to see if SpaceX decides to replace its proven modes of vertical-lift recovery operations to gain the benefits of a crane that is new and an unknown quantity but could still simplify certain recovery operations. Perhaps even more importantly, the Canaveral Port Authority owns the new crane and apparently bought it with the specific intention of allowing companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin to use it – presumably for a reasonable fee – to assist during rocket recovery operations.


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

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Rocket Report: Iranian booster failure, SpaceX cuts, Vulcan near final design

Welcome to Edition 1.32 of the Rocket Report! As we get deeper into the new year, the launch business is starting to heat up, especially among the …
A Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Enlarge/ A Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Welcome to Edition 1.32 of the Rocket Report! As we get deeper into the new year, the launch business is starting to heat up, especially among the smaller rockets. Companies are eyeing launch sites, securing launch contracts, and scrambling on development of their rockets. This is simply going to be a huge year for small-sat launchers, and we’re going to do our best to stay on top of everything.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if 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-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Relativity Space to launch from historic Florida site. The company that aspires to 3D print almost the entirety of its rockets has reached an agreement with the US Air Force to launch from historic facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Relativity Space said Thursday it has a multiyear contract to build and operate its own rocket launch facilities at Launch Complex 16, Ars reported.

Up to a 25-year lease … Under terms of the competitively awarded agreement, the site will officially be a “multiuser” facility for five years. However, if Relativity meets certain milestones and begins regularly launching rockets, it will be able to convert the agreement into a 20-year, exclusive right to use the launch site. “This was definitely our top choice, I would say by quite a bit,” Relativity co-founder Tim Ellis said. “We looked at every launch site in the United States.”

Iranian small-satellite launch fails. The third stage of an Iranian Simorgh rocket failed Tuesday, preventing the booster from putting the 90kg Payam satellite into orbit. Prior to the launch, Iran said it intended to send two nonmilitary satellites, Payam and Doosti, into orbit. The Payam, which means “message” in Farsi, was an imagery satellite that Iranian officials said would help with farming and other activities, the AP reports.

US concerned about launch program … US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has alleged that Iran’s space program is serving as a precursor to the development of a missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon to the mainland United States. Regardless, it is not clear how this failure will affect the country’s plans to launch the Doosti satellite. The Simorgh rocket used in Tuesday’s launch attempt is believed to have a capacity of about 350kg to low-Earth orbit. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

China firm scores smallsat launch win. Via the China Great Wall Industry Corporation, China’s new Long March 6 rocket has won a major commercial launch contract, with an agreement for up to six flights over two years to deploy 90 small remote-sensing satellites for Argentina-based Satellogic. The contract comes amid increased competition in the smallsat launch market, Ars notes.

Launch availability cited … Emiliano Kargieman, the founder and chief executive of Satellogic, said the company looked at a range of launch providers, including Rocket Lab and other emerging companies. “With all of the small-launch companies coming online, we will definitely consider them for future plans,” Kargieman said. “But for the rollout we need to do in the next 24 months, this relationship gives us the best option for meeting that goal.” China-based Tencent has helped raised money for Satellogic.

Virgin eyes Guam launch site with interest. Although no final agreements have been signed, senior Virgin Orbit executives say they are looking closely at flying Cosmic Girl missions from Guam as a base for their LauncherOne rocket. “We have looked around,” Richard DalBello, vice president of business development and government affairs for Virgin Orbit, told The Guam Daily Post. “There are other alternatives,” but “we believe that Guam is the best alternative.”

A few weeks at a time … The Virgin officials told the paper they envision flying the Cosmic Girl aircraft into the US territory for a period of four to eight weeks, during which the company would fly a series of missions. The Cosmic Girl would then return to the continental United States. The company and the Guam airport authority have been in talks for nearly a year, and the A.B. Won Pat Guam International Airport Authority still needs to obtain a spaceport license from the FAA. (submitted by BH)

SpaceX cuts workforce to get “leaner.” SpaceX will lay off up to 10 percent of its work force, the company said Friday evening. The company characterized the job cuts as “a strategic realignment” designed to ensure it is positioned to succeed for the long term, Ars reported. Although some reports said up to 850 people were terminated from a workforce of about 6,000, SpaceX said that the cuts were capped at 10 percent.

From development to operations … “To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company,” a company official said. These cuts were not unexpected. SpaceX had grown rapidly, needing to engineer Falcon 9 various iterations, Dragon, Dragon 2, Falcon Heavy, Starlink, Starship, and more. Now it is done with development of a lot of those projects and no longer needs to build hundreds of Merlin engines or dozens of Falcon 9 cores a year. Same with Dragons. So SpaceX needs fewer people in production. When you hear about low-cost rockets and reuse, that means fewer people are needed.

Arianespace faces a challenging year. Amid increasing competition and a downturn in geostationary-satellite orders, Arianespace must find commercial customers for its new Ariane 6 rocket. “For Ariane 6, we aim at 14 launches [for the first model], so production has to start very soon for these, and this has to be ordered very rapidly,” Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, said this week. Seven of those launches are meant to be commercial, SpaceNews reports.

Here to stay … “I’m always optimistic, but it’s extremely challenging,” Neuenschwander said. “We are probably facing the biggest challenge for the European space transportation sector since the last failure of Ariane 5, in 2002.” Regardless of the financial challenges, however, ESA officials reiterated that Europe will remain in the business of launching its own rockets. Overall, Arianespace is targeting 12 launches this year. (submitted by Ken the Bin and Unrulycow)

India targets midsummer for reusable second-stage test. “We are working on a reusable launch technology in order to recover the first and second stages of a rocket so that we can reuse them to cut cost and carry heavier payloads,” the chairman of India’s space organization, Kailasavadivoo Sivan, told Times of India. The first stage will land like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, but the second stage will be shaped like a miniature space shuttle, gliding back to Earth and landing on a runway.

A helicopter test … Sometime in June or July, the Indian official said, a helicopter will drop a mock-up of the second-stage shuttle from a “considerable height” to determine its ability to glide back to Earth. An additional test from orbit would be conducted at a later date. This is an interesting approach to rocket reusability, so we’ll look forward to this test with interest.

SpaceFund rates the “reality” of launch companies. A new effort led by some new space pioneers has published a rating system for the credibility of launch providers. In its own words, “The SpaceFund Reality rating is an effort to provide critical, intelligent, and non-biased information about the status of the growing space industry and to make as much of this data available to the public as possible.”

An interesting start … Companies are rated on a scale from 9 (hello SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and others) to 0 (mostly un-funded startups you’ve probably never heard of). The SpaceFund “should not be used as the sole basis of any business, investment, or partnership decision.” It is not clear how this effort will handle conflicts of interest, but we do appreciate the effort to bring some clarity to this diverse and rapidly changing launch industry. Although some will certainly quibble with the ratings, it strikes us as a reasonable first stab at a moving target.

Test stand for SLS rocket “Green Run” almost complete. Activation of the B-2 test stand at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for the “Green Run” test campaign of the first Space Launch System Core Stage is almost complete. NASA and its contractor workforce are moving into practice and simulations of the upcoming tests while finishing up remaining tasks, NASASpaceFlight.com reports.

Test may occur in about a year … The B-2 test stand has been previously used for Saturn, Shuttle, and Delta 4 stage tests. During the “Green Run” test, the entire SLS core stage will be fired to simulate a launch of the vehicle and ascent into space. It is one of the major milestones in preparing the SLS rocket for launch. NASA has yet to set a date for the test, which could occur at the end of 2019 or early 2020. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

ULA sets new date for Delta IV Heavy flight. After multiple delays, United Launch Alliance said this week that “everything is progressing” toward the Delta IV Heavy launch carrying the NROL-71 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office. The mission is set to lift off on a Delta IV Heavy rocket on Saturday, January 19, from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Ready to go? … Launch time is 11:05am local, Pacific Time. Weather currently is 60 percent go. This is an important mission for ULA, which was originally scheduled to be launched in September before being scrubbed for various technical and weather reasons, including a hydrogen leak, in December. Watching a Delta IV Heavy launch is always good value.

Vulcan rocket design “nearly fully mature.” United Launch Alliance will conduct the final design review for its new flagship Vulcan rocket within months, it said on Wednesday, Reuters reports. “The design is nearly fully mature,” ULA systems test engineer Dane Drefke said during a tour of Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The final design review is a critical step toward reaching Vulcan’s first flight in early 2021.

Job cuts done now … According to the report, ULA has started cutting and building hardware, and it has begun structural and pressure testing at its Decatur, Alabama, factory. Engineers were also modifying the Florida launchpad and tower to accommodate Vulcan. ULA does not envision more job cuts and has been adding engineers in Florida and elsewhere. “We are now optimal-sized,” Drefke said, adding that ULA will be hiring more engineers as it moves into production. (submitted by BH)

Next three launches

Jan. 19: Delta IV Heavy | NROL-71 | Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. | 19:05 UTC

Jan. 21: Long March 11 | Jilin-1 (imaging satellites) | Jiuquan, China | TBD

Jan. 24: PSLV | Microsat-R mission | Sriharikota, India | 18:08 UTC

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