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Rocket Report: Amazing view of Falcon 9 landing, spaceport suit Down Under

Vulcan Centaur, United Launch Alliance’s next-generation rocket, lifts off in this artist’s rendering.
Enlarge / Vulcan Centaur, United Launch Alliance’s next-generation rocket, lifts off in this artist’s rendering.

United Launch Alliance

Welcome to Edition 5.14 of the Rocket Report! There is plenty of small rocket news this week to digest—from Japan to Washington to Australia, and back again. You should feel free to take your time reading it, as I’ll be off next week, working on a book project. Thanks for your patience.

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.

Virgin Orbit may seek more funding. Last December, when small-satellite launch company Virgin Orbit went public via a Special Purpose Acquisition Company, it set a target to raise $483 million. However the company only raised $228 million. So now, months later, therefore, Virgin Orbit appears to be seeking to raise additional capital, the London-based City A.M. publication reports.

Targeting a November LauncherOne flight … Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said the launch company continues to receive financial backing from the Virgin Group, but it could seek more funding after the SPAC result. “We continue to have good support from them, but we’re looking to be opportunistic on the market,” he said. “So, we will be looking at pursuing capital as we go forward.” Hart made the comments as Virgin Orbit prepares for its first launch from the United Kingdom later this year.

Stoke Space reveals ambitious plans. In a lengthy feature, Ars reports on the path taken by Washington-based Stoke Space during the last three years, since it was founded by two former Blue Origin propulsion engineers. Stoke aims to develop a fully reusable two-stage rocket with a lift capacity of a little more than 1.5 metric tons to low Earth orbit. Last month, the company started to test-fire its upper-stage engines at a facility in Moses Lake, Washington. The images and video show an intriguing-looking ring with 15 discrete thrusters firing for several seconds.

Building a hopper … The circular structure is 13 feet in diameter, and this novel-looking design is Stoke’s answer to one of the biggest challenges of getting a second stage back from orbit. As it seeks to protect the upper-stage engine during reentry, Stoke plans to use a ring of 30 smaller thrusters. In a vacuum, the plumes from these nozzles are designed to merge and act as one. And during reentry, with a smaller number of smaller thrusters firing, it’s easier to protect the nozzles. Next up for the company, during the first half of 2023, is a series of hop tests for a second-stage prototype.

The easiest way to keep up with Eric Berger’s space reporting is to sign up for his newsletter, we’ll collect his stories in your inbox.

Epsilon rocket fails in its sixth flight. A Japanese rocket failed during a launch attempt on Wednesday, with the country’s space agency ordering the Epsilon launch vehicle to self-destruct just minutes after liftoff as it deviated from its intended trajectory, The Mainichi reports. The development marked the Japanese Space Agency’s first rocket launch failure since November 2003, when an H2A rocket was deliberately destroyed shortly after liftoff. This new accident dealt a blow to JAXS as it seeks to sell commercial satellite launches on Epsilon.

Seeking to restore trust … The space agency did not provide much additional information about the accident, which appeared to occur after the second stage of the rocket shut down. It’s possible the third-stage engine did not ignite. JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa said it was undeniable the blunder would affect various plans but stressed the agency would “do its utmost to restore trust” in it. The agency is set to launch its new flagship H3 rocket within fiscal 2022 (which ends next March), after already having been delayed twice before, as well as an upgraded Epsilon model slated to take off in fiscal 2023. (submitted by puni, tsunam, and Ken the Bin)

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