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Rocket Report: Starship flight test slips to 2023; first methane launch is imminent

A Falcon 9 rocket lands Thursday evening after launching the OneWeb 1 mission. Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket is in the background, awaiting its debut launch.
Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket lands Thursday evening after launching the OneWeb 1 mission. Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket is in the background, awaiting its debut launch.

Trevor Mahlmann

Welcome to Edition 5.20 of the Rocket Report! I have really enjoyed celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 17 mission this week. While it is bittersweet that humans have not been back to the Moon since, it is comforting to know that we are now following a sure and steady path that will lead us back in the not-too-distant future.

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 launch from UK slips into 2023. Earlier this week Virgin Orbit sent out a news release indicating that the launch window for its LauncherOne mission from Cornwall, England, would open on December 14. But on Thursday, the company said its mission had been delayed for at least several weeks, BBC News reports. In a statement, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said, “With licenses still outstanding for the launch itself and for the satellites within the payload, additional technical work needed to establish system health and readiness, and a very limited available launch window of only two days, we have determined that it is prudent to retarget launch for the coming weeks to allow ourselves and our stakeholders time to pave the way for full mission success.”

So into the new year, then … At the outset of this year, there was high expectation that the first UK space launch would occur at some point in 2022, and at the time, Virgin Orbit officials were targeting September. But the company has run into regulatory roadblocks in licensing the launch. As those regulatory issues have yet to be finalized, it is now safe to say that the much-anticipated flight of LauncherOne from Cornwall—the first orbital launch attempt from UK soil—will slip at least into January. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)

Chinese rocket reaches orbit for the first time. A private Chinese solid-fueled rocket has conducted its first successful launch two years after failing its first test flight, reports. The Kuaizhou 11 rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Wednesday, local time, sending the VHF Data Exchange System test satellite into orbit. The launcher is operated by Expace, a commercial spinoff from the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation.

Coming back from adversity … The Kuaizhou 11 rocket is advertised as being capable of carrying about 1,000 kg of payload to Sun-synchronous orbit, or up to 1,500 kg to low-Earth orbit. The first Kuaizhou 11 launch took place in July 2020 but failed. Expace also suffered an explosion during testing at the Jiuquan spaceport, which may have been a factor in the two-year grounding of the rocket. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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.

Dawn Aerospace raises $20 million for rocket plane. Dawn Aerospace has scored another $20 million to help design a commercial version of its reusable spaceplane, Stuff reports. The funding will assist with the design of the Mk-III Aurora, a reusable rocket-powered space plane the size of a small business jet intended to deliver satellites into space. The company is preparing to fly a suborbital prototype, the Aurora Mk-II, with rocket engines in 2023. This is a demonstrator for the full-scale version.

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