Welcome to Edition 4.35 of the Rocket Report! No report next week. We’re now one week away from the momentous rollout of the Space Launch System rocket for the first time to the launch pad. I will be taking spring break with my family next week, so there will be no newsletter, but I will be back in time to track the rollout Thursday night, March 17. Look for full coverage from Trevor Mahlmann and me on Ars Technica the following Friday morning.
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.
Voters decisively reject spaceport in Georgia. According to unofficial results, 72 percent of voters in Camden County voted Tuesday to halt the purchase of land for a spaceport in the US state of Georgia, First Coast News reports. This represents a striking (and perhaps fatal) setback for the vertical-launch spaceport. The county has spent $10.3 million on the project, which has been in the planning stages since 2012. Prior to the vote, supporters of the project said the spaceport would create jobs and diversify the county’s economy.
A clear message … However, opponents pointed out that the land is contaminated by industrial sites that have been housed there in the past, including a former rocket fuel facility. There were also concerns about rockets flying over Cumberland Island National Seashore. Camden County officials have indicated they may fight this referendum in court, but fighting seems like a difficult slog given the overwhelming public sentiment against the project. Take heed, spaceport advocates: make sure the local community is on your side. (submitted by Zapman987, EllPeaTea, and Ken the Bin)
Rocket 3.3 second-stage issues diagnosed. Astra Space said Monday that it has identified two problems that led to the failure of a launch last month, SpaceNews reports. The company said it has investigated a February 10 failure of its Rocket 3.3 vehicle to reach orbit. The investigation determined the root cause was an error in a wiring diagram for the payload fairing that kept all its separation mechanisms from firing. That issue kept the fairing from separating until the rocket’s upper stage, which is encapsulated by the fairing, fired its engine.
Back to the drawing board … “This harness was built and installed onto the vehicle exactly as specified by our procedures and the engineering drawing,” said Andrew Griggs, senior director for mission management and assurance at Astra. However, the drawing swapped two wiring harness channels. A second issue with the February launch was with the thrust vector control system on the upper stage. Astra said it has addressed these flaws. According to filings, the company may attempt another launch as early as next week. To date, four out of five of the company’s orbital launch attempts have ended in failure. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Iran launches second military satellite. Iran’s state news agency, IRNA, reported Tuesday that the company had successfully launched its second military satellite into low Earth orbit. The Noor-2 satellite was placed into an orbit 500 km above Earth by a three-stage rocket named Qased. This rocket previously launched the Noor-1 satellites for the aerospace wing of the Revolutionary Guard in 2020.
Not for military purposes? … The achievement came after the country has struggled to successfully launch other small orbital rockets. Iran, which has long said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component, Radio Free Europe reports. The launch adds urgency to negotiations among Western nations and Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear deal, the publication said. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)
First Cornwall launch to boost Welsh satellite. Virgin Orbit and European in-space manufacturing start-up Space Forge announced Wednesday they have reached an agreement to launch the first satellite developed in Wales in summer 2022. The ForgeStar satellite will be flown on LauncherOne as part of the effort to open the United Kingdom’s first domestic spaceport in Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay, Cornwall.
Several firsts … “We at Virgin Orbit are delighted to have been chosen to move Space Forge forward in their space journey as we look forward to our inaugural Cornwall launch,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in the news release. This would be the first-ever orbital launch from UK soil and the first time LauncherOne was carried to an air-launch location from a spaceport outside the United States. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
German feminists release gender-equality rocket design. A German feminist art group has revealed a vulva-shaped spaceship concept, Dezeen architectural magazine reports. The WBF Aeronautics group is encouraging the European Space Agency to help realize this design in order to better represent humanity in space and “restore gender equality to the cosmos.” The group created the Vulva Spaceship concept to challenge the convention of, ahem, phallic spacecraft design.
This is not The Onion … “The project adds another dimension to the representation of humanity in space and is communicating to the world that anyone has a place in the universe, regardless of their genitalia,” the organization said. Due to this optimized V-shape, the design guarantees maximum fuel efficiency, the artists said. For the project to be considered by the European Space Agency, it needs 500,000 signatures on the change.org website. As of Thursday afternoon, 663 people had signed. (submitted by HoboWhisperer)