Welcome to Edition 6.22 of the Rocket Report! We’re nearing the end of 2023, and it’s been an incredible year for rocket debuts. Early in the year we saw small lift vehicles from Relativity Space and ABL, and in the spring Japan’s H3 and SpaceX’s Starship rocket. There’s one big one left: United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan booster. That will be a nice stocking stuffer to end the year on Christmas Eve.
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.
Vega has a missing parts problem. In unhappy news for Italian rocket-maker Avio, two of the four propellant tanks on the fourth stage of the Vega rocket—the upper stage, which is powered by dimethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide fuel—went missing earlier this year. Now, it seems that the propellant tanks have been found. However, Ars reports, the tanks were recovered in a dismal state, crushed alongside metal scraps in a landfill. This is a rather big problem for Avio, as this was to be the final Vega rocket launched, and the production lines are now closed for this hardware.
Two not great options … This Vega rocket is due to launch the 1,250-kg BIOMASS satellite for the European Space Agency, a mission that will employ a P-band synthetic aperture radar to assess the health of forests on Earth and determine how they are changing. The satellite is valued at more than $200 million. Officials are working on two options. The first involves using old propellant tanks that were built for qualification tests of the Avio rocket more than a decade ago. Another option is to modify the upper stage that is used by the new Vega C rocket. While there are some commonalities between the Vega and Vega C upper stages, there are differences, and the new AVUM+ upper stage was not intended to fly on the original Vega rocket. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)
Stratolaunch progressing toward Talon A launches. On Sunday, Stratolaunch completed the first captive carry flight of a powered Talon A hypersonic vehicle under the wing of its larger carrier aircraft, Roc. Stratolaunch is working for the US military on a target that will mimic hypersonic threats to support the development of new defensive capabilities, which is expected to be a Talon-A derivative or at least utilize some of the same technology, The Drive reports.
A powered flight could be on the way … This was the 12th flight for the Roc launch platform, and it saw the Talon-A fueled. The flight lasted three hours and 22 minutes. It was, according to Stratolaunch, “a significant step forward in the company’s near-term goal of completing a powered flight with the Talon-A vehicle.” Talon-A is expected to be able to reach speeds of at least Mach 6. The vehicle is 28 feet long and has a wingspan of just over 11 feet. A powered launch may be up next, pending a data review. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
South Korea tests solid-fuel rocket. South Korea on Monday successfully conducted a flight of a solid-fuel rocket carrying a satellite over the sea near Jeju Island amid a growing space race with neighboring North Korea, the defense ministry said. It was the third successful test of the rocket’s technology after two others in March and December 2022, Reuters reports.