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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

286 - "Blast Off Briefing: The Monthly Update"




"The impossible is just the beginning, for in the vast expanse of space lies endless possibilities waiting to be unlocked by the daring and ambitious."

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We at the Interplanetary Podcast are incredibly grateful to have Justin Roberts and Drew Wright as our mega patreons. Their support and generosity have been instrumental in helping us continue to share the latest and most exciting developments in space exploration with the world. We truly cannot thank them enough for their invaluable contributions to our mission of bringing the wonders and mysteries of space to the masses. They are true space enthusiasts and we are honored to have them as part of our team. Thank you, Justin and Drew, for your unwavering support and for being a part of our journey to the stars.


Welcome to the "Blast Off Briefing" a monthly special. I'm excited for what's to come in the world of launch in 2023. We're expecting to see the debut of many big new rockets this year, such as Japan's H3, SpaceX's Starship and United Launch Alliance's Vulcan. We'll also keep an eye on the many small rockets launched this year.


As always, I appreciate your interest and encourage you to submit story ideas. In this edition, we'll be discussing the next three upcoming launches, this week in lift, small lift rockets and more. Stay tuned for all the latest updates in the world of space rocketry.


Up and Coming Launches

  • In the next month, we will probably see 5 or 6 Falcon 9 Launches. this starting to extrapolate out to the 100 launches a year Elon bragged about.

  • A couple of Japanese Rockets, H2 and a new rocket H3

  • Virgin Orbit

  • South Korea has a Nuri Launch - More on that

  • Uncrewed launch to replace Soyuz MS-22, which was damaged by a micrometeoroid impact the Soyuz MS-23 and Also a Prton

  • GSLV Mk II

  • Unlikely to see starship, but maybe a lot of activity there


Launcher One.

We interviewed Miles Carden in episode ep 103 about Spaceport Cornwall, and have anticipated this launch for a long time. Obviously, we were routing for our friends down in Cornwall. After all, this was the first launch from western Europe and would be a bit of kudos for the UK, and even though Virgin is a US company, Dickie Pickles is of course a famous Brit too.


Virgin Orbit uses an air launch system in which a modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft, named Cosmic Girl, carries a rocket, named LauncherOne, to a high altitude. The rocket is then released from the aircraft and ignites its engines to continue its journey to space. This system allows for greater flexibility in launch locations and reduces the need for ground infrastructure. It also allows for a larger payload capacity as the rocket does not have to carry the weight of its own first stage.


Virgin Orbit attempted a historic launch on Monday night, but unfortunately, it ended in failure. The launch began smoothly with the rocket starting its journey to space over the Atlantic Ocean, southwest of Ireland, and the first stage engine appeared to be functioning normally. However, there were confusing reports from the company's webcast and Twitter feed, and it was later revealed that the rocket and its payloads had failed to reach orbit.




This failure is likely to be a setback for Virgin Orbit, a US-based small launch company trying to establish itself in the market. The launch was a high-profile opportunity for the company to showcase its capabilities and impress British officials who were present at the launch from Spaceport Cornwall in southwestern England. However, now that the first orbital launch attempt from the UK has ended in failure, it may be difficult to secure the support of officials and investors to keep the company financially stable.


To be honest, I was a little bit disappointed to not be down at this Launch and I thought the coverage was really quite poor, The world was watching and it's not exactly fun being British at the moment and it's easy to feel like an international joke, this didn't really help, with the clips of the control room looking more like the control centre for an ongoing police investigation into missing teenagers.


Eric Berger in Ars Technica also reports that Virgin Orbit is in real financial trouble too, When Virgin Orbit's hopes of launching a rocket from the UK came crashing down to earth, The CEO, Dan Hart, tried to put on a brave face and said they'll investigate and be back in orbit soon. But let's be real, the financial future for Virgin Orbit is looking pretty rocky.

It all started as an idea back in 2011, when Sir Richard Branson had the brilliant thought of using his Virgin Galactic space business to launch small rockets. They spent a whopping $1 billion developing and testing their LauncherOne rocket and air-launch system, but with high development costs and a slow launch rate, it's hard to see how they'll ever become financially sustainable. They went public in 2021 but had to turn to private investments for additional millions just to keep the lights on and have been struggling to raise more funds.


And they're not the only ones in the small satellite launch market, Orbex, and Skyrora in the UK alone are also trying to make their mark in this competitive industry. Orbex has developed a unique rocket engine technology and has plans for launches. Skyrora is aiming to launch its larger Skyrora XL soon.


With so many players in the game, it's going to be an interesting race to see who comes out on top in the small satellite launch market. Virgin Orbit's failure is a setback, but it's not the end of the story. The company will have to work hard to regain the trust of investors and customers, but with the right moves and a bit of luck, they could still make a comeback. It's worth noting that competition is healthy and these companies will push each other to innovate and improve their service and technology, which will ultimately benefit the industry as a whole.


So what are the chances of the scheduled launcher one launch slated for January? Highly unlikely.

The UK Space Agency is going to investigate what went wrong with Virgin Orbit’s Launcher One rocket. My guess is Virgin Orbit seems to have brought in the management from Virgin Trains so this rocket didn’t reach its destination.


QUICK FACTS
  • Virgin Orbit is a company within the Virgin Group that provides launch services for small satellites.

  • They formed in 2017 and developed the air-launched LauncherOne rocket, launched from a modified Boeing 747 aircraft named Cosmic Girl.

  • Based in Long Beach, California, they have over 300 employees and focus on small satellite launch, which was one of three capabilities being focused on by Virgin Galactic.

  • On January 17, 2021, their LauncherOne rocket successfully reached orbit for the first time and successfully deployed 10 cubesats.

  • Three further launches have since successfully reached orbit

  • An initial test flight was unsuccessful on 25 May 2020, when the rocket failed to reach space

  • LauncherOne is the first all liquid-fuelled air-launched orbital rocket

  • From 2007 to 2015, Virgin had intended LauncherOne to be a smaller vehicle with a 200 kg (440 lb) payload to low Earth orbit

  • In 2015, Virgin modified the vehicle design to increase the payload capacity to 300 kg (660 lb) launched to a 500 km (310 mi) Sun-synchronous orbit

  • Virgin Orbit is targeting a launch price around US$12 million for the rocket.

  • In December 2021, Virgin Orbit became a publicly traded company (symbol VORB) at the NASDAQ stock exchange.

  • Virgin Orbit was valued at $3.7 billion in equity at the time of the SPAC merger and aimed to be profitable on an EBITDA-basis by 2024.

  • The company expected to have about $15 million in revenue in 2021 and aimed at further revenue growth, reaching $2.1 billion in revenue by 2026.

  • On January 10, 2023, the company confirmed that their first launched rocket from the United Kingdom had experienced an 'anomaly' and had failed to reach its planned orbit.

  • VOX Space, a subsidiary of Virgin Orbit, was created in 2020 and supplies launch services for the US military.


Korea's Nuri

Nuri, also known as KSLV-II, is a three-stage launch vehicle developed by South Korea's Korea Aerospace Research Institute. It is the second launch vehicle developed by South Korea and the successor to Naro-1, with all three stages using indigenously developed launch vehicle engines. The South Korean government has set SpaceX as a "role model" to develop relatively cheap and reliable rockets competitive enough for the commercial launch market. Nuri made its first orbital launch attempt in October 2021, but despite reaching the targeted apogee, the payload did not achieve orbital speed. Its second launch in June 2022 was successful, putting all the satellites onto a 700 km Sun-synchronous orbit. Nuri has shown higher-than-expected performance, increasing its payload from 1,500 kg to 1,900 kg. Future versions of Nuri will focus on increasing the thrust and specific impulse of the engines, as well as making them lighter. The total cost of the development program for Nuri is estimated at $1.5 billion.


The first stage booster uses four KRE-075 SL engines that generate 266.4 tons of thrust with a specific impulse of 289.1 seconds. The second stage booster uses a single KRE-075 Vacuum engine, which has a wider nozzle for increased efficiency in vacuum with a specific impulse of 315.4 seconds. The third stage booster uses one KRE-007 engine with a specific impulse of 325.1 seconds. Both engine models use Jet A as fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) as oxidizer.


Future versions of Nuri are planned to include improvements such as increasing the thrust of the KRE-075 from 744 kN (167,000 lbf) to 849 kN (191,000 lbf) and specific impulse from 261.7 seconds to 315.4 seconds. There are also plans to make the engine lighter by removing the pyrotechnic ignitor or limiting its gimbal range. This will allow the payload capacity of the modified Nuri to increase from 1.5 tons to 2.8 tons.


Quick Facts

  • Nuri is a three-stage launch vehicle developed by South Korea's Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)

  • Successor to Naro-1 (KSLV-1) and uses indigenously developed launch vehicle engines

  • South Korean government has set SpaceX as a "role model", striving to develop relatively cheap and reliable rockets for the commercial launch market

  • On October 21, 2021, Nuri made its initial orbital launch attempt, however, the third stage shut down early and the payload did not reach orbit

  • On June 21, 2022, Nuri made its second flight, which was successful, putting all satellites into a 700 km Sun-synchronous orbit

  • As a result of this launch, South Korea became the seventh country in the world with the ability to put a satellite weighing a ton and heavier into orbit

  • Nuri showed higher-than-expected performance, increasing its payload from 1,500 kg to 1,900 kg.

  • ENGINES

  • In March 2014, the first combustion test of the 7-ton class combustor was successfully completed.

  • Hanwha Techwin Co. signed a 14.1 billion won contract with KARI to produce both types of liquid propellant rocket engines for Nuri in January 2016.

  • On 8 January 2016, the second phase of the project was carried out to overcome the difficulties of combustor combustion instability and welding technology of the liquid engine fuel tank, and a combustion test of the KRE-075 engine for a few seconds was successful.

  • On 3 May 2016, the KRE-075 engine underwent a 1.5 second long spark ignition test. It was later fired for 75 seconds on 8 June 2016.

  • Starting from October 2016 to October 2021, there have been over 184 combustion tests of the second prototype KRE-075 engine.

  • KRE-075 engine is a 75-ton-class engine with a thrust of 66.6 tf (SL), 75.9 tf (Vacuum) and a specific impulse of 298.6 seconds.

  • KRE-007 engine is a 7-ton engine with a thrust of 7.0 tf and a specific impulse of 325.1 seconds.

  • The Test Launch Vehicle (TLV) was a single stage launch vehicle used to qualify the performance of the KRE-075 engine which powers the KSLV-II.

  • The TLV was launched from the Naro Space Center in November 2018, and the main engine burned for 151 seconds in a 10-minute flight, reaching a maximum altitude of 209 km.


The Naro Space Center is a South Korean spaceport located in Goheung County and operated by the state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute. It includes two launch pads, control tower, assembly and test facilities, and other supporting infrastructure. The spaceport has supported 5 launches, including the KSLV-II launch in 2021, and will support SSLV launches in 2025. The Naro-1, the first rocket to use the spaceport, had 2 failed launches in 2009 and 2010 before finally succeeding in 2013. The TLV (Test Launch Vehicle) was launched on a suborbital mission on November 28, 2018, with a mission objective of qualifying the KRE-075 engine which powers the KSLV-II.


Sign off

In our monthly podcast, we've been a bit behind in 2022, but we're excited to announce that in 2023 we'll be back on track. Our listeners can expect to see the return of Jamie for monthly space exploration specials, as well as monthly blast-off briefings with George and interviews with experts and enthusiasts from around the world. So stay tuned, because we're back and ready to explore the universe with you!


We also want to invite you to be part of the story this year by joining our patreon community at patreon.com/interplanetary. By becoming a patron, you will be supporting our mission to bring you the best space-related content and will have access to exclusive content and perks such as behind-the-scenes footage, live Q&A sessions, and much more. So, join us on this journey and let's explore the wonders of space together!


With gratitude, we'll sing and rhyme, To our Patreons who donate in time, Paul Hilton, Bob Hodges and Bob Moore, Resist Gravity, Ronald Hatcher, and so much more.

mkalte666, Audun Vaaler, Merissa Davis, Mark Scheuern, Niklas Gyllenstein, and Ben Guthrie, Neil Hansen, Gene Wojtanik, Tupper Hyde, Tyrrell McAllister, Marc Huber, Seth HABERLEIN, Jim King, Mark Kelly, Adam French, and Steve Croucher, You are the stars that light up our launch, Guiding us on our interplanetary saunter.

Like a rocket soaring through the night, Your support propels us to new heights, In the vast expanse of space, Your generosity is our saving grace.

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