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  • John Bell

Tech Sense July 2024: Space 2024: Part 2





The bright sun greets the International Space Station in this Nov. 22 scene from the Russian section of the orbital outpost, photographed by one of the STS-129 crew members. Image credit: NASA..

Space 2024: Part 2

            I have had an interest in space since I was a young boy and watched John Glenn’s launch into orbit on TV. I used to clip out space photos from magazines and kept a scrapbook from all of the magazines except National Geographic.  My father wouldn’t allow me to cut those out, but we kept those magazines and never threw them away.

            The advent of commercial space has made space exciting again. It no longer takes a government to put a satellite into space. Companies and Universities can hire room on a rocket putting their own satellites into orbit making new services for their constituencies. Today, private companies are even landing robots on the Moon.

            Last month we looked a mostly American companies working on the newest generations of rockets and space capsules or ships. We skipped a few smaller rockets but will get to some of them this month and since so much is going on in space, we’ll also look at things happening in the rest of the world.

 

Smaller US Rockets

            Last month I left out some of the smaller rockets built by US companies and capable of launching payloads into orbit. There are various start-up rocket companies in the US but most of them are not currently flying for various reasons.

            The most successful to this date are Rocket Labs and Firefly.

            Rocket Lab builds and operates the Electron rocket, a partially reusable rocket that can carry payloads up to 200 kg to low earth orbit (LOE). While Rocket Lab is an US company most of their launches actually occur in New Zealand.  They also launch from Wallops Island in Virginia. At this time, they are one of the most successful of the US startups with 45 successful launches at this time.  This puts them in second place behind only SpaceX.

            Firefly is a company that came back from bankruptcy. It’s Alpha Rocket had a successful flight late in 2023 and the company now appears to be on a solid track.  The Alpha carries up to a 1030 kg payload to low earth orbit. It currently launches from the Cape in Florida and Vandenberg AFB in California.

 

Europe

            Initiated by France and Germany in the 1970’s and adopted by the European Space Agency (ESA) the EU government currently supports two vehicles to place objects into space. The Ariane 6 is designed for large payloads up to 25,400lbs depending on the configuration. The newest Ariane 6 rocket is scheduled to launch for the first time this coming July.

            Europe also builds a smaller series of rockets, the Vega. The Vega’s design makes it suitable for launching smaller payloads typically between 300 and up to 1500 kg.  This makes it ideal for many commercial and research applications.

            A failure of the current model, the Vega-C, caused the suspension of flights until at least the end of 2024. A new model, the Vega-E, should fly in 2027.

            Italy primarily builds this rocket with help from France and several other countries contributing. The components, mostly assembled in Europe are shipped across the Atlantic to Kourou, French Guiana at the northern coast of South America. Here they go through final assembly for launch into space from the various launch sites near Kourou.

 

India

            The India’s national space agency known as ISRO handles the country’s space capabilities.  They seem to have three currently operating rockets in small, medium, and large. 

            The large rocket, the LVM-3 (Large Vehicle MARK-3) is the largest, designed for large payloads up to 10,000 kg to LEO. The LVM-3 will be used for India’s future man space flight plans.

            The design of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) gives it the ability to deliver various payloads from 1,100 to 3.800 kg depending on the orbit and mission. Typical LEO payloads for the base “CA” model are 2,100 km. Enhanced models have more solid boosters added to the basic model.

            The third rocket serves the need for a smaller more economical means to put satellites into orbit. Called the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle or SSLV, the rocket can deliver 500 kg to LEO for as little as $4.2 million US dollars.

            In August 2023, India successfully landed a device on the moon making it the fourth country to do so, and the first to land in the southern polar region of the moon.

South Korea

            South Korea’s first indigenously designed and built orbital rocket, the Nuri, carries a payload of up to 3,300 kg to low earth orbit. The satellites launched so far provide South Korea with earth monitoring satellites.

 

China

            China has a long history with rocket science and in the past couple of decides large strides have been made to catch up with the US. Notably, China has a manned space flight program.  They have successfully sent robotic landers to the moon, collected specimens, and returned them to the earth. They have built and operated a space station keeping it operational. They are modernizing their launch capabilities using safer fuels, including kerosene and O2 and liquid methane and oxygen.

            They have also started to diversify supporting commercial space development so that control of space programs is not solely via Chinese government.

Russia

            The Russians have opened their new launch sire in eastern Russia, the Vostochny Cosmodrome. This serves as an alternate to the Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan where previous launches occurred.

            The newest rocket from Russia is the Angara A5. These large and expensive rockets seem rarely used but have a large payload capability. Even old and previously reliable Russian spacecraft seem to be having issues.

 

Wrap up

            This concludes my rocket update. If you find this interesting, you may want to follow Ars Technica’s Rocket Report appearing most Friday’s (https://arstechnica.com). Until next time, have a great vacation.

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