Rocket Report: Virgin Galactic ups ticket prices, Starship surge in Texas

SpaceX's Booster 4 is lifted on to its orbital launch mount in South Texas.
Enlarge / SpaceX’s Booster 4 is lifted on to its orbital launch mount in South Texas.

Welcome to Edition 4.10 of the Rocket Report! A lot is going on this week—of course it seems like there’s always a lot going on in space these days. However, it’s notable that Virgin Galactic is resuming ticket sales at a much higher price point. And then there’s that exclusive story I had on Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine delays. I’m excited for Astra’s next launch attempt, too.

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 Galactic resumes ticket sales. As part of its second quarter earnings announcement on Thursday, Virgin Galactic said it was reopening sales for “private astronauts.” Virgin said it will have three consumer offerings: a) a single seat; b) multiseat couples/friends/family package; and c) full-flight buyout. Pricing for these offers will begin at $450,000 per seat.

Still taking losses for now … The company also said its next rocket-powered spaceflight, Unity 23, is targeted to occur in late-September from Spaceport America in New Mexico. This flight will be a revenue-generating flight with the Italian Air Force. Overall, the company lost $94 million during the second quarter of 2021 but said it has cash and cash equivalents on hand of $552 million.

Astra announces launch for late this month. The California small-launch company said Thursday that it will attempt its next rocket launch during a window that will run from August 27 through September 11. The mission will carry a test payload from the US Space Force and take place from the company’s launch site on Kodiak Island in Alaska. The Space Force will be launching a test payload for the Space Test Program.

All the way to orbit this time … “We are thrilled to partner with Astra on this mission and believe this showcases critical low-cost, mobile and responsive launch capability,” said Col. Carlos Quinones, who is the director of the Department of Defense Space Test Program. Following this launch, Astra is under contract to perform a second launch later this year. Astra’s last launch attempt, of Rocket 3.2 in December 2020, nearly reached orbit. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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Chinese firm carries out vertical landing test. Deep Blue Aerospace carried out a first low-altitude vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) test late July, SpaceNews reports. The company fired up the Nebula-M VTVL test stage at a facility at Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province, reaching a height of almost 10 meters before briefly hovering and landing safely. The test was part of the development of the 2.25-meter-diameter Nebula-1 orbital launcher, which is to be capable of lifting 500 kg to 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit.

Emulating SpaceX … Deep Blue Aerospace described the test as a “grasshopper jump,” referencing SpaceX’s Grasshopper experimental flights as part of Falcon 9 development. It followed a 10-second static fire test of the “Nebula-M” technology verification test vehicle July 13, with two subsequent 60-second hot fire tests later in the month. The next step is a 100-meter-level test of the Nebula-M2 stage. (submitted by Ken the Bin and Unrulycow)

iSpace launch of solid rocket fails. The Chinese private launch company iSpace conducted a launch of its Hyperbola-1 solid rocket early Tuesday, but the rocket did not successfully reach its intended Sun-synchronous orbit. A day after launching, iSpace revealed that the payload fairing had failed to separate properly, resulting in the single satellite being unable to reach its intended orbit, SpaceNews reports.

Second failure in a row … While the rocket performed well, the fairing issue apparently prevented the spacecraft from reaching orbital velocity. The failure is the second loss in a row for iSpace, which is one of China’s first and most financially backed commercial launch companies. Last year, the company raised $173 million in series B round funding for a new launcher series. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Momo rocket launches successfully. Interstellar Technologies said it successfully flew its Momo6 rocket to an altitude of 92 km from a launch site in the Hokkaido town of Taiki. After deploying a sponsor’s payload at its peak altitude, the rocket splashed down into the Pacific Ocean, The Japan Times reports.

Finally hitting its stride … Although it has more failures than successes, this is the third time Interstellar has successfully launched a Momo suborbital rocket. Its successes came in May 2019 and in July of this year, so hopefully the Japanese company has found its stride. (submitted by tsunam)

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