Main Engine Cut Off

Relativity, Momentus Announce Launch Agreement

Just a few weeks ago, Momentus and SpaceX announced an agreement to fly on one of SpaceX’s dedicated rideshares, and now this.

Momentus is certainly lining up launches, but I’d love to hear a bit about their customers.

On the Relativity side, they’ve got quite a nice little backlog growing, but very few of their launch contracts have much in the way of concrete details.

ASLON-45 Re-Awarded to Aevum

After the weird situation where the US Air Force awarded Vector a contract the same week Vector shut down, the ASLON-45 mission is headed Aevum’s way.

Aevum is working on an autonomous air launch platform, and has been reluctant to release many technical details yet, so there’s really no telling how far along they are currently. The launch date is set for late 2021, so Aevum must have some confidence they can get there in two years.

Then again, everyone thinks that.

I will say that as far as ASLON-45 goes, some of the names that you would think would launch this mission didn’t bid for it, so that’s why you’re seeing names that are not yet showing actual hardware.

Boeing Unveils Small GEO Product, Whereby Small They Mean Medium

Caleb Henry, for SpaceNews:

Boeing’s small GEO satellites will weigh roughly 1,900 kilograms unfueled, relying on reprogrammable, software-defined payloads that are considerably smaller than earlier technologies, Eric Jensen, Boeing’s vice president of global commercial satellite sales, said in an interview.

Jensen said Boeing designed its small GEO product as a solution for operators reluctant to invest in traditional, multi-ton comsats in the midst of changing market conditions and the introduction of megaconstellations.

The small GEO trend that has been talked about of late typically refers to satellites a few hundred kilograms in mass. Nearly two tons unfueled probably doesn’t fit the trend in the same way, but at least Boeing is trying.

More Starlink Tweaks

Caleb Henry for SpaceNews with a nice update on Starlink over the weekend:

In a filing to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, SpaceX said it wants to triple the number of orbital planes at 550 kilometers, the altitude where its lowest layer of Ku- and Ka-band Starlink satellites are to operate.

“The proposed respacing would require fewer launches of satellites — perhaps as few as half — to initiate service to the entire contiguous United States,” SpaceX told the FCC Aug. 30. “Globally, the modification would enable more rapid coverage of all longitudes to grow toward the Equator, as well as bolstering capacity over in areas of greater population density.”

Any changes that get SpaceX closer to service are great. Speed to at least some level of service is a huge priority for a project as big as Starlink.

Thanks to August Patrons

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Astrobotic to Fly on First Vulcan Flight

Astrobotic, the world leader in commercial delivery to the Moon, was selected by NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program to deliver up to 14 NASA payloads to the Moon on its Peregrine lunar lander in 2021. With this $79.5 million CLPS award, Astrobotic has now signed 16 customers for lunar delivery on its first mission.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander will launch on a Vulcan Centaur rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch of this mission will serve as the first of two certification flights required for ULA’s U.S. Air Force certification process.

I could pretty much copy and paste my thoughts from last week about Dream Chaser flying on Vulcan: not surprising news since we had expected Atlas V, and I wonder what will happen if Vulcan doesn’t get to be a part of the next round of Air Force contracts.

I also wonder what ULA would do if Astrobotic’s flight is delayed. At that point, schedule would be more critical for ULA than making good on what I presume is a free flight, so I’d guess they’d fly empty or throw Tory Bruno’s car on top.

It is notable that now all seven flights for Vulcan are shifted over from all-but-previously-announced agreements to fly on Atlas V—not exactly the sales record that makes me believe in Vulcan’s ability to be a commercial success. Ariane 6 is in a similar spot.

Orbital Services Program-4 RFP Released

OSP-4 is a follow-on to the OSP-3 contract that is set to expire in November. OSP-4 will allow for the rapid acquisition of launch services to meet mission requirements enabling launch within 12-24 months from task order award on a competitive basis. It is designed to accommodate payloads greater than 400 lbs. The Air Force projects to procure about 20 missions over the nine year period.

This is a big deal for the Air Force, with a lot of missions up for grabs for launch vehicles that can send 180 kilograms or more to orbit. It’s not the huge payloads like NSSL flies, but 20 missions for the most vibrant sector of the launch market is just as interesting to me.

Dream Chaser to Fly on Vulcan

Not surprising news, as until now we had expected Atlas V, but still notable.

It’s better news for ULA than it is for Sierra Nevada, but it’s not quite the type of commercial contract that we’d need to see for Vulcan to be a standalone success.

I’m still slightly weary that Vulcan will only exist if ULA wins part of the Air Force’s National Security Space Launch contracts. I expect the winners to be SpaceX and ULA, but at this point the program is so far down the political rabbit hole, that I really have no clue what will happen.