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Rocket Report: A Minotaur explodes after launch; Starship rolls to the pad

SpaceX's Ship 24 rolls to the launch site in South Texas this week.
Enlarge / SpaceX’s Ship 24 rolls to the launch site in South Texas this week.


Welcome to Edition 5.02 of the Rocket Report! Just as a heads up, I would like to note that it is now more than just theoretical that SpaceX’s Starship and NASA’s Space Launch System rocket could make their orbital launch attempts during the same month, August 2022. While I would not say it’s likely, both rockets presently have notional launch targets within three weeks of one another next month.

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.

A Minotaur rocket explodes after launch. A Minotaur II+ rocket exploded 11 seconds after launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Wednesday night, Noozhawk reports. (The rocket’s impact with the ground made a rather spectacular fireball, per an eyewitness source). There were no injuries in the explosion and the debris was contained to the immediate vicinity of the launch pad, Vandenberg officials said early Thursday. An investigative review board has been established to determine the cause of the explosion, Vandenberg officials said.

Was carrying ICBM development payload … Prior to the accident, the solid-fueled Minotaur II rocket had launched successfully eight out of eight times since the year 2000. The rocket is based on the first and second stages of a decommissioned Minuteman missile. The test was conducted for the Mark21A Reentry Vehicle program, or Mk21A, which rode aboard the Minotaur booster. This is part of the Air Force’s effort to develop a next-generation ballistic missile program.

Rocket Lab seeks to increase cadence. Since 2019 Rocket Lab has averaged about one Electron launch every two months, which has been below the company’s goals. But now the US-based company that launches primarily from New Zealand is seeking to take a step up. Rocket Lab announced on Tuesday plans to conduct two dedicated space missions for the US National Reconnaissance Office later this month.

Three in a month? … NROL-162 (“Wise One Looks Ahead”) will launch from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1’s Pad A no earlier than July 12, with NROL-199 (“Antipodean Adventure”) scheduled to launch from Pad B no earlier than July 22. If those schedules hold, it’s possible that Electron could launch three times in a single month, given the company’s recent success with the CAPSTONE mission. This small satellite was launched toward the Moon on June 28.

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Virgin Galactic to buy two new motherships. On Wednesday, Virgin Galactic announced a deal with Boeing-owned Aurora Flight Sciences to design and manufacture two next-generation motherships, Ars reports. A mothership carries the Virgin Galactic spaceship to an altitude of about 15 km before releasing it, after which the spaceship fires its rocket engine and flies above 90 km.

Frequent fliers … Virgin Galactic said it expects to take delivery of the first of the two new motherships in 2025. The company presently has a single carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, that made its first flight in 2008. Virgin has not said how long this vehicle will be able to fly missions, nor how much refurbishment it will need as it begins flying more frequently. The acquisition is part of the company’s efforts to fly far more frequently than it currently does. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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