US starts sniffing around UK spaceports – though none capable of vertical launches actually exist right now

Plus: SLS boosters arrive at Kennedy, Rocket Lab to go back-to-back with NRO


In brief Lawmakers have signed off on a deal that will permit American companies to launch from a British spaceport, although the UK has yet to build one.

UK science minister Amanda Solloway talked up the potential benefits to companies from Newquay and Scotland before declaring the "US-UK Technology Safeguards Agreement" a "key moment for our commercial space industry".

The UK has already spanked the best part of £40m on a domestic horizontal and vertical small satellite launch capability, and the likes of Edinburgh-based Skyrora looks set go at least sub-orbital in the near future with its homegrown vertical rocket boffinry.

California's Virgin Orbit has also been eyeing Spaceport Cornwall with a view to conducting "the first ever flights to space from British soil".

SLS boosters arrive in Florida

The boosters for NASA's SLS monster rocket have arrived at Kennedy Space Center for processing.

The 10 segments, each weighing 180 tons filled with propellant and outfitted with instrumentation for the long dreamed-of flight, spent 10 days travelling by train from Promontory, Utah.

The boosters will be assembled into a pair of rockets to be strapped to the side of the SLS for the Artemis I mission. Together with the four repurposed Space Shuttle engines of the SLS core stage (currently undergoing testing at NASA's Stennis Space Center) the power plants will give the Moon rocket 8.8 million pounds of thrust during launch.

Artemis I is intended to launch an uncrewed mission. Artemis II, for which the next batch of 10 segments has already been cast, will send a crew up in the Orion capsule. The boosters for Artemis III, which is planned to plonk the first humans on the Moon since the Apollo days, are in progress.

Unlike in the Shuttle era, the boosters (as well as the engines) will not be recovered and reused.

Rocket Lab signs up NRO for back-to-back launches

Still revelling in its recent "Don't Stop Me Now" mission, Rocket Lab has signed up the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) for two back-to-back missions in 2021, RASR-3 and RASR-4. The satellites are due to launch within weeks of each other from the company's New Zealand Launch Complex 1 (LC-1).

As well as Pad A, the launches will make the first use of the under-construction (and imaginatively named) Pad B at LC-1, permitting a rapid-fire launch with mere days between lift-offs. The company boasted that launches could even occur "hours apart".

As well as the company's Pad A at LC-1, it also has a launch facility at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia, LC-2, which is expected to see action later this year.

Rocket fans looking forward to seeing the company attempt to snatch a descending Electron might have a bit longer to wait. The 17th launch (due this year) will include an attempt to return a booster via parachute, but there are no firm plans for grabbing it mid-air until the results of that test are in. ®


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