Rocket Lab to bounce back from July's orbital fail with bulging payloads and parachuting Electrons

Also: Scottish rocketeers to launch from Iceland, and SpaceX lobs more Starlinks


In brief California-based Rocket Lab is to resume launches within the month after an Electron payload failed to reach orbit in July.

The 13th launch for the company saw a "single anomalous electrical connection" do for the mission as the second stage engine shut down prematurely. The gang continued receiving telemetry from the doomed rocket and were able to track down the misbehaving connection and implement mitigations for the next mission.

Doubling down, the company also trumpeted a bump in the lifting capacity of the Electron to 300kg to lower orbits. Sun Synchronous Orbit missions have jumped from 150 to 200kg.

The increase will see the company able to launch more complicated spacecraft to higher orbits or interplanetary destinations. A spokesperson told The Register that the CAPSTONE mission to lunar orbit for NASA early next year would likely be the first to take advantage of the extra capacity.

The team is also moving forward with plans to recover the Electron first stage, which will steer itself back to Earth and return under parachutes. The extra capacity will prove handy for those 'chutes, and the company said it expects the first recovery-style mission to be flight 17. It will not, however, endevour to catch the descending Electron by helicopter for the first attempt.

Skyrora heads to Iceland

Scotland's Skyrora has pitched up in Iceland with a view to an August launch of its Skylark Micro rocket. The two-stage solid-fuelled sub-orbital rocket is due to take off from Iceland's Langenes Penisula as part of what the company described as a "de-risking exercise".

The diminutive (and appropriately named) Micro has a payload mass of up to 1kg and the launch is more about testing the rocket's avionics and communications ahead of the beefier Skylark L and Skyrora XL rockets. The orbital-capable XL is due to debut in 2023.

The launch comes amid a busy year for the company. In May it conducted a static fire of its Skylark L and in June launched a third Skylark Nano, this time from Shetland.

While the company opened up an engine test complex in Scotland in July, the next launch has moved over the seas to Iceland, which might raise an eyebrow or two among those hoping to see a UK-based commercial launch capability within the next few years.

Katie Miller, project manager at Skyrora, told The Register: "Having successfully launched three rockets from Scotland, Skyrora are further exploring new opportunities in Iceland. We are committed and will continue to launch our rockets in Scotland in the future."

Skygazers rejoice – SpaceX has lobbed another batch of Starlink satellites into orbit

SpaceX finally got the next 57 Starlink satellites off the ground last week as it celebrated the first "hop" of its latest Starship prototype.

The Falcon 9 had suffered weeks of delays ahead of the launch before SpaceX finally lit the blue touchpaper on the veteran booster, which had seen action on missions including the Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission and two Starlink missions. Dubbed the ninth operational launch of Starlink satellites (which now feature sunshades in an effort to reduce their brightness), the mission also carried a pair of BlackSky satellites.

Launched in the early hours of 7 August from Kennedy Space Center's LC-39A, the payload was safely deposited into orbit. The first stage made a successful return to Earth once more, performing the never-less-than-impressive feat of landing on a drone ship stationed in the Atlantic.

The feat came after SpaceX managed to send a Starship prototype on 150-metre "hop" on 4 August at 2357 GMT.

With full-sized tanks and nothing exploding, imploding or collapsing this time, the single Raptor engine launched the prototype, SN5, from its platform. The flight, at SpaceX's Boca Chica facility in Texas, lasted approximately 45 seconds.

SpaceX supremo Elon Musk promised his followers that more hops were planned before the company increased the altitude. ®


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