Rocket Lab deploys Photon, er, in-house built satellite on Flight 14

Also: More Starlink and hopping fun for SpaceX and Northrop Grumman lights the blue touchpaper for SLS

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In brief Those pondering what else Rocket Lab got up to on Flight 14 following the successful deployment of the satellite payload for Capella Space got their answer last week in the form of "First Light", a jumped-up version of the existing Electron Kick Stage.

Following deployment of Capella Space's microsatellite on the "I Can't Believe It's Not Optical" mission, Rocket Lab commanded the Kick Stage to transition into Photon Satellite mode in order to check out the additional systems needed to support longer duration missions to the Moon and, of course, Venus.

The successful demonstration paves the way for future versions of the company's Photon satellite line, including NASA's 2021 CAPSTONE mission, due for launch from Launch Complex 2 in Virginia. Rocket Lab was granted a five-year Launch Operator License last week by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for Electron missions from the pad.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck

Rocket Lab boss Peter Beck talks to The Reg about crap weather, reusing boosters, and taking a trip to Venus

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Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck reckoned the first Photon-based mission marked a major turning point for the company, with Rocket Lab having demonstrated a full end-to-end service. "It's now easier to launch and operate a space mission than it has ever been," he boasted.

SLS booster fired up by Northrop Grumman

One of the stretched solid rocket boosters (SRB), with five segments as opposed to the four segments of the Space Shuttle era, was fired up last week by defence and aerospace giant Northrop Grumman ahead of the much delayed Artemis I mission.

The full scale static fire test of the NASA Space Launch System (SLS) booster lasted just over two minutes and produced 3.6 million pounds of thrust. The two boosters to be attached to the SLS will generate over 75 per cent of the initial thrust at launch.

The first set of segments have already been delivered and the second set, for the first crewed mission, Artemis II, are nearing completion. The boosters for Artemis III, the mission that will see boots back on the lunar surface if all goes well, are now in production. Last week's test was to check how well propellant from a new source - due to see action with Artemis IV - behaved.

The SLS makes use of various elements of the Space Shuttle program. However, unlike those of the Shuttle, the boosters and engines of the SLS will not be reusable.

SpaceX finally gets the latest batch of Starlinks off the ground

SpaceX successfully launched another Starlink mission last night following repeated delays with a mission carrying another 60 satellites for the eponymous constellation. The launch, from Kennedy Space Center's LC-39A, was the second for this particular booster, which had last seen action in June. The first stage of the Falcon 9 landed safely on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship.

While astronomers fret about the effect of the constellation on observations and engineers worry about the risk of collision, SpaceX boasted of the performance achieved by its constellation, claiming that latency was "super low" and download speeds exceeded 100 Mbps. Certainly worth flinging all those spacecraft into orbit then.

More Starlink missions are planned for the coming months as SpaceX adds to its constellation.

Starship Hops Again

Finally, SpaceX celebrated a second 150 metre hop for a Starship prototype last week as the company worked on the launch and landing for its behemoth. Powered by a single Raptor engine, Starship SN6 repeated the performance of its predecessor, just "smoother and faster," according to SpaceX CEO and noted pig augmenter, Elon Musk.

While more Starship prototypes are being lined up for hopping or pressurising to destruction, the first stage "Super Heavy" booster may make its maiden hop in October, according to Musk. ®

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