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SpaceX scuppered by weather once more as skygazers win a Starlink reprieve

Also: Rocket Lab rehearses for a US debut while Firefly fires up an Alpha

In Brief Mother Nature scuppered SpaceX's twelfth operational launch of its Starlink satellites, forcing the company to throw in the towel "due to severe weather in the recovery area."

Already postponed due to what SpaceX delicately described as a "recovery issue", the next proposed date has yet to be confirmed.

Recovery of the first stage of the Falcon 9 is a key part of SpaceX's business model, and the booster fated to loft the next batch of 60 Starlink satellites has seen action twice this year already, once for the Demo-2 mission of the Crew Dragon, and again for the ANASIS-II launch.

As such, getting the booster back a third time would be handy following its launch from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A.

SpaceX is hoping to get in at least one more Starlink launch during October, before it kicks off the first crew rotation of the Commercial Crew program. That launch will see four astronauts sent for a six-month stint aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Rocket Lab readies its first US launch

New Zealand rocketeer, Rocket Lab, took a step closer to its first launch from US soil after it completed a final dress rehearsal at its freshly built Virginia Launch Complex 2.

The rehearsal at the Wallops Island Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport saw the outfit do pretty much everything except launch the Electron. The booster was wheeled out to the pad, set to launch orientation and fuelled. The team took things to the T-0 mark to demonstrate procedures ahead of the eventual launch, for which a date has yet to be set.

"Before a launch window can be set," the company explained, "NASA is conducting the final development and certification of its Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) software for the mission."

The mission will be the first time an AFTS-equipped rocket launches from the spaceport.

Firefly fires up Alpha

Finally, Texas-headquartered Firefly Aerospace lit the blue touchpaper and test fired the first stage of its Alpha rocket. The four Reaver engines burned for 35 seconds in the test.

Another rocket aimed at the small satellite market, Firefly Aerospace is aiming for two launches a month for the Alpha, at a cost of $15m per expendable rocket. The two-stage Alpha is expected to be capable of lofting one metric ton to Low Earth Orbit and 630kg to the 500km Sun Synchronous orbit.

The complete Alpha stands at 29 metres with a diameter of 1.8 metres (the payload fairing has a diameter of two metres.) Four 'Reaver-1' engines power the first stage, while a single 'Lightning-1' engine takes care of business for the upper stage.

Firefly Aerospace was also one of the companies selected for NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services in 2018. While its Genesis Moon lander won't be riding on an Alpha, it will be making use of the smarts of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which saw its Beresheet lander make a harder-than-hoped-for landing on the lunar surface back in 2019. ®

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