Rocket Report: Electron turns 50, China’s moon launcher breathes fire

Enlarge / A close-up view of LEAP 71’s autonomously designed Keralox rocket motor.


Welcome to edition 6.49 of the Rocket Report! I want to open this week’s report with a warm congratulations to Rocket Lab on the company’s 50th launch since Electron’s debut in 2017. This is a huge achievement for a company founded in New Zealand, a country that has virtually no space program.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, subscribe using the box below (the form won’t appear on AMP-compatible versions of the site). Each report will include information on small, medium and heavy rockets and a quick look at the next three launches on the schedule.

Electron celebrates its 50th anniversary. On Thursday, Rocket Lab launched its 50th electron mission, “No Time Toulouse.” The mission successfully deployed five Internet of Things satellites for the French company Kinéis. This is a nice milestone for the company founded by Peter Beck in New Zealand. With this mission, Rocket Lab becomes the company that goes from one launch to 50 launches of a privately developed rocket the fastest, even surpassing SpaceX. The company’s first Electron mission occurred about seven years ago.

A rare feat… “The launching industry is not easy or forgiving. Reaching your first launch is not a given, so reaching 50 Electron launches is a huge achievement and a rare feat in the history of spaceflight,” Beck said. Ars will have more on this feat, Rocket Lab’s past and future in an upcoming article based on a recent interview with Beck.

Isar raises 70 million more dollars. Germany-based small launch vehicle developer Isar Aerospace has raised more than €65 million ($70 million) in an extension of a previous funding round, Space News reports. The company said on Thursday that its “expanded” Series C round was now valued at €220 million, bringing its total fundraising to date to €400 million. This is more than any other startup launching in Europe. It’s an impressive total.

Illuminating the spectrum... Among the participants in the latest round is the NATO Innovation Fund, a new venture fund backed by 24 of NATO’s 32 member states. The company said the additional funding will go toward efforts to increase production of its small Spectrum launch vehicle. Isar is moving towards the test stage of the Spectrum rocket, which is intended to transport 1 metric ton to low Earth orbit. The debut launch of the vehicle may occur next year. (presented by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)

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Rocket Lab signs big contract with Electron. The launch company said this week that it signed the largest Electron deal in its history with Japanese Earth observation company Synspective. The Japanese firm agreed to buy 10 additional launches in Electron. Rocket Lab has been Synspective’s sole launch provider since 2020, and has successfully launched four missions for the company to date. (This announcement explains why, when I interviewed Rocket Lab boss Peter Beck this week, he was in Japan.)

A positive experience at Electron…In addition to the 10 new dedicated launches signed this week, two other launches have already been booked for Synspective and are scheduled to fly this year from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. Launches under the new agreement will take place between 2025 and 2027. “This agreement gives us a solid foundation and confidence as Rocket Lab is an innovative launch provider,” said Motoyuki Arai, founder and CEO of Synspective. (submitted by Ken el Bin)

Matthew Brown will be taken down? The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has sued a self-proclaimed venture capitalist, Matthew Brown, for making a “sham offer” to acquire Virgin Orbit in the weeks before the launch company went bankrupt. According to the lawsuit filed Monday and reported by Bloomberg, Matthew Brown “made false and misleading statements and omissions regarding his investment experience and the funds available to make such an offering.” The SEC claimed that Brown sent Virgin Orbit a fabricated screenshot of his company’s bank account, claiming he had $182 million when, in fact, he had a balance of less than $1.

Brown intends to fight the allegations.… “The SEC’s complaint is filled with egregious errors, fabrications, and biased accusations that undeniably favor the guilty party, Virgin Orbit management,” said a statement from a representative for Brown and his companies. Brown’s intervention came in the final days before Virgin Orbit filed for bankruptcy, as the small launch company searched for a buyer to preserve its LauncherOne rocket. Dan Hart, former CEO of Virgin Orbit, told the publication that Brown’s offer was “an unnecessary distraction” when the leadership team was “trying to find a path forward for the company.” In the end, that path could not be found. .

Autonomously designed motor starts. A Dubai-based company, LEAP 71, claims to have developed a “large computational engineering model” that can autonomously design rocket engines. To that end, LEAP 71 co-founder Lin Kayser said the company’s engineering model autonomously designed a small rocket engine in two weeks. The kerosene and liquid oxygen engine was then 3D printed in copper and tested. With 1,124 pounds of thrust, the engine generated 20,000 horsepower and completed all of its testing, including a long-duration burn, the company said.

Putting the fast into fast iteration… “Each new design iteration takes only about 15 minutes and is ready to print again,” Kayser told Ars in an email. “The idea is to reduce engineering time and maximize test iterations. Most rocket startups are still stuck in the long reengineering process when they get test results; we hope to eliminate that.” Notably, the company also claims that this is the first liquid fuel rocket engine developed in the UAE.

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