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MHI says H3 rocket development on track for 2020

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MHI says H3 rocket development on track for 2020
MHI H3 Configurations

WASHINGTON — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the prime contractor for Japan’s next-generation launch vehicle, the H3, says it is on schedule for a first launch in 2020, and will soon learn if the cost-cutting efforts pursued over the past three years will meet the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s goal of halving launch prices compared to the H-2A.

Ko Ogasawara, MHI’s vice president and general manager for launch, told SpaceNews the critical design review, or CDR, for the H3 is scheduled for this autumn and will give an indication of how effective the company has been at reducing costs.

“The government said to cut the cost per kilogram in half, so after getting such a requirement, we are working very hard to find solutions,” said Ogasawara. “By CDR we will find our target costs. So far it is going well, but it is very tough.”

JAXA awarded MHI a contract to build the new launcher in 2014, and included in the rocket’s procurement a requirement that the price per kilogram drop by 50 percent. The H3 is intended to replace Japan’s workhorse H-2A rocket, used for satellite launches, and the H-2B, used mainly for resupply missions to the International Space Station. JAXA and MHI are also seeking to double the average number of annual launches, from three to four with the H-2A and H-2B today to around eight with the H3.

“So far our schedule is still the same,” said Ogasawara. “After the CDR we will start manufacturing of qualification test articles, including those for the first stage BFT, Battleship Firing Test [a ground test firing of engines]. This test is to be conducted using a flight-like propulsion system, engine support structure and LE-9 engines.”

Ogasawara said the biggest difference between the H-2A and the H3 is in the first stage engine. H3 will use the LE-9 engine, which is derived from the H-2A’s second stage engine, the LE-5B. Ogasawara described the LE-9 as “much simpler and more reliable” than the LE-7A engine used for the H-2A, because the number of components is “drastically reduced.”

MHI produced the first LE-9 engine in March, he said, and hot-firing tests began this spring.

JAXA has given MHI a greater level of influence on the H3 than it did with the H-2A. Ogasawara said whereas the total launch vehicle design for the H-2A was JAXA’s responsibility, MHI’s role as prime contractor and vehicle integrator gives the company more creative freedom. He stressed, however, that JAXA is still directly involved in the design and development for certain key components.

“Therefore, we work together, JAXA and MHI, very closely,” he said.

Ogasawara said one example of a major change between the H-2A and the H3 is swapping gimballed nozzles on the solid rocket boosters in favor of fixed nozzles.

“Why did we decide to eliminate such a function? In the case of H3, we have two or three  first-stage engines, therefore such engines are able to do the same function, especially for vehicle roll control. This is one example. Not only for the system design side, but for the manufacturing and the operational phases, we are trying to find how to decrease the cost,” he explained.

The H3 is designed to use three LE-9 engines when configured without strap-on solid rocket boosters, and two LE-9 engines when configured with them. The rocket is designed to launch with zero, two or four strap-on boosters, allowing it to deliver between two and seven metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit. IHI Aerospace, manufacturer of Japan’s Epsilon small launcher, is MHI’s supplier for the strap-on boosters for the H-2A and future H3. Kawasaki Heavy Industries provides the payload fairings.

Japan’s demand for domestic government launches has climbed over the past 10 years thanks largely to new programs such as the nation’s Information Gathering Satellites, X-band defense communications satellites, and the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System navigation satellites. The H3’s increased launch cadence, though, is geared principally toward the commercial sector.

Ogasawara said the MHI is seeking three to four commercial missions per year with the H3, and has already begun expanding its rocket and engine assembly facilities in Nagoya, Japan, to accommodate the increased number of launches. Furthermore, he said MHI is already having “long term project planning” discussions with satellite operators about using the H3.

MHI performed its first commercial satellite launch, Telstar 12 Vantage for Telesat, in November 2015 using the H-2A rocket. Two more commercial missions, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre’s Khalifasat and the Emirates Mars Mission, are slated for 2018 and 2020, respectively. Ogasawara said MHI has a commercial H-2A launch slot in 2019, and possibly another in 2020. He said MHI will likely retire the H-2B in 2019 and the H-2A in 2023, giving the H3 about three years of overlap.

SpaceNews.com

Source: Space News


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SpaceX launches second batch of Iridium satellites

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SpaceX launches second batch of Iridium satellites
SpaceX Iridium satellite deployment

Updated 6:05 p.m. Eastern.

WASHINGTON — SpaceX completed a “doubleheader” of launches June 25 with the launch of a second set of next-generation Iridium satellites from California, two days after another Falcon 9 from the East Coast.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 lifted off in foggy conditions from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 4:25 p.m. Eastern. The initial phases of the launch went as planned, with the second stage entering low Earth orbit for a coast phase prior to a second burn and then spacecraft separation. All 10 satellites separated as planned during a 15-minute period that concluded one hour and 12 minutes after liftoff.

The rocket’s first stage made a landing on a drone ship in the Pacific Ocean, touching down as planned despite concerns that conditions were “marginal” for the landing because of winds. This was the ninth consecutive flight with a successful landing, on a drone ship or on land, for launches where the company attempted a landing.

The launch is the second in a little more than 48 hours for SpaceX. On June 23, a Falcon 9 launched the BulgariaSat-1 satellite from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, using a first stage that previously launched the first batch of Iridium Next satellites in January. That stage made a hard, but successful, landing on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Falcon 9 June 25 landing
The Falcon 9 first stage on the deck of the drone ship “Just Read The Instructions” after landing June 25. The landing was the first to use larger grid fins on the first stage to guide the rocket to the landing site. Credit: SpaceX webcast

The launch is the first to feature the use of new grid fins on the rocket’s first stage, which steer the stage towards its landing site. Previous rockets used aluminum fins, while this vehicle has larger fins made of titanium.

“Flying with larger & significantly upgraded hypersonic grid fins,” SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted June 24. “Can take reentry heat with no shielding.”

The aluminum fins suffered wear and tear during the reentries, which Musk said will no longer be an issue with the titanium ones. The new fins, he said, are “slightly heavier than shielded aluminum, but [have] more control authority and can be reused indefinitely with no touch ups.”

The larger fins, he added, are better suited for the company’s larger Falcon Heavy rocket, whose first flight is planned for later this year, and also allows the first stage to land in stronger winds.

The rocket placed into orbit the second set of 10 Iridium Next satellites for Iridium. Six more launches are scheduled over the next 12 months to place the remaining Iridium Next satellites into orbit.

“Right now, it’s two down with six more launches to go,” Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch said in a post-launch statement. “Our operations team is eagerly awaiting this new batch of satellites and is ready to begin the testing and validation process.” Those satellites will be “slot swapped” into the operational constellation, replacing existing spacecraft, after several weeks of on-orbit tests and maneuvers.

While this launch used a new Falcon 9 first stage, Desch said in a call with reporters June 19 that he would be open to launching some of the later missions on previously-flown Falcon 9 first stages, if the use of that hardware could accelerate his launch schedule.

SpaceNews.com

Source: Space News


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SpaceX launches Bulgarian satellite on reused first stage

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SpaceX launches Bulgarian satellite on reused first stage
SpaceX Falcon 9 BulgariaSat-1 launch

WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully launched a Bulgarian communications satellite June 23, a mission that marked the second time the company reused the rocket’s first stage.

The Falcon 9 carrying BulgariaSat-1 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 3:10 p.m. Eastern, one hour into a two-hour launch window. SpaceX said additional pre-launch ground tests prompted the delay. The spacecraft separated from the Falcon 9’s second stage 35 minutes after liftoff.

The first stage landed on a SpaceX drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean after what SpaceX cautioned would be a “super challenging” landing attempt due to the high reentry loads for this particular flight profile. Video from the drone ship cut out shortly before the landing, but was restored several seconds later, showing the stage upright, but leaning slightly, having landed slightly off-center.

“Rocket is extra toasty and hit the deck hard (used almost all of the emergency crush core), but otherwise good,” SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted shortly after the landing. He had tweeted prior to the launch that, because of the high reentry loads, there was a “good chance [the] rocket booster doesn’t make it back.”

This launch marked the second time that SpaceX has reflown a Falcon 9 first stage, after the March launch of the SES-10 satellite. The first stage for this launch first flew in January on a launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying 10 Iridium Next satellites into orbit before landing on a ship offshore.

BulgariaSat selected SSL to build BulgariaSat-1 in September 2014, a deal that also included the SpaceX launch. The satellite, with an estimated mass of 4,000 kilograms, carries a total of 32 Ku-band transponders to provide fixed and broadcast satellite services and has a planned 15-year lifetime.

BulgariaSat said in May that 46 percent of the satellite’s capacity will be used by Bulsatcom, a Bulgarian telecommunications provider, in Bulgaria and Serbia. The spacecraft will operate from 1.9 degrees east in geostationary orbit, with a coverage area that includes much of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

This launch was the first in a “doubleheader” planned by SpaceX. The company is planning a launch of ten Iridium satellites on a Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 4:25 p.m. Eastern June 25. That launch will use a new Falcon 9 first stage, although Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch said he would be open to using previously-flown first stages for future launches if it can save time.

SpaceNews.com

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