Rocket Report: German launch company loses backer; Soyuz-5 may be in trouble

Rocket Report: German launch company loses backer; Soyuz-5 may be in trouble
Mar 2023

Welcome to Edition 5.30 of the Rocket Report! A hearty congratulations this week to both Relativity Space and Innospace, both of which got their debut missions off the launch pad this week. Making that final decision to push the button and go is never easy. As a bonus, the engine shots of Relativity's Terran 1 rocket at liftoff are some of the most beautiful rocket photos I have ever seen.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Relativity Space has a successful failure. The shiny white Terran 1 rocket launched on its third attempt Wednesday night, lifting off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The small, methane-fueled rocket then produced some stunning views as a blueish-green flame powered it toward space against the blackness of night. The first stage, with nine engines, appeared to perform nominally as it rose smoothly through the atmosphere, firing for more than two minutes. Then the rocket's second stage successfully separated, Ars reports.

Terran 1 and done? ... After this, something happened. From the video onboard the rocket it appeared the second-stage engine attempted to ignite but could not sustain this ignition. Afterward, Relativity declared the launch a success, and it is difficult to argue with this conclusion given that the company got so far on its debut with a 3D-printed rocket and a methane-fueled engine. One big question now about Relativity's future is how quickly the company pivots away from the Terran 1, with a payload capacity of 1.25 metric tons to low-Earth orbit, to the much larger Terran R vehicle.

Virgin Orbit may receive financial lifeline. Anyone who has regularly read this newsletter was not surprised by cash-strapped Virgin Orbit's unfortunate decision to furlough most of its workforce earlier this month. Now, Reuters reports that the company may be able to obtain $200 million from an investor named Matthew Brown. The space startup did not comment on the likely deal but said on Wednesday it would resume operations Thursday and prepare for its next mission by recalling some of its employees.

Employees coming back ... Virgin Orbit's market capitalization slumped to a record low of $150 million on Tuesday from more than $3 billion two years ago when it went public through a blank-check deal. Virgin Orbit and Brown aim to close the deal on Friday, according to the term sheet, which is not binding and remains subject to final agreement. The company said more employees will be back to work on March 27. (submitted by Ken the Bin, buddy, and brianrhurley)

The Rocket Report: An Ars newsletter

Innospace makes its suborbital debut. Innospace, a South Korean startup specializing in developing hybrid space rockets, announced Tuesday that the launch of its Hanbit-TLV was successful, The Korea Herald reports. Launched from the Alcantara Space Center in Brazil, the small rocket flew for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, with its engine burning for 106 seconds after the liftoff before safely landing offshore.

A stepping stone ... Innospace's milestone marked the first successful launch of a space launch vehicle in the Korean private sector. According to the company, it also demonstrated the world's first successful launch of a hybrid rocket. The company had targeted an engine firing of 118 seconds, but the hybrid engine burned through all of its fuel faster due to the Brazilian heat and humidity. According to Innospace's CEO, the test flight validated plans for the Hanbit-Nano rocket, which will be capable of putting a 50-kilogram payload into a 500-kilometer low-Earth orbit. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Stoke Space shares images of its hopper. The Washington-based company that is developing a fully reusable small rocket, Stoke Space, recently shared photos of its "hopper" vehicle that will test the ability of its second stage to land. The photos (via Twitter) show the hopper in a hangar and then outside undergoing a wet dress rehearsal.

That's pretty rad ... Let's just get this right out of the way; the hopper looks totally steampunk and awesome, and I can't wait to see it fly. The company is conducting tests at a site in Moses Lake, Washington. Pass or fail, video of this test should be fun to watch. Stoke's approach is to test the second stage first and then move on to developing the first stage of its as-yet-unnamed rocket. (submitted by AnotherSystemGuy)

Isar Aerospace deep into engine testing. The German micro-launch company provided an update on engine testing for its Spectrum rocket this week. "In the last 12 months, we have been working relentlessly on the development of our Aquila engine--fully designed and built in-house, and tested at our engine test site in Esrange, Sweden," the company said on its website.

More from Isar ... "We ran 719 test sequences, both on the subsystems of the engine and the integrated system. With 124 hotfires in our books, we are tremendously excited to share the progress our team has achieved. Throughout the last year we reached nominal ignitions, chamber pressures and performance while optimizing the design for high manufacturing throughput." This sounds like great progress, but it's still a long road from engine testing to stage testing to launch. Maybe we'll see Spectrum fly next year. Maybe. (submitted by EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin)

OHB stepping back on RFA investment. The German multinational technology firm OHB has been a key investor in launch startup Rocket Factory Augsburg, or RFA, The Augsburger reports. However, in its recently released annual report, OHB said it wanted to no longer hold a majority stake in RFA. The annual report said that OHB was looking to sell a "significant stake" of its shares in RFA. At the time, OHB owned 57 percent of the company. By withdrawing from RFA, OHB would be abandoning its strategy of providing a complete solution with its own rocket and satellite manufacturing and space services.

Not good when your big investor wants out ... While OHB still expressed confidence in the long-term outlook of RFA, the company acknowledged that the short-term financial environment for a launch startup in Europe is not great. This is a bad announcement for RFA, which is probably seeking to raise at least tens of millions of dollars as it nears the launch of its first rocket, RFA One. This is always one of the most capital-intensive times for a launch company. (submitted by TM, FJ and brianrhurley)