Let's do launch —

Rocket Report: SpaceX pushing ahead on Starbase, North Korea launch failure

“The world is putting objects into space quicker than they are being removed."

SpaceX launches its 200th Falcon 9 consecutive successful mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base.
Enlarge / SpaceX launches its 200th Falcon 9 consecutive successful mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

Welcome to Edition 5.41 of the Rocket Report! Not for the first time this year, the next three launches on the global calendar are all Falcon 9 missions. The cadence of that rocket's ability to launch continues to astound me—as does its reliability record. Read more about that below.

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 and a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

North Korean orbital launch fails. North Korea tried and failed to launch a military spy satellite on Wednesday morning due to a problem with an upper-stage rocket engine, according to DPRK state media, NK News reports. The country's state news agency said North Korea would make another attempt "within the shortest period possible." The new "Chollima-1" rocket was attempting to launch a military reconnaissance satellite. Malligyong, the name of the spy satellite, means "telescope" in Korean, while Chollima is a mythical winged horse often used in North Korean propaganda.

Cause of the failure not entirely clear ... There was some confusion in the aftermath of the launch failure as to its cause. Officially, the North Korean space agency, which (I kid you not) is called the National Aerospace Development Administration, or NADA, said there was an "abnormal" ignition of the second stage. "The cause of the accident appears to be that the new engine system reliability and stability failed and that the fuel used was unstable," NADA said. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Vega C to launch Korean satellite. Arianespace announced Wednesday that it signed a launch contract for the Earth observation satellite Kompsat-6, which will fly into orbit on the European light launcher Vega C. Kompsat-6 will be launched from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana as early as December 2024. Kompsat-6 is the second Synthetic Aperture Radar imaging satellite developed by the Korean space agency, KARI.

Another consequence of the Ukraine war ... The Russian space corporation, Roscosmos, continues to lose business as a result of the country's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. In this case, Kompsat-6 was supposed to launch on an Angara rocket. Now, the small satellite will go to Europe's main launch corporation, a nice little boost for the continent's rocket industry. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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And another for Vega. Swiss-based in-orbit servicing startup ClearSpace has contracted Arianespace to launch its first debris-removal mission to capture and deorbit a 100 kg piece of space debris, Spaceflight Now reports. Europe’s Vega C will launch the ClearSpace-1 servicer spacecraft to low-Earth orbit from French Guiana in the second half of 2026 as a secondary passenger to a larger payload that has yet to be announced. The spacecraft will be injected into a sun-synchronous orbit, from which it will rendezvous, capture, and deorbit a spent upper stage that was part of the Vega launcher’s second flight in 2013.

What goes up must be brought back down ... “The world is putting objects into space quicker than they are being removed, and we urgently need to bring solutions to this fundamental problem," said Luc Piguet, CEO and co-founder of ClearSpace. "We are looking forward to this European collaboration and the potential for more challenging future missions with multiple captures per flight." (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Minotaur 4 returns for more. Northrop Grumman won a $45.5 million contract to launch a small weather satellite in 2025, Space News reports. The company’s Minotaur 4 rocket will launch a payload called "Electro-Optical Infrared Weather System," a prototype satellite that will demonstrate commercial weather imaging technologies for military use.

Going for lucky number eight ... The launch contract was a task order awarded by the US Space Force’s Orbital Services Program-4, a contracting vehicle for acquiring launch services for payloads over 180 kg. The solid-fueled rocket has launched seven times, all successfully, with its most recent mission flying in 2020 with a payload for the US National Reconnaissance Office. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Latitude continues engine tests. After an initial round of tests last winter, French launch startup Latitude is pushing its Navier rocket engine to the limits in a new test campaign. "The goal is to gather as much data as possible on it. To ensure this, we conduct tests every two to three days with several consecutive tests," said Olivier Lebrethon, chief technical officer of Latitude, in a news release.

Working toward a launch attempt ... This first version of the 3D-printed rocket engine will pave the way for a second iteration of Navier, nine of which will power the first stage of the Latitude's rocket, Zephyr. The first launch of Zephyr is scheduled for the end of 2024, possibly from SaxaVord in Scotland or Kourou in French Guiana.

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