Rocket Report: Starship heats up in third flight; Chinese lunar launch failure

Enlarge / Starship made its third test flight in mid-April.


Welcome to Edition 6.35 of the Rocket Report! It’s been a big week for rocket failures, with a small launch in Japan going sideways shortly after liftoff, a rare misstep for China’s Long March family of rockets, and another Starship flight test. The latter mission was not really a failure, of course, in that the experimental vehicle took a big step toward becoming operational with a nominal first stage performance and good flight of Starship in space.

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.


Japanese small-lift rocket lost shortly after liftoff. Tokyo-based startup Space One failed Wednesday to become Japan’s first private firm to put a satellite into orbit after its solid-fuel Kairos rocket burst into flames just seconds after liftoff, The Japan Times reports. The 18-meter, 23-ton Kairos rocket, carrying a mockup of a government spy satellite, took off from a new space facility in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture. The rocket exploded in midair five seconds after launch, with its remains falling onto a nearby mountainous area.

No impact to big dreams …  Live news footage of the event showed fragments of the rocket lying on the ground, as firefighters attempted to extinguish a large fire. The fire was put out eventually, and nobody was hurt. Space One executives said they are investigating the cause of the explosion but remained committed to the startup’s goal of undertaking 20 launches per year by the end of 2029 and 30 launches in the 2030s. (submitted by tsunam, Jay500001, gizmo23, and Ken the Bin)

Stratolaunch deploys and honest-to-goodness payload. Built and flown by Stratolaunch, the massive Roc aircraft took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Saturday. The airplane flew out over the Pacific Ocean, where it deployed the Talon-A vehicle, which looks something like a mini space shuttle. This marked the first time this gargantuan airplane released a viable payload, the first Talon-A vehicle, TA-1, which is intended to fly at hypersonic speed. During the flight, TA-1 didn’t quite reach hypersonic velocity, which begins at Mach 5, or five times greater than the speed of sound, Ars reports.

A big step for Ursa Major … The TA-1 vehicle was powered by the Hadley rocket engine designed and built by Ursa Major, which specializes in the development of rocket propulsion engines. Hadley is a 5,000-lb-thrust liquid oxygen and kerosene, oxygen-rich staged combustion cycle rocket engine for small vehicles. Founded in 2015, Ursa Major seeks to provide off-the-shelf propulsion solutions to launch customers. While Ursa Major started small, the company is already well into the development of its much larger Ripley engine. (submitted by Ken the Bin and Jay50001)

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Stoke Space tests second stage. The Washington-based launch company recently carried out the first test of the full-size 30-thruster version of the innovative engine that Stoke is producing for its in-development second stage, reports. This will be an integral part of its future Nova rocket, which aims to be a fully reusable rocket. The engine test took place on February 26 and follows the engine’s first test flight on its prototype vehicle, Hopper 2, in September 2023. On that testbed half of the 30 thrusters were fired.

A flight every 24 hours? … At approximately 30.5 meters tall when fully stacked, Nova is being designed to launch with a wide variety of potential payloads and functions. These include not only deploying satellites but also performing manufacturing and science experiments in the vacuum of space and microgravity before returning to Earth. Furthermore, Nova could even be used for collecting and returning satellites or removing space debris. (submitted by Jay50001)

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