Rocket Report: Delta IV’s grand finale; Angara flies another dummy payload

The Angara A5 rocket launched this week from Vostochny for the first time.
Enlarge / The Angara A5 rocket launched this week from Vostochny for the first time.


Welcome to Edition 6.39 of the Rocket Report! The big news this week came from United Launch Alliance, and the final mission of its Delta IV Heavy rocket. Both Stephen and I had thoughts about this launch, which is bittersweet, and we expressed them in stories linked below. It’s been a little less than 20 years since this big rocket debuted, and interesting to think how very much the launch industry has changed since then.

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.


Rocket Lab to reuse flight tank. On Wednesday Rocket Lab said it is returning a previously flown Electron rocket first stage tank to the production line for the first time in preparation for reflying the stage. The company characterized this as a “significant” milestone as it seeks to make Electron the world’s first reusable small rocket. This stage was successfully launched and recovered as part of the ‘Four of a Kind’ mission earlier this year on January 31.

Iterating a path to reuse … The stage will now undergo final fit out and rigorous qualification for reuse. “Our key priority in pushing this stage back into the standard production flow for the first time is to ensure our systems and qualification processes are fit for accepting pre-flown boosters at scale,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “If this stage successfully passes and is accepted for flight, we’ll consider opportunities for reflying it in the new year.” (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Virgin Orbit IP for sale on LinkedIn. In a post this week on the social networking site LinkedIn, former Virgin Orbit chief executive Dan Hart said that the Virgin Orbit IP library is being made available for licensing. “The flight-proven LauncherOne IP can accelerate launch and hypersonic system development schedules by years, and enable significant cost savings,” Hart wrote. “The innovative designs can also offer component/subsystem providers immediate product line expansion.”

Yours for a low, low price … The IP library includes all manner of goodies, including an FAA-approved flight termination system, the Newton 3 and Newton 4 engines, avionics, structures, and more. Price for access to all IP is $3 million for a nonexclusive license, Hart said. I have no idea whether that’s a good price or not.

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Virgin Galactic countersues Boeing. Virgin Galactic has filed a countersuit against Boeing over a project to develop a new mothership aircraft, arguing in part that Boeing performed poorly, Space News reports. The suit, filed last week in the US District Court for the Central District of California, comes two weeks after Boeing filed suit against Virgin Galactic, alleging that Virgin refused to pay more than $25 million in invoices on the project and misappropriated trade secrets.

Citing Boeing’s own record … The dispute revolves around a project announced in 2022 to develop a new aircraft that would replace Virgin’s existing VMS Eve as an air-launch platform. Virgin, in its suit, claims that Boeing performed “shoddy and incomplete” work on the initial phases of the project. “Boeing’s failures with respect to its agreement with Virgin Galactic are consistent with Boeing’s record of poor quality control and mismanagement,” the complaint states. (submitted by EllPeaTea)

Navy awards contract to Ursa Major. The rocket propulsion startup said Monday it has signed a contract with the United States Navy to develop and test solid fuel rocket engines in an effort to develop a next generation of solid rocket motor for the Navy’s standard missile program, Reuters reports. The agreement is part of a series of prototype engine contracts being awarded by the US Navy as it seeks to expand the industrial base for manufacturing them.

Broadening the US supplier base … The deal comes as the Navy is seeing a surge in missile demand due to the ongoing conflicts in Gaza and Yemen and the war in Ukraine. “Our new approach to manufacturing solid rocket motors allows Ursa Major to quickly develop high-performing motors at scale, driving volume and cost efficiencies to address this critical national need,” said Ursa Major Founder Joe Laurienti. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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