Rocket Report: Starliner soars to space station; Starship’s wild flight

The fourth full-scale test flight of SpaceX's Starship rocket took off from Starbase, the company's privately-owned spaceport near Brownsville, Texas.
Enlarge / The fourth full-scale test flight of SpaceX’s Starship rocket took off from Starbase, the company’s privately-owned spaceport near Brownsville, Texas.

Welcome to Edition 6.47 of the Rocket Report! The monumental news of late is that Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft not only successfully launched on an Atlas V rocket, but then subsequently docked with the International Space Station. Congratulations to all involved. It’s been a long road to get here.

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.


Firefly lands massive launch contract. Firefly Aerospace announced Wednesday that it has signed a multi-launch agreement with Lockheed Martin for 25 launches on Firefly’s Alpha rocket through the end of this decade. This agreement commits Lockheed Martin to 15 launch reservations and 10 optional launches. Alpha will launch Lockheed Martin spacecraft into low-Earth orbit from Firefly’s facilities on the West and East Coast. The first mission will launch on Alpha flight 6, from Firefly’s SLC-2 launch site at the Vandenberg Space Force Base later this year.

A big bet on Alpha … It is not entirely clear which payloads Lockheed is seeking to fly on Alpha, which has the capability to loft 1 metric ton into low-Earth orbit. Our customers have told us they need rapid advancement of new mission capabilities,” said Bob Behnken, director of Ignite Technology Acceleration at Lockheed Martin Space. “This agreement with Firefly further diversifies our access to space, allowing us to continue quickly flight demonstrating the cutting-edge technology we are developing for them, as well as enabling our continued exploration of tactical and responsive space solutions.” (submitted by Ken the Bin)

It’s now Sir Peter Beck to you, commoner. Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck has been made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the aerospace industry, business, and education, Crux reports. Beck received the honors both for Rocket Lab’s Ātea 1 suborbital launch back in 2009, and the company’s four dozen launches since then.

A deserved honor … Beck has, almost singlehandedly, put New Zealand on the map for space activities. When he started Rocket Lab there was virtually no space industry in the country. He deserves this honor and is one of the first space industry people to be knighted. While Sir Richard Branson is a knight, it’s worth noting he was knighted before founding Virgin Galactic.

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Account of Astra’s dire fundraising efforts. Astra Space said this week it had filed its “definitive information statement” as part of the process of taking the company private. If the transaction is completed, the company’s Class A common stock will be delisted from Nasdaq and deregistered. Eligible shareholders will be paid 50 cents a share—quite the comedown for a stock that once traded at $209 a share. The statement (download 355 pages here) makes for interesting reading, as there is a lengthy explanation of the efforts that Astra put into raising additional funding in 2023.

No takers … “During its engagement, at the direction of the Company, PJT Partners reached out to 30 parties, which included a combination of financial buyers and strategic parties, who were ultimately most interested in the Space Products business,” the statement reads. “Of those parties, 14 parties executed a confidentiality agreement with the Company and only seven parties actively engaged in due diligence.” None ultimately bit. The statement also includes forward projections for revenues from its launch and spacecraft engine business, but these seem rather aspirational. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

Rocket Lab’s back-to-back missions for NASA. In less than a two-week period, Rocket Lab’s Electron vehicle launched two missions for NASA. The two shoebox-sized satellites, named PREFIRE for Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment, launched on May 25 and June 5 from the same site in New Zealand.

Learning valuable operational lessons … This was an impressive 11-day turnaround between launches by Rocket Lab. The company has now launched seven times this year and is on pace to shatter its previous record for total annual launches—10—set last year. The increase in operational cadence will no doubt help Rocket Lab when it starts flying the larger Neutron vehicle in a year or two. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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